Posted on Sat, Dec. 06, 2003
Pastor fights on side of Christ
Akron church's martial arts classes help men grow spiritually, physically
By Colette M. Jenkins
Beacon Journal religion writer
When the Rev. James Roma committed his life to Christ more than 30 years ago, he struggled with how to reconcile his training in an art that is designed to hurt, maim and kill with the
commandment to be merciful.
``I prayed and studied the Bible looking for an answer, and I concluded that I have the right to protect myself, my property and the weak, innocent and helpless,'' said Roma, pastor of Wintergreen
Ledges Church of God in Akron. ``There is a difference between self-defense and vengeance.''
That internal struggle was resolved before he became a pastor. Now he is blending his martial arts and pastoring skills to reach out to men in the community. His martial arts class, which was
started four years ago, is open to Christians and non-Christians and people with or without martial arts experience.
On Tuesday evenings, Shihan Roma dons his gi in the church gym and teaches Vee-jitsu, a martial arts style named after the late Florendo M. Visitacion, who was known throughout the world as
one of this century's greatest martial artists. Visitacion, known as Professor Vee, personally trained Roma.
Roma, 52, has been pastor at Wintergreen Ledges since 1993. He began practicing martial arts when he was a 13-year-old boy growing up in East Bangor, Pa.
``I saw two of the rougher kids in town. They had their karate uniforms on -- their gis -- and I asked what they were doing. They said they were taking karate and they would show it to me if I
wanted to see it,'' Roma said. ``So, I ran out to the ball field with them. They hit me and knocked me down. I remember having a splitting headache. I was hurting, but I was fascinated. Something
triggered and I wanted to learn more.''
Roma joined the class with the two boys and began his training in a form of karate called Isshinryu. He continued his training in judo, jujitsu and Filipino Arnis (stick and knife techniques) and
other art forms.
In 1973, Roma began to study directly under Visitacion, and worked with him until the teacher's death in 1999. Visitacion, also a Christian, helped Roma strengthen his spiritual life as well as
the physical, mental and emotional aspects of his life. The original letter from Visitacion inviting Roma to become his student is framed and hangs in Roma's church office.
``He was a very quiet and humble man. He loved everybody and treated everybody with respect,'' Roma said. ``He had a genuine love for humanity.''
Teaching serves God
Ziad Chiti, a member of Wintergreen Ledges and a member of Brothers of the Vee -- the named coined by the students in Roma's martial arts class-- has a similar description for his pastor.
Chiti, a native of Lebanon, said Roma's method of teaching martial arts is in sync with the teachings of Christ.
``He's genuine. I've never seen a man as eager and loving as him. He loves people, he loves the martial arts and he loves serving the Lord,'' said Chiti, 30, of Barberton. ``Because he is so dedicated
to the Lord, you know that he would not teach you anything contrary to living a Christian life.''
Keith Jemison, a member of Brothers of the Vee and The House of the Lord, agrees that there is something different about Roma's class. Jemison, who is also a martial arts instructor, has studied the
martial arts since 1989 and has trained in different styles with different instructors.
Praise from an instructor
``His style is more self-defense oriented. There are usually a lot of egos in martial arts classes, but in Jim's class, there are no egos,'' said Jemison, 40, of Akron. ``It's nice to be in a class with a
Christian instructor. The atmosphere is nonthreatening and you don't find yourself competing against the other men in the class. This class is truly a fellowship, a brotherhood.''
Roma hasn't always been a Christian and his transition to Christianity was not without resistance.
He was 20 years old and bitter because his father had been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological disease. When a minister came to his house to see his father, Roma lashed out at him.
``I told him Christian men are sissies and needed a crutch to lean on because they couldn't handle life,'' Roma said. ``He didn't get upset. Instead, he gave me a New Testament written in modern
English.''
Roma eagerly took the Bible, planning to read it to find ammunition to support his theory. But as he read the passage about Peter denying Christ, something happened. ``Somehow, in my spirit, I
pictured myself grabbing Peter and saying, `Don't do this. This could be your greatest moment.' And I realized I was denying Christ. I suddenly knew who Jesus Christ was and placed my faith in
him.''
At the time Roma accepted the call to the ministry, he was planning to be a career martial artist. ``It seemed God was nudging me to adjust my priorities. I was assured that martial arts would be a
part of my life but not the priority,'' Roma said. ``Now, God has provided a way for me to use my ability to touch lives.''
For more information about the class, call 330-753-3057. Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com
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