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Dec 16, 2010

Humbled and Inspired by Greatness

There's nothing like getting kicked in the head by a 60-year old man (twice!) to keep you humble. It helps a little when that man was once an undefeated world champion kick boxer so famous for his lightning fast kicks that he still carries the nickname Superfoot. Even so, such an experience can go a long way in keeping your own pride in check, something most of us men could use at least occasional help with.

I was about half way to my black belt in karate the first time I got to meet and work out with Bill "Superfoot" Wallace. He was giving a sparring seminar at our karate school and at one point, asked me to get up and face off with him as he showed us some of his proven fighting techniques. As he addressed the class, he barely even looked at me. I was just his punching dummy for the sake of the demonstration.

I was well aware of who he was - the middleweight world champion in full-contact karate for six years with a 23-0 record, a 10th degree karate black belt, also an expert at wrestling and judo, an action movie star who’s fought on screen with Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, and the guy who taught Elvis martial arts. Heck, this was a guy who lost a testicle during a fight and saved it to show his friends! And now he was facing off with me.

I certainly knew who I was too. At this time I was only a lowly blue belt with just a few years of training. The only real fight I had ever had outside of sparring in my karate studio was back in 8th grade and I ended up with a black eye and bruised ego. And now I was toe to toe with a man who has never lost a professional fight and has a world-famous nickname for his left foot.

However, (and here comes the good part) I was trained how to block and how to spar, so when Superfoot threw up his first kick towards my head - in slow motion, just to demonstrate to the rest of the class - I reflexively put up my hand to block. I knew darn well I wasn’t really going to block his kick if he really meant to hit me, but my muscle memory took over and my hand went up. Well, that was apparently a mistake. Superfoot saw my hand go up and decided to make a big show of it in front of my fellow students and our instructor, a good friend of his for years.

"Oh, think you can block my kick do you," he teased. "You think you can shut down Superfoot Wallace, eh? OK, well let's see what you got!"

Though he was basically ignoring me before, I now had Superfoot's full attention, as he started bobbing back and forth, up and down, just waiting to strike. And I knew it was coming. I knew he was going to kick me and it didn't help. I knew exactly where he was going to kick me and it didn’t help. I even knew which kick he was going to throw, including the fake out move that he was teaching us, and it didn't help. I think he even yelled when he did it and it still didn't help.

Before I could raise my hand to block again, the same hand that had gotten his undesired attention in the first place, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace kicked me on both sides of my head. He had roundhouse kicked one side of my head and with the same foot still in the air, whipped around and hook kicked the other side of my bewildered head. As the class roared in applause and as my instructor laughed, I just stood in awe of a true master, who even at almost 60 could still show the speed, strength, and grace of what my chosen art was supposed to look like. It was an honor (and a relief) to finally bow to him and sit back down where I belonged.

From this humbling experience, I learned two things, and neither had anything to do with how to throw a kick or a punch. I learned the value of surrounding yourself with greatness - both in inspiration to grow and develop, but also in humility to keep grounded. Seeing what was possible in karate after years of hard work and discipline inspired me to keep going, to develop and learn, and to achieve my goal of earning my black belt a few years later. But being face to face with someone so much more accomplished also kept me humble, even as I progressed myself. As I moved along and eventually felt that I could take on any other student at my karate school, I still knew that my instructor could put me on the ground whenever he wished, and if he ever couldn't, he could still call his buddy Superfoot to come back and kick some humility into my head again.

As Christian men going through this life with a goal of ongoing sanctification, but with a constant need for humility as well, we would do well to surround ourselves with other godly men who have developed themselves into role models and examples of what we could hope to achieve. It does no good to compare ourselves to supposedly lesser men for the sake of self-pride or passive comfort. Keep the pride of your accomplishments in check by standing toe to toe with even better examples.

So you've been on a teen mission trip or witnessed to a friend at work? Before you think your part of fulfilling the Great Commission is done, come listen to the visiting missionary who has been shot at and lives in a Communist or Muslim country thousands of miles from the safety of America. You say you've studied your Bible and memorized a few verses. Good for you, but why not try learning now from someone who's been to seminary and studied those same verses in the original Hebrew or Greek. And even seminary graduates can still benefit from sitting at the learned feet of great teachers like R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and others.

There will always be examples of people who can both inspire us to reach higher goals and yet humble us to keep our pride in check. But it's up to us to continually surround ourselves with these examples. Seek them out, submit yourself to their instruction, and be inspired by their example. It's worth an occasional kick to the head.

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