Arlee French says INTRA’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Therapeutic program turned his life around.

When Arlee French, at 15, first took part in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Therapeutic program he was at a crossroad which could have easily led down a path of hard drug use and mental health problems.

Now 19, the young Lismore man sees his participation in the MMA program as the turning point in his life.

“It has really helped with many aspects of my life. I had really bad anxiety but with the social aspect of martial arts, I came out of my shell.

“I smoked a lot of marijuana and dabbled in other things. But martial arts gave me another outlet for the stress and anger. I was taking care of kids a lot – my younger sister and my niece and nephew. It was all a bit much. I was smoking 24/7. As soon as I woke up. But now I use martial arts to keep me calm.”

The MMA Therapeutic group is run by The Buttery’s INTRA outreach program to help 14-19 year-old boys with a history of substance misuse, school absenteeism, violence and petty crime. It is achieving remarkable results.

Arlee, like many of the young men in the Casino and Lismore programs, was referred through Ngulingah Land Council. The martial arts training has a strong mentoring and discipline element to it, which has proven successful in turning many young lives around.

“MMA helped me focus on what I needed to do. Having male figures around that understood what I needed to do in life — it gave me a reason to want to try.

“When I started I was really overweight. Physically it helped in so many ways. It helped me regain my confidence and gave me discipline.

“Mostly, it just makes me happy. I might kick someone but doing it in a controlled manner, I forget about all the other problems I have in life. It helps take a lot of the stress of everyday life.

“Before MMA I couldn’t go to school because of my anxiety. Every time I thought about going to school I panicked.

“If I hadn’t have done martial arts I would never have finished school. I probably would be taking a lot heavier drugs. And I wouldn’t have a job. Much of life would have gone downhill and I wouldn’t be able to take care of my niece and nephew and little sister like I do. There are a lot of things I’m grateful for about MMA.

“If I could give advice to anyone like me, it would be to take every opportunity given to you. It might be hard, but you can turn your life around,” said Arlee.

The program is still running in Casino but is seeking further support from the community or sponsorship to continue.