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EXCLUSIVE: Martial arts expert dismisses MP's claim kids should learn unarmed combat to fend off

EXPERT: Giovanni Soffietto says even trained fighters should not tackle knife thugs (BMABA)

Britain’s leading Martial Arts association has rejected a Tory MP’s suggestion that youngsters should use unarmed combat to defend themselves from knife attackers.

Sir Christopher Chope said learning martial arts and being fit would help youngsters handle a knife attack.

The MP for Christchurch and Home Affairs Select Committee member on violent crime, Sir Christopher said: "One of the ways in which people can be prepared is by doing Judo or Taekwondo, being physically able and taught how to deal with a situation when you are threatened with a knife.”

But Giovanni Soffietto, the director of the British Martial Arts and Boxing Association (BMABA), insisted martial arts skills should only be used as a “last resort”.

He added: “In most cases, a small amount of contact with a knife is usually fatal so the only way to avoid being stabbed is to not be in the fight at all.”

CLAIM: Christopher Chope suggested martial arts could protect kids from knife attacks (Parliament TV)

However, Mr Soffietto, 27, who himself avoided a life of crime thanks to the sport, said those who practice martial arts are usually much less likely to be involved in knife attacks because they are more aware of the “danger signs.”

It comes as parents’ fear of knife crime has fuelled the highest uptake of martial arts amongst children in almost a decade, according to the BMABA.

Between 2017 and 2018, nearly 10 percent of children in England signed up to judo, karate and taekwondo lessons, up from 6.4 per cent the previous year, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Mr Soffietto said: “A lot of parents have come to us after noticing a spike in knife crime in their area. They want their kids to feel safe.”

But a senior police officer, speaking alongside Sir Christopher and Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick at the Home Affairs Select Committee on serious violent crime also questioned using martial arts to defend from a knife attacker.

RUN: Dave Thompson of West Midlands Police says fleeing is the best option (Twitter)

Dave Thompson, the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police said: “The best knife prevention technique is to run away as fast as you can.”

He added: “I would probably not advocate a strategy of increasing combat readiness through martial arts of young people generally, but there is some attraction in those sports, they are hugely popular and they take young men off the streets."

The number of people who died as a result of knife crime in the year to March 2018 reached 285, the most since 1946.

In response to the crisis, this January the BMABA launched its #ditchtheblade campaign, Britain’s first nationwide programme to prevent knife crime by urging children to swap their blades for martial arts. It also offers impoverished youngsters the chance to train for free through its self-funded ‘Fighting Chance’ scholarships.

But BMABA’s director Mr Soffietto has been disappointed by the government’s failure to back the campaign.

He said: “There doesn’t seem to be enough support for grassroots sport engagement programmes from government. It’s a missed opportunity to help prevent violent crime by engaging disadvantaged young people.”

Speaking at another Home Affairs Committee, Dr Carlene Firmin MBE, Principal Research Fellow at the University of Bedfordshire, said the loss of youth services around the country was behind the rise in violent crime.

Mr Soffietto is now asking companies to help fund the programmes in return for lucrative sponsorship that helping a very good cause brings.

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