Snakes, Self-Defence and Sacred Theology: An Unconventional Combination

17 Jun 2021

By The Record

UNDA’s Professor Matthew Ogilvie has been a lecturer in theology for 30 years. He has been a certified self-defence instructor since 2011 and a qualified venomous snake catcher since 2016. Photo: Supplied.

On an afternoon, Professor Matthew Ogilvie teaches a theology class for education students and seminarians.

That evening he has a knife to his throat and challenges a Krav Maga student.

The knife is dealt with and the student finds himself on the ground.

The next morning he is called out to catch a tiger snake from a home in Churchlands.

The snake is caught and released safely in the bush.

Later that morning, he is marking theology papers and giving feedback to students.

As he explains, the knife wasn’t real – it was a training knife. The tiger snake, though, was real. “The theology,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, “is very real!”

Professor Ogilvie has been a lecturer in theology for 30 years.

He has been a certified self-defence instructor since 2011 and a qualified venomous snake catcher since 2016.

It’s an unconventional combination.

He explains that he started learning Krav Maga (Israeli self-defence) when he lived in Texas 15 years ago.

He now holds two instructor’s diplomas and teaches regular classes for a local school.

He says that he likes being an instructor because it’s a way of serving the community, especially people who are vulnerable.

However, he is often challenged on how a person committed to God can be so involved in a profession seen as so violent.

“The first thing,” he explained, “is that I take the ethics of self-defence very seriously.

“My mentors have always emphasised the Jewish ethics behind authentic Krav Maga. We only use it to respond to unjust aggressors. That’s an important part of the sort of Krav Maga I practice, which is called ‘Protect Krav Maga.’

Krav Maga is the official martial art/self-defence system used by the Israeli armed forces. Photo: Supplied.

It’s not about showing people how tough you are, it’s about protecting the innocent.”

Self-defence has also had a good effect on Professor Ogilvie’s temperament.

Being aware of what violence can do to a person makes you most reluctant to be violent.

Besides, Professor Ogilvie said that being a self-defence instructor has helped him evangelise in the strangest ways. 

“When people find out that I’m a practicing Catholic who is into self-defence, they see something very attractive and realise that you can be a robust gentleman and a person dedicated to their faith.”

There was also an incident in Fremantle that Professor Ogilvie recalls.

Two biker gang members were hit by a car who didn’t see the motorbikes.

The bikers were were angry with the driver and people in the gathered crowd were too afraid to get involved.

But because he wasn’t afraid, Professor Ogilvie was able to take control of the situation, calm down the bikers, get the driver’s insurance details and ensure that all the damage would be paid for.

“They appreciated that someone would come to help them without judging them and when they knew their Harleys would be fixed, they were happy,” Matthew recalls.

“I gave them my business card in case they needed me to be a witness.

“He asked me about my work, looked at me thoughtfully and then said, ‘You know, you’re not too bad.’”

“I could only imagine what his impression was of Catholics or university professors before that incident.

“I don’t think I converted anyone that day, but I think a couple of people left that scene with a better view of Catholicism.

But what about snakes?

Professor Ogilvie explained that he lives near Herdsman Lake, which is full of tiger snakes. 

“Perth has been good to my family and this service is a great way of saying ‘thanks’.”

By a coincidence, the first time he was called out to catch a tiger snake, it turned out that the person who had been in one of his theology classes. As he was lifting the snake from a phone pit, the young lady asked if he was the theology lecturer.

Professor Ogilvie as he is usually attired, teaching Theology at The University of Notre Dame. Photo: Supplied.

“I answered ‘yes.’ I couldn’t help myself and I reminded her that, ‘at Notre Dame pastoral care of our students is our top priority. At what other uni would one of your lecturers come out to catch a tiger snake for you?’”

So if someone wants to do theology, learn self-defence, or if they’re confronted by a snake, what should they do?

Professor Ogilvie said that there are some awesome theology schools in Australia, but, ‘I know people will say I’m biased, but University of Notre Dame’s is the best.”

As for self-defence, the key is finding the school that is right for you. There are many different sorts of self-defence and some work better for different people.

Professor Ogilvie suggests doing some research, talking to the owner of the school and trying it out.

It’s important to try out a new school to see if it works for you before you make a long-term commitment.

It’s almost most important to make sure that the system you’re learning aligns with your ethics and values.

He explains, though, that it’s always best to be prepared for the worst and to learn first aid for snake bites.

We asked him, if he’s connected self-defence with being a Catholic “on the street,” how does he connect snakes and theology? 

With a smile Professor Ogilvie said, “Snakes and theology? I can say confidently that if I was in the Garden of Eden, history would have been way different! I’d have caught the serpent and relocated it to a safe place.”

You can check out Professor Ogilvie’s work at and