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.
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.