Interview With Andi Kidd, 4th Dan Karate & Author

Andi Kidd is one of the most practical minded Karateka that I know. He runs the Genjitsu Karate Kai, is an author and runs seminars all over the country. Like many of us in traditional martial arts, he had many doubts about the practicality of what he was being taught, so he sought out teachers to fill the gaps. Andi Kidd is one of the most practical minded Karateka He has trained with some of the top names in the Karate World as well as some of the top experts in reality based martial arts and the psychology of violence outside of Karate. He has re-structured his own training and the syllabus that he teaches, gearing it real life self protection rather than sport or simply to preserve tradition that he did not feel serve any practical purpose (from a self protection point of view).

Iain Abernethy who is world renowned Bunkai expert and author of numerous books and DVD’s, said of Andi: “Andi Kidd is one of the most impressive bunkai teachers I have worked with. His ceaseless exploration of the pragmatic aspects of our tradition have seen him develop a way of approaching kata that is very holistic. Andi is not one to be trapped by dogma, but instead he questions deeply and it is this approach that ensures what he teaches is always focused on the core traditional values of functionality and practicality. It’s not just Andi’s material that sets him apart, it’s also the way in which he delivers that material. Andi is a warm and humorous guy who is able to effectively communicate his thinking. I highly recommend Andi to anyone who wants to practise karate in an logical and open-minded way”.

Andi has recently had his first book published, From Shotokan To The Street. Don’t let the title put you of if you’re not a Shotokan practitioner as it is aimed at helping like minded martial artists of any style who may be interested in making their training more practical.

I asked Andi if he’d do an interview with me and he accepted. The interview, like his book and the rest of his teachings are thought provoking, humorous and honest. So here we go:-

 

CW: Andi, you have over 25 years experience in the martial arts, was Shotokan Karate your first style? Or did you dabble with other styles first (before you saw the light)?

AK: I first started martial arts training with a friend of a friend who did Lau Gar. We trained in my mum and dad’s front room and had to move the furniture for sparring. We did stupid things like hit the focus mitts till our knuckles bled, you know stupid stuff that young people do that makes them think they are training hard! Then at college my friend said we should start a club and we did, he found a local instructor who would come in, I had no idea what the style was or anything, it just happened to be Shotokan. People generally fall into their martial arts style by luck, beginners don’t know enough about the subject to make an informed choice and that is why instructors need to be honest about what they are teaching.

CW: Since you’ve started Shotokan Karate, what other traditional martial arts have you practiced and how have they influenced your approach to training and teaching Karate?

AK: Practiced or dabbled? There is a huge difference. I have had a few lessons or seminars with a whole host of other arts. The only two that I have played with for more than a year, other than karate of course, are judo and kobujutsu. Judo is obvious, it gave me a much better appreciation of throwing and groundwork. The biggest lesson on the floor was to relax, this really helped! Kobujutsu was fun and helped with my hips, which was interesting after so many years of karate.

Everything I have done has aided my appreciation of karate, you see the same things through a different lens and some things that karate-ka feel are advanced are much more basic in other styles. Having seen some other styles punch, they may well feel the same way. Most of all, training in other styles can be fun and training needs to be fun!

Andi Kidd demonstrating Bunkai
Andi Kidd demonstrating bunkai

CW: I agree, I’ve trained a few other styles as well and I always feel that I learn more about my Karate from doing so.
From talking to you and from your book, you obviously had serious doubts about the way mainstream Karate was being taught with regard to real world self protection. However, something made you stick with Karate and not give up or change style as so many others have done in order to find “the truth” elsewhere. So what is it about Shotokan that made you stay and stick with it for all those earlier years despite the lingering doubts?

AK: Good question. The early years I figured I didn’t know enough to make a decision so I plugged away assuming that the secrets would come to me eventually. Plus I knew and knew of a lot of karate people who could fight, so it had to work, right? I am also stubborn. Maybe I should have given up and moved on, but I thought there had to be something in it. When I came close I had my own club and I felt guilty about bailing out on them, so I stuck it out. This went on through a couple of cycles!

CW: Can you tell us more specifically what your doubts were about the mainstream approach? I know you could write a whole book on this subject (and you have), but could you give us a summary?

AK: Firstly was ‘could I fight’? Was my training helping? I assumed it was as I traded blows on a regular basis during kumite. I was further encouraged as one guy in the club would only spar with six people as the others he thought were pointless (he was big and a few belts ahead of me) and I was one of the six, so that bolstered my confidence.
I couldn’t see the links between the three K’s. Kata and Kihon (basics), yes, kihon and kumite even to a degree but kumite and kata, what was that all about. We never did kata stuff in kumite yet everyone said kata was the key to karate. I was confused!

Kumite also didn’t look like a real fight, not at all. So would it work in a real fight? I wasn’t sure.

Also shouldn’t we be trying to avoid fights, didn’t Funakoshi say that? Was there any training for this?

It seemed to be a bit like a jigsaw with half the pieces missing and some others from another picture thrown in for good measure.

I wanted to piece it all together and I wanted it to make sense, so I kept digging.

CW: I know what you mean, I used to have similar questions too. Having sought out the teachers to fill the gaps in your knowledge, you’ve adapted your own training and teaching in ways which overcomes these doubts whilst still sticking to a Shotokan framework and syllabus (unlike many who go off and create their own style)! Who were the main influences leading to these changes and what were the main lessons learnt from each of these people respectively?

AK: Wow, how long have we got?

Firstly some people say that I don’t do Shotokan. In my opinion they are right and wrong. My syllabus differs from the majority of Shotokan practitioners but I use the Shotokan kata and use the principles I learnt from my Shotokan days. So I usually say we are a Shotokan base. Does this mean I do Shotokan? Does it really matter? Funakoshi said he didn’t want the style named after him anyway!

As I said above, you can learn stuff from everyone but a few people who put me on the right road are listed below and I am sure I have missed lots so apologies to anyone who I leave out.

Peter Manning of the TSKA helped me sort my basic Shotokan technique, it was also where I first saw bunkai not being taught as an aside every month or so, you could see he’d actually thought about it. He was also totally open in letting me bring in guest instructors to teach for the association.

Vince Morris was one of those teachers. As we know Vince drastically changed the way he taught karate and what he was doing made a lot of sense. I saw that I didn’t have to be trapped in what I was doing and that kata had a meaning. He really helped kick start the transition.

Andi Kidd, receiving the gentle touch of Iain Abernethy - Bunkai Jutsu
Andi Kidd, receiving the gentle touch of Iain Abernethy

I met Iain Abernethy at Andy Daly’s dojo in Bridgewater and he seemed to have done a great job at working out a plan of how to train bunkai in a logical and progressive manner. I invited him to come and teach at my dojo and he has visited every year since. I went on his instructor’s course and picked his brain, I owe a lot to Iain.

I read Rory Miller’s ‘Meditations on Violence’ not too long after it came out. I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but whoever you were, thank you! As soon as I had finished it I recommended it to my fellow instructors and students. This was a whole new perspective and it made so much sense. I started looking into bringing Rory over to teach when I got an email from someone else looking to do the same thing. Rory has visited every year since. Rory has an amazing ability in explaining real violence and putting your training into context.

CW: Yes, I’ve trained with Peter Manning and Iain Abernethy too and was there the last time you had Rory Miller over. All great instructors.
You relate the oriental concept of Zanshin to what modern reality based martial arts refer to as Soft Skills! For those not familiar with this term, could you elaborate for us please?

AK: Zanshin is awareness, avoidance, de-escalation; it’s everything that is not the actual fight. A lot of time there is talk of zanshin but little explanation of what it is and how to train it. Sparing in a crowded dojo is not zanshin training, there is so much more to it. Estimates vary but the fighting part of self-protection is often quoted at being only five percent of the total. Five percent! If that is the case then surely we should be paying more attention to it. Everything needs to be put into context. Legal and ethical implications, types of violence, the freeze. There is so much to look at apart from just the actual act of violence and I think sometimes karate, or indeed any martial art, people miss that.
CW: You said that some people suggest that what you teach “is no longer real Karate”. I personally would say that your approach to teaching Karate is going back more to the Okinawan way of doing things as it has long been established that the Karate taught to the Japanese by the first Okinawan masters was dumbed down for social and political reasons. However, how would you answer this accusation?

AK: It’s pretty simple really, each to their own. You need to look at karate, or whatever you do, and ask a simple question, why am I doing this? If you are doing it for sport, follow that path, read about it, talk to experts in the field, experiment, play. If you are doing it for fitness or spiritual reasons, read about it, talk to experts in the field, experiment, play. My main focus for my karate is self-protection, so guess what I try to do. Yep, I read about it. I talk to experts in the field. I experiment. I play. When I say experts in the field I don’t just mean karate, I also mean violence.

The problem is that when you start a martial art you may know what you want but in most cases clubs promise everything. Self-defence, fitness, inner peace, trophies and to be honest that would be great, all in one package, you can have it all. So you go to your nearest club, you don’t know enough to be able to judge. Some years later you may, or may not, find that your club is not teaching what you want, then you have a decision, do you stay or do you go?

Of course there are overlaps and quite large ones but the main failing I see is context. Karate works for self-protection, or can work, it just needs the right context and in my opinion that is what a lot of practitioners lack. I know I did.

So being accused of not doing real karate doesn’t bother me, it is my path and for me it is right. I keep learning, researching and if needs be altering what I am doing. It is not the path for others and that is fine, there is room in karate for many approaches.

Andrew Kidd6
Andi’s new book, “From Shotokan To The Street”. A must read for any martial artist serious about self protection.

CW: Moving on to your new book, From Shotokan to the Street, who is your main target audience and does it include non-Shotokan people?

AK: My main target audience is anyone who has been training for some while and wants to look at their karate from a self-protection point of view. I say karate but it could really be any art. I know the title may limit it but it is indeed for anyone who wants to follow that path.

I have feedback from several non-karate-ka who tell me it is applicable for any art. It is not meant to be a ‘how to’ book but one to make sure you are on the path you want to be on!

CW: Now we’re not just talking another Bunkai book are we, with a lot of kata moves and their applications. Nothing wrong with those books, they’re great; but you’re coming at this from a very different angle and I think you’ve created something quite unique. Please tell us what the reader can expect to gain from your book?

AK: Firstly can I say that bunkai is starting to get some backlash from certain quarters at the moment. We have seen it on the letters page and in articles and you know what, some of that criticism is valid. I don’t want to be labelled in a ‘bunkai’ camp. One of my test readers for my book is a good friend and follows a different karate path to me. He said that he thought that bunkai was a distraction from self-protection and I thought about this for a while and you know what, he could be right. It could be as much a distraction as line work, competition work or anything else really. Bunkai is a tool, a means to an end, part of a process. I think karate people should really be careful about labelling themselves; different approaches bring different things to the party. Know what you want, question, analyse and importantly, be prepared to be wrong and then take your new knowledge and move on. Karate guys shouldn’t be fighting with each other, we can disagree but as my friend says ‘truth before tribalism’.

Sorry for the aside, let’s get back to your question. All I have tried to do in this book is give some direction to people who are at the same stage I was maybe 15 years ago. They have done the line work, know some kata and can spar but find something missing. Again we come back to context. The book isn’t a how to, it’s more a look at your training from your own perspective and asking yourself if you are doing the stuff you need to be to make that training effective.

I want this book to save some people time, it took me a long time to bring all this together from varying sources and I don’t think anyone has written it from a karate perspective before. So if you train karate and are interested in self-protection this may help, I hope!

CW: I see. But despite these changes you’ve introduced to your own teaching/training, I think it is fair to say that you still have a love of traditional Shotokan, its basics and kata etc. Can you comment on this?

AK: People see some of the stuff I do and think that it is divorced from basic club training. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Basics are the fundamental building blocks of how you fight, they include the principles of your style and how to use it. All styles, all martial arts have kihon (basics) in one form or another and getting good at them is essential. Although I must stress that kihon is not always line work. It can be hitting pads, performing locks or throws or ground positions. You cannot be good at karate without solid kihon.

To me karate is kata. You can learn to fight without kata, you can be a great competition fighter, you can be a street brawler, all of this can and has been done without kata. If you drop kata from karate then you aren’t doing karate, you are doing a fighting art, but it isn’t karate. Kata defines karate in my opinion. Everything is based on kata and the lessons it contains.

CW: You’ve been quite open that this book has been a few years in the writing and you’ve been pushed a bit by some of your friends to complete it. Why has it taken you so long and who have been the main influences pushing you to complete it?

AK: The simple answer is that I keep learning new stuff. I got to a stage a few years back when I thought it was nearly done and I was quite happy, then I read ‘Meditations on Violence’ by Rory Miller and I realised I didn’t have the context quite right. So I hosted Rory and read his stuff, which led me to other stuff and then integrating it and making sense of it has taken a few years. My fellow instructors at Genjitsu Karate Kai, Steve and James kept hassling me to finish it as did Rory. In fact if you ask James I think you will find he may have had a wager that it would never come out! I already think that there are bits missing and expansions I could make but that will happen forever so at some point you have to stop. So thanks to all the aforementioned, without you I’d be on draft 782!

CW: I do know that you’re one for continual learning and development as I’ve met you a few times now on seminars with Kris Wilder and Rory Miller. Are there any other particular teachers that you are yearning to train with that you haven’t done so yet? And what would you specifically like to learn from them?

AK: That is a tough one. There are a lot of people who are really good and I’d like to train with loads of them. I am much pickier now than I once was for seminars as time is precious. I have trained with a lot of the people who I admired over the years so this list may be missing notable names!

I’d love to train with Kanazawa as he is a living legend but I’d like a small session as being in a group of hundreds staring out isn’t the way I’d want to do it. Dave Hazard would be awesome, I just keep missing his seminars! Patrick McCarthy is another karate pick as he just has so much knowledge.

Outside of karate I’d like to train with Jamie O’Keefe, he offered me some great advice when I was thinking of bouncing and spent ages on the phone with me when he didn’t know me from Adam. I still haven’t trained with Marc MacYoung and I’ve read loads of his books, so that would be fun. I have wanted to train with Nick Hughes since reading his column in FAI many years ago.

So many people with so much to offer, I have so many more, I could go on forever.

CW: I’ve trained with Dave Hazard and Marc MacYoung, so I can tell you, you will enjoy it! I’ve only trained under you at the Bunkai Bash (sadly I could only make the last day). However, your style of teaching is very relaxed and informal with a lot of humour. I haven’t seen you teach at a club level, but do you feel that the formality with which much of Karate is taught is no longer necessary?

AK: The early clubs I trained with were quite strict. In one of them the instructor wouldn’t even talk to you outside of the dojo, not in the changing area, nothing! I believe that there is a place for humour in the dojo, why not, you learn better when you are enjoying yourself. Adults react to this well I find, although some seem to be seeking either a really militaristic style of teaching or some sort of oriental mystical wise man to teach them. Generally they have been watching too many movies! I like the relaxed style, especially for adults, it doesn’t mean that the training is weak which seems to be a common misconception.

With kids, I like to have fun as well but they need more structure. You can still have fun and laugh but sometimes they need reigning in, although I do have some adults like that!

When I visited Japan I only attended one club for karate and that seemed less disciplined than many I have seen in this country but they had some great karate-ka. I think a lot of people want to be more like the Japanese but don’t know how the Japanese act. Are the Japanese right anyway, as far as I am aware they changed the teaching model from the one in Okinawa.

CW: You’ve answered more of less how I thought you would, your approach is quite similar to my own. You now teach at seminars throughout the country and in particular you organise the very successful annual Bunkai Bash. Can you tell the readers how long you’ve been running this event, what your aims were in creating it and how you select your teachers (as they’re not all Karate-ka are they)?

AK: The Bunkai Bash has now run three times and from feedback this was the best one yet! I planned to do a gasshuku some years back with a couple of friends of mine and it got postponed due to mad cow disease! Some years later I was toying with the idea and so decided to combine it with one of Iain Abernethy’s visits and so the Bunkai Bash was born! The only real aim was to bring together like minded people, train and chill together. So far I have been lucky as everyone seems to get it and the atmosphere is really quite special.

As for teachers, there is, of course, me as well as the other Genjitsu instructors. Year one we had Iain and just other random people I know. I try to change the instructors each year and try to have at least one non karate session, so year one we had Matt Sylvester from TKD, year two we had a problem as the Kung Fu guy coming to teach was injured just before hand. This year we had Garry Smith from Ju-Jitsu.

As long as they have some bearing on reality training I am happy to have a go at anything!

15. Although being known for his book, Practical Taekwondo, I believe Matt Sylvester is also a 3rd Dan at Karate. Do you intend to keep this event going indefinitely each year? And if so, how do you plan to improve the Bunkai Bash next year?

As long as it keeps working well then I’ll keep doing it. It is a lot of work but I get lots of great feedback with some people saying that is one of the highlights of their year! How could I stop doing that!

There is a feedback session going on now and I am gathering ideas for next year. One of the problems with organising any outdoor event in this country is the weather. I’ll be writing to potential Instructors soon and possibly a new venue. Watch this space!

Andrew Kidd5CW: I look forward to attending next year. Separate to teaching Karate, you also teach Self Protection both to individuals and groups, as well as running scenario training. Can you tell us about these seminars, how they differ from mainstream traditional martial arts and how mainstream martial artists can benefit from this training?

AK: That is a lot of questions in one go! So self-protection is, as I talked about earlier, more about soft skills than your fighting ability. When I teach we spend more time on awareness, avoidance, de-escalation and strategies to avoid problems. We talk about the nature and causes of violence and where all of this fits into their world. Of course we have some basic physical techniques but the first course is mostly non-physical. If we can only get people who are physically gifted to look after themselves, then we are doing it wrong.

Scenario training is something I have been planning for a long time but we have only recently got off the ground. This is generally for martial artists who want to put their training to the test as close to reality as we can get. This doesn’t mean it always ends up in a fight, a lot of people seem to think that is what scenario training is, but all your skills are tested, including your zanshin, articulation and judgement. We try to tailor it to the student’s needs so that they get the most out of it, it’s a good day and something that practical martial artists should do more of.

CW: I agree totally, having done a few similar courses myself. It really brings martial arts alive. What are your future plans in terms of building your own school, writing more books and teaching seminars nationally and internationally?

AK: My club is relatively small. That is Ok but who wouldn’t want a couple more students? I had plans for my next book but after a chat with Kris Wilder, I am now possibly thinking of doing something else first. I have plans for a couple of DVD’s and other writing.
I’ve done a few seminars and I really enjoy them, you get different people with different perspectives and different questions, I am hoping that I get to do a lot more as they are great fun!

So just need to keep plodding on, writing, working and training, the next year looks as though it is going to be busy!

CW: For anybody who is interested in your book, how can they acquire a copy?

The easiest way is from LULU publishing, just search my name and you will find it. I’d rather that than Amazon as, to be frank, I get more of the money that way, although I have now found out why authors are poor! Personally I like signed books so if someone else likes to do that they can contact me direct and I’ll get one off to them!

CW: Should anybody be interested in having a signed copy of your book or hosting you to teach a seminar, how should they contact you?

AK: They can email me at andi@andikidd.com or contact me through my website www.andikidd.com it would be great to hear from them! We can discuss what they want and come up with something that will fit their needs!

CW: Thank you very much Andi for an interesting and informative interview. I wish you well with your plans and look forward to training with you again sometime.

I would also like to recommend Andi’s book From Shotokan To The Street, to any martial artist who is serious about real world self protection. Sometime soon, I’ll post a review on it.

Striving For Perfection: Combat Effectiveness And Spiritual Development

How often have you heard the phrase “before you can overcome others, you must first overcome yourself”, or “your main opponent is yourself”.  If you’ve never heard these phrases, then take a long look at who’s teaching you!  You should have heard these phrases before as this really is one of the most central core philosophies of doing any traditional martial art.

Whether you are looking for effective self defence, sport or simply aesthetic mastery of the art you practice you must first develop co-ordination, agility, speed, power, poise, balance and grace.  From a combative point of view, the need for speed, power, co-ordination and balance are obvious; but grace?  Do we need to be graceful in a fight?  Many consider the very act of fighting to be very disgraceful.

However, if you execute a technique and for whatever reason the opponent deals with it and counters, you have to react exceedingly fast to defend against his counter.  This kind of speed requires an instinctive reaction rather than a thought or reasoned one.  If we are focusing on strength, we become rigid (the more you tense a muscle the less it can move).  If we are rigid, then we cannot react very fast to an abrupt reversal in the fight and we have to hope we can absorb the punishment long enough for us to recover the initiative.

Whilst we would all no doubt agree that the ability to absorb punishment is useful, I’m sure that we would also all agree that it is not something that we should rely on as a fighting strategy.  If we can move out of the way with ease and fluidity, we don’t have to absorb so much punishment and can regain the initiative much more quickly by simply not being where our opponent expects us to be.  To move very quickly like this requires a high level of fluidity, and fluidity requires graceful movement!  Don’t be fooled into thinking that grace lacks power, as it is quite the opposite.  Grace comes from perfection of technique and perfection of technique comes from mastering the self.  This brings us back to our opening paragraph about overcoming yourself before you can overcome anybody else.

This is why so many traditional martial arts place so much emphasis on drilling basics and kata, and why these are very often done before any partner activity.  In the modern world where there is an upsurge in what has become known as “reality based martial arts” and the pressure testing of mixed martial arts cage fighting; traditional martial arts have become seen by many as obsolete, too stylised and more for sport or self development than for real world self protection.

Note:  Reality based martial arts are often scenario based.  It may include shouting, swearing, abuse and verbal threats to psychologically prepare the defender as this is obviously more real to a street confrontation.  Sometimes even high grade martial artists do not know how to deal with this raw aggression and psychological pressure.

It is often pointed out that many traditional martial arts applications only work when the attacker is co-operative and conveniently attacks with a single straight punch (or kick) then freezes whilst the defender practices his counter.

These charges do hold a lot of merit.  However, reality based martial arts can easily be included into traditional martial arts (and in my view, should be) and there are many people researching practical applications to replace the pre-arranged stylised attacks and counters that are still very widely taught.

Traditional martial arts however, are more technique based than scenario based and goes deeply into perfection of movement.  Is this waste of time compared with learning the psychological aspects of scenario based training?

To draw an analogy, many professional dancers in the big shows, backing the world’s most famous pop stars have a foundation in ballet.  Ballet is such a precise and co-ordinated art form that once the dancer is adept in it, he/she can apply that high level of control and co-ordination to almost any other form of dance.

Some of the most charismatic actors have a background in Shakespeare.  Look at the authority and commanding screen presence of actors like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.  The classical background in most cases (dancing, acting, martial arts and others) gives the practitioner a deep foundation on which almost anything can be built.

Kevin O’Hagan, internationally renowned teacher of reality based martial arts and author of many books has said that traditional martial artists always pick up the reality based teachings more quickly than those who have not.

Seeking perfection of technique is not only developing us physically and mentally, but is actually very practical in the long term for building a foundation for self defence skills.  Over the years I have visited many martial arts clubs.  In one particular Kung Fu club, the instructor was proud to tell me that he made all his classes different every time.  He did not bore his students with endless repetition.  One of students agreed enthusiastically, telling me how he used to do Shotokan Karate and got bored drilling the same old basics every single class.  However, this student who had done the Shotokan drilling stuck out amongst the rest and was clearly better than the other students.  The repeated drilling had given him a foundation and an advantage that he had not appreciated.

I want to make clear that this is not a criticism of Kung Fu, only the way that this particular instructor taught it.

Striving for perfection, even though we know that we’ll never actually reach it, does in itself also develop a certain mindset.  A mindset of wanting to make something the best it possibly can be.  This has many connotations for other areas of our lives, be it school, work, relationships, driving, other hobbies, whatever!

The Japanese have the concept of delayed gratification.  This is also known in the West, but is not emphasised as much.  The idea is that we work at something over a period of time and delay our feeling of gratification until we have achieved it.  Like a grading for example.  Even going through the Kyu gradings (coloured belts) we have to wait 3 months in between each one.  But when we do pass it, we have a feeling of gratification which lasts.  When we get our 1st Dan the feeling of gratification is much stronger and lasts much longer.  We still have a feeling of pride years afterwards as we know that we have achieved a benchmark in our training.  For many of us, it even becomes part of how we identify ourselves, which along as it is not accompanied by arrogance is a good thing.

Too many people, especially in the West are very much into instant gratification, be it drink, drugs, sex, smoking, or just watching a good movie.  I’m not saying that these things are necessarily bad (being a normal healthy guy myself who . . . . err . . . . likes a good movie); but if they are our only sources of gratification in life, then they will be short lived as there is not much to sustain us and maintain a feeling of fulfilment from one source/event of gratification to the next.   We are therefore not really at peace with ourselves.

Having a long term goal, a long term project or training regime does give us that something to sustain us and help us maintain a feeling of fulfilment in between the other more instant sources of gratification.

There are countless things that people can work on, train for, set goals about; but few can inspire for a lifetime like martial arts.  In most sports or physical pursuits people reach a peak then tend to move on as they age.  Martial arts (when taught properly) can be adapted as we age and we can work on other aspects.  In our youth it is good to make the most of our raw athleticism of, but as we get older we may focus on for example our timing and deception.  No matter how much we know, how much we’ve trained, how much we’ve taught; there is still something else we can work on and improve however old we get.

The fact that we will never reach perfection means that we can spend our whole lifetime looking for it and rather than feeling bored we feel fulfilled the closer we get to it.  This is part of where spiritual development comes into martial arts, something often referred to but seldom explained.

Review Of Kevin O’Hagan’s Anatomy Of A Street Assault Seminar

Kevin O’Hagan, 7th Dan Combat Ju Jutsu and author of numerous books is undoubtedly one of the very best Reality Based Martial Arts instructors in the UK.  On Sunday 2nd Sept, I attended one of his seminars on the Anatomy Of A Street Assault.  As per usual, Kevin’s seminar was very informative, practical and thought provoking!

Kevin O’Hagan demonstrating with son Jake

The first section looked into the different types of assault, perpetrators motivation behind each type of assault, how to identify them and how to avoid being selected or how to defuse a situation once you have been selected.  This is the part that this review will cover.  There was a very pragmatic physical side to the seminar as well, but that is not covered here.

Firstly, it was made clear that we were not talking about fighting.  Kevin defined fighting as either combat sport, or when 2 people decide to step outside and “sort it out”.  A fight is basically where 2 people, for whatever reason, both consent to having a fight.  A street assault (subject of seminar) is where one person initiates violence and the other is unwillingly drawn into it.

There are only 2 real types of street assault, which are:-
*      Confrontational
*      Ambush

Confrontational

Otherwise known as “social” violence, where the perpetrator is generally showing of to an audience; trying to intimidate the victim and make himself look tough.  It is easy for the victim to be drawn into this if not careful and then it could degenerate into a fight (where the victim is provoked to the point of consenting to fight).

Generally this consists of staring and excessive eye contact.  When the eye contact is met and matched (which the perpetrator is looking for), then threats are made (usually accompanied by a lot of profanities).  This can escalate into pushing and shoving, more profanities and louder shouting, then eventually (if one of them does not back down) a big hay-maker is usually thrown, followed by a full on fight.

Going back to the first stage (staring), Kevin explained that the you simply do not meet the stare.  You glance around at the perpetrator, you can even nod at him in acknowledgement, but you do not hold and return his stare.  But you don’t turn your back on him either.  This way you let him know that you aware of him (he can’t launch a surprise attack), but you are not returning the unspoken (at this stage) challenge.  This may be enough to avoid escalation by not giving the perpetrator an excuse to escalate.  However, if he does escalate and aggressively ask who you are looking at, you simply apologise and say that you were looking at somebody near or behind him who you thought you recognised.  Either way, it is better to simply apologise than to end up in a pointless fight.

Perpetrators tend to de-humanise their victims, so try to make yourself very human to him.  You could say something like “sorry mate, I’ve just lost my job and wife’s left me and I’m having a really hard time right now, I really don’t want any more trouble”.  It might be enough!

Each situation will be different, so you have to make your decision at the time.  Another possibility is to try to put doubt into the perpetrators mind that he might be picking on the wrong guy by saying something like, “sorry mate I really don’t want any trouble.  I’m still on probation from the last fight I had and I really don’t want to go back to jail”!

If this still does not work then it could progress to the pushing and shoving stage.  At this point, if you don’t think you can talk him out of it then you have 2 main options; pre-emptive strike, or face him down with your own show of highly aggressive behaviour.

Whichever strategy you choose, you should already be in The Fence position.  You may say something like “is there nothing that I can do to persuade you not to fight me”?  Possibly you might get a positive answer that there is something you can do to avoid further conflict.  If you get a negative answer, then you will hopefully have witnesses to testify (if required) that you tried everything to talk him out of it.  At this point as you ask the question, you should be lining him up for a pre-emptive strike to a vital spot which will hopefully finish it all then and there.

Alternatively you may decide to push him away really hard and step back slightly as you do so.  The step back gives the impression that he has been pushed further back then he actually has been and giving an exaggerated impression of how strong you are.  At this point you launch your own tirade of threats, abuse and profanities to try to intimidate him into thinking that he has picked an even bigger nutter then himself.

Other factors to consider include that male victims will often not want to back down if they with their girlfriend/wife and the perpetrator will use this to provoke further.  This can include directly insulting the lady.  But Kevin pointed that most ladies would much rather walk away then have their guy involved in a fight, so a guy is just making a bad situation for his lady even worse if falls for the bait.  If however you have a lady who would want you to get into a fight, then Kevin’s advise was “get rid of her, she’s trouble”.

But each situation will be different so a judgement call will have to be made at the time.  Kevin also emphasised that as well as practicing the physical techniques, you should practice the verbal lines above in role play with a training partner, or you will forget them under pressure.

Ambush

Ambushes are asocial and the perpetrator does not want an audience.  These people are more “professional” then those who seek confrontation and they give no warning or build up.  It just happens and you have very little time to react or prepare in any way.

Kevin explained that the best way to avoid this type of assault is through awareness.  The ambusher is looking for an easy victim who they can assault (mug, rape) quickly and efficiently without any witnesses.  An analogy was drawn with lions hunting.  Lions always try to single out the young, old, frail or injured; who has strayed from the main herd.  In the same way, the human predator looks for somebody on their own and somebody who is not really aware of their surroundings.  This could be somebody who is engrossed in texting on their mobile phone, lost in their IPod, or simply putting groceries into the back of their car and not looking around.

Simply looking around so that the street predators know that you are aware of their presence (so they won’t be able to take you by surprise) can often be enough to deter them and have them look for somebody else.

It was also emphasised that if anybody tries to force you into a car or to go to a secondary location, do not co-operate in any circumstances.  At the secondary location the perpetrator can do whatever they like without fear of being caught.  Although at the original location they may be threatening to kill or maim you, THEY are still afraid themselves of being caught.  You are better off facing injury at the original site, then possible death at a secondary site.

General

This review only covers part of the seminar and there was much more to it that what is covered here.  Most martial art courses deal only with the physical skills of fighting.  Very few deal with avoiding or de-escalating a situation so that you don’t have to fight in the first place.  Kevin O’Hagan’s courses are applicable to people of any style and I would highly recommend them to any and all martial artists.

To contact Kevin  or to keep an eye open for future courses, go to his website, at www.KevinOHagan.com or befriend him on Facebook.

Target Hardening Against A Street Predator

If you have experience of Reality Based Martial Arts, you will already have come across the idea of target hardening.  However, it is not always included in traditional martial arts, so although this is not a new concept, I include it here for traditionalists who may not have heard of it before.

If you look at the way that animals hunt in the wild, they nearly all follow a similar pattern; whether it is lions stalking buffalo or wolves hunting moose.  They don’t go for the big, fit, powerful young bull with the huge big horns, they go the old, the sick or the young calves who can’t keep up with the herd.

Why?

Because it is an easy kill and they can get fed without too much risk of injury to themselves.  A hunter who gets injured can’t hunt effectively and starves, so they are not interested in a fair fight with the alpha male of the herd.  One on one, a lion is no match for a fit young buffalo.  One on one, a wolf is no match for a fit young moose.  So they look for the vulnerable members of the herd.  If they can hunt in packs to bring down prey larger then themselves, then all the better.

Our caveman ancestors were no different.  One on one they were no match for a mammoth, but working together as a tribe they could bring one down.  And I’m pretty sure that they did not target the biggest bull mammoth in the herd.  So it should be no surprise that this basic primal instinct has been passed down to our modern day street predators (bullies, muggers, rapists, etc).

Our social conditioning and modern environment adds a number of different factors into the equation.  The human street predator doesn’t only have to consider whether he (they) can get overpower their victim, they have to consider things like, will they be caught by the police.  But the same underlying psychology of the predator is still there.

Street predators will usually look for an easy target where they feel success is assured without much injury or consequences for themselves.  Of course, if they are high on drugs or drunk then all bets are off anyway as all ability to reason is out of the window.  When drunk or high they are more likely to act in a completely random manor rather than a premeditated manor of a mugger or rapist.

So how you can you deter a street predator(s) by looking like a big young bull with bloody big horns (metaphorically speaking)?

The first thing to realise is that you don’t necessarily have to be big, powerful and strong (though it does of course help if you are).  What you really need to do is to exude an air of confidence and awareness.

Lets say for example that a potential rapist is looking for a victim.  One women go walks by who is looking around (aware of her surroundings) and confidently looks like she wouldn’t take any nonsense from anybody.  Another women of similar age, looks and build walks past; but this one is looking at the ground, afraid to make eye contact and with a very timid demeanour about her.  Which one do you think the rapist will go for?

Obviously he is more likely to pick the second one.  First of all, he is not likely to get too close to the first lady before she’ll spot him, so not so much chance of getting close and taking her by surprise.

Secondly, even if he has a knife (or any other weapon) and threatens his victim; the first lady is more likely to fight and shout for help.  Yes, he can still cut her and run off, but if she screams or shouts (if only once), then the chances of people coming to her assistance and his chances of being caught have been greatly increased.  Even if he kills her, he is still more likely to be caught and like the jungle predator who can’t hunt when injured, this can often be enough to deter him (them).

Some rapists intend at the outset to kill their victim when they’ve finished, but they want to do it where they have full control of the situation and they won’t be caught (often by taking her somewhere else).  They don’t want to do it where there is a risk that their victim can attract help.

So it is the second lady who is looks timid and looks like she has no fight in her who is more likely to be selected.  The irony is that women who have been attacked or abused before will often stop taking care of themselves and dress down in order to make themselves less attractive to a would-be attacker/abuser.  But as in the case above, they actually give out more “victim signals” by doing so.  Abusers and rapists can often read those signals and know intuitively that they have an easy target.

Michelle Yeoh: Confidence, Strength, Beauty & Grace

Men often find strong, confident looking women more attractive; but as discussed above, ironically these women are less likely to be attacked (even though they are perceived as more attractive) because they are more likely to put up a fight.

Although I use the example of a rapist selecting a woman victim, this can be read across to any street predator selecting a target, be it a mugger or just a bully.

Animals in the wild are seldom interested in taking on a target where they may get injured as it will limit they ability to continue hunting  and they risk starvation.  The human predator has more social conditions to contend with, but the mindset is basically the same.

I want to emphasis that I am NOT suggesting that all you have to do is look confident and you’ll never be attacked again.  But it will reduce the odds in your favour.  The best self defence of all, is not be attacked in the first place.

Martial arts training with help to give you an air of confidence which will help you.  Most traditional martial arts teach good body structure as part of their basic techniques, which also tend to teach the student a more upright and confident looking posture.  These things are not enough on there own to assure complete safety, but they do make a definite contribution and should not be overlooked.

Diaphragmatic Breathing In Martial Arts

Diaphragmatic breathing is used in many traditional martial arts, but I don’t think that all martial artists completely realise the full extent of how important this really is.  It actually helps us on a number of different levels.

But first though for anybody new to martial arts (or this concept) lets have a look at what diaphragmatic breathing actually is.  Most adults breathe into the top of their lungs and as they do so their shoulders and collar bones rise slightly.  But with diaphragmatic breathing, the diaphragm (which is a large internal muscle at the base of the lungs) is used.  This pulls down on the lower part of the lungs, opening up the whole of the lungs and thus pulling in more air (hence more Oxygen).  When breath is pulled in this way, the shoulders and collar bones do not rise.  However, as the diaphragm pulls down it displaces the lower torso organs and the stomach area in particular is pushed outwards.

Young children and animals naturally breathe this way.

Many people say that you “breathe into your stomach”.  This is of course not physically possible, but that is how it feels.  And sometimes looking for a feeling will help you to get the correct technique, even if it is not actually possible.

So lets look at some of the many ways in which diaphragmatic breathing helps us:

Technique

As above, when you pull the breath in with your diaphragm and it feels as if it is going down to your stomach (otherwise known as hara or dan tien).  This is where your centre of gravity is, so by having your focus on that part of your body, you can start to move more fluidly.  When you movement is generated by your centre of gravity the rest of your body follows naturally, whereas if you lead with shoulders or upper torso (which is common with beginners), you drag your centre of gravity which will slow you down and compromise fluidity.

When you inhale with your diaphragm it has a relaxing effect on the rest of the body.  Again this helps with the fluidity of movement as it helps to remove tensions from the rest of the body.

When you exhale rapidly from the  diaphragm, it allows you to generate rapid muscular movement to drive your strike/punch/kick into your opponent.  As the diaphragm is connected to the core muscles, it also assists with the over stability of your body and your ability to absorb any reaction force to the impact of your blow.

Masking Intent

In a conflict situation the last thing you want is for your opponent to know what you are planning to do and when you plan to move.  It is instinctive to inhale before launching an attack.  As mentioned above, most untrained people breath into the top of their lungs and their shoulders and collar bones rise up.  When you see this, you get a warning that you are about to be attacked.

Even if you did not know this fact and your conscious mind does not notice, your unconscious mind will notice and give you that intuitive feeling that something is coming, giving you that tiny fractional bit more time to prepare or react.

When you inhale with your diaphragm your shoulders and collar bones do not rise so you don’t give away this little warning signal, so your opponent has less chance to react or prepare for it.

Calming the mind

Much is written these days about the effects of adrenaline, especially by those who are into reality based martial arts, and that is a good thing.  One of the effects of adrenalin is that breathing becomes short and shallow.  Oxygen tends to be pumped into the limbs ready for fight or flight, but the brain receives less oxygen which blunts the ability to think a way out of the situation.  This can even lead to panic or freezing up.

Diaphragmatic breathing should be practiced during pressure training.  That way when you are in a real street conflict situation you are more likely to be able to maintain diaphragmatic breathing rather than resorting to the short shallow breathing.  This in turn allows you to draw in more oxygen which will allow you to function better both physically and mentally.  It will keep you calmer.

If can use this to keep your calm when you are facing a violent assault, you can also use it in other areas of your life (problems at work, exam nerves, relationship tensions, even just stressed when stuck in traffic).

intuition

This is tied in with the section on calmness above.  As mentioned earlier, the unconscious mind can pick up a lot of signals that the conscious mind misses.  This is when we have a feeling of intuition, when we just sense or feel something but don’t really know how or where this knowing comes from.

However, a mind that is in a state of panic will not access this intuition as well as a calm mind.  This is why you can sometimes fight/spar with a very experienced person and they just seem to read you like a book and know what your moves are almost before you do.  They respond with what seems almost supernatural reactions.  But what you notice from anybody with this ability is that they stay completely calm throughout, allowing themselves to access this intuition.

Health

Firstly, we need oxygen to live.  Oxygen has great healing properties and can even kill cancer cells.  Diaphragmatic breathing pulls more oxygen into the body then just breathing into the top of the lungs.

Also, toxins always gather in the body, including in the lungs.  Those who only breathe into the top of their lungs do not clear the toxins from the bottom of the lungs.  People who are used to diaphragmatic breathing will pull the breath right down to bottom of the lungs and clear these deep rooted toxins.

Engage Your Opponents Brain To Increase Their Vulnerability

Since the last of the Neanderthals died out about 20,000 years ago the human brain has continued to evolve from what was primarily an animal brain governed by instinct, to a much larger and more complicated brain capable of logical thought.  A very large part of our brain today deals with communication, reason, social behaviour/interaction and a whole lot of other things that other animals are not capable of.  The ideas of guilt and remorse, right and wrong, good and evil, are all absent in the animal kingdom.

However, we still have the primitive parts of our brain which controls many of our more basic instincts, including amongst other things: violence.

When we find ourselves in a confrontational situation, decades of social conditioning and logic will often restrain us.  Even most thugs will stop at beating somebody up rather than actually killing them, whereas most animals would not really give killing a second thought.  In a confrontational situation adrenalin is released into the body and extra blood goes into the limbs to prepare for the fight or flight.  A side effect of this is that blood is drained from the brain, so the higher functions of logic, social conditioning and reasoning become much less efficient.  However, the more primitive part of the brain (sometimes called “the reptilian brain”) still functions normally and this is the part that deals with violence.

This is the same for both the aggressor and the victim.  Although not everybody fully understands this process, it is used intuitively to gain advantage.  A bully may shout, swear and threaten to intimidate his/her target; but as they do so they psyche themself up by adrenalising themselves.  This reduces their own higher brain functions and taking themselves to their own lower “reptilian” brain.  By doing this they can to a certain extent anesthetize themselves to their own barbaric behaviour which their higher brain functions might question and reject.  It makes sense then to shut down those higher brain function which might restrict and limit their plan to harm somebody.  It’s a bit like a warrior giving out a battle cry before the battle begins, it serves the same purpose.

Of course there are some exceptions to this.  Sociopaths believe that the rules do not apply themselves, so violence comes easy to them without having to psyche themselves up.  Most “professional” street predators (rapists, muggers, etc) are sociopaths.  But I would guess (and it is a guess) that most average street thugs do have some small level of conscience which they prefer to silence, so that they do not have to face it.

So how can you use this knowledge to your advantage when confronted with a thug who is psyching themself up?

Well the first thing to do is to try to get them back to their higher brain functions if you can, where they are less likely to attack.  You can do this by asking questions that make them think.  In FAST (Fear Adrenalin Stress Training) Defence, they recommend asking in an assertive manner “what do you want”?

But it could really be anything.  You could say something completely random like “isn’t it a shame about the polar bears at the North Pole”?  The normal response will be something like, “What the f***”?  Either way, it gets them thinking and going back to the higher brain function and away from the reptilian brain.  At best this may be enough to avert an imminent attack.  Hopefully it will make them pause as their higher brain functions (including conscience, reasoning, social conditioning, etc) kick back in, even if only for a moment.  This momentary hesitation should be enough time for a trained martial artist to successfully launch a pre-emptive strike and hopefully finish the situation then and there (before they realise and start psyching themself back up again).

I’m not saying that this will work every time against every aggressor, but it could give you an edge when you need it most.  This type of tactic is often practiced in reality based martial art training, but is usually absent where people don’t not look beyond the boundaries of their own traditional martial art.

 

Interview With International Instructor, John Johnston, 6th Dan Shotokan Karate

The people that Sensei Johnston has trained with reads like a who’s who on the early Shotokan Karate scene in the UK.  He has also trained at many seminars with other leading martial artists outside of the Shotokan world.  This is all backed up by years of experience at the sharp end doing door work at the toughest nightclubs in Coventry, as well doing personal protection for some high profile businessmen and celebrities.  Unfortunately, John can’t really talk about  his personal protection work for reasons of confidentiality.

Many people these days talk about “reality based martial arts”, but John was poineer these methods long before it entered in the mainstream of martial arts.  In fact Geoff Thompson, who’s name is synonymous with reality based martial arts received his early training and many of his early ideas from John.  In Geoff’s own words:

“John was and still remains probably the greatest influence to my development in martial arts, taking me through all those vital fundamental lessons, offering me (free) private lessons when he saw my potential; he even brought my suit and belt for me when I didn’t have enough money. He is a great influence and great friend and a powerful presence in British martial arts. Without John I would not in any way be doing what I am doing today and I am very grateful to him for that, and I highly recommend him and his instruction to anyone looking to fast track their martial arts”.

John is a humble man and not a one to push himself forward.  As such he is not as well known in the wider martial arts world as he deserves to be.  I have been very lucky and honoured to have secured this interview with him.  Later this month, I will be having a private lesson with him, which I shall report back on later.

In the meantime, here’s that interview.

 

CW:      Please tell us about your early training in martial arts and who your main teachers and influences were when you started?

JJ:      My first teacher was Richard Jackson. I started training with him shortly after his return from Japan. Having trained out there and taken his 2nd Dan. The reason I started with him was after having looked at some other Karate styles and Kung Fu, the immediate impact of the Shotokan style and his method of teaching. Seeing that made me realise that it was exactly what I was looking for. By the time I got to around 4th Kyu (2nd purple belt) Kawazoe Sensei had arrived in Britain and started to spend allot of time with myself and other colleagues from the Coventry Dojo. Someone else that also had a profound influence on my Karate was Neil Thomas from Wolverhampton, whom we had regular mixed sessions with. We were also very lucky and privileged that the Coventry Long Ford Dojo was used for the National and International squad sessions, which were taken by Enoeda Sensei and Andy Sherry. We were allowed to train alongside such names as: Steve Cattle, Billy Higgins, Bob Rhodes, Bob Poynton, Terry O’Neil, Mick Dewey, Dave Hazard, Mick Ragg and countless others from that era. I say we were allowed to train alongside them it felt more like we were being used for cannon fodder. I could tell you countless stories about those times, suffice to say  training was very hard on many levels, retaining students for financial purposes was not a criteria, you could either put up with the harshness or pack up.

John was renowned for his fantastic leg sweeps

CW:      You competed quite a bit in your younger days.  Competitions and training could be much tougher and harsher back then, can you tell us about some of your experiences from those days?

JJ:      My first experience of competition free style came when I used to visit one of the local Wado Ryu clubs at 8th Kyu stage.  I remember my basics although stronger seemed slow and ponderous in comparison and finding it strange when Randori was called, watching everybody pad up and starting to dance about. On reflection I look back at those times and think about my frustration at not being able to score points the way they were initially. Visiting the Wado Ryu club periodically over an 18 month period I started to find it very easy to overwhelm and score points on people of a higher grade than myself. In the first competition that Coventry Shotokan Karate club attained, we were nearly all disqualified in the team event and the individuals because of our strong technique, lack of experience and understanding. Although other styles were allowed to use protective equipment, it was frowned upon for us to use, we neither wanted to or were allowed any type of protection for many years. Only after at least 10 years of training was it that groin protection and gum shield became mandatory. Any other form of protection required a doctor’s consent and would meet with disapproval from your team mates. I think because of this we all myself included gained far more control, precision and was better able to apply our techniques. Initially myself and likeminded colleagues would enter the open competitions with which we had some minor success and also gained allot of experience. Later I became a member of the KUGB Central Region Squad which was coached by Frank Brennan. I was with the squad for many years as its Captain and as a full competing member. The experience gained from being on the squad was phenomenal. We had many senior and junior champions on the squad of international and national level, people like: Ronnie Christopher, Dean Hodgekiss, Ronnie Cannings, Donald Campbell, Glen Davidson and Bruce Thomas, these all won either national, European and world championships. Along with the fact that whilst being coached by Frank Brennan who that over this period of time was at the top of his game. I was very lucky and privileged to have been a major part of the squad for 12 years or more. Any new members that were selected to the squad would quite often be initiated with a line up. I can’t describe how devastating that could be on a young lad who’d never encountered such action before.

John fighting Shotokan legend Frank Brennan . . . and taking him down

CW:      How do you feel that Shotokan Karate has developed and how have training methods changed from those early days to what it is today?

JJ:      I see many changes in Shotokan over a long period of time. Quite a lot of it I feel is detrimental to the ethos, attributes and benefits of Shotokan. It has been diluted and lessened either because of financial considerations, fear of prosecution on health and safety grounds and or lack of understanding and knowledge of instructors that were badly taught themselves and do not have enough courage to step outside their small comfort zone and seek further knowledge and experience in a larger arena. They inherited inadequate and poor technique from their instructors and seem blind to the fact that they are passing on their bad technique to their students. I could write pages and pages on this topic but it needs to be said that it’s not all gloom and doom, there are allot of really good instructors on many levels, club, seminar and courses who are doing great work. I think that Kata especially has developed and improved from my early days. This has happened on both the competition and Dojo level. This seems to be a greater understanding of biomechanics, breathing and psychological focus combined with greater athleticism, speed, analysis and understanding of movement. It is a pity that this only happens in the more progressive Dojo’s. I know that in my case when I gave greater focus to my Kata training over long periods of time I became so much more successful with my Kumite. I think that there is quite allot of instructors who’ll teach only certain aspects of Karate which they may favour themselves. I feel that we should be teaching what the students need rather than what they want or we as instructors favour.

CW:      As you progressed and became more knowledgeable, did anybody else especially influence your martial arts development, and have you tried other styles of martial art?

JJ:      As I have explained in previous questions I have had many influences and I have experienced one or two other styles of martial art but I only train for Shotokan and in Shotokan. I have enjoyed some experiences of dabbling in Judo, I taught Karate at Neil Adam’s (who was the Judo World Gold Medalist and Olympic Silver Medalist) Dojo in Coventry for 11 years and for the fitness aspect I did boxing training for a two year period. Occasionally I get the opportunity to train outside Shotokan with various people i.e.: Steve Morris, Master A, Dev Barrett, Ian Abernathy. These have been within the last two years, previous to that there have been countless others in different styles of Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo, Aikido and Jujitsu. Although having enjoyed these as one off sessions it is Shotokan which I find suits me physically and psychologically.

CW:      You spent a lot time working on the doors in Coventry, which was noted for being a tough city at the time.  Can you tell us about some of your experiences and what effect these experiences had on your approach to your Karate?

JJ:      First I started working part time as a doorman alongside some ex boxers and local hard men. Later working full time until there was a major incident at which point the police came back with the condition that to keep the licence for the club which was one of the largest in Britain, the club could no longer employ anybody with a criminal record. I would say that this was a precursor that helped to establish today’s criteria for door staff. It also helped to elevate me to head doorman. As you can imagine there were numerous incidents every night, unlike Geoff Thompson I never kept a diary otherwise I would have written a book long before now. I would say working on the doors gave me allot of experience in understanding the psychology of confrontation and was a good testing ground for various Karate techniques and it taught me that your basic technique needed to be adapted and refined depending on your intent. Not only physical adaptation but mental adaptation is required to be effective as a doorman.  Charlie I would love to tell you about numerous colourful incidents but 1) I cannot just pick one out and 2) I would have to kill you so as not to incriminate myself.

CW:      Karate these days has become very diverse with some people adapting or adding in things to make their teaching more realistic.  However, do you feel that despite individual initiatives, most mainstream Karate is still lacking elements of realism which would make a difference in a real life confrontation?

JJ:      The simple answer to this question is yes. The majority of my senior students have never had a serious or violent confrontation in their adult life and I think the same applies to the majority of society.  Karate can be used for self defence/ protection and I believe that to teach this should come from experience and requires a certain mind set for it to be of benefit to a student. Most Karate is done or practiced for recreation, some for self development and improvement and some to fulfil a spiritual need.

CW:      You have taught for many years that traditional Karate (as passed to us by the Japanese) needs to be modified to make it work in real live confrontation.  Can you explain what you mean by this and what elements need modifying?

JJ:      I would say as a way of explanation that training needs to be done in a very robust fashion with correct intention from all participants and with an intensive competitive mindset. That is to say that you could have really good Karate technique but when put under pressure or in a stressful situation you lose the ability to apply it. Conditioning mentally and physically needs to be part of a comprehensive training regime for you to be effective with Karate in a real life confrontation.

CW:      Does this only apply to Shotokan, or do you feel that it applies to most traditional Oriental  martial arts?

JJ:      I would say yes in the greater majority

CW:      You call your teaching method, “Adaptive Karate”.  Can you please tell us exactly what that means and how it relates to making Karate more effective in real confrontations?

JJ:      I don’t call my teaching method Adaptive Karate. The majority of my teaching is in Shotokan Karate. However, I do Adaptive Karate courses and seminars in which I try to teach people how to apply techniques. I take people through drills to increase their skill level and give them a greater understanding of disruption, destabilization and distraction against an opponent and how to use the body as a unit.

CW:      With other instructors making a name for themselves with practical applied bunkai, do you feel that your approach is different to the way most other instructors apply Karate for self defence?

JJ:      Yes.  I will take moves from Kata and make them as straight forward and effective as possible. I do not believe that we have to call this Bunkai and directly relate it to a given Kata. I do not wish to go on a crusade or preach to other people about what they believe to be their version of correct Bunkai. However honesty has to play a major part in what you say and do in reference to your Karate. If you have not robustly pressure tested your technique as it applies to Bunkai. In reality, it is only your theory. If you can prove that the techniques that you are teaching are realistic and valid then your Bunkai will stand up to scrutiny, in other words if it don’t work then don’t teach it.

CW:      On your Adaptive Karate website, it says that “Traditional Shotokan Karate has an underlying spiritual essence that builds character and inner strength which empowers the mind and so empowers the body”.  How important is spiritual and character development to you?

JJ:      My personal development is of paramount importance to myself and to be able to give my students the advice, information, instruction and tools so that they can develop into considerate, humble, courteous, respectful, strong minded and determined members of society.

CW:      As somebody who puts a lot of emphasis on real world no nonsense self defence, do you see spiritual development and realistic self defence as being intrinsically linked, or are they separate elements where the student can focus on one more than the other?

JJ:      The answer to that question I would say is down to the individual; on a personal level for me they are linked but other people will have different perspectives and priorities at various times throughout their lives. Their needs and ambitions will fluctuate, vary and change depending on what their immediate influence in life is. That makes it a very difficult question to give any sort of definitive answer to.

CW:      Modern trends in martial arts tend to go either towards sport (primarily MMA) or “reality based”; both of which tend to move away from the emphasis that traditional Oriental arts placed on etiquette and pure form (such as kata).  What do you feel traditional Oriental martial arts have to offer in the modern world which can’t be found in the more modern approaches?

JJ:      I feel that in today’s fast moving and instant gratification society, that something such as Traditional Shotokan Karate taught correctly and progressively with the correct emphasis on courtesy, humility, self discipline and respect; has an enormous amount to offer to both children and adults. The benefits to children are obvious, but to adults there is the added bonus of a certain amount of spiritual fulfilment which can fill the void if you have no religious commitment or as an add on if you do have a religious conviction. It is so much more than a young person’s sport. It is a lifetime endeavour and commitment if you so want it to be.

CW:      You have at least 2 testimonials on your website which mention that you have given free lessons to students who had financial difficulties at the time (including the now famous Geoff Thompson) and that you even went so far as to buy them their Karate uniforms and other training equipment.  In a world where many people are just looking to make money, that was very generous.  Do you have any criteria for the people you help like this?

JJ:      The criteria which I have is that people are honest, and want to train and advance in their Karate. I don’t want to open the floodgates but I feel  and have always said that if somebody can’t afford to train, I would rather they came training for free up until such time as their circumstances change.

CW:      I understand that your wife, Elaine, does talks at local schools about peer pressure and bullying.  Do you help her with this and how important do you think this work is?

JJ:      Yes, everything that we do is some form of collaboration and we do almost everything together, and yes this type of work is important because not only as a Karate Instructor but as a member of the community, you have a civil and moral duty to help out wherever possible.

CW:      Although you’ve trained in other martial arts, you still teach primarily pure Shotokan.   Have you ever been tempted to add elements of other martial arts, or do you feel that Shotokan is complete enough without any other influences?

JJ:      Anything positive from other Martial Arts are always worth integrating into your training. Pad and bag work should be an essential part of any Martial Arts training regime. Strengthening and fitness exercises of the right nature are always valuable. Nothing should be set in stone, that is to say that we should look at other Martial Arts and use and incorporate anything that is beneficial and effective. On my Adaptive Karate courses I have incorporated techniques from Judo, Aikido, Taekwondo, Jujitsu, Boxing, Thai Boxing and other forms of Martial Arts and styles that I believe have any validity and effectiveness and the people that train with me in the Adaptive Karate are not expected to do things exactly the way that I demonstrate but to find their own way of executing the basic principle of the drill that it suits themselves.

CW:      What are your future plans for your own personal Karate development and for teaching?

JJ:      For the future I hope to be able to expand my teaching base so that I can instruct on more courses and seminars as well as developing my clubs. As for myself, I train every morning, mostly on my own, in which I will go through drills that I have devised for myself as well as Kata. I know that this year I am booked to train on several courses with people such as Sensei Dave Hazard, Sensei Aiden Trimble, Sensei Ian Abernethy and hopefully will attend other courses with other Senior Instructors. I still sometimes train at some other local clubs occasionally.

CW:      Are you available for courses and seminars outside of your own Karate Association, and if so, how should people contact you?

JJ:      I am more than happy to teach outside the association to any Karate style or Martial Arts discipline. I can be contacted several ways. My website is: www.adaptivekarate.com. Any telephone enquiries can be taken by my wife and Secretary Elaine Johnston on: 07791 635958 or drop me an Email:j.johnston@adaptivekara

CW:      Sensei, it has been a privilege to have done this interview with you and I look forward to training with later this month.  Thank you very much for your time and your interesting and informative insights.

Do You Train To Win A Fair Fight?

A little while ago on the BunkaiJutsu Facebook page, I put on the following quote by Gichin Funakoshi:-

“When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the first time the use of self-defence techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him, concentrating one’s whole strength in one blow to a vital point, and in the moment of surprise, escape and seek shelter or help. It is most important to be on guard without becoming excited and to act with presence of mind throughout the situation from the beginning and even once the situation is in hand.
When delivering the one blow against the attacker, the importance of using one’s whole strength and being especially accurate cannot be overemphasized”.
Gichin Funakoshi, from his book Karate-Do Kyohan,

It generated quite a bit of interest and comment, so I thought I’d explore it a bit further.  What is easy to over-look here is that it shows a very different ethos and approach to how we are taught in most traditional martial arts today.

Gichin Funakoshi demonstrating on a makawawa

Today if we do any sparring, we face each other from outside of striking range, bow, take up our fighting stance, then start inching towards each other until we start to exchange strikes/kicks.  Basically, its all about having a “fair fight”.  It’s sport.

Even when we practice bunkai (applications) against more street style attacks such as haymakers, in most clubs, the attacker usually start out of striking range first, then moves into distance with the haymaker.  Again, this partially reflects the “fair fight” mentality; as if two guys have agreed to “step outside and sort it out”.

Note, I did say “partially” as I do realise that somebody could randomly swing at you, ready or not.

Even in that step outside scenario there is the concept of an even one on one fight.  I know it’s not always adhered to as one may pull out a weapon or mates my join in, but the concept is still there, and most traditional training seems to buy into it.

What most traditional martial arts do not train for the guy being right up in your face shouting and swearing, then head-butting you.

The old Okinawan masters did not practice sport.  Several of the old Okinawan masters are recorded as saying that Karate is mainly for defending oneself against untrained thugs (rather than matches with other trained martial artists).

Funakoshi always taught that fighting (even a “fair fight”) was wrong and should be avoided if at all possible.  He taught that Karate was mainly to make you a better person rather than a better fighter and as such if you were set about, he advised that the first course of action should be to run away.  That way nobody gets hurt.

On the few occasions that Funakoshi was forced to physically defend himself, he felt that it was a personal failure to have gotten into that situation in the first place, or for not having handled it better.  I personally think he was a bit hard on himself, but that’s just my opinion.

So if you hold true to the philosophy that you should decline any fights and run away if you can, then what do you do if you are cornered and have to fight whether you like it not?  The person picking on you is usually doing so because he/she thinks you are an easy target.  Are they looking for a fair fight?

No!  They’re looking for an easy victim.

So should you be expected to fight fair against somebody like that?

No, you shouldn’t have to, because you shouldn’t be put in that position against your will.  You didn’t pick the fight and you didn’t agree to have one.  Self protection is about defending yourself from harm, it is not about having a fair fight.

Should you step back into your fighting stance and warn them, “back off, I do martial arts”?

No.  That warns them to be more careful.

This is the scenario Funakoshi was talking about.  Let them bluster at you and become over confident, then hit them with a pre-emptive strike to a vital point.  Then run!

This is the way that modern Reality Based Martial Arts train.  Don’t you find it a bit strange that people talk about Reality Based Martial Arts as if it is still quite new, when Funakoshi was talking about it decades ago?

To my mind, it suggest that most of today’s so called “traditional martial arts” are not that traditional.  It isn’t what Funakoshi taught!

Martial Arts & Psycho Cybernetics: Train For A Crisis

On and off over the 6 months (when I actually get the time), I’ve been reading a fascinating book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.  It’s a great book about how the brain works and how to use your own brain to get the best out of life.  I’ve also been struck several times on how much of it applies to martial arts.

One chapter, Crisis Into Creative Opportunity, is particularly applicable.  There are few crisis more immediate than that of being violently assaulted.

Here’s an extract from that chapter:

Although we may learn fast, we do not learn well under “crisis” conditions.  Throw a man who can’t swim into water over his head, and the crisis itself may give him the power to swim to safety.  He learns fast, and manages to swim somehow.  But he will never learn to become a championship swimmer.  The crude inept stroke that he used to rescue himself becomes “fixed” and it is difficult  for him to learn better ways of swimming.  Because of his ineptness he may perish in a real crises where he is required to swim a long distance.

This is where advocates of reality based martial arts should be sitting up and paying attention, as much of their training is more psychological than physical, to hard wire the brain to act under the most extreme circumstances.  The scenario based training where the aggressor shouts, threatens and swears at the defender are intended to induce an adrenalin rush, (to create the the feeling of a crisis).  It is known that under emotional pressure (adrenalin dump), blood goes away from the brain and it the muscles (ready for flight or fight).

However, with the lack of blood to the brain, the defender is not able to think as clearly as usual and will therefore tend to rely on remembered experience.  If the last experience of being attacked led the defender to cower and cringe, then that is what the defender will probably do again.

The scenario based training is designed to put the defender into an emotional/adrenalized state and hard wire (or “fix”) a different response, which the defender can fall back next time the blood is drained from their brain.

This type of training is akin to throwing somebody into water over their head to teach them to swim.  In light of the paragraph above from Psycho Cybernetics, what conclusions can we draw?

Well firstly, this type of training will get very fast results.  But just like the guy who is thrown into water over his head does not learn to swim well, they do not really learn very much in the way of self defence skills.  The main thing they learn is that when the crunch comes, they will fight back ferociously.  In many cases that will be enough, as many street predators are just looking for an easy target.  If they can see that their intended target is going to fight them ferociously (however badly), many street predators will move on and look for somebody else.

However, if you are picked on by an experienced street fighter and who just wants to fight no matter what, then this type of training is limited.  A street fighter is used to “training” in this emotional/adrenalized state.  So this type of scenario training just means that the defender will fight back without cowering or backing down.  It does not mean that they will in any way be a superior fighter, or have any other advantages.

This type of training therefore is ideal for somebody who just wants to do a short course and get good results and does not want spend years training at a martial art.

But what about the person who does want to become very good at martial arts; someone who does want to take self defence skills to a much higher level?

Maxwell Maltz says to be really good in a crisis, we should practice without pressure.  He also writes in Psycho Cybernetics:

Dr Tolman found that if rats were permitted to learn and practice under non-crisis conditions, they later performed well in a crisis.  For example, if rats were permitted to roam about at will and explore a maze when well fed and with plenty to drink, they did not appear to learn anything.  Later, however, if the same rats were placed in the maze while hungry, they showed they had learned a great deal, by quickly and efficiently going to the goal.  Hunger faced these trained rats with a crisis to which they reacted well.
Other rats which were forced to lean the maze under the crisis of hunger and thirst, did not do so well.  They were over-motivated and their brain maps became narrow.  The one “correct” route to the goal become fixated.  If this route were blocked the rats became frustrated and had great difficulty learning a new one.

Another example given was that of fire drills.  Those who practiced fire drills in a controlled manner were more likely to safely get out of a burning building, than those who had to find their way out under crisis conditions of that fire.

So as martial artist who want to react well under crisis conditions, we have to first learn in a non-pressure environment.  Once a technique or drill is learned, we can of course always up the pressure later.  In fact it would be foolish not to.  However, always training under high pressure hard wires and fixes responses in the brain which makes it difficult for the trainee to respond to should the circumstances suddenly change.

My Sensie, Paul Mitchell teaches over and over to practice movements slowly in order to perfect them.  As perfecting technique takes a very long time, whilst hard wiring a response under pressure gives very quick results, there is a clue to how you should train.  Most of it should be relaxed with a small (but regular) amount of pressure training.

It would seem no accident that most people who teach reality based self defence have a background in traditional martial arts, thereby covering both aspects.  Kevin O’Hagan who is a world renowned teacher of reality based self defence has said that traditional martial artists always pick it up fastest.

It also explains why Tai Chi is considered a higher level of martial art which martial artists should progress to (not start with).

Although Psycho Cybernetics is not a martial arts book, I would seriously recommend it to anybody who is interested in self development.  I’ve certainly found it eye opening.

 

From the UK

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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.