Using Force: A Look at UK Law for Self-Protection Practitioners

What Do I Do NowThe use of force is one of the main focuses in most self-protection training as well as in the martial arts. However, its justification and subsequent application to real violence is also singularly the least well-addressed area of understanding. In short, if practitioners train without an understanding of the law then while their training in use of force may be excellent, their knowledge of when, how and particularly why they should be using said force will be severely lacking.

The danger of this legal ignorance is binary: while some may be unwittingly training in such a way that they are unconsciously conditioning themselves to default to excessive and unjustifiable levels of force (or to use force when it is not necessary), others may become too afraid of legal repercussions to use sufficient force when it is legitimately required. Some may be so afraid of these ramifications that, through their perception that the law offers no protection to those acting in self-defence, they will not act at all. Thus, it is important that we address both the encouragement of violent aggression and the discouragement of legitimate use of force in self-defence as in different ways both of these unfortunate situations enable victimisation.

The following is a brief look at UK self-defence law in an attempt to discuss its meaning in terms of self-protection training to better explore what it means for practitioners of self-protection methods.

Self-Defence and the Prevention of Crime

Whereas statute law more rigidly adheres to statutes that are designed to cover all eventualities, common law makes more use of judicial cases, meaning that judges can have more power to adapt to individual circumstances without Parliament having to enact legislation.

The Crown Prosecution Service’s website states that defence of the person (defending yourself or someone else) is covered by the common law. However, the following act should be borne in mind when considering the justification of self-defence:

Criminal Law Act 1967

Section 3, subsection 1 states that:

A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.

Note that according to the CPS, section 3 only applies to crime and not to civil matters. So, for instance, it cannot afford a defence in repelling trespassers by force, unless the trespassers are involved in some form of criminal conduct. For matters involving property and householders, researching the Criminal Damage Act (1971) and Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 may be beneficial.

Thus we have two options for justifying use of force for self-defence in the event of an accusation of excessive or unreasonable use of force: the common law route which is concerned with support from case precedents and the statutory route where the justification is the prevention of a crime from taking place (i.e. an assault).

When Can we Use Self-Defence?

The CPS is very clear about what situations self-defence can be lawfully used in:

A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances for the purposes of:

  • self-defence; or
  • defence of another; or
  • defence of property; or
  • prevention of crime; or
  • lawful arrest.

The only real ambiguity lies in this vague term: “reasonable force”. This is the point at which people typically become confused. Many practitioners and instructors can tend to gloss over this point, often leading to the following erroneous perspectives:

  • Use of any force aside from in training is strictly not allowable, and any action other than running away is difficult to justify as it demonstrates lack of control.
  • Any degree of force is justifiable if you honestly believed you were in danger at the time, as fear and adrenalisation are justifications for poor judgement of force.
  • “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6”: simply disregarding the law altogether, simplifying the situation into a polarised choice of being killed or being judged.

Armed with an understanding of the law and what it allows for, we can make better decisions about how to defend ourselves against violent crime and prepare ourselves with training that is both more efficient and more effective.

Why Use Force At All?

So you’ve used force against someone who either was using force against you or who was about to do so. What then?

This is what we must bear in mind: what then? What’s the point? There are a few reasons why people might use force against an assailant:

  • To protect oneself or someone else,
  • To punish the attacker and thus discourage further wrongdoing,
  • For enjoyment,
  • To simply express anger,
  • As an impulsive act of blind panic,
  • To alleviate boredom,
  • As an act of revenge, or
  • To impress others or find feelings of self-worth or a sense of achievement in hurting someone.

Some will sound more reasonable than others to you, no doubt. Some are more understandable than others, too. Regardless of any personal ethical considerations, how do these hold up as reasonable excuses for using force against someone? Which of these can be reasonably justified in terms of necessity?

The objective in using force against another person is simple: to prevent a worse crime from taking place. In almost every situation of assault, the goal should be to use force for one purpose only: to facilitate your escape. In many situations, escape may be possible without using any force at all, or force which is unlikely to cause actual bodily harm. In situations where that is impossible, the amount and severity of the force used must then be justifiable as a reasonable level of force for that situation.

What is “Reasonable”?

Let’s begin by taking a look at what prosecutors consider in cases of self-defence:

In assessing the reasonableness of the force used, prosecutors should ask two questions:

  • was the use of force necessary in the circumstances, i.e. Was there a need for any force at all? and
  • was the force used reasonable in the circumstances?

This in itself doesn’t really help us to understand much more clearly, but it brings us to an important understanding nonetheless: the notion of reasonableness is subjective.

The CPS goes on to quote Lord Morris:

“If there has been an attack so that self defence is reasonably necessary, it will be recognised that a person defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his defensive action. If the jury thought that that in a moment of unexpected anguish a person attacked had only done what he honestly and instinctively thought necessary, that would be the most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken …”

This shows that there is some consideration given for the fact that it is difficult to carefully make decisions in the adrenalised state that victims of violent crime are usually in. Let us consider two hypothetical situations, however to expand on this:

Situation 1:

Goodie is sitting waiting for his train. Baddie gets off another train, drunk, and tries to hit Goodie. He hits Goodie with a glancing blow and continues to swing punches. Goodie, scared and startled, slaps Baddie hard in the face and runs away while Baddie stumbled with a ringing ear and a stinging cheek.

Situation 2:

Goodie is sitting waiting for his train. Baddie gets off another train, drunk, and tries to hit Goodie. He hits Goodie with a glancing blow and continues to swing punches. Goodie, scared and startled, slaps Baddie hard in the face before grabbing him around the neck and sinking his elbow into Baddie’s face seven times. Baddie passed out, and then Goodie punched him to make sure.

Both of these “Goodie” characters can argue that they were preventing a crime from taking place: Baddie was trying to hit them after all. As they were sitting down and the surprise came as an attack, simply leaving was not an option at that time. However, whereas in situation 1 the character took the opportunity to leave without using more force than was necessary to prevent further crime from taking place, in situation 2 he missed that opportunity while he was continuing to use more force than was required. In situation 2, the focus shifted from self-protection to retaliation.

This was a slightly silly and exaggerated example, but it illustrates the point.

To reiterate:

The objective in using force against another person is simple: to prevent a worse crime from taking place. 

In almost every situation of assault, the goal is to use force for one purpose only: to facilitate your escape. In many situations, escape may be possible without using any force at all, or force which is unlikely to cause actual bodily harm. In situations where that is impossible, the amount and severity of the force used must then be justifiable as a reasonable level of force for that situation. If it is enough force to prevent a worse crime from taking place, without being excessive in nature, then it is more likely to be considered reasonable.

Retreating

While retreat is the logical objective, as not being near the offender is (usually) the safest and easiest way to prevent violence, it is not mandatory for you to retreat in order to justify your actions in self-defence. In some situations, for example, it may be impossible to retreat without using any force at all (being held against your will, grabbed by the hair or clothes, etc). In others, your retreat could put others in danger (for example, if walking with someone who is elderly or infirm, running away would leave them in danger if they could not run with you). Consider the following from the Crown Prosecution Service’s website:

Failure to retreat when attacked and when it is possible and safe to do so, is not conclusive evidence that a person was not acting in self defence. It is simply a factor to be taken into account rather than as giving rise to a duty to retreat when deciding whether the degree of force was reasonable in the circumstances (section 76(6) Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008). It is not necessary that the defendant demonstrates by walking away that he does not want to engage in physical violence: (R v Bird 81 Cr App R 110).

There are other ways that unwillingness can be demonstrated, for example through verbal and nonverbal communication. Remaining non-aggressive and attempting to calm the aggressor down, apologising for any (possibly imagined) wrongdoing, etc, are useful things to bear in mind. That said, if it is safe and possible to leave then that should always remain the clear, logical objective of any force deployment. Retreat is a greatly preferable outcome, not an absolute duty.

The CPS makes pretty clear, however, that if someone seeks out violence and instigates a violent encounter, then they are (understandably) considered the aggressor: “[…] if he started the fight, if he volunteered for it, such actions are not lawful, they are unlawful acts of violence.”

Pre-Emptive Striking

There is no rule in law to say that a person must wait to be struck first before they may defend themselves, (see R v Deana, 2 Cr App R 75). (CPS)

Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is another important act to bear in mind, as it offers some clarification, such as:

Section 76(3) confirms the question whether the degree of force used by the defendant was reasonable in the circumstances is to be decided by reference to the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be.

This is where the term “honestly held belief” comes into things. When deciding whether a use of force was reasonable, the defence of said use of force is to be considered based on the defendant’s honestly held belief that they were either under attack or that they were under imminent threat of attack.

In short, as long as the level of force remains proportionate and reasonable, someone under imminent threat of assault need not necessarily wait to be physically assaulted before they act. A (proporionate) “pre-emptive strike” may be used if it is honestly believed to be necessary.

This is not a “get out of jail free card”, however. It does not allow people to use unnecessary, excessive levels of force without repercussion as long as they say that they believed they needed to! Section 76(4) states that “the more unreasonable the belief, the less likely it is that the court will accept it was honestly held”.

The important point to remember is that this allows for the use of force to be proactive as opposed to merely reactive, in situations where its necessity can be justified.

This act we’ve discussed also goes on to discuss “householder cases” and the use of disproportionate force, so it is another useful act to be familiar with.

A Formula for Lawful Use of Force

Broadly speaking, the following areas of self-protection understanding form a methodology whereby if one stage fails or is inappropriate to the situation, the next should then be considered to avoid escalating to unjustifiable or excessive use of force. Aside from legal considerations, for the sake of safety in terms of physical, psychological and social wellbeing physical conflict should of course be avoided at all costs. This logical methodology will help to manage such risks as well as avoid the legal repercussions of handling a situation of self-protection poorly.

Stage 1 – Threat Awareness and Threat Evaluation:

‘Threat awareness’ is a state of being whereby an individual is maintaining the ability to perceive and cognitively react to an event or quality of their surroundings.

Through threat awareness, understand the situation to the best of your ability. Through threat avoidance, decide whether you can escape without combat. Simply put, if you can see a potential situation beginning to escalate early enough, you can simply leave. Threat evaluation should be a theoretically informed approach, meaning that it stems from an understanding of the area you’re in, the nature of violent crime, etc. Do some research and educate yourself if you can. That said, never ignore your gut feeling. If a situation doesn’t feel right, leave.

Stage 2 – Threat Avoidance:

This can either be passive avoidance (not going to areas where you know bad things are likely to happen) or active avoidance (walking or running away). If you remove yourself from the situation, you’ve prevented the crime from taking place without using force.

Stage 3 – Communication:

If the above fails or is not viable, then communication may be a way to end the situation without violence. This communication, verbal and nonverbal, could be placatative, deceptive, distracting or intimidating depending on the situation and what it calls for at that moment. If immediate escape or avoidance is not viable, employ communicative strategies to effect one.

Stage 4 – Use of Force:

If the above three stages have all failed or were not viable, then force may be necessary to effect your escape. This force, as discussed above, must be both necessary and reasonable in order to be considered legally justifiable.

The Last Word

This article is not intended for legal advice and it has not been written by an expert in law. You should not take legal advice from anyone who is not qualified to give it, and I (Josh Nixon, the writer) am just a layperson who is interested in the topic as a self-protection practitioner and instructor. This article is merely an attempt to clarify the often rather vague notion that is “reasonable force” and the justification of the use of force generally, as a basic starting point for interested parties to begin their own research and learning from. The various topics such as threat awareness, evaluation and avoidance, etc will be expanded upon separately in further writing. If nothing else, this article is a reminder to all those who practise self-protection, martial arts or any related disciplines that an awareness of and respect for the law simply has to be an intrinsic part of your training mentality and methodology, or you are doing yourself a grave disservice. The nature of this subject is such that whether you are knowledgeable about it or ignorant of it, your responsibility remains the same. If excessive or unnecessary force is used and it cannot be justified, both the knowledgeable self-protectionist and the uneducated person are equally and inescapably responsible for their actions. The understanding of the law as outlined here cannot be used as an excuse to use force when you might have been able to avoid it, and it cannot be used as an excuse to use excessive levels of unreasonable force either. It is to be used, rather, to ensure a better-informed approach to your training so that no use of force is trained without consideration of not just how it should be done, but when and (perhaps most importantly) why.

For a more in-depth and excellent reference book on this topic, I recommend Understanding Reasonable Force by Mark Dawes. It is essentially a better and more in-depth look at exactly what this article has discussed. At the time of writing, it is by far the best book on the topic I have read so far. Full details of the book can be found on our Recommended Reading page.

I’ve done a fair amount of reading and have spoken about this topic with some knowledgeable people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am right so I encourage anyone reading this to take it merely as a starting point for their own research into the topic. In the same breath, if anything here is unclear, confusing, missing the point or flat-out incorrect please inform me and I will edit it immediately. As my research continues and my learning continues, I may well edit this to reflect new understanding or to incorporate new sources. For this reason, I will include a changelog here of when this article is edited:

Last edited on 29.08.2016: clarification of statute law, as opposed to “civil law”. Thanks to Peter Consterdine from the British Combat Association for this feedback.
Published on 21.08.2016.

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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!

-Josh

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.

Training notes – 10.04.2015

Elbow Strike Neon - LogoAfter the usual loosening off and joint rotation, we got to a gentle start this week with a focus on ground mobility. We looked at getting to the ground quickly and safely in the form of forward and backward fall absorption (falling without getting hurt on a hard surface), then looked at extending that skill into rolling forwards and backwards. This is a useful thing to do not only for the obvious benefit of dealing with falling over and minimising injury, but as a great core exercise and to encourage general mobility and relaxed movement. When falling, we’re also dealing with a very primal fear and so there is a psychological element to ground mobility work that shouldn’t be ignored.

We then stepped it up a notch by performing the aforementioned fall absorption when a partner disrupted our posture to take us down to the floor.

Loosened off and relaxed, it was time to warm up with a little padwork. The focus of this session that carried through everything we did was on maintaining situational awareness while performing a task. Though you didn’t know it – I hadn’t given any instructions about that specifically – you were all doing this very well in the next drill. I noticed lots of people looking around at the people most likely to attack them next, and shifting their positions to suit. Excellent work.

Padwork:

Everyone split up into pairs. One person held the focus mitts while the other smashed them with hammer fists. Whether singly and individually focussed or as a blitz of chaotic strikes, it was up to you. Each pair moved around the space freely and lots of good, stable posture was observed which facilitated relaxed and efficient striking.

At random intervals, I would shout ‘Change!’ and the padholders would run to the nearest padless person and attack them with the focus mitts. Employing a high guard, those people protected themselves by driving into the attacker and managing the distance effectively; proactively dealing with the threat instead of passively accepting the flurry of strikes. The pads were then presented for more striking, and this was repeated.

By having the padholders assume a predatory role in selecting their victims freely, the dynamic of the drill demanded a proactive response from the participants which provided some very rewarding training.

From there, we stayed in our pairs and focussed on a simple skill: striking a pad, then with aggressive movement into the attacker, gaining control of them and having that control tested by the attacker simply struggling as hard as they could to free themselves. We discussed appropriate footwork, posture and control methods including using the forearm against the neck when the attacker tried to move into us.

Partner Work – Skills Focus:

Again, we took some more time to focus on some skills we started to look at last week involving grabs, biomechanical manipulation and how to deal with the threat of what could come as a result of the grabs we’re encountering. This week we worked on using that grab as an opportunity, either for effective striking or biomechanically affecting their posture and joints using the arm they’re presenting. We found the following:

  • If they’re grabbing you with a hand, they don’t have much defence on that side of their head with which to stop you hitting them!
  • Never forget: if they’re in a position to hit you, you’re usually in a position where you can hit them too!
  • Coming on the outside of the arm is useful because you can hyperextend the elbow and you’re on the (relatively) ‘safe’ side.
    • You might be at the right position in the moment to get that armbar. You might not. If you’re not, just shove him away and run off! Remember we’re not interested in sticking around and doing anything flashy. If it’s there (and you need to), then use it. If not, do something else!
  • Coming on the inside of the arm can also be useful as collapsing it brings their head towards you. For striking this can be very useful but for control perhaps even more so. Gaining a good clinched position can be an effective way to gain the advantage you need to do what you need to do and leave.
    • Being on the inside of the arm near their centre line allows for lots of striking options, particularly at range 2 with your elbows (which is very easily done from a high guard). Elbow striking really lends itself to these close-up situations.

Focus Section: Violence Dynamics:

This section brought together all of the skills we’d been working on and put them into a useful context worth studying: the ‘Pincer Movement’. Here’s a quotation from an article that is actually chapter 2 of Geoff Thompson’s excellent book ‘Dead or Alive’:

If more than one assailant is involved it is usual for one of the attackers to deploy the victim with distracting dialogue, whilst the other(s) move to your offside. Whilst the victim is distracted by the questioner, his accomplice(s) attack.

This was one of the most common attacks in the nightclub when I worked as a doorman and is a common, though, unbelievably, innate, ploy of gang robbery or rapes: the pincer movement. That is why so many people seem to get glassed or stabbed in the side of the face or neck because they are not attacked by the person in front that they are arguing with. They are attacked by the guy at the side that they do not see because of their adrenal induced tunnel vision (no one seems to teach these people to do this; they just do it instinctively).

There is a wealth of information in that chapter and I heavily recommend that you have a read. Better yet, buy the book. It’s packed with useful information and case studies. I’ve included it (and all its details so you can find it easily) on our Recommended Reading page. There’s more information I found in chapter 16 which was reproduced on that website on the appropriate response to multiple attackers and in chapter 2 (linked above) there’s a lot more information on violence dynamics, the criminal interview, etc than we could cover in this session.

To understand the dynamic of the pincer movement, we performed a simple acclimatisation drill to start: in groups of 3, we had two people continuously walk towards their ‘victim’, with one always trying to come around to their ‘blind side’ and get around them to a position from which they could attack. In this stage, we simply used our footwork to maintain a position from which we could see both partners clearly, and attempted to get them close together so that only one was in a position from which they could attack us at any one time.

Afterwards, we had one partner engage the ‘victim’ with conversation while the other initiated an attack. Dealing with an attack (from both partners), and running away, the ‘victim’ then had to justify their actions to the group as we did on Red Nose Day. Some points to remember:

  • Don’t stick around and fight if you can run. While in initial training the consequence might just be getting ragged around a bit and slapped or taken down by your conscientious partners, in an assault that could be one of them holding you on the floor while the other stamps on your head until you stop breathing. If you can run away, run away!
  • Don’t let them get too close! If you feel threatened and you can run, just run. If you can’t, but shoving the guy out of the way can give you that escape, then do it. Run away.
  • Don’t hesitate either. If you know you can’t run and you have to deploy force in order to change the situation so you can escape, don’t wait around before you do. Once you’ve decided on your action (and the need for it) then do it with conviction and without hesitation. This article quotes the words of Miyamoto Musashi (an expert Japanese swordsman and rōnin – author of The Book of Five Rings) on the matter: ‘When facing multiple opponents, you must attack first and keep attacking until the danger subsides.’

In the drills we did today, I saw people managing the distance between themselves and others effectively. I saw people demonstrating excellent relaxed striking (hitting extremely hard too). I saw people putting the skills we’ve been developing into practice in a very difficult situation. Most importantly, I saw them doing so efficiently and then justifying it afterwards.

Incredible effort, lots of sweat and even a little blood: excellent training with excellent people.

Well done, all of you. The ability and dedication in the room was truly humbling.

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

-Josh

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.

Training Notes – Endon – 28.03.2015

Elbow Strike NeonThis week we went old-school with a few of the classic drill formats. I think we can all agree it was an intense one!

To start off our old-school sesh, we warmed up with some joint rotation, stretching movements, etc high and low. To loosen off and get into the swing of things, we worked from pushes and strikes to develop footwork and positioning using a Systema, Taiji and Aikido-influenced methodology, and then used circular footwork and positioning (situation allowing) to deal with grabs much like elements of Baguazhang in some respects, as this nicely explained video I saw a while ago by Richard Clear shows.

Then once we were warmed up and loosened off with the softer skills we got straight to it: classic partner padwork with some solid focus on basic striking methods: jabs, crosses, rising knee strikes, low hook kicks and jab kicks.

Then a short speed drill ensued, whereby partners tested each others’ reactions by presenting pads and leaving them in random places to be hit, leaving less and less reaction time. At random times, on command, padholders would chase their partner to the end of the hall trying to score points by tapping them on the back, head or shoulders with the pads.

After that, the group all came together to drill as one:

Running the Gauntlet:

This was the main section of the session, and was a lot of fun all around as well as being a great test of endurance, willpower and combative efficacy. Each drill involved each person in the group going dealing with every other person in the group before the next person had their turn.

Gauntlet 1: People one-by-one in a line.
Everyone stood in a line, and attacked the combatant however they liked one at a time. Making their way through the line, the combatant had to reach the end. After dealing with the last person, the combatant ran away and everyone would chase them to the end of the hall.

Gauntlet 2: People one-by-one in a circle.
This was the same as the last drill, but instead of going through a convenient line, the combatant is completely surrounded by people. One at a time, these people attack however they like in a random order. Once the last person is dealt with, the combatant runs away and everyone else gives chase.

Gauntlet 3: Pads, one-by-one in a line.
The combatant has to get through a line of pad-holding partners, performing different movements (hook punches, hammer fists, etc) on each. When each section of the line has been finished with, the combatant must forcibly move their padholding partner out of the way with biomechanical manipulation in order to approach the next padholder. Once the last padholder is finished with, the combatant runs away while all of the padholders chase them, trying to tap them with their pads.

Gauntlet 4: Pads, one-by-one in a circle.
As before, this was the same as 3 but in a circle again.

Gauntlet 5: Pads and a stick, at random, in a circle.
This time the pads were presented at random by padholders in a random order, and sometimes the combatant would be attacked with a stick. Sometimes they would have multiple padholders to deal with, or a padholder and a stick-wielding partner, or multiple padholders and a stick-wielding partner. Any padholders who weren’t presenting pads walked around the combatant getting in the way.

These drills were a lot of fun, but also developed three key attributes for anyone interested in honing their self-protection skills:

  • Endurance. The ability to get very tired very quickly again … and again … and again … and still be effective.
  • Proactive positioning and situational awareness. The ability to keep as cool a head as you can when surrounded by people, prioritise targets and deal with an attack while keeping an eye on what others around you are doing. With positioning, the ability to get out of that crowd as quickly as possible and make yourself a more difficult target to overwhelm in the first place!
  • Tenacity. The cultivation of what some martial arts refer to as ‘indomitable spirit’: the mindset that does not give up and is not intimidated into submission. The will to respond, escape and survive.

As always, it was a pleasure to train with you all and many thanks to everyone who came. I hope you all have a great weekend and see you next time!

-Josh Nixon

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.

Training Notes – Endon – 20.03.2015

IMG_20150217_205603 - CopyOn our Facebook page today I made a tongue-in-cheek reference to the eclipse this morning, saying that they’re a portent of epic things to come.

I wasn’t wrong. This week’s session was phenomenal.

A warm welcome to another new member who is already experienced in Filipino martial arts, JKD, BJJ and KFM. We love it when people come who are already experienced martial artists, as they always have something new and fresh to bring to the table. By the same token, it was great to have our friendly neighbourhood Samurai with us again showing off some incredible Jujutsu skills on the ground!

This week, we’d been double-booked by our new venue. As there was an annual event going on in the hall, we were told we couldn’t train. This, of course, is not how we roll so I asked if we could use the small back room instead. The result was a very enjoyable shake-up to how we normally train!

The funny thing is, I’d planned a session focussed on close-quarters stuff!

To start, we warmed up with some partner work:

  • Pushes and strikes for relaxed movement and footwork.
  • Positioning for control: controlling a partner’s arm and following up with strikes and takedowns.
    • Recap: forwards and backwards fall absorption and efficient takedowns by manipulating the spine that we looked at last week.

Then we got onto some more in-depth partner work in close quarters:

  • Person A grabs Person B’s shirt and punches him in the face. Classic angry man outside the chippie style.
    • Person B uses positioning, footwork and parrying or blocking (depending on angle) to move IN to the attacker and gain control of their posture.
    • Person B takes Person A to the floor.
    • Progression 1: Person B then tries to kick and stamp on their partner, who climbs up them (as we did the other week) in order to prevent this rather unpleasant treatment and maintain control in the process.
    • Progression 2: Person A takes Person B down. Person B climbs up Person A and takes him down. Continuous with quick changes of partners at unexpected moments!

Of course, as always we respect the reiterate the Force Continuum: we’re using the stamping and kicking here as a tool to explore how to deal with that kind of assault, not necessarily as a recommended followup once you’ve taken an attacker down!

Padwork in close quarters (ranges 2 and 3):

  • Hook punches, palm strikes and hammer fists starting with the striking hand on one pad, enforcing a short distance within which you can accelerate.
    • Relaxed movement and footwork to generate power.
  • Short elbow strikes from a reference point:
    • From the fence, front hand is the reference point.
    • Collapse the arm and step forward quickly, striking with the elbow.
  • Proactive targeting: Don’t just wait for a target to present itself! Make your own opportunities. Grab the pad and move it to where you want it. Grab the head and turn the face away, etc.

Don’t be reactive. Be proactive.

Edged weapons:

  • A common modus operandi for stabbings: grab and stab (linked to the previous grab and punch).
  • Using this as a framework (lead hand grab, frenzied stabbing with the rear hand towards anywhere in the torso), we explored how to increase our chances of surviving.
    • Drill 1: knife acclimatisation. 
      • Moving parts of the body away from the blade in order to limit the chance and seriousness of injury.
      • Awareness of which parts of the body to be particularly wary of protecting.
      • Awareness of where the knife is and what it’s doing.
    • Drill 2: grab and stab, grip and control development.
      • Person A grabs Person B as before and stabs towards the stomach with their rear hand.
      • Person B responds the moment he’s grabbed – immediately – and moves his torso away while intercepting the other arm. It could be a stab or a punch, or he could be reaching for a gun, or anything – right now, it doesn’t matter. Intercept that arm.
      • The stab comes, but is parried by that intercepting arm. Person B grabs onto the attacking arm and controls it close to their chest using both hands. The knife is pointing away from them and the arm is secure.
        •  …or is it? Person A tests the grip by violently shaking their arm and trying to free it. Maximum force, absolute ferocity.
          •  With a high COM (Centre of Mass), you can be moved around easily. The further you are from their shoulder, the easier you are to ‘rag around’ and take off-balance. It takes great footwork to keep up with this. Drop your COM a little with a slight bend in your knees (keep good posture though) and sink yourself in close to the attacker’s shoulder and you can resist their efforts much more efficiently.
            • Today’s (O_o) face goes to Dave for full-on picking me up in the air in the process of demonstrating this!
        • If you don’t get stabbed and cut up, you secured the arm. If not, you didn’t!
    • Drill 3: grab and stab, followup from control.
      • Once we established how to achieve and maintain control with a non-compliant partner ragging you around, we looked at what to do from there.
        • Striking options: quickly striking when opportunities are present and returning to controlling the weapon.
          • Striking without letting go: using the shoulders, head and feet to strike while keeping full control of the armed arm (pun intended).
        • Takedowns: risky but potentially viable. Take their balance by manipulating the spine.
        • Disarming: keep it simple and stupid. Smash their arm until they let go, or keep two-handed control of the arm and smash the back of the hand into a wall if there’s one there.
          • If you end up on the floor, smash the hand into the floor. You can also pin the arm using your leg while you do what you need to.
      • Again, the Force Continuum has to be reiterated. Don’t just default to grabbing the knife and carving your name into their chest! If you can avoid using excessive levels of force, and this is entirely dependent on the situation and all its infinite variables, then you should.
    • Drill 4: exploring parrying and striking simultaneously.
      • Person A stabs Person B as before, but wears a focus mitt so Person B can strike while simultaneously dealing with the blade and going for the control, etc. A useful little drill.

To finish, we did some basic breathwork drills (which we’ll return to next week…) and tension & relaxation work, along with percussive massage.

This week’s session was incredible. An awesome turnout, another new member and the return of recent new members as well as our seasoned warriors. The atmosphere was fantastic, the skill and effort I saw in everyone was unbelievable, and it was incredibly enjoyable to train with you all as it always is.

See you next week! We’re back in the usual hall from next week onwards, though that room is always there if we want it…

-Josh Nixon

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.

Training Notes – Endon – 13.03.2015

Red Noses Focal B&WYesterday was, of course, Red Nose Day! At the time of writing this post, their website says £78,082,988! Incredible.

We couldn’t let this day go by without some form of recognition and so, while I was sitting at work thoughtfully squidging my friend Snortel the red nose, I had an idea for a rather enjoyable drill we could mark the occasion with: Red Nose matches!

So, after a few shuttle runs, shoving each other around and shoulder mobility exercise, we got to it: in pairs, everyone has a red nose on. As a test of your parrying and blocking, you have to knock each other’s red nose off! No point-keeping or anything; just a bit of fun to warm up with.

We used this however to make a very useful point.

If you keep your attacker at range 3 (about an arm’s length away) and you’re trying to control them like that, good luck. I say that because it’s incredibly difficult to protect yourself successfully while you’re there, as you usually get into a kind of standoff where you’re reacting to their strikes, throwing some of your own, and you’re too easily overwhelmable. You have to be extremely skilled to manage to parry and/or block an unrelenting attack keeping someone at that distance.

However, as we were saying the week before last, fear (or inefficient training) can lead to mis-management of this distance between yourself and the person trying to assault you. As we found with this lighthearted drill, it was much more efficient to move in to range 1-2 and control the limbs of the attacker much more closely, restricting their movement and ‘jamming’ their attempts to strike.

Takedowns! …posturepostureposture…

Yet again, you’re going to be sick of me going on about this, but posture is everything in takedowns too! We looked at a couple of concepts: spine alignment and the position of our Centre of Mass (COM).

IMG_20150314_192001IMG_20150314_192013As we saw with our partners, applying a downward force to a straight spine doesn’t really do much to their posture. A straight, neutral stance is of course very stable as your COM’s reference point (marked X on my scribbles) is right between your feet along your centre line. (Wing Chun people are nodding sagely…)

However, if the spine is misaligned, things are different. Whether it’s a sideways bend (as the right-hand scribble on an old diary’s page attempts to portray) or a move forwards or backwards, this misalignment shifts the COM away from that centre line.

IMG_20150314_200559As the point on the floor directly below a person’s COM (reference point marked x on the above scribblings) is moved in any direction away from the centre, the posture of the person is weakened and their ability to withstand downwards pressure without falling to the floor is compromised. The person’s balance is off, and you can use that to your advantage! Think of it as moving that x towards one of the compass points to the right.

Prevent their feet from taking the natural step they’ll want to take to recover from this and lo and behold: a takedown just happened!

  1. Misalign the spine.
  2. Prevent recovery.
  3. Downwards force.

Of course there’s more to it than just this, and plenty that can be done besides, but this is a basic look at takedowns. This post was going to be just brief bullet points, but then I found I was in a typing-something-up mood!

The Aftermath: Justification and Explanation

After violence occurs, you have to be able to explain what happened and justify why it did. We took a simple drill – Person A attacks Person B however they like, and Person B responds – such as you’d find in any self-protection or martial arts class. What we did then, however, marks out quality mindful self-protection training from those who pay lip-service to the Force Continuum and to justifying your Force Deployment after violence takes place.

Person A then asks questions.

‘What did you do?’

‘Well why did you do that?’

‘Did you really have to? I mean, did you have to use that much force?’

‘Why didn’t you just walk away?’

‘Was he even of sound mind? For all you know he could have been vulnerable and you just slapped him!’

‘Couldn’t you have used less force? It seemed a bit excessive.’

‘I bet that really annoyed you. I’d have been furious. I bet you really wanted to give him some then, didn’t you?’

Person B has to justify what they did – honestly, openly and mindfully. When we talk about justification, it’s important to remember that you’re not just justifying yourself legally. Socially, you might have to justify yourself to the people around you (family, friends, colleagues) who could see you as ‘violent’, or as someone who’s ‘been in a fight’. It’s now up to you to explain to them that it wasn’t a fight: you protected yourself and had to. Personally, you will likely have to justify it to yourself as well. Doubts could spring up about what you did and whether it was the right decision, whether you could have de-escalated better, etc. After the violence has ended, there can be a lot of mess to clear up before it’s all over!

This underpins everything that we learn in an Evolutionary Self-Protection session. Never forget that you have to justify and understand what you’re doing. There’s a lot more to it than chucking your partner around and bashing the pads.

Even a silly bit of fun – knocking red noses off each other – in a room full of laughter is a valuable learning and training experience with obvious progression and subtle nuances for beginners and experienced participants alike.

Train mindfully. Train efficiently. Train evolution…arily? Yep, that’ll do!

Have an awesome weekend everyone – see you next week!

-Josh Nixon 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.

Training Notes – 20.02.2015

IMAG0206.jpgAs always, this week’s class was a lot of fun! Many thanks as always to everyone who came and we hope to see everyone else again soon! The sheer skill and natural ability I saw this week was phenomenal. Everyone did exceptionally well and should be extremely proud of their progress and prowess.

Here’s some brief notes to guide your martial ponderings…

  • We started off this week’s awesomeness with a circuit of the usual kinds of calisthenics exercises: pushups, Russian twists, throwing a slam ball, passing a kickshield from hands to feet and back again while lying down, dips and burpees.
  • Thoroughly warmed up, we loosened off with some quadrupedal movement before moving onto ground mobility drills involving a variety of rolls, takedowns and padwork from different positions.
  • This week we took the drill we did last week on dealing with an attack with a stick and expanded on it with many logical progressions. Some key points to remember:
    • Once you decide you need to deploy force, and you find the right moment in which to do so, you must act immediately, efficiently and decisively.
    • Close distance and use your elbows to your advantage!
    • Get control and make sure it’s a strong grip you have. Anything less than your strongest is not good enough.
    • Act fast: strike and control.
    • You might get hit a little despite your best efforts, but there’s varying degrees of how much that’ll ruin your day. Your positioning and footwork has a lot to do with this. Train intelligently and act efficiently!
  • We also looked at some options when using a high guard against straight and hooked punches coming towards us – it’s a very versatile and efficient method of protecting yourself.
    • Regardless, we’re not about to stand there and deal with one hit at a time! Just as with the stick:
      • Close distance and gain control.
      • Striking, striking, striking…
      • Disrupt their posture and you compromise them greatly – this can be used for takedowns or truly devastating striking opportunities. Or, if possible, just a shove and your chance to run away! Remember the Force Continuum – it has to be borne in mind at all times in your training.
  • Sometimes, try as we might to avoid things getting this bad, we end up on the floor with someone trying to turn our torso from convex to concave with their feet.
    • Again, act immediately, quickly, efficiently and decisively.
    • Close distance, claw and climb your way up them. Grab whatever you find: clothes, skin, muscle, fat, hair… it doesn’t matter. Like a monkey climbing a tree. Credit to Andrew Holland (http://theselfdefenceexpert.com/) for introducing me to this very useful concept in his excellent Primal Combatives session back in 2013.
    • The closer you are to those legs, the more difficult it is for them to kick you.
    • Get up. Fast. And don’t forget that if you need to then striking can be done on the way.
    • After a tiring set of drills combining much of the aforementioned, we finished off with some percussive massage (Russian style) as a relaxation and breathwork drill.

This class is free for beginners and runs every Friday at 17:45 in Stoke-on-Trent (ST99NX). Everyone is welcome and all the details can be found here (or just click ‘Public Training’ at the top).

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