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Karate becomes mission tool for Dallas-area church

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A UMNS photo by John Lovelace

Lyn Hunt co-leads Trailwood United Methodist Church’s karate program, which has been approved for a $5,000 grant from the denomination’s Youth Service Fund.
Feb. 3, 2006

By John A. Lovelace*

DALLAS (UMNS) — It’s a typical Thursday evening at 120-member Trailwood United Methodist Church in Grand Prairie.

In one classroom, English As a Second Language student Clotide Auguiano, speaking hesitant English, happily identifies objects in a seasonal photo magazine displayed by teacher Sally Murdick. Murdick and Pastor Terry Ann Hanig look on appreciatively as Auguiano scribbles newly learned words into her notebook. She’s solo tonight, but four or five attend sometimes.

Across the hall, in a large, multipurpose room, barefoot people of ages ranging from sprout to spry and wearing color-belted white robes prepare to kick-start their karate class, bending and stretching vigorously. Body language, you might call it.

Following ESL, Pastor Hanig and bilingual teacher Murdick change clothes and take their places in the karate drill lines — children in front, adults in back, ranked by proficiency from the leader’s left.

Co-leader Lyn Hunt, his black belt signifying karate’s highest rank, stands silently facing the students, who eye him respectfully. Suddenly he emits a drill command, and the lines explode in mimicry, bodies surging into first one, then another karate position as he orders.

And so it goes for an hour or two — group drills, eyeball-to-eyeball sparring, breathers. Then the well-spent group adjourns to goodies filling a table in the church hallway.

Karate as mission? Brown-belt Jackie Pinson, who also chairs the church’s mission outreach, remembers about five months’ discussions before Hanig, serving her second year with the predominantly residential-area congregation, gave the go-ahead.

Now the pastor enthusiastically identifies karate as an extension of the church, alongside recent garage sales and car washes for Katrina victims and, of course, ESL and other activities. A rare blood disease prevents her from participating in karate’s most vigorous workouts, but she’s a full-throttle supporter.

She even speculates that Methodism founder John Wesley might have approved. Why? “Because he was a great man of discipline, and karate teaches you discipline of mind and body.”

Co-leader Pinson picks it up there, emphasizing that traditional karate, dating hundreds of years back to the Pacific island of Okinawa, teaches non-aggression, honor, respect and humility.

“You not only don’t pick a fight,” she says, “you earn greatest kudos if you defuse a dispute or walk away. If you’re a trained martial artist, you’ll probably never use it.”

As a single mom, Pinson recalls gaining both confidence and humility from karate while raising son David. Now, every Thursday evening, they’re at the church — she at the second-highest level of proficiency, he coming up fast.

“It has expanded our concept of mission around here,” she says. “It keeps kids in the neighborhood focused on school and out of gangs and drugs.”

The United Methodist Youth Service Fund just approved a $5,000 national grant for the martial arts outreach program. The fund is managed by the Division on Ministries with Young People at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

Murdick, a bilingual school teacher professionally and a Trailwood mission committee member, says karate teaches faith in action. “Kids need to learn a good way of life,” she adds.

During a break period, conversation with another karate student proves Murdick’s point.

The young African-American woman, a nurse’s assistant at Arlington Memorial Hospital, got into karate after her son in the sixth-grade began it through a Trailwood United Methodist Church class offered at the Salvation Army shelter where they live.

“He enjoys it a lot, and he’s studying better for school,” she says. “The karate rule that you have to catch up and keep up is good for him. He’s a yellow belt and advancing fast.

“Me? I get a lot of relaxation from it, and I’m never sore the next morning.”

Another woman’s story evidences still more mission outreach. A Trailwood member, she gives her name as Leigh Stripling, explaining that she does not want her real name — nor those of her four karate-student daughters, adopted from the same birth family — used for publication. But her words set the reporter’s pen spinning.

“Karate fits perfectly with the church’s focus on overall health,” she says. “Traditional karate focuses mind, body and spirit. You remain calm and focus on the training, just like talking to God. The color-coded belts tell you who you can turn to above you. The best way to learn is to teach someone else. It’s like a walk with God.”

At the front of the room, co-leader Pinson has summoned all six karate youngsters to sit with her at the practice mat. She reads from the book, Martial Arts the Christian Way by Wendy Williamson, then quietly asks discussion questions. Small, disciplined hands go up immediately, but no one speaks until recognized. More body language.

Mission accomplished.

*Lovelace is a writer and editor based in Dallas.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

Trailwood United Methodist Church

Youth Service Fund