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.