Mixed Martial Arts for Reform And Progression (MMARAP) is a Community Interest Company which offers mixed martial arts to deaf, disabled, blind and otherwise-able but disadvantaged youngsters, often BAME.
Their purpose is to bring mixed martial arts to those sections of society which do not normally get to enjoy this sport. For example, they teach a largely autistic group of youngsters on Thursdays.
Where Do You Operate?
NEIL: “We are based in Islington, North London where we have been for over 8 years.
“We have recently reached out to many other London Boroughs. We have just started to operate in South East London and are hoping to move to other northern boroughs soon.
“Our objective is to operate across the majority of London Boroughs eventually, possibly by the end of 2021, and then progressively move out nationally.
“We have had tentative discussions as far afield as Nottingham and Manchester but we want to expand in a controlled manner – funding and COVID permitting!”
How Has COVID Affected You?
JONATHAN: “Like many, we had to cease offering our services initially. Now we change the way that we operate as lockdown eases and tightens.”
“With social distancing and restrictions on touching, we can no longer offer the grappling moves, like in Ju Jitsu, and we can’t use mats.
“However, the thing about karate is that it is automatically socially distanced – or you get a foot in your mouth!”
What are the Reform and Progression Aspects of Your Work?
JONATHAN: “It is about so much more than sport because it is about working with people to instil confidence in themselves. This enables them to go out into the world and be better prepared to get that job or achieve their aspirations.
“We also bring in role models. We had Chris Telesford, a paralympic medallist, attend a session which went down very well.”
“We also work with those that have been, or might be, in trouble with the law – and we have taken classes in a prison.”
What are the misconceptions about people you work with?
JONATHAN: “There are some misconceptions about MMA and also with who can participate. For example, it is nothing to do with ‘cage fighting’, which is as relevant to MMA as bare-knuckle fighting is to professional boxing run under Marquis of Queensbury Rules.
“It is much more about blending several different styles of martial art – like karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, boxing, wrestling, Tai-Chi, Aikido and Kung fu – to create a sport which is excellent for keeping fit and for a better wellbeing.
It also offers so much to those not usually enabled to undertake sports training.”
“We run sessions for blind, carefully tailoring the activities to them, or for those in wheelchairs where we can focus on upper body work.
“For the deaf we use signers. In fact, some of our instructors can sign. We also work closely with those with autism and many of our sessions include mindfulness aspects as well as inspirational speakers.”
“A further benefit of MMA is that it is both controlled aggression – especially through ‘pad work’ – and also excellent for relieving stress.
Through the ‘kiai’ aspect, a shout is used to focus the mind on a move which is highly beneficial both to the intensity and effectiveness of the move and to well-being.”
What Does MMARAP Need to Move Forward?
NEIL: “We have three needs really.
“Primarily funding. We are a CIC and, therefore, can only continue to offer our services when we are funded. We largely rely on grants to offer free sessions – although we do generally charge the able who are also welcome to attend sessions.
“We are staffed by volunteers so our costs are low – but we have to pay instructors and sometimes rent for premises. Notwithstanding that we offer incredible value for money.”
JONATHAN: “Secondly we need some equipment.
“Our needs are not great as most venues have mats and sprung floors which we can use. We do, however, need a few other items at each venue such as gloves, striking pads and punch bags.
“We also like to give participants and carers promotional merchandise like T-Shirts, hats, wristbands and water bottles with the MMARAP logo to reinforce a sense of ‘belonging’. We are happy to co-brand these either with the venue – or with sponsors.
“We also need banners to go on display in the venues to give that ‘club’ feeling, but none of these are expensive.”
NEIL: “Finally, we need more good instructors – initially in London – and then progressively nationally. All of our instructors hold a DBS certificate and come from varied disciplines, including karate, judo, Jiu jitsu and boxing.
“We also have female instructors and are happy to – and have – run female only courses.
It is also a great way of keeping fit and it is fun!”
FEATURED IMAGE: Neil Russell-Jones (centre) and Jonathan Buffong (far right) and youngsters from MMARAP