We’re starting off with a bang for our Martial View videos blogs now. We’ve set up our Martial View YouTube Channel! Have a brand new shiny Facebook page as well as our group and are full steam ahead for some fantastic interviews in the next couple of weeks including Peter Consterdine, Bob Breen, Joe Thambu and Matthew Chapman!
Our first interview since the relaunch is with a man who doesn’t really need an introduction! One of the main men in the self defence scene, a man who honed his skills on the doors of Manchester’s nightclubs. It’s Russell Jarmesty.
Russ began training in Karate when he was younger, before seeking out something that was more functional for him and finding the fantastic Trevor Roberts. After breaking his neck training, his fight career was put to an end, and so he instead tested his skills on Manchester’s doors. 1 year turned to two, which eventually turned into 15 years of experience in real life violence. He now runs Jarmesty Martial Arts Academy, based in Atherton, Manchester, teaching applied martial arts and MMA.
Never one to shy away or speak his mind, Russ is well known in the martial arts industry and in the interview below we discuss the state of martial arts, his history, times on the doors and much much more! When this man speaks on personal safety and self defence, we listen! Enjoy folks and be sure to subscribe to us on YouTube and email as well as giving us a follow on social media!
I am really excited to be relaunching the martial arts blog in the midst of all this Covid-19 chaos and it’s been great to have support from some fantastic martial artists, instructors and individuals who have agreed to be interviewed by moi! We’ll be posting these interviews on our new YouTube channel – and once things get moving again hopefully doing some home visits, training and video blogs too! So get subscribed to us at The Martial View on YouTube!
A system of hierarchy is something that the Martial Arts, and especially traditional Martial Arts, are built upon. While the elusive and often coveted Black Belt (gasp, oooh, ahhh) should not be the main goal of training, it is often a useful motivational tool for those who struggle with self-discipline and attending class, especially after the initial high of learning a new Martial Art has worn off. So while hierarchy, or belts and levels can be a fantastic tool within the Martial Arts, there are also some drawbacks which are often overlooked or not address.
Levels or grades can be intimidating for those just beginning in the arts.
I am sure we all remember our first ever martial arts class – walking in to a sea of white pajamas, feeling completely out of place and wondering why the hell you walked through the front door in the first place. Let’s face it. Walking in to a room full of people willingly kicking, punching and throwing each other about, and agreeing to participate when you have no clue what you’re doing – can be a little scary.
Of course, those of us that teach know this and should instantly make the new person feel super welcome. We should let them know there is nothing to worry about and that we won’t go in to full on sparring until at least week two right…?
It can still be a little scary however, and the presence of colored belts or grades adds to this intensity. The black belts are the ones to be avoided at all costs as they are basically ninjas and you can just stand at the side of the class with the other white belts, desperately trying to remember your left and right as a fully grown man or woman. All while doing your best to ensure you don’t make a nasty stain in your beautiful new white gi bottoms…
At no time is this more prevalent than at major seminars. I have been lucky enough to attend a number of seminars with high ranking instructors in various martial arts and often saw the instructors gathered together. Black and brown belts together, and then lower grades together, both in training and socially after.
In training at these events, if you can pluck up the courage to ask a brown or black belt to train with you as a beginner, this can be a big deal, but I remember seeing the disappointment on their face at being paired with a lower grade. The clock watching from them began and you could tell, they just weren’t feeling it. This obviously left me… and I’m sure other beginners, feeling a little dejected! I seemed to be an annoyance and someone holding them back from really achieving the maximum in their training, and this happened on a number of occasions, not just with myself, but with many other lower grades I talked to. Black belts trained with the black belts and the white belts trained together slowly mastering the art of putting one foot in front of the other without falling over from nerves.
This seemed an unspoken rule but saying this I have been to other seminars where the visiting instructor has actively encouraged the senior grades to train with the lower grades for a while, before then training with someone equal in terms of experience. This does however, seem the minority, not the majority.
This – as stated above, also translated to hierarchy off the mats at the socials afterwards. The post training beer at the local boozer and meal would see a similar situation. Instructors and high ranking students sitting on a table together, laughing, joking and drinking. While lower students would often be on a separate table, missing out on the experiences and stories from the high ranking instructor’s years in the arts. It seemed as though this almost had to be earned in a way – an almost VIP to hang around with the cool kids!
Is this the way it should be?
Levels or grades can lead to some delusions of grandeur.
We have all done it and all been there. The new “black belt dickhead”. You’ve just got your black belt, you think you’re the dog’s danglies. You walk into the dojo, chest out, head high, smiling and nodding to all the stupid lower grades that know jack shit.
This could last a day, a week, a month, but at some point – you will realize. You are not the dog’s danglies, your head will go down, your chest will sink in and you will realize you are that dickhead you took the piss out of when you were a white belt. The guy who thinks he knows it all!
For some this can take quite a long time to realize. For others, they have yet to realize…
But in terms of the arts, this can be an issue. As a black belt, you instantly want to start teaching and imparting the knowledge you have acquired. But here’s the thing. It may not be all that good!
Sure you have a black belt. But that just means you have put the hours in and know the techniques/requirements to pass the grade. Oh my friend, the journey is just beginning ad you have such a long way to go until you are ready to impart the knowledge you think you are capable of!
Sure you can help out with some basics, but trying to teach too much too soon can just be more detrimental than anything. You can teach bad habits which then need to be un-learnt by the student. Or, heaven forbid, you teach something that is completely the opposite or in contradiction to what your instructor is trying to convey, be it in a class or seminar.
For some, black belt means you are ready to teach and nearly at the end of your journey, this is completely the wrong attitude and can be a problem with having this hierarchical nature in the martial arts – especially the traditional ones.
At the end of the day, we are all just students
We are all just students of the martial arts at the end of the day, whether you have been training for one month or for 10 years, you still want to just improve yourself and learn more. The best teachers and martial artists are those that continue to learn even though they are considered by many to be at the very top of their game. An excellent example of this can be Guro Dan Inosanto. In an interview done with one of his top students – the legendary Bob Breen in my book Martial Masters Volume 1 – Bob talks about Dan’s day to day routine and how he is constantly on the go and learning new arts, be it in striking or ground such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu!
Hierarchy can sometimes hinder this when we think we have reached the illustrious black belt, we can rest on our laurels and chill. This should be where the training really ramps up, test what you know, evolve it, develop it and make the style uniquely your own – Bruce Lee Style.
How many of us truly do this however, and how many of us simply think we know what we are doing now all due to the fact we now have a different colored bit of cloth around our waste? We all unfortunately have an ego, and we all like it when that ego is massaged, especially on the mats.
The traditional martial arts can be a great place to have your ego massaged as once you reach black belt you are sometimes placed on a pedestal and thought to have more knowledge than others. This is fine until it’s tested and if you can back up the goods, awesome, if not. Your ego may be a little bruised rather than massaged.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great example here of an art that has adapted more to this hierarchical system through competition. Any newbie walking into a new BJJ class should know that they will be tapped out… a lot. It is part of the process and keeps your ego in check from the get go.
Even at black belt level, competitors still compete or even just roll with their students, and it takes one mistake to be caught in a submission and realize that you are not invincible and some sort of black belt demi-god! Sure you should be tapped out WAY less than a white belt, but it can still happen! Yet how many traditional martial arts have this same mentality where the instructor is shown to be a mere human?!
For me, martial arts are about ego checking and we often tell our students to leave their ego’s at the door when they train. How many instructors follow through with this too however…?
Always interested to hear your thoughts… Let me know!
Tales from the Western Generation by Matthew Apsokardu
So a friend of mine and fellow blogger Matthew Apsokardu from www.ikigaiway.com asked me to write a review of his new book that has just been released on Amazon and I was more than happy to do so! Free book for me if nothing else :P. Those who follow the facebook group will know I have just ordered a shit ton of self defence and martial arts books so look out for some more reviews soon, as well as a recommended reading page!
I know nothing about the history of Karate, or much about the history of most martial arts to be honest and in general find it pretty dull to read about, but Matthew’s book was the exception! I was actually surprised to find myself really enjoying it, learning about the historical and cultural changes that led to the evolution of Karate as it is practiced today from the pioneers in the early 1900s to the tournament scene in the 1960s and 70s.
What really makes the book is the interviews conducted however with pioneers, mavericks and trendsetters of the martial arts who have set the tone for those that practice martial arts today. The book is incredibly easy to read, informative and enjoyable and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of martial arts or martial arts in general. This book is a must have on the shelf for any serious martial artist.
We think martial arts, we think kicking, punching, snapping and cracking! We think Bruce Lee literally kicking the crap out of multiple opponents, flying kicks and massive Ki-ai’s! We look at the Olympics and Taekwondo and see all sorts of wonderful kicks where legs get wrapped around people’s heads twice round in a split second. Basically kicks are awesome, impressive and a massive feature of the martial arts. What about self defence though? Do kicks have a place or will they land you in more trouble than their worth?
Me, personally, I’m not a massive fan of kicks. I’ve never used one in a real altercation but I can see their application if done right. I don’t use them as I’m no good at them basically. But what about the guys and girls who are good at them, the Taekwondo practitioners, the Karate experts, where do you guys stand on this?
Low level kicks up to about waist height I can see the advantage of. People normally won’t be expecting it, and a well timed outside leg kick to the knee or thigh can easily put someone out of action for quite a while. Look at some of the UFC guys leg’s after a fight, black, blue and difficult to put weight on. Waist kicks and front kicks, again I can see the practicalities of. The leg is longer than the arm and so is therefore great for getting a strike in early and creating distance, which as I’ve repeatedly said, I believe to be one of the main principles to take from martial arts and into self defence. Distance is everything and leg kicks can certainly keep the opponent at a distance if done correctly (even for me who’s the height of a borrower).
Effective use of leg kick here, low risk, high result
Any higher than the waist and I think we’re in danger territory. Kicks here are easier to telegraph, leave you off balance on one leg for longer and in general are just far riskier in my opinion. Even if I had studied head kicks and kicks above waist level for many years, I would still be reluctant to use one in real life as there are just too many what ifs? What if I don’t connect? What if I do connect? What if they grab my leg? Personally for me, I want both feet to be on the ground and planted as much as possible.
There’s also the practicalities. If you aren’t wearing shorts or loose training gear, as well as being properly warmed up, high kicks can be near impossible. Imagine attempting a high kick and not only missing but also pulling you leg muscle…not cool… If you’re a Justin Bieber wannabe and wear skinny jeans, its going to be difficult simply walking, let alone throwing a leg kick regardless of where it is. If you do wear skinny jeans though you may be deserving of a kick or two… 😛
So me personally, not a fan of leg kicks for self defence, but only because I’m no good at them, am as flexible as Jeremy Clarkson’s views on the Argentinians and see too much risk involved. Have people used leg kicks in real altercations? Have they worked? Have they gone horribly wrong?
Film Star and Bodyguard – Interview with Richard Norton p.3!
Here’s the third and final part of the awesome interview with Richard Norton! Enjoy, and share the awesomeness!
Let’s go back to the martial arts side then. What do you think martial arts, both traditional and reality based can offer to the 21st century? Do they still hold relevance?
Yes and no. I think they do if the style and instructor has the wisdom to integrate it into today’s world. You’re right; a lot of the traditional kata or weapons work doesn’t really have much relevance in today’s combat arena, but then it doesn’t always have to. I mean you’re not going to be walking around the street with a Katana or Sai in your hand, so that side of it, for me, is about the art part of ‘martial art’. I think we can often focus too much on the ‘Martial’ and not enough on the ‘Art’ side of what we do. The mental and spiritual side of the arts, I think, has a tremendous amount of benefit and relevance in today’s world due to the stresses and everything we go through in day to day life, purely just to make a living and have ends meet. To have something in your daily life that’s about spiritual balance is, to me, very important. The battlefield of today isn’t about samurai style on horseback; it’s a couple of guys outside a nightclub with a blade trying to cut you up, or your boss in your day job piling endless files on your desk with a deadline to get done. I love the traditional arts and the way it is just about me and the perfecting of my art with the mind, body and spirit in unison and I truly believe having that togetherness will help you in many a real situation. But I of course also think you need the stress tested reality based techniques as well as the traditional as these are what will really help you in a physical life or death situation. You see, in most traditional dojo’s, everything we do is structured; we bow, step up and fight to specific protocols and rules, its what I call, consensual sparring. We know we are going to fight; there are rules and a referee. In the street there are no rules and you have no way of knowing what’s going to happen. A lot of traditional clubs will not or cannot teach you what that aspect of combat is really like, and that’s where we need to address the balance. As an example, I was once teaching a class of MMA students and I decided to ask them just why they were all there. In this case, the MMA style I was asked to teach was more UFC style; backs against the cage etc. As it turned out, 90% of those in attendance said they were interested primarily in real life self-defence. So I said well then that cuts out about 70% of what I would in a ‘sport’ MMA class .I mean in the street, if I happen to take you down in a fight with a version of a double or single leg, I absolutely no longer want to go down to the ground with you, as I primarily then have to worry about the possibility of other ‘bad’ people around kicking my head in whilst I’m tied up with you. How many times in the street will you have your back up against a cage? In street MMA, I would teach a hybrid takedown, then be immediately scanning to see if there are opponents 2, 3 or 4 that I may have to deal with. So you can have the traditional and the reality. The reverse punch comes from the hip which is probably the way I’d launch a pre-emptive strike. In the end a punch is a punch, a kick is a kick, it’s the delivery systems that matter and the stimulus for delivery of that punch or kick i.e. getting shoved and screamed at, dealing with the stress factors, then launching into the physical side. This is why I like arts like BJJ as a sport, because for the most part, there is no theory. When we tap out, it’s for a good reason; your arm’s getting tweaked or you’re going to sleep for a bit. It’s the same with boxing or kickboxing. You are usually either hitting or getting hit. You can theorise all you like, but it is what it is from a combat point of view. Yes, there are still rules, but even the UFC has strict rules. At least though it’s as close as you can get to a real fight, hopefully without sustaining life-threatening injuries.
So, finally your plans for the future? You’ve alluded to a big project next year that you can’t speak too much about but anything you can tell us?
For me really its business as usual. I’m really excited about the project next year, it’s huge! I’m 65 in a month and in this business you can get into the mind-set of, ‘wow, maybe is this the last job? Then you get a call out of the blue for a gig and off we go again! As I have already said, my passion for the martial arts is what has brought about all the great opportunities like bodyguard work, film work and whatever in my life. Again, I truly believe that the great through line for me to continue to have is to just continue striving to be the best martial artist I can be, and then the universe will look after me with jobs in security, movies, etc. That’s certainly how it’s been up until now and how I expect it to be for quite some time to come. I love doing what I do. Now how many people can honestly say that? Most get up every morning hating what they do, day in and day out and are just waiting until they can retire and actually start ‘living’. Fortunately for me, since 11 years of age, I’ve been ‘living’ my passion nonstop. Have there been ups and downs? Of course, but overall, it’s been pretty damn great and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Film Star and Bodyguard – Richard Norton Interview P.2!
Part two of this incredible interview with Richard Norton, martial artist, film star and bodyguard! Enjoy! As always please share, subscribe and like to support the site 😀
You have experience protecting some of the big names in show business, such as The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor and David Bowie. How did that opportunity come about and what did you learn from the experience?
It came about again through Bob Jones. I was working the doors since I was a teenager in the clubs of Melbourne, so I obviously got a lot of experience through this. In early 1970, a local entrepreneur called Paul Dainty rang us up at the club and asked if we’d be interested in looking after The Rolling Stones. So of course we said yes and that’s how the Bodyguard work and touring started. As far as longevity in bodyguard work, that really came from word of mouth within the industry. It’s not something you send your resume in for and get a gig. Its more someone like a David Bowie speaking to another artist and saying, “Yeah, Richard is the best in the business and if you want personal security, then that’s the guy you need”. So it’s the word of mouth and recommendation of guys like David or a Linda Ronstadt, or a Mick Fleetwood that gets you your next gig with whatever next big act is out there. As far as bodyguard work it self, there weren’t really that many violent situations when I look at the 25 years of being a body guard, as it’s really more about the pre-emptive side of being aware of your environment and sensing the potential for a violent confrontation and hopefully avoiding it before it kicks off. For example, in a concert setting, it’s about the setup of the security personnel and where you place them before the band even hit the stage. I always saw myself as really the last line of defence, and even then, it’s all about the de-escalation of a situation before it becomes violent, as the last thing someone like a Mick Jagger would want is their bodyguard to kick the crap out of a fan! Not good publicity for them. A lot of the band members would often joke with me in the tour bus when travelling to and from gig’s, saying ‘Oh come on when do we get to see you do your thing?! I remember having a funny conversation with Danny Kortchmar, a guitarist with James Taylor, who was saying after a few beers on our tour bus. ‘Come on, I play guitar; you see me playing every night, Russ plays drums and you see him play every night, so when the hell are we going to see you punch someone! I’d laugh and point out that I knew that that’s the last thing you’d actually want me to do! Again, of course there was some violence, but I don’t really like talking about it as it glorifies it and wasn’t, at least for me as a Martial Artist, what the job was all about. I always said that the best security was when you didn’t even know you had it. Having said that, it’s a very different world now to when I was doing security, sadly due to the epidemic of drugs like Ice and Crack etc. I mean violence has truly just gone to a whole new and disgusting level. There are also CCTV cameras everywhere you go now too, so you’re always in the spotlight and you can’t just flippantly go the physical route like in the old days, as you’re so often going to end up on film as evidence and end up with your day in court. Then your whole life can change forever.
You’ve also worked with some massive names in the film industry such as Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris, so gain, let’s just talk about how that came about and what it was like!
The meeting of Chuck Norris and consequently my movie career began with Bob going over to America and asking Chuck to come out to Australia as a guest and do some demonstrations for some Zen Do Kai Kick Boxing events we were holding in different states in Oz. This was in 1978. So Chuck came out and as it turned out, I was also demonstrating on the same card in front of maybe 4000 people at a place called, Festival Hall. Anyway, from the first time we met, Chuck and I just got on so well from the get go and he basically said that if I was ever in California, to look him up and we’d do some training. So obviously, for a kid from the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, this was like a huge wow moment! So a year later, I was working in Australia as bodyguard for one of the biggest rock and rollers of the time, Linda Ronstadt, and she asked me to move over to America and work with her full time. So off I went to California, amazingly after a lot of hesitation. So there I was, living and working with Linda, and of course the first person I called when I got there was Chuck! Incredibly, true to his word, he invited me round to his house to train. We would go on to form an incredible friendship and train every morning in his house for years to come, doing hours of kicking routines and fitness marathons and everything else, martial Arts related. It’s through Chuck and his many influential MA friends that I got the introduction to Jackie Chan. Chuck was so well liked and respected and kindly opened doors for me that I could have only dreamed about, had I not met and befriended him. So that’s how my movie career really began! I can’t thank Chuck enough for giving me the opportunity to meet some of the greatest Martial Artists in the world and help me get the skills I have today! Back to the start in movies, when I first arrived in California and started training with Chuck, he was in the very early stages for his film, `The Octagon`, and because of my demonstrations in Australia, he was well aware of my skills with Okinawan weapons. So there was a main bad guy character in ‘The Octagon’ by the name of ‘Kyo.’ So he asked me to accept that role! It’s funny, because the character was originally meant to be Asian, hence the reason for the crimson headdress in the movie to hide the fact I was in fact a blonde Aussie! So I ended up playing ‘Kyo’ and also helping Chuck’s brother, Aaron in choreographing a lot of the fights. In fact just four of us did all the ninja work in the movie. My claim to fame in `The Octagon` was I died eight times in that movie, as every time someone went splat in a black uniform it was probably me! So that was the start of my movie career! Pat Johnson, who was a partner of Chuck’s back then and who had worked with Jackie on `The Big Brawl` suggested to Jackie that I would be good to have as the bad guy in one of his movie’s, so a few years later I got a call from Jackie and his team and that’s how I ended up working on three of his movies. It was all a matter of circumstance really; I didn’t go to the states planning on getting into the movies, but, as fate had it, that’s what happened and here we are, some 70 movie’s later. Not a bad way to make a living, eh?
When did you decide to make the jump from stunt man to choreographer? Was it a conscious decision or just a natural progression?
Yes, I guess it did just kind of happen, of course helped by my Martial Arts background. I think I worked out, after being in the industry for some time, that as an actor, you’re kind of a product with a short shelf life. You either get overexposed, or you’re not that good, or there are no roles that suit your look or whatever. I mean loved being in front of the camera, but was realistic enough to know it wouldn’t last forever. Also, a lot of the types of movies I was doing back then they just don’t make anymore. I also realised that advancing age was going to reduce the roles I was going to get offered. So I thought it would be prudent and smart for me to learn what it’s like being behind the camera and, as it turned out, that was a good move for me. On `Mad Max` I had an acting role, but I was mainly working as fight coordinator. Now I’ve just been hired as Fight Coordinator on another huge movie in 2015, so it all doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon, thank goodness. Honestly, movies for me are primarily about economics and earning enough to make a living and allow myself more time to spend in the Arts, doing what I love doing most, and that’s living my passion.
Film Star and Bodyguard – Richard Norton Interview P.1!
He’s worked with names such as Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, and was the bodyguard to The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor and many others! He’s also a fantastic martial artist and someone that those interested in the martial arts can hope to aspire to be like in our own training.
Also a really nice guy who took the time out of his massively hectic schedule to give me the interview! Here’s part one of my interview with Richard Norton for The Martial View!
Thanks for taking the interview Richard! Your career in the martial arts has been a shining example to those involved in martial arts. You’ve worked with some famous names such as Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris, and protected the likes of The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac! Can you remember what initially led you into starting martial arts, and how you felt walking into your first class?
Yeah, I’ve often been asked this, and looking back it certainly wasn’t due to the fact I was being beaten up or that it was a rough neighbourhood that I lived in. I was certainly attracted to martial arts from a young age, but who knows why! I remember seeing ads on the back of comic books talking about Judo, and there was just something quite mystical about it and I was intrigued by this oriental art. Then, as it happened, there was a kid who moved into a house opposite ours where I lived in Croydon, which is a suburb of Melbourne, and as it turned out, he was disappearing 2-3 times a week. So one day I said, “Oh Morris where are you going”? So he told me he was learning Judo and I was like, “Wow I want to come too”! So I went along the next night and was absolutely awe struck and loved the idea of it! Now one initial problem I had was that I was quite skinny and small as an 11 year old and started of being a bit like cannon fodder for the older kids in the class! The Sensei, John Burge, was wonderful and very caring though and kept inspiring me to keep at it. I used to practice in the back yard with my mates as I was always very physical as a kid, wrestling and boxing, as most kids do I’d imagine, and now we added Judo into the mix. Then one day, another school friend, John Rowe, who was also in our Judo class and who was learning Karate out of the book, `This Is Karate` by Masutatsu Oyama, excitedly told me that there was a karate school opening up near where we lived. So off I went for the opening night. The style of Karate was Goju Kai and was being taught by Sensei Tino Ceberano. I remember the class did a demonstration of basic H pattern Kata, or forms and a bit of Jiyu Kumite, which was light contact sparring. Well, I remember that being an incredible light-bulb moment for me and I decided right then and there, that Karate was what I wanted to do with my life. So that was when the whole journey of immersion and passion for the Martial Arts started started. I still think back to those early days and truly believe that martial arts were what I was meant to do with my life, esoteric as it sounds. Pretty much everything good I’ve experienced in my life, from travelling the world as a personal Body Guard and working on movie sets for over 35 years, has come as a result of just wanting to be the best Martial Artist I could be. My entire life has revolved around the martial arts; I mean where a lot of other people get jobs and set patterns in their life and then discover and try and fit their respective training in, the opposite was true for me; I made my life fit around the dojo and training and that’s how it all started and continues to this day.
So from there I presume you just developed your Karate further and then this led to the Zen Do Kai system? Can you talk me through this?
Yes, Zen Do Kai started through an association one of my oldest friends and mentors, Bob Jones, who was also a student of Tino Ceberano and Goju Kai Karate Do. At the time we met, Bob owned a security company and was involved with providing security personnel for most of the clubs and bars of Melbourne was already incredibly skilled in reality based fighting and the ways of ‘street’ combat. It was Bob who wanted to initiate his own style of ‘Combat effective’ Martial Arts and wanted me to partner up with him. So that led to the formation of the Zen Do Kai Karate schools which started in 1970. It was still based in the Goju system, but our motto was ‘The Best of Everything in Progression’, so I would say it was one of the first eclectic type of schools in Australia where aspects of different styles of Martial Arts were incorporated, rather than being purely based on one system. If we thought a technique from another style had some combat effectiveness, we integrated it into our Zen Do Kai system. We had boxing, Judo and wrestling along with the Goju karate, so it was in fact a very early version of MMA. Remember, MMA means ‘mixing Martial Arts, not just the sport version we know of as ‘The UFC’. A lot of the early students in our school were professional bouncers and incredibly tough and seasoned street fighters, so it suited us to pressure test different MA techniques and try to discover what was real or what was just theoretical. Not taking it away from the esoteric or theoretical aspect of some of our martial arts, but it was important for us and our students to know what combat techniques would work in the real world and not just in the safe confines of the Dojo. So it was obviously through Bob and Zen Do Kai that that I got involved in doing security work on doors, which led to personal bodyguard work.
Obviously self-defence is a tricky concept and lots of school claim to teach self-defence but are criticised for teaching unrealistic techniques that only work in a dojo setting, or criticised for having no real life experience to draw upon. What are your thoughts on the principles of effective self-defence training and the teaching of self-defence?
I understand the dilemma of a martial arts instructor with no reality based experience trying to teach actual reality based street techniques when they’ve never had a real fight in their lives and I would of course never encourage anyone to go out and involve themselves in street violence, just to get that experience. But having said that, I think that if you are really learning reality based self-defence, it’s important to learn from someone that really been on the front lines and has life experience, as it is different from the Dojo environment. In the dojo, you’re in a cotton wool sort of environment; there are rules and protocols that protect you, whereas in the street there are no such parameters. The fear that a life or death street encounter brings is obviously quite confronting, and as a result, I think it is essential to learn such street techniques from someone that understands the effects of fear and adrenaline, accelerated pulse rates and how all of those factors affect you physiologically and dramatically change your bodies ability to deliver complex moves learnt in the Dojo. So you need someone that can talk the students through these pre fight feelings, so at the very least, if, God forbid, the student is involved in a street altercation or whatever, he can maybe can maybe recall these lessons from a street experienced instructor and realise what’s going on, physiologically in his body, before the actual physical part even kicks off. I mean anyone that’s experienced real combat knows that quite often the legs start shaking, the heart rate goes up and you at best lose cognitive ability and fine and complex motor skills and go straight to gross motor skills. All of that is important to understand when you teach as so many of the complex moves we learn in traditional arts are okay in traditional and safe sport environments, but won’t necessarily work when you are really confronted with violence and basically scared shitless. You need to get to the fundamentals, the one or two strikes you can use in a pre-emptive situation that will hopefully allow you to survive a street fight. A friend of mine, Sensei Paul Cale, who has incidentally come under Team Norton and who is one of our most decorated military vets, having had multiple tours of Afghanistan etc and developed his own combat system, called Kinetic Combat System, says it drives him nuts seeing the amount of ‘Combat Instructors’ who advertise themselves as teaching the military, special forces etc. As he says, most of these ‘Reality Based Experts’ have never ever been in the service, let alone eve a real street fight, and yet they’re teaching real world knife and gun weapons defence. So, even for me, if I wanted to further my realistic defence in terms of lethal weapons, I’d go to someone like Paul, as I know he’s been there for real. I mean teach knife defence now, but I’m very honest and say that I believe that these techniques will be effective in reality, but it’s still theory to a huge extent, as how the hell would I know when I’ve never been in a real knife fight. Bit different when the blades are real and not made out of rubber. Lol
I wrote a post a few days back on the politics that seem to surround the Martial Arts. A lot of the feedback and discussions as a result of the article seem to say that where people are involved, politics will be involved. I completely accept this, but still think that politics seems to be particularly prevalent within the martial arts. So in the immortal words of Martin Luther King “I have a dream”! I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it’s something that could become a reality in 2015 if all goes to plan, but I have a vision of a massive martial arts event, all styles welcome, all backgrounds welcome. The only condition to entry is that you are open minded, willing to learn and respectful of the martial arts on offer. These martial arts could be traditional, say Aikido, Taekwondo or Judo, could be Reality Based such as Defence Lab or Krav Maga, or sports based such as the GHOST system developed by Phil Norman (look out for an interview with him being posted in the next couple of days)! All combat arts would be on offer, instructors would become students of other instructors and learn a bit of their style before teaching their own to both students and other instructors. In short everyone, whether you’re a white belt or a black belt, would learn together.
It would be ego free, politics free and massive for the martial arts community. Sure seminars exist at the moment, you get some massive names doing tours all over the world. But how often do people from other styles go to those seminars? If there’s a Judo seminar with a massive international name, do many non-Judo guys go? I think not, even though as I’ve already theorised before, all martial arts come down to the same thing in the end so we can learn something from everyone regardless of rank, years spent doing martial arts, or style you train in!
This is my dream for the future! A politics free seminar, big names in martial arts, all styles working together to enhance learning, build networks and increase exposure for the martial arts. What do you guys think? Good idea in theory but never possible in practice? We shall see! Watch this space!!
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.