Saturday, March 31, 2012

Iain Abernethy's Beyond Bunkai

Review of Iain Abernethy’s Beyond Bunkai DVD
By Michael Rosenbaum

The Naihanchi/Tekki series are some of the most widely practiced kata in modern karate. Numerous versions abound, most tracing their lineage to the Shuri or Tomari styles of fighting. Despite their popularity, these kata are often deemed beginners’ forms and their combative value is paid scant attention. Such misconceptions have long plagued the Nahanchi/Tekki kata series but are now dispelled by Iain Abernethy in his latest instructional DVD, Beyond Bunkai: Advanced Non-Scripted Naihanchi/Tekki Shodan Close-Range Flow Drill.

Abernethy, a leading Bunkai authority, firmly establishes the Naihanchi/Tekki series as a highly effective style of fighting by breaking the kata down into easy to learn, informative segments. He then demonstrates each segment’s function in combat; even the kata’s footwork is used for fighting. Both technique and concept are demonstrated in these segments as is the natural awkwardness of close range fighting. Throughout the DVD Abernethy emphasizes the fact that there are no magic formulas, one touch knock-outs, or easy to apply submission holds for close- range fighting. Hammersmashes, head-butts, biting, elbowing, groin-grabs, stomps and neck-cranks are the mainstay of Abernethy’s arsenal as he stresses the importance of using aggression to conquer one’s enemy instead of aesthetically appealing techniques. Indeed, many of the techniques used would be more appropriate for the pub brawl or back alley fist fight than the dojo, something which may prove disconcerting for staunch traditionalists. For those seeking practical skills though it will be greatly appreciated.

At the beginning of the DVD Abernethy draws a parallel between the alphabet and kata then goes on to explain that just as words are constructed by using letters randomly, so should a katas’ techniques be practiced for fighting. This non-linear approach, which enables the karate-ka to mix and match techniques found within the kata, breaks with many traditional beliefs yet allows the exploration of strategies previously unobtainable. Similarly it is a concept applicable to not just the Naihanchi/Tekki, but all karate kata.

The DVD is professionally directed, the backdrop and cinematography make for easy viewing and its cost is within a reasonable limit, even with overseas postage included. Overall, Abernethy’s Beyond Bunkai: Advanced Non-Scripted Naihanchi/Tekki Shodan Close-Range Flow Drill is a worthy addition to any serious karate-ka’s library.

About the reviewer: Michael Rosenbaum has been training in karate since 1976. He is the author of Kata and the Transmission of Knowledge in Traditional Martial Arts.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Kata the Soul of Karate

Kata is a name for the pre-arranged training rituals that contain karate’s teaching syllabus. The concept of using prearranged training rituals to preserve and transmit martial knowledge is as old as civilization and can be found in all styles of fighting.
Kata/Prearranged training rituals have four basic goals:
1.     They preserve techniques and tactics.
2.     They allow fighters to transmit techniques and tactics.
3.     They allow practice of techniques that are to dangerous to be used in free sparring.
4.     They help the fighter to develop neuromuscular responses that can be applied to combat.
Like other martial arts, early forms of Okinawan Te were practiced in a ritualistic manner to ensure consistent strategies and preserve existing martial knowledge. However, with the Satsuma’s occupation of Okinawa, the practice of Te was initially forced underground and alternative methods were used to preserve the fighting art. As Mark Bishop observed, “After the Satsuma invasion several (bugyo) were set up, one of which was for dance, i.e., dance Te, and it is not surprising that the highest Ryukyu court officials were the most accomplished dancers.  Neither is it strange that, with the gradual demilitarization of the kingdom, these dance commissioners (odori bugyo) encouraged the choreographic interpretation of the meditative forms of advance Te practice into set patterns of court dance. In short, Te dances became secret Te katas,” (Bishop, Okinawan Karate, 105).
This method of preservation was only the beginning of a process that would have much affect the development of karate kata. For as the popularity of Chinese boxing grew on Okinawa, so too did prearranged boxing patterns, each one being a tradition complete with striking, blocking, joint locking and grappling techniques. When transplanted to Okinawa, these prearranged patterns, which became karate kata, underwent an assimilation that made them more suitable to Okinawan culture. Morio Higaonna noted the effects of this assimilation:
  Sanchin kata was practiced with Nukite when Chojun Miyagi first learned it from Higaonna Sensei.  Chojun Sensei related to An’chi Miyagi that during Sanchin practice, when executing Nukite, Higaonna Sensei would tell him to blow hard as he thrust out his hand quickly.
     It is not certain exactly when Nukite in Sanchin changed to the closed fist, but An’ichi Sensei did say, ‘From olden times in China, Nukite had been practiced and tempered to be a strong and dangerous technique.  In Okinawa on the other hand, tijikun (Okinawan Fist) has been practiced for centuries.  Punching the makiwara is natural for Okinawans.  It is most likely for this reason that the Nukite strike changed to a closed fist (Higaonna, The History of Karate, 37).

 The Chinese boxing patterns assumed the physical characteristics considered most acceptable by the Okinawans, their appearance altered by social decorum and individual taste.  This is the reason one finds several variations of many of the karate kata.  For instance Kusanku kata, which although present in several styles of both Okinawan and Japanese karate, differs due to the varying tastes of each styles founder. Moreover, with karate’s exportation from Okinawa and Japan to Korea, America and other western cultures, its kata underwent even further changes due to nationalistic pride and competitive demands.
With karate’s initial introduction to Japan, attempts were made to classify the kata as being either Shorei or Shorin based, Shorei being those which emphasized forcefulness and muscular strength, while Shorin based kata were those that relied upon light and rapid movements. However, this classification process fell short of its intended goal because most, if not all, of karate’s kata contain both internal and external elements, light and forceful actions, blocking, striking, joint locks, grappling and even in some instances weapons play. Kata evolved out of a pragmatic need to preserve martial knowledge, and their identities were established with this in mind. They were not intended to represent a system per se, although many are complete paradigms in their own right, but were instead used to preserve a combative theme, its strategies and techniques. As such, traditional concerns focused more upon those strategies found within a kata than they did which style it came from, as is the case today.
The Evolution and Experence of Kata
  St Matthew 13.13 reads, “This is the reason I speak to them in figures because they see and cannot perceive, and they hear and yet do not listen, nor do they understand.”    
 This passage, though set in a Christian religious context, undoubtedly speaks volumes about the negative perceptions levied against kata today. We see but do not perceive kata; we hear but do not listen to it, and this leaves us ignorant about the rituals higher knowledge. Consequently, it is no small wonder that kata is considered useless and why our opinions blame the tradition instead of our ignorance. It was, after all, Gichin Funakoshi who penned the phrase, “Perform Kata exactly; actual combat is another matter,” and Genwa Nakasone who added further insight by writing “But in actual combat, it will not do to be hampered or shackled by the rituals of kata.  Instead, the practitioner should transcend kata, moving freely according to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.” (Funakoshi, Twenty Guiding Principles, 104)
Despite the insights of Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, Chojun Miyagi and many other prominent karate-ka, the practice of kata is an ambiguous one for many westerners. Either they love kata or they hate it, but usually there is no middle ground. Hence kata is never viewed as a process which develops one’s physical and spiritual attributes until the ritual is transcended, or even cast aside completely. Ironically, this all or nothing attitude is a by product of the western mind, not karate’s kata.  While exploring the meaning of symbolism and ritual in both Eastern and Western cultures Joseph Campbell, renowned professor of creative mythology wrote:
For in the history of our still youthful species, a profound respect for inherited forms has generally suppressed innovation.  Millenniums have rolled by with only minor variations played on themes derived from God-knows-when.  Not so, however, in our recent West, where, since the middle of the twelfth century, an accelerating disintegration has been undoing the formidable orthodox tradition that came to power in that century, and with its fall, the released creative powers of a great company of towering individuals have broken forth: so that not one, or even two or three, but a galaxy of mythologies-as many, one might say, as the multitude of its geniuses-must be taken into account in any study of the spectacle of our own titanic age. (P.3)

Although Dr. Campbell’s statement concerns religion and mythology, the mindset to which he alludes, can and does, influence Western and Eastern perspectives where kata and karate are concerned. Hence, one reason why many westerners’ tend to shun kata completely, and, are more apt to found a new style of karate, than say their Okinawan, or Japanese counterpart. It is part of the Western heritage to disregard rituals which we either don’t understand or disagree with. And while this independence of mind has helped elevate Western society, it has simultaneously hindered it in other areas, kata being one of them.  
 Kata, like karate, is a complex experience whose private dimensions vary from person to person. A medium through which physical and spiritual growth can be achieved, the horizons of kata broaden with time allowing the artist to transcend the experience itself. Yet despite the complexities involved, the substance of kata is elementary and its role in karate has remained unchanged for many years. However, for us to understand its role, we must first examine the conditions which gave birth to kata because they existed long before the word karate was ever spoken.
          Knowledge is gained thorough experience and this maxim is never as true as it is in mortal combat.  Throughout history from Paleolithic times to the present, mankind has sought ways to retain and transmit martial knowledge. With our early hunter-gather ancestors, this task was fairly simple due to the primitive weaponry and tactics involved.  However, as weapons and tactics grew more sophisticated, so did the ways mankind stored and transmitted marital knowledge.  Dance, folksongs, cave drawings and poetry have all been used to fill this need. Yet the most effective means was, and still is, through the use of pre-arranged sequences of movement, or kata, as they are known in karate.
          Prearranged forms of fighting, in all probability, evolved from folk dancing which was used within many pre-modern cultures both to record and transmit information. Dance is a story enacted three dimensionally complete with music, movement and dialogue that recreate past events or celebrate existing traditions. Likewise even today in remote regions such as New Guinea, where many people cannot read nor write, dance serves as a medium to preserve a society’s history and transmit information. Such was the case in Okinawa where dance, as Geroge Kerr observes, served as one of the oldest forms of celebration and communication: “Themes for the pantomimic dance-dramas and the songs which accompanied them were drawn from legend and history, treated with a bawdy humor or tinged with melancholy, alternating between rollicking and lusty gaiety and the haunting, sad themes of separation, or poverty, or thwarted love.” (Kerr, Okinawa History of an Island People, 217)
          Dance mirrors kata in utilizing muscular energy, body motion and mental alertness to convey its message and has been a keystone in many cultures for perfecting the warrior’s skills. Used by the ancient Greeks, the pyrrhic war dance was complete with body shifting, strikes, blocks, weapons play and intricate footwork and was often performed while wearing armor. The same relationship can also be found throughout Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines and Okinawa where traditional weapons dances have been used to preserve martial strategies. Likewise, dance has both directly and indirectly influenced the Okinawan fighting arts. However, today these rituals differ, for while dance maintains prearranged sequences of movement for aesthetical purposes, kata uses them to preserve martial strategies.  Hence, one’s goal is visual, the other’s combative.
The traditional Kata of Okinawan karate are uniformed paradigms, which through constant practice of the karate-ka develops first a basic insight and then an abstract understanding greater than the paradigm itself.  A process based on the tenet that the karate-ka achieves mastery through direct, hands on experience, rather than verbal debate or written explanation. Therefore, much like the Renaissance painters and classical dancers, who by replicating the master’s works perfected their own skills, so is it for the karate-ka who practices kata. And while dance can be used as a preparatory exercise for combat, the intrinsic movements of karate’s kata often simulate behaviors endemic to fighting much more closely because of their grounded, forceful actions, traits commonplace when two enemies meet at arm’s length, their adrenaline rushing as blows are exchanged.
Despite dance and kata sharing complimentary bonds, the ritualized structure of karate’s kata is often attributed to earlier neo-Confucian influences which impacted the development of both Chinese and Japanese martial arts. Neo-Confucian teachings placed much emphasis on ritualized action, believing that one might rationalize or explain an experience with verbal debate but that it was only through ritual practice that one could acquire true knowledge and understanding of a subject. Li, or ritual, brings organization to chaos and aligns specific ideas and principles so that they may be understood through direct experience. Likewise, the principle of Li, when applied to human realms, serves as both the fabric which holds society together and the instrument that instills religious, sociological and physiological dimensions into humanity. Li and its importance are best described in The Book of Rites which states that “While the rules of ceremony [li] have their origin in heaven, the movement of them reaches to earth. The distribution of them extends to all the business (of life). They change with the seasons; they agree in reference to the (variation of) lot and condition.  In regard to man, they serve to nurture (his nature). They are practiced by means of offerings, acts of strength, words, and postures of courtesy, in eating and drinking, in the observances of capping, marriage, mourning, sacrificing, archery, chariot-driving, audiences, and friendly missions” (Legge, The Scared Books of the East:vol.27,388). It is because of this Confucian and Neo-Confucian ideology that karate’s kata are so ritualized and possess various levels of interpretation. They are physical embodiments of Li, used first in China, to create combative rituals which were later transmitted to Okinawa. However, other Neo-Confucian philosophies have also influenced the development of kata, such as Xin which stresses the cultivation of both heart and mind through ritualized practice; Nei/wai which recognizes the internal and external dimensions associated with the process of ritual; and liyi fenshu which is the principle that while one ritual may be united, its manifestations can carry over to many things. It is due to these philosophies that kata manifests itself both physically and symbolically.
 The strength of symbolic representation is that one object holds several meanings, and serves not only a literal purpose but also a metaphoric one, thus stirring the human imagination and allowing us to ponder unlimited parallels. When applied to kata, this process gives one technique both literal and metaphorical qualities- the literal being the techniques most basic application while its variations serve as metaphors, or the higher concepts, which are built upon literal applications.
           This metaphorical process was, in part, inherited by karate’s kata from Chinese boxing, which utilizes Jin (Martial Power) patterns to manifest both internal and external power, as well as offensive and defensive strategies. Dr. Yang Jwing- Ming wrote about the Jin patterns role in White Crane boxing that “From each Jin pattern, many applications are derived. Normally, how to apply the Jin patterns into martial applications is kept secret by the master.  How deep a White Crane practitioner understands these applications depends on individual ability in White Crane styles. It also depends on personal martial arts experiences. Although the number of Jins is limited, the applications can be countless and profound.” (Yang, Shaolin White Crane, 263) 
          This process of learning can and often does give rise to the myth of secret bunkai among the ranks of younger, more inexperienced karate-ka. While it is true some explanations are kept from the student, the reasons usually have to do more with ability than mysticism.  The student has to grow within his or her own training and achieve a certain level of maturity and skill before understanding the correlation between concept and technique, as well as abstract and literal translations of the kata.  It is at best a tedious experience. However, its true worth is that every time the student performs kata, he or she learns something not only about the form, but about their self. The process, though, is never complete, for just as a mirror shines brighter with each polishing, so to is it with kata that with each passing year a deeper realm is uncovered.

Copyright 2012 by Michael Rosenbaum

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kata The Mnemonic Tool

“Kata, as a demonstration, is but a shallow and limited usage of kata”
(Donn Draeger)
 I was having a conversation with a well known kung-fu practitioner about our respective styles when he stated “I know over a hundred kata.”  Damn, I thought, one is more than enough for me.
 Since the dawn of civilization humans have recorded experiences and events that impacted their lives. From Paleolithic cave paintings to instructional DVD’s information has been carried forth from one generation of knuckle draggers to the next.  More importantly though, the desire to record and transmit information is a survival mechanism imbedded deep within our genetic makeup. We respond to the stimuli of our environment then record our experiences for future generations to dwell upon. Experience, record, transmit is an instinctive process we apply to everything, including fighting.  
           Prior to the twentieth century illiteracy was common throughout many societies. This is not to imply our forefathers were unintelligent, but that they were unable to read and write. Therefore, easily remembered mental techniques called mnemonic tools, were developed for recording and transmitting knowledge.
   In literate societies prose alleviated the mnemonic demand since information was transcribed. However in oral societies, song, dance and poetry were used as mnemonic tools to record historical events and transmit information. This was because these art forms have distinctive rhythms and systematic progressions, which are easily remembered and can be transmitted from one individual to another relatively intact.
Since fighting is one of the oldest traditions practiced by humans it should come as no surprise that mnemonic tools were used by fighters to retain and transmit combative strategies. It was but one small step from dance to the development of kata. Hence the reason why kata (prearranged drills) are found in most styles of fighting.
 Kata are mnemonic tools that can be practiced both solo and as two-person drills. Of the two, partner training is best because it simulates actual fighting more closely and develops combative skill faster. And, since the sum total of a fighter’s knowledge is not contained within a single kata, additional techniques such as jabs, shin kicks, hook punches, ground grappling, locks and throws can be used with those found in kata. This allows each technique to come alive and have its own character and is one reason why the early masters practiced only a handful of kata.
From day one of training students are told kata fosters a deeper understanding of karate. This is true, so long as kata does not impede skill development, which often happens when karate-ka learn multiple kata, yet have no clue about their bunkai.
In addition to being a mnemonic tool that stores and transmits strategies kata is also a process that develops martial prowess. It is neither fixed nor static but comes alive through the fighter who with their insight, creativity and pragmatism turns the practice into a dynamic experience. However, when kata does grow static and lifeless and we have no clue to its meaning then is the time to throw it away. For it is not kata, but the knowledge contained within kata that we seek and once that knowledge has been lost then kata becomes a lifeless practice.
Michael Rosenbaum is the author of Kata and the Transmission of Knowledge in Traditional Martials

Monday, March 26, 2012

Zen and Karate

Hand-to-hand fighting is one of the severest types of combat mankind will engage in. This has been constant throughout history and across all cultural boundaries. In fact, the experience is so demanding that it has prompted man to engage in esoteric rituals to protect himself both spiritually and physically. James Frazer wrote about this practice in his timeless classic, The Golden Bough: “Once more, warriors are conceived by the savages to move, so to say, in an atmosphere of spiritual danger which constrains them to practice a variety of superstitious observances quite different in their nature from those rational precautions which, as a matter of course, they adopt against foes of flesh and blood.  The general effect of these observances is to place the warrior, both before and after victory, in the same state of seclusion or spiritual quarantine in which, for his own safety, primitive man puts his human gods and other dangerous characters” (Frazer, Golden Bough, 244).
 The process described by Frazier has led to the intertwining of esoteric practices within the martial arts, a practice common in both eastern and western traditions. Though the Christian knight and Japanese samurai came from differing societies, the esoteric rituals they engaged in prior to combat achieved the same purpose: spiritual reinforcement. Not only did they gain mental strength, but they were also transformed into more formidable opponents because the warrior who has no fear of death will undertake challenges the uninitiated would never consider. It was from such a mindset, and the disciplined required attaining it, that other benefits dealing with one’s character and self-realization arose from martial arts training.
The acquisition of character development through martial arts training is found the world over, yet the one country most noted for it is Japan.  Japanese society evolved from a hunting and agricultural lifestyle, and by the Heian period (794-1184), Japan had become divided into warring clans, two of the strongest being the Taira and Minamoto. It was during this turbulent period that the bushi, or samurai as they known today, grew.
With the bushi’s rise came systematic teachings of weapons fighting based on the spear, sword and halberd. During the Kamakura era (1185-1367), these teachings were consolidated into ryu-ha, or martial traditions, which became the standard method of transmitting Bujutsu.
For the samurai, regular Bujutsu (Martial Arts) training was a prerequisite to survival on the battlefield. In conjunction with Bujutsu was Budo, or the Martial Way, a process by which one’s Bujutsu training transcended physical technique, becoming a path of self-realization and spiritual development. The suffix Bu refers to martial and, when used in conjunction with jutsu or art, it denotes martial art. But when Bu (martial) is used in conjunction with do- way, the term denotes martial way, a practice that transcends combative themes that strives for self-enlightenment. This relationship was inseparable during classical times, but as Japan entered the modern world, the Budo-Bujutsu relationship changed.
With the long standing peace of the Tokugawa era prevailing martial attitudes deviated from their traditional courses, a process accentuated by government concerns over the Samurai’s restless spirit, and a proliferation of firearms on the battlefield. By the late seventeenth century many warriors found themselves unemployed, which raised the question of how to sustain their fighting skills, while channeling their martial prowess in a positive manner. 
Born out of the harsh realities of war, Ken-jutsu had, by the sixteenth century, evolved into a system of sword fighting second to none on the world’s battlefields. Yet, during the Tokugawa period, the sword became an instrument used for means other than combat. As such, Ken-jutsu (sword art) gave rise to Kendo (sword way) a discipline through which the samurai could engage in a martial activity while at the same time, refrain from committing acts of wanton violence.  Kendo’s training was orientated not for war, but for the moral equivalent to war, or, as Michael L. Raposa observed, “If an ascetic discipline can be conceived not simply as an alternative to military training but, rather, as itself constituting a form of military activity, then its power to excite emotions and motivate the will is enhanced.  Here, what is added to the ascetic practice is the idea of war.  On this view, spiritual practice is always already a martial discipline; at the same time, the idea of war is itself transformed, as the concept of enemy and strategies for fighting must be reformulated.” (Raposa, Meditation and the Martial Arts, 121) This change in training philosophy helped bring forth what is known today as the classical Budo, or the martial ways.

The Classical Budo
The classical Budo are martial disciplines, technically related to the classical Bujutsu but whose philosophy emphasizes character development over the pursuit of martial prowess. While the Bujutsu strive for combative effectiveness, discipline, and moral character, the classical Budo stress moral character, discipline and aesthetics. The process of separating these two endeavors was far from uniform, as the terms Budo and Bujutsu continued to be used in a utilitarian manner. However, by the late eighteenth century, the classical Budo had manifested distinct practices which, while drawn from Bujutsu, encompassed their own training doctrines. A few of these systems are Kendo (way of the sword) derived from Kenjutsu (Sword art), Iaido (way of drawing the Sword) from Iaijutsu (Art of drawing the sword) and Kyudo (Way of Archery) from Kyujutsu (Art of Archery). Likewise Zen precepts became intertwined in classical Budo training. The classical budo were designed so that through dedicated practice, the practitioner will achieve Satori, (enlightenment) a concept borrowed from Zen Buddhist teachings. Moreover Budo, as with Zen, stressed that the highest level of achievement occurred when one met a situation with a clear mind and then physically responded free of all technical barriers. D.T. Suzuki clarified the Zen- Budo relationship, noting that
         When the sword is in the hands of a technician-swordsman skilled in its use, it is no more than an instrument with no mind of its own.  What it does is done mechanically, and there is no myoyo discernible in it.  But when the sword is held by the swordsman whose spiritual attainment is such that he holds it as though not holding it, it is identified with the man himself, it acquires a soul, it moves with all the subtleties which have been imbedded in him as a swordsman.  The man emptied of all thoughts, all emotions originating from fear, all sense of insecurity, all desire to win, is not conscious of using the sword; both man and sword turn into instruments in the hands, as it were, of the unconscious, and it is this unconscious that achieves wonders of creativity.  It is here that swordplay becomes an art.” (Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 146) 

With the 250 year peace of the Tokugawa period the classical Budo’s technical prowess began diminishing. Kendo was one of the first systems affected since broken terrain was no longer encountered during practice, a result of training being largely conducted inside. As combative effectiveness yielded to character development, other system’s deficiencies became noticeable.  E.J. Harrison a long time Judoka, who first made his way to Yokohama in 1897, documented this in Kyu-do when he wrote the following:
 Without attempting to enter into a technical description of how the bow is used in Japan, I am safe in saying that there is a right way and a wrong way of holding it, fitting the arrow, drawing and releasing it. And in this context I can still remember the real distress experienced by the burly proprietor on those occasions, not infrequent, when some of my foreign companions and I fitted the arrow on the wrong side of the bow and held the bow in the incorrect position.  One of these companions, a fellow-journalist on a local foreign paper, now, alas, no more, was an incorrigible offender in this respect.  What added to the enormity of his offences was that in spite of these-so to speak-arch heresies, he always got nearer to the bull’s-eye than the Japanese habitués who never drew a bow without having conscientiously indulged in a number of preliminary flourishes such as baring their good right arms by throwing back their ample sleeves over their shoulders, raising the bow with a spasmodic gesture, and so forth.  It was really heartrending to note the persistency with which they missed after all this elaborate ceremonial: but I think I am right in saying that they themselves would far rather have missed, and the proprietor would far rather have had them miss in proper form than score by such irregular practices as those indulged in by my friend who, with a cigar between his teeth, the bow held horizontally instead of perpendicularly, and the arrow on the wrong side, would wing his shafts into the very centre of the target with a monotonous frequency which afforded him unalloyed satisfaction and the unhappy and orthodox proprietor ineffable disgust. (Harrison, Fighting Spirit, 25) 

And yet, despite the technical deficiencies involved, the classical disciplines still exhibited martial artistry when used by astute warriors. The story of the forty-seven ronin, whose vendetta in 1703 avenged their lord’s death, affirms this as does the efficiency of jujutsu systems evolving after the eighteenth century. Therefore, while the classical Budo may not have been functional on pre-Tokugawa battlefields, their practice during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did afford a reasonable means of self-defense. And in keeping with tradition, the classical warrior’s spirit was carried over into Budo, thereby allowing its practitioners to develop a quasi-martial ethos in their training. 

                                     Karate the New Budo
In Japan the Classical Budo and Bujutsu’s appeal began dwindling during the early Meiji period (1868-1912), a time when these traditions were deemed inadequate to confront international threats.  This lack of interest was accelerated by popular opinion which, stemming from a growing infatuation with western ideas, considered the classical fighting arts outdated and anarchistic. Thus, as the Japanese mindset changed, its new values gave rise to the Gendai or modern Budo systems, disciplines practiced by the commoner. Though some modern Budo evolved from classical disciplines others, such as karate, were introduced to Japan and then modified to meet the modern Budo’s criteria.
The modern Budo’s philosophies contrasted with their predecessors. Where as classical Budo stressed character development, discipline and aesthetics, modern Budo’s goals were not so well defined. Many styles stressed discipline and character-development, but entwined within this were other ideologies that varied from style to style, particularly so in karate.
Karate (Tode-jutsu) was officially recognized by the Dai Nippon Butoku-kai as a Budo tradition in 1933. With this recognition its name became karate-do, or ‘way’ of the empty-hand, meaning that its practice transcended all combative realms.  The definition of ‘Do’ however, varied among its practitioners as did its use. Some defined the ‘way’ in a sports-based fashion believing that only through competition could one develop a healthy body and mind.  Others, like Funakoshi, interpreted karate -do’ as a path of self-realization, comparable to a Zen koan, where the greatest opponent was one’s self, not their fellow man.
Despite these ambiguities, both doctrines embraced the belief that through dedicated and austere training, one could forge character and develop an intense self-realization. Thus Karate’s martial ethos was employed for something other than combat, a development which allowed the fighting art to become a moral equivalent to war and gave its practitioners a means to expunge destructive emotions; thoughts that might otherwise prove harmful to someone, or society at large.  This is in spite of the Butoku-kai’s militaristic agenda.

  Karate and the Attainment of Zen
Modern theories often promote karate as evolving from Zen-Buddhism. Although karate embraces philosophical doctrines its association with Zen-Buddhism is a modern occurrence, taking place in the twentieth century.  Additionally, when examining the relationship between Zen and karate, the difference between Zen consciousness and Zen Buddhism should be established to ascertain that karate is a secular practice.
Zen consciousness is an original, creative state, free of distractions. It is an experience peculiar to each person, and while attainable through karate, this does not mean that it was induced by Buddhist teachings. Nor is Zen consciousness exclusive to the martial arts and Japanese culture, rather it can be attained through other rituals, such as dance, prayer and calligraphy. Thus, what the dancer calls unity of body and mind the karate-ka describes as Zen.
Zen Buddhist philosophies were transmitted to China around 525 A.D. by the Indian monk Bodhidharma. A brusque man, also known as “the blue eyed barbarian,’ Bodhidharma and his origins remain a mystery. He could have been of the Indian Brahmin or Warrior caste, or he may have come from Persia. After arriving in China, Bodhidharma was asked by Emperor Liang, a Buddhist:
 “What merit have I gained through my good works?” 
 “None,” replied Bodhidharma.” 
“What is the essence of Buddhism?”
“Vast emptiness, nothing holy,” replied Bodhidharma. 
“Who addresses me in such a manner?” demanded Liang, infuriated with the monk’s brusqueness. 
“Not known,” answered Bodhidharma. (Buddhist Society, Buddhist Wisdom, 72-73)
His initial teachings rejected, Bodhidharma retreated to the Shaolin Monastery where he taught fellow monks Buddhism. Much later, after his death, Bodhidharma’s teachings served as the foundation upon which Zen Buddhism would be built. Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh observed about the transformation of Indian thoughts into Chinese beliefs that “There are important differences between the Indian mentality and the Chinese mentality that gave birth in China to the form of Buddhism called Zen.  The Chinese are very practical people.  Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism reflect this.  The declaration made by Bodhidharma on his arrival in China has become the foundation of the Zen Buddhist tradition, because this tradition corresponds so well to the pragmatic nature of the Chinese” (Nhat Hanh, Zen Keys, 103).  From China, Zen Buddhism spread to Korea and then to Japan where it split between the two sects of Soto and Rinzai, with Rinzai gaining popularity among the Samurai class. Zen’s pragmatic nature appealed strongly to warriors who viewed life with a steady measure.
Zen Buddhism was first introduced to Okinawa during the thirteenth century when a Japanese priest named Zenkan was shipwrecked on the island. He constructed a small temple at Urasoe near Shuri, named the Gokuraku-ji, and by the fifteenth century, several more Buddhist temples had been established. Nevertheless the religion didn’t flourish and the seventeenth century saw a sharp decline due to a lack of public interest and the Satsuma who suppressed the its practice on Okinawa.  Shoshin Nagamine wrote that, “Zen philosophy had a profound impact on the development of martial arts on mainland Japan.  However, in the old Ryukyu Kingdom it had little if any impact on local self-defense disciplines because of Satsuma’s prohibition on such practices. For example, shingitai (mind, technique, and body) is the ideal training precept for martial arts, but, in the case of pre-Meiji Okinawans, little emphasis was placed on such spiritual practices (shin) because of harsh political restrictions.  To recognize this historical phenomenon is to understand how and why such overemphasis was placed on physical conditioning and practical application.  By the time of the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-25) periods, karate training, a discipline void of the spiritual element, came to reflect this physical orientation.  Most, if not all, teachers of karate placed more emphasis on kakedameshi (fighting) than they ever did on the inward journey.” (Nagamine, Okinawa’s Great Masters, p.121)  Thus, Nagamine’s statement, while debunking the myth of Zen Buddhism’s being karate’s progenitor, raises the question of how Zen relates to karate.
Often explained in mystical terms, Zen is a state of consciousness intrinsic to the human body, brought forth by neuromuscular responses that accompany meditation and ritualized patterns of movement.  William H. McNeill stated about this process:
 The primary seat of bodily response to rhythmic movement is apparently situated in the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems.  These nerve complexes are involved in all emotions; but exact paths of emotional excitation by the sympathetic nervous system and of compensatory restoration of bodily homeostasis by the para-sympathetic nervous system are not understood.  Various hormones excreted by the pituitary gland and by other organs of the body play a role: so do the hypothalamus, the amygdala, and the right side of the cerebral cortex.  Only after filtering through these levels of the brain does excitation derived from rhythmic muscular movement and voicing reach the left side of the brain, where our verbal skills are situated.
With such a pathway of response to rhythmic muscular movement, it is no wonder that our words fumble when seeking to describe what happens within us when we dance or march. (McNeill, Keeping Together in Time, 6)

 Therefore, while each karate-ka can attain Zen through kata practice, the experience will vary from one individual to another. Nadel and Strauss observed about a similar transition found in dance: “If we look at meditation as a form of deep and continuous concentration or focus on a single sound, image or idea, the dancer, like the religious person, can approach a meditative state both in class and performance.  This state is similar in all the arts and is like the flowing current felt in most situations of deep focused concentration” (Nadel-Straus, The Dance Experience, 141).
As a result of what Nadel-Straus describe as the Dance Experience, when one considers the deeper realms of kata practice, it is easily seen why Zen Buddhism and karate are often equated as one and the same by many westerners, particular so when both traditions often employ similar, if not the same, rhythmic patterns of breathing. .
Achieving Zen consciousness through kata is one of the highest levels of Karate-do training, for this is when the exponent attains a profound self realization, which ultimately leads to Satoi (enlightenment).  Consequently, repetition of this experience enhances a person’s character as William James explains in his The Varieties of Religious Experience stating that “Mystical states, strictly so-called, are never merely interruptive. Some memory of their content always remains, and a profound sense of their importance.  They modify the inner life of the subject between the times of their recurrence” (James, Varieties of Religious Experience, 416). Hence, through kata we begin to experience Zen consciousness outside of our training and in doing so embrace life with a creative focus, free of destructive thoughts.
Although neighbors in a small community, the strongest indicators of Zen Buddhism’s influence on karate are after its transmission to Japan. There the relationship was established by Karate-ka who sought to invest their fighting art with a deeper philosophical base. This often entailed borrowing ideas and philosophies from the classical Budo and Bujutsu, as well as from Zen Buddhism.
Legendary karate master, Gichin Funakoshi, was a frequent visitor to the Engaku-ji Temple in Kamakura, which was one of the oldest Rinzai Zen temples in Japan. Rinzai Zen, which appealed to the warrior class, is noted for stressing expediency, intuition and preparedness for death in its teachings. Funakoshi embraced these tenets and stressed the value of Zen in karate when he wrote, “The kara that means ‘empty’ is definitely the more appropriate.  For one thing, it symbolizes the obvious fact that this art of self-defense makes no use of weapons, only bare feet and empty hands.  Further, students of Karate-do aim not only toward perfecting their chosen art but also toward emptying heart and mind of all earthly desire and vanity.  Reading Buddhist scriptures, we come across such statements as ‘Shiki-soku-ze-ku’ and ‘Ku-soku-zeshiki,’ which literally mena, ‘matter is void’ and ‘all is vanity.’  The character ku, which appears in both admonitions and may also be pronounced kara, is in itself truth.” (Ibid. p.35)  Funakoshi went on to state that the Zen state can be attained through the practice of all martial arts, not merely one: “Thus, although the martial arts are many and include such diverse forms as judo, fencing, archery, spear fighting and stick fighting, the ultimate objective of all of them is the same as that of karate.  Believing with the Buddhists that it is emptiness, the void, that lies at the heart of all matter and of all creation, I have steadfastly persisted in the use of that particular character in my naming of the martial art to which I have given my life.” (Funakoshi, Karate-Do My Way of Life, 35)
Funakoshi was not the only person to incorporate Zen-Buddhist philosophies into Karate. Shoshin Nagamine was well known for the incorporation of Zazen (Zen Meditation) into his teachings. Nagamine, whose search for enlightenment grew out of the devastation wrought upon Okinawa during World War II, was influenced by the works of Miyamoto Musashi and Tesshu Yamaoka. Similarly, Nagamine’s study of Zen Buddhism led him to consider Zen consciousness and karate as one in the same, a realization which helped him transcend physical technique and see karate as a means to promote world peace.
Nagamine’s incorporation of Zazen into karate is not a singular incident and can be found in Japan, Okinawa and the West. Zazen, sitting mediation, can be used to enhance one’ focus, but its practice is often dependent upon the karate-ka and their religious views, for while Zazen may be endorsed in Japan, its acceptance in Western cultures varies owing to pre-existing religious beliefs. Yet Zazen does not make karate a religion, nor does it make Zen consciousness a religion for as D.T. Suzuki explained, “Is Zen a religion? It is not a religion in the sense that the term is popularly understood; for Zen has no God to worship, no ceremonial rites to observe, no future abode to which the dead are destined, and, last of all, Zen has no soul whose welfare is to be looked after by someone else and whose immortality is a matter of intense concern with some people.  Zen is free from all these dogmatic and ‘religious’ encumbrances” (Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 9).
Thus, Zen consciousness is a tool the karate-ka uses to develop skill, increase perception and build character. Its attainment is not easy because of the cathartic process involved. Nevertheless, that is karate-do, the instant when we break through our self-imposed barriers and win the battles inside of us
Copyright 2012 by Michael Rosenbaum.

Jamie Clubb Interview

Jamie Clubb’s study of the fighting arts is broad, varied and insightful. It reflects his experiences as a circus performer, author and martial artist.  A noted pragmatist and innovator, Clubb’s viewpoints, nevertheless, have a certain ring of traditionalism to them. By traditionalism I mean combat being the reason for the fighting arts existence, not competition.
1. How did you originally become involved in the fighting arts and what drew you to the path you’ve taken?
Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow! I have always been a fan of comic-books and superheroes and these two fictional ninjas from the “Action Force” comic (UK name for “GI Joe”) really captured my imagination.
Real combat skills were always right under my nose and I had little interest in them until my eventual martial arts fantasy bubble burst, resulting in me becoming a typical Generation X sceptic. I grew up on a traditional traveling circus around a lot of boxers and people who could handle themselves. The circus breeds those types of people and these skills are important to them. Boxing booths were in our cultural heritage and world light heavyweight champion Freddie Mills fought on my grandparents’ show in the early part of his career. His autobiography contains photos of his time spent on the show. Due to the transient nature of our business, circus people had no idea of what sort of community they would be entering into when they arrived, so being able to “cor” (circus slang meaning “to fight”) was an obvious benefit. I have lost count of the number of people my uncle knocked out all over the world. He even successfully tackled and disarmed an armed gunman in Northern Ireland. My grandfather recorded incidents in his autobiography of a tradition where circus people would have to fight bareknuckle matches against gypsies for the occupation of a showground. I even ended up in one or two gypsy scuffles at school, proving issues between our two people hadn’t completely died down. My great-grandfather on my non-circus side was a prize fighter and his father, who was also a boxer, was killed in an altercation that occurred after he had fought a bout.
The non-physical side of things was also drummed into me as it is with most circus kids. Children need to be switched on and aware due to the close proximity of dangerous animals and moving machinery as well as the general dangers travelling.
However, as I said, the attraction to the fighting arts came via the fantasy side. At age 13 I wanted to be a ninja and pretty much thought I was one! Having settled down from circus life, my father began training and supplying animals to the film industry and we lived right out at in the sticks, meaning martial arts clubs were few and far between. My wonderful mum finally ended up taking me two hours to Nottingham to sate my ninjutsu interest. After that I was happy enough to stick with sakiado, an obscure taekwondo/kickboxing hybrid that I had seen an article on in Combat magazine. I read martial arts magazines and books avidly before I took my first formal martial arts lesson. I got them for Christmas and birthday presents, and due to the fact that many of my relatives really didn’t know much about ninjutsu I often got comprehensive books on the fighting art, which provided me with a well-rounded knowledge of the history, pseudohistory, legends and look of the various fighting arts. Martial arts movies and my imagination tended to fill in the rest. From a fairly early age I was used to showbusiness, so mainstream celebrities rarely interested me. In fact, the first TV series we worked on was actually based on the autobiography of our vet! My celebrities were the “stars” of martial arts magazines. I grew up in awe of individuals like Neville “The Devil” Wray, Steve “Nasty” Anderson, Alfie Lewis, Ticky Donavan, Vic Charles, Masaki Hatsumi, Stephen K. Hayes, Dave Oliver, Frank Dux and then, years later, Geoff Thompson. I hadn’t seen them in the flesh, but only read about them, which only intensified the mystique. None of my school friends or circus friends knew who they were and being a bit of militant individualist I liked that idea. It made it my own.
So, as you will see, I wasn’t always a pragmatist or a sceptic.
2. What are the Vagabond Warriors seminars and how did they come into being?
In essence the Vagabond Warriors is a seminar created for people who enjoy martial arts cross training. Cross-training has occurred since martial arts were established, but today it is more common than ever. Even classical and commercialized clubs have realized they need to embrace cross-training. I am seeing more and more traditional syllabuses incorporating courses for other arts, and clubs that used to have their doors firmly shut to other styles are seeing the advantages of booking instructors from different systems. However, once a student steps into the world of cross-training they open up another box of problems. Information overload is the first one. Like an inferior search engine a cross-trainer without a well-developed training compass just accumulates techniques. Some may have got the superficial act of note-taking right, but do those notes really serve them? What can happen is these various experiences begin and end with the lessons or seminars, but are never really taken on board in a way that serves their core training. They might learn certain drills off by heart, but don’t gain any visible attributes.
If this is overcome, the next problem is something I call the “welding approach”. Students make rather dubious connections that end up as complex unworkable combinations. This is common in a lot of cross-training circles. Karl Tanswell, of the “Straight Blast Gym”, calls it “technique-collecting” and many instructors do it to impress students hungry for variety. These complicated and ever-growing combinations are learnt, but never put under any pressure whatsoever. They just remain frozen within the context of a compliant technique application or, at best, as part of a flow drill.
I have watched instructors bring in techniques from another style verbatim and stick them in with the moves they normally teach. So, for example I knew a quasi-traditional ju jutsu school that had got the message western boxers are generally the best punchers (a fair assumption) and therefore allowed his personal barriers down to bring in these techniques. However, rather than teach it in the context it was intended he just replaced the ju jutsu punching with the boxing punching. He mistook attributes for techniques. Boxers are probably the best punchers in the world simply because they focus all their training around punching and in a full contact context. This instructor thought that by simply just including classic boxing combinations and techniques in his class he would have a more efficient system. He even told me that someone on the street would not step forward when they punch and therefore based all his classical ju jutsu defences off boxing attacks. What he failed to understand was the importance of adaption and context.
Vagabond Warriors sets up a personalized path for the cross-trainer by providing set objectives. I learnt a lot of this by travelling to so many different classes and having the opportunity to fast-track my learning by interviewing so many top level instructors. These guys often got to where they were by having original perspectives on things. They fired my imagination and desire to create. A major part of my creative impulse was to teach and to improve teaching. I saw certain fundamental things in the individuals I interviewed that made them stand out as teachers. They were all very clear about what they wanted, they were all very critical about at least one aspect of martial arts that forced them to make big changes and, finally, they understood themselves very well.
The seminars promote critical thinking and experimental training methods with a view to creating an individual training compass. We do not teach a style or system, although training in aspects of disparate arts is included as part of the process. The seminars are events where people from all sorts of backgrounds can train and be challenged – both physically and mentally. We use the CSI (Clarification, Scepticism and Individuality) framework to guide our training and I also use my “Hierarchy of Training” procedure, which we will come to later.
We also have an open forum approach, allowing for collaboration, critical analysis and individual research. A major objective of the seminars is for people to take as much away from the sessions as possible and to test them out for themselves and then report back. The internet has ushered in a new age of more collaborative thinking and learning. The training does not start and end in a lesson; it is an ongoing process of testing and sharing information between vagabond warriors. I don’t want clones doggedly following a set syllabus, but free-thinking individuals that dispense with complex and ritualized hierarchies. What you end up with is a ground-up model for training as opposed to the old appeal to authority top-down feudal system. Coaches become guides. They show leadership and organization, of course, but they are fed by those who attend. The coach should be forced to look for ways to cultivate individual performance as opposed to making everyone fit in with their own perceptions of a system.
I learnt a lot from the brief period I spent training under MMA and fitness gym owner, Steve “Stevie B” Brindle in his “Mongrel Fighting Method”. This little group of interesting people – consisting of a wide range of experiences and including many instructors from different schools - would meet once a week and go through training concepts inspired by real-life situations. What made it so different was the collaborative way everyone trained. The scenario-work we did was taken from recent real local events. So, it was not uncommon to hear students say things like “This is what happened with your cousin last week” or “This is the type of weapon we regularly finding in use around this area”. Stevie B would encourage constant feedback from the group to create new activities. He was also a fascinating interview subject, having led a life “in the field”.
I went to a Quaker secondary school (high school) for seven years. I hated five years of my time there, but certain concepts stuck with me that I saw had potential for better teaching. I liked the way they held meetings rather assemblies at the beginning of the day. These were always represented in a circle as opposed to rows to promote equality and the idea that anyone could speak up. I took the concept to my classes, where no one’s grade is on exhibition and everyone’s view is listened to. Obviously the coach takes control and guides the lesson plan according to the objectives at the time, but for the most part I am trying to develop a ground-up teaching paradigm. 
3. What are some of the reactions people have had towards these seminars?
People often walk away from a session fully worked over. Their body feels exhausted and their mind is blown. They will then start posting up new information they have found on the internet and provide feedback on how a certain concept went down at their class. I am anticipating a great deal of negativity when the whole thing takes off, as it will really throw a lot people outside their comfort zones. The Vagabond Warriors approach turns a lot of mainstream martial arts on its head. For example, I have been at one hour workshops where the first activity everyone does after the warm-up is a pressure test. The point of this was to tap directly into primal feelings and abilities, so that whatever I said afterwards wouldn’t seem that abstract. We’d all be discussing matters from a similar standpoint. These participants immediately gave me honest feedback. This isn’t necessarily verbal – it’s in their performance and the look on their faces. The pressure tests are organized to be intense and unforgiving, immediately revealing individual capabilities. Many martial artists go into how important it is to get a person’s stance, posture or footwork correct – and I agree – but this is all often taught in a very contrived and artificial way. Why not organize specific activities that encourage this naturally? Why keep telling everyone about the chaos of reality when you can organize something that will at least put people in that mental state for a limited period of time?
I am much more into reverse engineering concepts. To a certain degrees this is comparable to the way my father trains wild animals. He first puts untrained animals into their training environment and does not interact with them. He observes them, watching their natural abilities and works out how to cultivate the best trained behaviours for each animal. Over a period of time he finds out who is capable of what. The same thing applies with the human animal. There are certain generic things that are fairly constant and by thinking generically you don’t get lost in performing a technique in over-analytical way. However, the best always comes from the honest feedback provided by the pressure test.  
4. How have the participants benefited from them?
Many instructors have told me that their classes have become far more focused and their training more honest after a Vagabond Warriors session. They start getting rid of abstract warm-up exercises and take a more time managed approach. Better still and contrary to popular opinion, by teaching them scepticism/critical thinking, they have opened their mind up to other possibilities. Suddenly they are not bound by styles or systems or techniques, but by a process that demands constant reviewing and will not settle for absolutes. Much of the feedback I have received comes from people who have read and researched broadly after my sessions, often into areas they never considered to be important, and have immediately seen improvements in their training and the training of those they teach. 
The seminar is only one factor of the whole Vagabond Warriors service. Participants become a part of the whole process from the moment they sign up, if they choose, and it continues after the session. The idea is to have a constant feedback loop of progress and improvement. The participants improve, those they train with and have any form of influence on improve, and the service improves by their personal input. Because I encourage real empowerment – as opposed to the empty buzzword sold on the back of many modern martial arts schools – no one feels like they are stepping out of line and they end up creating new training methods, which they can bring back to the seminars. I tell even the youngest children in my regular classes to think like coaches or teachers.
5. You’re a proponent of cross-training, how come?
One thing I have noticed about success in any activity is that those who achieve the most progress tend to be the individuals who can take a step back from their respective discipline and look at it from a different perspective. This is what cross-training is all about. A good cross-trainer does not only look to other schools, styles and systems of martial art, but also into other non-martial activities and areas of study.
Cross-trainers are forever stepping outside their comfort zones – different systems, clubs, coaches and students. A true vagabond warrior cross-trainer will win a degree of respect from his fellow pupils, but will rarely settle into the whole social framework for very long. If you cross-train correctly you will be drawn to whatever clubs challenge you the most and this encourages faster growth.
Because I lived so far away from any decent schools and my local sakiado club closed down after I achieved my first dan at age 16, I have become very used to travelling long distances for training. After training for two years in taekwondo in an attempt to continue what I was learning in sakiado, I began cross-training in a local kickboxing club. Some of my fellow students had started it to bulk up their twice a week classes in taekwondo and I joined in. Within little time the instructor of the kickboxing club asked me if I wanted to become an instructor and started training me privately. At 19 years of age I was suddenly driving all over the country, sometimes coast to coast, teaching kickboxing. I did this for four and a half years and during that time I had the opportunity to start training in other classes. I trained in Escrima and various Chinese martial arts in addition to the various non-kickboxing methods my instructor taught me. So, I guess I have always taken quite naturally to cross-training and have a lot of sympathy for cross-trainers. 
6. Do you feel that eclecticism is a more traditional approach than the stylistic boundaries many people experience today?
Historical evidence in the form of eye-witness testimony, documentation and even photographic evidence reveals that most of the great traditional masters of the late 19th century/early 20th century endorsed cross-training. It’s no great secret. They had to be, as many of their arts from karate to judo to taekwondo to choy lay fut are hybridizations of other arts.
My friend, Shihan Chris Rowen, who seems to representative of traditional martial arts and appeared on two of my “Cross Training for the Martial Arts” DVDs, told me that his teacher 10th dan goju ryu karateka Yamaguchi Gogen regularly brought in Mongolian wrestlers and other martial artists to train with his students at his dojo. We know that Funakoshi Gichin taught and demonstrated for Kano Jigaro at his dojo, and that the former took a lot of ideas from the latter. All the great karate styles that were developed after Funakoshi’s shotokan did so due to further cross-training experiences. The most notable examples were Mabuni’s wado ryu and Oyama’s kyushinkai, and that’s before we get to melting pools that developed Japanese and American kickboxing. Brazilian jiu jitsu has been a continuous development of an art through the experiences of its various ambassadors in different combat sports. We find that many of those who preached a return to pragmatic methods of fighting did so after experiencing various other styles.
Victorian martial arts pioneer E. Barton-Wright in the UK is perhaps the real godfather of British self-defence, making a point of explaining that combative arts outside of Britain were not just practiced for sporting reasons. He had observed that self-defence had been long linked to boxing and wrestling, which were generally practiced as combat sports. Much of the detached British gentry seemed to buy into the idea that when it came to interpersonal violence, all matters could be settled by stepping outside, removing one’s coat and fighting one-on-one until satisfaction was sated. Barton-Wright founded the short-lived Bartitsu system, which had a very open programme involving instructors from Japanese ju jutsu, Swiss wrestling, fencing, western boxing and other arts. Meanwhile, the lawyer, historian and revolutionary Tang Hao criticized his native country of China for the way its arts had deteriorated into ineffective and flowery martial arts, and credited his later studies in Japanese martial arts for their pragmatism. Hao was experienced in both Chinese and Japanese martial arts.
The closed door approach is a relatively new approach. When instructors defend this idea with arguments of dilution and making their system impure they are actually being disloyal to their heritage. Many fear losing their students to another club. I guess that is a kind of tradition if we are thinking in terms of religion or business. They see their students as objects almost possessions to a certain degree. Geoff Thompson said they behaved like “jealous lovers”. Chris Rowen once told me that he doesn’t like it when instructors refer to class pupils as “their students”. They are comments that have stuck with me. All of this possessiveness is connected to an outmoded paradigm.
Even modern businesses don’t cling to this notion. The transient employee is a product of the net generation. I see it all the time in showbusiness – a single employee advancing their career not through one company, but several. My parents’ company have had several employees that have worked for three years, left, returned and left again. It is becoming an accepted practice. I have had students who have come and gone from my classes, workshops and seminars since I began teaching. It’s quite wonderful, as they always feel comfortable coming back and enjoy both new things in the class and bring new experiences to my classes.
7. What would you consider traditional martial arts?
Gavin Mullholland was the first person I heard to make a distinction between traditional and classical martial arts. I think it’s a good rough line. A traditional martial art is taught at a class that upholds the core values and principles set down by the person who provided it with its name. It is not a question of the age of the system. We have relatively new traditional arts. We also have relatively old combat sports that have no traditions attached to them whatsoever. It brought a huge smile to my face to hear someone like Chris Rowen, garbed in a traditional Japanese hakama, say he didn’t like the notion of styles. My friend and perhaps the world’s most avid proponent of practical karate bunkai, Iain Abernethy, regularly cites the fact that Funakoshi didn’t like the concept of styles either and didn’t want Shotokan to be referred to as “a style of karate”. Rather it was just the name of his school. I don’t think a traditional martial art ceases being traditional if
the system changes superficially. After all, most of the arts we call “traditional” were being continually changed during the lifetime of the founder. Everything changes otherwise it stagnates.  
There are, of course, those who hold their hand up and say “Look, I like the sport that developed from the older sport or the non-sporting martial art” and there is nothing wrong with that. We also have those who are similar to historical re-enactment enthusiasts. Arts like iaido, kyudo, Renaissance fencing, sumo and archery do not try to pretend their training has any direct relevance to modern combat. This is not to say a student cannot use them to acquire some useful relevant attributes, but that’s another discussion. There are those who enjoy going through the motions of solo or two-people forms or drills for the sake of the activity. I am also all in support of those who are trying to resurrect extinct systems through academic research. Being an avid history fan I think this is wonderful, so long as they don’t start claiming a false direct lineage or saying that it is the most effective martial art known to man. These are the real classicists and the neo-classicists.
Unfortunately there are easily as many people, probably more, who do delude themselves or others. They like the ritual and believe that the ritual is the martial arts as it has always been practiced. The flawed logic then follows with the assumption that if it worked then it should work now. To make matters worse rituals are very appealing to humans. We have evolved to see patterns and we feel safe in routines. Martial arts that don’t ask people to think are more attractive than ones that tell you to do the thinking. This is what makes it easier to spread myths and legends about their art’s history, which are then repeated without question. Taekwondo is probably the largest and best example of the way a martial arts history can be changed over time along with its objectives in order to tell a certain narrative. There are even more modern systems that have done this too. This has nothing to do with tradition. It’s to do with telling a story that fits the ideals of an individual and a good reason why the top-down model is a flawed teaching model.
8. You stress deciding the purpose of one’s training, what exactly do you mean?
If I were a motivational speaker or some sort of self-help guru I guess I would say “Begin with the end in mind”. However, clichés aside that pretty much sums it all up. You manage time better if you start with a set purpose and you ensure you get the most out of cross-training if you remember what you primary goal is. This is at the heart of “The Hierarchy of Training”. You manage time by prioritizing the training that is the most attached to your objective. This works on a microcosmic and macrocosmic level. It stands to reason that the more time you spend working on something the more you learn. As my current coach, Mo Teague, often says “Perfect practice make perfect”. He has tortured me in just about everything I do with the question “Is it relevant?” So given the time you train is always limited, isn’t it better to spend as much time as possible on specific training. 
When it comes to the physical side of training many martial artists waste their time with irrelevant activities, which might help explain why they buy into the by-product of myth of believing in the power of ritual (mentioned in my last answer). Go to the majority of martial arts classes the world over and watch how they warm-up. You will see a lot of running around, jump jacks, sit-ups, press-ups and squats. I am not saying these activities don’t have their benefits and shouldn’t be trained in addition to the martial arts class – I believe they should - but what is their real justification for being there in a class that is supposed to be about learning martial arts? Better question: what makes them safer as a warm-up exercises to shadowing martial arts movements?
I started asking these questions when I first started training behind closed doors with martial arts instructors. I noticed it was very rare for any of them to warm-up using any of the non-martial arts exercises. I know a few who just went straight into light pad-work or sparring. From the moment a class begins it should be about relevant training.
Objectives are important. We have case studies where individuals have been seriously injured and killed due to unforeseen flaws in training. Go to most modern martial art schools and start the sentence “You fight how you…” and those in attendance are likely to chorus “train!” And yet how many people really take this issue on board? How many hand back a weapon to the partner they have just disarmed to repeat the same procedure? They don’t realize that when this is done as part of the routine the brain doesn’t distinguish the action from the disarming action. How many students practice running away when they are supposed to be training self-defence drills? Again, this is why honest pressure-tests are so important. All these faults come out during these drills. I have seen students “stabbed” by practice knives they instinctively gave back the partner they had just successfully disarmed. I have also seen students caught out for not maintaining awareness after they have dealt with their first attacker.
The Hierarchy of Training is divided into three sections; they are – in order of importance – specific training, attribute training and functional fitness. This helps promote a type of time management model for martial artists to use for their own training.
For the sake of clarification I define each as follows:
Specific training is partner training that isolates a certain activity, strategy, tactic or technique. It revolves around progressive resistance and restriction.
Attribute training is more general and concerns cross training. If you imagine your core training to be a straight line journey to a destination then attribute training can be compared to the various stop-off point en route. You pick and choose these various areas of study and study them for their sake. However, you don’t allow them to distort your core training. You bring everything back to this straight line journey, enriching your experience but remembering your main objective. So you might gain the attributes of using your hands with speed and power from boxing, but you are never going to weld on the whole system you have studied without adaption to a straight line journey of self-defence, muay Thai or MMA.
Functional fitness concerns conditioning exercises specific for your chosen discipline. It’s all right being fit, but you need to be fit for purpose. If you are training to be a martial artist then there is little point in following a routine designed for bodybuilders or even power lifters. Using our compass metaphor the exercises we put more time into are those that provide the most functional benefits to achieve our martial arts objectives. The closer the exercise trains a specific desired action the better. 
9. You’re very much a skeptic when it comes to martial arts, why?
I am very much a sceptic when it comes to most things! This might be down to the fact that my cultural ancestor was Phineas T. Barnum and I have learnt the rule of all those who have been close to chicanery – have fun, but don’t drink the proverbial Kool Aid! It might be because I was given the “Hamlyn Book of Facts and Fallacies” when I was 10 years old. It might be because I have been involved in the seedier side of martial arts during my days working for a rather unscrupulous kickboxing instructor and had a rapid education in all the rubbish that permeates the world of martial arts. Perhaps I carry some guilt from those dark days and am trying to compensate. It could be a lot of things, but I guess it collectively comes down to experience and then making a rational decision on how I approach things.
Being a sceptic simply means I support critical thinking and base my opinions largely on science and empirical evidence. The whole world of martial arts could really do with more critical thinking. Many of the traditional system have become fused to philosophical or religious dogma and the reality-based and combat sport sides seem to be gradually getting more caught up in New Age stuff.
Scepticism does not provide absolute answers and requires constant questioning. Unlike dogma there is nothing to hide behind. There are no sacred cows. It challenges everything and defines a fact as a temporary position supported by the best available evidence.
This means everything and everyone is up for review. I want to see students who are really searching and unafraid to be critical of anyone. All the great old and modern masters of martial arts were sceptics. They affected change by spotting something they felt was at fault with the current order of things. Their attempts to correct that fault resulted in fascinating mutations within the martial arts culture that often advanced its progress. The truly great masters encouraged this type of criticism, considering the greatest compliment being the student who sought to build on their education rather than to just be a “yes man”. Unfortunately, what seems to happen in virtually every instance is that tribalism sets in and everyone starts adopting similar terminology – no matter how quirky – and the stars, the elders and champions of the tribe become irreproachable. Mix in all the brand protection that comes from either a deep-seated cultural tradition – “Don’t question your elders!” – or an outmoded approach to business. This slows down growth in a way that you don’t see in science.
The great scientist astronomer and sceptic Carl Sagen once said "In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion"
This is an observation I think we could apply to martial arts and is the reason why I wrote my series of articles, “Martial Arts Scepticism”. By understanding the nature of error and why we have difficulty in accepting our own mistakes, martial artists could vastly improve upon their whole teaching and learning process. Furthermore, it presents real humility, an attribute often promoted by martial artists but rarely seen. Our default function is to believe, which is why we seek easy answers. Critical thinking requires a real detached type of discipline. It doesn’t so much as seek to eliminate errors as to constantly test.
The world of martial arts is full of odd beliefs and concepts that are quoted in martial arts magazines without contention and conveyed to students as if they were facts. This includes pre-science superstition – the kind that the “Boxer Rebellion” of 1898 to 1901 should have disproven – and pseudoscience nonsense that the US military’s investments in the ‘70s and ‘80s should have thoroughly debunked. There is also loads of unscientific mumbo jumbo about psychology and nutrition that seem to permeate virtually every area of martial arts. This includes mixed martial arts magazines, which employ professional journalists and generally provide top quality information on training methods. Just going through my collection at the moment I have seen nonsense being spouted about PH balances in foods and fad diets as if it were mainstream science. In truth, the only time mainstream science comments on these fringe ideas are on websites like “Quackwatch”. Worse still, these magazines provide new appeals to authority, replacing the irreproachable masters of the past with the professional fighters of today to reinforce belief in pseudoscience. A good reading of Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science” or MMA/fitness coach Jamie Hale’s “Knowledge and Nonsense” would be a great start for many martial artists to set up a rational and science-based filter for information.
Furthermore, we have a large amount of pseudohistory that has been a part of the martial arts scene since at least the turn of the century. Tang Hao was battling the myths about Bodhidharma and the Shaolin temple back in the 1920s. It would appear that his battle has been largely lost. Today, the likes of Iain Abernethy fight an uphill struggle to prove that the karate of the past little resembled what is mainly taught across the world today. The funny thing is that he is the one with all the credible and verifiable evidence and yet is in the minority. Myths have been passed down without question and repeated enough times for them to become “common knowledge”. It’s shocking how easily this can be done despite all the available material. However, I have witnessed many modern and quasi-traditional martial arts re-work their own histories to suit the preferred narrative. It’s quite shameless sometimes and can easily be done because of a general lack of critical thinking in the world of martial arts.
It is quite understandable that martial artists like to wax philosophical. Humans are like that. There is only so much we can do with violence. Most great fighter/teachers become philosophical as they see it as a new internal or mental challenge once they have exhausted the external physical side. We see this occurring throughout the martial arts. There are plenty of reasons why, but essentially you get good martial arts teachers who also happen to be keen philosophers. The wrong correlation is thus made. I argue that empirical scepticism ought to be a philosophy adopted by the martial artists of the 21st century. Scepticism really provides the martial artist with a tough internal battle and offers real, quantifiable knowledge rather than esoteric or spiritual promises.
10. Much of your training revolves around real world self-defense. What drew you to this path?
When all was said and done I found that this is at the heart of all fighting systems. Many have lost this objective and are quite happy to stay away from it today. However, they all began as either a means for testing combative prowess in a competitive context, as a means for training soldiers or custodians of the law or as a means for training civilians to defend themselves. There are other activities you can take up that develop better discipline, address philosophy at a far deeper level and even get you fitter than your average martial arts class. However, distilled martial arts are the practical study of violence.
Most civilians take up a martial art in this day and age to address their own issues with violence. The aerobics/martial arts hybrids and the commercialized New Age end of t’ai chi are perhaps the only real exceptions to this rule. Plenty of people will tell you, especially when they are deep into their training, that they didn’t study martial arts for self-defence, but deep down it is of interest to them. Most buy into the by-product myth in order to alleviate this insecurity. They think that by practicing their particular art they will be better equipped to deal with a real life threat of violence than they were when they started training.
This was an issue I kept stumbling over and I often found myself going back to Geoff Thompson, perhaps my biggest martial arts influence. I have trained in martial arts for sport, for art and as part of physical theatre. However, in the back of my head the issue of using it for its original purpose kept cropping up. Sakiado made me pretty confident; in fact, a little cocky and self-assured. I went from being the kid that avoided any form of confrontation at my secondary school for five years to someone others respected for being able to handle themselves. My experiences in taekwondo changed all that. The stricter rules on hierarchy and control undermined my confidence. At this time I started reading articles written by Geoff Thompson in Combat magazine. He seemed to be a complete heretic and I really objected to what he was saying about martial arts at the time. However, I couldn’t help but be drawn to his work. Then, not long after I left school, a few of sparring bouts with non-martial artists/circus workers that got out of hand suddenly burst my mystical martial bubble.
Suddenly all my high-kicking antics that won me praise, points, victories and status in my club and around my school friends met with the realities of fighting. With no institutionalized experience of martial arts fighting my opponents worried little about distancing and just charged in as hard and fast as they could. My kicks were caught nearly every time and I was thrown unceremoniously to the ground. With my nose streaming blood I ended up resorting back to tactics I had informally learnt outside of my formal martial arts education – in other words primal fighting. I grabbed my opponents’ by their tee-shirts and pummelled them with punches. At other times I covered up and charged in. I would say that a combination of fitness pure luck stopped me from being knocked out early on helped me give a good account of myself. However, I left the scene completely bewildered; my whole perception of what I had been studying for the past four years ago was completely shaken.
At this stage many would retreat into self-justification. I have interviewed many people and read accounts of others who somehow try to justify and correlate their martial arts training with the way they have handled real life situations. I am not dismissing these or even saying there isn’t some truth here, but for the most part during the early 1990s few clubs taught anything that remotely resembled real life situations. People like Gary Spiers and Dennis Martin were very much on the periphery in the UK. They were years ahead of their time. For the most part, self-defence was just a side service offered by most martial arts schools and generally just consisted of less aesthetically pleasing techniques built on the same teaching format as a regular lesson.
Fortunately for me, Geoff’s writing suddenly resonated with me and the experience broke completely through my martial haze. Dave Oliver (founder of the Taekwondo Association of Great Britain) had also taught a workshop at my local taekwondo club that focused on modern self-defence. I was his practice dummy for the whole day and that experience also hit home. For the most part all that was taught was impractical. It worked off the flawed self-defence concept of one-step sparring – a ludicrous teaching method that doesn’t even have the dubious appeal to antiquity going for it. The workshop had no pressure testing whatsoever and consisted of a series of complex combinations. Essentially it was selling locks, leg stamps, headbutts and takedowns to the mainstream taekwondoka of the day. However, the closing section of the whole workshop was worth the entry fee alone. Mr Oliver addressed the pre-emptive strike and the aggressive and deceptive approaches one can use in a real life situation. For that I was very grateful to him. It was, in other words, what Geoff Thompson articulated as “The Fence”.
Following my “awakening” I wrote to Geoff Thompson outlining my concerns. He sent me a handwritten reply on two occasions offering some great advice. I also bought two of his books “Animal Day” and “Weight Training for the Martial Artist”, both which had a profound effect on me. I would later end up getting most of his books and reviewing at least four of them. I even wrote the forward to one of them. However, it would be 11 years before I actually met Geoff face-to-face and then privately trained under his then most senior instructor, Matty Evans, for a while. I quickly got into the reality-based self-defence world. At different times I have experienced most the major modern combatives systems in the UK and international scene.  I qualified as a self-defence instructor under Geoff and he is responsible for helping raise my profile in the martial arts world. Without Geoff’s help I wouldn’t have got into mainstream martial arts magazines and been in a position to tout my best-selling “Cross Training in the Martial Arts” documentaries in 2005 and 2006. 
I was fortunate enough to train at a Mo Teague seminar and he remains my coach to this day. Being selected as one of his first instructors in the Hard Target System was a milestone in my career. Despite his impressive reputation I think he is seriously under-rated. Mo really does call it how it is and never settles for complacency in any aspect of martial arts training and personal development. He wants hard fighters and tough thinkers. He is a vociferous advocate of questioning, researching and acquiring knowledge. I really feel he is perhaps one the best things that has ever happened to the martial arts world; certainly in my lifetime. He promotes provocation and despite being an approachable and friendly person, doesn’t hold back in his assessment of the martial arts scene. He has no interest in towing the line or following a particular trend. I find that I agree on most things with Mo, but he won’t think twice about debating with me and I never feel like I have to worry about questioning anything he has to say. In fact, he encourages it and that’s the way we all continue to learn.
11. Fight, flight or fear syndrome, how much does this affect our abilities?
Understanding the fight, flight or freeze response is vital for understanding combat under stress. In essence this is when our body goes into emergency survival mode - flooding our body with a chemical cocktail, halting or slowing down various bodily functions, slowing down our cognitive process and drawing
blood away from the extremities and to areas of the body where it will best serve. Because it is a very primitive function and best understood in the context of living in the wild, where the threat of predators and competitors was a daily occurrence society has difficulty relating to it. Unfortunately this means that we most commonly activate in times when the response is not appropriate and we see it as a negative thing. 
Mammals tend to react in one of three ways when they recognize what they perceive to be an immediate threat. They attack, they flee or they stay still. The fight or flight response is easily understood. The freeze response despite being the most common is also the most hotly debated. Some say that we freeze in order to play dead. This might serve us well if we were trying to hide from a large predator that responds to movement or if we were under attack it might make a predator loosen its grip, so that we might crawl away once the opportunity arises. Others postulate we freeze because of a sensory overload. It’s like we are caught between fight and flight. There is also a theory that it is literally the body’s self-destruct button. The brain makes a quick assessment of your capabilities and decides that nothing is going to work. In his study of survival, “The Survivor’s Club”, Ben Sherwood talks about a type of circular feedback loop that provides another theory for why we freeze. He suggests that our brain draws upon a previous experience to best deal with situation when it can’t bring one forward it goes back round again and we remain rooted the spot, devoid of any solution and awaiting instructions.
Understanding the primitive stress response in mammals and being able to train for it vastly improves combative performance. Bad information drawn from pre-scientific days has helped complicate our understanding of what we call “fear”. This is why we associate a person losing control of their bodily functions or shaking at the knees as being cowardly. In fact, we now know that a large percentage of people will urinate and/or defecate themselves as well as vomit when facing an extremely stressful situation. This isn’t because they lack “moral fibre”, it’s because that’s the way their body is responding in an emergency situation. It doesn’t need to deal with digestion when a person’s life is at risk. Shaking and going pale are just examples of the body’s response the chemical cocktail that has been automatically activated.
We also understand that fine and complex motor functions can be seriously impaired under stress unless certain actions are drilled under pressure.
12. Chaos is an inherit part of fighting.  How do you train for it and what impact does it have on the fighter?
I chose the mythical hybrid the chimera as my club’s logo for two reasons. The first one was the cross-training nature of my school. However, the second reason was because of the chaos this negative symbol represents. I believe in immersing oneself in chaos as early as possible. This means that training should be unpredictable and present unique challenges to individuals. Although I teach some combination work - especially when we are involved in attribute training - I prefer students to learn instinctive combinations. This means they learn how to naturally respond to a target or a hazard rather wait for verbal commands.
If you are teaching self-defence hard skills you should introduce multiple attacker pressure tests, sight impairment and training in uncomfortable environments as early as possible. Students should also be pressured to understand how their bodies will respond under extreme stress. This includes exercises that bring out tunnel vision and auditory exclusion.
13. Could you explain the dueling myth as opposed to the real nature of an assault?
When a human faces another human their minds and bodies essentially see the situation as a duel. This is represented in the history of evolution and society. Some of the most primitive species respect the one-on-one fight to decide mating rights or leadership of a pack. Humans are very social animals, so this is going to be hardwired into us. We can see how it has been cultivated in the progress of society. We have seen rites of passage represented by one-on-one combat in most primitive cultures. Such bouts have also been held as funeral sacrifices, royal entertainment and as gladiator-style bouts for the general public. Even justice has been decided in trial-by-combat. I believe these progressed into formal duels and combat sports. So, it is really hardwired into us. Anthropologists and social scientists have noticed that inter-species violence is rarely fatal.
Obviously there are exceptions in certain cannibalistic species of animal. But, in general, most animals of the same species will circle or stare off each other and fights are brief flourishes that rarely result in serious injury. Humans and other primates tend to posture, show their teeth and make noises at one another rather than engage in a physical conflict. If they do clash, Desmond Morris noted, the struggle is often a grappling contest. This is ideal for deciding dominance without incurring serious injury. However, this is completely contrary to the nature of an assault.
When a person assaults another they assume the role of a predator. The other human is not an opponent; they are prey. Therefore the attacker doesn’t fight them in the same way. A human “match fight” no matter how much it lacks rules is a to-and-fro affair. It’s social violence. An assault is an example of asocial violence. There is no more to-and-fro between these two people than there is between a lion and a wildebeest. However, because the victim usually has only these evolutionary urges and social conditioning to fall back on he can easily assume that he is facing someone who wants to fight for dominance. This can lead to some seriously flawed decisions. Firstly, he might answer the challenge and underestimate the threat. A mugger who is desperate for your wallet might be “forced” to up the ante and use their weapon of choice in order to either get the money they need or, if this is his regular profession, to protect his reputation.
Secondly a person might go into a fight assuming it is going to be one-on-one only to discover that it is an ambush. Thirdly if engaged in the actual fight, the defender might prolong his involvement rather than seek to flee at the most available opportunity.
We involve ourselves in match fights at our peril. As far as I am concerned, fighting a dominance battle should be left to the cage, the ring and the mats. Outside of that, you really need to grow up. If you are forced to fight then you do so in order to escape the best that you can. If we take the assumption that we fight how we train - and case studies seem to back this up quite well - then fleeing needs to be a big part of a student’s objective in most pressure tests. I have often found that when a student who is only used to regular sparring is suddenly thrown into a multiple attack pressure test or ordeal they will often unnecessarily endanger themselves by trying to fight everyone rather than fight to escape. Furthermore, I have seen similar types fail at the pre-incident phase of a weapons situation. This is because they are conditioned to duel.
There is nothing wrong with regular sparring as part of one’s attribute training. I recommend it in order for an individual to get a more rounded awareness of certain techniques and basic principles. And if I had a choice between training in a class that taught full contact combat sports and one that only taught compliant techniques because “our moves are too deadly to test under pressure” then I would choose the combat sports every time. However, objective decides everything and that is the whole point of this particular argument.
14. How important is role playing to effective self-defense?
Role-playing and scenario-based training are very important in order to train realistically. If done correctly, they help train the often overlooked soft skills side of training. I have known students who love full-contact fighting of all types and can hit like the proverbial stream train. However, when it came to handling the non-physical pre-fight stage they came across as being completely out of their depth. Buying into our inherent instinct to duel, they engage in arguments with people who are just using words of abuse and antagonism in order to set them up for an assault. So, it is very important to get students used to seeing the hustle of the predator that uses aggressive or deceptive words to cover distance or as a set-up for physical assault. Like the chaos training, this is all about getting students to desensitize themselves. The student needs to understand is whether or not the person speaking to them is a possible physical threat and in order to do that he needs to able to spot the verbal tactic for what it is.
Geoff Thompson noticed, with amusement, that martial artists whilst learning techniques that were intended to maim and even kill other humans were often offended by the use of vulgar language in a lesson environment. He also noticed how such language was used as effective psychological warfare. People accustomed to real world violence fire offensive language like missiles intended to unnerve and throw a victim in the pre, in and post stages of a fight – pretty much like the great samurai Myamoto Musashi’s three kias.
Scenario-based training is, of course, another mainstay of reality-based self-defence. It distinguishes itself from combat sports and traditional martial arts by trying to replicate a contemporary situation as accurately as possible, so that a student might train in the right context. Many combatives instructors go to great lengths in order to do this, including renting out nightclubs, dressing in everyday clothes and taking a lot of their training outside. Although I see the benefits of this and endorse it to a certain extent this type of training does have certain inherent flaws. For example, the reason why we pressure test on mats with safety equipment and without hard obstacles is so that we can increase intensity and contact. So, the more you take away from the safety the less intensive a lot of training becomes. The superficial resemblance might be closer to reality, but does this really enhance the experience.
Another incredibly under-rated figure in the world of self-protection, cross-training and combatives is American instructor, Ron Goin, founder of P.U.M.A. (Practical Urban Martial Arts). Goin wrote a piece called “High Fidelity” that looked at certain flaws in what he calls “Physical Fidelity”. We can use this to describe scenarios that are designed to resemble the look of reality. This is can be compared to “Functional Fidelity”, which is a scenario that is designed to behave like reality. Goin cites some interesting research. Whilst the piece far from dismisses physical fidelity it presents an argument that a stripped down variation of scenario work is all that is needed to get the results required.  
Another problem I have with physical fidelity includes the fact that real-life situations vary a lot. You might be able to tailor these scenarios to replicate typical situations that professionals will experience, going on where they are to be deployed and the likely environments they will be working in, but this is not the case for today’s civilian. In context of civilian self-defence, environments are numerous. The average person could be attacked at home, on the way home, in a shopping centre, in the street, in their place of work, in their car, on holiday and so on. You cannot train for each and every one of these environments and do justice to the tests. Then add to this the fact that the likelihood of someone in the developed world encountering a violent incident is very small. Most people will go through their lives having never been in a real fight. Although important I see an obsession with spending too much time trying to create what amounts to “reality” sets as being an example of what I call the pornography of reality-based self-defence.
So, in conclusion I am a supporter of role-playing and scenario work, but I think the functional objective must always be remembered.
15. Your training has been described as MMA for the street. How did you develop this ground up approach to fighting?
I guess this might be down to my respect for several aspects and concepts of MMA and also because I use it a lot as a regular source for attribute training. I like the compartmentalization of a physical fight provided by MMA – stand-up, clinch and ground. As a concept this can be perfectly applied to self-protection. Fights typically start within striking distance and, if not dealt with quickly, deteriorate into a stand-up grappling range. The ground is not inevitable as a lot of 1990s propaganda will have you believe, but it is an important range that should not be neglected. MMA also deals with the importance of transitioning through positions, which is integral to good self-defence training. I like a student to be able to throw straight and round strikes from standing, kneeling, seated and lying down positions as well as move from any posture.
As a form of attribute training, MMA provides a window into a plethora of full-contact sports that can help refine and develop self-defence hard skills. The student learns an all round toughness and an understanding of how to defend against a striker or a grappler within a full-contact, non-compliant environment. Boxing provides timing and experience with the world’s hardest and fastest hand strikers. Muay Thai adds in closer range striking tools like knees and elbows, and an amazingly efficient low round kick as well as a transition to the clinch range. Wrestling, judo and other stand-up grappling arts provide an excellent education in the clinch range, teaching takedown defence, positioning, taking another’s balance, experience with grapplers and tactile awareness. Submission grappling and Brazilian jiu jitsu provide some of the best ground movement and positioning you will ever get, as well as the execution and defence of strangles a high percentage type of unarmed attack. 
Ground-up teaching and learning as opposed to the top-down model is the way of the future. We are seeing it with web 2.0 and the way businesses are developing. The top-down model simply sought knowledge and information from positions of authority – earned and otherwise. Ground-up learning seeks collaboration from a far wider pool of experience. The current MMA scene is very ground-up in that no one style has been able to dominate for long, the sport continuously mutates and develops in different directions due to their not being an artificial hierarchy or authority in place to protect a brand. No one owns MMA and there really isn’t much in the way of accepted styles. Self-protection training should be the same. It should replicate evolution by natural selection the way that society and business does. We should embrace interdependence – the collaboration of independent individuals.
16. If there was one piece of advice you could impart what would it be?
Be an individual and encourage individuality in others.  Don’t rebel for the sake of rebellion, but don’t ever get complacent. This is what the C.S.I. approach is all about. Finding your own voice by determining exactly what your purpose is and find new efficient ways to achieve it. Deviation is good, so long as you return back to the original path. If, however, you return and decide this is not the journey for you then start making a new one.
Jamie, thank you very much.
You are very welcome. Thank you for your interest and the excellent questions.

Jamie's website is:
About the interviewer: Michael Rosenbaum is a veteran martial artist of over 35 years and the author of Escaping Darkness which can be purchased here: