No five-year-old should ever be scared to go to school, but unfortunately that was the case for one little boy. Matt Fiddes described himself as being “very shy and little” when he was a five-year-old child 33 years ago. And that made him the perfect target for one particular big and brash bully.
What’s more, Fiddes couldn’t escape his persecutor. According to him, the bully would kick the youngster under tables and seek him out on recreation apparatus in the playground. Yes, while other kids ran, kicked a soccer ball or played tag, Fiddes was apparently tormented and teased; so much so, in fact, that he’d come home bruised both physically and mentally.
As the boy grew older, ill-intentioned classmates continued to find him, too. “Bullied kids, their confidence is so hit hard, they attract bullies,” Fiddes told the hosts of ITV’s This Morning. “My parents tried to keep moving me from school to school to try and solve the problem, but I’d just attract stronger, more powerful kids, and it would continue it on.”
Still, none of the bullies stuck in Fiddes’ mind quite like that first tormenter – the one who picked on him during his most innocent school years. Interestingly, though, the now 38-year-old businessman credits that “bigger, very confident” boy with igniting his passion for and career in the martial arts.
Moreover, Fiddes’ chosen profession eventually opened the door to many opportunities for him; although the one that presented itself in October 2017 may have just taken the cake. You see, Fiddes was finally able to sit down with his first tormenter and look him straight in the eye – before the martial artist then dished out the ultimate payback.
Fiddes began studying martial arts at the suggestion of another classmate, who thought that the practice would help him defend himself from the constant bullying. And it turned out that Fiddes was instantly good at the sport. “I was naturally flexible, could do all the kicks,” Fiddes told This Morning. “And from there on I became a martial arts addict.”
In fact, Fiddes was so enamored with the practice that he decided to pursue a career in martial arts rather than go to college. Aged just 16, then, he dropped out of school, much to the dismay of his mother. Fiddes told Entrepreneur, “My mum was a lawyer and her family had all been to university so she wanted me to get a good education.”
At first, Fiddes led classes at a community center in his hometown in South West England. Despite his young age, though, the then teen easily filled the leadership role. “I was already a second dan black belt and had been helping out in lessons since I was 11 years old,” he told MoneyWeek. But while Fiddes was racking up the experience, the cash didn’t start pouring in right away. Indeed, he made just enough to get by for a year before he decided to look for business inspiration on the other side of the pond.
Happily, it didn’t take long for Fiddes to find his perfect business model. Yes, he soon discovered an American company that was making millions from martial arts studios. And after a call to the firm’s head office, the people there asked Fiddes to come by and see how things were run. The visit was to change his entire perspective on his business. That’s because Fiddes learned how to build lesson plans, tailor personal training sessions and engage in professional dialogue. “For the most part, it was a big success,” he told MoneyWeek. “More attention to detail meant that I retained customers and started building up class numbers.”
As soon as Fiddes returned home, in fact, his business began earning more prestige – and more money. What’s more, Fiddes even acted as Michael Jackson’s bodyguard when the pop superstar toured the U.K. The entrepreneur then began licensing his brand worldwide, and studios opened around the globe. By 2013, then, his peak profit was more than $9 million per year. Perhaps more importantly, though, he designed an anti-bullying campaign. And Fiddes claims that the scheme has helped protect more than one million children from torment.
But despite Fiddes’ impressive earnings and his raft of celebrity friends, there was one narrative that the media chose to focus on: that of Fiddes’ childhood torment and how it had inspired his entire career. “I used to be bullied at school, and the papers loved the fact that I’d become a successful martial arts entrepreneur just a few years after leaving,” he said.
Fiddes also still used the story of his bullying as the spark that inspired his career and eventual success. More specifically, he honed in on his initial tormenter as the one who kick-started the chain of events that led him to martial arts. What’s more, Fiddes had something to say to his bully, and it just so happened that he would deliver his message on live television.
Yes, on October 9, 2017, the pair were finally reunited. “You’ve grown a bit,” said former bully Anthony with a laugh when the two met each other once more. But the initially jovial conversation quickly turned serious, with the hosts of ITV’s This Morning asking Anthony if he remembered treating Fiddes the way he did. “It was all five-year-old stuff, really,” the former school bully said, obviously unaware at the time of how deeply the events had affected Fiddes.
At that point, though, Fiddes decided to chime in with his recollection of events. “[Anthony] was a lot bigger than all of us in school. He was a very big child, very well-educated, more privileged background,” he recalled of his former associate. Then, Fiddes said something unexpected in Anthony’s defense: “[The bullying] was more boredom than anything else.”
At this juncture, Anthony admitted that he had been knocked for six by Fiddes’ recent response to his former foe. “I was overwhelmed, really, that Matt said what he has said about me, to be fair,” Anthony said. It was at this moment, then, that Fiddes was finally able to say once and for all what he felt about his school contemporary.
“I want to thank you,” he said, surprisingly, extending his hand to shake with Anthony. “You’ve helped so many children over the years,” he added. You see, Anthony’s teasing had led Fiddes to discover martial arts and, among other achievements, also develop his anti-bullying campaign.
But Anthony could barely take credit for his former classmate’s success. “You’ve done it all yourself,” he said humbly, his eyes down, hardly making contact with Fiddes. “You’ve done it yourself. Hard work [and] dedication to what you do and what you believe in. So well done to you,” he said, praising the martial artist.
Of course, Anthony’s bullying days are long behind him now. He went on to complete the education that he had begun more than 30 years ago when Fiddes was his classmate. “I work for myself, and I’ve got three children, so yeah, I’ve turned out well,” he said with a smile.
And from their amenable appearance on the morning talk show, it was clear that Anthony and Fiddes have become friends since their schoolyard days. In fact, at the end of their interview, it was revealed that Fiddes would begin training his former adversary in martial arts.
The duo also announced that they would be traveling to some of Fiddes’ martial arts schools. You see, they wanted to “show that things can turn out great” for both bullies and the bullied. So, not only has Fiddes turned his childhood misery into a career, but he has also shown others that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And that may turn out to be his most important legacy of all.