Theological Jiu-Jitsu

By Paul Koch

I try to maintain a good base. I posture up while keeping my elbows in tight, and somewhere my subconscious tells my brain to remind my body to breathe. While not in a great position, I’m in a better one than I was just a few second before. I’m somewhat safe, at least for a few moments. I survived, but now what?

I have been training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for about seven months now, and its impact on me has been profound. I would characterize it as a discipline that is rooted in being humbled. You see, in Jiu-Jitsu, there’s no room for bullshit, big talk, or boasting. When you roll with an opponent, it’s simply your ability against his ability. You can watch all the videos you want (I watch way too many) and drill techniques repeatedly, but in the end, it doesn’t matter much until you execute that training against another person. And in this process, without a doubt, you will be humbled. Over and again, you will be humbled.

As a novice, most of what I have concentrated on are things I need to do simply to survive. That is, what I consider a successful roll hasn’t necessarily been when I’ve caught my opponent in an arm bar or a choke but when I’ve simply avoided being tapped out myself. I’ve slowly found that there are positions that I can get to that are relatively safe for brief periods of time. But at some point, the transition needs to be made from defense to offense. In a fight, you need to make a calculated and deliberate move to attack. This involves patience, timing, and skill.

To be sure, not all your attacks will be successful. In fact, most of them will be frustrated by your opponent’s defense (hence the whole being humbled thing), but still there comes a point that you need to press forward.

It is amazing how Jiu-Jitsu impacts and focuses my vocation. As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I find that there is a great deal of crossover from the Jiu-Jitsu mat to the pulpit. While theological discourse is fun and the study of the giants who have gone before us is both enlightening and encouraging, none of it really matters until It impacts the life of another. Without my brother or sister, it is vain boasting in my own knowledge.

I think of it this way. The studying of the confessions of the Church, the reading of the fathers of the faith, and the exegeting of Scripture are all part of the crucial foundation, the establishing of my base from which I can find space to breathe and survive the attacks thrown at me. But it is not good enough to maintain a base. Survival is not the end goal. At some point, I need to move from defense to offense; I need to attack.

This attack may not look like much. It may not be filled with shock and awe, but even the most subtle and unimpressive attack can be devastating. After all, the attack is the actual present tense proclamation of God’s Word into the lives of his people. It is the application of God’s Law and Gospel into messy and broken lives filled with defenses of their own. And the more it is attempted, the more one moves from their base again and again, the better we get at countering the defenses and coming in for the kill.

Of course, both in Jiu-Jitsu and in preaching, a good attack never forsakes its base. For though we are frustrated and humbled, we know the places that are safe and strong from which we can plan our next move. And so over and again we regroup and breathe and establish our posture and then attack again.