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.

CSPS Syllabus and Guide 1.2.2

Hi all,

Just a quick announcement that the CSPS Syllabus and Guide version 1.2.2 has been released today! Students can get in touch for a new copy (just costs £1 – I hate to charge but I just want to cover my paper and ink!) or head over to the forum to join the discussion and see what the changes are if you prefer to annotate your existing copy and save the world a little (and save yourself a quid)! This isn’t a hugely major change, so I’d recommend the latter in this case. You can find the changelog in Home –> CSPS –> CSPS Members’ Exclusive Board –> CSPS Syllabus.

All the best,
FCIns. Josh Nixon

Update: March 2011

Hey all,

First off, let me send out a huge thank you to everyone who’s been showing interest in CSPS over this start-up period. We’ve been having steady views here at CSPS Online, and have been pleased with all of the questions we’ve been receiving. By all means keep them coming! To address some of the more repetitive questions, I’ve just updated the FAQ section to accommodate the ones we keep getting again and again, so if I refer you to that section I’m not being rude and ignoring you; I just don’t have the time to type out the same answer over and over again. Also thanks to everyone who’s following us on Twitter, our likers on Facebook and our subscribers on YouTube too. We really appreciate all of the support and interest.

Thanks to the select few (and you know who you are, my friends) who’ve been contributing to the redrafting process of the Syllabus and Guide, many hours of discussion and training later we’ve finally published version 1.0; the final draft and the first official release version! There has also been a general redraft of some of this site’s information as a result, because a lot of the information is also found in the introductory pages of the booklet.

Syllabi will be available in class for just £1 – I’m really sorry to have to charge, but it’s literally just to cover the printing costs. It’s a 23-page concise booklet, so I’m not ripping you off with it; you’re getting a meaty wad of paper for your quid. It’ll be invaluable in your training to have a copy of everything you’ll need to hand, but while it’s recommended it is of course optional, and you can share with a friend or anything. You’re also not obliged to buy a new copy with each update; we’ll tell you what the changes are if and when updates happen (CSPS evolves, as you all know) and you can annotate your copies instead of buying a whole new book.

The Syllabus also now explains our revolutionary, unique ‘CSPS Ranges Notation System’, which I created myself, in the Beginners’ section, just so you have a reference for that as well as everything else. If anyone has any suggestions, criticism or spots and mistakes (even niggly English mistakes – they’re important to us!) then just chuck us an email at csps.info@gmail.com.

See you all in May at the launch of CSPS Endon – full details on the Classes page.

Thanks again,
FCIns. Josh Nixon

A Quick Update

Hey all,

Just thought I’d push around a quick update on our progress in these early days, if nothing else to reassure you all that we are actually doing something! At the moment we’re just waiting for final confirmation from our venue. The application process has been started with the BCA so we’re just waiting for that to continue really.

The Syllabus and Guide has been updated a little, and final beta versions have been issued to Sifu Paul Horrobin of PHDefence along with some of my very good friends and training partners for them to scrutinise and scribble all over. Once they’ve all got back to me I’ll properly write up version 4.0, which will be the first release candidate.

Meanwhile, I’ve been training some of the obscure stuff that I haven’t done for a while in case it comes up in class (though I’m pretty sure it won’t for a while) and making sure I’m in shape for it. I always say that as an Instructor you should try to be better, harder, stronger, faster, more accurate, more adaptable, keep going for longer and ultimately be more knowledgeable than your students. Otherwise people won’t respect your authority on the subject because, to be frank, what authority do you have over them? Practically speaking, you have to be able to show them how you want them to do something, not just describe it. Otherwise training becomes just a chat.

While I’m here, I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who’s been visiting! Just so you know, I really do appreciate your interest. If anyone has any questions, or anything you’d like me to write about in the future, or ideas for instructional videos (or other videos) that you’d like to see on our YouTube channel when we start churning out videos and things. We monitor all the comms channels, so whether you send us a message or mention us on Twitter, send us a message or comment on YouTube or email us we’ll get it.

Keep coming back for more updates, thoughts on training, etc from CSPS – soon we’ll be announcing our first class, which will be the beginning of the end for combative ignorance!

All the very best,

Josh Nixon
Founding Chief Instructor, CSPS

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