by Andrés Castillo
I remember my first Judo Club practice at West Chester University. Its demanding drills would eventually lead to throwing, sweeping, and wrestling other students on blue mats.
A semester of Kickboxing Club left me similarly realizing I had never known how to properly throw a punch or kick before—let alone at another person.
Within a couple of years, I was regularly feeling invigorated following my weekly Jiu Jitsu* or Muay Thai† classes.
In my teens, much to my parents’ dismay, I began listening to rock and metal music. In 2021, I would be invited to my first ever hardcore‡ music show. I witnessed a brutal karate dance floor accompanied by loud, fast music. I even clumsily attempted to participate by throwing myself at friends and flailing my limbs around.
These days, I attend a couple shows each month to continue perfecting the art of karate dancing known as moshing, and I play in two hardcore bands.
If you are slightly horrified at this point, I will admit this to you: as someone who identifies as Mennonite, these activities are fun for me, and I now consider them a big part of my personality.
I cannot explain why I signed up to try martial arts during college. And although I always had a special connection to music, I never imagined myself physically participating in it with such zeal. I had never been athletic, aggressive, competitive, or a dancer.
Sometimes I question my newfound joys. Do I like violence?
Growing up, I knew of my poppop’s prowess in badminton and tennis. I also knew of his and my nana’s involvement in the Vietnam War as peacemakers. As missionaries teaching English, they stared violence calmy and dutifully in the face.
My grandparents enjoy hearing about my hobbies, but I sometimes wonder how they can connect with a grandson who enjoys “violent” activities. Expressing my interest in such things at church or family functions sometimes raises eyebrows. “Where’s the nonviolence in that?” some ask.
The Confession of Faith In a Mennonite Perspective tells us that, “Although God created a peaceable world, humanity chose the way of unrighteousness and violence.”
Have I chosen the way of unrighteousness and violence?
The confession continues to say, “[Mennonites] witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among races and classes…and capital punishment.”
My insider opinion is that martial arts classes are a place of personal strengthening and friendship where pride is frowned upon; hardcore shows provide a place to let out stress in a controlled-chaos environment. These are consensual activities, and I doubt they will lead me toward a love of true violence and unrighteousness.
I reflect on a conversation with Juan Marrero of Crossroads Community Center (Philadelphia, PA). Part of Crossroads’ enrichment activities for youth involve boxing. Juan sees boxing as an empowering activity that discourages young people from defaulting to gun violence and has been used to resolve lethal situations in his neighborhood.
I challenge you to discover what unorthodox pastimes exist in your community and the purposes they serve for those who partake in them. Was your pastor in a punk band? Is Mosaic Executive Minister Steve Kriss a “gym bro”? As we seek to celebrate differences within Mosaic, it is worth discovering what more of them are.
*Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a grappling art popularized in the 90s
‡Hardcore is a music scene/style originating in the 80s, but has often been used as an ambiguous term
Andrés Castillo is the Intercultural Communication Associate for the Conference. Andrés lives in Philadelphia, PA, and currently attends Methacton Mennonite Church. He loves trying new food, learning languages, playing music, and exploring new places.