Following the lead of my son Cody who at age seven hoped to become a ninja, I practiced Tae Kwon Do for five years, under Master Jeong. Among his admonitions were, “Don’t fight unless you are willing to die,” and a corollary, “Don’t take black belt test unless you are willing to die. “
The advice is about risk versus reward. If you fight with the least timidity, you probably will lose. The black belt test is meant to push you beyond your capacity.
Soren Kierkegaard offers similar advice about choosing the Christian faith. Making an existential choice, at least one so fraught with peril as following Christ, requires us to take a stand, to commit to an idea, value, or view with the intention of following it to the grave. Like marriage, for those who take their vows in earnest. So, wisdom would dictate, “Don’t take a stand, don’t commit, unless you are willing to risk dying for it.”
To commit ourselves is simple enough unless we mean to keep the commitment. To keep a commitment, we don’t just choose once, but need to make the choice over and over, all our lives. Remission in our will to stand firm often proves fatal to the commitment, and causes its purpose to backfire. Again, think of marriage, or of church leaders who get busted for preaching one value and living otherwise and who in consequence bring disgrace and mockery on the faith.
Recently Zoë and I watched The Karate Kid. The old one with Mister Miyagi. I was reminded that the Tae Kwon Do spirit is “indomitable spirit”, which I as a black belt am supposed to exemplify.
At first, I felt confronted with a dilemma, and struggled to resolve the insistence on exerting my indomitable spirit with the Christian’s call to die to self, to consider our own power as nothing, but submit to God and rely on His power.
Then I saw that in order to stand up to discouragement, frustration, doubts, and the other forces that attack us all, and to recommit over and over to follow the choice I made, I (at least) need an indomitable spirit.
For those who would remind me that God can give us an indomitable spirit, I will point out that we still need to summon and apply it, and to remind ourselves of it when we feel forsaken, as even the best of us occasionally do.