Hello chums, what a surprisingly nice night I have had up at Grimesthorpe Allotments. I went along at the invite of the charity I used to work for, Green City Action, they are a local community group and charity who have had a major role in improving the environment in their area. Just before I left them two years ago I set up a new project based on growing food locally and educating people on how easy it is and the multiple benefits. We took on two absolutely derelict allotments, they were a nightmare. I will not go into detail because you should visit their website for their story, not my telling of it. But I went back tonight as they had a little open evening, the site is incredible, I am so pleased they made the project work even under my novelty name, The School for Vegetables. When I left I left at a good time for them and for me, I could have stayed but I needed to change and to grow, I needed to take a risk and grow the Academy of Self Defence, I was beginning to feel like a frog in a pan with the water starting to warm.

I was not there just for the open evening but to see ‘ Losing the Plot’ performed on a plot by Mikron Theatre Company, and here is the plot;

“The gardeners of Thistledale Allotments are a rag-bag bunch of diggers and dreamers. Strong personalities frequently clash over the best treatment for mealy bugs, and the annual ‘Heaviest and Longest’ competition is always a time when old feuds and new flirtations threaten to undermine the fragile peace.

Then Harvey from the Council pays them a visit and they realise that they must pull together, or forfeit their precious plot forever. But can they agree on a strategy? How will they convince Harvey of the vital role allotments have played in the life of the nation for centuries? What will they do when things inevitably get completely out of hand?

Told with a rollicking mix of old music hall tunes and brand new songs, Losing The Plot is a story of love – between people and the land; between people and people; and between people and their giant vegetables.”

An open air performance of agit prop theatre with excellent musicianship and superb singing, a first class evening, incredibly well attended by down to earth folk there to enjoy themselves. A play about the allotments set on the allotments with four actors playing eight parts superbly, it was incredibly funny, I had tears rolling at some points. If you get the chance to see these people then grasp it, you cannot beat original humour and laughter is the cure for many ailments. Just sitting in the open air with views across Sheffield’s east end, cool but surprisingly in bright sunlight was a tonic for the heart and soul, enjoying a pleasurable experiences with others, not sat lonely in front of the TV with pre recorded laughter as your companion and friend. People are idiosyncratic and unpredictable, its cozier at home on the sofa, our own private bubble,  where ‘others’ cannot intrude, but that is also a problem.

When I used to teach sociology I had a ten week module called Aspects of Inequality, yes, exactly, depressing in the extreme and more for me than the students. It does not take a rocket scientist to know there are inequalities in health, income, wealth, employment etc, but it did surprise people that there were inequalities in leisure. Fear not dear reader there is no sermon about to be delivered, however, when I researched my material for lectures I read a great deal about the privatisation of leisure. How there was an increase leisure consumption in the home with the increasing mass production making affordable technology available to the masses. This was the mid 90’s if you think of the many changes since then we can see how many of us have retreated further into our bubble, more often and taken our eating and drinking there with us, we can watch a film, order a meal, shop and network whilst barely moving a muscle.

In the interval at the ‘theatre’ tonight I spoke with a friend who manages a large development organisation in Sheffield, we have done lots of work together over the years, he is a good friend. he is putting together a tender to deliver a training package for NEETS, (Not in Employment Education or Training). He is interested in some of the softer outputs my self defence training can provide. It’s not just the stereotypical hoodie with a pitbull straining on a leash or the pregnant 17-year-old roaming the estate that we are talking about. They exist but they are the minority not the majority. The majority of NEETS are just those ordinary kids lacking in confidence and skills because they are born into families and communities lacking in confidence and skills compounded by structural inequalities, whoa stop, lecture mode detected.

OK backing up a little, for those of us in the self defence, combatives, martial arts industry take a reality check. What are the softer outcomes of your activities, increased confidence, positive attitude, a can do mentality, sense of achievement, improved communication skills, sense of purpose? You can guess now where I am coming from, the NEETS of this world will not get these benefits sitting in their bedrooms playing computer games all night and sleeping during the day, neither will they get them if the gain the habit of seeking escape through gang membership, substance abuse or other exciting criminal behaviour. They will only acquire the benefits if we proactively engage with them. I detest Cameron’s charade of the Big Society but applaud the idea as a former charity worker, but asking people to provide services for free with reduced financial resources is hypocrisy of the first order (see previous blog on psychopaths). Ordinary people can make a difference and our activities hit all the buttons in achieving the soft outcomes needed to begin to mend our broken society and I agree with Cameron that it is indeed broken. So how do we mend it and what role can the martial arts play?

Engaging in martial arts, combatives, self defence can have the same effect as the wonderful outdoor allotment orientated theatre I enjoyed tonight. If delivered properly and not MacDojoed, (new verb?) is should be instructive, educational, inspirational, exciting and addictive. If presented as part of a holistic offer it can entice the NEETS out of their isolated, imprisoning bubbles, lure them from off of the sofa and into the classroom. The pull of the martial arts and the multiplicity of benefits:

  • Increased Self Confidence
  • Increased Self Respect
  • Increased respect for others
  • Sense of Achievement
  • Improved Communication Skills
  • Improved awareness, fitness, agility and mobility
  • Develop team working skills
  • Learn practical, streetwise self defence skills
  • Understand the legal context of self defence and reasonable force
  • Increase their general awareness and feel safer
  • Increase in confidence with each session
  • Understand the need for self-discipline and positive attitudes to learning
  • Understand the value of contributing positively to the life of their community
  • Gain an insight into the psychology of interpersonal conflict

It’s a very interesting set of outcomes that are all transferable skills, they are skills acquired as the learn techniques and role play situations, they learn to learn. More importantly they learn that to learn is fun and brings rewards in the short and long-term. This last point is incredibly important in a world where reward needs to be almost instant, satisfaction being deferred is not understood by many in our I want it and I want it now society. If we do not want to see gangs of hoodies rioting and looting then we have to address some of the roots of the problems, its easy to bang on about lack of respect, no discipline, no will to work but there is a time where this is pointless. It is like trying to de-escalate a situation where the other guy is moving into attack mode and has stopped listening, its time to act.

So lets forget the talk and ask some questions. What are we going to do to mend our broken society? How do we turn the NEETS into citizens contributing to the economy, their communities and their families. We need to argue a case for the martial arts providing not just the obvious belt orientated curriculum but providing an exciting, innovative approach to equipping our young people with those softer, less tangible but transferable skills. We need to burst their bubble, like the gardeners of Thistledale Allotments we need not to accept the future as given, but look to burst our bubble, and change how we interact with communities.

Currently I am in the preparing a bid for funding for an outreach project for our Ju Jitsu Club, in order to move the club from being a great club that the majority of people are unaware of, to being an integral part of our community, we accept we will need to change, to keep our tradition alive we need to accept that society is changing with ever-increasing rapidity and respond appropriately. That means engaging with the wider community, being proactive, going out there and having a clear strategy and the trained perosonell to deliver it. If the martial arts community does not respond to the changes taking place as people retreat to their private bubbles it will be like a frog in a pan of very slowly heated water, eventually the frog will die but because the temperature rises so slowly inertia prevents escape. Also I have found that the vast majority of those involved in martial arts are good, principled people and its time we decided to do our bit, NEETS are just an easily identifiable group for this discussion, they are my focus to explore arguments for change, but that change could take many forms, I bet there are people out there doing great things with their clubs, let me know I would love to hear, lets have a debate. Are you up for a challenge? What do you think? How warm is your water? Getting warmer slowly?

Cheers, Garry.