7 Essential Books for Beginners

Whether you’re just starting out learning about self-protection or you’re already a seasoned cognoscenti in the field, a little reading never goes amiss. Particularly if you’ve done a decent amount of training in a martial art – perhaps you’re a black belt looking for new avenues of knowledge to devour –  but you haven’t received any training specifically tailored towards self-protection, it is beneficial to read around the subject. If you’re an instructor or are considering going down that route, it’s essential.

For those of us without experience who are beginning their training, these books will give you a significant head-start. More than that, they will help you to not train in any “bad habits” or misconceptions that are so prevalent and easily taken on. They are all written by knowledgeable and well-respected authors in the field and while nobody’s words are above question (Never stop asking questions!), the advice in these pages is sound.

Here are 7 books that have been influential on my learning journey, taken from our recommended reading list which is full of excellent books. All the publishing info so you can find the right books is included at the bottom of the page.

7) Dead or Alive: The Choice is Yours

The perfect general starting point by Geoff Thompson

doa.PNG(I believe my copy is the 2010 edition, which I think had seen a few revisions). It is exactly what it says it is: a great resource for basic techniques that, really, everyone should know about. They’re all very simple and can be employed by people with minimal or even no training – the real effort is in drilling them intensely and realistically enough so that they can become instinctive and actually useful for you as an individual.

There are lots of photos and it’s all split up into logical chapters. No jargon and associated rubbish in this – it’s just simple and useful stuff that anyone can understand. Seasoned self-protectionists might find it a little too simple in places, but it’s a great resource regardless.

Chapter 21 is particularly valuable: it has a series of case studies from the research Geoff did, with transcripts of interviews with offenders, etc. It’s an awesome resource, and I recommend everyone have a good look through it. Accessible and easily digestible, it’s the perfect starting point.

6) Understanding Reasonable Force

Staying on the right side of the law by clearing up misconceptions by Mark Dawes

urf.PNGThis is a truly fantastic book, and I highly recommend it for anyone in the UK, whether trained and interested or not. Not just a statement of what the law is, it’s a great guide for people unsure of how to interpret the ambiguous terms ‘reasonable force’, ‘necessary’, etc that crop up in discussions of this nature.

Without an understanding of the law, there’s a real danger that we could train in such a way that we’re going to get ourselves into serious trouble.

Simply put, if your training doesn’t include any understanding of the force continuum, reasonable force, etc then it just isn’t self-protection.

It’s written in such a way that people without law degrees can understand it fine, and isn’t dry and boring while still being packed with useful information. There are plentiful case studies and real examples, with references for you to do your own research. It clears up a lot of issues and leaves you equipped to clear up any remaining ones for yourself.

5) Empower Your Kids to be Safe … For Life

How to safeguard children and teach them to protect themselves by Phil Thompson

eyktbsfl.PNGAnother often-neglected side of self-protection is how to protect others and how to teach them to protect themselves.

When it comes to children, it can be a difficult subject to broach. Safeguarding children, however, is perhaps the most critical element of self-protection in today’s world. The aware children of today will become the aware parents of tomorrow, so if we’re ever going to make a difference in the world and make it a safer and more pleasant place to live, it’s through children that we’ll accomplish that.

This well-thought-out, well-written book is invaluable for anyone responsible for children. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a carer an uncle, instructor or older sibling, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

With more people thinking along the lines presented in this book when it comes to children, the world will be a safer and happier place. There are fantastic ideas in this that I definitely recommend everyone take a look at.

4) Let Every Breath…

How to achieve true control of your breath and your body by Vladimir Vasiliev and Scott Meredith

leb.PNGAs well as accumulating knowledge about crime and its prevention, it’s important that we don’t begin to neglect the physical side of things. Physical fitness and conditioning is a hugely important part of an all-round approach to self-protection as without it our physical skills will be ineffective and our ability to escape from bad situations will be similarly compromised.

Aside from this, however, many fall into the trap of not paying much attention to what’s going on in their body when they’re exercising and, crucially, when dealing with fear. The most beneficial practices I’ve found for both enhancing our training and for dealing with fear are outlined in this little book. The relationship between breathing and other physical and psychological processes is fascinating. Read it with an open mind, try what it says, and you’ll be surprised how much of a truly profound impact it can have.

If you want to achieve mediocrity, you can safely ignore this information. If you want to achieve mastery then you need this understanding. Effective breathwork is especially helpful when you start working on the material in our next book on the list…

3) Convict Conditioning

Gaining mastery over your own body and building extreme strength with progressive calisthenics by Paul Wade

cc.PNGToo often, calisthenics are done mindlessly just as a warm-up. Many often perform them with poor form and too quickly, relying on momentum and elastic recoil to fling themselves into the next rep. Those who can perform, say, a pushup well will often fall into the trap of staying with that movement long after it stopped challenging them and thus do not incorporate logical progression into their training. As a result, they plateau and stop making progress. Others focus on pushing or pulling increasingly heavy weights with unnatural movement patterns, ruining their joints in the process.

This is hands-down the best exercise approach I have ever encountered. At the time of writing this review, I have been following the six paths of exercise progression for a year and I have been noticeably and demonstrably stronger week on week, month on month, throughout. The progression of increasingly challenging movements in the six different exercises is not only enjoyable and motivating, but ensures that you build real, functional strength with natural and healthy movement patterns. This means your joints are looked after as well as your muscles. It’s accessible to people of all levels of fitness as the first steps in each exercise path are incredibly easy. You don’t have to be able to do a single pushup or leg raise to start this, but you’ll end up working towards feats of strength far beyond these standard movements. I cannot recommend this approach highly enough: it is now the cornerstone of all my strength training. It’s all I need.

2) A Woman’s Toolkit for Recovery from Violence and Trauma

How to cope with the aftermath of traumatic events by Anna Valdiserri

awtfrfvat.PNGIt’s easy to focus so much on preparation, prevention and protection that we forget to deal with the remaining facet of violence: what comes after.

This book is comprehensive without being overly wordy or weighed down with excessive jargon and case study after case study as many such things are. It’s a step-by-step, well-considered look at how to deal with the aftermath of a violent encounter. While its intended audience is women, there’s nothing that isolates men from benefiting from its guidance. It’s a very useful resource for men and women alike to understand the often complex psychological, emotional and social processes that go on after violence occurs. I would recommend this not only as a valuable exercise in understanding your own recovery but as guidance in helping others through the same. True justice is often not done to this aspect of violence by self-protection instructors, or may even be completely omitted from their training and study, and this book can assist very effectively with that shortcoming.

1) Meditations on Violence

The game-changer by Rory Miller

mov.PNGThis has stood the test of time and is on the shelf of every well-read instructor I know. It stands out as the authoritative text on the matter, and is perfect both for beginners and for those with some training under their belt who want to ensure they’re on the right track.

It is a truly invaluable insight into the difference between martial arts training and real violence, from an author who is talking from experience, not theories. It’s a rare thing to find an author on this topic who simultaneously knows what he is writing about and can write about it well, but Sgt. Rory Miller certainly can. It’s full of detailed information on the physical and psychological sides of violence, and is expressed in such a way that it’s easily understood.

If you’re not entirely sure your training is up to the demands of real violence, give this a read. If you are entirely sure your training is up to the demands of real violence, give this a read anyway. I can’t recommend it enough.


As you can see from our recommended reading list, there are a great number of excellent books to choose from on any of these subjects. These seven were chosen because they will give you a broad and often in-depth understanding of many of the most important aspects of self-protection study. By following their advice, you’ll build an understanding of:

  • General self-protection concepts:
    • Threat awareness
    • Threat evaluation
    • Threat avoidance
    • Communicative strategies
    • Force deployment
  • UK law, “reasonable force” and the Force Continuum
  • Safeguarding children (and others who you’re responsible for)
  • Breathwork for increased effectiveness in exercise, increased effectiveness of force deployment and for mastering fear to avoid panic
  • Efficient and effective strength and conditioning that looks after your overall health as well as the strength of your muscles
  • How to cope with the aftermath of traumatic events and how to help others who have gone through them
  • How to ensure that your training serves you well, is relevant and is efficient.

Happy reading!

– Josh Nixon


Book List:

Thompson, Geoff. Dead or Alive: The Choice Is Yours: The Definitive Self-Protection Handbook. Summersdale. 2004. ISBN 978-1-84024-279-9.

Dawes, Mark. Understanding Reasonable Force. NFPS. 2006. ISBN 1-84667-012-8.

Thompson, Phil. Empower Your Kids to be Safe … For Life: Vital information every parent must know to keep their kids safe from child predators and violence. BookPal. 2009. ISBN 978-1-921578-31-1.

Vasiliev, Vladimir and Meredith, Scott. Let Every Breath…: Secrets of the Russian Breath Masters. V. Vasiliev.2006. ISBN 978-0-9781049-0-0.

Wade, Paul. Convict Conditioning: How to Bust Free of All Weakness – Using the Lost Secrets of Supreme Survival Strength. Dragon Door Publications. 2009. ISBN 978-0-938045-76-2.

Valdiserri, Anna. A Woman’s Toolkit for Recovery from Violence and Trauma. A. Valdiserri. 2015. ASIN B00WQ376TW.

Miller, Rory. Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence. YMAA. 2008. ISBN 1-59439-118-1.

Training Notes – 29.05.2015

Alec and Tim“Ground and pound” – that was the focus of this session. The rather unpleasant position you see the floored gentleman in was what we took some time to focus on: you’re on the ground and somebody decides to take that as an opportunity to do some serious damage to you by enlisting the help of gravity in order to make his strikes (which are unfortunately directed towards you) very powerful indeed.

Getting Knackered: Pads, Pushups and 4 Points.

After loosening off, stretching and warming up with some ground mobility, we played a fun game for cardio: Striker stands in the middle of the hall with a Padholder presenting focus mitts on either side of him. Striker hits one (pads are presented randomly so the choice of strike is freely made). If it was a good enough strike, the padholder takes a step back. If not, the strike has to be repeated. Once the padholder steps back, Striker turns to the other padholder and does the same. This is repeated and as the drill progresses the two padholders are a longer and longer run apart from each other, until the striker has to run the whole length of the hall in order to deliver those strikes!

We also played with some intervals of pushup variations: standard (fists under shoulders), alternating with one hand in front of the other, downward-dog shoulder ones and pushup jacks (down = feet apart, up = feet together). The emphasis was, as always, on posture and breathwork and – within those criteria – getting very tired very fast!

Following from this, we did an interesting ground mobility drill. Person A holds a very high quadrupedal position: hands and feet make a square on the floor, face down and bum up. Person B crawls and rolls around those four points, being restricted in movement by the torso of their partner. This is something that sounds easy but isn’t! It’s also great fun and serves to trim down superfluous movements.

A Spot of Breathwork:

We looked at the four levels of breathwork: places to ‘breathe from’ (an analogy to shift focus – of course scientifically you breathe from your lungs regardless of anything you do!) and also places which we can affect a person’s breathing with. We partnered up and explored different ways of affecting and even fully preventing a person’s breath, and the benefits of certain levels of tension and relaxation depending on what was being affected and how in terms of retaining the ability to breathe when someone tries to stop us from doing so.

Me and TimSupport in Groundfighting:

We did a few drills involving taking away an attacker’s support when they’re (intending to start) raining blows down upon us when we’re on the floor. As we’ve covered already (and here), climbing up your attacker is a great strategy which keeps you relatively safe as you get up onto your feet. However, if you’re being pinned down to the floor you of course have to remove that obstacle before you can start climbing. We started off looking at disrupting posture, removing stability and control with various pins, starting with simple pressure applied with the hand and moving onto things like knees and grabs. This evolved into partners actively trying to pin each other, passing the pins and gaining positions of dominance in free flow.

Padwork from the Ground:

Similarly to earlier this month when we spent some time looking at striking from a disadvantaged position, we worked our striking from the ground while being pinned by our partner. This brought together all of the breathwork, grappling skills and striking work we’d looked at:

  • With the breathwork (and awareness of tension and relaxation) we don’t ‘gas out’ and lose energy easily.
  • With relaxed movement we generate adequate striking power even when we have only a short distance to accelerate the strike in.
  • With the grappling skills of removing an attacker’s support and preventing them from pinning us, we turn the tables and gain a position of dominance from which to effect our escape.

Bonus Feature – Soft Tissue Manipulation:

Made famous by Richard Dimitri of Senshido, ‘The Shredder’ or soft tissue manipulation through clawing is an excellent methodology to gain control of an attacker with. Essentially, by digging the fingertips into soft tissues that can move over bones (for example the cheeks over the teeth and cheekbones) a significant amount of pain can be caused without significant injury, and as such this can be used as a low-force option (thinking about the force continuum, as always). It’s also very distracting and unpleasant when used on the face, as the face can be turned away (disrupting posture) and eyes can be covered, made to close by reflex, etc. However, it’s a versatile methodology in that it can be used as a higher-force option too – eyes can be damaged, skin (ears, nostrils, etc) can be torn, hair pulled, etc. It is an excellent setup for close-in striking such as quick, close-range elbow strikes, using those controlling hands as a reference point.

Here’s a short video demonstrating ‘The Shredder’ and explaining how it feels:

As you can see, it’s excellent stuff.

The Appendices – Relaxation, breathwork and striking:

To finish, we just loosened off with some relaxed movement and breathwork: one person stands in-between two others being pushed around, and using relaxed movement retains good posture and avoids being overbalanced by avoiding direct confrontation with the force presented. Depending on levels of comfort and experience, we worked up to strikes instead of pushes too. Having two people providing this stimulus is a great progression with this kind of work, as you may have conflicting directions to deal with (one person shoving you into someone else’s shove)!

As always, it was a pleasure training with you all. Many thanks to everyone who came and I hope you’ve all had a great weekend. 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 – 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 – 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.

Review: ‘Systema Basics’ by Cutting Edge

Review: ‘Systema Basics’ by Cutting Edge

While it is of course true that one cannot endeavour to effectively learn a martial art or combative system from videos and books, such material can prove invaluable when supplementing existing training, or if you just want to learn a few new concepts to add to your training. This was precisely my aim when buying the ‘Systema Basics’ set from Cutting Edge (you may know them as Perten from YouTube). You can buy all of the DVDs here.

So what is Systema?

(Information from here and here.) Systema (Системa, to write it properly) literally translates to ‘The System’ in Russian. It can be thought of as a general title, similar to the Chinese Kung Fu in that it encompasses multiple different styles and systems. It has been adopted for some high-risk Special Military Operations Units in the спецназ (Spetsnaz) and the ГРУ (GRU) among others after Stalin’s death. Its more extended history and roots are unclear, and multiple conflicting theories exist as to where it came from and what its influences are. Its general characteristics that seem to be consistent throughout different practitioners’ styles are ones that are integral to my teaching in the CSPS; some of which I implemented before knowing about Systema and others I adopted to my training and teaching after finding out how effective Systema is. Here are a few main ones:

  • A profound appreciation of the importance of breathing
  • Abstract, concept-based training rather than technique-based training
  • A lot of emphasis on understanding tension and relaxation
  • An appreciation of the body as a whole system, and a holistic view of training and health in general
  • Psychological training pertaining to fear and relaxation
  • Flowing motion and the resulting efficient transfer of kinetic energy

Robert Poyton of Cutting Edge states that Systema is, in its purest form, ‘a system of breathing and movement’.

In the following sections I have included links to the pages on their website where you can purchase the DVDs, and embedded their trailers from YouTube.

Systema Basics Volume 1 – Falls and Rolls:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B001

This DVD covers one of the most important aspects of training – how to safely fall over without injury! I don’t need to tell you why this is essential knowledge, whether you train combatively or not – consider falling off your bike, or tripping over, or even falling down the stairs! With the right approach to training, all of these can be much less dangerous events than they would otherwise be, which can never be a bad thing! According to this DVD, rolling also teaches us to work against impact (with the floor), how to move safely in dangerous situations while helping us to overcome psychological barriers like fear. There’s also an introduction to takedowns and throws. I thoroughly enjoyed the approach this DVD has to mobility techniques like these, and the mechanics of rolling exemplified in this video are both tactically sound and biomechanically viable. I completely agree with their teachings in this DVD, and you know that means a lot coming from me, because I am extremely picky.

Systema Basics Volume 2 – Ground Mobility:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B002

Building on perfectly from the previous DVD is this one on ground mobility training. Aside from the obvious tactical benefits in a combative situation, the kind of mobility training in this video offer phenomenal core strength training, and are very fun too. When I’m bored at home (which isn’t that often these days – always something to do…) I often have a roll around just because it’s so fun! I get funny looks from people at home, but we shouldn’t let that bother us! A note to parents and instructors – kids love this stuff! I have the honour of co-instructing at PHDefence, and I often get the kids there flopping around on the floor like this, and they absolutely love it! I would recommend that everybody, whether you’re interested in combat and self-protection or not, give this kind of training some thought, as it’s invaluable and highly enjoyable.

Systema Basics Volume 3 – Wave Movement:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B003

Wave moment, a key theme in Systema, allows for a ‘free and natural response’, allowing for both the absorption of and delivery of powerful strikes. This DVD goes through all of the basic concepts necessary to assimilate wave motion to your own movement – breathing, tension and relaxation. In addition to this, there are drills to aid with achieving a full range of motion in your joints, which is of course essential. There is work on using the hips to increase striking power, and also an introduction to what Cutting Edge call ‘Figure-Eight’ striking, which is (as with everything in Systema it seems) both effective and fun. Basically this DVD is about the effective coordination of the different parts of your body which allows for a much more natural motion in combat and training. I have yet to find an aspect of training or combat that the wave motion is not useful for, and that includes rolling, headbutts and even weapon work – it’s an extremely powerful concept to play with, which I would recommend everyone take a look at.

Systema Basics Volume 4 – Health:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B004

Don’t skip over this one! If you’re extremely pragmatic in your training mindset, it’s perhaps understandable to think: ‘What’s this got to do with self-protection?’ The answer is that it has everything to do with self-protection! If you’re ill, or have a weakness in your body or even your mind, then you are unable to defend yourself effectively. Consider this – how much thought do you give to self-protection from pathogens and infection? If not, why not? Is it any less an assault on your person than a human attacking you? This DVD covers use of sticks, concepts regarding posture and balance, cold water dousing (very good stuff) and massage. Take it from me – this is fantastic information that you will regret missing out on.

Systema Basics Volume 5 – Groundfighting:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB005

More fun stuff! Working on principles instead of the more standard MMA-style techniques, Robert Poyton’s different approach is both refreshing and fascinating. Breathing, movement, striking from the ground and escaping compromised positions are all included on this video. I’ve found their approaches to be very useful concepts that are worth assimilating into any training system or martial arts style.

Systema Basics Volume 6 – Takedowns:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB006

This DVD’s pretty simple to explain – it’s stuff you’ll find useful if you’ve got someone standing up, and you want them on the floor! Systema takes a very efficient approach, concerning itself with the structure of the opponent’s body and how to break it rather than set throws and takedowns. An understanding of posture, support and how to work against tension is what you’ll get from this video, which is fantastic knowledge for beginners and experienced combatants alike.

Systema Basics Volume 7 – Movement:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB007

Posture, footwork and movement in general is the focus of this DVD, and it is a sound addition to any training you already do. The drills in this video will help you get yourself in the right place at the right time much more readily than one without this understanding of how to move would be capable of. Again, I heartily recommend it as a great addition to your combative collection!

Systema Basics Volume 8 – Breathing:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB008

As you all know, breathing is central to everything in Systema, as it is in ESP. It underpins literally everything you do, whether it’s exercises, striking, dealing with being struck or anything else. The particularly interesting section of this for me was breathing through physical discomfort, which I have found extremely useful – using these concepts, whether it’s stubbing your toe or accidentally letting a punch slip through your guard, you can make things a lot better for yourself through simply being aware of your breathing. If you’re into meditation (I am) then this DVD will be especially interesting.

Systema Basics Volume 9 – Biomechanics:
Please note that this title is no longer available (as of 29.10.2013). 
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB009

‘The body is a marvellous machine and in some ways can be manipulated as such.’ This quote from their website speaks for itself! Paul Genge in this one explains how the principles of levers, cogs, spindles and wedges can be used in combative situations. An awareness of these principles is extremely helpful in all situations, and this DVD could well be the most important of the lot if you’re new to this kind of training. The mix of diagrams and examples works especially well for the left-brained among us, but the way it’s all explained makes this an extremely accessible and yet highly informative video.

Systema Basics Volume 10 – Kicks:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB010

It is what it says on the tin really – a DVD about how to apply Systema principles to kicking! After going through some stretches and exercises, the DVD shows how to deal with kicks as well as dish them out, which was the particularly interesting bit for me. Sometimes training can focus too much on kicking pads, and not enough on what to do if someone else is kicking you – don’t let this happen with yours!

Systema Basics Volume 11 – Solo Training:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B0011

This is the first one I saw, and it was a great place to start with this series. The DVD goes through a wealth of information regarding exercises you can do alone, working with sticks and knives, breath work, ideas for ground mobility and how to adapt the basic exercises to develop new ones. At the end is a guided breathing exercise which takes you through a tension and relaxation routine, which is great for those who are interested in stress relief or meditation. This DVD is the perfect one to get if you’re not sure whether you want to commit to buying the whole set in one go, and want to get an idea of what’s in it first as it gives you a great introduction to what Systema is. This one might be my favourite DVD of the set because it’s so useful, whether you want general fitness and health benefits or combative training. If you get any of them, make sure you get this one.

Systema Basics Volume 12 – Drills:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB012

Similar to the previous volume, this is another ‘bits of everything’ video. The last in the series, it draws together all of the concepts from the other DVDs and expands on how to develop your own drills while also developing natural movement. It explains abstract ‘no technique’ learning, how to structure a training session (useful information that all instructors in particular should consider) and sparring drills, among other things. It’s a brilliant ending to a brilliant series.

The Bottom Line – Pros:

  • An extremely informative and detailed introduction to Systema training.
  • Concepts anyone can take on board, adapt and use for many aspects of life.
  • Informal and entertaining delivery.

The Bottom Line – Cons:
In all honesty I can’t think of any! I thoroughly enjoyed this series and though I wasn’t completely new to Systema, I learned a lot from it. I was going to say I would like more elaboration and depth, but then I remembered the title – ‘Systema Basics’.

The Bottom Line – Conclusion:
I would recommend that everyone with even a passing interest in these topics would benefit from this set. It works. That’s all I have to say really! Enjoy.
Don’t forget – there’s a discount for buying in multiples. Check out the Special Offers section for full information.

Josh Nixon
Founding Instructor, ESP

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