Inclusive Martial Arts
Anita Yiannoullou and Glenn Delikan, Co-Founders of Sanjuro, an inclusive martial arts system, talk to Kath Hudson about about how they're powering through barriers to physical activity for hard to reach groups
Kath Hudson, Journalist, Sports Management
“We love a challenge,” says Anita Yiannoullou, co-founder of Sanjuro. “When we go into primary schools we’re often given the ‘hard to engage’ kids to work with. London councils and fund partners ask us to put on classes for young people, adults, over 65s and dementia sufferers in deprived areas, where social
issues mean people rarely go out.”
A martial arts system with roots in karate and influenced by dance, Sanjuro was developed by Glenn Delikan in
response to a need to keep himself, and those around him, safe in the violent estate where he grew up.
“I learned karate and kickboxing for self defence, but I also liked the movement aspect of dance. I found that when I brought dancing into my sparring no one could touch me, but I could get them!” he laughs.
Yiannoullou and Delikan co-founded Sanjuro in 2004, with the intention of empowering individuals by making martial arts accessible and inclusive to all.
The organisation works with a variety of people and organisations. A typical day might include a women- only DanceCombat class, a self defence workshop for teens and pad-work for strength and flexibility for refugees.
Some classes attract people with physical and learning difficulties, but the layered instruction allows them to participate. One boy with cerebral palsy was encouraged to visualise himself doing the movements and – combined with focused pad work – this led to improvements in his movement. He now
leads aspects of classes from his wheelchair. “Sanjuro is not so much about what you can do, but what you try to do,” says Delikan. “Everyone has invisible and visible issues which hold them back. You might find an athletic person finds it harder than someone without limbs, because they lack the confidence to try. Through the training, we aim to give people a better understanding of who they are and encourage them to realise their own potential.”
Sanjuro has just won the London Sports Club of the Year award for its work in getting Londoners physically active. It’s their work with people who thought martial arts were inaccessible – because of a disability, lack of money, confidence, or a language barrier – which bring the most reward and joy to Yiannoullou and Delikan as instructors.
“The joy and positive impact we see drives us to develop partnerships to make things happen,” says Yiannoullou, who looks after the business side.
Sanjuro has partnerships with StreetGames, London Sport, Jackie Chan’s Dragon Heart’s Europe, Action for Blind People and the Deaf Children’s Society, as well as councils, schools, community groups, leisure centres and CSR programmes to pull together funding to support its work.
So, how does Sanjuro manage to engage people, where others have failed? “Martial arts encompass ancient knowledge and the reason they’ve stayed around is because they work,” says Delikan. “The teaching has an intrinsic truth and value. If you love it and are passionate about it, people hook on to that.
“You have to find a common language and help people work out what’s best for them. Start small: in the beginning it might just be listening to music and moving. It’s important to treat people how you want to be treated. We keep classes enjoyable and relaxed.”
With six instructors and an army of volunteers, Sanjuro currently reaches 300 people a week, but they have ambitions to grow and want more instructors to increase classes in London and, in time, nationwide.
To this end, Delikan has created a Level 2 AQA Inclusion Coach programme for instructors and carers, which teaches how to make group exercise inclusive.
They’re also seeking funding for a technology- driven physical activity programme for children, to help encourage good habits early and combat obesity and disease associated with a lack of activity.
Sanjuro Training Systems Bruce Grove Youth Club
Public Health England Case Study
1) Title and author
Sanjuro Training Systems: Bruce Grove Youth Club Anita Yiannoullou and Glenn Delikan
2) Brief summary
Sanjuro delivers accessible, health improving physical activity, through the development of inclusive programmes, centred around each participant’s needs. This participant- centric approach helps to continually develop our offer and services so that a young person can start training with us in primary school and continue until they are in the world of work.
Sanjuro London Sport Award video: https://youtu.be/AE576bo0nDc
3) What was the timescale for the project?
Sanjuro Training Systems Ltd was established in 2003. Since 2011 Sanjuro has worked with the Local Authority in Haringey and the youth team to deliver physical activity provision for young people living in the local area. Through partnerships we continue to sustain the club offer and provide first class activity experiences in a safe, professional and friendly environment where everyone is heard. Over the years we have and continue to work with a variety of partners that includes: London Sport (Sportivate, satellite clubs, clubworks), StreetGames (doorstep club), the Local Authority (as a preferred activity provider) other sport and community groups such as the Haringey Sport Development Trust and Kith & Kids as well as schools.
4) What was the setting and population covered?
Based in North London, Sanjuro Training Systems delivers physical activity for a wide range of people across London, ranging from primary school children to elderly people, disabled people, people recovering from illness and more. Anyone who has an interest in developing their mental and physical wellbeing is welcome to take part in sessions.
Sanjuro often successfully works with the most disadvantaged and hardest to reach groups.
Bruce Grove youth club is in Tottenham, and when we started classes there in 2011, there was no physical activity provision. The Youth team asked for help from local providers and since then we have built up a Wednesday night club offer, where all young people can take part in a Sanjuro lesson, in addition to having access to computers and table tennis, and where there is space to socialise, whilst the youth team oversee everything and support young people when they need it.
5) What were we seeking to achieve?
The primary goal for Sanjuro Training is to empower people using ancient martial art training techniques and values/principles to both mentally and physically engage and retain people.
A key factor to our training programmes is translating martial art lessons to benefit people in their everyday lives.
By making the programme and messaging fully inclusive and accessible to all, Sanjuro has been able to reach out to people in a way current sporting offers do not do. This has meant sessions that are free and fully inclusive, engaging and developmental. Giving young people a positive experience encourages word of mouth and we have always had a good retention rate.
Bruce Grove Youth Club is at the heart of what we do, with the main aim to offer accessible and positive physical activity classes to all young people regardless of circumstances or ability.
Our instruction is multi-layered, it uses verbal and physical communication, techniques are demonstrated and increase in complexity to challenge the mind as well as co-ordination and balance.
Participants are encouraged to understand the strengths and weakness of their body and to develop these with our support.
Music is used to motivate and change class tempo to encourage participants to appreciate the importance and benefits of being calm, moving moderately and understanding the need for quick movement.
The club supports sustainable activity and developing partnerships, as well as participant personal and professional development. We do this through signposting young people we work with in schools, Sixth Forms/colleges, community events and holiday programmes to the Club.
Here they can continue to train with us and can choose a personal (Grade if they wish) or professional development path (from volunteering to instructor).
6) Why did we decide to take action?
For a long time, the sporting provision had catered well to those who were physically active and enjoyed taking part in team sports. However, for those that weren’t interested
in team sports and who lacked confidence there was a significant lack of opportunity and as such it was easy for people to become inactive. Sanjuro aimed to address this by offering a mental and physical development path that focused on the individual. Multi- layered instruction allowed people of differing abilities to participate at the same time. This inclusive approach attracted a more diverse audience resulting in high retention rates.
7) What did we do?
Through a series of partnerships, Sanjuro is able to reach out to many under-represented groups in North London, establishing Martial Arts as a starting point for an individual’s journey to becoming more physically active.
A fundamental factor in Sanjuro’s approach is being constantly flexible and adaptable to the needs of each individual they come into contact with, understanding the needs of a diverse group and developing the right programmes and formats to encourage their continued involvement in the activity.
Every instructor meets with every participant at their very first class, listens to their needs and observes their behaviour. They will also meet with the parent/carer of the particpant.
In every class there is a lead instructor who drives the whole group. The lead instructor is then supported by a second instructor who works with individuals within the group so that differing levels of ability are challenged.
Sanjuro layering instruction method includes observing and adapting the class so that everyone can participate. Technique is built on and developed so that each individual can find their preferred level of challenge.
Verbal communication and use of voice as well as physical show and tell is fundamental to each class. In addition we have in-class volunteers that work together to support one another (newcomer with a welcome representative or volunteer who is confident at leading an element of a class).
This peer to peer leading, teaching and supporting is important to development and the friendly team spirit experienced by all.
8) Why did we choose this approach?
Our flexible and adaptive approach and inclusive values bring about the best results. By engaging with people we are able to understand and deliver sessions that result in positive experiences that keep people coming back.
Bruce Gove Youth Centre is the only youth centre in the area. Owned by the local authority and with dwindling resources available, it was evident from year one that to sustain the provision of activity collaborative partnerships would be essential.
Sanjuro work with the youth team to ensure a safe space is available for training sessions. The local authority's recreation team support Sanjuro to deliver school holiday programmes, London Sport and Streetgames support by helping to source funding and provide networks where good practice is shared. We also work with Jackie Chan’s Dragon’s Heart Europe.
With all partnerships, having similar aims, shared values and ethos is important.
The youth team and Sanjuro instructors have had to deal with gang activity impacting on the Youth Centre, a lack of investment in the centre, a lack of funding and support.
What keeps Bruce Grove open is a commitment from the youth team, Sanjuro and partners to keep the Club open for young people by being adaptable and solutions driven.
Sanjuro class formats are pioneering - you will not find another martial arts class like it.
Sanjuro’s layering methods/techniques ensure an inclusive experience where as many people as possible can access a class. More coaches need the knowledge and skills to feel confident and be competent in leading an inclusive class and so we developed our coach inclusion programme (click for PDF of AQA evidence and outcomes).
9) What was the outcome?
People enjoying their participation in physical activity and recognising the impact this has on their mental and physical wellbeing. In addition, acknowledging that this has a further impact on their everyday lives. Feeling better helps them to live more positive and productive lives. Sanjuro time and again has heard from people about the positive impact on their lives as a result of training with them.
10) What did we learn?
The most fundamental element Sanjuro has learnt over the course of the programme is just how important flexibility is. Being able and ready to adapt to change has been pivotal in Sanjuro’s success. This flexibility has been most prominent when working with participants on an individual level, really finding out what works best for the person in front of you rather than imposing ideas onto them.
When this understanding is established the individuals can really begin to flourish and enjoy the mental and physical benefits that are so integral to the teachings of Sanjuro, through Martial Arts.
Adapting to changing need and working in partnership with like-minded people and organisations has helped to sustain classes and the development of Sanjuro programmes and delivery formats. A supportive partnership network is vital. For instance Bruce Grove is a local authority-run facility, the youth team ensures a safe space, Haringey Sport Development Trust provide coaches for other activities at Bruce Grove, Street Games and London Sport offer club support and networks to share good practice and support club development, Jackie Chan’s Dragon’s help to fund the class and help with activities that recognise and reward participants. In a martial art class, it does not get any better than knowing that you are supported by Jackie Chan!
In class where there are a high number of carers it is essential to speak with them too and brief them about how they can support their client to fully engage with and benefit from the class. In our experience, carers are often in unfamiliar territory when in a gym or physical activity environment.
Evaluation takes place by encouraging in-class and weekly feedback from participants, patients and carers. We endeavour to discover how we can improve the Club's offer. Questionnaires are rarely used as they are not accessible to all, and we prefer to consider audio feedback and short videos. We have found that word of mouth introductions are good indicators showing the success of the club, as well as the retention rate of participants.
11) What is the single most important one line of advice which we can give to others starting a similar project?
Be flexible in your approach and deliver a training programme that is right for your client’s needs.
12) What is happening next with this work?
The plan for Sanjuro now is to evolve and embrace technology, allowing a much wider audience to benefit from Sanjuro’s physical activity programmes. The first stage of this approach is in the programme called ‘Fitt-in’ which provides online, short burst movement videos to primary school children. The aim is to instill good movement habits by encouraging physical movement in the classroom using Fitt-in 2-3 times a day.
In addition, identify partners and deliver the Sanjuro inclusion coach programme. Sanjuro’s inclusion programme was successfully tested in 2017 with StreetGames and London Sport. The programme’s purpose is to encourage current coaches to attend and develop their knowledge to help them safely offer inclusion coaching to mixed ability groups of people. More coaches trained to confidently and professionally deliver inclusive physical activity will help to further encourage inactive people to get and stay physically active.
13) Where can people find out more?
Sanjuro website: www.sanjuromartialarts.com
Fitt-in website: www.fitt-in.co.uk