"Martial Arts Is The Only Reason I Am Where I Am Today"
Our Founder and CEO's own story of how martial arts helped him escape a life of poverty and go on to shape an industry.
"Like many kids growing up in poverty, throughout my childhood I lacked stability and often found myself vulnerable to poor life choices. As I often say, when you're suffering from hunger because - despite working two jobs - your parents can't put food on the table, or when you're freezing cold because food has come before the gas meter, you don't focus on learning the Cello.
All too often the failures of our society are reflected as the failures of an individual, despite for so many their life circumstances in which they are born into playing the greatest part in their story.
I was born in the South West of England in the early 90's. My father worked hard to provide for us, but all of his efforts were in 'unskilled' roles which often came with little to no security and poor pay. My mother suffered from mental health issues and substance abuse until a family breakdown at the age of twelve broke up the family unit. I vividly recall being an angry teenager. I wasn't a 'bad kid' by any stretch of the imagination but I was associating with friends who had begun to pick up criminal records and I was certainly being led down a dark path feeling more disenfranchised as the months and years rolled on, with numerous 'near misses' that could have resulted in serious harm and/or a criminal record.
I had initially practiced Karate as a young man and progressed through until achieving my Black Belt (1st Dan). This had always been an immensely positive experience, grounding me in my body, instilling respect and - most importantly as I would go on to learn - giving me access to the human body's near endless reserves of resilience and grit.
As I entered my teenage years, with thanks to my then best friend, I was introduced to Muay Thai Boxing at a back-street 'off the radar' gym. The gym was on the first floor of an old farmer's barn and featured everything you'd today find in a cliché boxing film. Splinters in the floors, punchbags taped up, a sweat and blood stained boxing ring and a large room with no luxuries, strip-lighting and zero temperature control (making it roasting in the summer and freezing in the winter). I fell immediately in love. That sort of environment and the intense training that takes place inside was the most captivating thing I had ever seen. It cut through the noise like no other sport or youth service had ever managed to before. I was hooked.
"I was built in that gym."
As an impressionable and somewhat drifting teenager, looking back, I was clearly vulnerable. Whilst safeguarding training was a term never heard at this particular gym, the coaches and trainers were genuinely decent martial artists who had grown up in the same impoverished community. They understood the pressures we faced, and they wanted to help.
I learnt more about myself in the most positive ways imaginable in the coming years at that gym, studying Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing. Led by a superb instructor who accepted no money from those of us who could not afford it, I was immediately and immeasurably inspired. I saw - for probably the first time in my life clearly - that people are inherently good and, without realising it, I aligned to a positive male figure and role model.
I had starting working at the age of 12, unloading lorries on the docks before school and working in a greengrocers after school and on the weekends to assist my Father with household bills and food shops. Every month, despite the protests of my coach, I would pay my £20 'dues' to hold a key to enter that gym 24/7, 365 days a year. This wasn't just an incredible sense of ownership bestowed upon me, but also a refuge in which I would learn resilience, stickability, strength, humility and discipline that unquestionably came back to support me in my later years.
I was built in that Gym and, session by session, hour by hour, I grew. As many of the peers I initially surrounded myself with slowly drifted off to a life of drink, drugs and crime, I remained firmly grounded. Supported by the only consistency I had ever really known, I found a safe place to learn and train, socialising with others and coming to the realisation that there is always something to learn and always someone capable of beating you unless you worked harder.
"Resilience and hard work, stemming from immense self-discipline and a vision. That has been my key to success and I owe it all to martial arts."
My training and personal growth led me to the very quick realisation that I had to, as Bon Jovi put it, "grow up, get old or hit the road" and so I moved on immediately after leaving school. Initially trying out for a career in the Royal Marines and Fleet Air Arm, ultimately the military wasn't for me. Looking back on it, I was born an entrepreneur but the society and community in which I grew up never championed this or even presented it as a possibility. I was taught to 'get a job so you don't starve', never to be ambitious and take risks. Had it not being for martial arts, I would never have been able to summon the strength to follow my heart and go into social business.
In 2012, aged 20 and with just £20 of start-up capital, I founded the British Martial Arts & Boxing Association. I relied on martial arts on a daily basis in my twenties. Starting a business of this magnitude in a saturated and age-dominated market without any funding was, as I was told numerous times, "completely impossible" and "a great waste of time". Some even went so far as to assure me I would spend "the rest of my life stacking shelves in a petrol station, if I was lucky" (not that there is anything wrong with this for so many).
No doubt the single biggest attribute, I believe, that has allowed me to flourish into a now multi-award winning social entrepreneur and 'Men's Health Coach Of The Year' is resilience and hard work. I taught myself web design, systems infrastructure, legal principles, accounting, marketing, copyrighting, graphics, policy, safeguarding and so much more in the early days because there was nobody else to do it for me. I can't recount how many times then - and sometimes still now - I will work through to 2am to finish on a deadline, only to rise at 5am to spend time with my children before heading off to the offices.
Resilience and hard work, stemming from immense self-discipline and a vision. That has been my key to success and I owe it all to martial arts.