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How Far Does £20 Go In Starting A National Association?

Giovanni, our Chief Executive Officer, wrote the following on request of the Association’s membership base;

Just over 7 years ago, armed with £20 of ‘capital’ and a domain name, I founded the British Martial Arts & Boxing Association. Today I look back on our journey with adulation, humbled by the ground we have covered in such a relatively short period of time.

I can’t say how many times we faced naysayers all readied with a hundred good reasons we would fail to make any impact. The association would fail. I as a Director wasn’t good enough. We don’t have the financial backing or contacts to make any impact – and so on. For those of you who don’t know, I was born into poverty. Aged twenty, when founding the British Martial Arts & Boxing Association (BMABA), the aforementioned £20 of start up capital was the last few pounds from my September 2012 wage packet. I had no contacts, no financial support, no assets and no safety net.

Today, three quarters of a decade on, we have a multi-award winning, nationally acclaimed martial arts association. We turnover six figure sums, have staff and offices, represent in excess of 16,500 members across one hundred disciplines of martial arts – and we make a real difference.

We have achieved this all without a penny in funding from anyone. Sport England, National Lottery, Government – absolutely nothing. Our success to date is solely down to the engagement, belief and support of an immensely passionate membership base, to whom I am indebted.

As a young man I watched my parents both work obscene hours to try and put food on the table. It was rarely ever enough. Today, I can provide for my young family what so many men and women work darn hard for, and deserve – but can’t quite reach.

It is with this in mind that I have the supreme pleasure of announcing that we have formed the BMABA Fighting Chance Charitable Foundation. What’s more, I have just donated the entire BMABA to the Foundation, for £0. That’s my 100% share in the limited company – which is now worth in excess of six figures – to the Foundation, for free.

Many have asked why I would pass over what was to be my children’s inheritance, and perhaps my retirement plan. Afterall, we have always been an ethical and responsible business that has needed to trade as a limited company to survive, as we receive no funding or support from any third parties – so why bother? Why not enjoy access to dividends and salaries as we please, and celebrate the organisation’s growth and liquidity?

Whilst a small part of me is saddled with a slight feeling of anxiety around this ‘donation’ (or J11, as it’s known) the larger part of my soul rejoices. I was destined to follow the cycle of poverty that I was born into. Zero hours contracts, minimum wage, unaffordable housing. It’s a desperate place to be. Martial Arts intercepted my wavering teenage years and transformed me into a resilient, capable, disciplined young man. Without it I could have easily followed some of my peers into a world of drugs, crime and prison. Martial arts saved my life. Because of it, I emerged with a focused and highly charged drive to do something bigger with my life. So many times since, when pressures and stresses of business have driven me to the brink, the values instilled by a few minutes in a ring or a session on the mats have brought me back.

There comes a point for all of us where we reflect on where we have come from and what the future holds for us. Becoming a father was that point for me. Holding my baby daughter in my arms, I imagined how my father must have felt holding me for the first time. I felt his anxiety and pain of ‘not being able to afford it’ too. That’s not fair; no parent should have to experience that, and no child should suffer the end result. I count myself as unbelievably lucky to hold her now with the contentedness of being a homeowner and business owner, knowing she has the financial security I did not.

For all of the comforts that come with owning a business, I have a much deeper obligation to try and effect a social change using the medium of martial arts – the same intervention that hands down changed my life. Afterall, martial arts is supposed to be about courage, about honour and about standing up for what is right – not what is easy.

Our Charitable Foundation will use martial arts to effect change at a grassroots level. We have specific programmes aimed at tackling Childhood Poverty, Knife Crime, Violence Against Women & Girls, to name just a few. We continue to drive better standards of professionalism and safeguarding through the core association, as well as promoting grass roots participation throughout the UK.

Seven years on from our first logo and website brief, we’re enjoying an unstoppable period of growth – more than doubling our membership year to year. If you had told me then where we would be now, I doubt I would have believed you. The initial ambition of starting a small organisation has grown to a burning passion to affect lives for the better across the entire country. This is what breaking the cycle of poverty looks like, and it should be the difference so many others can offer their communities.

It’s taken countless nights in front of the laptop, fierce 70 hour weeks and more stamina than I could have ever imagined to get to where we are today. In the early days, before offices and staff, I had to learn webdesign, finances, governance, safeguarding, sales, customer services, social media and more. It’s just what you do when you don’t have the backing to have someone else do it for you, but it is a meer gesture. It’s a gesture toward what we, as a community, can achieve when we believe in the same thing. Having built up a large membership organisation and now as the Chief Exec. of the Charitable Foundation I can’t fathom doing something for a living which doesn’t excite my soul. We had to form our own gap in the market, and be disruptive in a completely inventive way. We chose to use technology and a professional approach to associationship to revolutionise the industry, and it worked.

Believe in yourself, and believe in something bigger than who you are. You might just surprise yourself with the results…


You can read this article on Giovanni’s LinkedIn page here.

We are entirely self-funded by the BMABA Group of Social Enterprises.
We are not a registered charity. Instead, we use the proceeds of our group's profits from across the UK martial arts sector to self-fund life-changing martial arts. This decision has been reached off the back of difficult decisions around the lack of regular funding available in the UK martial arts sector. We remain charitable in nature, and receive no grants, funding or donations.