Taekwondo priest helps connect body, mind, soul

Indianapolis – Watch the priest. Guy Roberts leads the kids in a martial arts class with a distinctly Catholic emphasis, and it’s hard to decide what to focus on first.

There’s a 54-year-old priest, a black belt in taekwondo, who spins and unleashes a whirlwind kick of control that leaves boys and girls suddenly wide-eyed in awe.

Elroy Jackson, 11, one of 35 elementary school students who trained with Roberts, shared the news that he had smashed the plank, his angelic smile

After school activities have had a huge impact on participating students at St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis, including deepening their bond with Pastor Roberts.

“One of the things I like about doing this is that it helps kids see me as a priest outside of the liturgical celebration,” Roberts said. “The familiarity with me is much higher.”

Fifth-grade Elroy offers a more succinct view of the connection between Roberts and his students. When asked what he thought of the pastor, Elroy said: “He’s amazing!”

Roberts hopes martial arts classes will also help children grow in certain qualities, and even be a way to deepen their faith and relationship with God. He had all of these goals in mind when he started his own taekwondo gym, tai chi gym.

The pastor’s approach to class includes emphasizing the precepts of taekwondo—integrity, self-control, perseverance, perseverance, and courtesy. There is also the foundation of the Catholic faith, linking the Ten Commandments to the curriculum.

“Sometimes, I’ll ask them, ‘What do you think the first commandment is about — there are no other gods?’ And then they have to reflect on it,” he said. “I want their kickboxing practice to be more than just kickboxing. It’s about how they behave in life.”

Like the kids, barefoot and wearing a white martial arts uniform, Roberts begins each class with a prayer. He then had the kids perform warm-up activities that included lifts, push-ups and stretches.

Coaches and students work together to focus on doing the standard kickboxing moves, then practice the correct form of kicks and flips, and then learn the best way to defend against two opponents.

Roberts was at the heart of it all, sweaty. He continued to give praise and encouragement.

“I want to build confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline, respect for others, and the ability to know that if they use themselves, they can accomplish almost anything in life,” he said.

This is his first year as a priest at St. Barnabas Parish. Previously, he taught taekwondo to schoolchildren during his 15-year pastor at Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. There, he saw how these lessons helped improve the respect, self-discipline and even grades of the many children in the program. In some cases, it has been life-changing even more dramatically.

“I’ve seen it help them achieve things they might not have the confidence to achieve if they hadn’t challenged themselves with kickboxing.”

Roberts first got into taekwondo because of a TV show in the 1970s effort. Self-proclaimed “spiritual boy”, he also saw spirituality in martial arts. He gradually moved away, but rediscovered his interest in taekwondo as an adult.

“It’s been a blessing for me,” he said of the strength, balance and flexibility he gained from his kickboxing practice. “It keeps me young.”

Roberts said people need to work hard to take care of the bodies God has given them, as well as work on developing the mind and “having the right spirit.”

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