7 Essential Books for Beginners

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

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

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

7) Dead or Alive: The Choice is Yours

The perfect general starting point by Geoff Thompson

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

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

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

6) Understanding Reasonable Force

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

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

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

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

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

5) Empower Your Kids to be Safe … For Life

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

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

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

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

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

4) Let Every Breath…

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

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

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

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

3) Convict Conditioning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Meditations on Violence

The game-changer by Rory Miller

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

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

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


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

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

Happy reading!

– Josh Nixon


Book List:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Training Notes – 27.02.2015

IMG_20150214_121842This week’s session was a lot of fun – many thanks to all who attended! It was wonderful to welcome so many new people all at once and awesome to have two more experienced members return after we’d missed them for a few weeks. We really got that particular kind of atmosphere this week that you can only get when you get more in than expected.

I hope you all have a great weekend and see you next time!

For those who are new to us, when I write these I often link to associated important concepts either on Wikipedia, other websites or our own small wiki that I’m working on for our specific concepts.

Threat Awareness is worth a look, as well as Threat Evaluation and Threat Avoidance. Communicative Strategies will come into play next time when we look at distraction and pre-emptive striking, and the Force Continuum is extremely important to bear in mind.

Of course, if anyone has any questions then feel free to get in touch!

This week, we looked at:

  • Footwork, posture and positioning: the importance of good posture can’t be overstated enough. As the squats, slams and burpees will have shown you in particular, good posture is everything.
  • Use of ‘The Fence’ to manage distance proactively (Without looking aggressive!) when someone’s squaring off and invading your personal space.
    • Fear and how it can lead us towards mis-management of that space. Backing off continually isn’t always the best option.
    • Keep your hands neutral and relaxed, but ready. They’re there if you need them, that’s all.
  • Footwork and relaxed movement when pushed around a bit.
    • (Progression: the same when punched.)
    • Keeping control: proximity and ‘sticking’ to the aggressor to limit their options. Again, it’s all about positioning and posture.
  • Striking from the Fence:
    • Hammer Fist
      • Relaxed arm drill: just feeling the weight of your arm.
    • Palm Strike
      • Relaxed striking: still feeling the weight of your arm, encouraging a whiplike acceleration.

When I’m asked what our methods are based on, I often discuss things like Systema, Wing Chun, Krav Maga, Jujutsu, etc. However, when it comes down to it, it’s all just physics, biology and psychology/sociology.

The most important thing to remember in striking: simple physics.

FORCE = MASS x ACCELERATION

Through our relaxed movement, we accelerate as fast as we can in any given space because we don’t have unnecessary tension working against that movement.

Through posture and refined (trained) movement, we get as much of our body mass behind that strike as we can.

The above helps us generate as much force as we possibly can. We further refine this with beneficial positioning and striking methods to apply that force as efficiently as we can: to get maximum effect from minimum required effort. This is what we call economy of motion.

We also looked at:

  • Dealing with someone striking us with a stick: working with a useful movement we developed last week (and the week before).
    • Once you decide you need to deploy force, and you find the right moment in which to do so, you must act immediately, efficiently and decisively.
    • Close distance and use your elbows to your advantage
    • Get control and make sure it’s a strong grip you have. Anything less than your strongest is not good enough.
      • An easy way to test this grip is have your partner violently shake their arm to see if they can wrench it free with brute force. Gripping with just your hands likely won’t be enough but keeping it close and against you, gripping efficiently and using positioning and posture to your advantage (and their disadvantage) will.

All in all, we’ve worked on a lot of things here. Something that’s worth bearing in mind was expressed well by Sonny Puzikas in a great video we recently shared on Facebook: these punches, kicks and swinging weapons are just movements. They only become a strike when they make contact with their intended target. Until then, they’re just movements.

Don’t fear a movement: train to work with it. Train intelligently and you work efficiently.

Once again, many thanks to all who came and see you next week! It was a pleasure and a privilege to train with such truly excellent people.

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.

Review: Smak Sak

IMAG1693Review: Smak Sak:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

It’s not often that a new product comes out in the self-protection and martial arts industry that is genuinely innovative. While most products I’ve seen have been marketed as ‘innovative’ and as essential for training to be taken to some next level or other as imagined (conveniently) by the designer, almost without fail they have been near-pointless gimmicks that detract from training more than they add. I’ve always been of the opinion that, in general, simplicity is the key to good training. Good pads, a training knife and a stick will pretty much set you up for most of your training to my mind.

That said, every now and again somebody has an idea that genuinely is a good and innovative one. These are generally simple both in concept and execution. The Smak Sak is a good example of this.

The premise is simple:

‘In repetitious training, students can get lethargic with technique, even to the point of injury. Also, beginners throw punches inefficiently and ineffectively. A revolutionary new solution to these problems is the Smak Sak: a simple training tool that will help you clean up your punches and train at full speed without the risk of injury.’

‘Beginners often throw punches poorly. The Smak Sak forces the thrower to perform a proper straight punch.’

Here’s a short video introducing the Smak Sak and showing its usage:

‘The Smak Sak’, uploaded to YouTube by knightsun84010 on 01.05.2013.

 

Following my email discourse with Fraser Anderson of Krav Maga Scotland, he sent out two for me to test and review. The day after they arrived in the post, I took them along to a local martial arts class I teach at to test them out. The results were good! As I said, a good idea for a training tool is generally simple and these fit that parameter (it’s essentially a nice bean-bag on a cord with a wrist loop), but with a pleasing build quality that makes them truly worth considering for your training. They also look nice, which is a bonus!

IMAG1697What I found when using them was that they allowed beginners to throw faster, more direct punches by making it safe to do so. In addition, they were enjoyable and engaging to use for something that can at times be fairly repetitive. All in all, it was a most welcome change that everyone present at the class enjoyed! It helped some to ensure their ‘strike’ was biomechanically sound, with the shoulder, elbow and wrist aligned. As with all training tools, it isn’t absolutely perfect and you shouldn’t become dependent on it for your training but it is definitely an inexpensive and enjoyable way to mix things up a little, and the novelty of doing the same thing in a different way went down very well with beginners and children when we tried it out. I enjoyed using them myself with my brother, and the instructor of the class enjoyed using them too.

All the information can be found at http://www.smaksak.co.uk/ and you can email Fraser at enquiries@smaksak.co.uk.

Training Log–January 2013

As you all know by now, the CSPS is an evolutionary concept and I pretty much apply that philosophy to everything I do, including my writing. At least, that’s the excuse I’m going to use for my complete and utter laziness of late with these training logs. As the year has become busier and busier with training, teaching and research (alongside everything else in life), I’ve found myself writing training logs later and later after the sessions themselves, and sometimes just not finding the time. As a result, I’m going to do them as a kind of newsletter format where I aggregate all the training news from the CSPS into one monthly little post like this. Any questions on CSPS training are, as always, more than welcome any time as this is primarily for you, the reader, to see what it is that we get up to!

January’s been a great month this year for change and progress, especially at PHDefence in Stockton Brook. With their newly-stabilised payment structure, there’s guaranteed training for their students every week regardless of numbers attending, which has pushed forward a period of great progress in this stability for their students. They’ve even got a new student who’s making great progress, and a couple of students who should be ready to grade soon so it’s a very exciting time for them!

At PHDefence, the higher grades have been focussing on their weapons techniques a lot, particularly the use of the long stick (Jō staff and Bō staff for the more traditionally-minded). So far it’s been mostly stick acclimatisation drills and basic striking as this weapon’s new to them, but soon they’ll be progressing to more in-depth stick usage. They’ve also been doing some aerial coordination drills as a preliminary to their spinning and aerial kicks.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll just say it again here, especially with talk of the spinning and aerial kicking:

I’ll just take a moment to explain what PHDefence is and what my relationship with it is. PHDefence is a local martial arts class, based in Stockton Brook at the moment though it’s been all over the place through the years. It’s owned and was founded by Shifu Paul Horrobin, who created a hybridised martial art mostly based on concepts from Wing Chun (yǒngchūn ~ 咏春 ~ ‘Spring Chant’), Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do (zhènfān jiéquándào ~ 振藩截拳道 ~ ‘Jun Fan’s “Way of the Intercepting Fist”’) and Shaolin Kung Fu (shàolín gōng fū ~ 少林功夫 ~ ‘Young Forest Kung Fu’) among others. The basic premise of what they do there is the attempt to take traditional martial arts concepts and make them practical while retaining their martial-arts focus. I alternate between teaching and training there every other week, with Paul teaching every other lesson. While on occasion I mix in odd concepts and training ideas from the CSPS, this is not a CSPS class.

The snow’s been a constant source of amusement and difficulties, but as my friend (and excellent Systema instructor) Rob Poyton mentioned in a recent YouTube video, these difficulties only present opportunities if you approach your training with an indomitable warrior mindset. Whereas for PHDefence the problem was merely students getting to the session and needing to dry their feet, for CSPS students the opportunities for development were more apparent as we were training primarily outside!

Chris returned to his long-term training recently, and so we got straight to the point with a lot of drills involving use of the shoulder, elbow striking, hammer fists, knee striking and I don’t even know how many other striking methods. Taking an initial contact as a reference point, we used a set framework of movements to efficiently train the different muscle groups of the body to work together efficiently to present a functional combative response.

(What that means is, the pad got bashed hard, fast and lots!)

For Chris, the focus has been on brushing off the rust of Christmas and sharpening up the basic concepts of the CSPS with a slew of new approaches to the same things to further increase the adaptability of their application.

For Matt, the focus has been on initial training of the basic concepts, and I really must say how proud I am of both students with their continued effort and skyrocketing progress week on week.

Other students preferred not to be named, unless you count my brother Jake, with whom I just fight, and that’s pretty much his training most of the time! We just fight. That’s what brothers are for, right?

February’s been an amazing month so far but I’ll elaborate more on that next time!

All the best,

FCIns. Josh Nixon, CSPS

PHDefence Training Log–25.01.2013

IMAG0335Hopefully the last snowy one for a while! Friday’s session was split between me and Paul. Paul did some partner work involving dealing with strikes – specifically barrages of them – and I added in the importance of being proactive in your ‘defence’ rather than being merely reactive. If your partner is saying ‘I thought I was supposed to be the one attacking!’ or similar then you’re doing well!

If they’re too preoccupied to say anything then you’re doing better!

What came out in this drill was that when you’re proactive by pushing into the partner and making it difficult for them to attack instead of merely dealing with their attacks reactively, you stand a much better chance of surviving. Also through this approach it can be possible to manoeuvre your partner around the room and put them in a position of disadvantage, such as in a corner. In reality of course, this would be you putting them in a position that gave you the opportunity to complete your objective in a combative situation – run off!

Then in my half we worked on ground mobility with some standard Russian drills, groundfighting with a focus on controlling elbows, controlling legs and use of the head when fighting on the ground. After that, we did a rather enjoyable leg-locking drill inspired by an excellent British Combat Association video (the review will be appearing here soon…).

To finish, we began work with the higher grades on the long stick and how to use it with some simple stick acclimatisation drills, partner work and solo work. It’s always fun when a group gets onto a new weapon! I can’t wait to get to work with this a little more.

See you all next week!

PHDefence Training Log–18.01.2013

The snow is always a trial for training that tests us all before we even start! Especially in a country that famously grinds to a halt every time the fluffy white stuff makes an appearance.

Last Friday, we got down to some padwork getting some awesome effort out of the students we had. Only three could make it, and one walked with her dad as she couldn’t get out in the car, which is dedication of the highest degree. Absolutely fantastic.

After the padwork module we split up into experience-based groups and worked on grab escapes of various kinds, using some nasty little tricks I learned from Systema, among other influences. As there were so few students we could really get a lot of work done on individual issues with ground mobility afterwards as well, and the session finished with a fun and interesting chat with a parent about ground mobility and biomechanics as we waited for another one who was stuck in the snow. Overall, a very enjoyable session, despite the cold!

PHDefence Training Log–04.01.2012

IMAG0206This is a belated post, I do apologise. PHDefence training logs likely will be often as training is 19:00-21:00, I always remain available for questions and general chat afterwards and the venue for them is a chapel so there’s a load of chairs to put back in rows afterwards in the hall they use. As a result, by the time I get home all I want to do is eat, sleep and watch Coronation Street! Yes, a self-protection instructor watches Coronation Street with his dinner. Shush!

In this first training log for PHDefence of 2013 (I still keep typing ‘2012’ first), I’ll just take a moment to explain what PHDefence is and what my relationship with it is. PHDefence is a local martial arts class, based in Stockton Brook at the moment though it’s been all over the place through the years. It’s owned and was founded by Shifu Paul Horrobin, who created a hybridised martial art mostly based on concepts from Wing Chun (yǒngchūn ~ 咏春 ~ ‘Spring Chant’), Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do (zhènfān jiéquándào ~ 振藩截拳道 ~ ‘Jun Fan’s “Way of the Intercepting Fist”’) and Shaolin Kung Fu (shàolín gōng fū ~ 少林功夫 ~ ‘Young Forest Kung Fu’) among others. The basic premise of what they do there is the attempt to take traditional martial arts concepts and make them practical while retaining their martial-arts focus. I just want to make clear here that they are not a self-defence or self-protection class, and that while I am a self-protection instructor while I’m teaching there I’m also a martial arts instructor. I alternate between teaching and training there every other week, with Paul teaching every other lesson. While on occasion I mix in odd concepts and training ideas from the CSPS, this is not a CSPS class. The reason I take such steps to make this clear is that I would hate for someone to read a PHDefence training log and think I was equating the martial arts training described to practical self-protection training, which it is not. Worse, I would hate for someone to read it and think that the training described was self-protective in nature.

Now that the perfunctory disclaimer’s over, I can get on with the actual point of the post! I won’t do that every time, don’t worry – I’ll just point people here if there’s confusion.

So on Friday night it was PHDefence’s first session back after Christmas, and they’re all working towards their next gradings. At the moment they have someone on the first grading (Red), two on the seventh grading (Brown) and one on the sixth (Blue) who are all now ready to work on the concepts for their next grading. It’s quite an exciting time for PHDefence at the moment!

We started off with some simple combat-oriented fitness drills: 30-second rounds of simple wind sprints, then the same in pairs with student-chosen combinations at the end on focus mitts. After that we dropped the focus mitts and picked up some kickshields for the same again with kicking combinations at the ends of the sprints, again student-chosen. After those we went through some rounds of communally-chosen exercises where each student had a turn choosing an exercise to add to the session. This proactive approach allows the students to work out what works best and elect movements that flow concomitantly themselves, which adds greatly to the quality of their martial decision making.

Following from this initial section we went through some rounds of chisao (chīshǒu ~ 黐手 ~ ‘sticking hands’) for close-in sensitivity training, before widening out the range to a Systema-style slow spar. Then at random timings I handed one partner a stick which had the effect of both increasing and decreasing the range of the partner work at different times.

Afterwards, a section of choice modules was enjoyed where each student chose a drill for everyone to do. This ranged from kicking padwork drills to bouts of Jujutsu-style back-to-back groundfighting. Everyone’s choices came together very well to make a most enjoyable session.

At the end there was a module of basic aerial coordination drills for the higher grades as a preliminary to spinning and aerial kicks, and for the lower grades a few rounds of different padwork drills from sitting on a chair. To wrap up on a high note, a very enjoyable padwork drill using the shields for lower-body and then upper-body striking inspired by some videos I’ll be reviewing shortly from the British Combat Association – those reviews are going out every Tuesday morning so make sure to keep your eyes open!

It was awesome to see you all again.

Until next time,
FCIns. Josh Nixon, CSPS

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