I have a soft spot for the military. I served for many years on ‘Combat & Survival’ magazine where I grew to appreciate the importance of self-discipline, stamina, respect and camaraderie in our armed forces. Traits I saw mirrored in the martial arts.
I was thrilled then to discover that my next drop-zone for the NEST Academy of the Year Roadshow was on to a shortlisted academy that offers students self-defence but with a military twist – BMMA Leeds.
The British Military Martial Arts organisation supports ex-military and civilian instructors in teaching adults and children martial arts with a military theme across the UK in 100 franchise territories. Top brass and founder Lee Matthews 6th Dan is himself ex-Parachute Regiment. But for this recce to nominee BMMA Leeds, I’d be riding shotgun with area commander and chief instructor Charlotte Watson, 5th Dan, who also served in the British Army.
I locate the academy bunkered off Grant Avenue LS7. Once inside, a ribbon of corridors led me to a reception area (with speech bubble welcome), buzzing viewing zone, kit laden Pro-shop, drinks station and two compact but perfectly formed dojos bouncing with gi-uniformed Little Soldiers.
I also scope out a Japanese-inspired party room charged with low tables, floor cushions, balloons and a white board with marker pen brief of an upcoming club mission.
Huw’s 5th Birthday Party.
BMMA Leeds looks to have its base in order. I salute that.
Chief instructor Charlotte spies me and signals to Joshua Clarkson, her second in command this evening, to take over class instruction. Muzzle-flash quick, she’s at my side to lay down a warm welcome and rounds of intel.
The incoming is that alongside successfully motivating and energising students of all ages, cultures and religions to learn Kickboxing and Taekwondo, Charlotte and her BMMA unit offer broad shoulders of support to academy members and their families in difficult circumstances outside class. A hearts and minds approach that recently saw this Leeds academy nominated locally for its contribution to community.
Sterling work. Deserving of recognition certainly, and who knows, maybe even a medal…
A parade-ground full of thanks to Charlotte, Joshua, Karen, Tracy, Dantrell, Daisy, Annette and Steve for their generous engagement during my visit. An honour to meet you all and to witness how your energy and enthusiasm on the mats fires the same in your charges.
Before bugging-out of BMMA Leeds, I called CI Charlotte and assistant instructor Joshua to attention and used my own special soft skills to make them talk.
Charlotte, BMMA Leeds is designed in strong, bold colours – is there a statement in these choices?
Charlotte Watson: The colours (red and black) are our core colours for BMMA. They were selected for their bold statement as both are strong, authoritative and powerful. They get people’s attention, which is what we want on the mats. We don’t have any posters displayed on the matted area to keep a positive and focused atmosphere for training.
What attributes does the academy’s military martial arts style offer students?
Charlotte Watson: It ranges depending on the class programme. For our Little Soldiers (4-7yrs) it is very much about focus, discipline and respect, something we want to instil at a young age and develop as they grow. With our Cadets (8-11 years) we really want to help develop their confidence, goal setting and how to achieve their goals. There is so much pressure on children nowadays that we believe a strong foundation of self-belief and confidence is vital. For adults of course the fitness element is in there. We hope to show our students how to be the best version of themselves. All these attributes were gained by my many years of martial arts training but emphasised by my military career and experiences. I am glad I now have the privilege to pass these skills on.
I’ve heard it said that BMMA instructors and students ‘have each other’s backs’, what does this mean?
Charlotte Watson: Ha! I am glad that you heard this. We remind everyone, we are not just another club, we are a family and a family support each other through thick and thin. The team are a constant source of positive energy and quick to praise others in their highs whether they are martial arts related or not. Equally, however, the team are there for each other’s low points and support any way they can. On the mats that is seen immediately if someone struggles with a drill, in a competition if someone loses a match everyone instantly rallies around to praise them. Maybe not so obviously seen is the support behind the scenes. Our ladies have created a group chat to encourage each other to keep going. I was a single mum for 2 years with no family local and the parents all rallied around to help me above and beyond what I could ever have imagined. If someone’s ill, someone else usually pops around to pick up their child, take them to training and they will take food. We’ve also had it where the club rallied to raise enough money to send one student’s family on holiday as they’d had to cancel theirs when their father was diagnosed with Leukaemia. All the things you usually see in a family dynamic is very clearly replicated in our academy. We are all extremely grateful for our extended family and I love that everyone coming in, new and old, notice this atmosphere and utilise the support network.
Tell me about your proudest moment as Chief Instructor of BMMA Leeds.
Charlotte Watson: There are so many moments that make me proud. The one that springs to mind is when I first started teaching, I taught a girl who had had a troubled background. Training was her outlet, a place where she could feel safe, train and forget about the other drama surrounding her. She often got into trouble at school and I was the one they called to pop in and see if I could calm the situation. This young lady went on to become one of our black belts and join the British Army for a short time. She has since left, returned to education and qualified as a PE teacher who is now working with troubled children to help show them that there are other avenues to take. I am so incredibly proud that we could show this once angry young girl that there was an outlet for her anger and be there to support her and give her direction. I was proud of this situation alone, to now learn she is working to help other people in similar situations makes me feel like we have helped a whole new generation through her. She has just returned to training with BMMA so we look forward to seeing her future unfold.
Charlotte, in one sentence, give me a heads-up on the ethos behind BMMA Leeds.
Charlotte Watson: Be passionate in what you do, no matter what it is – lukewarm is not enough.
Joshua, BMMA Leeds was chosen to support the Leeds City Council initiative ‘Together We Are Stronger’ as a result of the academy promoting inclusivity for diverse groups. I understand you fronted the campaign – tell me about its aims and achievements?
Joshua Clarkson: The campaign’s aims and achievements were to celebrate the people of Leeds and show how young people were making an impact in their communities. I showed that we had a diverse range of students at our academy and how we treat everyone with respect. At BMMA Leeds, everyone is welcome on the mats to train together regardless of culture, religion or nationality. Here’s a link to the campaign to better explain it. https://youtu.be/qniB5mQKR00
You have been a student at BMMA Leeds for some years, how has this impacted your personal development?
Joshua Clarkson: BMMA has impacted me in a way that no other place or person could. I believe BMMA has increased my confidence inside and outside of the academy. Charlotte is extremely good at her job and is the best person to go to if you have any issues or concerns. I see the BMMA as family who have always shown love to each other with open arms and smiles on their faces.
By Moira Spencer
About the author: Moira Spencer previously enjoyed a long, successful career in publishing sports titles, including Martial Arts Illustrated and MMA Uncaged magazines. Now qualified in Professional Interior Design, she has combined this creativity with her knowledge and understanding of the sports industry to launch Glove & Lotus, an interior design consultancy specifically for sports academies, clubs, studios and home gyms. For more details on this unique service, visit www.gloveandlotus.com phone 0787 8750045 or email email@example.com