Using Force: A Look at UK Law for Self-Protection Practitioners

What Do I Do NowThe use of force is one of the main focuses in most self-protection training as well as in the martial arts. However, its justification and subsequent application to real violence is also singularly the least well-addressed area of understanding. In short, if practitioners train without an understanding of the law then while their training in use of force may be excellent, their knowledge of when, how and particularly why they should be using said force will be severely lacking.

The danger of this legal ignorance is binary: while some may be unwittingly training in such a way that they are unconsciously conditioning themselves to default to excessive and unjustifiable levels of force (or to use force when it is not necessary), others may become too afraid of legal repercussions to use sufficient force when it is legitimately required. Some may be so afraid of these ramifications that, through their perception that the law offers no protection to those acting in self-defence, they will not act at all. Thus, it is important that we address both the encouragement of violent aggression and the discouragement of legitimate use of force in self-defence as in different ways both of these unfortunate situations enable victimisation.

The following is a brief look at UK self-defence law in an attempt to discuss its meaning in terms of self-protection training to better explore what it means for practitioners of self-protection methods.

Self-Defence and the Prevention of Crime

Whereas statute law more rigidly adheres to statutes that are designed to cover all eventualities, common law makes more use of judicial cases, meaning that judges can have more power to adapt to individual circumstances without Parliament having to enact legislation.

The Crown Prosecution Service’s website states that defence of the person (defending yourself or someone else) is covered by the common law. However, the following act should be borne in mind when considering the justification of self-defence:

Criminal Law Act 1967

Section 3, subsection 1 states that:

A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.

Note that according to the CPS, section 3 only applies to crime and not to civil matters. So, for instance, it cannot afford a defence in repelling trespassers by force, unless the trespassers are involved in some form of criminal conduct. For matters involving property and householders, researching the Criminal Damage Act (1971) and Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 may be beneficial.

Thus we have two options for justifying use of force for self-defence in the event of an accusation of excessive or unreasonable use of force: the common law route which is concerned with support from case precedents and the statutory route where the justification is the prevention of a crime from taking place (i.e. an assault).

When Can we Use Self-Defence?

The CPS is very clear about what situations self-defence can be lawfully used in:

A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances for the purposes of:

  • self-defence; or
  • defence of another; or
  • defence of property; or
  • prevention of crime; or
  • lawful arrest.

The only real ambiguity lies in this vague term: “reasonable force”. This is the point at which people typically become confused. Many practitioners and instructors can tend to gloss over this point, often leading to the following erroneous perspectives:

  • Use of any force aside from in training is strictly not allowable, and any action other than running away is difficult to justify as it demonstrates lack of control.
  • Any degree of force is justifiable if you honestly believed you were in danger at the time, as fear and adrenalisation are justifications for poor judgement of force.
  • “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6”: simply disregarding the law altogether, simplifying the situation into a polarised choice of being killed or being judged.

Armed with an understanding of the law and what it allows for, we can make better decisions about how to defend ourselves against violent crime and prepare ourselves with training that is both more efficient and more effective.

Why Use Force At All?

So you’ve used force against someone who either was using force against you or who was about to do so. What then?

This is what we must bear in mind: what then? What’s the point? There are a few reasons why people might use force against an assailant:

  • To protect oneself or someone else,
  • To punish the attacker and thus discourage further wrongdoing,
  • For enjoyment,
  • To simply express anger,
  • As an impulsive act of blind panic,
  • To alleviate boredom,
  • As an act of revenge, or
  • To impress others or find feelings of self-worth or a sense of achievement in hurting someone.

Some will sound more reasonable than others to you, no doubt. Some are more understandable than others, too. Regardless of any personal ethical considerations, how do these hold up as reasonable excuses for using force against someone? Which of these can be reasonably justified in terms of necessity?

The objective in using force against another person is simple: to prevent a worse crime from taking place. In almost every situation of assault, the goal should be to use force for one purpose only: to facilitate your escape. In many situations, escape may be possible without using any force at all, or force which is unlikely to cause actual bodily harm. In situations where that is impossible, the amount and severity of the force used must then be justifiable as a reasonable level of force for that situation.

What is “Reasonable”?

Let’s begin by taking a look at what prosecutors consider in cases of self-defence:

In assessing the reasonableness of the force used, prosecutors should ask two questions:

  • was the use of force necessary in the circumstances, i.e. Was there a need for any force at all? and
  • was the force used reasonable in the circumstances?

This in itself doesn’t really help us to understand much more clearly, but it brings us to an important understanding nonetheless: the notion of reasonableness is subjective.

The CPS goes on to quote Lord Morris:

“If there has been an attack so that self defence is reasonably necessary, it will be recognised that a person defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his defensive action. If the jury thought that that in a moment of unexpected anguish a person attacked had only done what he honestly and instinctively thought necessary, that would be the most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken …”

This shows that there is some consideration given for the fact that it is difficult to carefully make decisions in the adrenalised state that victims of violent crime are usually in. Let us consider two hypothetical situations, however to expand on this:

Situation 1:

Goodie is sitting waiting for his train. Baddie gets off another train, drunk, and tries to hit Goodie. He hits Goodie with a glancing blow and continues to swing punches. Goodie, scared and startled, slaps Baddie hard in the face and runs away while Baddie stumbled with a ringing ear and a stinging cheek.

Situation 2:

Goodie is sitting waiting for his train. Baddie gets off another train, drunk, and tries to hit Goodie. He hits Goodie with a glancing blow and continues to swing punches. Goodie, scared and startled, slaps Baddie hard in the face before grabbing him around the neck and sinking his elbow into Baddie’s face seven times. Baddie passed out, and then Goodie punched him to make sure.

Both of these “Goodie” characters can argue that they were preventing a crime from taking place: Baddie was trying to hit them after all. As they were sitting down and the surprise came as an attack, simply leaving was not an option at that time. However, whereas in situation 1 the character took the opportunity to leave without using more force than was necessary to prevent further crime from taking place, in situation 2 he missed that opportunity while he was continuing to use more force than was required. In situation 2, the focus shifted from self-protection to retaliation.

This was a slightly silly and exaggerated example, but it illustrates the point.

To reiterate:

The objective in using force against another person is simple: to prevent a worse crime from taking place. 

In almost every situation of assault, the goal is to use force for one purpose only: to facilitate your escape. In many situations, escape may be possible without using any force at all, or force which is unlikely to cause actual bodily harm. In situations where that is impossible, the amount and severity of the force used must then be justifiable as a reasonable level of force for that situation. If it is enough force to prevent a worse crime from taking place, without being excessive in nature, then it is more likely to be considered reasonable.

Retreating

While retreat is the logical objective, as not being near the offender is (usually) the safest and easiest way to prevent violence, it is not mandatory for you to retreat in order to justify your actions in self-defence. In some situations, for example, it may be impossible to retreat without using any force at all (being held against your will, grabbed by the hair or clothes, etc). In others, your retreat could put others in danger (for example, if walking with someone who is elderly or infirm, running away would leave them in danger if they could not run with you). Consider the following from the Crown Prosecution Service’s website:

Failure to retreat when attacked and when it is possible and safe to do so, is not conclusive evidence that a person was not acting in self defence. It is simply a factor to be taken into account rather than as giving rise to a duty to retreat when deciding whether the degree of force was reasonable in the circumstances (section 76(6) Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008). It is not necessary that the defendant demonstrates by walking away that he does not want to engage in physical violence: (R v Bird 81 Cr App R 110).

There are other ways that unwillingness can be demonstrated, for example through verbal and nonverbal communication. Remaining non-aggressive and attempting to calm the aggressor down, apologising for any (possibly imagined) wrongdoing, etc, are useful things to bear in mind. That said, if it is safe and possible to leave then that should always remain the clear, logical objective of any force deployment. Retreat is a greatly preferable outcome, not an absolute duty.

The CPS makes pretty clear, however, that if someone seeks out violence and instigates a violent encounter, then they are (understandably) considered the aggressor: “[…] if he started the fight, if he volunteered for it, such actions are not lawful, they are unlawful acts of violence.”

Pre-Emptive Striking

There is no rule in law to say that a person must wait to be struck first before they may defend themselves, (see R v Deana, 2 Cr App R 75). (CPS)

Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is another important act to bear in mind, as it offers some clarification, such as:

Section 76(3) confirms the question whether the degree of force used by the defendant was reasonable in the circumstances is to be decided by reference to the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be.

This is where the term “honestly held belief” comes into things. When deciding whether a use of force was reasonable, the defence of said use of force is to be considered based on the defendant’s honestly held belief that they were either under attack or that they were under imminent threat of attack.

In short, as long as the level of force remains proportionate and reasonable, someone under imminent threat of assault need not necessarily wait to be physically assaulted before they act. A (proporionate) “pre-emptive strike” may be used if it is honestly believed to be necessary.

This is not a “get out of jail free card”, however. It does not allow people to use unnecessary, excessive levels of force without repercussion as long as they say that they believed they needed to! Section 76(4) states that “the more unreasonable the belief, the less likely it is that the court will accept it was honestly held”.

The important point to remember is that this allows for the use of force to be proactive as opposed to merely reactive, in situations where its necessity can be justified.

This act we’ve discussed also goes on to discuss “householder cases” and the use of disproportionate force, so it is another useful act to be familiar with.

A Formula for Lawful Use of Force

Broadly speaking, the following areas of self-protection understanding form a methodology whereby if one stage fails or is inappropriate to the situation, the next should then be considered to avoid escalating to unjustifiable or excessive use of force. Aside from legal considerations, for the sake of safety in terms of physical, psychological and social wellbeing physical conflict should of course be avoided at all costs. This logical methodology will help to manage such risks as well as avoid the legal repercussions of handling a situation of self-protection poorly.

Stage 1 – Threat Awareness and Threat Evaluation:

‘Threat awareness’ is a state of being whereby an individual is maintaining the ability to perceive and cognitively react to an event or quality of their surroundings.

Through threat awareness, understand the situation to the best of your ability. Through threat avoidance, decide whether you can escape without combat. Simply put, if you can see a potential situation beginning to escalate early enough, you can simply leave. Threat evaluation should be a theoretically informed approach, meaning that it stems from an understanding of the area you’re in, the nature of violent crime, etc. Do some research and educate yourself if you can. That said, never ignore your gut feeling. If a situation doesn’t feel right, leave.

Stage 2 – Threat Avoidance:

This can either be passive avoidance (not going to areas where you know bad things are likely to happen) or active avoidance (walking or running away). If you remove yourself from the situation, you’ve prevented the crime from taking place without using force.

Stage 3 – Communication:

If the above fails or is not viable, then communication may be a way to end the situation without violence. This communication, verbal and nonverbal, could be placatative, deceptive, distracting or intimidating depending on the situation and what it calls for at that moment. If immediate escape or avoidance is not viable, employ communicative strategies to effect one.

Stage 4 – Use of Force:

If the above three stages have all failed or were not viable, then force may be necessary to effect your escape. This force, as discussed above, must be both necessary and reasonable in order to be considered legally justifiable.

The Last Word

This article is not intended for legal advice and it has not been written by an expert in law. You should not take legal advice from anyone who is not qualified to give it, and I (Josh Nixon, the writer) am just a layperson who is interested in the topic as a self-protection practitioner and instructor. This article is merely an attempt to clarify the often rather vague notion that is “reasonable force” and the justification of the use of force generally, as a basic starting point for interested parties to begin their own research and learning from. The various topics such as threat awareness, evaluation and avoidance, etc will be expanded upon separately in further writing. If nothing else, this article is a reminder to all those who practise self-protection, martial arts or any related disciplines that an awareness of and respect for the law simply has to be an intrinsic part of your training mentality and methodology, or you are doing yourself a grave disservice. The nature of this subject is such that whether you are knowledgeable about it or ignorant of it, your responsibility remains the same. If excessive or unnecessary force is used and it cannot be justified, both the knowledgeable self-protectionist and the uneducated person are equally and inescapably responsible for their actions. The understanding of the law as outlined here cannot be used as an excuse to use force when you might have been able to avoid it, and it cannot be used as an excuse to use excessive levels of unreasonable force either. It is to be used, rather, to ensure a better-informed approach to your training so that no use of force is trained without consideration of not just how it should be done, but when and (perhaps most importantly) why.

For a more in-depth and excellent reference book on this topic, I recommend Understanding Reasonable Force by Mark Dawes. It is essentially a better and more in-depth look at exactly what this article has discussed. At the time of writing, it is by far the best book on the topic I have read so far. Full details of the book can be found on our Recommended Reading page.

I’ve done a fair amount of reading and have spoken about this topic with some knowledgeable people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am right so I encourage anyone reading this to take it merely as a starting point for their own research into the topic. In the same breath, if anything here is unclear, confusing, missing the point or flat-out incorrect please inform me and I will edit it immediately. As my research continues and my learning continues, I may well edit this to reflect new understanding or to incorporate new sources. For this reason, I will include a changelog here of when this article is edited:

Last edited on 29.08.2016: clarification of statute law, as opposed to “civil law”. Thanks to Peter Consterdine from the British Combat Association for this feedback.
Published on 21.08.2016.

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.

Training Notes – 15.05.2015

High Guard NeonOur last session was a fun, functional, fierce and focussed look at two related subjects: the high guard and dealing with multiple attackers.

After the usual exercises, including some of the work on shifting our stances to understand the relationship between centre of mass, stance and stability that we did at the beginning of last week’s session, we got going with our skills focus for this week…

Work on the Closed High Guard:

The closed high guard is a powerful skill both in terms of protecting yourself from the damage an attacker wants to deal to you and as a way of inflicting damage yourself.

Made famous by the Keysi Fighting Method and (more recently) Defence Lab, the closed high guard (often called Pensador) is an excellent methodology to employ. It’s a simple and effective way to protect against knockouts by covering targets like the temples, jaw and neck, and it lends itself to close-quarters elbow strikes that are among the most effective and efficient striking methods available. Earlier this month we looked at striking from the closed high guard and snapping back to this form, and this time we looked at maintaining the position and using it in a couple of different ways; using the side of the shape to disrupt posture and the front of it (the pointed elbow) to strike without having to disengage from the guard position.

We also looked at, again, dealing with strikes using this guard.

Work on Multiple Attackers – stepping into ‘The Box’:

This is a situation in which the closed high guard comes into its own. Last month we focussed in on a common dynamic of violence: the ‘pincer movement’. In this session we looked at this when launching a pre-emptive strike in order to escape, however then things became altogether more difficult.

We stepped into ‘The Box’.

We took it in turns to be surrounded by four people: one in front, one behind and one to each side. We looked at escaping by:

  • Using the ‘wedge’ biomechanical concept to get through a gap between two people,
  • Using biomechanical manipulation to do so with less chance of getting seriously hurt in the process, and then
  • Incorporating a pre-emptive strike to remove some of the danger (knockout) or demoralise the group (‘shock and awe’ intimidation tactic).

Padwork with Multiple Attackers:

We then split off into groups of 3. One ‘baddie’ presented focus mitts to their partner while another approached every now and again with a kickshield trying to barge the person who was striking. Meeting the barge with a closed high guard and striking in with the elbow, the ‘goodie’ then returned as quickly as possible to striking the focus mitts.

This quickly became a very intense drill, which is how we like it!

Excellent effort from everyone as always, and it was a pleasure to train with you all. See you on Friday! I can’t wait.

-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. If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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.

Training notes – 10.04.2015

Elbow Strike Neon - LogoAfter the usual loosening off and joint rotation, we got to a gentle start this week with a focus on ground mobility. We looked at getting to the ground quickly and safely in the form of forward and backward fall absorption (falling without getting hurt on a hard surface), then looked at extending that skill into rolling forwards and backwards. This is a useful thing to do not only for the obvious benefit of dealing with falling over and minimising injury, but as a great core exercise and to encourage general mobility and relaxed movement. When falling, we’re also dealing with a very primal fear and so there is a psychological element to ground mobility work that shouldn’t be ignored.

We then stepped it up a notch by performing the aforementioned fall absorption when a partner disrupted our posture to take us down to the floor.

Loosened off and relaxed, it was time to warm up with a little padwork. The focus of this session that carried through everything we did was on maintaining situational awareness while performing a task. Though you didn’t know it – I hadn’t given any instructions about that specifically – you were all doing this very well in the next drill. I noticed lots of people looking around at the people most likely to attack them next, and shifting their positions to suit. Excellent work.

Padwork:

Everyone split up into pairs. One person held the focus mitts while the other smashed them with hammer fists. Whether singly and individually focussed or as a blitz of chaotic strikes, it was up to you. Each pair moved around the space freely and lots of good, stable posture was observed which facilitated relaxed and efficient striking.

At random intervals, I would shout ‘Change!’ and the padholders would run to the nearest padless person and attack them with the focus mitts. Employing a high guard, those people protected themselves by driving into the attacker and managing the distance effectively; proactively dealing with the threat instead of passively accepting the flurry of strikes. The pads were then presented for more striking, and this was repeated.

By having the padholders assume a predatory role in selecting their victims freely, the dynamic of the drill demanded a proactive response from the participants which provided some very rewarding training.

From there, we stayed in our pairs and focussed on a simple skill: striking a pad, then with aggressive movement into the attacker, gaining control of them and having that control tested by the attacker simply struggling as hard as they could to free themselves. We discussed appropriate footwork, posture and control methods including using the forearm against the neck when the attacker tried to move into us.

Partner Work – Skills Focus:

Again, we took some more time to focus on some skills we started to look at last week involving grabs, biomechanical manipulation and how to deal with the threat of what could come as a result of the grabs we’re encountering. This week we worked on using that grab as an opportunity, either for effective striking or biomechanically affecting their posture and joints using the arm they’re presenting. We found the following:

  • If they’re grabbing you with a hand, they don’t have much defence on that side of their head with which to stop you hitting them!
  • Never forget: if they’re in a position to hit you, you’re usually in a position where you can hit them too!
  • Coming on the outside of the arm is useful because you can hyperextend the elbow and you’re on the (relatively) ‘safe’ side.
    • You might be at the right position in the moment to get that armbar. You might not. If you’re not, just shove him away and run off! Remember we’re not interested in sticking around and doing anything flashy. If it’s there (and you need to), then use it. If not, do something else!
  • Coming on the inside of the arm can also be useful as collapsing it brings their head towards you. For striking this can be very useful but for control perhaps even more so. Gaining a good clinched position can be an effective way to gain the advantage you need to do what you need to do and leave.
    • Being on the inside of the arm near their centre line allows for lots of striking options, particularly at range 2 with your elbows (which is very easily done from a high guard). Elbow striking really lends itself to these close-up situations.

Focus Section: Violence Dynamics:

This section brought together all of the skills we’d been working on and put them into a useful context worth studying: the ‘Pincer Movement’. Here’s a quotation from an article that is actually chapter 2 of Geoff Thompson’s excellent book ‘Dead or Alive’:

If more than one assailant is involved it is usual for one of the attackers to deploy the victim with distracting dialogue, whilst the other(s) move to your offside. Whilst the victim is distracted by the questioner, his accomplice(s) attack.

This was one of the most common attacks in the nightclub when I worked as a doorman and is a common, though, unbelievably, innate, ploy of gang robbery or rapes: the pincer movement. That is why so many people seem to get glassed or stabbed in the side of the face or neck because they are not attacked by the person in front that they are arguing with. They are attacked by the guy at the side that they do not see because of their adrenal induced tunnel vision (no one seems to teach these people to do this; they just do it instinctively).

There is a wealth of information in that chapter and I heavily recommend that you have a read. Better yet, buy the book. It’s packed with useful information and case studies. I’ve included it (and all its details so you can find it easily) on our Recommended Reading page. There’s more information I found in chapter 16 which was reproduced on that website on the appropriate response to multiple attackers and in chapter 2 (linked above) there’s a lot more information on violence dynamics, the criminal interview, etc than we could cover in this session.

To understand the dynamic of the pincer movement, we performed a simple acclimatisation drill to start: in groups of 3, we had two people continuously walk towards their ‘victim’, with one always trying to come around to their ‘blind side’ and get around them to a position from which they could attack. In this stage, we simply used our footwork to maintain a position from which we could see both partners clearly, and attempted to get them close together so that only one was in a position from which they could attack us at any one time.

Afterwards, we had one partner engage the ‘victim’ with conversation while the other initiated an attack. Dealing with an attack (from both partners), and running away, the ‘victim’ then had to justify their actions to the group as we did on Red Nose Day. Some points to remember:

  • Don’t stick around and fight if you can run. While in initial training the consequence might just be getting ragged around a bit and slapped or taken down by your conscientious partners, in an assault that could be one of them holding you on the floor while the other stamps on your head until you stop breathing. If you can run away, run away!
  • Don’t let them get too close! If you feel threatened and you can run, just run. If you can’t, but shoving the guy out of the way can give you that escape, then do it. Run away.
  • Don’t hesitate either. If you know you can’t run and you have to deploy force in order to change the situation so you can escape, don’t wait around before you do. Once you’ve decided on your action (and the need for it) then do it with conviction and without hesitation. This article quotes the words of Miyamoto Musashi (an expert Japanese swordsman and rōnin – author of The Book of Five Rings) on the matter: ‘When facing multiple opponents, you must attack first and keep attacking until the danger subsides.’

In the drills we did today, I saw people managing the distance between themselves and others effectively. I saw people demonstrating excellent relaxed striking (hitting extremely hard too). I saw people putting the skills we’ve been developing into practice in a very difficult situation. Most importantly, I saw them doing so efficiently and then justifying it afterwards.

Incredible effort, lots of sweat and even a little blood: excellent training with excellent people.

Well done, all of you. The ability and dedication in the room was truly humbling.

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.

Training Notes – Endon – 13.03.2015

Red Noses Focal B&WYesterday was, of course, Red Nose Day! At the time of writing this post, their website says £78,082,988! Incredible.

We couldn’t let this day go by without some form of recognition and so, while I was sitting at work thoughtfully squidging my friend Snortel the red nose, I had an idea for a rather enjoyable drill we could mark the occasion with: Red Nose matches!

So, after a few shuttle runs, shoving each other around and shoulder mobility exercise, we got to it: in pairs, everyone has a red nose on. As a test of your parrying and blocking, you have to knock each other’s red nose off! No point-keeping or anything; just a bit of fun to warm up with.

We used this however to make a very useful point.

If you keep your attacker at range 3 (about an arm’s length away) and you’re trying to control them like that, good luck. I say that because it’s incredibly difficult to protect yourself successfully while you’re there, as you usually get into a kind of standoff where you’re reacting to their strikes, throwing some of your own, and you’re too easily overwhelmable. You have to be extremely skilled to manage to parry and/or block an unrelenting attack keeping someone at that distance.

However, as we were saying the week before last, fear (or inefficient training) can lead to mis-management of this distance between yourself and the person trying to assault you. As we found with this lighthearted drill, it was much more efficient to move in to range 1-2 and control the limbs of the attacker much more closely, restricting their movement and ‘jamming’ their attempts to strike.

Takedowns! …posturepostureposture…

Yet again, you’re going to be sick of me going on about this, but posture is everything in takedowns too! We looked at a couple of concepts: spine alignment and the position of our Centre of Mass (COM).

IMG_20150314_192001IMG_20150314_192013As we saw with our partners, applying a downward force to a straight spine doesn’t really do much to their posture. A straight, neutral stance is of course very stable as your COM’s reference point (marked X on my scribbles) is right between your feet along your centre line. (Wing Chun people are nodding sagely…)

However, if the spine is misaligned, things are different. Whether it’s a sideways bend (as the right-hand scribble on an old diary’s page attempts to portray) or a move forwards or backwards, this misalignment shifts the COM away from that centre line.

IMG_20150314_200559As the point on the floor directly below a person’s COM (reference point marked x on the above scribblings) is moved in any direction away from the centre, the posture of the person is weakened and their ability to withstand downwards pressure without falling to the floor is compromised. The person’s balance is off, and you can use that to your advantage! Think of it as moving that x towards one of the compass points to the right.

Prevent their feet from taking the natural step they’ll want to take to recover from this and lo and behold: a takedown just happened!

  1. Misalign the spine.
  2. Prevent recovery.
  3. Downwards force.

Of course there’s more to it than just this, and plenty that can be done besides, but this is a basic look at takedowns. This post was going to be just brief bullet points, but then I found I was in a typing-something-up mood!

The Aftermath: Justification and Explanation

After violence occurs, you have to be able to explain what happened and justify why it did. We took a simple drill – Person A attacks Person B however they like, and Person B responds – such as you’d find in any self-protection or martial arts class. What we did then, however, marks out quality mindful self-protection training from those who pay lip-service to the Force Continuum and to justifying your Force Deployment after violence takes place.

Person A then asks questions.

‘What did you do?’

‘Well why did you do that?’

‘Did you really have to? I mean, did you have to use that much force?’

‘Why didn’t you just walk away?’

‘Was he even of sound mind? For all you know he could have been vulnerable and you just slapped him!’

‘Couldn’t you have used less force? It seemed a bit excessive.’

‘I bet that really annoyed you. I’d have been furious. I bet you really wanted to give him some then, didn’t you?’

Person B has to justify what they did – honestly, openly and mindfully. When we talk about justification, it’s important to remember that you’re not just justifying yourself legally. Socially, you might have to justify yourself to the people around you (family, friends, colleagues) who could see you as ‘violent’, or as someone who’s ‘been in a fight’. It’s now up to you to explain to them that it wasn’t a fight: you protected yourself and had to. Personally, you will likely have to justify it to yourself as well. Doubts could spring up about what you did and whether it was the right decision, whether you could have de-escalated better, etc. After the violence has ended, there can be a lot of mess to clear up before it’s all over!

This underpins everything that we learn in an Evolutionary Self-Protection session. Never forget that you have to justify and understand what you’re doing. There’s a lot more to it than chucking your partner around and bashing the pads.

Even a silly bit of fun – knocking red noses off each other – in a room full of laughter is a valuable learning and training experience with obvious progression and subtle nuances for beginners and experienced participants alike.

Train mindfully. Train efficiently. Train evolution…arily? Yep, that’ll do!

Have an awesome weekend everyone – see you next week!

-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.

10 Questions with Dan Holloway (themartialview.com, Eiryukan Aikido and Function First)

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and your martial arts journey – how did it start?

I first started martial arts when I was 6 years old with Karate in the local church hall. I think I started as my parents wanted me to improve confidence and gain fitness, flexibility etc. I did Karate for a couple of years but then to be honest got a bit bored with it. I wanted to continue martial arts and so found an advertisement for Aikido at a local RAF base. That’s when I started and continue to teach and practice Aikido today. I’ve also done various other arts for varying degrees of time. I did MMA at Hull University for a few years under Louis Chapman as well as Jiu-Jitsu and Boxing. When I left university I spent some time in Australia training Aikido full time with Sensei Joe Thambu who is internationally recognised for his Aikido and self-defence skills. I then joined Matt Frost at Function First Lincoln and started to learn KFM, and now his new Renegade Street Tactics programme that he has just introduced after a few years of development. I feel really fortunate to have found martial arts so early and to have trained under such great people like Joe Thambu, Matt Frost, Robert Mustard and Justo Dieguez.

 

2) In our conversations we’ve mentioned the role of ‘traditional’ martial arts today as an area of particular interest. What role do they have for you personally, and for society in general today in your opinion?

I’ve actually written an article on this for my blog www.themartialview.com. It’s a complicated subject with lots of different elements to it.

You can firstly look at combat effectiveness and that’s what the early UFCs wanted to look at. Which art was the best when it came to a no holds barred kind of fight? Having trained primarily in Aikido for a number of years a constant criticism I hear for this art is that the techniques are unrealistic and reliant on the compliance of your partner. It’s true that when we first learn Aikido we work together to get the technique down, but what people sometimes don’t grasp is that the techniques are sometimes irrelevant and merely a way to understand the main principles of that art. All martial arts regardless of style work on the principles of unbalancing your opponent while keeping your own balance, neutralising the attack, and then employing power through the hips and lower body. Therefore I think all martial arts have their own element of combat effectiveness and teach the same principles, even if there is a slightly different slant. It’s dependent on the individual learning the art to keep realistic examples in mind, as well as the instructor to show how the art can be used for self-protection.

Self-protection or combat effectiveness is just one element to the martial arts though and I think that the development, fitness, self-discipline and respect that you learn are more important. Especially for children. As I’ve already said, I think the martial arts have shaped who I am today enormously and hope to continue training for the rest of my life. If martial arts were compulsory in schools and taught from an early age I think that society and people would have a lot more respect and discipline towards each other than it does at the moment! That’s just my opinion but I think the martial arts can offer an enormous amount of benefit to society today both in terms of practical self-protection, but more importantly, just improving you as a human being. The full article can be found here: http://www.themartialview.com/the-role-of-traditional-martial-arts-today/

 

3) How does self-protection fit into what you do?

Self-protection is just one element of Aikido as I’ve already discussed and it’s one that I personally like to focus on as it’s something that I enjoy and want to learn as much as I can about. Aikido is traditionally seen as a soft martial art but I again think that depends on the style and instructor teaching. I like to add realistic elements into my training and teaching, and think it’s an important aspect to Aikido that is sometimes overlooked. It’s known as the art of peace and that’s fantastic with the way it can improve people’s lives and a really important element, but I always remember that it is a martial art and needs to be treated as such. Some Aikido out there looks fake and put on to me and this just damages the reputation of those who want to learn effective Aikido; lowering the reputation of martial arts in general. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to train at Function First Lincoln, which (as is in the name) puts the function first. The head coach, Matt Frost, has led an incredible life and gained some real insight into real world violence and self-protection and so in terms of effective self-protection I don’t think you can get a whole lot better than him. You can read all about him and his experiences again in my 3-part interview on my blog.

 

4) What motivates you in your training? How do you get yourself going when you’re not in the mood or you have other things to do?

To be honest with you, I’m normally in the mood to train as it’s just something I’ve done for so long it comes naturally to me. When I was training in Australia I was training 6 days a week, for sometimes 7-8 hours a day in 40 degree heat. That was tough and there were a lot of times when I didn’t want to train. When that happened I remembered I was here to learn from the best and needed to make the most of my time there and so tried to improve one thing per lesson, no matter how big or small. That kept me focussed and gave me a realistic goal I could achieve after every lesson.

 

5) What would you say is the most important skill or attribute for a teacher?

I think patience and being able to communicate effectively are two majorly important aspects. You need to be patient and understand that people have different learning styles, or learn at different paces and the content needs to be fun and personal enough to ring true with people. I think the use of humour is really important as well as it can just make people feel at ease and be more receptive to the knowledge you are trying to pass along. Safe International recently wrote a great article about the use of humour in their self-protection courses which can be found here: http://safeinternational.biz/blog/2014/03/12/humour-is-the-missing-link-in-most-self-defense-courses-2/

 

6) What would you say is the most important aspect of your training, skill you develop or attribute you cultivate in your training and teaching?

In terms of learning from Matt at Function First Lincoln I’m still just a beginner and so am taking in everything I can to do with Renegade Street Tactics and thinking how it applies to what I’ve already studied before as for me there is quite a lot of crossover. In terms of my Aikido I’m trying to increase the speed and fluidity of my techniques so they become more effective and rapid.

 

7) What do you like to do aside from training and teaching? What interests you?

Music and martial arts are big parts of my life. I’ve played the guitar and piano for a number of years and think it takes that same discipline to learn an instrument as a martial art. The hours you have to spend trying to nail the chord progression or riff to a song is the same hours you spend trying to nail the technique and so to me again there’s a great crossover with both!

 

8) What advice do you have for students out there reading this?

Enjoy your training! If you’re really into it you will be for the long run as in my experience, once someone gets the bug for martial arts, they have it for a very long time. Everyone has days where they feel like they don’t want to train but I’d encourage people to go anyway and once they’re there they’ll enjoy themselves. I’d also encourage people to learn from everyone and train in everything they can. Traditional guys can learn stuff from other styles and real self-defence such as Keysi by Justo, Defence Lab or Renegade Street Tactics and vice versa! Learn from everyone, train with everyone and try everything! Then, like Bruce Lee said, take what’s useful and discard what isn’t!

 

9) What advice do you have for instructors out there reading this?

I’m not really sure I can give advice as I’m sure there are a million instructors out there better than I am with more experience. I would say don’t let your own training suffer too much as a result of teaching. Your own development may take a bit of a hit when you first start instructing as your focus then turns to the students rather than 100% you, but you always need to make the time for you personally to develop and progress, working on more advanced things or recovering the basic elements of whatever art you do.

 

10) What is your ultimate goal with training and teaching? Where do you want it to lead?

The dream would be eventually to set up my own academy which teaches both traditional martial arts as well as pure self defence and fitness. That’s a long way in the future however and so for the time being I’m learning all I can, training with everyone I can and just trying to get as much experience in the martial arts as possible!

 

You can get in touch with Dan at http://themartialview.com/, join the Martial View Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/614340578652460/ or find him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/themartialview.

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