The combat sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has exploded in popularity in recent years – but for many, there are significant barriers to getting involved. Martial Arts in the Park aimed to provide an easily accessible way for Uxbridge youngsters to give the sport a try.
Shabaaz Ali, Chief Instructor at the Uxbridge Martial Arts Academy, knew there was a lot of interest in MMA locally. He’d discovered that there was a high number of google searches for terms like 'MMA training', yet the academy didn’t always have a high number of new recruits. An online survey was carried out and the results identified that financial barriers were preventing many people from getting involved. Shabaaz explained:
We found that one of the main reasons people don’t join our club is that the setup costs are quite high. To train safely, you need equipment like a head guard, groin guard, gloves – it can all come to hundreds of pounds.
The solution was Martial Arts in the Park – a series of weekly training sessions held on a local green space for people interested in getting involved in MMA. Crucially, the necessary equipment and insurance would be purchased for the new students. A successful application to Tesco Bags of Help kicked the idea into action.
The sessions took place weekly at the Abbotsfield School’s playing field in Uxbridge during the summer. Around 15-20 students came along to each session, with around ten of them sticking with MMA for the long-term. The initiative has paid dividends for the academy – three of the complete beginners who came along to Martial Arts in the Park are now fighting at national tournament level, just nine months later!
Shabaaz has seen the fitness levels of those who stuck with the training improve significantly:
For sure they’ve improved, there’s no doubt about that. There are visible differences, especially with the younger kids. Some students couldn’t do a single press up – now they can do 40!
Other students were observed to dramatically increase their confidence as the weeks went on. And one has gone on to get involved in mentoring and coaching other beginners, passing on the knowledge he learned in the park.
The sessions have brought people together too, explains Shabaaz:
This is a very multicultural place. The students had different backgrounds, different walks of life – many wouldn’t normally mix. But at the club, everyone has a common goal, everyone works together and gets along.
The Bags of Help scheme was a perfect match for the idea, according to Shabaaz:
We just wouldn’t have been able to do this without the Tesco funding. The equipment is very expensive and we’re not a big academy able to afford it. It was indispensible – and we had a really successful outcome!
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