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.

Advertisements

CSPS Seminar Writeup–Endon Scouts, 19.10.2012: Night Safety for Children

Update: Please note that our main class is now held at Endon Village Hall as of March 2015. Details can be found in the announcement here and on the public classes page here.

Last night I had the pleasure of being invited down to Endon Scout Group’s headquarters where I gave a two-hour introductory seminar on staying safe at night for children. This is more a reference for anyone who attended than anything else, but it may be interesting for parents wondering what their son or daughter did on Friday too.

First off, I just want to thank everyone involved for the warm welcome and excellent atmosphere throughout. The kids, parents and staff that I spoke to were excellent and made us feel very welcome. The whole evening was an absolute pleasure!

We started off with a quick run through basic ideas of respect, honesty and awareness. Here’s a few points for your reference:

    • Respect: All CSPS sessions are based on a system of constant and mutual respect between all present. It’s not ‘teacher and student’, and not ‘adult and some kids’ but a group of people training together. Respect is earned, but we all deserve it the same as everyone else.
    • Honesty: Honesty with yourself is vital. If you don’t know why you’re training something, or can’t work out whether it’s going to work or not, then you have to be honest with yourself and accept that you don’t know! Then you need to be honest with your instructor and ask your questions! Honesty with yourself also means accepting your limitations as well as your strengths, and examining your attitude and mindset too. Honesty with your parents is also vital! If anything happens – whether it’s a small incident of bullying at school, a big incident of bullying at school, or an adult who tried to take you somewhere, or anything else that you didn’t like, you must be completely honest with your parents/guardians about what happened, in as much detail as you can manage! If the police are involved, no matter what happened again you must remain completely honest in every detail!
    • Awareness: Here’s the colour-code system that we played with last night:

White: Unaware. Able to be bashed without seeing it coming. Don’t be in this state unless you’re asleep!
Yellow: Threat awareness. Looking around, listening, etc. Not paranoid or scared – relaxed, but observing everything. Ready. Be in this all the time.
Orange: Threat evaluation. You see something you’re not happy about – whatever it is, and whether or not you know why you’re unhappy about it – and you start evaluating and thinking about what to do. You may cross the street, go the other way, find a safer route, etc. Still calm.
Red: Threat avoidance. You may need to run or hide. You may need to de-escalate by talking someone out of their anger, etc. You may even need to pre-emptively strike or similar in order to make your escape opportunity.
Black: Survival. This may be running, or hiding again, or it may be fighting tooth and nail to survive. A bad situation you really need to escape from ASAP.

This system isn’t mine – it was made by a man called Jeff Cooper, who I’ve never spoken to but I’ve heard many good things about. I’d recommend researching him if you’re interested. This is just my take on the concept, and may differ from some other people’s.

After that we got into the physical combatives focussed around striking and getting out of grabs predominantly. Then we drilled running away from someone insisting that we show them to a place. If you take nothing else away from our brief little session, remember this:

YOU SHOULD NEVER ALLOW ANYONE TO TRY AND TAKE YOU ANYWHERE. Your social awkwardness around saying ‘no’, not holding someone’s hand or running away without being physically attacked MUST BE IGNORED! I cannot stress this strongly enough. Social awkwardness will not save you! Leave it for social situations. Someone trying to commit a crime on you is not a social situation (depending on how we’re using the term), and as such the rules of social interaction such as awkwardness in particular do not apply!

Then we had question time, which seemed to be preoccupied mostly with what to do if you end up killing somebody! Funny as it may be to be asked that a few different times in a few different ways (especially the acid bath question made me laugh! Ahh, dark humour…), it’s a perfectly valid and important question. To simplify, I refer you back to the previous stuff about honesty. When telling your parents and the police in that situation what has happened, honesty is what you need.

What I will do for you when I get the chance is ask a police officer I know what exactly should be your considerations in a situation like that. Until then, I recommend a book called ‘Understanding Reasonable Force’ by Mark Dawes. Full details of the book, with review and room for discussion can be found on the CSPS forum –> Resources –> Literature at http://cspsonline.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=literature&action=display&thread=144 and you can get it easily on eBay or Amazon. Another recommendation I have on the legal side of things is to simply call the police on the non-emergency number (101) and ask! If there’s anyone who can give you advice on these things, it’s them. I’m a self-protection instructor, but not a police officer and not a legal advisor, so I really do encourage you to make your own enquiries.

Any questions, comments, etc are welcome and you all have my contact details. Thanks for an awesome night and I hope to see you again soon!

%d bloggers like this: