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.

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Training Notes – 15.05.2015

High Guard NeonOur last session was a fun, functional, fierce and focussed look at two related subjects: the high guard and dealing with multiple attackers.

After the usual exercises, including some of the work on shifting our stances to understand the relationship between centre of mass, stance and stability that we did at the beginning of last week’s session, we got going with our skills focus for this week…

Work on the Closed High Guard:

The closed high guard is a powerful skill both in terms of protecting yourself from the damage an attacker wants to deal to you and as a way of inflicting damage yourself.

Made famous by the Keysi Fighting Method and (more recently) Defence Lab, the closed high guard (often called Pensador) is an excellent methodology to employ. It’s a simple and effective way to protect against knockouts by covering targets like the temples, jaw and neck, and it lends itself to close-quarters elbow strikes that are among the most effective and efficient striking methods available. Earlier this month we looked at striking from the closed high guard and snapping back to this form, and this time we looked at maintaining the position and using it in a couple of different ways; using the side of the shape to disrupt posture and the front of it (the pointed elbow) to strike without having to disengage from the guard position.

We also looked at, again, dealing with strikes using this guard.

Work on Multiple Attackers – stepping into ‘The Box’:

This is a situation in which the closed high guard comes into its own. Last month we focussed in on a common dynamic of violence: the ‘pincer movement’. In this session we looked at this when launching a pre-emptive strike in order to escape, however then things became altogether more difficult.

We stepped into ‘The Box’.

We took it in turns to be surrounded by four people: one in front, one behind and one to each side. We looked at escaping by:

  • Using the ‘wedge’ biomechanical concept to get through a gap between two people,
  • Using biomechanical manipulation to do so with less chance of getting seriously hurt in the process, and then
  • Incorporating a pre-emptive strike to remove some of the danger (knockout) or demoralise the group (‘shock and awe’ intimidation tactic).

Padwork with Multiple Attackers:

We then split off into groups of 3. One ‘baddie’ presented focus mitts to their partner while another approached every now and again with a kickshield trying to barge the person who was striking. Meeting the barge with a closed high guard and striking in with the elbow, the ‘goodie’ then returned as quickly as possible to striking the focus mitts.

This quickly became a very intense drill, which is how we like it!

Excellent effort from everyone as always, and it was a pleasure to train with you all. See you on Friday! I can’t wait.

-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 – 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.

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