EST. 2012


How £20 Changed UK Martial Arts

How far does £20 stretch?

For one young lad, all the way to building one of the UK’s most influential independent martial arts supporting bodies, engaging more than 100,000 people across the United Kingdom every year as an award-winning trade body.

What if we told you the guy behind it grew up in poverty and left school without the GCSEs needed to go to college but is now a multi-award winning social entrepreneur, employer and childhood poverty advocate?

No start up funding, no loans, no support, no ‘little black books’.

That’s our fight in a nutshell.

How did it all begin?

Born into a hard-working but very much impoverished family in the South West of the UK, our now award-winning Founder and CEO, Giovanni Soffietto came from no privilege. Working as many as 20 hours a week from the age of 13 and growing up in a household that was regularly forced to choose between electric or food, poverty formed a key trauma in Giovanni’s earlier years. Perhaps not surprisingly, having to prioritise on immediate financial stability meant educational attainment had to come second. Whilst doing his best to achieve academically, the prospect of finding the funding to attend University and higher education over a working wage simply wasn’t practical.

Giovanni’s always attributed his success to martial arts. The resilience, grit and determination taught to students up and down the UK in just about every discipline are, he says, character building and at times, life-defining.

Giovanni's Background

I was lucky to have been started in Shotokan Karate, aged around 4 years old. Whilst (like most children) I briefly stopped around six years old, I was back the year after and have never stopped training since. I attained my Dan Grade in Karate in c. 2009 but by that point, my love of Muay Thai had firmly taken hold. I spent my teenage years experimenting with Karate, Taekwondo, Kickboxing and a few others, whilst developing a strong core of Muay Thai and Jujitsu. All-in-all, this would be today what we refer to as 'Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)' although back then, it was usually called 'Freestyle Martial Arts'. I began assisting in classes around 15 years of age, and took over my first gym aged 18 years old. Today, in my 30's, I continue to teach and train in Muay Thai and Self Defence (Protection) and teach a voluntary Kickboxing class for the local schools too.

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. What’s more, the BMABA’s Fighting Chance Foundation goes beyond the association’s award winning service to offer martial arts programmes aimed at tackling childhood poverty, knife crime, violence against women and girls, male mental health, bullying and more. Our Founder passionately believes that every child has the potential to inspire change and create a lasting legacy and that martial arts can play a decisive roll in unlocking that opportunity.

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 BMABA started as a small community run organisation and have proudly maintained a politics free, community based approach to governance BMABA are immensely proud to now have a dedicated staff and committee which help the association thrive from three offices, covering more than 2,000 sqft of dedicated premises.

Giovanni aged 23.

I remember as clear as day when I first started BMABA being told by everyone there wasn't a 'chance in hell' of being evenly marginally successful. Everyone was fast to remind me how long-established the competitors had been in place for, and how it would "take more than £1,000,000 to make a dent". Even my own Father discouraged me from taking the plunge because "how would somebody like [me] do something like that (building a national business)."

Giovanni Soffietto

BMABA has never received any funding or financial help. Sport England actively declined to support the association and Foundation even in the face of Coronavirus – the only time it has ever reached out to try and obtain support. Loans were off limits (as our founder had no equity to offer up as security at the time) 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 to investors.

Time after time BMABA was told the association was doomed to fail. It wouldn’t be able to create a brand that was recognised. It wouldn’t be able to build the right online infrastructure. It wouldn’t be able to attract enough members, or gain any recognition for its work. It wouldn’t be able to compete with the established ‘old-boy’ associations already operating.

Now having passed the decade-old mark in 2012 the Association is excelling in every respect. Membership has exploded from the modest closing figure of 12 in year one to more than 100,000 members by year eleven – 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.

What’s more, the BMABA Fighting Chance Foundation serves as a dedicated vessel for Giovanni and his team to give back to martial arts, helping to combat poverty, violence and disadvantage on a national basis.

Giovanni receiving a prestigious award from the SBAs

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 BMABA has today, its community of like minded martial arts instructors, clubs and participants have created a success story like no other in the UK martial arts industry.

BMABA are creating a legacy that will impact on communities up and down the UK for generations. From promoting martial arts to everyone through to specialist programs tackling knife crime, standing up to bullying, providing scholarships for children in poverty and engaging more women and girls in martial arts, BMABA is collectively – as a community – breaking down barriers to participation and redefining the industry.

Whether your club is big or small, you’ll find an association that values your custom and support. BMABA is built on the necessity to do well and provide a great service. Without any funding or grants, it wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t consistently deliver a great experience to new and existing members.

The governance and ethos behind BMABA is one of believing in the underdog, and believing in everybody to have the opportunity to do something inspirational. Where the BMABA goes over the next decade remains to be shaped by its community of members and clubs. Everybody has a voice in this. No club is too small.

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. As an entrepreneur who passionately believes in the good that technology can do for grassroots causes, BMABA will continue to remain at the forefront of martial arts for decades to come.

Giovanni today.

Men's Health Inspirational Coach of the Year

Giovanni was named Men's Health Inspirational Coach of the Year and the "Black Belt Mentor" for his work changing the lives of so many through martial arts. His background in Shotokan Karate and Muay Thai Boxing has been instrumental in this process.

In addition to his extraordinary passion for martial arts, which started at the age of 4 in his first Karate lesson, Giovanni is now in receipt of multiple entrepreneurial awards recognising is outstanding contributions to the world of not for profit social enterprise.