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 – 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.

Training Notes – Endon – 20.03.2015

IMG_20150217_205603 - CopyOn our Facebook page today I made a tongue-in-cheek reference to the eclipse this morning, saying that they’re a portent of epic things to come.

I wasn’t wrong. This week’s session was phenomenal.

A warm welcome to another new member who is already experienced in Filipino martial arts, JKD, BJJ and KFM. We love it when people come who are already experienced martial artists, as they always have something new and fresh to bring to the table. By the same token, it was great to have our friendly neighbourhood Samurai with us again showing off some incredible Jujutsu skills on the ground!

This week, we’d been double-booked by our new venue. As there was an annual event going on in the hall, we were told we couldn’t train. This, of course, is not how we roll so I asked if we could use the small back room instead. The result was a very enjoyable shake-up to how we normally train!

The funny thing is, I’d planned a session focussed on close-quarters stuff!

To start, we warmed up with some partner work:

  • Pushes and strikes for relaxed movement and footwork.
  • Positioning for control: controlling a partner’s arm and following up with strikes and takedowns.
    • Recap: forwards and backwards fall absorption and efficient takedowns by manipulating the spine that we looked at last week.

Then we got onto some more in-depth partner work in close quarters:

  • Person A grabs Person B’s shirt and punches him in the face. Classic angry man outside the chippie style.
    • Person B uses positioning, footwork and parrying or blocking (depending on angle) to move IN to the attacker and gain control of their posture.
    • Person B takes Person A to the floor.
    • Progression 1: Person B then tries to kick and stamp on their partner, who climbs up them (as we did the other week) in order to prevent this rather unpleasant treatment and maintain control in the process.
    • Progression 2: Person A takes Person B down. Person B climbs up Person A and takes him down. Continuous with quick changes of partners at unexpected moments!

Of course, as always we respect the reiterate the Force Continuum: we’re using the stamping and kicking here as a tool to explore how to deal with that kind of assault, not necessarily as a recommended followup once you’ve taken an attacker down!

Padwork in close quarters (ranges 2 and 3):

  • Hook punches, palm strikes and hammer fists starting with the striking hand on one pad, enforcing a short distance within which you can accelerate.
    • Relaxed movement and footwork to generate power.
  • Short elbow strikes from a reference point:
    • From the fence, front hand is the reference point.
    • Collapse the arm and step forward quickly, striking with the elbow.
  • Proactive targeting: Don’t just wait for a target to present itself! Make your own opportunities. Grab the pad and move it to where you want it. Grab the head and turn the face away, etc.

Don’t be reactive. Be proactive.

Edged weapons:

  • A common modus operandi for stabbings: grab and stab (linked to the previous grab and punch).
  • Using this as a framework (lead hand grab, frenzied stabbing with the rear hand towards anywhere in the torso), we explored how to increase our chances of surviving.
    • Drill 1: knife acclimatisation. 
      • Moving parts of the body away from the blade in order to limit the chance and seriousness of injury.
      • Awareness of which parts of the body to be particularly wary of protecting.
      • Awareness of where the knife is and what it’s doing.
    • Drill 2: grab and stab, grip and control development.
      • Person A grabs Person B as before and stabs towards the stomach with their rear hand.
      • Person B responds the moment he’s grabbed – immediately – and moves his torso away while intercepting the other arm. It could be a stab or a punch, or he could be reaching for a gun, or anything – right now, it doesn’t matter. Intercept that arm.
      • The stab comes, but is parried by that intercepting arm. Person B grabs onto the attacking arm and controls it close to their chest using both hands. The knife is pointing away from them and the arm is secure.
        •  …or is it? Person A tests the grip by violently shaking their arm and trying to free it. Maximum force, absolute ferocity.
          •  With a high COM (Centre of Mass), you can be moved around easily. The further you are from their shoulder, the easier you are to ‘rag around’ and take off-balance. It takes great footwork to keep up with this. Drop your COM a little with a slight bend in your knees (keep good posture though) and sink yourself in close to the attacker’s shoulder and you can resist their efforts much more efficiently.
            • Today’s (O_o) face goes to Dave for full-on picking me up in the air in the process of demonstrating this!
        • If you don’t get stabbed and cut up, you secured the arm. If not, you didn’t!
    • Drill 3: grab and stab, followup from control.
      • Once we established how to achieve and maintain control with a non-compliant partner ragging you around, we looked at what to do from there.
        • Striking options: quickly striking when opportunities are present and returning to controlling the weapon.
          • Striking without letting go: using the shoulders, head and feet to strike while keeping full control of the armed arm (pun intended).
        • Takedowns: risky but potentially viable. Take their balance by manipulating the spine.
        • Disarming: keep it simple and stupid. Smash their arm until they let go, or keep two-handed control of the arm and smash the back of the hand into a wall if there’s one there.
          • If you end up on the floor, smash the hand into the floor. You can also pin the arm using your leg while you do what you need to.
      • Again, the Force Continuum has to be reiterated. Don’t just default to grabbing the knife and carving your name into their chest! If you can avoid using excessive levels of force, and this is entirely dependent on the situation and all its infinite variables, then you should.
    • Drill 4: exploring parrying and striking simultaneously.
      • Person A stabs Person B as before, but wears a focus mitt so Person B can strike while simultaneously dealing with the blade and going for the control, etc. A useful little drill.

To finish, we did some basic breathwork drills (which we’ll return to next week…) and tension & relaxation work, along with percussive massage.

This week’s session was incredible. An awesome turnout, another new member and the return of recent new members as well as our seasoned warriors. The atmosphere was fantastic, the skill and effort I saw in everyone was unbelievable, and it was incredibly enjoyable to train with you all as it always is.

See you next week! We’re back in the usual hall from next week onwards, though that room is always there if we want it…

-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.

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.

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