Being an Overcomer

This afternoon, as I was driving home from school, I heard the song “Overcomer” by Mandeesa on the radio. It reminded me of a thought that I first had in 2008 when I watched a movie named RedBelt about a martial arts teacher who is driven by principle over profit and was put into difficult circumstances because of it. In this movie, the teacher had a conversation with a man whom he had assisted in an altercation. Below is the conversation:

Chet Frank: So what is Jiu-Jitsu? You use one fighter’s strength against him?
Mike Terry: Yes, in a way. You let him use his strength, and you use your understanding.
Chet Frank: So it’s a form of wrestling?
Mike Terry: Yeah.
Chet Frank: Like we see in the Mixed-Martial Arts competitions?
Mike Terry: Yeah, that’s right.
Chet Frank: You compete?
Mike Terry: No.
Chet Frank: Because…?
Mike Terry: Competition is weakening.
Chet Frank: Because it’s fixed. Two guys in a ring, people betting money…
Mike Terry: It may be fixed. Any one fight may be fixed.
Chet Frank: Ah, but you train people to fight.
Mike Terry: No, I train people to prevail. In the street, in the alley, in combat, the bodyguard, the cop, the soldiers. One rule – put the other guy down. And you have to train in order to do that. Any… staged contest must have rules.
Chet Frank: Everything has rules. The problem is sticking to them.


While I don’t recommend that people go out and watch the movie (due to extreme language), I think that Mike demonstrated in very trying times a steadfastness and strength that is very admirable. That isn’t why I wanted to write this essay, however. I wanted to focus in on the statement he made about prevailing. “No, I train people to prevail. In the street, in the alley, in combat, the bodyguard, the cop, the soldiers. One rule – put the other guy down. And you have to train in order to do that.” Prevailing, against sometimes overwhelming odds, against injustice, against people, against yourself; this was what he was deriving from his art. The ability to prevail. As I heard this conversation for the first time in 2008, I was instantly reminded of certain passages of Scripture. The song that Mandeesa sings so nicely captures that idea as well. So, I want to talk about being an overcomer.

First, I want to state that life is full of challenges and injustices because of sin. In Scripture, God has said some things about being an overcomer that I want to mention.

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

He tells us that we can have peace, despite tribulation because He has overcome the world. Peace? Tribulation? I hear a lot of people professing the belief that God does not let bad things happen to His children. Or that the Devil makes the bad things happen but God only blesses. Or that God will not allow things to happen to us that we cannot handle. This just is not true. I won’t try to list all the places in Scripture that contradict those things because that is not the crux of my point. But I challenge anyone to search the Scriptures and see what it really says about those statements. The truth is quite simple, God says that anyone who follows Him in a fallen world will not only experience bad things, but will be voluntarily taking on more simply by our allegiance to Him. The world does not like Him or anyone who aligns themselves with Him. The servant is not greater than the master, if they persecuted and killed Him, why would things be better for us? Also, God promises to conform us to Christ’s image. This means that on a fundamental level He is going to change our very being to reflect His character. This is not an overnight process, it takes time and a lot of hurt. God not only allows difficulty to happen to us, sometimes He causes it and leads us through it. He doesn’t do this to pain us, but to change us. You have to soften and apply force to clay to reshape it. Metal must be melted and beaten to be shaped. He does this because it is necessary to change us, because any real change must be change that we choose to undergo. We have to come to the conclusion to accept that change and that requires that our belief’s come face to face with His truth. It is painful. He does this because He loves us, and His way is best for us. In this process, God often allows us to experience things we cannot handle because it drives us to depend on Him. By ourselves, there is very little that we can handle, but with Him we are more than overcomers. Experiencing something that we cannot handle forces us to recognize our need, our insufficiency, our weakness and in our weakness His strength is made manifest. He has overcome the world and all that it can throw at us, if we stay with Him, we can be overcomers. If we struggle against Him, we will be overcome.

That verse talks about overcoming the world. But the world is not the only obstacle that we are faced with wherein we are insufficient to overcome. The Devil is also set against us and once again, by our own strength, we are unable to overcome him. But, God is not limited so.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1John 4:4)

If we are of God, His children, then we can overcome the enemy because He is with us and He is greater than our enemy. As long as we are His children and are surrendered to His authority in our life. We have God’s authority over Satan, but authority only works when you are surrendered to it. If a Colonel in the Army gave an order to a General that was from the President, that General would have to obey. But if the Colonel tried to give it on his own, or if he defected and tried to execute authority to that General or even a private he would not be able to get them to obey. The first verse establishes the foundation of our ability to overcome, the fact that God has overcome the world. This verse establishes our connection to God and via that relationship our ability to overcome through His strength.

The last thing that we are to overcome is in this last verse. I want to draw a distinction between what we have covered so far (the world and the devil) and this next obstacle.

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:21)

Evil, it isn’t the devil, it isn’t the world, it is the influence of sin in our lives directly. We are to overcome evil with good. Just like I mentioned before, this is done only in the power of Christ in our life. Three things we are to overcome: sin, the world, and the devil. We are not told to overcome tribulation, why is that? We are told to be at peace, that it will come, and that He has overcome the world. I think it is because that we shouldn’t see tribulation as something to overcome. Tribulation is a tool that God uses to bless us, to refine us, and to use us as a conduit of His strength and power to the world. He overcomes the world in us through tribulation, and we simply rest in His care.

What does any of this have to do with Kung Fu? They are both about overcoming. Mike was right when he said that it was about prevailing. Prevailing means overcoming, being a martial artist is about being an overcomer. Kung Fu is a combat art, and it is about fighting, but if that is the sole end of your art then you have limited yourself significantly in its ability to help you in life. All martial art is about prevailing, or overcoming as the Bible says, not just men in battle but life and all the junk that comes with it. But martial arts alone will not get you there. For that, you need to tap into a deeper source – God Himself, through His Son Jesus. In our own strength, no matter what kind of training we receive, we cannot be overcomers. But God can use anything as a tool to make us overcomers, and at least in my life, martial arts has played a big part in teaching me how to do that.

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Excerpt from Kingdom Kronicles, 2nd ed. “Teaching and Learning”

I want to direct my editorial toward the topic of teaching. I was discussing the subject with Shimu Betsy this evening and I summed up my whole philosophy on teaching in 3 quotes, here they are:

If learning didn’t occur, teaching didn’t happen.

My father has always said this, and it places a heavy burden upon the teacher. But in it’s simplicity, it is always true. No matter how much effort a teacher puts forward to teach a student, if the student didn’t learn, then teaching didn’t happen. I think that it is important to point out that this doesn’t ascribe blame, it simply states the plain truth.

There have been many “problem” students in the past that we have all encountered that have really tried our patience. Many we might have described as “impossible”. But the truth is often (not always) just that we did not go to the lengths needed to teach that student. I will be the first to admit that some students do not deserve our efforts because of reasons I will address in a few minutes, but so many struggle just because they see the world differently. As teachers, we often have our preferred method of teaching/explaining things that works for most people. It just doesn’t work for everybody, and that unfortunate few for which it does not can get left behind. I remember being that student quite often. Shiye Kimzey quite often would share with us as we were coming up the ranks the importance of working hard to find the method that would unlock the understanding for each student. Just because our method worked for others didn’t mean it would work for everybody and the burden of responsibility was upon us as teachers to try to reach each student.

Shimu Betsy shared a story of a hygiene student who was the “headache” student of her class for all the instructors. He had failed a specific skill examination with every instructor multiple times and it was her turn to try to teach him. He was stubborn and arrogant, infuriating to say the least, but Betsy saw something in his attitude that made her stop and think. She saw his own frustration and realized that he just did not get what he was supposed to be doing. Instead of just failing him (which she did), she told him that it didn’t matter how many times she had to test, re-test, and re-teach she was not going to quit until he got it. She asked him questions and she listened to him until she zeroed in on his problem. Then she took the time to help him understand how to approach the problem. Would you believe he passed? He did, and learning happened for the first time.

No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher

and here is the assumption…

Teacher say, student do

Miyagi said this to Daniel in the first Karate Kid movie. It outlines the scenario that is needed for successful teaching to happen — the teacher says, and the student does. No matter what the teacher does, if the student will not comply, learning will not happen — and neither will teaching.

So how do we as teachers get the student to do what we say? You cannot make anyone do anything, the best you can do is make them want to. Take this to heart, it is the truth. Motivation is key to making students do what the teacher says. You cannot always assume that the student will be intrinsically motivated to do what we say. Sometimes we have to take the time to dig to find what motivates them, and sometimes that digging (and the implementing after you find it) takes time and energy on our part. I remember a story from Laoshi Peter about a boy who was struggling to keep up and no one was able to help him. Peter saw him struggling and took the time to single him out, identify his motivation and his obstacles and help him overcome them. Sometimes, the problem isn’t a matter of motivation, it is a problem of obstacles. This was true in both Shimu Betsy’s story and Laoshi Peter’s.

Good students make up the difference for bad teachers

It isn’t always about the teachers. Maybe they are bad teachers, or maybe they just are not good teachers for you, but we have all had those moments where we are frustrated because of a learning scenario that isn’t working for us because of the method the teacher is using. If you are in a teacher-student relationship and it isn’t working. The burden is upon you to do whatever it takes to make it work. Talk to the teacher, get outside help, study more, whatever it takes. Good students will make up the difference for bad teachers.

I am not saying this to give teachers an out or to shift blame (I am not trying to assign blame at all). Instead, I am trying to share some things that have helped me to know that whatever roll I am in, the burden of responsibility is on me to make it work. I can not blame my student for not learning, I can not blame my teacher for not teaching. I have to take responsibility for my part of the relationship.

Teacher say, student do

Remember what I said earlier, you can’t make anyone do anything. You can’t. There will always be those students you can’t help, learning is a double edged blade. If you are a student, take responsibility for your learning. Do what your teacher says, and if it isn’t working then find something that will help it to work. If you are a teacher then make each student a priority and try to help them to find success in the learning process. Don’t give up on them and don’t try to force them to learn outside of their style.

I want to close by thanking my parents and my Shifu for their excellent examples of high quality teachers. Without their exemplary demonstrations of these principles, I would not have learned nearly as much in my life as I have.

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Shifu’s Corner excerpt from Kingdom Kronicles, 1st Ed. Oct. ’13

Hello all, (nimen hao)

Shifu’s Corner:
I just wanted to send out this quick email to everyone to kind of talk about teachers real quick. Specifically, I wanted to go over how teaching works in our school.

There are three basic titles for teachers
1. Laoshi (teacher)
2. Shifu (father-teacher/master)
3. Shiye (grandfather-teacher/grandmaster)

Laoshi is a generic teachers title used for all kinds of disciplines. Basically, any kind of teacher is a laoshi. The way we use it in our school is for the junior teacher. It is generally awarded about a year after the black sash has began teaching and recognizes the role he/she has been playing. Most of the time, the laoshi is still working under the auspices and supervision of his/her shifu. This doesn’t have to be the case however, as a laoshi can run their own school and have their own students if they have been awarded their teachers license.

A Shifu, is a teacher who has demonstrated the ability to run their own school either by doing so as a laoshi or by assisting in the running of someone elses school. A Shifu title is intrinsically a teachers license so they are always able to have their own students and school, but whether a student belongs to his/her lineage depends on whether he/she chooses to run their own school, or function within someone else’s school.  Remember, it isn’t necessary to have your own school in order to demonstrate that you have the ability to run it.

A Shiye, is a teacher who has students who are teachers. Generally, the title is awarded because the person has been functioning in this role for a period of time, not just assumed because of qualification.

Now, alongside of this understanding of title is an understood process of becoming a fully independant teacher. This means that the students you teach fall under you in the lineage instead of your teacher. At this point you are teaching under your own auspices and authority. I like to think of it as an apprenticeship process.

When a student reaches the point in their training that they begin training students and teaching classes on their own, they begin as novice teachers, or apprentice instructors. They still have to learn how to teach. The best way to do that is to teach and let your instructor be there as a resource if needed. The main instructor can evaluate the quality of instruction and give tips and counsel as needed. After a sufficient period of time has passed and the apprentice has demonstrated the ability to effectively teach they are given the title of teacher. Before this, they were simply operating under the title of older brother (Shi Xiong). Now they teach as a teacher, but still under the supervision and authority of their teacher, they have entered the journeyman stage. After they have been teaching as a laoshi for a while (journeyman stage) they are finally granted full independence and issued a teachers license.

Note that while these stages of teaching and titles of teaching may accompany each other, they do not have to. One can reach full Shifu and never be teaching his/her own students, or reach full independence while still a Laoshi.

Teaching titles and licenses are independent from rank.  Rank (sash) is a statement of progression as a student, while titles are a statement of progression as a teacher.  While you may have to have a certain rank to attain a certain title, possession of a rank does not in any way mean a person has earned a title nor does possession of a title indicate that a person deserves a certain rank.


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Special one time class at Rockhurst University

On Thursday 9/26/2013 Shifu Read will be conducting a free, one time kung fu class for the exercise physiology class in DPT program.  The class is supposed to do an evaluation of an outside exercise class as an assignment for their class.  Read is offering this class exclusively for this class as an opportunity to complete this assignment.


If you are interested in classes from Shifu Read or one of his instructors, contact us here



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“Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” The words of a desperate father seeking the help of Jesus to heal his son. (Mark 9:24)

I find myself thinking of this statement and rewording it slightly. “Lord, I am focused; help thou mine lack of focus.”

Also, I remember Jackie Chan in the most recent Karate Kid movie, “Your focus needs more focus”

This last few weeks has been so full of tragedy and distraction that I find myself struggling to focus on the things upon which I must focus. In my effort to reign in my mind, I remember my years under the instruction of my kung fu teacher, Mark Kimzey, and subtle ways he would help us to focus in our training. Even today, I can’t put my finger on his exact methods but I am very much aware that my ability to focus improved in that time frame.

This ability to push things out of my mind that are demanding its attention and zero in on the here and now has helped me time and time again to do what must be done when that task is very difficult to do. When your emotions are shot and you are exhausted and you just want to lay down and rest, but there is still many things to do before rest can be sought.

The unforeseen benefits of training that continue to pay off for years to come.

Thanks Shifu for the gift that truly does keep giving.

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new white sashes

So this last weekend my wife and I went to Arthur, IL, Amish capital of the state and home of my parents and one of my school locations.  I started this school when I was living there and I taught out of my church there.   It was never a big school, but it produced a black sash and a white sash.  The white sash joined the army, and the black sash took over the school when I left.   He now teaches at Arthur Christian Academy.  While I was there, my senior student joined us from St. Louis and the three of us tested his two white sash candidates for their first sash.  They both did very well and I was very pleased.


Congratulations to Matthew Wujick and Jared Yoder.  Keep up the hard work.

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nice article on “internal” vs “external”

Basically, application determines classification not the label it wears.

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Principle vs Technique

This will only be a quick thought.

I was just thinking about the difference between having an understanding of a subject, and simply having a rote memorized knowledge base. In martial arts it is like the difference between “principle in practice” and “technique answering”. Often, I get asked the question, “what would you do if I did…?” and I always answer, that I don’t know, but one thing that I could do is… This is true because I am not trying to pair a specific attack with specific counters. Instead, I am trying to practice specific techniques until I have gained an understanding of the principle/principles at work and then once my mind and body have absorbed that understanding, I let the principle guide my response to each attack. This gives me the freedom to counter an attack a thousand thousand different ways. This is “principle in practice.”

“Technique answering” is simply when you never progress beyond the rote memorization of technique A to counter technique B. This is a mistake of intent. If you are attempting to have a rehearsed answer to every attack, your brain will be so overwhelmed and cluttered that it will never be able to function properly. But the process is not wrong, it is the intent that is in need of correction. What the brain needs is to develop a decision making matrix, or a simple set of parameters to determine what is the best way to decide how to respond to any given stimuli. This is done through lots and lots of repetition of many different kinds of stimuli paired with responses so the brain can then sort the data and establish patterns. Those patterns then become the matrix that decides how you respond to any given stimuli.

What the student should be doing is looking to understand the principles that make something work, their strengths, and weaknesses. When you understand those things on an instinctive level then you can be free of the rehearsed techniques and respond spontaneously, originating new techniques and mixing and matching pieces of rehearsed techniques to perfectly fit the specific situation and its own unique nuances.

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Self Control

The following is a repost from my personal blog.  I thought it also appropriate here.  I wrote it originally on 9-23-07.



I just wanted to put down in writing some thoughts on self-control that have been on my mind.
Proverbs 25: 28 tells us this:

He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.

now when I read this just reading it and not taking the time to really understand it this is what I get out of it:

having no self-control is bad.

but is that enough? To just read it and glean that info, or is there really more to that verse than what is on the surface.

Let’s take a closer look shall we.

When you get to looking at this verse, you realize that this is an A=B statement. That means that there is a phrase in this verse that can be replaced with the = sign. so then the verse reads like this.

He that hath no rule over his own spirit = a city that is broken down, and without walls.

The first statement, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit…” is the A statement which is equal to/same as the B statement, “… a city that is broken down, and without walls.

Now that is all well and good, but it doesn’t really help me to understand this verse any better…or does it?

It begs the question, how? How is the A statement like the B statement? What is it about a city that is broken down and without walls that is the same as a man without self-control? I don’t get it!

So I begin to ask myself a few questions:

1: what is a city that is broken down like? (desolate)
2: what is a city that is without walls like? (defenseless)

Ahh, now that begins to shine a little light on things for me!

So from that I can glean that a man without self-control is desolate and defenseless. But I see the light only for a brief moment before confusion once again sets in. How is a man without self-control desolate and defenseless?

So I spend some more time thinking about this, and I think about the people I work with, and I see around all the time. I work in the public and I work with a lot of people and I talk with a lot of people and I began to see a pattern emerge.

People who lack self-control are often desolate because they lack the motivation to do what must be done.

How often do we see people complain about not having when the truth is that they don’t have because they didn’t have the motivation to make it happen? There were things that they needed to do that they didn’t do and now they do without. You are either without the “doing” or you are doing without.

The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat. Prov. 13:4
The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing. Prov. 20:4

Always wanting a handout, believing they are entitled to the rewards of others hard work. Their state of affairs is the fault of someone else, never their own. This is the belief of the man who lacks self-control, and thus he is desolate, having nothing.

Scripture proves true, how interesting.

As I look deeper into human nature, I see yet another truth. People who lack self-control are defenseless because they lack the restraint that prevents them from geting into trouble.

In one of the Karate Kid movies, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel “…Best block not to be there…” Here is where the self-control enters into our defenses. Often we find ourselves in situations that we could have avoided if we had only restrained ourselves. Maybe we went to someplace we wanted to go, when we ought not to have been there in the first place. But we wanted to go so we did. Or maybe we said something that we shouldn’t have said. How many times have we heard others say, “I couldn’t help it”. How many times have we heard ourselves say that? How many times did we speak without thinking first?

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Traditional vs Non Traditional Martial Arts

There is a long standing debate between different factions as to which is superior, traditional styles or non-traditional styles, in martial effectiveness. Honestly, I think it is a silly debate. There is no such thing as a traditional “style”.

Traditional is a reference to method not curriculum.  Any martial art can be traditional or non-traditional based solely on the method it is taught.

Let me illustrate this by looking at several systems that bear these labels.  Many people might say that Xing Yi is a traditional style because is “old” and boxing is “new”.  Likewise they would say that Karate, Taekwondo, Aikido and Judo are also traditional, while wrestling is non-traditional.  This is ridiculous because Taekwondo didn’t exist till 1955, Aikido was formed between 1920-1930’s, Karate in the late 1800’s; while boxing was around in the mid 1700’s and wrestling existed even further back than that.  So clearly age isn’t a qualification of “traditional” status.  The correct terms to describe this would be “modern” vs “ancient”

So, then others might want to qualify an art as “traditional” based on its deviation from its original methods and curriculum.  This is also ridiculous because in order for any martial art to retain its effectiveness throughout history it has to change its emphasis in response to the changing methods of attack and defense.  Change is one of the, if not the most, basic concepts of martial art.  My art, which is considered by all to be traditional, has undergone many changes throughout the centuries to become what it is today.  This is how an art is born.  It starts with a single idea, and grows into a robust and comprehensive system as it encounters new stimuli that it has to deal with.  Also, if you look at boxing and wrestling, they haven’t changed all that much since their inception and would still be considered traditional by this standard.  The correct terms to describe this would be “original” vs “developed”.

Still others would classify an art as “traditional” if they wear sashes/belts and fancy uniforms.  Well, lets see… Tai Ji doesn’t wear belts and all styles of kung fu accept their uniform as official, but it is just a mandarin suit — regular street clothing of the day.  Boxing’s uniform is a pair of shorts, has been for a long time.  That doesn’t work either.

So, how do you classify an art as traditional?  Is it the presence of forms?  Nope, because (to my knowledge) Aikido and Judo don’t have them.  Let’s start by defining the term “traditional”

  1. Existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established.
  2. Produced, done, or used in accordance with tradition.

So I propose that a traditional art is any art that is characterized by the adherence and/or respect for traditions past from one generation to another.

I think that if you consider this definition, you realize that it is the method of instruction and attitude of the practitioner that defines an art as traditional and that may change from one art to another.

So, please, let’s dispense with unnecessary labels that distract us from the important things and lets instead keep seeking higher development in whatever art that you happen to love.

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