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

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

“It has really helped with so much of my life. I had really bad anxiety and having the social aspects of martial arts, I came out of my shell.

“I smoked a lot of marihuana 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. It was all a bit much. I was smoking 24/7. As soon as I woke up. But now martial arts keeps 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.

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. 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.

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

Photo: INTRA’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) turned Arlee’s life around