The Man Behind The Fence – Geoff Thompson Interview Part 3
In the third and final part of an interview with Geoff Thompson, Geoff discusses his current projects, as well as his thoughts on personal development and plans for the future. Part 1 and 2 of the interview can be found here and here.
So what would you say is your main focus now? Is it the martial arts, the writing, the screen plays, the self help? Or is it all the same in the end?
It’s all the same really; everything I do is just about personal development. All the writing and screen plays are storytelling, that’s what I do, I go out and tell stories and help to heal people through telling stories and then it heals me too. It’s all martial arts at a high level; it’s all budo, being of service to the world and being of service to yourself. I’m trying to fine tune the story-telling so it focusses on this kind of thing – interviews, keynote speaking, writing, screenplays and a bit of martial arts teaching too which is just purely movement and `misogi`. All the elements fall back into the same theme of storytelling. If you see someone down and out sleeping on the street, it’s due to the fact that they heard the wrong story and are unconsciously acting and surrendering to that story. Equally you could go to Mayfair and see someone turning over half a billion a year and running a philanthropic enterprise he’s there due to another story, a better story. Our stories are powerful it’s who we are, so our duty is to tell stories of truth and as you grow, your stories change. My story as a doorman was one of violence, it’s not the same now, and I keep evolving. As Ghandi said, our job is not to be consistent with the past, it is to be consistent with the truth, and the truth keeps changing as we evolve. It all comes back to personal development but at a higher and finer level.
Ok, let’s talk about the pure function course; is this a development of the 100 hour master class course you have previously run?
It’s come from the master class and black belt course; it’s a combination of them and my self-sovereignty course, it’s a combination of philosophy, movement and internal exercises. This is course which has grown organically through all the other courses I have run, some martial arts, some esoteric and some storytelling such as keynote speaking. This one brings it all together because we need all of them to make pure exchanges of energy in life. If I can teach someone to throw the perfect right cross and make a pure exchange of energy when I throw that technique, that perfection can become the template for everything, the template for a better life, a better body, a better relationship or business. If we master one thing we master all things. Once we understand that all human endeavour is about the exchange of energy – money/health/relationships – we can concentrate on making those exchange as pure as possible Everywhere you go you can exchange pure energy with people, sometimes money exchanges, sometimes knowledge or information exchanges. So the course has evolved over a number of years.
There’s a dynamic formed in group work where people ask questions, things come up and things are drawn out of people that seem peripheral to the course, but they’re due to the course as it is designed to encourage and nurture the highest potential. It’s a 6 month course and people have to attend all 6 sessions.
Ok! Finally, what’s on the cards for the next year, 2 years, 10 years etc?
I’ve been working a lot in Theatres recently, again telling stories to a high level. I’ve just recently been doing some work at the National Theatre developing a stage play. We’ve just finished a film called `The Pyramid Texts` which is a discourse on fear. `Fragile` – another stage play I’ve written – has just finished an acclaimed run in Edinburgh and is coming to London next year. That’s a great example of internal enquiry, misogi (cleaning) or budo, it is basically me writing about the trauma and abuse I experienced as a child and the aftermath. It is a very visceral play, it has a weird effect on people and is very powerful. Reviewers give it 5 stars, but then say we don’t recommend you go and see it, this should have a health warning (laughs). It’s basically me, getting an actor in a room and acting out my demons through a story and then allowing 50-100 audience members each night help me to clean it. Abuse is a possession and when we forgive and when we write honestly about our trauma, it cleans it, it’s an exorcism of old cognitions and beliefs.
We’ve just finished a film beautiful film called `The 20 Minute Film Pitch` and I am now working on a film called `Romans` with Ray Winstone, which is feature version of my short film Romans 12;20. All the projects are storytelling, using honest narratives to help other people to change their story. Films and theatre are very important and need to ensure they stay funded as storytelling is such an intrinsic part of our genetic makeup and can really change people’s perceptions.
In the second part of an interview with Geoff Thompson, Geoff talks about his concept of `The Fence` which has become the benchmark for many self defence schools, as well as the use of pressure testing within the martial arts. Part one of the interview can be found here. As always, please like, share, and make any comments.
You mentioned `the fence` concept earlier which is an idea which you’ve coined and developed. Could you talk me through the development of it and the physical and psychological aspects of it?
Most people really don’t understand what the fence is as they haven’t really trained in it. It looks very simple and people think it’s just another technique to add to the bag, in actual fact its everything. What I recognised with the fence is that in every situation, if you’re aware of your surroundings, you create a contained corridor that the attacker has to approach you down if he wants to attack you. So you don’t get ambushed, people can only approach you through the corridor that you have created, and when they do approach it is through what is known as ‘the interview’ (see Dead or Alive). Almost all situations start with some kind of dialogue, with someone coming up to you saying “what are you looking at”? Or “what did you say to my girlfriend”? Or, whatever the interview is. There’s normally some dialogue before a situation starts. People think self-defence is like a match fight or someone jumping out of the bushes and attacking you. This only happens if you are completely asleep. Usually a situation starts with some kind of dialogue. Self-defence is about being aware of this, it is about avoidance, awareness, escape, verbal dissuasion – if possible not being there in the first place. Most people won’t be able to make their physical self-defence work in a real situation because they haven’t developed the hardiness so rather than teach them to be firemen, we teach them fire safety, how to avoid a fire and escape it. We recognise self-defence is really about awareness, awareness of the environment, awareness of adrenaline and managing it, awareness of what works. There’s nothing worse than standing in front of a violent situation and waiting for them to attack. If you wait for a guy like me to attack, it’s already over, and most of the guys that are likely to attack you will be at least semi-professional or professional fighters because it’s what they do every time they go out. So I recognise that situations start through dialogue, you have to understand the ritual and how it works, and understand that the gap that exists between you and your opponent is the real danger area (see The Fence book/DVD). So we use the fence to control the gap. We use talking hands so we can control the interview. If you need to you can step back and posture, using fear to trigger their flight response, or you can use artifice to open a window of attack and hit them first, ending the situation before it even starts. The whole idea of the fence is to control the gap between you and the attacker in the interview stage and recognise that if you do not have a fence, they are going to close that gap to attack you. We use our hands to control the gap. The hands should be moving, not static, so that the opponent is not consciously aware that we are controlling them. We also use it to control centre line. We use it to measure intent, so if I move forward and touch your arm and you’re compliant, that tells me the intent is non-physical, I can talk the situation down. If I feel resistance when I touch you, the chances are there’s going to be a fight. I’m communicating with touch. I’m also opening up the jaw line, with the dialogue, words, vibrations and tones to control the person on a cellular level. Just the words on their own can finish the situation, posturing can finish most situations. Sound can be used as weapon. If I am overtly aggressive with my voice, it is often enough to trigger the flight response, and people run away without blows having to be thrown. If I think posturing is not going to work, I might soften my voice to lure the opponent into a false sense of security, line up my first attack, ask a question (to engage his brain) and then pre-emptively strike.
That’s the lowest level of the fence. The highest level is recognising that if I’m in a violent situation it’s because I’ve created that situation. The lowest level is me protecting a space to control a situation, the highest level is me un-creating that violent situation so that there is no space to protect. Working on the doors I realised that I’d created monsters unconsciously with my beliefs and imagination and then had to defend myself against them. Then I’d complain isn’t this city violent? My wife said to me one day, there’s a common denominator here Geoff and it’s you! Everywhere you go there’s violence.
We create, maintain and dissolve our reality but most of the time this is done unconsciously. If you look at people like Ueshiba, they were very high level, but they found their ascent initially like me through the hard game, through the physical. He had his first epiphany after a life and death battle, and realised the true form of warrior was gentleness and love. If we practice a martial art we need to understand that first.
So that’s a basic overview of the fence, most people have their opinion on whether they think it is effective or not, but for me that’s neither here nor there, I know it is effective. It’s protected me in thousands of situations and it’s very simple in concept, but you need to practice it.
Let’s talk a bit about pressure testing then. You said that from your time on the door you found that martial arts don’t always work. Now there’s reality based self-defence etc who practice using pressure testing. What are your thoughts on this?
Well that’s what we did really, I came back from my first night working as a bouncer and said to my students this isn’t working, we need to change everything. The systems are good, but the way we are taught them doesn’t lend itself to a violent environment. So we started pressure testing. We started to do Animal Day which began with progressive sparring (any range goes) so if someone kicks and you grab their foot and end up on the floor, you fight on the floor. We then realised we needed a groundwork game, some grappling so we started training in all these different close grappling systems. The pressure testing was to see what survived and what fell away when in a very pressured environment. We were all afraid of being disrespectful to instructors, but in the end you have to go in and see what works and what doesn’t. If you look at the UFC you can see that most systems end up looking the same and what works tends to stick and rise above while the rest falls away. We did all sorts of training to create real situations, so it was no rules, biting, gouging etc was allowed. We’d have caveats of course; if we bit, we would bite and release, if we gouged we would just touch the eye and it was then taken as a given that you would be blinded if that were for real. It sounds horrendous but it’s no more horrendous that some of the kata we teach our kids in karate where we advocate single and double stamps which was a WWII killing technique. Pressure testing teaches you to use different strategies, to break down restrictions, to defend against different artilleries. We put our best fighter in a cagoule one day and he lost his first fight because he just couldn’t cope with the restrictive clothing, someone grabbed his hood, pulled him over with it and chocked him out with the cord. You just recreate a real situation and it gives you a chance to see what works, it gives you a chance to see how your character might stand up to extreme pressure and also it is a forging environment where you can temper your charter.
Ultimately of course if you want to develop a system that works in a real environment, you need to be in that environment and very few people want to go to that place. That’s okay, so you could come to a guy like me and I could show you how to develop your awareness so you aren’t in that situation. I can teach you the techniques, but I can’t teach the hardiness that’s needed. So at some point if you really want to immerse yourself in it you’d have to leave the idea of reality based, and enter the actual reality itself, you could do this by becoming a policeman, doorman, security officer, soldier etc. stuff that’s real life. At that point the system you develop will be bespoke; the danger is that if you do this, if you make it your life, you might be seduced by the violence like I was. There were a few times I thought I’d killed people and it really made me question what I was doing and think to myself, “is this right?” in terms of the moral and ethical aspect. The guy that I battered last night, the one I thought was my enemy, is with his wife and kids the next day and he looks as though he has been put through a blender, he looks horrifically battered. He is someone’s daddy, he is someone’s husband someone’s son.
If you are there for long enough like I was you start to realise that you are not there because you are strong, you did not place yourself in violent situation because you have power, you do it because you are insecure and afraid, ultimately you are there because you have been telling yourself the wrong story, and there is no intelligence in that. So you start writing about your experiences (this is what I did) and questioning everything, knowing you’ve created something with the wrong beliefs, and then becoming excited and thinking wow! what kind of amazing reality could I create if I had the right beliefs. I look at my life now, I’ve written over 40 books, I’m writing films and plays and working on the world stage in martial arts. I’m creating from a place of love and I have the ability to get everything I want because everything I want is already there and I have the belief and the courage and the work-ethic to go out and get it. I haven’t worked in a real job for 25 years; I don’t want to work in a factory sweeping floors. I have 100 billion cells in the body, using them to sweep a floor in a factory is not an appropriate employment of my potential; I can do more than this.
Look out next week for the final instalment of the interview where Geoff talks about his current projects and what he has planned for the future. If you enjoyed this article please like and share using the tools provided as well as subscribing below! Thanks! Dan@TheMartialView
Ukemi or breakfalling is arguably one of the most important skills to master in Aikido and the martial arts in general. From the very first time we enter an Aikido school and our very first class, we are working with a partner and so need to breakfall. This is different to some other martial arts where the first few classes are spent practising form or certain strikes. Aikido, day one you work with a partner and so the need to breakfall correctly is of paramount importance.
The back fall
Aikido at first looks at the back fall breakfall used in techniques such as shihonage where you are taken down in a certain way so as to end up on your back. Protecting the head and back is of critical importance here, and ukemi is built up slowly so that we can take progressively harder and harder falls without hurting ourselves. The neck is tucked in to prevent the head hitting and bouncing off the mat, and the knees are bent to ensure you land butt first, not back first which will just knock the wind out of you.
When we are comfortable with this breakfall, we step it up a notch and progress to the high backfall, mostly used during dynamic jiyu waza techniques such as irimi tsuki and irimi nage. Here the legs are kicked up to head level to take the high breakfall, and the impact is dissipated in the shoulders and arm you use to break the fall with. The key component in the high breakfall is controlling the legs. If the legs are controlled and together at the time of doing the fall, the rest of the body can be controlled, and so the impact is minimal. Conversely, if the legs are separated, it can be difficult to control the rest of the body and the impact may be taken on the back or even worse the neck. Below is a demonstration of high back falling at around 1 minute 40.
The forward roll
In terms of forward rolling, Aikido employs a kind of sideways forward breakfall whereby we roll up the arm to the shoulder, and from the shoulder to the opposite hip in a diagonal line down the back, avoiding the spine. This is different to traditional gymnastics rolls where the roll is taken over the head and down the spine. Due to the nature of Aikido it is possible to throw people very hard using the hips, and so taking ukemi over the spine is not recommended for impact. Progressing on from this we look at the flipfall, again used in jiyu waza or techniques such as kotegaeshi. The flipfall is in many ways an aerial forward roll with the impact being taken on the arm we use to break the fall.
The clip below illustrates the power in the throws and the need to be able to fall correctly, as well as demonstrating the backfall, high backfall and flipfall breakfall as used in Aikido techniques.
Protect the body, build the body
Break falling correctly can help us protect the body, but can also help us to build the body. While recently teaching Aikido at a secondary school I was amazed to find how many of the students of only 13 or 14 years old couldn’t complete a simple forward roll due to lack of strength and coordination. Rolling and break falling helps to build core muscles that protect the spine, as well as developing coordination, fitness and agility. Simple break falling practice can build the body in a number of ways as well as protecting it and so is crucial to the development of children in my opinion.
Falling correctly and making this second nature can help in everyday life. How often do we hear of people falling down the stairs and breaking and arm or leg? Could this have been prevented if someone had an idea of how to fall properly without injuring themselves? Also in terms of self defence, many fights end up on the ground and so if taken down we need to be able to protect the head, shoulders and limbs. In sport martial arts such as MMA or Judo, take downs are key component and so before being taught to take down and throw, practitioners are taught how to breakfall. This allows us to increase in confidence with our ability to fall properly. In everyday life, a flipfall or high back fall may not be useful, but the principles it teaches, and the way it allows us to comfortably take a breakfall, protecting the major areas may one day save us from serious injury. Due to this, I believe ukemi or breakfalling is key to any martial arts training, as well as just training in everyday life. Breakfalling must focus on a strong core and form to begin with, then gradually built up, introducing new falls from different angles, or faster falls that you perhaps weren’t expecting. When we can comfortably fall from a technique or throw where we don’t know where we are going, this is surely a good sign that our training has allowed us to process and absorb the form, and so if we ever need to break a fall in real life, our training may instinctively kick in.
So you join a martial arts school. Fantastic! Regardless of style, whether it be MMA, traditional martial arts, or pure self defence you could be there for any number of reasons. You could want to develop yourself further, in terms of knowledge, fitness, flexibility or being out of your comfort zone. You could simply want to add another social circle to your life. It doesn’t matter, you’ve taken the step to reach out and try martial arts, and as a result of this, your life will be improved in some way I’m sure.
Where we encounter difficulties however, is when we fail to question what we do, and why we do it. Questioning techniques, principles and the way we do the things we do it central to both the understanding of the student, and the instructor. The student learns more than simply the movements of techniques, but the depth behind them and why they are effective. The instructor then constantly needs to develop in order to be able to answer the student’s questions and improve their own understanding. This questioning of techniques and their effectiveness and use is what keeps everyone developing, as well as keeping the martial art true to form. If this questioning does not occur however, the unfortunate situation where a so called Master of the martial arts, who may well have many students and a successful school, gets asked to demonstrate on someone other than his students and fails to have any effect on them whatsoever.
Above we have an example of this. The `Shihan` demonstrates throwing a number of his students from a distance with just a wave of his hand? The force is certainly strong with this one, but some of the moves I think even Yoda would be scratching his little green head at. How does this occur? I counted at least 8 people in that demonstration falling over for the `martial artist`. They all look reasonably young, fit and healthy by their acrobatic falls so why on earth are they falling over when this guy waves his hand from a meter away?!
Is it hypnotism? The power of mass suggestion? Or is it simply conformity? You find one student that is willing to fall over without you even touching them, as they are so eager to learn the secrets of the martial arts and unlock the mysteries within! Another student then comes with no previous martial arts training, sees guy number one falling over, and thinks this is just the way you train, it must be Ki, or Chi (or the force)!! Before you know it you have 8 or 9 people willing to fall over for you when you sneeze and you look amazing!! You market this as a martial art, and go around with your group of trusty rag dolls (who admittedly are really good at falling over stylishly), showing off your skills around the world, and generally being bad-ass. This is great, until someone who has training in a real martial art, and doesn’t believe in the power of sneeze throws asks to challenge you. That’s when this happens…..
This is unpleasant to watch as no-one wants to see someone get beat up, but it serves a point. What the hell was he thinking? And more than this, what were his students thinking? This is where we need to constantly question what we do in the martial arts. In traditional martial arts especially, there is a very high emphasis on respect for the instructor. Respect is great and one of the many things that can be learnt from the martial arts as I’ve previously highlighted here. Subservience and blind obedience to your instructor is not a good trait however as it allows the martial arts to become something else. What is being seen here is not martial arts, but a cult, where one all powerful and charismatic leader manipulates the minds of others.
The martial arts, and especially the traditional ones need to be kept alive in their intensity, effectiveness and ability to improve people’s lives. With the rise of MMA, softer, more traditional arts are constantly being questioned in terms of their effectiveness in today’s world, and videos and instructors like this tarnish the name of all martial arts. Blame also needs to be placed on the students who allow this ridiculousness to be continued and called martial arts. We constantly need to develop and evolve as martial artists, getting stronger, fitter, more technical and most importantly, questioning what we do! Martial arts are great and offer many benefits, but the above examples in my opinion cannot be called martial arts as they do not improve or develop anyone’s life, nor teach anyone anything other than how to be a fantastic, nimble, but powerless guinea pig!
Disclaimer – These guys could actually have special powers….If I trip up tomorrow I’ll know everything I have said was wrong and that somewhere, Shihan Sneezey throws just waived his hand……
Speed, Distance and Timing – The Essence of Martial Arts
An interesting article was published by the Daily Mail last year, looking at the Bruce Lee’s one inch punch and how it was possible for him to catapult grown men across the room from only an inch away. At first, people believed it was Lee’s superhuman fitness and conditioning, as well as correct technique that allowed him to produce such power in so short a distance, but new studies reveal it may actually have be his brain structure that accounts for it.
The study found black belts are able to punch incredibly hard, but this is not necessarily due to muscular strength, but more timing of the muscle movements produced by the brain. Effective punching came from the synchronization of the wrists and shoulders more than muscular strength alone, and this was determined by the brain structure. As Dr Ed Roberts, who ran the study states:
“We think that ability might be related to fine-tuning of neural connections in the cerebellum, allowing them to synchronise their arm and trunk movements very accurately.”
Martial arts novices were not able to synchronise their punching power through the whole body, with punches being based on muscular arm strength. As a result, the punches were not as quick, hard or effective, arguably showing that timing and coordination is essential to any martial artists training. Without correct timing, strikes or blocks will not be half as effective, relying simply on muscular strength. The full article can be found here.
In addition to timing, I would argue that distance is a major factor in relation to effective martial arts training. Traditional martial arts use the concept of ma-ai (distance) in all their techniques to effectively employ technique, whether this is striking such as in Karate, or locks and throws as in Judo or Aikido. In MMA, distance is judged through sparring and being able to judge whether to strike from standing or on the ground, or go for the takedown, closing the gap to allow the match to be taken to the ground. In terms of self defence, Geoff Thompson’s idea of The Fence shows the effective manipulation of distance before an altercation occurs, as well as Tony Davis and Matt Frost from the Combat Resource Centre explaining how going toe to toe with someone in terms of distance is not always a great idea, especially when dealing with multiple attackers. Links to their Home Study Self Defence course can be found on my homepage, as well as on my post on the Combat Resource Centre here
Tony Davis from the Combat Resource Centre
Speed is obviously essential to effective martial arts training, whether this be traditional martial arts, MMA or self defence. The opponent who is slower, sometimes regardless of technique, is always at a disadvantage as movements can be read and predicted, allowing the faster martial artist to effectively control distance. They can then close the gap when needed to deliver strikes or a takedown, or move out of range to avoid attacks. This concept is best shown by the Ghost method of fighting, developed by Phil Norman which emphasises being elusive through speed, and controlling distance through constant movement, delivering fast, effective striking and avoiding being hit.
Ghost Fighting with Phil Norman
Speed, distance and timing and essential skills for the martial artist to learn, whether aims are self defence, fitness, traditional martial arts or sport fighting such as MMA. They all interlink as well, with speed allowing you to control the distance and timing of your opponent, shown in Ghost training. The correct distance allows you to be fast, moving in and out of the pocket, delivering strikes or takedowns with good timing for effectiveness, and the correct timing allows speed, power and control of distance.
Atemi can sometimes be forgotten about during our Aikido training. Aikido’s focus on throws, locks, pins and subduing the attacker without hurting them where possible does not often coincide with punching someone, yet the effectiveness of some techniques relies on the proper use of atemi. We don’t look for the knockout blow in Aikido, we strike as a distraction to allow us to perform our technique, or as a way of unbalancing the opponent in order to throw or apply a lock.
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, said that in a real situation, atemi is 70% of the fight, with 30% being locks and pins. Shioda Gozo, founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, agreed with this analysis from his time spent in street fights during his youth. Shioda sensei argues that although overt punching and kicking training is not done in Aikido, such as through the use of punchbags or makiwara, training is still done. Every movement in Aikido comes from the hips, and every move aims to deliver hip power and movement. Is this not exactly what is needed for effective atemi? A poor punch comes from the arm, using the muscles there to employ power. A more effective punch however, comes from the hips with the arm relaxed until the very moment of impact when the full force of the hips and arms is combined. This allows for more efficient striking, allowing us to perform more strikes with more power.
Morihei Ueshiba applying a strike to the ribs of Gozo Shioda
If we look at the basic movements of Aikido or the kihon dosa, all focus on projecting the hips and developing hip power. Although we aren’t punching a bag for hours on end, we are still developing hip power, and therefore striking power and as said, this is still a crucial aspect of Aikido training. There are those that argue that we should not need to atemi in Aikido or in a real situation if our technique is correct, yet I would imagine that these people have never been in a real fight and are only used to training in the setting of a dojo. The principle of Aikido to not harm the attacker is good in theory, yet in my limited experience, unrealistic. If you are fighting with someone who really wants to hurt you, whether you hurt them or not is not a consideration, getting out of that situation however you can is the priority. O’Sensei was in his later years when developing Aikido, having been through hard rigorous training in his youth and being in more than one life and death situation. Shioda sensei was similar, training hard in his youth and looking for fights to test his skills and both state that atemi in Aikido has its place and is very important.
Striking is effective in terms of injuring opponents, but also in terms of breaking balance and developing hip power. Sometimes in training we do a technique and when done with added resistance, wonder why it doesn’t work. Sometimes the technique is done wrong, but other times, the role of atemi has been forgotten and with this added element, the technique can improve dramatically! Atemi is just one aspect of Aikido, but one I feel is sometimes neglected.
When people first come to study Aikido, Jiyu Waza, or freestyle movement is the first thing that impresses them about the art. When done correctly, it is fast, dynamic, athletic and skillful, making both people involved look like they know what they’re doing! What is the actual point in doing Jiyu Waza for the Aikido practitioner however? It is unrealistic practically and somewhat choreographed between those involved.
Jiyu Waza has many learning elements within it, both from the point of the Shite (doing the technique) and the Uke (receiving the technique). Aikido in general does not have competitions, and so in a way, jiyu waza is our form of competition between the shite and uke. Techniques are performed from a certain attack in a more dynamic way than regular basic training, allowing for improvement from both partners. The job of the uke is to receive the technique and then get up and attack again as soon as possible. The role of the shite is to perform the technique well and effectively, in a dynamic way, and to respond to the uke’s speed in order to avoid being hit. Jiyu Waza in this way then becomes a game of cat and mouse, where, although the partners are working together to improve technique, endurance and ukemi (falling), an element of competition can be introduced with who can perform the techniques faster, or get up and attack quicker.
Jiyu waza as already said should be kihon waza or basic techniques, but done more responsively and dynamically. This is not an easy task and there is a tendency to want to do jiyu waza quickly when training begins. This can lead to sloppy techniques as well as injury as a level of control is lost in relation to kihon waza. Having said this however, simple jiyu waza and free movement should be taught fairly early in my opinion as a way of improving ukemi. From my experience, people are comfortable doing a fall if given time to prepare for it, yet when they are asked to do the same fall within a technique, find it difficult as the control has been taken out of their hands. Jiyu waza can allow that control to be taken away, but at a slow pace to start with, allowing the uke to fall from different throws, different directions and different partners in a safe and controlled way. The pace can then be built up gradually, until eventually we see examples of near perfect jiyu waza with awesome ukemi from uke, and awesome technique from shite.
Jiyu waza is there to improve technique, endurance and falling as well as adding an element of pressure to regular training. It should be built up from a fairly early grade to improve ukemi and ensure that the aikido does not become too static or rigid.
Its been a much debated topic with numerous posts online being centered around the effectiveness of the traditional martial arts today, and what they can offer to society. As someone who has both trained and taught traditional martial arts for a number of years, it is an interesting topic for me to address and a number of factors need to be considered in terms of the `role` of martial arts today.
Combat effectiveness in the Martial Arts?
Firstly, and most obviously, there is the factor of combat effectiveness. The early UFC hoped to pit fighter against fighter, asking the age old question of which style was most effective when it came down to a `no holds barred` contest. Would the bigger man dominate over the quicker, more agile opponent? Was karate better than boxing? From the first UFC’s, and the dominance of Royce Gracie and his style of Brazilin Jiu-Jitsu, it was clear that a new type of fighter had emerged, one that was not only comfortable on the ground, but advantaged in this way. Martial arts then took on a whole new format in the following years, and the idea of mixed martial arts was born, focusing on arts like kickboxing and muay thai for standup game, wrestling for taking down the opponent, and BJJ for ground game. Many now think of MMA as being the pinnacle of combat effectiveness as it tests the fighter’s skill, and fitness against a non-compliant opponent, something that the traditional martial arts can lack. I contest this belief but on to that at a later date.
Martial Arts Principles
I have trained and taught Yoshinkan Aikido for many years now, and a constant criticism I find from people looking at aikido is that the techniques seem ineffective, unrealistic, and dependent on the compliance of the partner. It is true that in the beginning we rely on our partner working with us to help us understand the technique we are trying to do, but what people fail to grasp is the principles underlying the techniques learnt. Aikido looks a lot at wrist grabs due to its being based on samurai unarmed combat. Samurai armor was weak at the wrists and so it was common to attack here. A wrist grab attack in today’s world is unrealistic, yet the principles we learn from this simple attack helps us to build the foundations for more realistic attacks. Aikido looks at connecting with the partner/opponent and keeping this connection throughout the technique. An easy way for this principle to be understood is through the wrist, as the elbow and shoulder can then easily be controlled. If we looked straight at a hook punch, headbutt, or other such `realistic attacks`, this simple principle could be overlooked and so, in my opinion and in terms of aikido, simpler attacks are necessary until you understand the basics. All martial arts, regardless of style work on the principles of unbalancing the attacker while maintaining your balance, employing power through the hips and lower body, and neutralizing the attack, either through a block or movement. This can be seen in the boxer slipping the punch, unbalancing the opponent and allowing an opening to counter punch. It is often not the most powerful punches that cause the knockouts in these cases, but the punches timed perfectly where the opponent is off balance and left open. This principle in my opinion, is true of all martial arts, regardless of styles.
So in terms of combat effectiveness, I believe that all martial arts, traditional and new, have their place and these all teach the same fundamental principles, all be it with a sometimes different slant. What is crucial, is to remember what is being studied. A `Martial` art, martial meaning war. The effectiveness of the traditional martial arts still hold true today, in my opinion, but it is dependent on the patience of the individual learning, as well as the instructor teaching. There is a tendency in the traditional martial arts to sometimes forget the applicability of techniques, focusing too much on the `art` and not enough on the `martial` aspect and so to keep its role in terms of combat effectiveness in today’s society, traditional martial arts should address this.
Combat effectiveness is just one role the martial arts can play today, and in my opinion is not the most important. Next blog I will discuss the role it can have on the development of children through the instilling of respect, discipline, fitness and a don’t give up attitude.