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 – 17.04.2015

Elbow Strike Neon - LogoThis week, we did something we don’t do enough. Many weeks, we’ll focus on learning skills and concepts, and on honing those skills in situations that simulate real violence. When it comes to fitness, however, we usually take the approach of learning useful exercises and methods of training our bodies to withstand the rigours of physical activity and violence, but not spending too much time on that in the sessions themselves. That is usually more something we take home with us and dedicate ourselves to in our own time.

However, this week was a week in which we could test ourselves somewhat. This week, we kicked it up a notch and had a good, old-fashioned ‘beasting’.

I should, as always, reiterate: whatever we’re doing in our training, the following is always true:

  • Everything is at your own pace. You’re motivated to compete against yourself and make as much progress as you can for your own health and fitness. You’re not competing against each other and you’re not forced to overdo it.
  • Everything is optional in our sessions. No drill, exercise or element of our training is mandatory.
  • At any time, if you need a break for a breather or a drink, just go and get one. It’s never a problem.

This is your training, so do it your way.

This kind of thing hasn’t been an issue for us – we all know this and I remind everyone all the time – but I’m always very aware of the natural feelings of peer pressure, etc that can arise when training with others, and the desire to overdo it and impress people can be so strong that overtraining creeps in. There isn’t a single person in the class who I think is at risk of this, but as a reassurance to people who haven’t trained with us and who are perhaps considering it: people of all fitness levels are very welcome (I’m not amazingly fit myself!) and like I said above, when I refer to a ‘beasting’, that means there’s the opportunity to get your beast mode on and knacker yourself within the realm of what’s healthy and enjoyable. There’s never the demand that you do so. ‘Beastings’ are exciting and fun opportunities, not intimidating or competitive tests!

The Preliminary Stuff:

We got going with a few things to loosen off and get moving actively. To start, just a simple couple of rounds of moving our partners around by aggressively getting in their space, forcing them to maintain a safe distance. All about footwork and the guessing game of where your partner is going next.

A stick spar followed this, where both partners had a foam stick. More than any real combative skill being explored in great detail, this was more than anything about simply moving actively – warming up while doing something dynamic, energetic and very fun too.

To loosen off, we performed the usual joint rotation and light stretching too.

Kicking it up a notch:

A warmup followed, which was simply a minute each of:

  • Star jumps
  • Shadowboxing
  • Heismans
  • Plyometric squats

We did this at an even, fairly relaxed, pace and focussed on form, position and breathing while we did.

Then we each grabbed a Thai pad and decimated it with continuous, brutal rising knee strikes. As fast and hard as possible, a minute for each leg.

After that, in pairs, Person A held a focus mitt for Person B, who (holding the back of the pad with one hand) repeatedly drove a foam ‘brick’ into the pad as hard and fast as possible for a minute.

Now that we were warmed up, we returned to the set of four calisthenics exercises we performed earlier, but this time at maximum intensity. As hard and fast as possible, maintaining good form and efficient breathing.

Fully warmed up and sweating somewhat, it was time for a stretch off. We spent a little more time on this than usual this week, enjoying a good stretch of the hamstrings, calves, inner thighs, hip flexors, chest, shoulders and back. It was also a good opportunity to focus on our breathing and recovery from the cardio we’d just done.

Warmup done, it was time for the drills to commence! Unlike a recent beasting which operated under a ‘running the gauntlet’ format, this week we had three drills to play with.

Hit and Run:

No, we’ve not started advocating criminal activity! This was a descriptive title. Person A strikes a pad held by Person B (when Person B decides to present one) and runs to a safe zone. Things weren’t so simple, however. The moment they strike, Person B runs after them trying to ‘tag’ them with the pad.

If Person A escaped, then well done! They ran fast enough and immediately enough. They acted efficiently and without hesitation. However, if they got tagged then down they went for 10 pushups, before being pushed over sideways by their partner, who would then present pads for them to strike. Lying on their back, they had 20 good strikes to deliver before having to climb their way up the padholder.

Then it was time to do it again. And again. And again. For three minutes.

This was a particularly useful drill for two main reasons:

  • Mental fortitude: The first few times, you might escape easily. Then you get tired and slow down, and the result of which is that you get much more tired much more quickly, because all of a sudden you have a lot more to do before the drill resets when your partner catches you. However, you naturally avoid such difficulty, and thus despite you having less energy than you started with, you run faster than you did before. Mental fortitude.
  • Simulation of combat: You’re not just striking the pad and pretending to run away. You’ve got something to run away from. Even though you’re not going to get hurt or injured, you’ve got a fair bit of difficulty coming your way if you don’t escape from the situation immediately and efficiently. Simply put, if you’re not committed enough to your escape, it won’t work and the ‘assault’ continues when the ‘attacker’ catches you up.

Push and Pads:

This is a nice, simple one. Person A holds the focus mitts against their chest and leans into Person B. They push into each other, shoulder to shoulder until Person B pushes the padholder off them. Pads are presented, strikes are thrown, and then the pushing resumes. This was repeated for a couple of minutes.

Knife and Wall:

This one isn’t a simple one. Person A grabs Person B and shoves them up against a wall. They then, at some point, might just reach for a knife and start stabbing (or, indeed, attacking however else they like). Person B has to deal with it and escape.

These drills that we did this week were less about learning new skills and exploring concepts in detail, but more about taking the time to put what we’ve been training already into practice in a situation of stress: when we’re tired already, having to continue and do different kinds of things as fast and hard as possible.

We had to act fast and run, but if that went wrong then we had to wrestle and push against resistance before escaping. Then we had to wrestle again, then use an explosive push to create distance with which to strike. After that, with energy low but spirits high, we had to put it all into practice in stopping an attacker from stabbing us up against a wall.

Incredible effort, energy and raw ability all round once again! It is truly humbling to train with you all. Well done to everyone – you’ve surpassed yourselves this week and done incredibly well with some gruelling stuff and pushed each other to be the best you can be. Welcome back to a member who’s been on holiday (what a week to come back!) and welcome also to our newest member (what a week to start on!) – it was great to see you all.

A pleasure and a privilege as always. See you next time!

-Josh

All the details of this class are on the Public Classes page up at the top. Your first session is FREE and all are welcome to come along and take part. Every session is beginner-friendly. If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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