Here it is guys and girls! The Bob Breen interview part 1! A legend in the martial arts, and go to guy for self defence, here Bob talks about his early days in martial arts, his own philosophy of self defence, and his cross branding with Andy Norman and Defence Lab, Phil Norman and Ghost, and Eddie Quinn with The Approach. Enjoy and as ever please feel free to comment, subscribe, share and like 🙂
How did you begin your training in the martial arts?
I started Karate at the end of 1966, getting my black belt in 1970. Roundabout then I opened my own school one of the first schools in the UK to be run by a non-Japanese. I fought for England and captained the England team and things like that. Then in 1971-72 we started doing a bit of grappling, so we were cross training even then really, predominantly Judo stuff. I was always interested in the cross-training approach, it resonated with my personal experience. There was a comic strip in the Evening Standard called `Modesty Blaise`, books too, and that had the idea of cross training and fighting in it. It was JKD before JKD had even happened! So I was enthralled by this idea of combat as I’d had quite a few fights on the street growing up so knew it didn’t quite go as it did in the dojo! In many ways I was primed up for JKD and Kali. I got into Eskrima in 1978 and met Dan Inosanto when I invited him over the UK in 1979! I became a huge advocate of JKD and Kali after that, and have followed Guru Dan from that time onwards.
Would you say that your previous experience having fights on the street etc led you into the martial arts?
Not especially, I was just intrigued by it. I’d had fights and I remember having a fight with a guy called Andy who was an amateur boxer. I had loads of spirit but no technique, I was just scrappy! So for me it was just a journey of enquiry, it looked beautiful and it wasn’t just about the fighting it was the discipline and speed. I remember my first teacher Tatsuo Suzuki, just being unbelievably fast! It was of the age as well, there was `Odd Job` around and things were opening up changing, people were getting interested in the martial arts. Nowadays I don’t think people understand how closed everything was then, but times were changing.
In terms of the JKD, what was it that originally drew you to it and made you think this is for me?
Initially I don’t think it was the art of JKD specifically, I was into Bruce Lee before that had been publicised , I used to go to China Town and watch the films in Chinese and be the only English person in the audience! I was intrigued by the idea of Bruce, Definitely the best and most realistic on the screen. When JKD articles came out showing pictures of his approach I thought ‘Well we do that anyway’ but what set Lee apart was the level of his integration and thinking. He was on a much higher level. What intrigued me about Dan Inosanto was the Filipino arts and what he did with that. His visit with Jeff Imada was amazing. It showed how they could go from empty hand, to knife, to stick, to battle axe, to grappling, back to empty hand. They wouldn’t have a plan; they would just flow and could handle everything. It was amazing and in truth I still think that evening in 79 was one of the best demos of the art I’ve ever seen.
What do you think JKD can offer today?
JKD was the original cross training or MMA as Bruce was into everything. Done well I think it’s what many of the top fighters are using today, at least conceptually. Lee’s influence has been immense. However I think a lot of it has been lost as people are caught up in technique, they know everything but can they do everything? This for me is why I developed 4D. It’s a sort of reference back to the original principles of JKD. 4D is functional, you have to be able to use it practically and apply it. 4D is nearly 50 years of sparring and fighting in every format and thinking how do you take all that knowledge and make it really easy to learn. prioritise it, adding a strategic structure to it, so that whatever happens you’re in charge. All the guys doing 4D now say they feel less fear, are more confident, and get more things to happen due to the simplicity of it. The choices are small, but because of that you get everything. If I’m punching you in the head you can’t have 20 thoughts in your head, its fight or flight. All the decision making is binary like this and natural so it’s quick.
Then we work on the what would be traditional JKD concepts like non telegraphic striking so when we hit you can’t stop it! However in 4D it’s not acceptable just to know it, you have to be able to make it work. It’s almost like a computer game; if you want the next level you need a certain score. If I want to progress I need to land 8 out of10 jabs against a defended target, then I understand and really know the jab and can move on. We do this on everything; everything is tested. It’s an evolution of the JKD idea, Bruce’s ideas were fabulous but it’s been evolved. You’ve interviewed Phil Norman, and I think you’re interviewing Andy Norman too, and all these guys have done the same thing, they’ve evolved and simplified. 4D have taken practicality first and built from there. People seem to like it, I’ve been hitting world champions in the head and they all say it’s like WOW! Mind blown!
Film Star and Bodyguard – Interview with Richard Norton p.3!
Here’s the third and final part of the awesome interview with Richard Norton! Enjoy, and share the awesomeness!
Let’s go back to the martial arts side then. What do you think martial arts, both traditional and reality based can offer to the 21st century? Do they still hold relevance?
Yes and no. I think they do if the style and instructor has the wisdom to integrate it into today’s world. You’re right; a lot of the traditional kata or weapons work doesn’t really have much relevance in today’s combat arena, but then it doesn’t always have to. I mean you’re not going to be walking around the street with a Katana or Sai in your hand, so that side of it, for me, is about the art part of ‘martial art’. I think we can often focus too much on the ‘Martial’ and not enough on the ‘Art’ side of what we do. The mental and spiritual side of the arts, I think, has a tremendous amount of benefit and relevance in today’s world due to the stresses and everything we go through in day to day life, purely just to make a living and have ends meet. To have something in your daily life that’s about spiritual balance is, to me, very important. The battlefield of today isn’t about samurai style on horseback; it’s a couple of guys outside a nightclub with a blade trying to cut you up, or your boss in your day job piling endless files on your desk with a deadline to get done. I love the traditional arts and the way it is just about me and the perfecting of my art with the mind, body and spirit in unison and I truly believe having that togetherness will help you in many a real situation. But I of course also think you need the stress tested reality based techniques as well as the traditional as these are what will really help you in a physical life or death situation. You see, in most traditional dojo’s, everything we do is structured; we bow, step up and fight to specific protocols and rules, its what I call, consensual sparring. We know we are going to fight; there are rules and a referee. In the street there are no rules and you have no way of knowing what’s going to happen. A lot of traditional clubs will not or cannot teach you what that aspect of combat is really like, and that’s where we need to address the balance. As an example, I was once teaching a class of MMA students and I decided to ask them just why they were all there. In this case, the MMA style I was asked to teach was more UFC style; backs against the cage etc. As it turned out, 90% of those in attendance said they were interested primarily in real life self-defence. So I said well then that cuts out about 70% of what I would in a ‘sport’ MMA class .I mean in the street, if I happen to take you down in a fight with a version of a double or single leg, I absolutely no longer want to go down to the ground with you, as I primarily then have to worry about the possibility of other ‘bad’ people around kicking my head in whilst I’m tied up with you. How many times in the street will you have your back up against a cage? In street MMA, I would teach a hybrid takedown, then be immediately scanning to see if there are opponents 2, 3 or 4 that I may have to deal with. So you can have the traditional and the reality. The reverse punch comes from the hip which is probably the way I’d launch a pre-emptive strike. In the end a punch is a punch, a kick is a kick, it’s the delivery systems that matter and the stimulus for delivery of that punch or kick i.e. getting shoved and screamed at, dealing with the stress factors, then launching into the physical side. This is why I like arts like BJJ as a sport, because for the most part, there is no theory. When we tap out, it’s for a good reason; your arm’s getting tweaked or you’re going to sleep for a bit. It’s the same with boxing or kickboxing. You are usually either hitting or getting hit. You can theorise all you like, but it is what it is from a combat point of view. Yes, there are still rules, but even the UFC has strict rules. At least though it’s as close as you can get to a real fight, hopefully without sustaining life-threatening injuries.
So, finally your plans for the future? You’ve alluded to a big project next year that you can’t speak too much about but anything you can tell us?
For me really its business as usual. I’m really excited about the project next year, it’s huge! I’m 65 in a month and in this business you can get into the mind-set of, ‘wow, maybe is this the last job? Then you get a call out of the blue for a gig and off we go again! As I have already said, my passion for the martial arts is what has brought about all the great opportunities like bodyguard work, film work and whatever in my life. Again, I truly believe that the great through line for me to continue to have is to just continue striving to be the best martial artist I can be, and then the universe will look after me with jobs in security, movies, etc. That’s certainly how it’s been up until now and how I expect it to be for quite some time to come. I love doing what I do. Now how many people can honestly say that? Most get up every morning hating what they do, day in and day out and are just waiting until they can retire and actually start ‘living’. Fortunately for me, since 11 years of age, I’ve been ‘living’ my passion nonstop. Have there been ups and downs? Of course, but overall, it’s been pretty damn great and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Film Star and Bodyguard – Richard Norton Interview P.2!
Part two of this incredible interview with Richard Norton, martial artist, film star and bodyguard! Enjoy! As always please share, subscribe and like to support the site 😀
You have experience protecting some of the big names in show business, such as The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor and David Bowie. How did that opportunity come about and what did you learn from the experience?
It came about again through Bob Jones. I was working the doors since I was a teenager in the clubs of Melbourne, so I obviously got a lot of experience through this. In early 1970, a local entrepreneur called Paul Dainty rang us up at the club and asked if we’d be interested in looking after The Rolling Stones. So of course we said yes and that’s how the Bodyguard work and touring started. As far as longevity in bodyguard work, that really came from word of mouth within the industry. It’s not something you send your resume in for and get a gig. Its more someone like a David Bowie speaking to another artist and saying, “Yeah, Richard is the best in the business and if you want personal security, then that’s the guy you need”. So it’s the word of mouth and recommendation of guys like David or a Linda Ronstadt, or a Mick Fleetwood that gets you your next gig with whatever next big act is out there. As far as bodyguard work it self, there weren’t really that many violent situations when I look at the 25 years of being a body guard, as it’s really more about the pre-emptive side of being aware of your environment and sensing the potential for a violent confrontation and hopefully avoiding it before it kicks off. For example, in a concert setting, it’s about the setup of the security personnel and where you place them before the band even hit the stage. I always saw myself as really the last line of defence, and even then, it’s all about the de-escalation of a situation before it becomes violent, as the last thing someone like a Mick Jagger would want is their bodyguard to kick the crap out of a fan! Not good publicity for them. A lot of the band members would often joke with me in the tour bus when travelling to and from gig’s, saying ‘Oh come on when do we get to see you do your thing?! I remember having a funny conversation with Danny Kortchmar, a guitarist with James Taylor, who was saying after a few beers on our tour bus. ‘Come on, I play guitar; you see me playing every night, Russ plays drums and you see him play every night, so when the hell are we going to see you punch someone! I’d laugh and point out that I knew that that’s the last thing you’d actually want me to do! Again, of course there was some violence, but I don’t really like talking about it as it glorifies it and wasn’t, at least for me as a Martial Artist, what the job was all about. I always said that the best security was when you didn’t even know you had it. Having said that, it’s a very different world now to when I was doing security, sadly due to the epidemic of drugs like Ice and Crack etc. I mean violence has truly just gone to a whole new and disgusting level. There are also CCTV cameras everywhere you go now too, so you’re always in the spotlight and you can’t just flippantly go the physical route like in the old days, as you’re so often going to end up on film as evidence and end up with your day in court. Then your whole life can change forever.
You’ve also worked with some massive names in the film industry such as Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris, so gain, let’s just talk about how that came about and what it was like!
The meeting of Chuck Norris and consequently my movie career began with Bob going over to America and asking Chuck to come out to Australia as a guest and do some demonstrations for some Zen Do Kai Kick Boxing events we were holding in different states in Oz. This was in 1978. So Chuck came out and as it turned out, I was also demonstrating on the same card in front of maybe 4000 people at a place called, Festival Hall. Anyway, from the first time we met, Chuck and I just got on so well from the get go and he basically said that if I was ever in California, to look him up and we’d do some training. So obviously, for a kid from the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, this was like a huge wow moment! So a year later, I was working in Australia as bodyguard for one of the biggest rock and rollers of the time, Linda Ronstadt, and she asked me to move over to America and work with her full time. So off I went to California, amazingly after a lot of hesitation. So there I was, living and working with Linda, and of course the first person I called when I got there was Chuck! Incredibly, true to his word, he invited me round to his house to train. We would go on to form an incredible friendship and train every morning in his house for years to come, doing hours of kicking routines and fitness marathons and everything else, martial Arts related. It’s through Chuck and his many influential MA friends that I got the introduction to Jackie Chan. Chuck was so well liked and respected and kindly opened doors for me that I could have only dreamed about, had I not met and befriended him. So that’s how my movie career really began! I can’t thank Chuck enough for giving me the opportunity to meet some of the greatest Martial Artists in the world and help me get the skills I have today! Back to the start in movies, when I first arrived in California and started training with Chuck, he was in the very early stages for his film, `The Octagon`, and because of my demonstrations in Australia, he was well aware of my skills with Okinawan weapons. So there was a main bad guy character in ‘The Octagon’ by the name of ‘Kyo.’ So he asked me to accept that role! It’s funny, because the character was originally meant to be Asian, hence the reason for the crimson headdress in the movie to hide the fact I was in fact a blonde Aussie! So I ended up playing ‘Kyo’ and also helping Chuck’s brother, Aaron in choreographing a lot of the fights. In fact just four of us did all the ninja work in the movie. My claim to fame in `The Octagon` was I died eight times in that movie, as every time someone went splat in a black uniform it was probably me! So that was the start of my movie career! Pat Johnson, who was a partner of Chuck’s back then and who had worked with Jackie on `The Big Brawl` suggested to Jackie that I would be good to have as the bad guy in one of his movie’s, so a few years later I got a call from Jackie and his team and that’s how I ended up working on three of his movies. It was all a matter of circumstance really; I didn’t go to the states planning on getting into the movies, but, as fate had it, that’s what happened and here we are, some 70 movie’s later. Not a bad way to make a living, eh?
When did you decide to make the jump from stunt man to choreographer? Was it a conscious decision or just a natural progression?
Yes, I guess it did just kind of happen, of course helped by my Martial Arts background. I think I worked out, after being in the industry for some time, that as an actor, you’re kind of a product with a short shelf life. You either get overexposed, or you’re not that good, or there are no roles that suit your look or whatever. I mean loved being in front of the camera, but was realistic enough to know it wouldn’t last forever. Also, a lot of the types of movies I was doing back then they just don’t make anymore. I also realised that advancing age was going to reduce the roles I was going to get offered. So I thought it would be prudent and smart for me to learn what it’s like being behind the camera and, as it turned out, that was a good move for me. On `Mad Max` I had an acting role, but I was mainly working as fight coordinator. Now I’ve just been hired as Fight Coordinator on another huge movie in 2015, so it all doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon, thank goodness. Honestly, movies for me are primarily about economics and earning enough to make a living and allow myself more time to spend in the Arts, doing what I love doing most, and that’s living my passion.
Film Star and Bodyguard – Richard Norton Interview P.1!
He’s worked with names such as Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, and was the bodyguard to The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor and many others! He’s also a fantastic martial artist and someone that those interested in the martial arts can hope to aspire to be like in our own training.
Also a really nice guy who took the time out of his massively hectic schedule to give me the interview! Here’s part one of my interview with Richard Norton for The Martial View!
Thanks for taking the interview Richard! Your career in the martial arts has been a shining example to those involved in martial arts. You’ve worked with some famous names such as Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris, and protected the likes of The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac! Can you remember what initially led you into starting martial arts, and how you felt walking into your first class?
Yeah, I’ve often been asked this, and looking back it certainly wasn’t due to the fact I was being beaten up or that it was a rough neighbourhood that I lived in. I was certainly attracted to martial arts from a young age, but who knows why! I remember seeing ads on the back of comic books talking about Judo, and there was just something quite mystical about it and I was intrigued by this oriental art. Then, as it happened, there was a kid who moved into a house opposite ours where I lived in Croydon, which is a suburb of Melbourne, and as it turned out, he was disappearing 2-3 times a week. So one day I said, “Oh Morris where are you going”? So he told me he was learning Judo and I was like, “Wow I want to come too”! So I went along the next night and was absolutely awe struck and loved the idea of it! Now one initial problem I had was that I was quite skinny and small as an 11 year old and started of being a bit like cannon fodder for the older kids in the class! The Sensei, John Burge, was wonderful and very caring though and kept inspiring me to keep at it. I used to practice in the back yard with my mates as I was always very physical as a kid, wrestling and boxing, as most kids do I’d imagine, and now we added Judo into the mix. Then one day, another school friend, John Rowe, who was also in our Judo class and who was learning Karate out of the book, `This Is Karate` by Masutatsu Oyama, excitedly told me that there was a karate school opening up near where we lived. So off I went for the opening night. The style of Karate was Goju Kai and was being taught by Sensei Tino Ceberano. I remember the class did a demonstration of basic H pattern Kata, or forms and a bit of Jiyu Kumite, which was light contact sparring. Well, I remember that being an incredible light-bulb moment for me and I decided right then and there, that Karate was what I wanted to do with my life. So that was when the whole journey of immersion and passion for the Martial Arts started started. I still think back to those early days and truly believe that martial arts were what I was meant to do with my life, esoteric as it sounds. Pretty much everything good I’ve experienced in my life, from travelling the world as a personal Body Guard and working on movie sets for over 35 years, has come as a result of just wanting to be the best Martial Artist I could be. My entire life has revolved around the martial arts; I mean where a lot of other people get jobs and set patterns in their life and then discover and try and fit their respective training in, the opposite was true for me; I made my life fit around the dojo and training and that’s how it all started and continues to this day.
So from there I presume you just developed your Karate further and then this led to the Zen Do Kai system? Can you talk me through this?
Yes, Zen Do Kai started through an association one of my oldest friends and mentors, Bob Jones, who was also a student of Tino Ceberano and Goju Kai Karate Do. At the time we met, Bob owned a security company and was involved with providing security personnel for most of the clubs and bars of Melbourne was already incredibly skilled in reality based fighting and the ways of ‘street’ combat. It was Bob who wanted to initiate his own style of ‘Combat effective’ Martial Arts and wanted me to partner up with him. So that led to the formation of the Zen Do Kai Karate schools which started in 1970. It was still based in the Goju system, but our motto was ‘The Best of Everything in Progression’, so I would say it was one of the first eclectic type of schools in Australia where aspects of different styles of Martial Arts were incorporated, rather than being purely based on one system. If we thought a technique from another style had some combat effectiveness, we integrated it into our Zen Do Kai system. We had boxing, Judo and wrestling along with the Goju karate, so it was in fact a very early version of MMA. Remember, MMA means ‘mixing Martial Arts, not just the sport version we know of as ‘The UFC’. A lot of the early students in our school were professional bouncers and incredibly tough and seasoned street fighters, so it suited us to pressure test different MA techniques and try to discover what was real or what was just theoretical. Not taking it away from the esoteric or theoretical aspect of some of our martial arts, but it was important for us and our students to know what combat techniques would work in the real world and not just in the safe confines of the Dojo. So it was obviously through Bob and Zen Do Kai that that I got involved in doing security work on doors, which led to personal bodyguard work.
Obviously self-defence is a tricky concept and lots of school claim to teach self-defence but are criticised for teaching unrealistic techniques that only work in a dojo setting, or criticised for having no real life experience to draw upon. What are your thoughts on the principles of effective self-defence training and the teaching of self-defence?
I understand the dilemma of a martial arts instructor with no reality based experience trying to teach actual reality based street techniques when they’ve never had a real fight in their lives and I would of course never encourage anyone to go out and involve themselves in street violence, just to get that experience. But having said that, I think that if you are really learning reality based self-defence, it’s important to learn from someone that really been on the front lines and has life experience, as it is different from the Dojo environment. In the dojo, you’re in a cotton wool sort of environment; there are rules and protocols that protect you, whereas in the street there are no such parameters. The fear that a life or death street encounter brings is obviously quite confronting, and as a result, I think it is essential to learn such street techniques from someone that understands the effects of fear and adrenaline, accelerated pulse rates and how all of those factors affect you physiologically and dramatically change your bodies ability to deliver complex moves learnt in the Dojo. So you need someone that can talk the students through these pre fight feelings, so at the very least, if, God forbid, the student is involved in a street altercation or whatever, he can maybe can maybe recall these lessons from a street experienced instructor and realise what’s going on, physiologically in his body, before the actual physical part even kicks off. I mean anyone that’s experienced real combat knows that quite often the legs start shaking, the heart rate goes up and you at best lose cognitive ability and fine and complex motor skills and go straight to gross motor skills. All of that is important to understand when you teach as so many of the complex moves we learn in traditional arts are okay in traditional and safe sport environments, but won’t necessarily work when you are really confronted with violence and basically scared shitless. You need to get to the fundamentals, the one or two strikes you can use in a pre-emptive situation that will hopefully allow you to survive a street fight. A friend of mine, Sensei Paul Cale, who has incidentally come under Team Norton and who is one of our most decorated military vets, having had multiple tours of Afghanistan etc and developed his own combat system, called Kinetic Combat System, says it drives him nuts seeing the amount of ‘Combat Instructors’ who advertise themselves as teaching the military, special forces etc. As he says, most of these ‘Reality Based Experts’ have never ever been in the service, let alone eve a real street fight, and yet they’re teaching real world knife and gun weapons defence. So, even for me, if I wanted to further my realistic defence in terms of lethal weapons, I’d go to someone like Paul, as I know he’s been there for real. I mean teach knife defence now, but I’m very honest and say that I believe that these techniques will be effective in reality, but it’s still theory to a huge extent, as how the hell would I know when I’ve never been in a real knife fight. Bit different when the blades are real and not made out of rubber. Lol
Here we are lucky enough to read about the GHOST fighting method developed by Phil Norman that is taking the combat world by storm! Phil talks about the development of GHOST, as well as his plans for the future and his business relationships with Andy Norman of Defence Lab, Bob Breen of 4D Combat, and Eddie Quinn of The Approach! As always, if you enjoyed the article share, like, comment your thoughts, and subscribe to The Martial View!
Thanks for taking the interview Phil! Let’s start with how you began your journey in the martial arts.
I started my martial arts journey with Kung fu at a local club before going to a Dan Inosanto seminar in 1989. I was immediately hooked on his teachings and spent the next decade travelling to the USA and Europe for his seminars. I would then come back to the UK and pick up door work in between trips.
I then became a full instructor under Guro Dan Inosanto in 2000 in Jeet Kune Do/Jun Fan and also in Kali and Silat. I had already become an instructor in Thai Boxing under Ajarn Chai, Savate under Professor Salem Assli, Combat Submission Wrestling under Sensei Erik Paulson and I was ranked in Shoot Wrestling under Sensei Yorinaga Nakamura. Back in the UK I was training with Sensei Dave Kavanagh in Judo and I trained for many years with Trevor Ambrose who at that time was 5x world kickboxing champion and also a professional boxer. The latter two would be a big influence in my day to day training when I started competing. I competed in different styles just for kicks and giggles because it helped me focus in my training and I won a World title and 2 British titles. Towards the end of my days competing I was knocked out and took my first loss in an MMA match. My peers said I would grow from this and become a better martial artist.
Can you talk me through the development of the GHOST system and what makes it different to other training styles?
What actually happened was the start of what has now become the Ghost System. The fight I lost was probably my easiest one. It was pretty much one sided but then I got caught by my opponent who pulled out a last ditch strike. To ensure this would never happen again I looked at what I could have possibly done to avoid this. This brought new shapes and structures which then required new striking angles to make these shapes fit for purpose and effective. The problem was to then to convince fighters to do it. Needless to say they didn’t! It took a young student (5 years later) who just received his black belt and wanted to know what was next to get Ghost going. His name was Jake Clarke and he helped me develop the system by literally competing and trying it out. It wasn’t long before he started beating up the more experienced fighters I was training and the techniques I taught him became an elusive fighting system which needed a name. Initially the system used big evasive movements which are similar to the weapons based system Kali, so thought about calling it competition kali, but when I demonstrated it to some kali instructors they said that it wasn’t kali.
I remembered my first sparring session with my boxing coach Trevor Ambrose and how I couldn’t hit him and that it was like trying to hit a Ghost and then that was it! I realised that I had created a style which systemised the unorthodox evasive movement that was natural to boxers like Muhammad Ali and Prince Nassem and made it so that anyone can do it.
I see that you have developed partnerships with people such as Bob Breen, Andy Norman and Eddie Quinn, how did these relationships come about?
We started to develop it further through fighting and started to get a lot of interest from people who wanted seminars. It was whilst I was doing a seminar hosted by Eddie Quinn (friends of the Approach) that I managed to catch up with Andy Norman from Defence Lab. We had known each other for years on the JKD seminar circuit; he was originally a private student of Guru Bob Breen. I was really impressed with what I saw when he did his set. I had only really seen actors trying to do it and it was nothing like the real thing. I was about to go and speak to him when he stopped the seminar and congratulated me on what I had done on the set before him. We got chatting and he offered me guidance on developing the business side of Ghost. We have been in communication weekly ever since.
Andy was also helping his old instructor Guro Bob Breen and brought us together and created the cross branding of Defence Lab, Breen 4D and Ghost. This has lead onto us joining forces for many events and more recently our involvement with Defence Labs World Conference with our good friend Eddie Quinn. It was the best martial art event I have been involved in. They (DL) are light years ahead as a professional martial art organisation.
So what’s next for you and the future of GHOST?
For training I want to develop the instructor program into the USA (this year we trained instructors in Germany and Spain). I will be working hard to get the online program up next year and my fighters are still making waves so my long term goals are to break into UFC. The other is to get Jake boxing in the Olympics and also to raise the profile of Ghost via Hollywood! I have already been in front of a second director and stunt coordinator courtesy of Andy Norman and it looks like we are going to be involved in a project next year!
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
In the this series of instalments, Geoff Thompson talks to The Martial View about his career in martial arts, his concept of `The Fence, pressure testing within the martial arts, and self development! More information on Geoff can be found at www.geoffthompson.com as well as on Amazon where you can find his books and DVD’s.
Hi Geoff, really appreciate you taking the interview. I suppose we should start with your introduction into martial arts.
I started martial arts when I was about 11. I started in Aikido, a traditional style at the time when there was a huge Bruce Lee craze. There was no Karate or Kung Fu around that we knew of, but Aikido was a martial art and so was the closest we could get to it. I did Aikido for around two years. I was really good at it, had the rhythm for Tai sabaki, was good at break-falling and it suited my temperament, it was very natural for me. The teacher I had at the time however, groomed and sexually abused me. I didn’t know at the time I was being groomed, I idolised him. The abuse of course was devastating and shattered my confidence. I didn’t tell anyone, I was afraid to tell my parents, I feared that if I told them, they would go to the police or something, I just wasn’t strong enough to bear that kind of weight at the age of 11, it would have been all over the papers and I was afraid of exposing the guy. So I fell away from Aikido and then ended up going to Shotokan Karate shortly after. I did that to purple belt and fell away from that. I then did Kung Fu with a brilliant guy called Charles Chan. He was very good, great tai chi guy and I did that up to Dan grade level and I became the British weapons champion. There was a lot of politicking there at the time, the infrastructure wasn’t very strong. But the people were nice.
I went back to Shotokan and got my Dan grade, I stayed with that until I became a doorman some years later.
What led you into becoming a doorman?
I became a doorman because I was suffering on and off with depression, a fear of life, a fear of change, a fear of potential. After a particularly difficult depression I became a doorman in order to confront and overcome my fear. I wrote all fears down and confronted them systematically one by one and a fear of physical violence was one of those fears. Even though I was a 2nd Dan in karate by this point, I was a good martial artist, certainly a good club player, but even with my dan grade I was still afraid, perhaps more so, I still had fears of just living in the world really. These fears weren’t there all the time, I spent a lot of time being living happily enough; confident, even arrogant, then these depressions would sweep through me like fire and debilitate me for months on end. I was strong though, went to work, and turned up in my life every day, I resisted medication. I went towards it for a while because I was so depressed, but innately I felt that medication wasn’t right for me. So I got to the point where I thought I can’t live like this anymore, the depression was so unpredictable, when it came I had no answer to it but to succumb to it. At this point I had children and a family, and I felt like I couldn’t protect them even with my all skill sets; couldn’t even protect myself against my own feelings. So I decided to do draw a fear pyramid (see Geoff’s book Fear the friend of Exceptional People) write all my fears down, each fear on one step of the pyramid, least fear on the bottom step, worst fear on the top, then confront them one by one. Physical violence and confrontation was at the top of my pyramid. It was a very interesting period. As I wrote down all these mundane fears like the dentist and spiders, and as I started to confront them and develop what we call a second body, other fears started to present themselves, hidden fears that I did not even consciously know I had, so I wrote those down, and I started confronting those as well. When we have likes and dislikes, and we place ourselves in between them as a resisting element we create light or the second body. You can feel it palpably growing inside you, like another strength coming through. Working with the fear pyramid expanded my awareness and allowed me to see more; it showed me what else I was scared of, as I said, the things that had been invisible to me before. For instance I had very unhealthy habits that I was afraid to leave: pornography, food, drink etc. As I started to expand I realised my real fears were a lot closer to home than I’d realised. I was afraid of my wife, I was afraid of my mother; I was a people pleaser afraid of being disliked. Then as I went deeper and deeper and I realised I didn’t like myself I was afraid of myself because I didn’t really know myself, and I certainly didn’t trust myself. Eventually through writing and internal inquiry which is the budo end of martial arts I could trace it back to some fears that I had inherited, things that I was born with. And I could see that some of the fears were what I had been taught as a youth, things I had been weaned on; my mum was a depressive and she has lived a painful life due to this. She was also a true hypochondriac where if she thought she had throat cancer, she would get all the symptoms. My mums nearly 80 now and still can’t eat in front of people because of this, she can’t swallow if people watch her eat, that’s the power of the unconscious mind. And this is what I was taught, unconsciously of course, but it was my early schooling. So I learned a lot as a youth about how to be fearful in the world, then as a 12 year old I was sexually abused by my first martial arts teacher, who, through his greed and ignorance, implicitly taught me that people can’t be trusted and that I was worth nothing. I had no trust of anybody. The aftermath of the abuse was self-abuse. I had a very damaged cognition, my perception of the world was unhealthy. I found deep below all these mundane fears, the smoke-screens (and I had to really inquire internally before I uncovered this) that I didn’t really have a fear that I couldn’t trust the world, I was fearful because I couldn’t trust myself and that’s a very powerful perception hiding under layers and layers of defence mechanisms. So eventually I started to explore and challenge my belief. Subsequently though internal enquiry, martial arts, writing, etc I was able dissolve this fear and alter my reality.
Around the age of 28 I began to challenge all my beliefs and fears. It seems peripheral to the martial arts as we’re talking about that, but at the time I was practicing budo and didn’t even know it. I was doing the internal inquiry and challenging perceptions because my old beliefs were making my life very unhappy.
The fear that sat at the top of my pyramid was a fear of violence confrontation. To overcome this I became a bouncer (see Geoff’s book Watch My Back). Going on the doors was a revelation. It is such an acute and violent environment that it immediately demands you develop a powerful second body. I realised quickly as a doorman that all of the ostentation of martial arts – the techniques that I was sure would be effective – fell away and all the things you think will work fall away. It’s like an acid bath where everything except a very small nucleus of technique remains, and these are so potent, so powerful and so effective that you don’t want to use them, they are too damaging to people, too dangerous. It was a fantastic time of learning, but as a martial artist, I had to go back to my class and say ‘we have to change everything: what we are practicing isn’t right or honest; it won’t prepare you for what’s going on out there, the real world of violence is so explosive, so volatile. There’s no trapping and countering, no blocking and countering, none of the defence stuff works, it fall apart under pressure. There is only pre-emption. I learnt that very quickly and brought that into my class. I then realised we needed a support system for the pre-emption, we need grappling, we need close range work, we need to be able to use any part of the body as a weapon and we must understand how to control fear. I started to really explore the martial arts in-depth, then I started to explore myself.
I went from being scared of spiders to being involved in thousands of violent situations, hundreds of fights. And all of violence, what I later called the lesser struggle, had been projected from the greater struggle that was going on inside me. This need to protect myself and fight, all these situations that I found myself in all came from the projection of wrong belief and untrained imagination. I had created a colourful, vibrant, beautiful, horrific reality for myself with pubs, nightclubs, fights etc. I created this world of violence with belief and imagination, I recognised that I had created it and then dissolved it again using the same process (belief/imagination). As I dissolved the violent reality, I then created a different reality, a beautiful reality, the reality of books, writing, teaching which of course is budo. The high end of martial arts, where you teach people that by changing their story and beliefs and perceptions they too can change their reality. So a big part of my development and practice now is telling my story and spreading my story around the world.
So that’s kind of the history of my martial arts, but in-between that, I training in lots of different styles looking for what was useful regarding combat and what was useful for budo. Budo isn’t about bowing in and out of the room saying Osu, it’s about developing a gold body and living a virtuous life, teaching your students and serving the community. So at the higher level it’s really exciting but at the bottom end, the base, the martial element, the physical stuff has to be right too. Martial means designed for war, we perfect technique that can kill, the martial element demands that we develop control of the mind and body. We can only teach what we know. If we aren’t aligned ourselves, if we have no control of ourselves, how can we show others the way. If I can’t be neutral and centred I can’t teach people. My job is to be in front of people and ask how can I serve you? Martial arts at the highest level is everything, it should work in every element of your life, but it’s often just worked at a fundamental level where people are ego centred and are only concerned with what the best system is. It’s really not about the system, it is about you. It is about you looking at how you live in the world, how you conduct yourself in the world. We have to ask ourselves the difficult questions: Who am I? Am I honest? Am I virtuous? And I hiding from my vices? Am I really practicing budo, or am I just saying the words – ace on the outside, base on the inside. So the martial arts if done correctly should align you towards virtuous living so we can reach our fullest potential and be of service to the world.
The physical stuff, the techniques that work outside the chip-shop on a Friday night, the is really simple but people still spend a lot of time dedicating their life to practicing stuff that wouldn’t work in a million years. If you went into the marines there wouldn’t be any of that, there is no theory in warfare, it would be this is what works, we’re using live rounds and it’ll work on the battlefield and there are thousands of years of testing to prove it. In the martial arts people believe anything, they’ll use a grappling system as main artillery and it’s the worst thing to do. It’s a beautiful system and a powerful system, but for combat outside its very limited because the moment you go to the floor you’ve tied yourself to one opponent and even strangers will walk past and kick you in the face, jump on your head, stab you. It’s the wrong choice. People work on traditional defence, block and counter, it won’t work in a real situation, and it’ll get you into trouble. Reality is about pre-emption, look at Sun Tzu, Musashi etc. they only work on a variance of pre-emption, the do not wait to be attacked, the only chance of survival is to strike first and have a strong understanding of the judiciary, to back you if your actions lead to court of law.
It isn’t difficult to know what works, you just have to go to someone who has experienced it prolifically and teaches it honestly. You’ll know it right away if it is honest, honesty has a unique sent, it will speak to you. If you read `Watch my back` it speaks the truth, it in I say ‘I’m a senior martial artist and I’m scared; this is what work works when you are scared. It consistently works. I’m still scared but I use that as energy to help me survive a situation. So you need to find a system that works in a real environment, then when you have that tied off you can look at the arts and have fun, start looking at the beautiful arts out there and play. I went on the doors to face my fears and find out what worked under pressure, to find out who I was under pressure, and I realised it’s all about mental hardiness, and close range punches. I worked on that, I worked on that a lot, I developed the fence system, and then all the other stuff that I trained in (many many systems) was just for the pure fun of it! Then of course when you have the ability to kill and you understand the violent arena and you are able to park that, then you automatically start spilling into other areas such as physiology, psychology, sociology, spirituality etc. When you know the physical, you tie that off then look at the other stuff. It isn’t difficult to get the physical right, go to a good boxing club and you’ll tie if off very quickly, same with Judo, it gets real very quickly. Its honest training and the guys that were most effective on the door were always boxers. Its close range, they can take a blow and are trained to knock people out. They understand fear. The honest systems are there. Once we have an honest core system – something that will work outside the chip shop, outside the controlled arena, where I’m really afraid – then we can build everything else on top of that, it is an amazing foundation.
There’s a lot of denial in the martial arts. This is not a criticism I’m a huge advocate of the martial arts, but my job as a teacher is to equip people with the truth, then we can really start exploring the arts and looking at who you really are and developing to our full potential.
Look out next week for part 2 of the interview with Geoff Thompson where he discusses his concept of `The Fence` and pressure testing within the martial arts.
Here we interview Chris Roberts, Founder and CEO of SAFE International which aims to empower 500,000 people in self-protection by 2020. More information of SAFE can be found at their website http://safeinternational.biz/
So can you give us a bit of background on yourself and where the idea for SAFE International came from?
I was kind of a late bloomer. I started martial arts at about 23 with Shotokan Karate and got my black belt when I was 27 or 28. I then started teaching a more martial arts style self-defence which is what I knew at the time. I find so many people no matter what system they learn originally, never look past that system to see what else there might be. If you see my course now, it’s completely different to what I taught 20 years ago and in some respects I make fun of what I taught then, though I respect it was what I knew at the time and is what got me to where I am now.
SAFE started in 1994. I had a plan but it didn’t exactly go that way. I was just teaching in high schools to start with, that was our primary focus and business. One school liked the course and I knew the principal and from there it spread. We made high schools our primary business and it still is but now we’ve expanded to women’s courses among others too and it just grew as people hadn’t seen self-defence taught in such a way before.
In what ways do you think SAFE International is different to the many other self-defence systems out there in the world?
There’s obviously a lot of competition out there in terms of self-defence and martial arts. As far as we’re different I don’t mean the moves which have been around for 1000’s of years. The overriding thing we bring that is different is the humour and the fact the courses can be fun. People always say “Chris we never realised self-defence could be fun and it doesn’t have to be intimidating” but we’re still being very physical with people. Very early on I had a woman who ran a sexual assault centre and she asked if I would present to her women after she heard me speaking at a high school. So I asked how would the humour go over? She said that’s exactly why I want you, the women know the seriousness of the subject, but you’re just making it comfortable to talk about. You have to be true to yourself and it’s just sort of who I am anyway. It sounds odd, but I truly believe that the more comfortable the women or the people are with me, the more comfortable they are drilling me in the head during the physical part of the course as they trust me. If they didn’t like me or found me creepy, they wouldn’t be comfortable. They trust us with the drills, but still get the adrenaline rush etc. that they would really experience.
So would you say that the majority of your SAFE International clients are female?
It wasn’t necessarily on purpose but I’d say yeah, it’s about 90% female. We teach some boys in schools and I do some work with men, but they usually want to train privately. Maybe it’s an ego thing, where they don’t want their buddy’s to know they’re learning self-defence. Then there’s others like yourself maybe that train with everyone and don’t care. Women don’t really have the same ego issues, they just want to learn and get home safe to their family.
So the goal is to empower 500,000 people with self-defence by 2020?
That’s the goal, we’re at about 190,000 now, and that took a few years starting from scratch. We’re teaching about 13,000 each year now and as I add more partners that should hopefully grow naturally. I don’t really know where the number came from. I like to set some lofty goals but like to be realistic; I had 1 million in my head but thought to myself you’ve been hit too many times in the head to set that goal! It seemed a reasonable but achievable goal! We seem to be on track, it’ll be a challenge but I think we’ll get there!
So let’s talk about the SAFE International courses then!
Sure! I think this is what also makes us different from other stuff out there. My courses are primarily designed with the idea in mind that the majority of the people who attend will never go to another self-defence course again. A lot of people present material going okay well when they come back we can add this, but they don’t come back. So I thought if I only had 4-5 hours, what would I do? I can do longer or shorter, but primarily for a women’s self-defence programme for example it could be 2 hours for awareness and avoidance strategies for daily routines, body language, who attackers choose and why, intuition, verbal strategies etc. Then two hours on physical. It’s not technique based, its conceptual, just a few primary concepts. It’s interesting, after a couple of hours, the women want to talk about avoidance and awareness, there’s been times I haven’t got to the physical we’ve done 4 hours on avoidance. I don’t mind that, first of all they’re the paying customer, and secondly it’s the most important part that I think lots of people rush through who don’t know how to teach it or don’t find it interesting. When you teach these groups of women though they’re fascinated with the topic once we really get into the meat of it!
So would you say the avoidance plays more of a part than the physicality/martial arts side?
Typically it’s around 50/50, but it depends. Some groups ask if they can skip the avoidance part and go straight into the physical side but I won’t do that, I say if you’re interested in avoiding violence we have to do this stuff. They don’t think it’s going to be interesting but then once they get into it they really enjoy it. I have done like 4-5 hours of physical with a group though, keeping it simple, nothing complex, all gross motor skills, all warranted legally, morally etc.
You’ve just touched upon the next question actually! The legal aspect! Obviously it’s a very tricky, grey area when it comes to self-defence.
Definitely. Obviously different countries, states, provinces etc. have different laws, but I try to keep it as basic as possible, stating that if you are left no other option, you have tried to be aware and verbally diffuse, absolute last resort, that persons left no choice but to defend themselves. I talk about giving yourself permission to do it. A lot of people still hesitate; I can’t hit the guy until he hits me first. But there are so many pre-contact cues that will give you the legal right to strike first. If someone says I’m going to rape you etc. they’ve already told you what they’re going to do, why would you wait for them to do it? A lot of people who have done my course say they’ve seen escapes from say a front choke, but never seen avoiding to begin with, and if its seen coming to strike first. A lot of women have struck the pads or worked with their partners with no real resistance, or broke a board at the end of the course, that’s okay, but there’s no real pressure testing and people leave thinking, oh that would really work if someone attacks me.
So how do you pressure test? It’s such an artificial environment in a self-defence class.
Yeah, I’m the first to admit; when I first started doing it I hated it as I hated being the prick in people’s faces. I don’t have the face of tough guy, I don’t suit the part. When I teach men they look at me and think what are you going to do? But then when I bring the realism and the look on my face then the verbal aspect, it becomes more real. I do it in small increments, everyone has different pasts and I may be able to get aggressive with some quite quickly, others I can’t and I have to take it slowly as I don’t know what they have been through in their past. I like to take people just past their comfort zone so at the end they can’t believe they have made that much advancement. You’re right though it’s still not real so all you can do is create it the best you can. Some people say you should put all your videos out full speed, full power no consent. If I did this I’d probably have no clients as well as being in jail! With 4-5 hours you’re limited, but I can still accomplish a lot. Some people just realise I don’t want to get into this situation as physically I suck! You can’t make people good if they just don’t have the ability.
Let’s talk about the International aspect then. SAFE obviously started in Canada with you. How did it then progress?
About 6 years ago, I lost my voice for about 4.5 years. I have a condition where I get botox injections twice a year. So for that time I couldn’t teach so I was at a point where I had to make SAFE International but didn’t really have any plans to teach outside of Canada. But then I thought what if I can never teach again, how am I going to carry on the message? So I thought let’s get the International part going. That’s where social media has been fantastic. I’m not a recognised name like some others such as my buddy Richard Dmitri so Facebook was my medium to get my info out there. People started to see it and asking how I was teaching 13,000 a year. I found a formula that worked and wanted to take it international. I prefer to get a small quality number of instructors that are decent human beings. We’re a team and they’re amazing people so we’re attracting attention. We’re operating in Australia, Ireland, Milwaukee, Houston, Wisconsin, Florida, a few in Canada and Richard Dmitri is going to do some work for us on the West Coast.
Do you have such a thing as an instructor training course?
It’s a certified partner program. I usually do a 1-1 with the person, I don’t count the hours, and some spend as much as 2 weeks with me doing live seminars together with them doing part and me doing part. It’s probably around 60-80 hours in total.
It sounds a comprehensive programme. A big risk of building up self-defence programmes is the filtering down of the original knowledge in my opinion. What do you do to prevent this?
There’s always that fear that if I have someone who is especially good at a certain area such as Muay Thai, we introduce it into the program, but then it isn’t really a SAFE course anymore as the course should be the same at each location. It’s a challenge, but growing it slowly and by me doing all the training means I have no one to blame but myself. Most people approach me though so why would they want to change it if it’s working?
Do you teach different courses for say women, men, police etc?
We don’t really teach police as I made a conscious effort to really focus on the regular people. There are enough people out there to teach police and military etc. with the credentials. I want to teach regular people. Financially it’s the biggest client base, and teaching just regular people is where my love lies. We’ve taught from 10 years old to up to 85 as they can get attacked too and are maybe most at risk. Just teaching the general public is where my passion lies.
Where do you see SAFE International in the future then, the next year, 5 years, 10 years etc?
Well its funny as this year I’m going to be 50 and people keep saying you should be getting ready to sell the business and get retired but anyone who watched me teach realises I enjoy it too much, I think I’ll always be involved. I think my goal now it grows it with quality people. It’s so much more fun growing something with a bunch of other people that are amazing. The goal is just to help as many people as I can. I’m one of those few instructors that had a great childhood, no violence. Most come from a background of violence and I don’t think that should be the norm. So if I can teach some information to avoid pasts like that it’s a massive goal as I’ve heard some horrific stuff so that’s my main motivation to prevent that in the future.
Interview with self defence expert Matt Frost, Part 3
This is the 3rd and final part of the interview conducted with head coach at Function First Lincoln, KFM Top Team Member, and developer of the Combat Resource Centre, Matt Frost. Part 1 can be found here and part 2 here. Links to the Combat Resource Centre can be found here. Enjoy! 😀
A big thing about self-defence nowadays is the legal aspect. KFM has been criticised for being quite smash and dash which sometimes wouldn’t be classed as self-defence. Has Renegade Street Tactics built on this in a legal aspect?
It certainly has, the programme has threat levels from stage 1-3. I was talking to Tony about this the other day and maybe you have experienced this where you train and the instructor says, “The guy comes up to you, postures at you and points a finger. You break it off, headbutt him”. And you’re going Woah!!! He’s just pointed at you and you’ve broken his finger and headbutted him! Not just in a legal sense this is wrong but also as a decent human being! Anyone can escalate the situation and there’s not going back from that. Is that the outcome we want? We have our three basic threat levels, there’s posturing and peacocking, then pushing and shoving to a full blown attack. Now obviously if you get blindsided, it goes to threat level 3 and do what you need to do to get out, that’s where KFM is great and you just survive. But the other elements were missing, and it doesn’t fit in with the family, community aspect! Teaching kids head stomps doesn’t really go with my philosophy of family community and development! It’s about redirecting the threat if possible, but if you can’t you go to the next level of force. Today with CCTV camera’s etc., you can’t just grab someone, head-butt them and stamp on them, you’re off to Prison. I’ve been to seminars where this has been taught. We teach stomps but from a defence, learning how to defend against it, not as an attack. We do not teach you how to go to prison but the opposite. It’s not acceptable martial arts behaviour. There’s also a lot of bravado and macho talk in the martial arts which can lead to delusion in people which is dangerous. I’ve had to use violence on people and it was one of the most shocking things I’ve ever done. I went home and broke down. I used violence and kept it to a level that was reasonable, but I didn’t expect the way it would affect me after it had happened. I went home and burst into tears at the thought of doing that to someone, I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve been shot at and beaten up, but this really affected me. It’s great in theory, smash them and get out, but it’s not that simple, and it’s not something people talk about or consider really.
So finally, what’s the future for you, Function First and Renegade Street Tactics?
2015 will see the launch of the new satellite schools and coaching courses with great business backup for us so we can replicate what we have done here in Lincoln and in Louth.
This is not your average franchise, its an exclusive opportunity and model for those who are prepared to put in the work. We are limiting it to maybe 6 new school owners each year, this is quality not quantity.
It’s a little Utopian but why the hell would anyone settle for less eh? To build full time professional schools, and raise the level of martial arts in the UK is a massive goal. Martial arts are still in the past in terms of pricing structure and the way it’s perceived. There’s nothing wrong with church halls etc. that’s where we came from but, people don’t value it as much, it has a stigma. Modern fully equipped full time academies are what your students are paying for so they get the best of everything. We should be on the same playing field as a professional business which is what we’re trying to do here. Build coaches and savvy business people, deliver honest products and keep it really high level martial artists and schools, not the watered down Mcdojo model as you mentioned before.
Function First full time professional academies throughout the UK?
That’s the vision. The martial arts changed my life, saved my life, it’s done that for a lot of people, I’m sure it’s changed yours. I believe that’s what I’m here to do now. To transmit that knowledge and grow it more from a place of experience. I think that can be achieved through the people we have here and it’s an exciting time! I just love the martial arts and want to continue growing as much as I can. I’ve just competed in my first BJJ competition and look forward to progressing more and more in that for a new challenge and something to learn. I’m 45 now, MMA is great but I’m not too keen on a shin in the teeth or a punch in the face with a 4oz glove anymore, I know im getting soft! I love the sparring but it’s much lighter now. All martial arts have something to offer and I want to learn as much as I can from all of them! As long as I, my coaches and students keep progressing I’m happy!