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 – 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.

Training Notes – Endon – 28.03.2015

Elbow Strike NeonThis week we went old-school with a few of the classic drill formats. I think we can all agree it was an intense one!

To start off our old-school sesh, we warmed up with some joint rotation, stretching movements, etc high and low. To loosen off and get into the swing of things, we worked from pushes and strikes to develop footwork and positioning using a Systema, Taiji and Aikido-influenced methodology, and then used circular footwork and positioning (situation allowing) to deal with grabs much like elements of Baguazhang in some respects, as this nicely explained video I saw a while ago by Richard Clear shows.

Then once we were warmed up and loosened off with the softer skills we got straight to it: classic partner padwork with some solid focus on basic striking methods: jabs, crosses, rising knee strikes, low hook kicks and jab kicks.

Then a short speed drill ensued, whereby partners tested each others’ reactions by presenting pads and leaving them in random places to be hit, leaving less and less reaction time. At random times, on command, padholders would chase their partner to the end of the hall trying to score points by tapping them on the back, head or shoulders with the pads.

After that, the group all came together to drill as one:

Running the Gauntlet:

This was the main section of the session, and was a lot of fun all around as well as being a great test of endurance, willpower and combative efficacy. Each drill involved each person in the group going dealing with every other person in the group before the next person had their turn.

Gauntlet 1: People one-by-one in a line.
Everyone stood in a line, and attacked the combatant however they liked one at a time. Making their way through the line, the combatant had to reach the end. After dealing with the last person, the combatant ran away and everyone would chase them to the end of the hall.

Gauntlet 2: People one-by-one in a circle.
This was the same as the last drill, but instead of going through a convenient line, the combatant is completely surrounded by people. One at a time, these people attack however they like in a random order. Once the last person is dealt with, the combatant runs away and everyone else gives chase.

Gauntlet 3: Pads, one-by-one in a line.
The combatant has to get through a line of pad-holding partners, performing different movements (hook punches, hammer fists, etc) on each. When each section of the line has been finished with, the combatant must forcibly move their padholding partner out of the way with biomechanical manipulation in order to approach the next padholder. Once the last padholder is finished with, the combatant runs away while all of the padholders chase them, trying to tap them with their pads.

Gauntlet 4: Pads, one-by-one in a circle.
As before, this was the same as 3 but in a circle again.

Gauntlet 5: Pads and a stick, at random, in a circle.
This time the pads were presented at random by padholders in a random order, and sometimes the combatant would be attacked with a stick. Sometimes they would have multiple padholders to deal with, or a padholder and a stick-wielding partner, or multiple padholders and a stick-wielding partner. Any padholders who weren’t presenting pads walked around the combatant getting in the way.

These drills were a lot of fun, but also developed three key attributes for anyone interested in honing their self-protection skills:

  • Endurance. The ability to get very tired very quickly again … and again … and again … and still be effective.
  • Proactive positioning and situational awareness. The ability to keep as cool a head as you can when surrounded by people, prioritise targets and deal with an attack while keeping an eye on what others around you are doing. With positioning, the ability to get out of that crowd as quickly as possible and make yourself a more difficult target to overwhelm in the first place!
  • Tenacity. The cultivation of what some martial arts refer to as ‘indomitable spirit’: the mindset that does not give up and is not intimidated into submission. The will to respond, escape and survive.

As always, it was a pleasure to train with you all and many thanks to everyone who came. I hope you all have a great weekend and see you next time!

-Josh Nixon

All the details of this class are on the Public Classes page up at the top. Your first session is FREE and all are welcome to come along and take part. Every session is beginner-friendly.

10 Questions with Douglas Graham (50/50 Fitness)

doug 50 50 logo1) Tell us a bit about yourself and 50/50 Fitness – what’s 50/50 Fitness all about and how did it come to be?

50/50 came with my evolution in teaching. It’s the old saying that ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. I can help you but you need to meet me half way. Otherwise you will always falter in your journey. Without that mentality, it is tough to commit to the way. With that said, I like to think I can show anybody that the mentality is there at their core. People are just bogged down by, or hide behind, the modern way of life.

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

I mentioned the way in my last answer. People can call me cryptic or old fashioned if they like but the fact is that everyone is searching for it. Self-protection, Self-defence, martial arts – call it what you like – it fits perfectly into what I do as the art of learning these disciplines can and should be a journey of self-discovery. Much as health & fitness has become in the modern age. Indeed, I found my way to being a Personal Trainer through my study and teaching of Martial Art. And lets be clear, there is only Martial Art for me when it comes to Self-Protection. This led to a love for understanding body mechanics. Naturally this led to a deeper study of the human body and ways to improve performance. Initially in certain areas and movements, but that gave way to a deeper understanding and approach as time marched.

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?

First off. I am rarely in this magical mood I hear of that people seem to be in. I motivate myself every time. It’s about balance. It’s not about going to the gym/dojo/hall and ‘smashing it’. Not for the average person. Too much emphasis is placed on the kick-ass mentality or the killer workout. Its tough for people to continually motivate themselves for something they just don’t want to do. My self-defence class is not one that seeks out new folks to train; I have never really been that way inclined unless it could do with another body or two to help with training. But if somebody seeks out the class, well then you pretty much have that 50 I am looking for. Motivation is often relative to the task at hand and comes in different forms. Do you motivate yourself to go to a job you hate every day? You may have more than you already know ;-)

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

Probably best to ask someone that trains with me to be honest. I am sure it varies from person to person.

5) What would you say is the most important aspect of your training, skill you develop or attribute you cultivate in 50/50 Fitness?

Tough question for me. I have a very blurred line between these two. People define it but I still can’t, not really. In general though, I stick my hand up for attributes. Because I don’t specifically define, I won’t say more than this.

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

In exercise HIT style workouts have been without doubt my favourite for years now. It’s a style that can fit you at any level or age. The name ‘High Intensity Training’ tends to scare many. That is unless you brand it ;-) Interval Training is an umbrella term but fits fine for me in this case. For my SD training it is also without doubt, free-form multiple attacker drills in full gear. They can be very serious and testing like nothing else. Also very fun and amusing. You very quickly learn where you make potentially fatal errors. It shows up differences between say, perceived speed and real speed, power, accuracy etc, etc.

7) What do you like to do aside from 50/50 Fitness? What interests you?

Outside of MA and Fitness I enjoy growing herbs and spices. I like reading although in the past couple of years I have read only research. It’s something I need to address and enjoy reading for reading again.

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

Be wary of YouTube. Seek out good teachers, they can be anywhere.

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

Be wary of YouTube. But in a different way. Be thankful for good students, they are your greatest teachers.

10) What is your ultimate goal with 50/50 Fitness? Where do you want it to lead?

Corny as it sounds, wherever it takes me. My goal is to help people improve themselves and understand that ‘perfect’ is a saying, not a finish line. In my eyes there are not many out there on a big scale that are truly achieving this. If I can reach that type of scale, with my approach, it will be an accomplishment indeed. But even on the small scale I am happy if I can pass on knowledge to a few, that will pass through the individual and on to another few. Money is a burden we all share. I like to bear it as simply as possible. The goals and philosophy of 50/50 are an embodiment of myself and the legacy I leave for my children. If it reaches only them, I die a very happy man.

You can get in touch with Douglas Graham about 50/50 Fitness on his Facebook page here or you can email him at fiftyfiftyfitness@hotmail.co.uk by clicking here.

Review: ‘The Pavement Arena Part 2’ by Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson

Consterdine, Peter and Thompson, Geoff. The Pavement Arena Part Two: ‘The Protection Pyramid’. Legend Video Productions. 1993.

Review: The Pavement Arena Part 2: ‘The Protection Pyramid’:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

This review is part of a series. Part one can be found here, this is part two, part three can be found here, part four can be found here and part five (sort of – it follows on from part four but isn’t part of the Pavement Arena series) can be found here.

’Confidence […] from simplicity of approach’ – that sums up the efficiency of Peter and Geoff’s approach to self-protection, and indeed the approach of this series. Early on in the video Peter Consterdine advises people that if they bought a self-protection video that’s just a series of ‘physical tricks’, they should go and get their money back because that’s not what self-protection’s about. He’s spot-on. This video in the series deals with the psychological and conceptual side of self-protection; the proactive, preventative aspect that is often missing from or inadequate in many approaches. Going beyond the often-heard and easily-said ‘just stay aware and run off if you can’ that some still consider enough for this area, this video introduces the ‘Protection Pyramid’.

This video goes through concepts around personal security (as an umbrella term for threat awareness, threat evaluation and threat avoidance), attack scenarios, fear, types of attack, assessment (numbers of attackers, weapons, etc), perceptions, reaction (tactics, response and environment), lineups (‘the fence’), adrenaline switches, ranges and tools, targets, pre-emptive striking, multiple attackers, strategy and tactics in that order. As I’m sure is evident, this video is a highly useful and well-thought-out resource for anyone to learn from. The concepts above may sound complicated or even confusing at first glance, but the way they are explained makes the information readily accessible and easily understood.

The ‘Protection Pyramid’ is a graphic and visually illustrative way of presenting the complex problems and solutions of self protection. The Protection Pyramid continues the ‘no nonsense’ theme established in part one of this series and with re-constructed ‘street attacks’, the viewer can see clearly the reality of how traditional, unabridged martial arts systems will not work in such confrontations.

Each section of the pyramid illustrates a separate concept and build up to a comprehensive system for defensive tactics. This video does not only cover the physical aspects of self defence, but tackles the often forgotten aspects such as fear and how not to be psyched out by opponents. (Information taken from http://www.peterconsterdine.com/arena2.htm, 31.12.2012.)

I can’t recommend this enough. If you get any of the Pavement Arena series, get this one. The amount of information packed into this video really is phenomenal and it is essential for students, instructors and untrained members of the public alike. If you’re not well-educated in the theoretical side of self-protection then I recommend you invest in this video. If you are, I would anyway because you could learn something regardless. I did.

This video is available on DVD or for digital download (much cheaper, understandably) from http://www.peterconsterdine.com/store.htm. Further information and a download link can also be found at http://www.peterconsterdine.com/arena2.htm.

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