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Knives out – and combat sports in as Navy extends youth initiative to Manchester

4 March 2024
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First it was Teesside.

Now a Navy and Royal Marines’ community project has expanded to south Manchester in a bid to steer young people away from crime and gangs.

Organisers promised if their inaugural event in Stockton earlier this year was a success, they’d look at linking up with gyms elsewhere in northern England.

Step forward Wythenshawe Black Belt Academy in the heart of one of Manchester’s largest districts which hosted a combat sports session.

Around 30 youngsters attended the inaugural session, with RN Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners and the Marines’ unarmed combat team showing how to channel aggression and energy to the benefit of society via sport… and also open young people’s eyes to a career in the Forces, particularly in areas which have not proved rich recruiting grounds hitherto.

Warrant Officer 2 Dennis Harrison said the gym was selected on the basis of its existing work with the community to offer local young people an alternative to crime, gang culture, knives, guns and other weapons.  

Although a concerted effort by authorities, police, community groups and gyms such as the Black Belt Academy has cut attacks and incidents across Greater Manchester by around one sixth in the past 12 months, there are still around ten knife crimes a day in the urban area.

As with the session in Teesside, Dennis hopes the combat sport sessions can become a regular fixture in the Wythenshawe sporting calendar.

"We want to build on the work of gyms like this one and maintain relationships with the authorities rather than this being a one-off,” said Dennis, who’s based at the Armed Forces Career Office in Manchester.

"If young people can come to gyms like this – and others – they can get their aggression out safely in the gym. That’s far better than the alternative.

“The values at the heart of martial arts and combat sports – courage, self-discipline and respect for others – are very much in line with our ethos in the Navy and Royal Marine.”

The values at the heart of martial arts and combat sports – courage, self-discipline and respect for others – are very much in line with our ethos in the Navy and Royal Marine.

Warrant Officer 2 Dennis Harrison

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