Tonight We Won!
MY FOOT landed squarely in my opponent’s face! Swiveling around like lightning, he tried to unbalance me with a leg sweep, following it up with a backheel blow in my stomach. We exchanged all sorts of authorized kicks and punches, both taking punishment.
It was May 19, 1978, and my opponent, Gilbert Letouzo, and I were fighting for the French national championship at the Hotel Meridien in Paris. Both Gilbert and I had learned the basics of savate, a type of French boxing, in street fights in the suburbs of Paris. (See adjoining page.)
The capacity crowd was vibrating with excitement and shouting encouragement. But I was worried. ‘What if something goes wrong? What if I really injure him?’ I kept thinking. The stifling, smoke-filled atmosphere made it very difficult to concentrate. I needed every ounce of attention I could muster.
By the fourth round, Gilbert was showing signs of serious fatigue. He had trouble keeping his guard up, and his punches lacked confidence. As for me, the reflexes were performing easily. I landed a powerful counterpunch, and my opponent collapsed. Although he was rapidly on his feet again, it was obvious that Gilbert was flagging, and his second decided to throw in the sponge. I had won the French national cup!
A few months earlier, how I would have savored these moments of glory, the sound of the loudspeakers blaring out the highlights of the match, mingled with the cheering of the crowd! This evening, however, all these honors—the glory, the fame, and the prospective contracts—left me quite indifferent.
I caught sight of my wife’s radiant face in the crowd. Obviously, she could tell by my expression that I was not going back on my decision. We could truly say, “Tonight we won!” We had truly won, for I had made my decision to cease all participation in boxing competitions. We were now entering another fight but this time together.
Fighting Violence With Violence
I was born in 1947 in the Paris suburb of Rueil-Malmaison, location of the palace where Napoléon’s first wife, Joséphine, once lived and later died. Ours was a working-class family, and it was not long before I became indignant about all the injustice in the world. I wanted to right all the wrongs. In 1967 I started studying law in hopes of becoming a lawyer. At that time trouble was brewing in the French universities, especially in Nanterre, another suburb of Paris, where I was studying. It was a period of fierce confrontation between extremist political groups.
A few years earlier I had started a promising career in soccer, but I quit because of all the violence that was invading the stadiums. Paradoxically, I turned to the combative sports. I had the attitude: ‘I may as well learn to give as good as I get.’ In view of the tense atmosphere at the university, I figured I would be left alone if I knew how to defend myself. After having tried several sports, I finally chose savate, an all-around sport derived from French boxing. Savate attracted me because it was a “complete” fighting technique, using feet as well as hands.
A Troubled Period
In May 1968 extremist groups in the universities pressured for political and social change. To our surprise, the workers, in sympathy with our student demonstrations, spontaneously supported us. Then the workers’ unions joined in with their own demonstration marches and with orders to the workers for a general strike. Thus, during May and June 1968, France was virtually paralyzed.
A spirit of exultation reigned among us students, for we considered ourselves a sort of catalyst provoking a movement that expressed the general desire for a more just and humane society. At first I was wholly devoted to this apparently worthy cause, and, believe me, my physical fitness proved to be most useful when running from the police during the student demonstrations in the Latin Quarter in Paris.
However, I was soon disappointed, for our demonstrations began to turn violent. The longed-for political and social changes never materialized, and the prospect of a more equitable and friendly social system was eclipsed by temporary and illusory material advantages. The icing came off the cake. I lost all confidence in man, in his projects and principles.
Nevertheless, I succeeded in graduating from the university before leaving for military service. Upon my return, I took up sports again, especially savate. My efforts were rewarded, for I was champion of France six times. I won about a hundred cups and medals, and I was selected many times for the national team.
In addition, I became a qualified state teacher and ran four sports clubs, including the one in Rueil-Malmaison that then boasted the largest membership in Europe. I also supervised several associations, edited a sports magazine, and was on the board of directors of the French Boxing and Savate Federation.
A Drastic Change
In October 1977 my wife was contacted by two of Jehovah’s Witnesses and soon started studying the Bible. At the outset I was neither prejudiced against Jehovah’s Witnesses nor predisposed in their favor. As a disappointed Catholic, I had never had the opportunity of studying the Bible, so why deny my wife that possibility? At that point some of our relatives started opposing the Bible discussions, saying that the Witnesses were a dangerous sect. So I felt obliged to defend my wife in the name of freedom of religion and on the grounds of the basic principles of the French Revolution of 1789 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which were dear to me.
One of these opposed relatives happened to be in one of my boxing classes and started the rumor that I had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So at each lesson, I would establish my authority by methods that made it perfectly clear that I was not as yet a true Christian, judging by the number of sore ribs and jaws I caused!
This inexplicable opposition triggered my curiosity. So I looked into the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, which deals with fundamental Bible doctrines. I devoured it in just two evenings. I had already read hundreds of books on politics, history, and philosophy, but they all seemed to be unfinished, incomplete, deficient, and—contradictory. Man’s incompetence seemed to me even more paradoxical in this 20th century of great technical and scientific accomplishments. Unlike anything I had ever read before, this book provided a comprehensive explanation of man’s origin and destiny and the reasons for his existence.
Suddenly, all this knowledge started piecing itself together to form a sound, coherent, logical whole. All human history—with its wars, religions, and civilizations—everything fitted into a pattern, a marvelous purpose unknown to me until then. Above all, I was staggered by the accuracy of Jesus’ description of present-day events, given as a sign of his coming intervention in world affairs. (Matthew 24; Luke 21) I was convinced that I had found the truth. But other steps were necessary before I could really understand all that was involved.
In the spring of 1978 my wife was invited to the Memorial, a celebration held by Jehovah’s Witnesses each year to commemorate Christ’s death. I wanted to attend, but I had a boxing lesson that would not be finished until 9:30 p.m. However, that evening only 15 percent of the class were present, and as all the students were off form, the lesson finished at 7:45 p.m. Unexpectedly, there was an adult in that class, which was intended for youngsters. When the lesson ended, he mentioned that he had to pick up his wife at the station because her car was temporarily out of order. This meant that he would be driving past the Kingdom Hall where my wife was attending the Memorial. All these coincidences were so great that I asked him to drop me off, and I joined my wife at the meeting.
In spite of my appearance—I was wearing jeans, and my hair was still wet from the shower—I was given a warm welcome. Who could have guessed that my sports bag was full of boxing gloves? When the meeting was over, one of the Witnesses came over and conversed with me. As I was already convinced by what I had read in the Truth book, I paid less attention to what he said than to the man himself. I observed him, and what I saw persuaded me that this was no fanatic. A little later, I too began studying the Bible.
A New Personality
My last championship fight, described at the beginning, took place just a month after I started studying the Bible. After my double victory, I felt as though a load had been lifted off my shoulders. I reasoned that my situation was now in order with Jehovah God, since I had stopped competitions. However, still other changes were to come.
In order to attend the local meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly, I decided to limit my sports activities to the club in my hometown of Rueil-Malmaison. Then, at one meeting, we were reminded that a Christian should avoid anything that could, knowingly or unknowingly, bring bloodguilt upon him. I can still remember how the blood rushed to my cheeks when this matter was discussed. You see, my students were not all amateurs who just came to relax, but some were also fighters, serious competition-level boxers. What if an accident occurred? What would be my degree of responsibility? As a result, I resigned from my functions in the French Boxing and Savate Federation and arranged for my brother to take over my teaching post at the club in Rueil-Malmaison.
In the months that followed, I continued to go to the club for the sake of the sport, simply to spar in a noncompetitive way. But my conscience was becoming more and more sensitive. The apostle Paul’s words were food for thought: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness.”—2 Timothy 2:24, 25.
And when I thought about it, it was very difficult for me to imagine Jesus and his apostles training to be gladiators just for sport, even though they were not going to take part in actual combat. So, unable to reconcile my boxing with Bible counsel, I eventually made a clean break from any participation whatever in it.
Before I left the club, I witnessed either directly or indirectly to all my students. Indeed, I considered those 200 boxers to be my special territory. Seven of those with whom I studied the Bible eventually became Jehovah’s Witnesses. When discussing boxing with my students, I had to offer counsel using my newly acquired knowledge. This proved to be a great help for me spiritually. It forced me to do a great deal of self-analysis and led me to practice what I preached.
Thus I left the boxing world and ceased “striving after wind.” True, I lost hundreds of so-called friends along with fleeting glory and fame. In return, Jehovah has abundantly blessed our family. We now have a goal in life and the righteous cause of the Kingdom to defend, not with fists, feet, and sophisticated combat techniques, but with spiritual weapons. (Ecclesiastes 2:11; 4:4; Ephesians 6:14-17)—As told by Christian Paturel.
[Blurb on page 20]
All human history fitted into a pattern, a marvelous purpose unknown to me until then
[Blurb on page 21]
Who at the Kingdom Hall could have guessed that my sports bag was full of boxing gloves?
[Box on page 19]
French Boxing and Savate
French boxing is an amateur combat sport authorizing the use of feet and fists. At the close of the 19th century, Frenchman Charles Lecour played a major role in codifying procedure. He combined English boxing rules as regards punches with other rules for foot blows, based on the observation of Paris street fighters. French boxing became very popular, and many people engaged in it, including such famous authors as Alexandre Dumas and Théophile Gautier.
Nowadays, savate/French boxing offers a wider range of kicks and punches and modern training methods. The goal is the same as in English boxing: win either by knockout, by withdrawal, or on points. Generally speaking, fewer blows are struck than in English boxing because a greater distance is kept between the opponents. However, the kicks can be very dangerous, so it is considered to be one of the more violent combative sports.