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.

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.

It’s Time to Get Writing Again

Elbow Strike Neon - LogoIt’s been a fair while since I actively wrote much on here. In fact, for quite some time all I’ve used this blog for is to let everyone know when a session here or there has had to be cancelled. That’s just not right at all.

It’s time for that to change.

Many of our posts have proved to be (sometimes surprisingly!) popular, gaining local interest as well as praise from instructors here in the UK and overseas. Early writing such as our reviews of Cutting Edge’s “Systema Basics” series and “The Pavement Arena” by the British Combat Association’s Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine were well-received and continue to be read often today. Writeups from training sessions, notably ones covering topics such as fighting on the ground, dealing with multiple attackers, striking from positions of disadvantage and just getting knackered with gruelling drills did well to attract attention from the world, and many readers found them interesting and informative. Posts such as this one from Red Nose Day last year did especially well to attract readers due to their technical information and poorly-scribbled diagrams!

However, as we’ve spent more and more time training I’ve spent less and less time writing. Like I said, it’s time for that to change. When wondering what I wanted to write, I realised that I wasn’t asking the right question, which is:

What do you want to read?

There are a few ideas brewing for getting back into the swing of things with our various online presences (some of which you’ve seen nothing of yet at all!) but more than anything I want to hear what you think. What do you want me to write about? What questions do you have that have gone unanswered? What have you been searching for but never really found anything covering the topic to your satisfaction? Let us know whichever way you like.

The next move is yours.

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.

New on Facebook: Staffordshire Self-Protection and Martial Arts Group!

A place for the self-protectionists, martial artists, etc of Staffordshire to come together on Facebook: Staffordshire Self-Protection and Martial Arts Group.

facebook.com/groups/staffordshireSPandMAgroup

I thought it’d be a good idea to have a group for local martial artists, self-protectionists and people just generally interested in such things.

Quite often the groups on Facebook for such things are advertising brilliant and awesome courses, seminars, classes, etc in far-away places so I decided to make a group dedicated to our beloved shire.

Who’s out there? Feel free to join if you’re interested in martial arts, self-protection, health, fitness, personal security, free running… You’re all welcome! There’s a lot of related disciplines and fields of study that all benefit each other within the realm of self-protection and martial arts. If you know someone from Stoke, Staffordshire and nearby areas then invite them in and let’s get talking.

Discuss, ask questions, share, collaborate, advertise…

To all our local instructors: Feel free to advertise yourselves! Tell us who you are, what you do and why we should come and train with you!

This could be a fantastic opportunity to create a focussed, fascinating and useful online community.

Let’s see what’s going on in Staffordshire and promote our self-protection and martial arts communities!

Just click the link above, copy the URL or search for ‘Staffordshire Self-Protection and Martial Arts Group’.

See you there,

-Josh Nixon

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 – 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.

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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10 Questions with Andy Holmes (Kombat Cave UK)

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1) Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at the Kombat Cave – what’s the Cave all about and how did it come to be?

I have been training for 12 years and started my interest in martial arts in the 80s at the age of 13, with Judo, then Wado Ryu and Shotokan.
Then discovered cars and girls and had a 20 year lay off!
When I started again at the ripe old age of 35 it was in Chinese Kickboxing. During my time training I was attacked at work with an axe and started to realise the shortfall of sport based arts on the street.
I started attending Krav Maga seminars in Leeds whenever I could and also started attending seminars with the best reality based instructors in the UK.
After obtaining my first Dan in kickboxing I decided I wanted my training to go down the reality route, but could not find any clubs locally, so decided to open my own.
A chance meeting on Facebook and a phone chat with Simon Morrell lead me to make the three and a half hour drive to north Wales on a regular basis to become an Instructor under Fight Fortress worldwide and the BCA.
The Cave was finally born in April 2012.

2) How does self-protection fit into what you do?

Self Protection is the basis of everything we do, we teach people to defend themselves in the real world.
We cover everything from awareness and the law to adrenaline and aftermath, and students have to demonstrate knowledge and ability through physical and written gradings.

3) What motivates you in your training? How do you get yourself going when you’re not in the mood or you have other things to do?

I want to be better than my students so need to put in extensive personal training.
I’m also not getting any younger so want to achieve a lot more in the arts before the bath chair beckons!

4) What would you say is your greatest skill or attribute as a teacher?

Honesty with my students, if I don’t know the answer I will say so, we will then work the solution.
I’d like to think I am also good at communicating with students and always striving to evolve my syllabus based on their needs.

5) What would you say is the most important aspect of your training, skill you develop or attribute you cultivate at the Kombat Cave?

People are able to develop skills that are natural to them and are more likely to be delivered under pressure, I don’t believe in changing their skills but building on what they already have.
The CSD (Cave Street Defence) syllabus is built around making defences that deal with attacks and we offer various solutions, it’s up to the student which strategy works best for them.

6) What is your favourite exercise, training method or drill?

I love Pyramid drills and pad work, punching and kicking drills using the length of the Dojo and increasing/decreasing in intensity.
We start each session with Kombat Fitness designed to improve the skills/endurance used in training and defence situations as well as overall strength and fitness.

7) What do you like to do aside from training and teaching? What interests you?

I read a lot (martial arts books I’m afraid), watching movies and I like to go to the theatre with my long suffering Wingman (the misses who is the brains of the club).

8) What advice do you have for the students out there reading this?

Make sure you are training in the right art for you, work out what you want to achieve and ensure your art will deliver, if not, find one that does.

9) What advice do you have for the instructors out there reading this?

Teach what you are happy teaching and be adaptable as the arts are changing.
Many people no longer want to spend years studying one art, I believe with the quick fix mentality of today we must evolve to meet the student’s needs.
Don’t get drawn into the world of the keyboard warrior and be honest about your ability, leave the ego at the door and don’t get involved in martial politics.

10) What is your ultimate goal with the Kombat Cave? Where do you want it to lead?

Ultimately I would love a dedicated Centre and teach on a full time basis.
I want the Cave to be a recognised reality based club that teaches people from all walks of life the essential physical and mental attributes to protect themselves and families.
As well as a fun and friendly place to train.

Simon Morrell and Andy Holmes Simon Morrell and Andy Holmes

You can get in touch with the Kombat Cave on Facebook or on Twitter (@KombatcaveUK), see them on YouTube or visit their website at http://www.kombatcaveuk.com/.

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