Training Notes – 17.04.2015

Elbow Strike Neon - LogoThis week, we did something we don’t do enough. Many weeks, we’ll focus on learning skills and concepts, and on honing those skills in situations that simulate real violence. When it comes to fitness, however, we usually take the approach of learning useful exercises and methods of training our bodies to withstand the rigours of physical activity and violence, but not spending too much time on that in the sessions themselves. That is usually more something we take home with us and dedicate ourselves to in our own time.

However, this week was a week in which we could test ourselves somewhat. This week, we kicked it up a notch and had a good, old-fashioned ‘beasting’.

I should, as always, reiterate: whatever we’re doing in our training, the following is always true:

  • Everything is at your own pace. You’re motivated to compete against yourself and make as much progress as you can for your own health and fitness. You’re not competing against each other and you’re not forced to overdo it.
  • Everything is optional in our sessions. No drill, exercise or element of our training is mandatory.
  • At any time, if you need a break for a breather or a drink, just go and get one. It’s never a problem.

This is your training, so do it your way.

This kind of thing hasn’t been an issue for us – we all know this and I remind everyone all the time – but I’m always very aware of the natural feelings of peer pressure, etc that can arise when training with others, and the desire to overdo it and impress people can be so strong that overtraining creeps in. There isn’t a single person in the class who I think is at risk of this, but as a reassurance to people who haven’t trained with us and who are perhaps considering it: people of all fitness levels are very welcome (I’m not amazingly fit myself!) and like I said above, when I refer to a ‘beasting’, that means there’s the opportunity to get your beast mode on and knacker yourself within the realm of what’s healthy and enjoyable. There’s never the demand that you do so. ‘Beastings’ are exciting and fun opportunities, not intimidating or competitive tests!

The Preliminary Stuff:

We got going with a few things to loosen off and get moving actively. To start, just a simple couple of rounds of moving our partners around by aggressively getting in their space, forcing them to maintain a safe distance. All about footwork and the guessing game of where your partner is going next.

A stick spar followed this, where both partners had a foam stick. More than any real combative skill being explored in great detail, this was more than anything about simply moving actively – warming up while doing something dynamic, energetic and very fun too.

To loosen off, we performed the usual joint rotation and light stretching too.

Kicking it up a notch:

A warmup followed, which was simply a minute each of:

  • Star jumps
  • Shadowboxing
  • Heismans
  • Plyometric squats

We did this at an even, fairly relaxed, pace and focussed on form, position and breathing while we did.

Then we each grabbed a Thai pad and decimated it with continuous, brutal rising knee strikes. As fast and hard as possible, a minute for each leg.

After that, in pairs, Person A held a focus mitt for Person B, who (holding the back of the pad with one hand) repeatedly drove a foam ‘brick’ into the pad as hard and fast as possible for a minute.

Now that we were warmed up, we returned to the set of four calisthenics exercises we performed earlier, but this time at maximum intensity. As hard and fast as possible, maintaining good form and efficient breathing.

Fully warmed up and sweating somewhat, it was time for a stretch off. We spent a little more time on this than usual this week, enjoying a good stretch of the hamstrings, calves, inner thighs, hip flexors, chest, shoulders and back. It was also a good opportunity to focus on our breathing and recovery from the cardio we’d just done.

Warmup done, it was time for the drills to commence! Unlike a recent beasting which operated under a ‘running the gauntlet’ format, this week we had three drills to play with.

Hit and Run:

No, we’ve not started advocating criminal activity! This was a descriptive title. Person A strikes a pad held by Person B (when Person B decides to present one) and runs to a safe zone. Things weren’t so simple, however. The moment they strike, Person B runs after them trying to ‘tag’ them with the pad.

If Person A escaped, then well done! They ran fast enough and immediately enough. They acted efficiently and without hesitation. However, if they got tagged then down they went for 10 pushups, before being pushed over sideways by their partner, who would then present pads for them to strike. Lying on their back, they had 20 good strikes to deliver before having to climb their way up the padholder.

Then it was time to do it again. And again. And again. For three minutes.

This was a particularly useful drill for two main reasons:

  • Mental fortitude: The first few times, you might escape easily. Then you get tired and slow down, and the result of which is that you get much more tired much more quickly, because all of a sudden you have a lot more to do before the drill resets when your partner catches you. However, you naturally avoid such difficulty, and thus despite you having less energy than you started with, you run faster than you did before. Mental fortitude.
  • Simulation of combat: You’re not just striking the pad and pretending to run away. You’ve got something to run away from. Even though you’re not going to get hurt or injured, you’ve got a fair bit of difficulty coming your way if you don’t escape from the situation immediately and efficiently. Simply put, if you’re not committed enough to your escape, it won’t work and the ‘assault’ continues when the ‘attacker’ catches you up.

Push and Pads:

This is a nice, simple one. Person A holds the focus mitts against their chest and leans into Person B. They push into each other, shoulder to shoulder until Person B pushes the padholder off them. Pads are presented, strikes are thrown, and then the pushing resumes. This was repeated for a couple of minutes.

Knife and Wall:

This one isn’t a simple one. Person A grabs Person B and shoves them up against a wall. They then, at some point, might just reach for a knife and start stabbing (or, indeed, attacking however else they like). Person B has to deal with it and escape.

These drills that we did this week were less about learning new skills and exploring concepts in detail, but more about taking the time to put what we’ve been training already into practice in a situation of stress: when we’re tired already, having to continue and do different kinds of things as fast and hard as possible.

We had to act fast and run, but if that went wrong then we had to wrestle and push against resistance before escaping. Then we had to wrestle again, then use an explosive push to create distance with which to strike. After that, with energy low but spirits high, we had to put it all into practice in stopping an attacker from stabbing us up against a wall.

Incredible effort, energy and raw ability all round once again! It is truly humbling to train with you all. Well done to everyone – you’ve surpassed yourselves this week and done incredibly well with some gruelling stuff and pushed each other to be the best you can be. Welcome back to a member who’s been on holiday (what a week to come back!) and welcome also to our newest member (what a week to start on!) – it was great to see you all.

A pleasure and a privilege as always. See you next time!


All the details of this class are on the Public Classes page up at the top. Your first session is FREE and all are welcome to come along and take part. Every session is beginner-friendly. If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

10 Questions with Douglas Graham (50/50 Fitness)

doug 50 50 logo1) Tell us a bit about yourself and 50/50 Fitness – what’s 50/50 Fitness all about and how did it come to be?

50/50 came with my evolution in teaching. It’s the old saying that ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. I can help you but you need to meet me half way. Otherwise you will always falter in your journey. Without that mentality, it is tough to commit to the way. With that said, I like to think I can show anybody that the mentality is there at their core. People are just bogged down by, or hide behind, the modern way of life.

2) How does self-protection fit into what you do?

I mentioned the way in my last answer. People can call me cryptic or old fashioned if they like but the fact is that everyone is searching for it. Self-protection, Self-defence, martial arts – call it what you like – it fits perfectly into what I do as the art of learning these disciplines can and should be a journey of self-discovery. Much as health & fitness has become in the modern age. Indeed, I found my way to being a Personal Trainer through my study and teaching of Martial Art. And lets be clear, there is only Martial Art for me when it comes to Self-Protection. This led to a love for understanding body mechanics. Naturally this led to a deeper study of the human body and ways to improve performance. Initially in certain areas and movements, but that gave way to a deeper understanding and approach as time marched.

3) What motivates you in your training? How do you get yourself going when you’re not in the mood or you have other things to do?

First off. I am rarely in this magical mood I hear of that people seem to be in. I motivate myself every time. It’s about balance. It’s not about going to the gym/dojo/hall and ‘smashing it’. Not for the average person. Too much emphasis is placed on the kick-ass mentality or the killer workout. Its tough for people to continually motivate themselves for something they just don’t want to do. My self-defence class is not one that seeks out new folks to train; I have never really been that way inclined unless it could do with another body or two to help with training. But if somebody seeks out the class, well then you pretty much have that 50 I am looking for. Motivation is often relative to the task at hand and comes in different forms. Do you motivate yourself to go to a job you hate every day? You may have more than you already know ;-)

4) What would you say is your greatest skill or attribute as a teacher?

Probably best to ask someone that trains with me to be honest. I am sure it varies from person to person.

5) What would you say is the most important aspect of your training, skill you develop or attribute you cultivate in 50/50 Fitness?

Tough question for me. I have a very blurred line between these two. People define it but I still can’t, not really. In general though, I stick my hand up for attributes. Because I don’t specifically define, I won’t say more than this.

6) What is your favourite exercise, training method or drill?

In exercise HIT style workouts have been without doubt my favourite for years now. It’s a style that can fit you at any level or age. The name ‘High Intensity Training’ tends to scare many. That is unless you brand it ;-) Interval Training is an umbrella term but fits fine for me in this case. For my SD training it is also without doubt, free-form multiple attacker drills in full gear. They can be very serious and testing like nothing else. Also very fun and amusing. You very quickly learn where you make potentially fatal errors. It shows up differences between say, perceived speed and real speed, power, accuracy etc, etc.

7) What do you like to do aside from 50/50 Fitness? What interests you?

Outside of MA and Fitness I enjoy growing herbs and spices. I like reading although in the past couple of years I have read only research. It’s something I need to address and enjoy reading for reading again.

8) What advice do you have for the students out there reading this?

Be wary of YouTube. Seek out good teachers, they can be anywhere.

9) What advice do you have for the instructors out there reading this?

Be wary of YouTube. But in a different way. Be thankful for good students, they are your greatest teachers.

10) What is your ultimate goal with 50/50 Fitness? Where do you want it to lead?

Corny as it sounds, wherever it takes me. My goal is to help people improve themselves and understand that ‘perfect’ is a saying, not a finish line. In my eyes there are not many out there on a big scale that are truly achieving this. If I can reach that type of scale, with my approach, it will be an accomplishment indeed. But even on the small scale I am happy if I can pass on knowledge to a few, that will pass through the individual and on to another few. Money is a burden we all share. I like to bear it as simply as possible. The goals and philosophy of 50/50 are an embodiment of myself and the legacy I leave for my children. If it reaches only them, I die a very happy man.

You can get in touch with Douglas Graham about 50/50 Fitness on his Facebook page here or you can email him at by clicking here.

Review: ‘Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 2’ by Peter Consterdine

Consterdine, Peter. Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 2. Protection Publications. 2005.

Review: Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 2:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

Last week we looked at the excellent first part to this two-part series, which can be found here.

The Training Day videos follow on from the enquiries made after the popular Fit to Fight videos became well-known (part one reviewed here and part 2 reviewed here). As you may expect from a BCA video, this one is excellent. It’s fitness-oriented but is packed full of drills that are very combatively useful. The key point of the approach presented here to training is in developing functional fitness by doing cardio, etc that is at the same time developing combatively useful attributes.

The video begins with an important discussion from Peter about concomitancy or flow when putting movements together – ‘getting the transitions right’ – which is a key understanding for those interested in this kind of training. Training in this kind of high intensity and focussing on a small amount of methods is a great way to work on endurance and stamina while also improving the quality of the movement itself.

The video includes a number of additional drills following from the approach laid out in the first part of this pair, including pressure work and padwork with the focus mitts in threes as well as in pairs, punching and kicking drills, the ‘four-corner blitz’, ducking and weaving drills, shuttle drills, combination drills, repetition drills and pyramid drills.

Interspersed between these drills being demonstrated is Peter explaining key understandings for each section.

There’s also an attempt at the end from Brian Seabright to get 60 roundhouse kicks into a minute!

This video demonstrates, again, a group of highly skilled martial artists at work generating some impressive impact and, of course, making it look easy! I definitely recommend using these training methods yourself.

This video is available on DVD or for digital download (much cheaper, understandably) from Further information and a download link can also be found at

Review: ‘Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 1’ by Peter Consterdine

Consterdine, Peter. Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 1. Protection Publications. 2004.

Review: Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 1:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

This review is part one of a two-part series. Part two is can be found here.

The Training Day videos follow on from the enquiries made after the popular Fit to Fight videos became well-known (part one reviewed here and part 2 reviewed here). As you may expect from a BCA video, this one is excellent. It’s fitness-oriented but is packed full of drills that are very combatively useful. The key point of the approach presented here to training is in developing functional fitness by doing cardio, etc that is at the same time developing combatively useful attributes.

There’s a lot of ideas in here for incorporating bag work, pad work, shuttle drills, partner drills, pressure work,  traditional Karate padwork drills with a fitness focus, ‘slow-mo’ sparring, pyramid drills and shield kicking drills.

As well as just the drills, this video shows a group of absolutely phenomenal punchers and kickers at work. There’s some fantastic impact generated by these martial artists; very high levels of skill demonstrated indeed. Martial artists in this video include (of course) Peter Consterdine, Brian Seabright, Bernard Taylor, Steve Williams and Richard Hardy.

I definitely recommend taking a look at this training session and using it yourself as a basis for yours. It really is excellent.

This video is available on DVD or for digital download (much cheaper, understandably) from Further information and a download link can also be found at

Review: ‘The Pavement Arena Part 3’ by Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson

Consterdine, Peter and Thompson, Geoff. The Pavement Arena Part Three: ‘Grappling – The Last Resort’. Legend Video Productions. 1994.

Review: The Pavement Arena Part 3: ‘Grappling – The Last Resort’:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

This review is part of a series. Part one can be found here, part two can be found here, this is part three, part four can be found here and part five (sort of – it follows on from part four but isn’t part of the Pavement Arena series) can be found here.

This third instalment in the popular ‘Pavement Arena’ series is, again, often eye-opening to its viewers. Many do not consider grappling in enough depth for its real combative applications, and many court it too much which can lead to problems of its own. With grappling in particular, a balance must be struck between training it enough to be competent and thus to (hopefully) survive the horrible situation of finding yourself grappling with an assailant, and training it to the exclusion of other things, such as punching. In addition, we must be very careful with how we train grappling, as it can be easy to fall into a sporting paradigm when learning grappling from arts such as Judo. While Judo is excellent and is one of the activities I personally intend to enjoy much more in the near future (as I feel I can learn a lot from it, it will be very enjoyable and will be great for my fitness and strength), we must remember that it is a sport and that certain aspects of sports-based training must be kept strictly separate from self-protection training, just as the premise of this series is that traditional martial arts training and self-protection training are not the same and thus the differences must be appreciated for self-protection training to be efficient.

This video begins with this essential discussion of the realities of grappling in real combative situations, which (as with the others of the series) sets the tone immediately of a solid and well-thought-out presentation. There are some ground mobility drills involving breakfalls near the beginning which, of course, are only to be used on mats. Rolling can work fine on a hard surface, but slapping breakfalls are good only for soft, level surfaces. Never attempt on a hard or uneven surface! They’re essential in grappling training on a matted surface though, in order for partners to fall more realistically for each other without injury and thus to allow the necessary full-force, realistic throwing. The required safety aspects of training in grappling are emphasised in the video, such as the Tap-Out safety system and the necessity of having an onlooker while grappling.

Where this video stands out from the crowd, however, is its treatment of what to do while grappling; specifically of striking from a close range. Many neglect striking at close ranges but this is not an effective way to train or teach for self-protection. The reality is that striking is absolutely necessary at this range as it is at any other, and effective power generation and targeting is essential. Geoff Thompson does a nice section on effective headbutting too, which is an often-overlooked area of combat, followed by some information on blood and air choking.

Making throws work for real combat is another module of essential knowledge that this video introduces you to. What is more interesting however is the section on bag work for grappling training, which I haven’t (yet) seen in any other video. The way they demonstrate the movements done on the bag with cuts to a live partner clip is very effective to help understand what you’re doing with this kind of work too.

I’ll finish with one quote that really stands out for me from this video: ‘the scruffy stuff works’. The concept of progressive sparring, perhaps new to many, is very much worth incorporating into any serious training. This video is well-worth adding to anyone’s collection and if grappling is a mystery to you then it is a certainly a very valuable introduction.

This video is available on DVD or for digital download (much cheaper, understandably) from Further information and a download link can also be found at

Martial Art? Combat Sport? Self-Defence? Self-Protection? What’s the difference? Why does it matter?

By Josh Nixon, ESP

Please note: This article is now outdated. It is merely retained here for archive purposes, so the changing nature of things here can be seen by all. Consider the following just my older thoughts on the matter, from which the current ones have come.

Here is the updated version of things:

In discussions of different training systems, it becomes immediately apparent after a quick Google or a sift through YouTube that the terms used in the title of this article are used more or less interchangeably by a great many people. This may seem unimportant, but it is becoming a big issue in the martial arts community today. In an attempt to help with this problem, and also to clarify my use of these terms online and offline, I thought it would be useful to produce a short list of these terms, and how I would define them, with some examples of common traits. Note that the following is merely my personal use of these terms, and other peoples’ usage of them will vary, as they are of course completely free to do so.

Martial Art: A martial art is exactly what the name suggests – an art. An art is a method of expression through application of creativity, and is typically concerned with aesthetics. As such, martial arts are often concerned with aesthetics, historical traditions, cultural customs and philosophy. These systems will often focus most of their training on one aspect of fighting, though not always. Martial arts can be traditional or modern, and different systems are often mixed into hybrid systems, usually in order to address what the instructors feel is a shortcoming of their original system. These are often termed Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), though this term is now used more for combat sports systems so many adopt the alternative term Hybrid Martial Arts (HMA) to avoid confusion. Martial arts can be thought of as a method of self-perfection rather than necessarily self-protection, though of course all martial arts training will have some real combative merit, and will often be extremely potent systems with which to protect oneself, so they should be respected as such.

Combat Sport: A combat sport is, again, exactly what the name suggests. If a system focuses on competition then it is a combat sport. These systems are often characterised by points-based sparring, where points may be awarded according to damage dealt, submission, knockout, etc or on aesthetic grounds, for example. Tournaments are often held on a regular basis, and the more well-known ones are the ones you see on TV and online. If training is focussed solely on fitness with any combative merits being considered secondary then that system could also be considered a combat sport.

Self-Defence: Self-Defence is where this topic gets confused on a regular basis, and arguably where it matters a little more pressingly. Self-Defence is a term used for reactive systems that are geared towards dealing with a combative situation by reacting to a physical attack. This includes Reality-Based Self-Defence (RBSD) systems. These systems are not concerned with aesthetics, historical traditions, cultural customs or philosophy.

Self-Protection: Self-Protection is a term used for systems that, in addition to the reactive methods of Self-Defence, incorporate proactive methods such as pre-emptive striking, and a great emphasis on awareness, evaluation, avoidance, evasion and communicative, noncombative strategies such as verbal de-escalation. An understanding of psychology thus often features prominently. As a result, self-protection systems are concerned heavily with how to stop a situation from becoming physically combative in the first place so that in a sense the physical combatives are secondary in focus. However, these physical combatives will often take up a large portion of the training time in sessions. These systems are also not concerned with aesthetics, historical traditions, cultural customs or philosophy.

So why does it matter? It matters because any confusion between these terms can lead to extreme differences of expectation and reality in training. For example, a traditional martial arts class marketing themselves as a combat sport might not be delivering what the students who have seen their posters are looking for, if they rarely hold tournaments or are not very competitive in their training. Similarly, a combat sport class focussed on UFC-style cagefighting could accidentally mislead prospective students by marketing themselves as a martial arts class, as people seeking a martial arts class may be looking for the tradition, philosophy and artistic values that a sports-based class would simply not be concerned with. This becomes more concerning when martial arts are marketed as self-defence or self-protection, however, as confidence in a martial arts technique trained from a perspective which is concerned with aesthetics can often be extremely dangerous in a real combative situation, or even fatal.

This article is not a criticism of any system, style, art or form, but rather a comment on the terminology used to denote them, and an appreciation of the effects that the confusion of these terms can have. Remember though: don’t judge a class necessarily by what it categorises itself as, because at the moment there is almost an interchangeability in many of these terms. Now that these terms have been clarified however, at least if nothing more our ESP-related discourse will be clear and unambiguous.

PHDefence (08.10.2011) Feedback

imageToday we played with a lot of Wing Chun principles, including some fun freestyle defensive drills from Paul. The sparring after that was also good – I can tell you dudes and dudettes have been doing a lot more of it in recent weeks.

In the second half, I took you through some of the basic wrist grab escapes, but with more intensity and resistance, thanks to a mention from Chris. Then we ploughed through some speed drills, which were surprisingly tiring actually, I have to say! It’s amazing how tired you can get in ten seconds. After that we lowered the intensity with some flow sparring, and then some good old-fashioned Shŭāng Chīsau (双黐手) before getting into some Spadwork.

imageAt the end, the lower grades went through some more speed drills and Spadwork, while I took the higher grades through an introduction to basic Ballistic Striking, thanks to some tips from the legendary Val Riazanov. If you don’t know who that is, stick his name into YouTube and you’ll understand why I’m looking at you funny for not knowing who he is! This picture to the left is him, in black (obviously, I mean – can you imagine disarming him? I wouldn’t fancy my chances.)

All in all, a very enjoyable session this week and better numbers that we’ve been seeing in the past. However, it is also university season, and so unfortunately today was the last time we’ll be seeing Charlie and Chris for a few weeks. However, at least they’ve been given something to think about and play around with while they’re gone.

See you next week,
FCIns. Josh Nixon

Image of Yip Man courtesy of

Image of Val Riazanov and Bryan Black courtesy of


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