Proud Londoner Jonathan “The General” Haggerty has seen his hometown change, but he is determined to use his profile to show his community the kind of support that made him a martial arts success story.
The 22-year-old former ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion – who is set for an epic rematch for the belt against Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon at ONE: A NEW TOMORROW – was raised in the Wharf Road area of the English capital.
Though it is not a renowned place that features on postcards like so many of the city’s other world-famous locations, it was a great place that gave him a happy childhood.
“It was working-class and multicultural, a bit rough and ready, but I knew everyone around there,” he explains.
“We just did what any kids would do. Sometimes we were a bit mischievous, but usually, we’d just be out playing football.”
Haggerty and his friends were close, and looked out for one another to stay out of trouble.
However, as he has got older, he has seen violence on the rise and some of the youth of the day have been caught up in it.
“When I was younger, you could play out on the street and do what you wanted to, but it is dangerous nowadays,” he offers.
“I think kids are just following trends. Even things like social media can have a big effect – people [are] trying to be somebody they are not and looking up to people that they shouldn’t be looking up to.”
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Haggerty has seen where that path leads and he is keen to show the young people that have lost their way that there is a better way to live their lives.
He has walked in their shoes and is proof that they can do great things if they dedicate their lives to the pursuit of something positive.
“I’ve been there first-hand and I’ve experienced things. I can empathize with it a little bit, [I’m] one of them,” adds “The General.”
“They can look me up and I can tell them what I went through so they know they can achieve what I have achieved. I feel like that’s important – that they can find your story or you can tell them your story a little bit.”
The 22-year-old’s own destiny changed when he followed his father into martial arts. He believes the values it instills into young people are key to keeping them on the straight and narrow.
Not only that, but a gym can foster the sense of community that some areas have lost. It is a place where everybody is pulling in the same direction to move toward bigger and better things.
It is not an easy path to take – success in martial arts requires so much hard work and sacrifice – but the British athlete is willing to give his time to encourage them to stick at it.
“I know sometimes they really don’t want to be there, but you need to push them, and show them some warmth and attention to make them feel comfortable,” says Haggerty.
“You need to get in a gym like I did. Get ambitious. Get a goal rather than following people. Have some positive role models.”
Community is the main focus of his family gym, Team Underground, and that is why you’ll find “The General” on the mats every night, coaching local teens, and giving them the gift of martial arts that has brought him so much success.
No matter what is going on outside on the streets, if the kids are training inside, they will be making positive steps in their life – and that is true of almost anywhere in the world.
“Come in and be dedicated, and we’ll show you the right path,” he concludes.
“Martial arts could change your life if you stick to it and you dedicate yourself!”