Townsend parish martial arts club gives new meaning to spiritual combat

TOWNSEND -- "What would Jesus feel like, holding those push-ups?" Franchelly Greer asks his students in the Catholic Family Martial Arts Club, which met, as it does every Thursday night, on Feb. 1 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Townsend. "He's on the cross right now. Do you feel the pain? Every time you feel pain, think about Christ on the cross."

The club was founded by Franchelly and his wife Brittany, lifelong lovers of martial arts (the two met at a Brazilian martial arts school in Boston). The Greers see plenty of similarities between martial arts and their Catholic faith, particularly the idea of suffering to strengthen the spirit.

"We can devote our sufferings to Jesus on the cross," Brittany Greer, 37, told The Pilot. "It doesn't have to be separate. When you do martial arts, you suffer for a purpose. And Jesus shows us the ultimate purpose of suffering."

"We men need to have some kind of physical, mental exercise to fire up the spirit inside," Franchelly told The Pilot.

The weekly classes typically have 8-10 attendees. Most are children, but club members range in age from 4 to 60. The classes teach physical exercise and self-defense as well as spirituality.

"If it's hard, you don't want to do it, you're not feeling it," Brittany told her students, including three of her children -- eight-year-old Gloria, six-year-old Lucia, and baby Samaria -- "give it to God, or to the Blessed Mother. She'll know what to do with it. But don't hurt yourself."

Each class begins with making the Sign of the Cross and praying the Our Father. After that, there's a lot of running, jumping, stretching, kicking, and praying. Franchelly held Samaria in his arms while holding a target for his students to practice kicking.

"I guess this is my ministry," he said, referring to his daughter.

Each class ends with the Our Father and the Prayer of St. Michael.

"At the end of class, we try to quiet our minds and pray," Franchelly said. "That's one aspect I got from martial arts."

He has been doing martial arts for 15 years.

"I really like the discipline," he said. "It kind of helped me focus in school, gave me some confidence."

Father Jeremy St. Martin, then pastor of St. J's Collaborative, first suggested that Franchelly create a Catholic martial arts club in 2023. At first, Franchelly thought the idea was crazy.

"I didn't feel like people in this town would understand it," he said, "because it's a foreign language, foreign ideas."

As he worked to develop the club, he was inspired by the Knights of Columbus's philosophy of making men stronger, as well as the Old Testament's descriptions of spiritual warfare.

"I feel like that's what men need," he said, "not just lecture and talk."

He hoped that the club would create a community and help children in the parish, many of whom are homeschooled. Pam Corbett attends classes with her sons Joey, 20, and Owen, 15, who both have autism.

"They have a sense of belonging, and they're learning discipline," she said. "They're learning how to defend themselves."

"They're my family's heroes," Joey Corbett said about the Greers.

Brittany has been doing martial arts since she was in third grade.

"My brother wanted to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle," she recalled, "so my mom signed us both up for karate lessons."

Her brother quit after one class once he realized that there was more to martial arts than running around and yelling "Hi-ya!" Brittany, however, loved moving her body and learning to defend herself.

"When you learn martial arts, you learn self-discipline," she said. "You learn about controlling your body, controlling your flesh. And a lot of religious practice is about learning self-control."

When she was a teenager, her love of figure skating distracted her from her love of martial arts, but she returned to it in her early 20s when she discovered capoeira, an acrobatic Afro-Brazilian martial art done to music -- and Franchelly.

Eventually, Franchelly and Brittany grew isolated from their martial arts groups due to the demands of raising a family. Brittany said that she and Franchelly were "looking for something more than what the world had to offer."

"Instead of doing the typical martial arts," she said, "why don't we do something that can build up our faith community?"