I had everything one could possibly want: the title of kung fu world champion, plenty of money, a new super-motorbike, a good job, and a beautiful fiancée. Perhaps I was happy, but this was not an enduring happiness. Then one day my whole world came crashing down, and I began to descend into the deepest reaches of hell.
I was born in the United Kingdom, the son of an Italian father and a Chinese mother. My father became sick and was unable to look after me; and so, at the age of four, I found myself in China, where my grandparents took care of me. My grandfather was a kung fu grand champion. The tradition of this martial art had been handed down in our family from generation to generation, from father to son, for five hundred years. My grandmother decided that I should learn this art as well. The technique of kung fu is based on the movements of wild animals: snakes, apes, and tigers (hence the title of my book — The Taming of the Tiger). Perhaps it sounds romantic, but the reality was much grimmer. Grandfather would wake me up every morning by dousing me with a pail of cold water. He forced me to do heavy work and often beat me. Almost every day my face was bloody from blows inflicted by a bamboo cane. He treated me worse than an animal.
When I was twelve years old, my parents took me back to England, where I continued my kung fu training. The Swiss International Kung Fu Confederation observed my progress and decided to sponsor me. I trained, had my own students, and even developed my own techniques. I took part in kung fu championships in Pakistan, China, and Thailand, and never lost a match. I was world champion three times. These were never “pretend” but always “full contact” matches with real blows, often potentially fatal ones.
I received numerous job offers. For a while I worked for a company that trained bodyguards. The candidates took an integrated training course involving everything from driving lessons to learning to use firearms. My job was to train them in hand-to-hand combat — and I did this very well. My achievements were recognized, and I was hired as a bodyguard to several important people. In this capacity I worked for a man who owned the Empire State Building in New York. After that I worked for Saudi ambassadors in London, Rome, and Cyprus. I was unbeatable, sure of myself, had plenty of money, and loved a young woman, whom, after three years of acquaintance, I was on the point of marrying.
Her name was Aiya. She was Swedish-born, studied law, and was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She was sweet, amusing, and very intelligent. I loved her to distraction. She was everything to me. One day while I was working in Rome, I learned of her sudden death. My friend, who had picked up the phone, broke the news to me. I could not believe my ears. Everything seethed inside me. I fell into such a rage that I hit my friend hard and ran out into the street. I was in such a state of mind that if I had found a button then to destroy the universe, I would have pressed it without hesitation. I walked aimlessly through the city, which continued to live its own life. Enraged at everyone and everything, I walked on, noticing nothing, until I bumped into someone with an expression I did not like. I beat him black and blue. I recall this now with shame and horror, for he had done nothing to me and had no hope of defending himself against my superior prowess.
My world crashed around me. I gave vent to all my feelings of aggression and got into fights. Since I was a bodyguard, I carried a firearm and had the right to use it in case of an attack on my person. But I began to abuse this right and, instead of firing warning shots, I would shoot my assailant right in the chest. I cannot say how many people I killed this way. Moreover, at the request of my employer, I took on the role of his debt collector. Need I explain how I treated his debtors? Nothing could restrain me from violence and aggression.
Around this time my father became seriously ill. He needed money for an operation; and so I went on a spree of robberies. While in Cyprus, I was arrested by the police and spent three years in prison.
It was an atrocious jail in the Turkish part of Cyprus, and I would gladly forget that hellhole in which beatings were a daily event and where on the average one inmate was killed, mutilated, or raped every month. By this time, I had managed to ruin all my relationships with my family and friends, and so no one wanted to visit or write to me. And then, lo and behold, I received a letter from a stranger.
What a strange feeling it was! To be languishing there in that oppressive hole of a prison, forgotten by all, unwanted by anyone — and then to receive a letter! Could my fate be of concern to someone? I suppose you could compare my feeling with those of a child finding gifts under the Christmas tree and wondering timidly what he will find upon unwrapping it. But as I read the letter I became more and more infuriated. The author of the letter was a certain Michael Wright, who wished to meet me out of love for Jesus. What crap! Must be some religious fanatic. What did I care for his religion, when I already had one of my own — Buddhism. What did I care for some Jesus or other!
In a fit of rage, I tore up the letter, and threw the shreds into the pail. My meeting with Michael might very well never have taken place, if it had not been for my buddy who told me that that during these meetings you could get a glass of Coke. I thought to myself: “What harm is there in meeting the guy? If he’s prepared to take the trouble to come to this stinking hole, why not take advantage of it?” I had indeed had enough of the filthy, stinking water they gave us to drink there. But I was still so enraged that I felt sure I would sock this guy if he tried to preach to me.
Luckily, he did not try to preach, and I did not hit him. The people in prison were only interested in what you were serving time for, how many people you had killed, and in what manner. Michael did not ask me such questions. He was not interested in my past. All he asked was how I was feeling that day. He rattled on about everyday things, which were of no interest to me. I hardly listened to him. But after a few more such meetings, I began to look forward to seeing his stupid smile. He was the only person who bothered to come and see me, who actually wanted to see me, and who did this regularly once a week for three years. We became friends.
Six months after our first meeting — on May 3, 1990 to be exact — a group of inmates attacked one of my close prison buddies. They sliced up his face with a razor blade. Maddened by my sense of powerlessness, I was ready to thrash anyone who came my way. I was to meet Michael that day and I was almost certain he would get it from me. But thank God I did not touch him, for that was the very day he told me what had changed his life. He said he had encountered Jesus in his life; that he had entrusted his life to him, and that this Jesus wished to set him free. He read me three verses from the Bible: “Jesus answered them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free’” (Jn 8:34-36).
Perhaps these words do not mean much to you, but to me, languishing in that prison, it meant freedom — an incredible piece of news! I was in shock. Back in my cell, I was unable to stop thinking about it. I looked through the cell window. The grill reminded me of the cross. I did not know what to think. How was I to believe in Jesus; after all, I had never seen him? What did Michael mean when he said that Jesus speaks to us through other people and the Bible?
Then suddenly it dawned on me. I remembered my fiancée, Aiya, with whom I had once been so happy, and who loved me so much, even though she had never seen me with her eyes. Aiya had been born blind. Suddenly I realized that people whom we do not see and never will see, can still be very close and loving to us.
I fell on my knees and prayed. Perhaps you are used to praying and sometimes having the feeling that God does not hear you. That is because you are not talking to God but only with yourself. Remember, I had been raised a Buddhist and did not believe in any god; nor had I ever prayed. But that night, for the first time in my life, I turned to God in the name of Jesus; and I am convinced He heard me. I wept like a baby, begging Him to forgive me for all the evil I had done to others; all those whom I had killed and maimed. I realized that Jesus had borne the penalty of every, even the smallest, sin; that He is able to forgive the most abominable crimes. And Jesus entered the heart of a piece of trash like myself, and transformed it.
I tell you, the following day I woke up a much freer man than many of you in your comfortable homes. We do not have to be behind bars to find ourselves captive and enslaved. Many of us have our own prisons and dependencies within our hearts. For some it may be work, for others, money, for still others it may by alcohol, drugs, sex, or something else. With all these things we try to fill the void in our heart, but that void bears the shape of God, and only God can truly fill it, and make us happy. Michael told me that I could leave prison, make lots of money, and still not be free, since no amount of money will be of any use to me when I die. Only Jesus gives real freedom, and we can always invite Him into our heart. There is no other way to be free.
In all truth I tell you that that night, in that real prison in Cyprus, the real Jesus really did change my heart. That was eighteen years ago, and throughout all these eighteen years, day after day, I have witnessed to this fact to whomever I meet. Michael told me I had to do two things in order to allow Jesus to save me. First I had to turn from sin. I had to acknowledge as sin that which God calls sin and show a willingness to change. This willingness is crucial. If we truly desire change, Jesus will carry us in His arms despite our brokenness.
The second thing was to entrust my life to Jesus. Entrusting means acknowledging that Jesus is God, Creator of the universe and Lord and Master of my life. This means turning to Him in every situation of my life, recognizing Him and keeping His principles every day and in every situation. Can there be anyone more worthy of taking control of your life than Jesus, who formed you in your mother’s womb; who created the magnificent world around you; and who died on he cross out of love for you? Do not be foolish and refuse Jesus. Take advantage of the opportunity. Make the two steps that will be decisive for your life!
Eighteen years ago, I turned from sin and offered my life to Jesus, and He has transformed me. I was the first of ten murderers, terrorists, and drug-dealers who subsequently converted in that prison in Cyprus. Now I am married and have two sons, aged eight and four. I no longer practice kung fu, since I cannot imagine Jesus, humble and meek of heart as He is, having much good to say about the “martial arts.” Do not sit idle! Time is truly short. None of us can be sure that this night we not will bid our earthly life good-bye.
Based on Tony Anthony’s book, The Taming of the Tiger; retold by Miroslaw Rucki
The above article was published with permission from "Love One Another!" - May 2016