Fighters from the Dungeon Club in Castletown have been enjoying a successful few weeks. Mark Scully meets the man behind the small club that is taking on the world ... and winning.
CASTLETOWN might look like just any other part of Sunderland. The loss of industry has left the former mining town with little to shout about in recent years.
But now, one man is turning the area into a conveyer belt of martial arts champions at his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gym, The Dungeon.
Boasting one national champion would be an impressive achievement. Two would be lauded in a big city. So how about eight national champions and one European champion?
That’s right. A little gym, tucked away in a room behind the bar at the local snooker club is very much in the winning habit, thanks to the efforts of 39-year-old Aaron Naisbett.
Having been practicing martial arts since he was 12, Aaron is a BJJ black belt and receives his training in Brazil each year from nine-time world champion Ricardo Vieira.
When an injury meant he was made redundant from his job working with young offenders, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented itself.
Aaron turned his passion into a career and established the gym at the Dungeon Club.
“It’s fantastic,” said Aaron. “I look forward to coming into work every morning. Every day is different.”
Over a year on and the club now has some 25 members of all ages, all of whom do not have a bad word to say about their coach.
Michael Parkin, 16, said: “It’s great, he’s good to get along with and he makes you feel at home here.”
Kaylen Johnson, 15, echoed the sentiment: “He’s excellent, he’s a really good trainer. I’ve done a few MMA things in the past and I’ve never had a trainer like Aaron.”
The respect shown to him by his students is nothing compared to the respect Aaron has for them and he insists the club’s success is as much down to their hard work and it is his. He said: “I’m over the moon with the guys and their hard work and commitment to training. They’ve all made a lot of sacrifices.”
The notion of discipline and respect for one another is high on the list of priorities for Aaron when coaching a fighter but he also enjoys the more relaxed atmosphere surrounding BJJ.
“One of the things I like about BJJ is it’s not cliquey,” he said. “With other martial arts, it can be that if you’re not a black belt, you don’t fit in. With BJJ it’s more like a big family.
“We focus on discipline and respect but the only time we bow is at the end of the classes.”
This teaching, he believes, can have a positive impact on those who have struggled getting by in life in the past. He says that there are some members who could well have ended up behind bars had they not discovered the sport and made a change in their lives.
“It’s not magic though,” Aaron warns. “They need to want to change themselves.”
It is when this change of a character occurs that Aaron, a multiple champion himself, gets the most enjoyment from his job. He said: “I get the most satisfaction out of watching people change, watching their confidence increase and their ability increase.
“Watching them win titles is obviously unreal but that progression is what’s the most satisfying.”