The Louis Thompson Interview

Louis Thompson is the son of martial arts pioneer, author and modern day legend, Geoff Thompson.  As such he has had the unique opportunity to grow up practicing reality based martial arts with the very best instructors in the world from a very early age.  As an adult, Louis has often assisted his father teaching at many seminars.

Now Louis is set to branch out and teach independently.  Although still quite young, he has a wealth of knowledge and experience beyond his years as he has had a start in martial arts that most of us could only dream about.

I’ve been lucky enough to secure an interview with Louis and I believe that I am among the first to do so.  Without any more ado, here is that interview below and I hope you find it as interesting as I have:
CW:     Hi Louis and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me.  Obviously you have grown up with martial arts in your blood.  Your father would have been a big influence (as he has influenced the whole martial arts world).   However, apart from your father, who else were the main influences on your martial arts development and in which ways did they influence you?

LT:     I try to take my influences from everywhere, not just martial arts. If I see someone who is highly successful in their field then I will take the same method that they used and apply it to my training. That is how my immersion training idea came about. I noticed that if people wanted to learn a language or skill quickly, if they completely immersed themselves then the gains were massive. I just make whatever I am doing a massive part of my life and that is how I get ahead of the game.

As for people who have influenced me there are many. Obviously my dad has had a huge effect on the way I view the world especially in martial arts. I feel like he has sifted through a lot of things arts and techniques and taken the essence and passed that onto me. Now it’s for me to go and find out of those things what works for me. I have been around Peter Consterdine since I was a child and I have massive respect for him. He has such a wealth of experience in so many different areas and he is someone I really would like to be around more. Obviously all of my dads students (Lea and Matty Evans, Tony Somers, Al Peasland, Justin Grey) have all played a massive part in my MA education. My first and probably favourite art is Judo. For me it is the missing link in this new MMA culture we have and I find that it is dismissed far too quickly. Within Judo people like Neil Adams and Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki are such amazing players and it would be an honor if I could ever get on the mat with them.

CW:     Reality based training obviously involves a lot shouting and swearing at each other to de-sensitise yourself to that kind of raw aggression.  When growing up, did it seem strange acting out these aggressive scenarios with your own father?

LT:     I have been around the shouting and swearing so much that it is a very normal part of my training. I try to treat it like a drill. It is such a great tool that you have to include it in your training. In essence what you are doing is acting. You access the base energy in you and project that as pure aggression. For me doing this with my dad is no different to hitting the pads or practicing throws. It’s just a part of what we do.

CW:     Do you practice traditional martial arts alongside your reality based training?  If so, which ones?

LT:     As I said Judo was probably my first real ‘art’. I love it and think it is massively underrated. I have also trained in western boxing as well as various forms of wrestling. My main focus is reality based self defence and taking from the arts the techniques I can apply to that. I am constantly looking for new things to learn and new techniques to drill.

CW:     Having a famous father has some obvious advantages in getting started in the martial arts field, but do you sometimes feel that it is a double edged sword?  Do you feel that you have a lot to live up to and that people will always judge you as “Geoff Thompson’s son” rather than as your own person?

LT:     My dad has set the bar high but for me that is great. It gives me something to work towards. Hopefully I can prove myself in my own right and people will respect what I do as an individual. Ultimately I am teaching what my dad has taught and it means a massive amount to me what he thinks of what I am doing. I think the only person I have to prove anything to is him. As long as he is happy with how I am teaching then what the rest of the world says is irrelevant. There will be lots of people out there who have and will continue to criticize what my dad has done and I have seen small pockets of that. People who feel that way will no doubt always view me as Geoff Thompson’s son but it is a label I am grateful to have.

CW:     What do you feel are your own unique strengths and talents to offer which are specific to you as a martial artist?

LT:     I can only really offer people my experiences. I can’t claim to have been in hundreds of fights or worked the door for 10 years but I can certainly say I have had world class instruction for my whole life. When people go to train with anyone they go to get their experiences. I am the only person in the world that can offer my experience and deliver it in my style. When it comes to the Real Combat System or The fence and pre-emption I have lived and breathed that for 20 years. I know how it should be taught and I know the theory behind it and if I am ever unsure I have the creator at the end of the phone. I am in a unique position and I am very excited about teaching people everything I can and learning lots in the process.

CW:     I see that you are running special courses.  Can you tell us a bit about those courses?  Is this the only way that you teach or do you run a club as well?

LT:     My 6 week course focuses on all aspects of self defence right from becoming more aware to being able to hit very hard. My favourite way to teach is through immersion training. 4 hours of intense tuition focusing on whatever area the student wants. I have been doing a lot of this recently and the gains people get are tremendous. I don’t have a class as yet but it is something I am organising very soon.

CW:     What kind of response have you had?  Have your courses been filled up?

LT:     I have had a great response so far and people seem to be getting lots from it. I tend to keep the groups small so I can make sure that the progress is good and identify and address specific needs with people.

CW:     On your website you mention that you strive to improve your skills in all areas, both physically and spiritually.  Can you tell us what your spiritual beliefs are and how they affect both your training and you daily life?

LT:     I am a great believer in the fact that I create my own reality. I have created amazing things and also watched them crash down all because of the way I think. Meditation is something I am trying to do more and more. For me it is far more difficult than any physical training. My mind is incredibly active and I find it really difficult to keep it centred. Ultimately I am looking to be congruent which is really difficult at times.

CW:     Do you believe (as I do) that developing some kind of spirituality is important to all developing martial artists?

LT:     I think developing some kind of spirituality is important to all aspects of life although I am not sure that spirituality is the right word. It seems to scare people. The masses hear spirituality and assume religion but it’s not really the case. At a basic level they are all the same thing. I think it’s important to develop integrity and congruence because if you don’t have that then things will come crashing down at some point.

CW:     Having learnt directly from some of the Worlds very best martial arts instructors, do you feel that their message is properly understood by the wider martial arts community, or does that message get a bit diluted and confused along the way?

LT:     If you are looking at what my dad has developed then I would say it is massively distorted by the wider MA community. You only have to type the fence in to YouTube to see people doing it wrong. I think people take it away and try to make it work within the realms of their own art and that really isn’t possible. I have seen people using the fence and then teaching blocks and counters of trapping from the fence but when you start doing that you destroy the main message which is pre-emption. People misunderstand and then pass that on to their students and the wrong message starts to spread.

CW:     What advice would you give to traditional martial artists who realise that their training has become either sport orientated or stylized, to make their training more effective for the street?

LT:     I would say look at what is available to you in a real situation and when I say that I mean what is very easily available. What will guarantee you results. Look at the range you have. It’s is real difficult to let go of your art and see that all you really need is one really good punch and the ability to strike first and you will be leagues ahead of anyone. The key to effective self defence is always pre-emption. The only way to really remove a true threat is by KO. Use the fence to maintain the distance. If they try to close the distance and you feel there is a genuine threat then strike the jaw which will cause a KO.

CW:     Sometimes traditional martial artist feel that they only want to train in their own system and don’t want to “confuse” themselves training outside their style.  I personally find that training outside my style often helps me to understand elements of my main style better.  However, as most of the readers of my website are traditional martial artists (mainly Karate, Teakwondo, Kung Fu); what do you feel your courses have to offer to a die-hard traditional martial artist?

LT:     I think people who feel that training outside their art will confuse them don’t really understand their art. When you look at all the different arts they all have very similar elements that are styled in different ways. All I can offer people is the opportunity to get excited about educating themselves with new and interesting techniques and show them that by making all the techniques from all the arts interchangeable you can make something that is overall stringer and more durable.

CW:     On your website shop you recommend/sell a number of DVD’s and books.  Do you plan to produce any such products yourself in the future?

LT:     I am building up slowly but surely and although I have no plans to create my own products yet I am sure it is something that will come up at some point. When you want to get your message out to a wider audience it is a necessity.

CW:     What are your plans to for the future and how do you plan to continue developing as a martial artist?

LT:     I am taking each day as it comes. I have achieved a lot of goals in a short space of time so I think this is a great time to make sure that they can all sustain themselves. I want to keep growing Louis Thompson SD as a brand and a company and try to get my message on a global level.  I have my own SD/MA studio which is a lovely space and I am getting more and more students as time goes on. To develop as a martial artist I just look at training privately with as many great people as possible. I will continue to train and teach with my dad and just continue to push myself as an individual and hopefully that will translate in what I teach.

CW:     Louis, thank you for doing this interview for BunkaiJutsu.com.  On behalf of myself and the readers, I would like to wish you every success in your career and we hope that we’ll all be hearing more from you in the future.

 

 

What’s The Difference Between Karate & Tae Kwon Do? (Part 2)

Well my last post on the differences between Karate and Tae Kwon Do certainly got a quite a lot of discussion going (especially on the Facebook page).  So I thought that I would look at the subject a bit further.

First of all though, after my last post it was commented by some Tae Kwon Do guys that I had mainly described Tae Kwon Do from a sports perspective.  I totally accept that comment.  But I will repeat what I said in the last posting:-

“Tae Kwon Do has been through a number of incarnations starting with a form that was quite close to Karate, through to a much more Olympic sport oriented version.   Therefore we have to accept that not all of my observations will apply to every Karate/Tae Kwon Do style.  These observation are intended to be of a general nature”.

I think it is fair to say that those who practice applied practical Tae Kwon Do will generally learn two approaches.  For competition, they will use a stance and techniques as broadly described in my earlier posting, yet for practical applications they use more traditional stances as used in the patterns (which after all contain the more “street-wise” self defense moves).

There is also another quite pronounced difference in approach in some (but not all) versions of Tae Kwon Do and that is the inclusion of a sine-wave movement.  This where the practitioner will raise their centre of gravity up as they approach the half way mark of the technique (usually seen as a chambering position) then sink down as the technique is executed.  When executed with a step, the practitioner will move up and down in a sine-wave motion.  The theory behind this is that the on impact the striking surface (lets say the fist) will have both a forward vector  (from the step) and and downward vector (from lowering the body) applied to it, thereby increasing its impact.

Karate and older versions of Tae Kwon Do will remain at the same height throughout the step.  This removes the downward vector of dropping the body weight, but makes more use of compressing the supporting leg half way through which is then released like a spring to increase the drive forward.  I would like to emphasise that I’m not saying either method is better than the other, just that they are different.

You can clearly see the difference in these two video clips.

The first is Ed Newcomer, 6th Dan Internation Tae Kwon Do Federation and the second is Kanazawa, 10th Dan Shotokan Karate.

Sometimes in the Tae Kwon Do (with sine-wave) version, there appears to be a little pause half way through, or the first part of the movement seems to be slow then accelerate during the second half of the movement.  In contrast, Karate and older versions of Tae Kwon Do accelerate from the very beginning of the movement.

I am going to take a guess here and suggest that for those that practice the sine-wave version, that this is seen as a training method rather than a practical way to step.  After all, how often do you need to take a full step like that when sparring/fighting (and if you did, you wouldn’t start slowly).

If I’m wrong, then I’m quite happy to be corrected, it is just a guess!

The older version of Tae Kwon Do which is still very widely practiced does actually look a bit more like Karate than it does Tae Kwon Do with sine-wave (just my opinion).  You can see and example below with former World Patterns Champion, Ray Smeathers.

Another difference between the more modern version of Tae Kwon Do and Karate is that the Tae Kwon Do exponents usually make a “ch” sound as they exhale with each technique.  You will notice that this is missing from the Kanazawa’s kata and Smeather’s pattern.  I have seen/heard this so many times that I know it is intentionally put in, though I don’t really know why.

As exhaling on completion of technique is practiced in Karate, Kung Fu and older versions of Tae Kwon Do, without the “ch” sound, it is clearly not required make exhalation happen.  Again I can only guess, but it seems to be a way to let the instructor know that the student is exhaling at the right places. Maybe it is felt that the “ch” sound makes the exhalation happen more quickly (again a guess . . . . I don’t know).

I would appreciate any Tae Kwon Do exponents who practice with the “ch” sound, to please leave a comment below to let us know the true purpose of it.

Again I emphasise that this posting (as with the last one) is simply to look at the  differences between Karate and Tae Kwon Do so as to help practitioners gain a better understanding and hopefully a better appreciation of the other style.  It is not intended to be a one-up-manship for either style.

It was commented last time that I was “brave” as comparisons between styles often end up as a big slagging match.  I would love for people to comment and fill in any gaps that I’ve let out, but I will delete any derogatory comments about any style or organisation.  Keep it friendly.

What’s The Difference Between Karate & Tae Kwon Do? (Part 1)

Karate and Tae Kwon Do are related styles.  Tae Kwon Do is largely based on Shotokan Karate.  When Karate was first introduced to Japan by Funakoshi, it had very few high kicks.  As high kicks became more prevalent in Karate decades later, some Karateka turned to Tae Kwon Do to perfect these kicks.

So both styles have been influenced each other to some degree, yet they have a very different flavour and (sadly) often a lot of rivalry.  So I thought I would have an unbiased look at what the differences are, and what has influenced them to become so different.

This is not intended to be an attack on either system.  Instead, I hope it will give people of either style a better appreciation of where the other style is coming from.  I have to confess though that whereas I have a in depth knowledge of Karate, I am basing my opinions on Tae Kwon Do on my observations; so I don’t claim that I am necessarily 100% correct.

I also have to point out that as there are many styles of Karate and Tae Kwon Do and that my Karate observations will be mainly from a Shotokan (and the older traditional Karate styles) perspective.  Tae Kwon Do has been through a number of incarnations starting with a form that was quite close to Karate, through to a much more Olympic sport oriented version.   Therefore we have to accept that not all of my observations will apply to every Karate/Tae Kwon Do style.  These observation are intended to be of a general nature.

So having established that, what actually drives the differences?  I would say that the main driving factor is that Karate is primarily focuses on hand techniques with legs as backup, whereas Tae Kwon Do is primarily a kicking style with hands as backup.  This leads to a number of other changes as the styles gear themselves up for their favoured techniques.

The first thing is the stance.  The Karate stance is generally lower.  As Karateka focus on hands, the legs are often more “coiled”, ready to drive the body forward.  The body weight is lower, knees relaxed but more bent and the legs often have a feeling of being “sprung-loaded” ready to drive forward.  This is very sensible for a puncher.

However, if you are primarily a kicker, you may not want your legs “spring loaded”.  Tae Kwon Do fighters often like to kick of the front leg.  To do that, you want your legs to be “looser”, with the stance generally higher and legs straighter.

One of Karate’s most favoured techniques is the reverse punch.  To do this properly you need a full hip rotation.  This in turn means that you feet (when viewed from the front) are about shoulder width apart and the weight distributed fairly evenly between the feet.

If however, your favoured technique is a leading leg kick, you are more likely to fight with your feet in line and most of weight on your back leg, allowing that front leg to come up very easily.

The first time I sparred with my brother in law who is a 2nd Tae Kwon Do, we took up our fighting stances and squared up to each other.  With a bit of a smile on his face he looked at me and said, “big target”.  My first thought was, “is he trying to say I’m fat”?  However, it got me thinking.  He had been taught that standing side on makes you a smaller target.  With respect to Tae Kwon Do people who are taught that, I think that’s a flawed argument for several reason.

  • Many Tae Kwon Do techniques are aimed high at the head and if you train for hitting the head, then the torso is a much bigger target (side on or front on).
  • With circular techniques like roundhouse kick/turning kick, which come in from the side, a side on profile obviously offers the larger target.
  • Many of us (unfortunately) have a side profile as wide as our front profile 🙂

Respectfully I would suggest to Tae Kwon Do fighters that your side on fighting stance has nothing to do with being a smaller target, it is to do with your front leg kicking being much easier.

Punching is also effected.  In Karate, the punch is powered by the hips with the shoulders relaxed and low.  The “spring loaded” legs also drive the hips round very fast.  In Tae Kwon Do, the punch is also primarily powered by the hips.  However, when feet are in line (for front leg kicking), it is not so easy to get the hip round.  Also with the legs almost straight (not spring loaded) the hip rotation is not so easy to drive forward.  Therefore Tae Kwon Do compensates by committing the shoulders slightly more than a Karateka does.  Being a newer art than Karate, Tae Kwon Do has some boxing/kickboxing influences which the older traditional Karate styles do not have.  Boxing/kickboxing also commits the shoulder that little bit more than Karate.

The arms are also held differently in the fighting stance.  Being Karate’s main weapons, a Karateka will tend to be hold the arms more forward (a Karateka will usually expect to engage with his hands/arms first).  The arms provide a defensive barrier keeping the opponent at bay and allowing time for the hands to cover the both the head and body.  The leading hand usually points towards the opponents head, ready to extend the moment the opponent come to close and also guards his own head.  The rear hand is usually about stomach height ready to take a powerful finishing blow and also covers the lower torso.

Tae Kwon Do fighters on the other hand expect to engage with their legs first.  Kicks to their body are often intercepted with their own leg coming up looking for an opening to counter kick.  There hand therefore tend to be kept further back and higher to guard to head (as the legs already guard the body).

So that to my mind is the main differences between Karate & Tae Kwon Do.  Both can kick and punch.  However, Karateka will not kick as efficiently, especially of the front leg as half of their weight is on that leg.

Tae Kwon Do people will not punch as efficiently as their legs are not sprung loaded to drive forward and the feet being in line makes the hip rotation that little bit more restricted.

I hope this will give a better understanding on the differences and with that understanding, hopefully a bit more tolerance.  I hope people will comment and leave their views, just keep it respectful or comments will be deleted.