Interview with Geoff Thompson – Part 1
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.