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Mixed martial artist helps people of all abilities

STRUGGLES: Youngsters learn all sorts of techniques in classes run by MMARAP

JOHNNY BUFFONG is determined to ensure the world of martial arts is accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical disposition.

Having founded Mixed Martial Arts for Reform and Progression (MMARAP) seven years ago last month, the entrepreneur has established a relationship with the Royal Society for Blind Children, which will see his organisation deliver bespoke classes for young people who are visually impaired.

Accessibility is an area of the sport that Buffong became passionate about following the release of his first book, Warriors Of The Cage. The author, fascinated by the all-encompassing world of mixed martial arts, realised that the sport had far-reaching benefits that would instil a level of confidence in not only the able-bodied, but those classed as disabled, too.

“When I started I wanted to prove I could do my own thing and when I was going to events a decade ago I would see disabled young people who didn’t seem to be embraced by the sport, but they had as much passion and love for it as anyone else,” he tells Life & Style.

“I had a conversation with someone who indicated to me that they would love to get involved – at that moment MMARAP was born.

“I brought my book out in 2009 and literally one thing led to another. I look at life every five years and ask myself where am I going to be and what am I going to be doing?

“Life is short and I want to make the most of it, leave a legacy. It’s a way of life. I’ve competed and coached and I look at MMA, any martial art or combat sport, as a way of life, one we can all learn something positive from.”

The early days of any business can be a difficult and lonely road. Buffong admits he didn’t expect it to be years before people cottoned on to the value of what he was cultivating, but he is glad to be in a position where national organisations have approached him to enquire about his services. However, he’s conscious that things are far from perfect, and the struggle to attract financial backing in order to scale the business up remains a task.

“It hasn’t been an easy road, not for me, especially when you have an idea and then you have to convince people it’s for a worthy cause. Then there is the fact businesses come and go in the first five years,” he says.

“But as the saying goes, the harder the battle, the sweeter the victory. We started small, one or two young people, we liaised with other people who believed in our product and then we applied for funding, some of which was successful, most of which wasn’t.

“Despite that, we have expanded. We’ve taught all over London and continue to build on our reach.”

But that hasn’t made things easier. In 2018 MMARAP, which aims to provide young people with strong foundations and skills, applied for £160,000 of funding and received just £2,000. The battle to grow quicker than he has done doesn’t faze Buffong, though, and a recently established partnership only served to keep him buoyed.

“Just before Christmas last year I did a mixed martial arts and self-defence demonstration class for a group of blind people. It was open to the public and I had people from Moorfields Eye Hospital and a number of other organisations there too,” he says.

“Two weeks after that I got an email from the Royal Society Of Blind Children asking me to do some sessions moving forward.”


Kua places leader Johnny Buffong in an RNC, or rare naked choke

As well as a deep-rooted desire to help those less fortunate than himself, it’s the stories that he has encountered which ultimately keep Buffong going.

“I had one young person who was deaf and was abused by his family members who knew that he couldn’t speak.

“Helping people like that regain their confidence is hugely rewarding, a great feeling. Sometimes circumstances are such that I can’t even have any physical contact with the young person because it may trigger their PTSD.

“It’s difficult but we adapt at MMARAP to ensure we can cater for everyone.” Looking forward, Buffong says plans are afoot to launch his own academy that won’t just teach disabled people the benefits of living a life immersed in martial arts but give opportunities for those people to spread and share the experience among their peers.

He says: “We’re in the process of building an academy, so I can have all the young people there but I also want to employ people who are disabled.

EQUALITY

“I’ve found that a lot of the deaf and disabled people I come across are in menial jobs despite the fact they are very educated.

“I know a student of mine who has a PHD but working in the mainstream they have been given menial jobs, which is unfair. I’m against discrimination and I am for equality and I think that the UK we live in should take upon the term diversity, with more substance.

“It’s not been done enough. There are always things to be done and things that have been done but there is still more to do. None of us are here forever, it’s a short contract on Earth, let’s help each other.”

See www.mmarap.co.uk for more details

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