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!
Interview with Self Defence Expert Matt Frost Part 2
This is the second part of the interview conducted with Matt Frost, KFM Top Team Member, Head Coach and Function First Lincoln, published author and, along with Tony Davis, developer of the Combat Resource Centre self defence programme. You can see part one of the interview here.
You’ve said about the bad experiences you had. Presumably this was pre any martial arts training. Are you OK to talk about some of them?
….This one though, I knew it was real and he was going to kill me. It was a rifle to my forehead and I grabbed the barrel, pulled it to one side of my head shouting “he’s got a gun” I then front kicked him in the stomach, falling backwards but firing the gun as he fell. It sounded like an air rifle, and my girlfriend went “he’s shot me”! I thought it was just an air rifle so said it would be ok. The gun ripped through my fingers and my girlfriend pulled me off as he ran away. I slammed the door of the truck we were living in and heard him shooting, I then realised it wasn’t an air rifle. I looked over at my girlfriend and there was blood just squirting everywhere then she just said, and I’ll never forget it “it’s like bloody reservoir dogs in here”! It was so surreal and electric, everything was super enhanced. I said I’ll go for help, luckily the guy had gone but we didn’t know that, so I went and got an ambulance. She lived and all is good now. But those are just some of the experiences I’ve had and how it escalated from some kicking’s in Lincoln High Street to a gun attack in Portugal.
That’s certainly some very intense experiences you have had which I’m sure give you some very unique perspectives on realistic self defence training. After Portugal did you then come back to the UK?
We travelled for a while longer in Czech, Germany, Poland etc and had a really good time. We were a bit cautious after everything that had happened but then came back to the UK in the late 90’s where I started training with Andy in 1999 until last year really. In the beginning it was mainly Andy I was training with, Justo came over for seminars but I still didn’t really understand the Keysi thing at this time. Then I joined the instructor programme to immerse myself more and in my second year training I went to Spain and that’s when I really met Justo and the European Keysi scene. I didn’t have a job at that point, I had money from travelling and I ran sound systems for festivals in Europe, I was still running those businesses but my time was pretty much free so I just absorbed the training in that time. Andy offered me a position coaching and it went on from there. The position was in Spain coaching the coaches. I used to do an obscene amount of time, 50-60 hours training a week, morning till night straight through as it just gripped me so much. Andy offered the job to coach the coaching courses in Spain and I just said Yeah! That’s fine but didn’t think much about it. I didn’t realise until I got out there that I’d never actually taught anyone. I was training hard and meticulously going through lessons plans, teaching people in different languages for 8 hours a day, that’s a bit of a brain melter. That’s why I opened the Priory in Lincoln, it wasn’t for a business, it was to learn more how to teach and develop myself, gaining more experience. The instructor programmes for Keysi were becoming popular, I was teaching in Norway, Spain, Italy, America and Australia and it was growing massively and I knew that it was going to be a big part of my life so I had to know how to coach at a high level. I went on coaching courses with people such as Mark Dawes, NLP coaching courses and National Federation of Personal Safety courses and started getting really interested in the coaching styles. In 2005 I opened the Priory two nights a week, adults only. Andy then shut down his academy in the UK and rewrote the Keysi syllabus in Spain. That’s where the Urban X came from. Keysi at the start was very different to what people know as KFM now, there was a lot of JKD in there and other art forms such as ground work that isn’t in there now. Andy moved to Spain and after about 2 months rang me asking me to come teach the new programme the next day. So I jumped on a plane the next day and spent 4 days looking at the syllabus and working on the first yellow grade. For the next year, I was there every other weekend for 4-5 days where we restructured what the world now knows as Keysi Fighting Method.
When did you make the decision to jump to a full time academy and step it up?
It was actually Paul, one of my coaches that suggested the jump to move to the current location. I was thinking about a full time academy. I’d been at the Priory 4-5 years and was only teaching adults. I was getting a bit bored of flying around doing the KFM seminars. In the beginning it was good fun and I enjoyed it, rock star lifestyle….but on Ryanair….but then it wore off. The coaching and seminars didn’t, but travelling all the time wore off. I was thinking about the transition where I could build a healthier lifestyle when we found a unit, checked it out and the second I saw it, picked up the phone and made an offer.
KFM is now obviously split up with Andy Norman taking the Defence Lab route, and Justo developing Keysi by Justo. What are your thoughts on the split from someone who trained so closely with them for so long?
It’s sad that they split. It was such an amazing experience and group of people that I don’t think will ever be replicated, definitely not in the KFM circles. Andy’s pushing 50 now, Justo is pushing 60. We virtually lived together, Andy has kids as does Justo and things are different now. I’m 46 this year and I’m a different person to what I was. At the time there were a lot of people involved that just taught and developed Keysi travelling around the world. It was intense, but incredible and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s just really sad that it went wrong. I learnt a lot from it, I learnt a lot of what not to do, and how to do things. I’m sure Andy and Justo are grown up enough to admit the same. There were a lot of things done wrong but a lot of really cool things done too. It’s just a shame that couldn’t be worked out, but the whole split and fighting for public attention and stuff, I just stay out of, I’m not interested. The nonsense questions people ask, Is KEYSI better than DL? I mean you may as well as is Batman better than Spiderman, come on. At this level its pointless to ask that question. No one art is any better than any other. Ask yourself, Do you like it? The people around you? Are you enjoying the journey and development? That’s all that should matter.
So you now have the Renegade Street Tactics programme that is being developed. Tell me all about it!
Oh yeah!! I’ve just been working on it this morning actually. I’ve gone through the whole hard-core thing, you know fighting in car parks, toilets and years of crazy realistic training. Ask anyone about the Priory training days in Lincoln, they are legendary. People that were not there even talk about them. But you cant maintain that level of intensity, you cant run a business like that if you want to help the majority and its only a small % of the bigger picture. As I said my experiences of violence are extreme and I don’t think a lot of people can relate, some people don’t even believe me. I’ve only told you a few, there’s a lot more. But because of that, my self-defence has to be realistic and from a place of truth. I have to sleep at night knowing that what I teach is based upon my experiences.
Everyone has different experiences. At the end of the day, who can say what works and what doesn’t, its dependent on the situation at hand. So The tagline for the new programme Renegade Street Tactics Program is `The Art of Self Defence` so a bit of play on Sun Tzu, but that hard-core mentality is not even 5% of what we do or want to do or transmit to people. That doesn’t mean it’s diluted, I got to a very good level in that, and me getting to an even high level isn’t going to help the general student that trains twice a week. I mean I did over 10,000 hours in the first 10 years. Most students wont do that in a lifetime. Me polishing my skills is great for me, that’s a personal thing, but it’s not going to help most of my students. Then I started looking at the traditional arts and liked what they had to offer in some of them, not all. The Renegade Street Tactics part of the new name stands for the hardcore realistic no nonsense training. The tagline “The art of self defence” represents the ethics, morals and community, nutrition, well being, balanced life and so on. I mean we even do postural assessments on our students as they train to prevent injury in the future. We do all this with simple realistic self-defence.
Well actually we do this with all our program’s, MMA, Kickboxing, Kids classes, Fitness. For example, we have kid’s classes now, with parents coming and saying to us that the kids are asking to eat more vegetables. It’s a simple thing but it’s massive for me that they’re conscious of their nutrition. Others come in with problem children, where they don’t actually like their child, which is a difficult thing to admit as a parent, that you don’t like your own child. But they come back to us in 6 months’ time and comment on how we’ve changed the family and it’s become tighter, they enjoy spending time with the kids, pad feeding for them etc. and this for us is a massive thing. It’s not just the kids either. My coaches, some of them were packing eggs for a living and not enjoying it, but now you see they have responsibility and professionalism and love what they do. Its changed their lives which has changed their families’ lives. Its things like this that are in the new programme, looking at how we coach, mindful training in a world where we are easily distracted.
You’ll go for a drink with a friend in a pub but spend all the time on the mobile phone, it’s almost a disease and perhaps a reason for the misdiagnosis of ADHD, we don’t know the knock on effect of this in the years to come. The programme is designed through education and teaching people how to learn and stay mindful through the drills we do and that’s much more what I’m about now. The hard-core thing needs to be real, but the delivery system is more about the lifestyle and community. The hard-core stuff is very niche, we had 30 students maximum, which was great, it was a great moment in time, but it’s not where I’m at now. We still train hard as you work through the ranks but we don’t scare off new students the second they look through the door, were much more professional now.
You’ve said about the coaching courses and now you have satellite schools running in Newark, Stamford, Retford and Louth. Are you planning on doing more in the future?
Yeah. We started the coaching course last year as an experiment for years 1 and 2. Next year it gets launched to the public. Year 1 was to get feedback and iron out the wrinkles. I wanted to build this place here in Lincoln as the business model has to be built around the main academy, this is what we can achieve for anyone looking to get into the business, it’s a great advert. I wanted to grow it to a place where I had employed staff, dealing with HR issues, legal sides VAT sides etc, it’s a complex beast and it’s been a really interesting journey. We now have a full time business manager on board to take it to the next level. What I wanted to do was build this as a tight ship to build other models around. Im in no rush to do this, its going to be done well, tight and right. It has to be done right for the people who trust us to look after them when we roll it out to the public and we need some successful schools to show people what we can do. But what happened was a couple of people came to me that were having problems with their schools, it just wasn’t working for them. James from Louth came in January 2013 nearly in tears; he was going to lose his business and had little to no back up from the people he was paying to help him run his business. I didn’t want to step on other people’s toes so we introduced kids’ programmes, as they didn’t do that, we built the business up that way. Eventually he just said “Matt the way you do things is much better and that’s the way I want to go’”. He was with another Martial arts Franchise so I rang the owner and said this is what we’re doing and if there’s issues we won’t do it, so it was all above board. He gave me his blessing, I don’t do business any other way. It wasn’t in the plan, but now he’s up to 80 students in less than a year and has moved to a bigger academy and is in a really good place. He’s just had another refit and the place looks incredible, this is what we plan to do with the new Function First Franchise model around the UK.
The model we have works well and so that’s what we plan on doing in Newark and Stamford. The course will be launched to the public next year with business back up, renegade street tactics programmes, fitness, kids leadership programmes etc. so it’s just a really tight package. I believe our business model to be unique in the martial arts industry, What we are offering is taking people to the full time professional academy business. We have encountered many problems growing our main academy but learnt a lot from it. Hitting the 150 students and then employing staff and sales people in the academy pushed us to 300 very quickly which again brought all sorts of problems. Managing that and leading a team is a skill set that we are now very lucky to have covered with our business guru Mark. He ran teams of over 100 people that he built from scratch for huge multi billion dollar (yep billion) dollar companies. The guy is a genius, I love learning from him as much as I love learning my martial arts. Sitting with him is like sitting with the master and he is now responsible for looking after the new franchise schools and business training. You see were training our new school owners to be business people as well as great martial artists.
If this is being filtered down through all the schools, are you at all worried that the level of knowledge will also be diluted? I tentatively use the word “McDojo” and it’s sad to say but a lot of martial arts now have become filtered down from what they were in the beginning through knowledge being passed down inaccurately with the root of the art being lost.
It’s a valid question. The term McDojo is a funny one. I know what people mean by it, but I actually think that if they were McDojo’s I’d be impressed. I understand what they mean, cheap low quality product, but my business head is different now. I see McDojo as systems and procedures which in my opinion help us deliver a product. The McDojo is a low quality product, unethical, large business sort of model, but I am a fan of systems and procedures that make it easier to transmit knowledge. We are going to teach coaching skills to everyone in the new programme as it means we have to sharpen our skills and keep progressing. In terms of the systems and procedures, if you think of it like this. You had to go in and teach an elite team of soldiers, going into high intensity warzone in 6 months. You go in as a paid coach to teach self-defence or whatever. You teach things in a certain language and certain way, but one day you’re ill and have to get someone to cover. They then teach in their language. A takedown could be a double leg to someone, a shoot to someone else. The message is mixed and confused and its not completely clear where the coaches are coming from. Therefore to get the best, the coaches all need to speak the same way. That’s the essence of McDojo to me, the delivery system. Its sleek and a blueprint for teaching. There’s no room for misinterpretation, so its 100% understood by everyone and delivered the same. So if someone ever says to me you’re a McDojo, and no one ever has yet but im sure they will, part of me will say thanks very much! But equally I know what they mean. The systems and procedures we have for our coaches are to get all our coaches to transmit the same way. They have their own personality, they’re not robots, but they work to a system and structure we all understand so that if people come here for a grading, everyone knows where they stand. It’s an efficient way. Did that answer your question?
Partly, if you could just say a little bit more about the quality of the syllabus being kept strong and not being filtered down through satellite school openings?
It’s been a big discussion with the coaches on our course so far. I can’t ever measure someone against my level. That sounds egotistical, but when I’ve trained that much and have a good understanding of coaching and can transfer between arts quite quickly. That takes time, maybe 10 years to develop and I’m still developing. So you have to be realistic but have metrics and standards in place and constant growth for all. We constantly assess our coaches both in business and the arts, we don’t accept anyone. I think that’s what people mean when they call things Mc Dojo, it’s the ones who just accept anyone and let them go out and teach after 3 days training. Were not that model, you have to apply to join us and you have to pass a lot of requiremnets. For coaches we have to see them teach and they have to deliver to a certain standard each year.
They have to understand certain concepts and principles and there has to be a certain movement of body mechanic. If we’re talking straight jab, is their shoulder replacing the fist? Is the chin down? Is it tracking in a straight line? There are variables for each movement, and have they got them right and can they transmit that? It’s self-coaching. We get our students to learn like that it’s great. It happened in class the other day; stick this in the interview, Stu one of my coaches will kill me for it, but I don’t care! We break all movements down to lots of beats, so he was teaching a move in the MMA class, and it was down to 3 beats at a time so people don’t get confused. So moves one, two, three, then four, five, six. Then putting it all together. So he then said we’re going to stitch it all together and missed a beat out. I saw it and someone went, “Stu, you aren’t putting the arm over the head”! The student hadn’t seen the technique before but picked up on it through the use of the beats! Showing our way of teaching is replicable, our students get it, and then our coaches have to get it or our students will be the coach’s case as we cultivate that type of culture. It raises everyone’s game. By the end of an hour class, no matter how complicated something is, it should be able to be broken down and explained. Especially in self-defence where it needs to be simple and effective. You then add your personality and individualism into it and that’s really important!
Let’s talk Combat Resource Centre then!
When KFM split, we were in a bit of limbo stage. What do we do? The Renegade Street Tactics is the result of the Combat Resource Centre that I did with Tony Davis. We said let’s get together and put an online programme together to see feedback with our interpretation. The feedback was amazing, its selling really well all over the world. It was myself and Tony putting our name out there, not just copying KFM but adding our own bits too. KFM is sort of one dimensional, it’s awesome at it and possibly the best self defence method in the world in that range but it didn’t deal with all the ranges of combat and all the natural instinctive reactions to threat, so for us was not complete. Myself and Tony wanted to show a bit more, such as how to use trapping to protect someone else you’re with. We wanted to show we’re not just KFM and the Renegade Street Tactics programme came out of that. It was really enjoyable and we also learnt quite a bit filming, training developing stuff. It was really enjoyable.
Links to the Combat Resource Centre Page can be found here
Matt’s life and journey in the martial arts and self defence is certainly an interesting one. Starting martial arts at the relatively late age of 30, he was looking for martial arts training that coincided with his previous and sometimes violent experiences. He found that training in Keysi Fighting Method, learning from both Justo Dieguez and Andy Norman, both world renowned experts in realistic self defence training and progressing on to become a Top Team Member and coach for Keysi Fighting Method. Now head coach at Function First Lincoln and published author, Matt is developing his own style of martial arts and training through his Renegade Street Tactics Programme, and his teaming up with Tony Davis from Total Dojo Milton Keynes to develop the Combat Resource Centre. In this series of interviews, Matt talks about his personal experiences of extreme violence, his time training in Keysi Fighting Method and how martial arts changed his life forever as well as his development of satellite schools and coaching courses running for the public next year. Keep reading for part 1 of the interview and please continue to like, share, and support the site 🙂
Q. Hey Matt, thanks for taking the time for the interview, really appreciate it! Shall we start with how you got involved in the martial arts and self defence to begin with?
Same as a lot of people I believe, for building confidence. I’d gone through some real bad experiences and tried different therapies, sunk into depression, nothing was working for me, DR’s were trying to put me on drugs like anti-depressants and I just wasn’t interested in anything like that. I’d tried all sorts, hypnotherapists etc. and I just wasn’t in a good place. I remember walking past a church hall in Horncastle and there was a sign on the door saying Kickboxing, build confidence, so I thought I’ll try that. Next day I went in, tried it, loved it and that was the start of it. I just loved it from the first class and never looked back. I started quite late, I was 30 so quite a late starter. I did kickboxing for about 4 years and there was a crossover with other martial arts systems. I was looking at other stuff. I got to a place in that particular club where I was sparring heavily with all the black belts, but at a low level, I was just up for it and loved it, holding my own with the higher level guys. I then started reading about and starting other martial arts, and the world opened up to me, realising there was so much more out there than I realised, I thought it was just kickboxing or karate! I was reading stuff in Martial Arts Illustrated about centreline angles of attack and Dim Mak pressure points, so started investigating. I did some traditional Jiu-Jitsu, and some Kempo and a few pressure point seminars and just experimented with different things. I got my confidence and fitness levels up, but my skill level wasn’t very great, and I realised I wasn’t going to get that where I was training, no offence to them but the skill level I wanted I wasn’t going to get there. I started looking for other stuff. I wanted stuff that answered the questions in relation to the experiences I’d suffered, why I had the mental breakdown and depression and why I started looking for help to build confidence. Those questions weren’t being answered in the classes that claimed to teach self-defence and realistic this and that. That’s when the journey for the truth started. I felt good and got my confidence, but thought actually this doesn’t make sense and it isn’t what I’m looking for. That’s when my journey for realistic self-defence started and that’s when I found Andy Norman in Hull, and that was a big turning point in my life.
Q. Did you then travel to see Andy and learn self defence from him?
Yeah. Well at that point, I’d tried a few other things, and sort of gave up and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t working out. I thought maybe martial arts were just for the movies and choreographed, and I wasn’t finding the answers that related to my experiences. The people that were talking weren’t really talking from a place which I knew was truth and I was thinking, this isn’t how things happen in real life from my experience, so I sort of gave up on it. I remember I lived in a vehicle at the time, I was a traveller and got all my old martial arts illustrated pile out, and I just scattered them across the floor, I was reading and reading articles and certain names kept popping up such as Andy Norman’s. I saw he was being spoken about by other people, so it wasn’t self-promotion, so rather than looking for an advert I was looking for who was talking about who and Andy’s name kept popping up.
Hull was the nearest place for me. I’d never heard of it, it said it was JKD and KFM, I didn’t know what that was really, I’d read a little bit, but went and tried it out. They wouldn’t let me train more than twice a week to start with. I remember walking in absolutely terrified. Everyone was all in black uniform, all bald heads, tattoos, really intimidating, and I was really nervous. I now appreciate people walking into function first now, gives me a different perspective. I went and trained twice a week until 3 months had gone by then I could train more and step it up to 5 nights a week and by that point I was on the instructor course as I just wanted more information. At that point, I still didn’t really know what I was training. I didn’t know if it was rubbish, crap, amazing. I didn’t make my mind up straight away; it needs to resonate in certain ways with me. To begin with I just really enjoyed it which was enough, then I made a decision based upon my experiences to stick with it.
Then one day, about 4 months in, Andy Norman starting speaking about violence and the predatory instinct, redefining predator and prey and the way he spoke I knew it was real. He understood violence and that’s what I wanted to understand and learn. I wanted to understand the self-defence better, but it became crystal clear I wanted to understand violence and violent people. All the old sayings of know your enemy and keep them close came to mind and the penny dropped and I felt that was what I needed to understand as I was so scared of violence. The thought of violence used to terrify me to the point of sickness, and that was it and I just went “that’s it! It’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life” and that was the start of my journey into Keysi.
Q. You’ve said about the bad experiences you had. Presumably this was pre any self defence training. Are you OK to talk about some of them?
Yeah that’s fine. I left school at a young age and met my girlfriend who I got a flat with on the high street in Lincoln. You know me Dan, I have a look and a style and always have. When I was 16-17 it was a 2ft Mohican and leather jackets with studs. I’ve always been a peaceful person, never into violence, and I still am, I just want to understand violence. That look didn’t go down too well in Lincoln in the early 80’s and I used to get attacked quite a lot even in broad daylight, like a Saturday afternoon, I’d get quite a bad kicking and sometimes wake up in the hospital. One time I got quite a serious kicking and ended up with some memory loss, found my way home, people thought I was drunk; I just have flashbacks from it but not a lot. I ended up going to A&E and stayed there a few days with memory loss and a nervous disorder after that from it. It was all just based on my appearance. It then escalated more so to distance myself from society further bought a bus and went travelling when I was 18!
I stepped out of society’s norm, not only did I look like this punk people were threatened by but now I was travelling round in a giant pink 40ft bus. Again, people didn’t like this, and this caused aggression. We had people unloading shotguns into the side of the bus while I was asleep at night and bricks through the window and we’d get attacked a lot. We moved abroad it then escalated in Spain where there was a big knife culture in Seville. We were attacked by a gang there. A guy ran up to me and friend, screamed in my face while he stabbed my friend in the stomach several times. I bundled my girlfriend to the floor then into a car and then went back picked a fire extinguisher up and fought with these people with knives. We saw the CCTV in the police station later on and these guys were passing the knife around, deciding who was going to be the one to stab us like it was a game. These were some serious wakeup calls. In Seville while we were there, I don’t know if it’s still like this but it was like anarchists, punks, Nazi’s and fragmented groups in the early 90’s. Masked gangs would shout at us “Viva Española” and beat us up, chasing us into bars where we had to fight to protect ourselves, using beer barrels as protection. In the end I was like, let’s get out, it’s not working, Seville’s not nice, I wanna get out! We went to Portugal and parked in the mountains. We were there about a week and there was a knock on the door. My girlfriend answered the door, and then closed it again. I asked what was going on and she said the guy that walks the goats just knocked on the door and just smiled at me. There was then another knock on the door, I answered and the same guy was there putting a gun to my head. I’ve been in various situations with guns before. Not to take it lightly but I knew it was all a bit of show for most people from body language. This one though, I knew it was real and he was going to kill me…..
Keysi is incredible, its as simple as that. My experience of Keysi before training with the founder, Justo Dieguez was relatively little and so I was eager to learn all I could in the two hour seminar hosted by Keysi Lincoln. Keysi is a martial arts method developed in the 1980s through life experience and study. It aims to develop personal defence through instinct and personal growth and has now grown international recognition as an effective form of self defence, as well as through its use in Hollywood movies such as Batman, Jack Reacher and Mission Impossible III.
The seminar focused on principles such as trapping, and before long we were working in groups practising the Pensador or Thinking Man technique that is synonymous with Keysi, followed by strikes such as elbows and hammerfists that are again, part and parcel to the Keysi way. Throughout the training, we were encouraged to think about what was happening around us, not just focusing on our partner and the technique, but also thinking who was around us and what was going on. If someone’s back was turned while training, we were to tap it and that person then had to complete two press-ups. Before long the press-ups mounted up in to the hundreds! As Justo explained, that tap on the back where you were not aware of the people around you could quite easily be a knife in a real situation and that split second where concentration and awareness is lost could cost you your life.
“Training is training, the situation is the situation. You have to separate training from reality. In training, you miss what happens around you, you don’t hear, you don’t see anything, and you don’t move your body the way it needs to be moved. 90% of the people in the gyms go for sweat and feel happy but they don’t learn anything. In Keysi, the intention is to enter into the situation, with the physical, mental and emotional all coming together.”
The class ended with some two on one drills that again got us thinking about what was happening around us, hoping to develop a 360 degree awareness that is necessary for self protection, especially when there is more than one assailant. As Justo says:
“I don’t sell security, that is impossible. I sell the fact that we are vulnerable, I don’t have a magic formula for anyone, its attitude and training that matters.”
I found the seminar incredible, the techniques Justo demonstrated were simple enough to be effective, and Justo explained the principles of Keysi with a mixture of real life examples, valuable insights and humour, taking complex ideas and simplifying them for us. Keysi is seen by many as one of the most effective forms of self defence available today, yet Justo acknowledges that no system is perfect and that he does not have all the answers.
“The important thing about Keysi is who you are – your value. Through training you feel better and learn more about the street, but we can’t sell security. We sell good training and development to understand and recognise situations. In a real situation, in one moment you need to have the answer. If you’re thinking about how many techniques you know, you die, if you think about what you are going to do, you die, what do you do?
One time in Spain on TV, a guy showed a knife defence technique from the throat, playing to the camera. When the knife is put against the throat, the guy says show the camera you are scared. You really have to show that?! Of course its a scary situation. Then he says when this happens you catch the arm and the knife and apply this technique. Not possible. If someone put a knife against my throat from behind, guaranteed I would shit my pants. It’s ok to train like this, but don’t believe you can do it in real life. The attacker is angry, crazy, maybe on drugs and you try to disarm the knife? It’s impossible. How these people have the bollocks to stand in front of the camera and say in 10 minutes I will show you how to defend against a knife attack I don’t know. These people need to go to jail, they are selling lies. Maybe you believe it, and then if you ever try it, you are dead.”
Keysi is by far one of the most developed and intelligent forms of self protection around today. The seminar taught by Justo was incredible and thought provoking and it will be interesting to see Keysi develop further in the future, reaching wider audiences and spreading it’s message of self development and self protection.
Success or failure in everything we do in life relies on our habits and this is especially true in the martial arts or self defence. A common problem with people studying the martial arts is consistency in their training, and staying on track with their development. You may join a martial arts school full of enthusiasm and eager to learn new skills, improve fitness or make new friends, yet as weeks, months or even years go by, that initial enthusiasm begins to subside and you find yourself making excuse after excuse about why you can’t train that day. Maybe you’ve had a busy day and are too tired, maybe you ate too late and don’t want to make yourself ill training. A whole wealth of excuses are at your disposal. Yet this is a very slippery slope.
To begin with we have formed a good habit in making the step to join a martial arts school as well as forming a habit to attend 2 or 3 times a week maybe. Then something happens out of your control and you miss a class due to perhaps illness. Suddenly, the habit has been broken and you say to yourself “well I missed this class so ill miss the next one and start again fresh next week”, sound familiar? Problem is, when the next week comes around, another excuse is found and you are out of the habit of going training.
Big corporate gyms rely on this with many tying you in to year long contracts, safe in the knowledge that the vast majority of us will sign up to a gym in January, determined to work off the excessive alcohol and food consumed, only to have lost interest by February after an initial surge of determination and enjoyment with working out.
With martial arts this is slightly different. To become even slightly reasonable at the martial arts, severe dedication is required, and a lot of hours on the mat are needed to build up muscle, fitness, technique and to teach your body to move in the correct way, according to style of martial art. Those wanting to learn self defence or martial arts cannot do so in a couple of months or even years, its a lifelong pursuit where we aim to adopt consistent behaviours and actions to improve ourselves. We aim to develop good habits that last a lifetime.
Its impossible to change all our bad habits, and this will only lead to failure, yet what we can do is select one behaviour we wish to adopt or change, and stick to it. Maybe it will be “I will train twice a week, every week” or “I will do an hour of my own research after my martial arts class”. This of course takes willpower, but research has suggested that willpower can be seen as similar to a muscle, in that the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Then, the stronger it becomes and the more engrained the habit is, the easier it is to maintain until you are suddenly not even thinking about the habit, it has just become autopilot.
Those in the martial arts and self defence world need to try and make training an autopilot habit where by we just go and train. What motivates you? For some it might be the next grading, for others the people they train with, some just love learning self defence or martial arts and want to delve as deeply as they can into it. Regardless of motivation, we should aim to turn this motivation into habit so that we can internalise techniques or principles learned in the martial arts and ensure we are constantly developing.
Relatively speaking, there is still relatively few who choose to dedicate their lives to studying martial arts and self defence. In terms of sports, many choose more mainstream past times such as football, rugby or cricket as supposed to Judo, Aikido or MMA and so what makes some people choose to study the martial arts? On top of this, do some people naturally have the killer instinct, technique, athleticism and timing needed to succeed in martial arts, or is this again something that can be taught over time? Can someone who has studied martial arts all of their life be superseded by someone naturally inclined to the martial arts in a relatively short period of time?
Many people fall into the martial arts by accident, seeing an advertisement for a class regardless of style in a local hall and deciding to either give it a go for themselves, or being made to go by their parents. I began Karate at aged 6 after my parents saw it advertised at a local hall. After a few years I moved on to Aikido and now continue to do this, having also studied MMA, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and KFM for varying degrees of time. I feel that martial arts are a massive part of my life now and want to learn as much as possible from everyone that I can. I wonder however, what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that first Karate class? Would I still be writing this and be as heavily involved in the martial arts as I am? Was I naturally more inclined to the martial arts than to sports such as football which I have very little interest in?
Me aged 9
Me aged 23
Martial arts – a lifelong pursuit
I believe that the traits of martial artists such as patience, courage and humility are natural and made better through the right instructors. Martial arts are a lifelong pursuit and one that is never perfected, and for many this is a difficult thing to comprehend. To play football, rugby or other such sports certainly takes skill and athleticism, yet a lifelong pursuit it is not. Many martial artists stop when they reach black belt, thinking that the goal has been reached, the illustrious black belt has been attained, yet for those committed to the martial arts, this is simply one step up a very long flight of stairs, one that you are unlikely to reach the top of.
Natural athleticism and timing certainly play a part in the martial arts as well. Those more naturally athletic will be able to copy and reproduce moves far quicker than those that are less fit or supple. As with everything in life, some people have to put very little work into something to be very good at it, while others have to work very hard to achieve half that skill level. This can be said of the martial arts in some respects and to learn martial arts is a personal journey, one that the instructor can only guide you on. An instructor can teach you the movements, forms or techniques used, but the individual has to take this teaching a step further, investigating movements for themselves, seeing what works for them and what doesn’t to make the martial art personal and effective for them. For many, this is too difficult a task and once the moves have been spoon fed in, no further study is thought to be needed, leading to one dimensional techniques that lack power, control or intelligence.
The martial arts are unique in the fact that they are a lifelong pursuit that you can constantly improve upon. Numerous 7th, 8th and 9th degree black belts I have spoken to over the years still say how they are learning and that every lesson they teach shows them something new. They admit they will never achieve perfection in the martial arts, and for some this makes the martial arts difficult to study. To others however, we see this as a challenge and wish to learn as much as we can, from everyone we can in order to be the best well rounded martial artist we can be, even though we know perfection will never be achieved. Some people are more driven into the martial arts due to their personality traits such as patience and humility, as well as natural ability, but these traits and abilities can also be developed and harnessed through the training of martial arts. Martial arts are a lifelong pursuit and one in which we never stop learning, and this for me is the best thing about training in the martial arts.
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Atemi can sometimes be forgotten about during our Aikido training. Aikido’s focus on throws, locks, pins and subduing the attacker without hurting them where possible does not often coincide with punching someone, yet the effectiveness of some techniques relies on the proper use of atemi. We don’t look for the knockout blow in Aikido, we strike as a distraction to allow us to perform our technique, or as a way of unbalancing the opponent in order to throw or apply a lock.
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, said that in a real situation, atemi is 70% of the fight, with 30% being locks and pins. Shioda Gozo, founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, agreed with this analysis from his time spent in street fights during his youth. Shioda sensei argues that although overt punching and kicking training is not done in Aikido, such as through the use of punchbags or makiwara, training is still done. Every movement in Aikido comes from the hips, and every move aims to deliver hip power and movement. Is this not exactly what is needed for effective atemi? A poor punch comes from the arm, using the muscles there to employ power. A more effective punch however, comes from the hips with the arm relaxed until the very moment of impact when the full force of the hips and arms is combined. This allows for more efficient striking, allowing us to perform more strikes with more power.
Morihei Ueshiba applying a strike to the ribs of Gozo Shioda
If we look at the basic movements of Aikido or the kihon dosa, all focus on projecting the hips and developing hip power. Although we aren’t punching a bag for hours on end, we are still developing hip power, and therefore striking power and as said, this is still a crucial aspect of Aikido training. There are those that argue that we should not need to atemi in Aikido or in a real situation if our technique is correct, yet I would imagine that these people have never been in a real fight and are only used to training in the setting of a dojo. The principle of Aikido to not harm the attacker is good in theory, yet in my limited experience, unrealistic. If you are fighting with someone who really wants to hurt you, whether you hurt them or not is not a consideration, getting out of that situation however you can is the priority. O’Sensei was in his later years when developing Aikido, having been through hard rigorous training in his youth and being in more than one life and death situation. Shioda sensei was similar, training hard in his youth and looking for fights to test his skills and both state that atemi in Aikido has its place and is very important.
Striking is effective in terms of injuring opponents, but also in terms of breaking balance and developing hip power. Sometimes in training we do a technique and when done with added resistance, wonder why it doesn’t work. Sometimes the technique is done wrong, but other times, the role of atemi has been forgotten and with this added element, the technique can improve dramatically! Atemi is just one aspect of Aikido, but one I feel is sometimes neglected.
Last blog we looked at how the traditional martial arts need to bear in mind the constantly changing world and society in which we live in, and be fluid in response to this in order to still be relevant today. Combat effectiveness is a priority for many studying the martial arts and as said, with the rise of mixed martial arts (MMA) more traditional martial arts are being questioned in terms of practical application. Traditional martial arts in my opinion, offer far more than practical effectiveness and can be a blueprint for living ones life, instilling many traits that are applicable in today’s world. This is especially true in relation to children.
I started Karate when I was 6 years old, continuing this until 9 when I started Aikido which continues to be my passion now at 23. I feel exceptionally fortunate to have fallen into the martial arts, where so many others have not, turning more to football or cricket. Martial arts, whether traditional or contemporary i.e. MMA, offer so many skills to young people that if it were up to me, they would be part of the national curriculum and taught in every school in the UK. Speaking from my own personal experience, martial arts and its effect on me have completely shaped the person that I am today, through its instilling of discipline and respect from an early age. The traditional martial arts in particular hold respect, discipline and the lineage of the art in extremely high value and this can only be seen as a good thing. At the risk of sounding old before my years, there seems to be a decline in general respect and manners in younger people today, whether this is compounded by media with stories of ASBOs left right and centre is open to debate. The martial arts instills this respect in you so that it becomes a second nature and I cannot help but feel that if more people took up martial arts at a younger age, the world would be a better place.
Me giving an instructor demonstration last year
As well as this issue of respect and discipline, other factors such as fitness, self confidence, teamwork and coordination are all greatly improved by the martial arts. Again it seems that children in today’s society are more overweight and sedentary than previous years, preferring to spend hours playing on the PS3 or Xbox rather than doing some form of physical exercise. Having done martial arts since I was 6 years old, I got into the habit of being active and so have never been overweight or physically unfit. Yes, children do P.E at school and join football or rugby teams, yet for many this is simply a hobby to do with friends and few continue as regularly in teenage years when other things take priority over physical exercise. In my experience, the martial arts have a way of hooking you in, making you want to learn more and more to develop onto the next stage, earning the illustrious `black belt` that is held in such high regard. I received my junior black belt, then immediately wanted to start on my adult black belt. I then wanted my 2nd degree black belt and am now hoping to test for my 3rd degree black belt this year. I’m sure this want to continually get better in martial arts will continue with me for the rest of my life, or at least I hope it will, and look forward to seeing kids who started at my age achieve black belt or instructor status.
Self confidence, teamwork and coordination are all built through the martial arts as well. From the first time you enter the training facility you are working with new people, meeting and communicating with others, making new friends, working together to understand techniques or ideas, and coordinating your body to perform them. This, if instilled in children, has great potential for their future development where their self confidence could secure them that dream job. Their ability to work with others will make them popular within their social circle, and able to communicate themselves clearly and articulately.
Do the Martial Arts still offer something?
The traditional martial arts still hold true in today’s society in relation to both combat effectiveness and the development of children in my opinion. As already said, if it was up to me, martial arts would be taught in every school due to the life lessons it teaches and instills through the training, regardless of style.
This is only my second blog and if there are things people wish to discuss or read about, I would encourage you to contact me with ideas and ill do my best to make it happen! Please read, share, like, discuss and comment in order to build the blog up more so that I can soon get my own domain name. Then we can really get the ball rolling, discussing all things martial arts, training, instructing, fitness and nutrition.