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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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.

Review: ‘Ultimate Self-Defence Seminar’ by Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson

Consterdine, Peter and Thompson, Geoff. Ultimate Self-Defence Seminar. Protection Publications. 2005.

Review: Ultimate Self-Defence Seminar:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

This video is one of those well-known ones, considered essential by many, that you often hear about as an instructor. There’s good reason for that.

‘Action beats reaction’ – this is the key understanding that makes Geoff and Peter’s approach so much better than most when it comes to self-protection. Peter makes this point with a little demonstration of blocking’s uselessness in a reactive manner after a simple warmup of exercises chiefly concerned with coordination. He goes on to give what I consider the best explanation of the double-hip method of striking I’ve ever seen. There’s similarities between this and Systema’s waveform striking, which is definitely worth looking into as well if you like this method of power generation. I definitely do. It works very nicely for me, especially for body shots.

Following from this, Peter goes on to discuss and demonstrate sections on: speed and the flinch response, pre-emptive striking, UK self-defence law, adrenaline and the physiological biochemical responses of stress, pre-planning for violence, the effects of mind-altering chemicals, effective punchbag training, dialogue training, palm striking, the issues around striking with the knuckles to the face, lining up an aggressor, the biomechanics of efficient striking, zanshin, footwork, distance’s effect on striking opportunities, and the effects of surprise and shock on striking efficacy.

‘There’s no growth in comfort.’ I’ve got that up in the garage with my punchbag. For the second half, Geoff Thompson takes over and begins with hook punching on the pads, then a drill of striking with restricted movement. Afterwards, Geoff goes on to discuss and demonstrate sections on: fear and discomfort, double-hip striking towards the face, verbal distraction and deception with pre-emptive striking, usage of ‘the fence’ and shows of aggression, dynamic biomechanics in kicking (with Peter Consterdine), bodyweight grappling drills, foot tripping and trapping drills, striking from positions of biomechanical disadvantage, throwing and groundfighting, the importance of reading and learning, and attitudinal changes that are beneficial to training and to combat.

This really is a gem of a video. I personally find it quite motivational to listen to aside from the training ideas it offers. I highly recommend this one in particular as a worthy addition to any instructor’s shelf. Moreover, I would recommend this to students and prospective students too – if your instructor or prospective instructor doesn’t discuss any the kinds of things shown in this video (or especially if they’re ignorant of the concepts) then chances are they’re not worth your time. That’s a strong thing to say, I realise, but I feel that the quality of the basic information and sentiment behind this video’s content is substantial enough to warrant such a statement. The bottom line: watch this.

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://peterconsterdine.com/ultimatesd.htm.

Review: ‘Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Seminar’ by Peter Consterdine

Consterdine, Peter. Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Seminar. Protection Publications. 2007.

Review: Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Seminar:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

No messing around, this video starts as it means to go on with some impact development on the pads. As is usual with a British Combat Association production, a very important point is raised early on; that we shouldn’t be hesitant (and thus inefficient) when attacking. Instead, we should make sure that everything we do ‘explodes’; that it’s fast, committed and decisive.

The video goes on to cover stance length and the issues around it, relaxation for impact development in kicking, footwork and biomechanics in kicking, concomitancy when kicking alongside upper-body striking, exposure time and timing in striking, kicking at close ranges, Wing Chun (詠春 ~ yǒng chūn) tactile sensitivity drills (Sticking Hands ~ 黐手 ~ chī shǒu), parrying and blocking drills, recovery and commitment in kicking, intensity, adrenaline, stress, context and setting.

The DVD is unique in that this is the first full seminar Peter has given which covers his own high level martial arts training. Renowned for the “double hip” generating power of his strikes and kicks, this seminar, covered how power is generated and explosive speed with maximum dynamic movement and aggression. All this is shown as well as the key elements in the ultra-fast transitions from punching to kicking and vice versa.

(Information from http://peterconsterdine.com/pctraining.htm on 28.02.2013)

This video, in summary, demonstrates a group of men and women taking part in some excellent martial arts training. What sets it aside from other such videos is that it’s done with intensity. My advice to anyone who feels their training is missing something in terms of intensity is to watch this and take on the general feeling of motivation. Essentially, as Peter says at the end, this training session only has a few basic things in it: jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts and roundhouse kicks more or less. However, the crucial understanding is how they train these basic things at the British Combat Association.

Assistant Instructors who took part in this seminar include Steve Williams, Iain Abernethy, John Skillen and Peter Lakin.

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://peterconsterdine.com/pctraining.htm.

Review: ‘Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 2’ by Peter Consterdine

Consterdine, Peter. Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 2. Protection Publications. 2005.

Review: Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 2:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

Last week we looked at the excellent first part to this two-part series, which can be found here.

The Training Day videos follow on from the enquiries made after the popular Fit to Fight videos became well-known (part one reviewed here and part 2 reviewed here). As you may expect from a BCA video, this one is excellent. It’s fitness-oriented but is packed full of drills that are very combatively useful. The key point of the approach presented here to training is in developing functional fitness by doing cardio, etc that is at the same time developing combatively useful attributes.

The video begins with an important discussion from Peter about concomitancy or flow when putting movements together – ‘getting the transitions right’ – which is a key understanding for those interested in this kind of training. Training in this kind of high intensity and focussing on a small amount of methods is a great way to work on endurance and stamina while also improving the quality of the movement itself.

The video includes a number of additional drills following from the approach laid out in the first part of this pair, including pressure work and padwork with the focus mitts in threes as well as in pairs, punching and kicking drills, the ‘four-corner blitz’, ducking and weaving drills, shuttle drills, combination drills, repetition drills and pyramid drills.

Interspersed between these drills being demonstrated is Peter explaining key understandings for each section.

There’s also an attempt at the end from Brian Seabright to get 60 roundhouse kicks into a minute!

This video demonstrates, again, a group of highly skilled martial artists at work generating some impressive impact and, of course, making it look easy! I definitely recommend using these training methods yourself.

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/trainingday2.htm.

Review: ‘Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 1’ by Peter Consterdine

Consterdine, Peter. Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 1. Protection Publications. 2004.

Review: Peter Consterdine’s Training Day Volume 1:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

This review is part one of a two-part series. Part two is can be found here.

The Training Day videos follow on from the enquiries made after the popular Fit to Fight videos became well-known (part one reviewed here and part 2 reviewed here). As you may expect from a BCA video, this one is excellent. It’s fitness-oriented but is packed full of drills that are very combatively useful. The key point of the approach presented here to training is in developing functional fitness by doing cardio, etc that is at the same time developing combatively useful attributes.

There’s a lot of ideas in here for incorporating bag work, pad work, shuttle drills, partner drills, pressure work,  traditional Karate padwork drills with a fitness focus, ‘slow-mo’ sparring, pyramid drills and shield kicking drills.

As well as just the drills, this video shows a group of absolutely phenomenal punchers and kickers at work. There’s some fantastic impact generated by these martial artists; very high levels of skill demonstrated indeed. Martial artists in this video include (of course) Peter Consterdine, Brian Seabright, Bernard Taylor, Steve Williams and Richard Hardy.

I definitely recommend taking a look at this training session and using it yourself as a basis for yours. It really is excellent.

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 athttp://www.peterconsterdine.com/trainingday1.htm.

Review: ‘Powerkick’ by Peter Consterdine

Consterdine, Peter. Powerkick. Protection Publications.

Review: Powerkick:
by Josh Nixon, ESP

This review is part two of a two-part series. Part one is here.

As we’ve come to expect from a British Combat Association video, this one begins with a very important point – that kicking above the legs is generally a bad idea in real combat. While this is common knowledge to all who have received good training in self-protection, for many it may still not be, so it’s important to raise awareness on this issue.

That said, the most important thing to realise about this video is that it isn’t just a method for power generation – it’s a method for power generation within the parameters of maintaining a square-on upper-body position as best as one can while kicking. In terms of hook kicks, this is difficult but in this video Peter Consterdine presents his method for getting power into kicking while trying not to compromise one’s stability of structure. The importance, in this method, of the hands’ motion and that of the upper body in general is emphasised.

Following on from the previous Powerstrike (reviewed here), effective lineups for the kicking is gone through logically and accessibly, along with tactical information on useful targets to pick out for kicking once you’ve set them up well. There’s also a truly insightful nugget of information about flinch responses and reactions that I had never realised before I watched this, so it taught me something potentially very useful that I might not have otherwise realised! I won’t say what it is here of course – buy the video if you want to know!

As with all the best methods of striking, a biomechanical approach and an awareness of tension and relaxation is what this is video’s teachings are built on and as such I definitely recommend it as a worthy addition to anyone’s collection.

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/powerkick.htm.

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