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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10 Questions with Andy Holmes (Kombat Cave UK)

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1) Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at the Kombat Cave – what’s the Cave all about and how did it come to be?

I have been training for 12 years and started my interest in martial arts in the 80s at the age of 13, with Judo, then Wado Ryu and Shotokan.
Then discovered cars and girls and had a 20 year lay off!
When I started again at the ripe old age of 35 it was in Chinese Kickboxing. During my time training I was attacked at work with an axe and started to realise the shortfall of sport based arts on the street.
I started attending Krav Maga seminars in Leeds whenever I could and also started attending seminars with the best reality based instructors in the UK.
After obtaining my first Dan in kickboxing I decided I wanted my training to go down the reality route, but could not find any clubs locally, so decided to open my own.
A chance meeting on Facebook and a phone chat with Simon Morrell lead me to make the three and a half hour drive to north Wales on a regular basis to become an Instructor under Fight Fortress worldwide and the BCA.
The Cave was finally born in April 2012.

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

Self Protection is the basis of everything we do, we teach people to defend themselves in the real world.
We cover everything from awareness and the law to adrenaline and aftermath, and students have to demonstrate knowledge and ability through physical and written gradings.

3) 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?

I want to be better than my students so need to put in extensive personal training.
I’m also not getting any younger so want to achieve a lot more in the arts before the bath chair beckons!

4) What would you say is your greatest skill or attribute as a teacher?

Honesty with my students, if I don’t know the answer I will say so, we will then work the solution.
I’d like to think I am also good at communicating with students and always striving to evolve my syllabus based on their needs.

5) What would you say is the most important aspect of your training, skill you develop or attribute you cultivate at the Kombat Cave?

People are able to develop skills that are natural to them and are more likely to be delivered under pressure, I don’t believe in changing their skills but building on what they already have.
The CSD (Cave Street Defence) syllabus is built around making defences that deal with attacks and we offer various solutions, it’s up to the student which strategy works best for them.

6) What is your favourite exercise, training method or drill?

I love Pyramid drills and pad work, punching and kicking drills using the length of the Dojo and increasing/decreasing in intensity.
We start each session with Kombat Fitness designed to improve the skills/endurance used in training and defence situations as well as overall strength and fitness.

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

I read a lot (martial arts books I’m afraid), watching movies and I like to go to the theatre with my long suffering Wingman (the misses who is the brains of the club).

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

Make sure you are training in the right art for you, work out what you want to achieve and ensure your art will deliver, if not, find one that does.

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

Teach what you are happy teaching and be adaptable as the arts are changing.
Many people no longer want to spend years studying one art, I believe with the quick fix mentality of today we must evolve to meet the student’s needs.
Don’t get drawn into the world of the keyboard warrior and be honest about your ability, leave the ego at the door and don’t get involved in martial politics.

10) What is your ultimate goal with the Kombat Cave? Where do you want it to lead?

Ultimately I would love a dedicated Centre and teach on a full time basis.
I want the Cave to be a recognised reality based club that teaches people from all walks of life the essential physical and mental attributes to protect themselves and families.
As well as a fun and friendly place to train.

Simon Morrell and Andy Holmes Simon Morrell and Andy Holmes

You can get in touch with the Kombat Cave on Facebook or on Twitter (@KombatcaveUK), see them on YouTube or visit their website at http://www.kombatcaveuk.com/.

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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