Sometimes you see a movie with a scene that is so powerful it’s one you turn to for strength and encouragement in your own life. Warrior had at least two of those for me.
Warrior begins when Tommy comes back home from the war and approaches his father, Paddy, (Nick Nolte) about training him for a Sparta MMA tournament. His father is now celebrating 1,000 days sober, but Tommy doesn’t care. He doesn’t have any good memories of his alcoholic dad and has no use for him now other than as a trainer. Not only that, but he’s angry at his brother Brendan as well. When Tommy and his mother left Paddy (it’s suggested that he was physically abusive), Brendan stayed behind…for a girl who later became his wife.
So Tommy is full of bitterness. Life’s been really hard. After his difficult childhood, he had to watch his mother suffer and die, praying for Jesus to help her. He lost his entire unit in the war; he was the sole survivor. He is angry and bitter. And, he needs to fight. He promised his best friend who died in the war that he would care for his family. So Tommy needs money to send to his friend’s wife and kids.
Meanwhile, Brendan has had his own reasons to fight. He is an honest, hard working and well-beloved teacher. He and his wife have three jobs between them, and even still, they are about to have their home repossessed by the bank. He needs money, fast, and another minimum wage job won’t do it.
Brendan is a devoted family man who has found love and a lot of healing from his painful past, but, while he may not hold a lot of bitterness still against his father, he still doesn’t trust him and really wants nothing to do with him. As for his relationship with his brother, well, it’s complicated too. Tommy never spoke to Brendan after they left. When Brendan decided to stay behind, Tommy cut him off. Tommy didn’t even tell Brendan when their mother died. When they both end up at the Sparta match, Brendan wants to renew his relationship with his brother, but Tommy will have none of it.
So that’s the set up. Paddy is desperately trying to heal his relationship with both his boys. They hate him. Brendan wants to at least heal things with Tommy, and Tommy wants to have nothing to do with anyone. And they all end up in this fight together.
So I mentioned there were a couple scenes that I will never forget. The first one was when Brendan is facing the number one seed. This bad dude from Russia. Brendan is getting killed…literally just beat to a pulp. He has a wonderful coach, Frank, who trains his guys to listen to classical music and remain composed at all times. He loves Brendan like a brother and doesn’t want to see him get killed. So he sits down with him in the corner and asks Brendan, “Why are we here, Brendan? Why are we here? Are we here to win this fight? You tell me, ’cause if we’re not, I’ll throw in the towel right now. We’ll get Tess [Brendan’s wife] and we will go home.” He gives Brendan the chance to say he can’t do it, so say it’s not worth the beating he’ll take if he isn’t going to win. The only reason to stick around for more of that fight, the only reason to take another beating, was if he was going to win. BUT, he also reminds Brendan that he is fighting for something that is worth fighting for. He isn’t fighting for bragging rights, he is fighting for his family and his home. So, Frank continues, “You don’t knock him out, you lose the fight. Understand me? You don’t knock him out, you don’t have a home.”
“You don’t knock him out, you don’t have a home.” I love that line. It was enough to get Brendan back in the ring – a true Rocky moment – and he won the fight. I wonder how many times in our own lives we forget why we are fighting. It’s easy to get so focused on the battle we forget what we’re fighting for. We forget that there is an enemy who is against us. We forget that it’s not enough to just be in the ring and take a beating. We have to WIN the fight. We have to knock the enemy out. Our homes, our families, our lives are on the line. There is no half way with this battle. He will take our homes, our families, our lives. If we don’t knock him out, we don’t have a home.
In the end, Brendan and Tommy have to fight each other. It’s an awkward, painful moment. There’s no good solution. Who do you even pull for?
Tommy goes into the fight unleashing years of built up pain and anger. Brendan, however, clearly doesn’t relish the idea of fighting his brother. He wants to find healing with his brother, not fight him. But sometimes, the only way to healing is a long, hard battle.
They fought: Tommy from his place of pain; Brendan from a place of peace. Brendan ended up snapping Tommy’s shoulder. He didn’t want to, but Tommy wasn’t going to stop, that much was clear. Even still, with one arm completely out of commission, Tommy still wanted to fight. Brendan kept begging him not to make him fight him any longer. He didn’t want to hurt his brother. Tommy forced his hand.
In this beautiful moment, Brendan got Tommy in a choke-hold – I know, doesn’t sound beautiful…but let me explain. All Tommy has to do is tap out, but he won’t. And so Brendan has him, arms around his neck in an embrace – one that could kill him, but one that is also tender and intimate, one that could be a loving embrace in an instant. And while he has his arms around Tommy, literally choking the life out of him, he is also breathing life into him, telling him over and over, “I’m so sorry, Tommy. I love you. I love you, Tommy.” And then, Tommy broke. He finally let go the anger and the rage, he let go of the fight – literally and metaphorically. He tapped out and it was over.
Brendan had won. Love had won. He walked out with his brother, arms still around Tommy’s neck, but now with love and tenderness, whispering to him, “I love you,” all the way out the door.
This was tough love, literally. It was so clear. Brendan had to wound his brother, had to wound him deeply before Tommy would be vulnerable enough to hear the message of love. It’s a strange thing, but it’s so often true of human nature.
It closely parallels another wrestling story you may have heard. In Genesis 32, there’s this crazy story about Jacob. Apparently, he was travelling to see his brother, but had some anxiety about it, since the last time he saw his brother, many years past, he had stolen his birthright (inheritance). So, he sends everyone on and he stays behind for a night. Then, strangely, rather out of nowhere, the text just says that Jacob wrestled with a man until daybreak. But Jacob wasn’t going to let it go. He kept fighting and fighting and fighting. So, close to day break, what does the man do? He touches Jacob’s hip and dislocates it. And the man still has to tell Jacob, (in a loose paraphrase) “Enough already!” And Jacob says he won’t let go until the man (whom Jacob later says is God) blesses him.
Jacob had a history of fighting. Hosea puts it this way: “In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor.” And so, God fought him. It’s not that God wanted to have to fight with Jacob. It’s not that God wanted to hurt him. But, Jacob wouldn’t quit. He wrestled till daybreak—ALL night. God could have dislocated that hip with a touch in the first few minutes, but he didn’t. He wrestled with Jacob. He entered in, he fought with him, he got close to him. I wonder if he too had Jacob in a choke-hold at one point whispering to him, “I love you, I’m so sorry.” I wonder if when he touched Jacob’s hip he grieved for the pain he knew he was about to cause him? I wonder if he wished he could avoid wrestling with Jacob and just bless him instead?
How many times have you been on either end of that fight? How many times have you wished you could avoid it, knowing it was going to “hurt you more” to have to hurt someone else. Maybe you’re a parent who would rather not have to discipline your child, but you know you have to. Or maybe you’re wrestling with God yourself. Maybe you are dealing with your anger, fears, resentments, past, bitterness, doubts…maybe you’re the one who is just determined to enter into that fight—you just can’t let it go. Are you like Tommy? Do you have to keep fighting till you’re nearly dead before you can hear the words, “I love you”?
Questions for Discussion:
- Are you fighting a battle against an enemy to whom you cannot afford to lose? Who or what is your enemy? What’s at stake?
- If you think about the battles in your life, do you find that you are more often wrestling an enemy (like Brendan fighting the Russian)…one you have to knock out or lose everything, or that you are fighting a friend (like Tommy fighting Brendan) and that if you could just yield it would all be better?
- When you find yourself in that battle with a friend, which side are you on? Are you in Tommy’s shoes or Brendan’s?
- What does it take for you to finally yield?
 Hosea 12:3-4