“The first time I ever watched Mixed Martial Arts was on television at a church-sponsored fight night party that my brother-in-law had invited me to while I was visiting family in Michigan,” says Bryan Storkel in a Daily Beast article he wrote earlier this week. “I sat through the first two or three fights, but I couldn’t stick with it. There was too much blood for my liking and in spite of the organized structure and rules; it still seemed a bit too barbaric for me.”
Storkel is co-director of Fight Church, a new documentary released this week that centers on the topic of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) within the Christian community. Not just Christians who fight, but also pastors who have built their churches and ministries around MMA. If this sounds odd to you, than you are not aware of how popular the sport has become over the years. It might also sound odd for a person initially repulsed by the sport would actually dedicate years of his life to capture it in a documentary, but that is kind of guy Storkel is.
Storkel’s last project, Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians film played at over 40 festivals and won 10 Best Documentary awards. For this film, Academy Award winning director Daniel Junge was already working on Fight Church and asked Storkel to jump in. While neither is passionate about the subject matter, the two are passionate about creating well-made documentaries and here they succeeded again.
Storkel and Junge followed a number of fighters for about three years and the stories that they were able to uncover is incredible. In the end, it is a fascinating and riveting work. It starts out pretty plainly showing young men practicing martial arts, praying together and supporting one another. After about ten minutes an interview with an older priest from New York is shown in his church explaining why he is dead set against the sport and explains while he feels that it should be stopped. The contrast between the two couldn’t be any bigger. You begin to wonder what the big deal is and why the priest is so concerned. So far, the fighters say a lot of great things about being strong and courageous with bible verses to match. Many of these ministries are used as an outreach to their local communities. However, the longer you watch, the more unsettling the whole thing becomes.
Some of the men complain that the American church has become too soft. They claim that men in general do not like to go to church because the institution has become feminized over the years. MMA bridges the gap, they say. They compare themselves to the mighty warriors of the Old Testament, but they somehow forget that these warriors of old actually fought real battles, not scheduled cage fights. They say that they use the sport to share their faith with others, but it is never really shown how.
During the film’s climax Pastor Preston Hocker agrees to fight Pastor Nashon Nicks, but hopes that he will not be injured too much that it prevents him from preaching the next morning. During the show down, thong-wearing beauties carry “Round One” signs, blood is splattered, and one pastor is convinced that the other’s arm will get broken if he doesn’t “tap out” soon. One pastor loses the match and instructs the cameraman to “get that camera out of my face!” Praise God?
A good documentary will pull you emotionally one way and then another not wanting to sway your opinion and that is what Fight Church does. It really tries to get into the mindset of these men and their churches without making a judgment. Good examples are shown along with the bad. A strong case is made that everyone, men or women, who chooses to fight has trained for it and are fully aware what they are getting into. But these are the adults. The most chilling is footage of young boys just starting out in MMA and say things like “I love fighting” and “I’m going to rip his head off.”
Storkel himself said that he felt that many of the Christian fighters he talked to have shaped their basic concept of Christianity around their love for fighting. I agree as this is actually pretty obvious in the film. There is no doubt in my mind that every man who is interviewed in the film is a God-loving man. Many claim that if God can’t be glorified throughout the battles, that they will pull out of the MMA ministry. One of them actually does so. As a whole, these men want to make a difference in their world. The question I have for them is how.
“As for myself, I think I’ve had my share of fighting pastors for a while. And I won’t be accepting invitations to a church fight night anytime soon,” says Storkel.
Fight Church is available now on iTunes, On Demand and Digital HD.