UK Self Defence Systems with Martin Brown

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UK Self Defence Systems with Martin Brown

They’ve appeared in Martial Arts Illustrated the past few months and it’s been great reading about their stance on Self Defence and how it should be taught and developed. We recently spoke to Martin Brown of UK Self Defence Systems about what the organisation was aiming to do, and his thoughts on Self Defence and his plans for the future! I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot about these guys in the future!

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Hey Martin! Thanks for chatting with us, can you tell us a brief history of your system?

Well, we’re really not that old as an organisation being that we’re only coming up 12 months at the end of 2015. We’re a mix of military combative instructors, full time self defence trainers, operators, police trainers, MMA coaches, Dan grade teachers across multiple styles and deep partnerships with other organisations that also bring in additional expertise. I’m the public face of it, possibly because I’m the best looking of the bunch, but overall this is an organisation not about any individual or style except for the students themselves. As an organisation, our only function is to deliver effective self defence in a manner that’s fun, memorable and will suit anyone of any level.

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Sounds awesome! What would you say are the main principles of your system?

The main principle is that every student is unique, and all people have unique tools that they can use better than others. We simply make sure that the student bins the bad bits and develops the good bits.

We’re only focused on one thing: self defence. That could mean a fight for your very life, or life changing injuries like brain damage and spinal injury, or it could mean something like verbal de-escalation and just getting away as soon as possible. Avoidance is the best way, but we don’t always get that chance to not be there. It’s not a place open for ‘opinions’ or discussion or theory: violence is nasty, wrenching and can change lives both physically and mentally, forever. We only take what works for an individual, and as nothing works 100% of the time, we have to identify what has the highest percentage chance of success most of the time for an individual and then develop that idea with them.

As far as I am concerned, and the organisational philosophy is concerned, imposition of a technique someone can’t always perform for the sake of a system is giving them a slow and ineffective tool in the face of very, very bad things. That isn’t acceptable for defending yourself.

I go back to the first sentence again – every student is unique. There is no getting around this, and our philosophy and teaching methods reflect our investment in the people walking through our doors.

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What makes your system unique?

Nothing whatsoever. It’s all been done before as far as techniques go, and we all borrow and steal from everything else – I haven’t seen a new technique in decades, I’ve only seen what’s new to me as a person.

What makes UK Self Defence Systems as a group unique is something else though. It’s our delivery method. We don’t impose a system on people that they may not be suited to. We can’t all be graceful Taekwondo masters, some have terrible timing for striking arts and some are amazing grapplers. We’re all different, and UK Self Defence Systems is there to tailor effective ideas, tactics and techniques as they relate to the individual. It’s not the easiest thing to do, it requires a lot of previous background, but at the end of the day it’s about the student getting the tools that they need to survive violence: nothing else.

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Where do you see your system going in the future?

We’re more of an entity than an art or system, so we’re going much more into businesses, education and other sectors to deliver training programmes in direction. We have numerous ‘bolt on’ workshops for instructors that would like to invite us in for additional material (it’s not as if gun disarming was a thing 200 years ago or in sport) to compliment their own styles and material, and we’re always happy to chat about that. Just drop me a line on info@ukselfdefence.systems and have a chat, and there are plenty of references on our website www.ukselfdefence.systems from traditional and sporting martial art schools as to what we delivered.

We’ll keep evolving, and keep training martial arts instructors so that they are giving legally compliant information. Many instructors aren’t aware that they can be prosecuted if a student is harmed or does something based on guidance or advice that they give that can’t be backed up. These instructors need to get in touch if not an accredited BTEC Level 2 Advanced Self Defence Instructor, as it may come back to bite, and that’s something that can damage martial arts as a whole. We’re passionate about not letting anyone get into these situations, and we’re here to help.

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What is it you love most about the martial arts?

It’s the passion in people. I love seeing anyone, from any system doing their best and making progress, and that doesn’t matter if it’s a beginner on the mats for the first time or someone like me who’s passionate about their teaching. I’ll never forget watching Guro Roger Agbulos teaching knife defence and how passionate he is about what he does and how he stays in touch with everyone who attended our workshop with him last year. He cares for everyone that walks through the door, and he really sets a great example of someone with no boundaries, an open mind and a willingness to share everything he knows. I think that’s beautiful, and I think it’s a model to emulate.

What do you think MA/Combat brings to people’s lives?

That really depends on what you’ve chosen to do. People in sports can compete on a high level, feel fulfilled and test themselves in a semi-safe way. Traditional martial artists can compete too, but may find a lot of satisfaction in perfecting, preserving and learning the intricacies of what they’re doing. Others may be more like me, and just have a deeper consideration for personal safety or the safety of others. We’re all doing similar things to a degree, but there are clear distinctions in goals, motivations and ways of getting there. As long as the student is happy and as long as the instructor is delivering quality for the remit promised, then I think everyone is generally happy with the arrangement.

How do you define success in your system?

It’s quite hard to quantify success for students in a syllabus style of achievement for us, as we’re only really concerned with getting home in one piece. We give everyone a survival handbook, and inside of it are multiple topics like ‘Confined Spaces’ and ‘Cold Weapon Defences’ which are then sub-divided into ‘Started Out’ ‘Intermediate’ and ‘High Level’. We stress test the students at appropriate times to see if their understanding in a given scenario is adequate and mark them accordingly. We do it this way because everyone is unique, and when it comes to dealing with violence, I’m not interested in the techniques that the student uses to survive. One student may have been taught one set of tools to fit their body and gender, whilst another student has been taught very differently due to height, weight and general build. It’s possible for two students to both be ‘High Level’ and yet use completely different effective tools to commit to the scenario at hand. What matters to me is only the self defence performance as it pertains to the first moment to the last, and that they can repeatedly defend the same situation effectively over many different variations of attack – never the same thing twice.

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What do you think the key to success in Martial Arts is?

The key to success? Understanding that an expert is someone who does the basics well.

What is your focus in training now and in the future?

My focus at the moment is in reversing the self defence mantra of ‘don’t go to the ground’ as a reason not to teach the ground. I’ll be working with Paul Severn, Checkmat BJJ coach and Trojan MMA coach on bringing the survival skills needed into the self defence world, whether armed, unarmed, multiple attackers and any other variation. People slip, fall, trip, get pushed, thrown and any other number of causes to end up on the floor. ‘Not going to the ground’ is a nice thought, but it happens more than anyone would like in actual confrontation and it’s a topic I feel really, truly needs to be addressed in a format that can be delivered well. People’s personal safety is the priority, and there can be no sacrifice on any level for ‘style’ or ‘system’ – I just won’t entertain that, and I won’t ever stand in front of a group and tell them something has a high chance of saving their life if it hasn’t been researched as far as it can be taken. Paul will provide the drills, mechanics and movements, and I’ll provide the stress, duress and pressure until the idea breaks or survives.

So there we have it! My passion is for people to be safe. It’s not about me, and it’s not about UK Self Defence Systems or our instructors – it’s about the students, their safety and getting home in one piece. Thank you for inviting me to take part, it’s been a pleasure.

On Sunday 25th of October, we are holding a four hour workshop covering all distances of defence. Everyone is welcome, from beginner to expert, we’ll have something for you. It’s always a lot of fun, just see flyer here for address and contact details.

Martin Brown

UK Self Defence Systems

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The Man Behind The Fence – Geoff Thompson Interview Part 2

Interview with Geoff Thompson – Part 2

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.

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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.

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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