At 19 years of age Jake threw in the towel. He gave up fighting, the sport he’d been working at for years already despite his young age.
His departure from the world of combat sport was, in part, because he’d recently committed his life to Christ. His identity as a fighter was at odds with his new found Christian faith.
Jake was used to forging his own path through life. He was born missing the lower half of his right arm, but grew up playing football, swimming, and practicing Karate to a level where his Sensei touted him as a potential Olympian in combat sport. Jake refused to let his arm hold him back as a fighter, but the attention this difference drew had an impact on his life,
"I just was angry, I just was angry at people, staring or making comments, making fun."
He found increasingly that he was seeking security in his identity as a fighter, to the point where it was consuming him.
"It started to take away identity from me, throughout my teens. I was finding my identity in me winning"
The pressure to win as a fighter was overbearing and sapping the joy he used to experience from practicing his art form.
So he quit.
Jake’s motivation to compete was more about fueling his identity as a fighter
than enjoying his identity in Christ, so in his late teens, he decided to give it all up.
In fact, Jake didn’t touch fighting for two years.
"I said "no, no more", and I quit and completely. I didn't go into a gym, I didn't train anyone, I didn't train myself. This was about 19 years old, I think 19 or 20. And I took a good two or three years. Didn't touch the sport."
This could have been the end of the road for Jake’s fighting career, as is often the case for young, talented, sportspeople. The pressure of competition becomes too intense, and the motivation to face that pressure is rooted in something that isn’t sustainable or satisfying.
The courage it takes to leave behind something you love to better follow Christ is highly commendable, and difficult decisions will face every believer at some point during their walk with Jesus. But, for Jake, this wasn’t the end of the story.
Jake could not continue to ignore the gift God gave him; he couldn’t let his God given talent lie dormant within him. A couple of years after cutting clean from combat sport, he came back, opening a gym, training people to fight like he once did. In 2019, he stepped back into the ring to fight for the first time since quitting years previously, and fight as a professional.
How had he come to step back into an arena that once robbed him of joy, where he felt intense pressure to succeed and his identity as a fighter conflicted with his who he was in Christ?
"I realized I've got all this anger, I've got issues with my arm and stuff, and I'm not putting my trust in the right thing, I need to repent."
As Jake's trust in Jesus grew, he was able to reflect on the truths he’d learned from the gospel.
"The veil was lifted, I realized all the things my parents were teaching me they'd say the same things and I'd be like 'this is amazing'."
He realised that to compete again his security, his hope, and his identity must be rooted in Christ.
His identity in Christ had completely flipped his view of sport, instead of competing for personal gain, he could now compete as an act of worship. The freedom Jake discovered brought with it unexpected benefit. Jake says ‘I'm actually better than I ever was before, because my faith is in Christ’, his certain hope found in the cross of Jesus is what allows him to be at his best, ‘I'm just completely content. Whether I win or lose,’Jake says, ‘I'm seeing it as a great blessing to be able to compete a high level in Muay Thai’
"I'm actually better than I ever was before, because my faith is in Christ...I'm just completely content. Whether I win or lose"
And Jake certainly is competing at a high level in the world of Martial Arts.
He’s unbeaten in 6 fights, he’s a North American and European Muay Thai Champion. He’s fighting some of the best in the world.
Jake’s struggle wasn’t with the legitimacy of practicing martial arts, in fact he’s clear that a Christian can compete in the ring.
‘"At no point, especially in martial arts, there's no anger or animosity, generally across the board. Non-Christians and Christians, no one's fighting out of anger. At the end of the day, it is a martial art and you're displaying an art form’. ‘Muay Thai is a very, very respectful sport. There's no bad mouthing, there's no animosity. No one's in there trying to mame the other guy. It's a sport, it's an art, we're putting it on display for people to watch."
No, the battle Jake fought between quitting at 19 and returning to fight in 2019 went far beyond the question of Christian involvement in combat sport. Rather it was tension between letting go of the identity he’d built for himself and accepting the life he’d been offered through Jesus’ death and resurrection. When Jesus said, ‘whoever wants to keep their life will lose it’, he wasn’t calling us to gain a hatred of life, but to relinquish control of our lives and the things that we used to grip so tightly as to have our identity completely rooted in them. For Jake, God’s work in his life is evidenced just as clearly through his sport as it is in any other aspect of his life.
His ability to fight free of the pressure and anxiety he used to feel is testament to the freedom offered to all of us through the cross of Jesus Christ.
In newspapers Jake has been described as a professional Muay Thai fighter, and Chelsea legend Gavin Peacock's one-handed son, but Jake’s own words are strikingly different:
"At the point I became a Christian, I didn't worry one bit about my arm anymore. And that is because my identity wasn't in who I was anymore, how people saw me. It was and it is with who it is in Christ, who I am in Christ."
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