Around a week ago, courtesy of the Warriors Assemble, a phenomenal event took place.
The Fighting Spirit Awards is a unique event dedicated to celebrating those who have overcome adversity and extraordinary challenges through martial arts.
This is the 3rd Annual Fighting Spirit Awards, with Fighting For Autism not only being honoured to attend the event, we were also nominated and received an award, in what was an emotional and inspiring event and witness some remarkable insights on how some truly inspirational individuals are thriving and making a difference within their club but more importantly being a beacon of hope for others to perhaps try something new and write success stories of their own.
This event doesn't just celebrate being different, it embraces it, and that what makes it so incredibly special.
Firstly we would like to thank each and every person involved in Fighting For Autism, the award received is a testament to your hard work and support, you are the true spirit of Fighting For Autism. You are the ones who carry forward the positive message of not only autism awareness but more so acceptance, and encouraging so many to be the very best they can be.
To each and every ambassador and club from around the globe, this is Your award from the dad of a youngster on the spectrum, you are the ones who make the brighter day I am just fortunate enough to be able to write about it.
Paulieboy and Tony Bailey explaining what Fighting For autism do around the world, and also saying Thank you to everyone who has taken Fighting For Autism to their hearts
The awards are the brainchild of Tony and Sarah Pillage, whose dedication is the stuff that legends are made of, Tony who himself is valiantly battling cancer, hosted the awards as he has done since their creation 3 years ago, a gentleman whose kindness and willingness to help others despite his own challenges was and is one of the bravest and kindest things I have witnessed, growing up we are often told the most precious thing you could ever give to another human being is your time, Tony Pillage and everyone involved with these awards put their heart and soul into making everyone feel like a superstar in their very own right.
Hero is a word that so very often gets bandied around, Tony and Sarah Pillage truly are heroes in every sense of the word, every nominee and award winner truly was given the VIP treatment and made to feel every ounce like a superstar, and from sitting their in awe of so many wonderful individuals share their emotional experiences, not only did I feel privileged to be in such fine company, but so incredibly lucky to be able to have been able to see and hear some of the most heartfelt insights into how others have adapted to the challenges they face, and used martial arts as a catalyst to truly make a difference to themselves and those around them.
Tony has been pivotal in Autism awareness himself, form getting multiple classes of his club to take part in Autism awareness drives, he has also reached out to the martial arts fraternity to get involved too, he is a rather exceptional human being to say the very least.
Tony and Sarah's courage and humility during Tony's own battle can only be matched by their heart to show the true meaning of martial arts and give those fighting battles of their very own platform to be recognised in their own right, is one of the kindest and selfless acts I've ever witnessed, Thank you will never ever be enough, but going forward the people inspired by others by this event will go on to make so many people so very proud.
Emotional and kind acts flowed throughout the evening, from Tony Pillage himself cutting his coveted belt into sections and handing it to his closest friends and martial artists would bring tears to even the toughest of the tough, right the way through to a rather amazing raffle prize given by its winner to one of the award winners of the evening.
An old Irish proverb was stated during the evening by Shihan Keith Priestley, and it is so very true and poignant "There are no strangers here, only friends you have yet to meet."
Fighting For Autism was nominated and received an award, this award is a testament to the outstanding efforts of each and every ambassador, club and promotion that has come on board to help us raise Autism Awareness, without the generosity, understanding and willingness to make a difference to so many, we would be little more than a footnote.
The award the Fighting For Autism received is for each and every one of them, as in effect these are the driving force behind Fighting For Autism, these are the people that #DareToBeDifferent and encourage others to #ShineThroughTheSpectrum
I was in fantastic company with some of Immortal 365 Martial Arts Academy sitting at the same table as me, a few months ago at an event in Peterborough UK, named "Feel the Force Day", I took my son, Matt is severely autistic and thrives on routine and regime, any hidden surprises can often result in meltdown, within 10 minutes of being shown some brief moves with a lightsabre by Immortal Coach Karl Butcher, I found myself, Matt, a Negan lookalike from the Walking Dead, and Cinderella on stage in front of people having a lightsabre dual in front of a crowd ( no that isn't a mis type, that actually happened)
Seeing first hand the fairy dust that has been sprinkled and the fun that can be had, as a Dad I can only ever say Thank you, that memory will be enshrined in my memory forever more.
Immortal 365 have encouraged some amazing youngsters on the spectrum to try various different martial arts at their academy in Peterborough, are outstanding within their community
Immortal 365 you guys Rock!!!!
Paulieboy, Matt and Karl Butcher from Immortal 365
On stage at Feel the Force Day
Huge thanks to Negan UK for being such a great sport.
Aaron Stevens and David Couldrey, of AS Jujitsu in Thorpe Le Soken, UK, who has set up Autism friendly classes at his club, despite challenges of his own, prides himself on being able to give a fun and caring environment for youngsters on the spectrum to be.
Chris Jones of Chris Jones Martial Arts Centre in Knaresborugh, who has encouraged students at his centre to become autism aware and has had great praise from parents of children on the spectrum too.
Tony Bailey of Basingstoke Ju Jitsu Club, has been outstanding in being a mentor and a friend to those on the autistic spectrum, and whose knowledge base on Autism is expanding at an ever growing rate.
In the past few years we have had professional athletes, coaches, clubs and junior ambassadors not just push for Autism Awareness globally, these very same people have started to work alongside youngsters and adults on the autistic spectrum too, becoming friends, mentors and confidants to them too. Next Generation Mixed Martial Arts in Liverpool, who have some of the finest mixed martial artists, Molly McCann- Pearson, Paddy Pimblett, Chris Fishgold, Leeroy Barnes and Paul Bentley to name but a few have been astounding in their support and are encouraging youngsters on the spectrum like Connor Orford and Conor Tollick to become success stories of their very own.
our next blog will feature them.
Members of Next Generation MMA, have become so much more than just athletes, they have become role models, supporting so many charities, as a kid my thoughts on what made a great martial artist was who could kick the highest, or who had the best technique, its changed so much these martial artists display champion qualities both inside and out of competition, their willingness to help others outside of competition has been phenomenal.
Fighter Ambassador Chris Fishgold defending his championship belt at Cagewarriors in Liverpool
Fighter Ambassadors Molly McCann Pearson and Paddy Pimblett for Molly's bout at CageWarriors in Liverpool
Fighter Ambassador Paddy "The Baddy" Pimblett donating funds he raised to charities in Liverpool.
We have seen both youngsters and adults on the spectrum raising awareness too, creating videos on what Autism means to them, not just growing in confidence but positively thriving.
These are the true recipients of the award, me I just feel honoured in being able to write about them.
In the past 12 months we have seen youngsters on the spectrum not only compete in their chosen martial art, they have been recognised and received awards in other areas for their efforts, and there are so many more to come. none of which would have ever been possible without the network of athletes, coaches, clubs and junior ambassadors that not only ask relevant questions on autism, and developing their own knowledge base and put them put into practice.
World class athletes have gone above and beyond the realms of kindness, displaying the Fighting For Autism logo on their banners when they go to compete, but have gone the extra mile to raise a smile not just for those on the spectrum but to their families too, often a journey through Autism can be a lonely experience, slowly but surely people are becoming aware, but importantly those on the spectrum are beginning to show what they can do, and do it very well indeed.
The awards were not solely focused on Autism, so many people from different disciplines in the martial arts and with different abilities were there to share their story.
Its impossible to say there was a highlight, as each and every award given was done so to people whose remarkable stories should be shouted from the rooftops, I cannot say enough inspiring it was to be in a room full of such amazing people, but seeing and hearing first hand really does mean that the future is incredibly bright and the martial arts community has so very much to be proud of by highlighting these amazing people.
Some of the Fighting For Autism Ambassadors were up for awards of their very own, it was an honour and an emotional experience to say the least to see these awards being given to such outstanding and rather special people.
Carl is a Fighting For Autism #VoicesForVoiceless Ambassador, and a student at Adaptive Martial Arts Uk & Ireland.
Here is a brief description about Carl, from his mum Christine.
Carl receiving his award at The 2017 Fighting Spirit Awards
With Adaptive Martial Arts UK and Ireland, presented by Tony Bailey of Basingstoke Ju Jitsu Club.
"Born with a failure to thrive Carl has had many challenges throughout his life, at the age of 3 he was diagnosed with a learning disability at the rate of half his age alongside feeding problems from birth which led to him being tube fed first with an NG tube and later with a gastrostomy. There followed many different feeding routines to try to overcome the constant vomiting until the age of 7 when he was diagnosed with a lactose intolerance. It was then we were able to start the long process of teaching him to eat. As Carl had never eaten he hadn’t developed the muscles in his mouth needed for early speech and with his learning disability his speech and vocabulary were both affected as were his fine and gross motor skills"
Despite his challenges Carl is an active member of his martial arts club, Adaptive Martial Arts UK and Ireland who received some truly deserved accolades that evening.
Head Coach Neil Kirkland is a truly remarkable gentleman whose focus is that all abilities should be able to participate and have access to martial arts, Neil has worked with so many martial artists with different abilities and his can do attitude truly brings out the best in people, Carl has travelled all around the United Kingdom and has become a firm favourite with so many different instructors and people alike.
Joshua and Lewis Dyer.
Joshua and Lewis are 2 brothers who are both on the autistic spectrum, and train at Kairos Martial Arts in Retford, here is a bit written about them by their Dad, Simon Fell.
Joshua and Lewis collecting their 2017 Fighting Spirit Award from Tony Pillage and Tony Bailey
" Lewis has a diagnosis of ASD and ADHD. Lewis initially started martial arts when he was being home-schooled due to struggling in a mainstream environment and bullying. Martial arts gave him an opportunity to achieve and build trust in people and form relationships. For a year, Lewis didn't speak to anyone, but martial arts has brought him out of his shell, and now leads the class demonstrations with confidence. He is showing true talent in the arts and would like to compete one day. Lewis helps children in class and has a great respectful, caring attitude".
"Joshua has a diagnosis of ASD. He has struggled all his life in mainstream school and has suffered bullying. Despite his challenges and adversity, Joshua continues to show a kind, caring and helpful attitude, shows intelligence and maturity. Joshua helps the children in class who have similar challenges and needs and encourages everybody. A true gentleman. Training helps him with his confidence and provides an inclusive setting where friendships are made".
These 2 amazing brothers have overcome so many of life's challenges, their levels of kindness and humility towards others is astonishing, sharing what it feels like to them to be on the autistic spectrum on social media to help raise awareness, they have attended seminars around the country, as well as take part in hikes and events to help raise awareness to Tony Pillage's battle with cancer.
Simon and Wendy, Lewis's parent also received respective awards as well, a more amazing family who despite challenges of their own, give so much to so many were given a rapturous applause and rightly so.
If you can dream it, and you work hard enough anything is possible, again on behalf of everyone at Fighting For Autism, THANK YOU to everyone involved, you are the ones that encourage people to #DareToBeDifferent and to #ShineThroughTheSpectrum
EACH AND EVERY AMBASSADOR FROM AROUND THE WORLD, AGAIN WE WANTED TO SAY THANK YOU, FROM AUSTRALIA, THE USA, IRELAND AND THE UK AND CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR AWARD