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Not your average musically inclined pastor/warrior: Pyles good at making hobbies into careers




Three years ago, Jody Pyles, became pastor of The Connection Church in Newbern, where the motto is, “Connecting People to God.”

“I wanted something a little different from some of the traditional mainstream churches you see … you know, something real,” Pyles related.

His church is part of the International Gospel Outreach group, which has several hundred churches scattered across the globe.

“I’m about as raw as they come,” said Pyles on his style of delivering a sermon. “I don’t sugarcoat anything. I’m the same in the parking lot on as I am the pulpit. What you see is what you get.”

What one sees when speaking to Jody Pyles is an athletic fellow who looks to be capable of throwing a roundhouse kick to your chin … not exactly one’s typical idea of a preacher.

“Everybody has somebody in the Bible that they relate to… for me it’s David,” said Pyles. “David was 100% worshiper. He’s the guy that hid out in the rocks and wrote the Psalms. But he was also 100% warrior.”

The warrior aspect of Pyles’ persona is readily apparent. He spoke to me from the Pyles Combat Fighting System school on Bell Avenue in Pulaski. He has owned his own martial school for the past six years.

“I’m a black belt in seven different systems and my highest is a fifth-degree,” said Pyles.

Drawing from his experience in studying various schools of martial arts, Pyles developed and founded his own system called Zhanshu Zhandou, which translates to mean tactical combat.

“I took from various martial arts that I’m belted in and I combined them into one system,” said Pyles. “Instead of getting a belt in Taekwondo, Aikido or Jujitsu, I combined all those and I created a book that has everything laid out … every block, every kick and every strike stance.”

Jody Pyles is originally from Mount Airy, North Carolina, and moved to the New River Valley after his mother died in 2006. Both Pyles’ father and grandfather were pastors but he never envisioned that life for himself. His family history was also steeped in military service, but when he attempted to join the Marines, they rejected him because he was told he had scoliosis.

Unable to join the military, Pyles majored in Criminal Justice in college and joined the Winston Salem police force.

“I was the second youngest officer on the force down there and absolutely loved it,” said Pyles. “I was a runner and I used to constantly chase people when they would jump from their cars. It was an adrenaline rush.”

At this point in his life, Pyles imagined himself working as a police officer for several years before retiring and running for sheriff in his native county.

“Needless to say, God had other plans,” said Pyles.

When Pyles was seven years old, he convinced his parents to take him to a Pee Wee Karate class. This obviously had major ramifications for Pyles’ future, but another early interest also affected his life in a big way. At the age of 10, Pyles began learning to play guitar and before long he was playing music in the praise and worship segment of his church’s service. He eventually become a praise and worship leader and joined a traveling Christian band.

One day in 2009, the band’s bus broke down in Tennessee. That’s when he met Ashely, who worked at a Christian theater. A couple of weeks later, Jody asked Ashley to sing at a New Year’s event for a church.

“It kept going on from there,” said Ashley.

They married that same year and today the couple live in Radford. Ashley teaches music and dance and is working on her black belt in Zhanshu Zhandou.

In addition to teaching his own brand of martial arts, Jody Pyles is a certified NRA instructor who also teaches combative pistol and tactical weapon classes.

When asked whether being a preacher and a martial arts instructor presented a type of contradiction in careers, Pyles answered, “I think it’s about using your talents, your gifts and your abilities because in the end, God created us. Both Christianity and martial arts teach honor, respect and integrity. So there’s a great crossover there. I don’t hide who I am, whether I’m on the martial arts floor or whether I’m onstage playing music or whether I’m in the platform as a minister … I don’t hide who I am in my personal convictions.”

Pyles not only believes in the warrior aspect of Christianity, he puts his skills to use through the Mercy Movement, which is in turn run through International Gospel Outreach (IGO).

“We investigate and/or rescue children and females from sex trafficking,” said Pyles. “We have 1,500 churches in 44 different countries. Typically, we work with missionaries.”

Pyles will often be asked to investigate an exploitive situation and if he finds this to be the case, he gathers a group of men who “know how to handle themselves,” and proceeds to go to wherever needed to free these women. Last year, he and his team went to Cuba. The year before that it was Nicaragua.

Pyles doesn’t limit his rescue missions to sex trafficking or even to this hemisphere. While speaking from his martial arts school on Bell Avenue, Pyles showed me a photo of a large family that he and his team managed to liberate from enslavement in Pakistan.

“They were working in brick fields,” said Pyles. “So they captured these people. They’re Christians in a Muslim country and they look at Christians as being less than human. And so they put them to work in these slave fields.”

Like much of what Pyles’ does as part of this group, there is most definitely an element of danger.

“Every situation we go in, we’re prepared for whatever means is necessary,” said Pyles.

In this particular case, Pyles and company were able to distract the brick factory owner and secret away several men, women and children to sanctuary.

“I was in Pakistan and actually spoke to a group of about 2,600 pastors, teaching on worship and then at night I was going out in the brick fields rescuing kids,” Pyles recounted.

Other cases of exploitation occur closer to home, as was the case of a woman in Detroit who found herself in a bad situation.

“She was working for an airline and ended up getting this boyfriend who was beating her up, shooting her up with heroin and prostituting her out,” Pyles recounted.

She got a message out through a friend and Pyles and his team drove out to pick her up, which they did, but there was a problem.

On the way back she told Pyles that she needed a fix for her heroin habit.

“I said I’m sorry, that’s not what we do,” said Pyles. “I pulled over and opened the door and let her get out because I’m not in the business of kidnapping people.”

Pyles gave her a card and told her that while they wouldn’t return, the IGO would pay for a bus ticket if she changed her mind.

“She went back,” said Pyles. “They beat her up. They gave her enough heroin to OD her. She was out cold for about three days but somehow woke up out of it. It was a miracle from God.”

She called the number and was taken to a women’s recovery center.

“Now she’s doing great,” said Pyles. “I’m friends with her on Facebook. Every once a while she shoots me a message and just lets me know she’s doing good. It’s been six years ago maybe and now she works and helps rescue other girls.”

In between taking his team of Christian Commandoes to all parts of the globe to rescue those who find themselves in dire situations, Pyles pastors at his church and teaches his Pyles Combat Fighting System. He currently owns two schools, one in Pulaski and another in his hometown of Mount Airy.

“The most rewarding thing as far as martial arts is seeing a kid that comes in, who maybe has some type of social anxiety or is a little shy or has been told he’s not athletic … and to see though that kid completely turned around,” said Pyles. “I got a kid who was very shy when he first came here. You know, no eye contact and wouldn’t really talk. Now he teaches classes and he’s got a world title. So, I mean, to see the transformation in kids.,”

Pyles’ career path took him from a Praise and Worship leader to being a pastor but he hasn’t neglected his musical talent. He leads the Jody Pyles Band, which plays throughout the summer and he also leads Praise and Worship at his church.

“I’ve done really good at finding a way to make my hobbies my jobs,” said Pyles smiling.

As for his wife Ashley, she has attained her red belt in Zhanshu Zhandou and Jody is eager for her to take her black belt test … which is not easy.

“My last test I had to fight six people at once just to get my red belt and this time I’ll have to fight seven just to be a black belt candidate,” Ashley explained.

She will also need to break a concrete slab with some part of her body to attain her Zhanshu Zhandou black belt.

“I’m not a belt mill, where people can just come in and pay money and I give them a black belt,” said Pyles. “You earn it here.”

So it is with the musically inclined warrior pastor.

“Like I said, I’ve found a way to make my hobbies, my income, so I enjoy my work,” stated Jody Pyles.



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