Karate takes on Christian twist for Illinois students

Sunday, April 5, 2009
Billy Roberts helps 8-year-old Bret Grandon perfect a move while testing from white belt to yellow belt during a class of Karate for Christ Ministries at the Decatur Indoor Sports Center Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, in Decatur, Ill. (AP Photo/Herald & Review, Stephen Haas)

DECATUR, Ill. -- Students move in unison doing a front snap kick (Mae Geri) and step back to do a side kick (Yoko Geri).

With arms slightly bent in position, they learn to do an upper rise block move (Age Uke).

At the same time, Billy Roberts yells out a Bible verse or two for them to remember.

The one he makes his students constantly repeat is Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Roberts, who received a license in ministry, decided not to serve behind a pulpit but instead do what he likes best in delivering God's message.

That's why he started Karate for Christ Ministry, where the basics of karate are taught to youths and adults every Friday at the Decatur Indoor Sports Center. And during the sessions, he throws in a few punches of God's word as well.

"Right now, we have been studying Romans 10 and learning about salvation in the class," said Roberts, 32, who wanted to use his ministry as a way to bring wholesome fun to families and still minister to them.

He admitted that, while growing up, he idolized martial arts icons such as Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. After taking karate classes at the YMCA, he received his black belt at age 19.

Roberts said he knows the techniques of ninjitsu, tae kwon do, kenpo and aiki-jujutsu.

Known as Sensei Billy, he began teaching karate to nearly 100 children, ages ranging from 4 to 16, who were with Young Americans.

By 2002, Sensei Billy opened his own karate school, but he had to close it because of a lack of business.

Roberts felt a calling to preach and attended a seminary in Georgia. He graduated in 2008.

Shortly after, he kicked off his Karate for Christ ministry.

"I love teaching the kids something from the Bible each week. And I have had some of the kids accept Christ as their savior," he said.

Stephanie Fathauer said her son, Derronta Woodland, 7, enjoys the class.

"He was always interested in getting into a karate class. Most of those classes are so expensive until we found this one," she said. "Not only is he learning karate but about the Bible. It's just wonderful."

Being a single parent, Stacie Conder also found the karate class to be a blessing with an affordable price of $5 a week.

"My son always wanted to do karate, and everyone is always saying how he looks like a little Bruce Lee," Conder said.

Conder added that she likes how Roberts' class seems simpler and more fun for children.

Roberts offered his outline of the philosophy behind the art form of karate.

The art form, he explained, teaches how to inflict damage, pain or injury to the aggressor and is considered self-defense. This is another way of the enemy to package fear to the Christian, he said, and why the child of God has such resistance to anything driven by anger or any behavior toward evil.

The defensive art form should be the one taught to Christians, based on Jesus' words in John 17:15, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one."

We are to defend our body, the temple of God, from attack of another person who is bound by Satan to hurt us physically, Roberts said. Through our example of protecting the aggressor from committing a sin against us, with the same covering of the Holy Spirit, we can block through the attack.

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