How about all the way to being one of the UK’s most influential independent martial arts governing bodies, engaging more than 30,000 direct members in martial arts across the United Kingdom with a dedicated Charitable Foundation and award-winning Association that effects grass-roots change for some of our communities most in-need?
What if we told you the guy behind it grew up in poverty and left school without the standard A-C in the core subjects but is now a multi-award winning social entrepreneur, employer and advocate?
No start up funding, no loans, no support, no ‘little black books’.
That’s us in a nutshell.
How Did It All Begin?
Giovanni Soffietto, the now award-winning social entrepreneur behind our Group was born in 1991, in the South West of England. Born into a hard working family – like 70% of children growing up in poverty – despite both his Mother and Father working long hours, it simply wasn’t enough to keep food on the table and electric in the meters. Martial arts proved the only consistent outlet for Giovanni. Whilst he may have had to work part time unloading grocery trucks before school and serving fruit and veg after school and at weekends from the age of twelve to pay for his own training, martial arts delivered. Resilience, self-discipline, motivation and vision; a real-life, lived example of what our industry can provide those from even the most desperate backgrounds and circumstances.
Fast forward twenty years and that same young lad is now at the helm of what is considered one of the UK’s premier martial arts organisations and the largest group of martial arts based businesses in the country. What’s more, the BMABA Fighting Chance Charitable Foundation goes beyond the association’s award winning service to offer wholly-charitable martial arts programmes aimed at tackling childhood poverty, knife crime, discrimination, bullying and more. Giovanni passionately believes that every child has the potential to inspire change and create a lasting legacy and his work is proving it is more than just a principle.
This same belief and ambition saw the British Martial Arts & Boxing Association (BMABA) founded on September 17th 2012 with just £20 of start up capital. After spending £4.99 on a domain name Giovanni was left with the prospect of managing finances, marketing, sales, safeguarding, professional development, networking and web designing alongside a physical day job working 7 days on, 1 day off.
Whilst we started as a small community run organisation and have proudly maintained our politics free, community based approach to governance we are immensely proud to now have a dedicated staff and committee which has help the association thrive into a major organisation with offices, staff and a national presence.
Right the way through our first 8 years of growth the association received absolutely no funding or financial support. Loans were off limits (as our Director had no equity to offer up as security) and the idea of a young man, without a degree or experience, being able to find a gap in such a well-protected market just didn’t seem viable. Still today, we are completely self-funded and receive absolutely no help from government or Sport England.
Time after time we were told the association was doomed to fail. We wouldn’t be able to create a brand that was recognised. We wouldn’t be able to build the right online infrastructure. We wouldn’t be able to attract enough members, or gain any recognition for our work. We wouldn’t be able to thrive without substantial funding from Sport England.
We find it funny how at the start so many voices can seem against you. Quite often, as indeed we have found, when you reach a defining moment those same voices fall very quiet.
Now beyond our start up years the Association is excelling in every respect. Our membership has exploded from the modest closing figure of 12 in year one to more than 30,000 by year eight – and growing rapidly. The association turns over a six figure sum, employs staff, has a dedicated office and has been the recipient of dozens of awards and nominations.
The story of the BMABA encapsulates everything martial arts instils. It’s about being the underdog, putting in the hours and not surrendering even in the face of an almost endless stream of challenges, setbacks and disadvantages. Together with each and every member we have today, our community of like minded martial arts instructors, clubs and participants have created a success story like no other in our industry.
The BMABA Fighting Chance Charitable Foundation is creating a legacy that will impact on communities up and down the UK. From tackling knife crime, standing up to bullying, providing scholarships for children in poverty through to engaging more women and girls in martial arts, we’re collectively – as a community – breaking down barriers to participation and redefining our industry.
Whether you’re an instructor, student or parent you’ll find an association that values your custom and support. We’re built on the necessity to do well and provide a great service. Without any funding or grants, we wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t consistently deliver a great experience to our new and existing members.
The governance and ethos behind our organisation is one of believing in the underdog, and believing in everybody have the opportunity to do something inspirational. Where the BMABA goes over the next decade remains to be shaped by our community of members and clubs and we think that is exceptionally exciting.
What we do know is Giovanni’s founding principles of not accepting defeat, and the belief that the UK martial arts industry is ready for something different shall remain a driving factor.