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 – 24.04.2015

Fence Logo 3This week we worked with some gruelling stuff – a real challenge to condition ourselves with. Heart rates and spirits were high, and the atmosphere was – as always – incredible.

To begin, a simple warmup of butt kicks, star jumps, high knees and switching feet to get us moving, then repeated at maximum intensity in intervals.

A nice stretch followed, before we got to the good stuff…

Partner Work – Skills Focus:

Some simple stuff: using the high guard to deal with straight and hooked punches. Emphasis on footwork and distance management.

Partner Work – Resistance Focus:

Tiring stuff. To begin with, you lie on the floor and a partner lies on you as a dead weight. By simply moving (wedge shapes, etc), you remove them. Simple and not difficult.

Then three people lie on you and you do the same.

Then a partner lies on you and you have to remove them while they’re grabbing at you and trying to hold on.

It started off nice and easy, then become somewhat less so!

OOOFFF! You’ve put some weight on! -Tim

Following that, we did the Push & Pads drill that we enjoyed last week, with a focus on hook punches and hammer fists, moving our partner for the length of the hall before we got a break. There’ll be a progression from this next week…

To finish this section, we had a couple of rounds of advancing with relentless striking: think of it as though you’re swimming through your attacker, only your ‘attacker’ is an unforgiving partner with a kickshield, and your ‘swimming’ involves smashing that pad with everything you’ve got, in whatever way you like. If you haven’t hit it hard enough, your partner doesn’t move, and you’ve got to make it all the way down the hall. And back. A couple of times.

Hit and Run Drills:

This was when things stepped up a notch. We returned to the Hit & Run drill that we all enjoyed so much last week but this time with a difference:

  • Baddie stands facing Goodie, posturing aggressively and getting in their personal space. Baddie, whenever they like, has to touch Goodie’s face. This is a full-speed (but safe) ‘attack’ that can easily be used for these kinds of drills.
  • Goodie has to prevent that – either with a good fence and distance management, movement and footwork, parrying and blocking… the method is up to them. Whether they prevent it or not, they have to get past Baddie and run away.
  • Baddie runs after Goodie as fast as possible and tags them.
    • If you escape, well done!
    • If you don’t:
      • Drop to the floor – 10 pushups and hold the last one
      • Baddie pushes you over onto your back – absorb that by being relaxed and then do 20 crunches
      • Climb aggressively your way up the Baddie, maintaining control at every moment, so you can’t get kicked or stamped on so easily as you get to your feet.
    • Repeat for 2 minutes and 59 seconds. I was feeling nice, and 3 minutes seemed a long time.

Then we returned to the same one we did last week, which works with a pre-emptive strike instead of dealing with one you didn’t manage to prevent:

  • Baddie stands facing Goodie with focus mitts on. Whenever they like, Baddie presents a pad.
  • Goodie hits it, immediately, as effectively as they possibly can. They then run away.
  • Baddie runs after Goodie as fast as possible and tags them.
    • If you escape, well done!
    • If you don’t:
      • Drop to the floor – 10 pushups and hold the last one
      • Baddie pushes you over onto your back – absorb that by being relaxed and then crunch up and hold. Baddie will present pads which you have to hit 20 times from that position.
      • Climb up as before, rinse and repeat. 2m59s again!

To finish, a quote to sum up our approach:

Don’t make it something you do.

Make it something you are.

Training with you all, as always, was wonderful. 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 – 03.04.2015

Elbow Strike NeonAnti-grappling!

This session was a lot of fun – we explored some ideas to help us deal with common methods involving grappling and develop some useful skills with that in mind.

We started, after the usual loosening off, with some breathwork under stress. This took the form of simple exercises done with good breathing, followed by inhaling and performing the exercises with that breath held, and exhaling before performing the exercises with empty lungs.

This kind of breathwork is useful for lots of reasons. It places greater emphasis on the quality of your breathing while exercising by giving an extreme counterpoint to effective breathing, but also it helps us deal with the very real fear inherent in not breathing. By dealing with this fear, even a little, we can help ourselves to panic less in the event that someone tries to stop us from breathing in a violent encounter. In contrast, we also appreciate much more viscerally how seriously we should take such an assault, and how quickly we need to act in order to prevent syncope: a loss of consciousness.

From there, we moved onto tension and relaxation drills: Person A tries to manipulate Person B’s spine and effect a takedown by disrupting their posture (we looked at this in detail when we trained on Red Nose Day), while Person B resists with tension. This made for a great core stability exercise! Then, instead of using tension to deal with the stimulus, we used relaxation: allowing the push to continue past us and moving to a position of advantage. Like fighting a ghost. We also did some padwork with resistance from the padholder, having to forcefully push them off us before being able to strike the pads they presented.

IMG_20150408_130057 - CopyWe focussed in on grips themselves for the next section, using grabs to the wrist, arm, clothes and throat to look at the anatomy of a grip and how to break it. We found that, as the weakest part of a grip is the gap between the thumb and fingers, what tends to work best in breaking that grip is moving what’s been grabbed in the direction of this gap, and moving the grabbing hand in the direction of the back of that hand. That’s difficult to articulate, so have a picture!

In this example, we moved the hand in the orange direction and ourselves in the blue direction (if possible – we did this up against a wall too). If there’s two hands, they just need to go in opposite directions! This is very simple to do and show, but complicated-sounding to type.

Grip Size ComparisonWe also found a simple thing to bear in mind: the wider the thing being gripped, the weaker the grip on it. Thus, a grab further up the forearm is structurally weaker than a grab to your wrist.

Grips to clothes, however, were not quite so easy to break quickly and so we used that grip to effect various biomechanical manipulations or bypassed it altogether to capitalise on the striking opportunities that the grab gave us. The difficulty in breaking these grips lies in how the material tends to wrap around the fingers into the middle of the tightly clenched fist, as the picture to the right shows. Clothes Grip GIFThus, it’s generally more efficient to use these grips to our advantage instead of focussing on them and trying to break them. Everything the attacker does presents us with opportunities – we just need to know how to look for them and what to do with them.

Once we’d worked on the anatomy and angles regarding grips and breaking them, we put this basic knowledge into practice against some of the more common assault dynamics involving grappling:

  • Grab with one hand (typically clothes/chest, or throat), followed by a strike with the other towards the face.
    • High guard, intercept and drive through with the elbow before following up with control and/or striking as necessary.
  • Grab around the throat up against the wall (either one hand, typically followed by a strike with the other, or a concerted effort to choke with both hands).
    •  Various methods of breaking the grip and using the high guard and elbows to strike while maintaining control of limbs, head and shoulders.
  • A ‘shoot for the double-leg’ takedown, involving the attacker grabbing both legs and pushing forwards and upwards with their shoulder, in an attempt to flip someone over so they land on their back or the back of their head.
    • Sprawling and turning the tables on the attacker: allowing their own movement to be their downfall (literally!).
  • To reiterate some previous points, a bear hug.
    • Sometimes it’s just as easy as standing up in the right place: using your whole body to disrupt their posture while you improve yours.
    • Sneaky strikes work wonders.

We discussed how the grabs themselves that we’re looking at are rarely the most pressing issue when it comes to the assault that’s taking place – nobody tends to just grab your clothes and leave it at that, otherwise we wouldn’t be overly bothered by it – but rather it’s the followup that we’re most concerned with. The grab to the clothes isn’t a problem, but the punch in the face following it is! The bear hug in itself isn’t much of an issue, but the other three people hitting you while your arms are pinned are! That’s why our response has to be as fast and efficient as possible – especially if the person attacking knows what they’re doing or is naturally stronger than you are.

Again, it’s worth mentioning the force continuum here: we’re not interested in sticking around once we’ve dealt with the assault and battling it out, having a wrestle (despite the fun and games between Steve and I whenever there’s the opportunity for some wrestling!) or ‘teaching the scumbag a lesson’. We’re getting to a position of advantage and doing what we need to do to escape and stay safe. That’s it. Sometimes one or two good, well-placed and well-timed strikes is all that’s needed. That’s when you didn’t manage to see it coming, evaluate the situation and talk your way out of it (or just avoid it altogether) in the first place of course. Never lose sight of the goal of your training: survival and escape.

As always, it was a pleasure to train with you all and many thanks to everyone who came. I hope you all had a very happy Easter 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. If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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.

Evolutionary Self-Protection is Moving to Endon

Hi everyone,

Wesley Methodist Church that we used in Stockton Brook has now been sold and so we’ve found a new venue for our Friday class!

Thankfully, we’ve only moved down the road to Endon Village Hall on Station Road in Endon (ST99DR). For those who haven’t been that way before, just keep going along Leek New Road past Endon High School until you come to a crossroads. Turn right there onto Station Road (there’s a church on the corner) and it’s just about 100 yards down there on your right. Car parking spaces are at the front.

It seems a great venue – nice and clean, and bigger than the last place we trained in. I’ll really miss the church in Stockton Brook after training and teaching there for about 8 years now – we all will – but I’m really looking forward to training in Endon.

The details are all on our public classes page but for your convenience:

Endon Village Hall, Station Road, Endon, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, ST9 9DR
All ages, fitness levels and ability levels welcome!
Fridays at 18:00-19:00.
Just £3 per session (£2 for NUS card holders). First session FREE!

See you tomorrow!

Josh Nixon
Founding Instructor, ESP

Please note we also offer affordable private and corporate training options for individuals and groups of all ages, as well as student discount on all our training, discounted flexible block booking options and a rewarding referral scheme.

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Training Notes – 27.02.2015

IMG_20150214_121842This week’s session was a lot of fun – many thanks to all who attended! It was wonderful to welcome so many new people all at once and awesome to have two more experienced members return after we’d missed them for a few weeks. We really got that particular kind of atmosphere this week that you can only get when you get more in than expected.

I hope you all have a great weekend and see you next time!

For those who are new to us, when I write these I often link to associated important concepts either on Wikipedia, other websites or our own small wiki that I’m working on for our specific concepts.

Threat Awareness is worth a look, as well as Threat Evaluation and Threat Avoidance. Communicative Strategies will come into play next time when we look at distraction and pre-emptive striking, and the Force Continuum is extremely important to bear in mind.

Of course, if anyone has any questions then feel free to get in touch!

This week, we looked at:

  • Footwork, posture and positioning: the importance of good posture can’t be overstated enough. As the squats, slams and burpees will have shown you in particular, good posture is everything.
  • Use of ‘The Fence’ to manage distance proactively (Without looking aggressive!) when someone’s squaring off and invading your personal space.
    • Fear and how it can lead us towards mis-management of that space. Backing off continually isn’t always the best option.
    • Keep your hands neutral and relaxed, but ready. They’re there if you need them, that’s all.
  • Footwork and relaxed movement when pushed around a bit.
    • (Progression: the same when punched.)
    • Keeping control: proximity and ‘sticking’ to the aggressor to limit their options. Again, it’s all about positioning and posture.
  • Striking from the Fence:
    • Hammer Fist
      • Relaxed arm drill: just feeling the weight of your arm.
    • Palm Strike
      • Relaxed striking: still feeling the weight of your arm, encouraging a whiplike acceleration.

When I’m asked what our methods are based on, I often discuss things like Systema, Wing Chun, Krav Maga, Jujutsu, etc. However, when it comes down to it, it’s all just physics, biology and psychology/sociology.

The most important thing to remember in striking: simple physics.

FORCE = MASS x ACCELERATION

Through our relaxed movement, we accelerate as fast as we can in any given space because we don’t have unnecessary tension working against that movement.

Through posture and refined (trained) movement, we get as much of our body mass behind that strike as we can.

The above helps us generate as much force as we possibly can. We further refine this with beneficial positioning and striking methods to apply that force as efficiently as we can: to get maximum effect from minimum required effort. This is what we call economy of motion.

We also looked at:

  • Dealing with someone striking us with a stick: working with a useful movement we developed last week (and the week before).
    • 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.
      • An easy way to test this grip is have your partner violently shake their arm to see if they can wrench it free with brute force. Gripping with just your hands likely won’t be enough but keeping it close and against you, gripping efficiently and using positioning and posture to your advantage (and their disadvantage) will.

All in all, we’ve worked on a lot of things here. Something that’s worth bearing in mind was expressed well by Sonny Puzikas in a great video we recently shared on Facebook: these punches, kicks and swinging weapons are just movements. They only become a strike when they make contact with their intended target. Until then, they’re just movements.

Don’t fear a movement: train to work with it. Train intelligently and you work efficiently.

Once again, many thanks to all who came and see you next week! It was a pleasure and a privilege to train with such truly excellent people.

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.

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