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A Philosophy of the Fist The Making of “Cross Training in the Martial Arts 2: The Anatomy of Hand Strikes”

Smashed windows, upturned metal barrels and an icy cold wind provided the miserable atmosphere of urban decay that surrounded the huddled circle of men. Seven of the UK’s most unorthodox martial arts instructors and their intrepid interviewer, me, stood surveying the wreckage. The carnage around them, situated behind the newly renovated Bridgewater Bushi Karate Dojo, could easily have been featured in any Guy Ritchie gangster movie and the instructors’ collective experience was enough to argue the case for a British version of the Seven Samurai.

“Right, we’ll have Iain jumping through that window into a dive roll” boomed the voice of Core Combatives founder Mick Coup. A burst of laughter emanated from the other six instructors, their interviewer and the Summersdale Productions crew. The shoot, of course, was not going to be for a violent action thriller, but form the opening titles for the next instalment of my Cross Training in the Martial Arts series. Things had been exciting before. This time, however, it really was a case where the old cliché “history in the making” could be aptly applied.

Under the guidance of the entrepreneurial director of Summersdale Productions, Nick Atkinson, a low-key seminar had been arranged for seven of the UK’s most experienced and respected martial arts instructors to teach and provide the main footage for “Cross Training in the Martial Arts 2: The Anatomy of Hand Strikes”. Only a few years back most people in the martial arts industry would have considered such a meeting to be nigh on impossible unless serious money was being laid on the table. Bob Sykes had told me that once the martial arts journalist and now regular Hong Kong movie correspondent Bey Logan had attempted to do it, but the politically and chauvinistically charged atmosphere of the time had made the whole idea become such a headache that it was eventually abandoned. However, now events had conspired to help both Nick and I to make this implausible idea a reality. Through our selected group of instructors we found a history of how the famously closed doors of martial arts gyms had been flung open and how a relentless spirit of individuality had cut through the politics.

The martial arts world had changed dramatically since then and in only a few years more gyms had begun opening their doors to instructors from other styles. Students were exposed to more material than ever before. Some empowered themselves by refusing to be shackled by the cultish behaviour of some instructors who forbade them to train in other systems. Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine, a well-respected traditional Karateka, had given the world of “white suits” a real shock in the 1990s and prompted my generation of martial artists – a generation known for its scepticism – to challenge the corporate martial arts industry’s attitude to self-defence.

Peter had already been a part of a revolutionary concept in martial arts body mechanics within his chosen style of Shukukai Karate. Working against the norm of the Karate at the time, Shukukai applied sports physics to create a stronger ballistic effect to its striking. Peter and Geoff also broke the accepted moral code of the time with their pre-emptive strike. Geoff was a very enthusiastic cross trainer who immediately began looking outside of his Karate training experiences when he encountered real violence on a regular basis when working as a doorman for nine years. In the 1990s the Bruce Lee view of looking outside of the proverbial box had suddenly become a mainstream idea some twenty or so years after the man’s death. People like Rick Young led by example and fully embraced many different arts, proving a harmony could exist between and showing how different arts could fill the gaps in each other’s systems. Many still question Bruce Lee’s abilities, but there are little doubts about those who continue his legacy. Rick Young (a student of Bruce Lee’s only appointed instructor, Dan Innosanto) showed the UK martial arts scene exactly what could be achieved by an individual who devotes his life to cross training.

Almost a decade after the “Reality Revolution” and Iain Abernethy, a respected traditional Karateka, began changing the mainstream view again. The arrival of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and the now almost institutionalised cult of R.B.S.D. (Reality-Based Self-Defence) led to a huge amount of disillusionment in the “white suit” martial arts world. With the exception of Judo, Muay Thai and the hugely popular Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, traditional martial arts seemed destined to only court the very young, the very academic, the very dogmatic and the very naïve. Within the marital arts culture and industry, “traditional” was becoming stigmatized as a place for those enjoyed playing dress-up, indulging in a game of tag (semi-contact sparring) and faking pseudo-historical violence – perhaps akin to hobbyists who enjoyed participating in the re-enactment of historical battles. Then, thanks to the likes of Iain and the pragmatic Wing Chun sifu, Alan Gibson, another question was put to the masses: were all the fighters who founded and utilised traditional martial arts complete idiots or was it more of a case of there being something wrong in the way the arts were being taught today? What they promoted is perhaps what the business philosophy academics would call a paradigm shift; a change not of styles or techniques, but rather a fundamental change of the way mainstream traditional martial arts was thought about.

Iain looked back at many martial arts and discovered how they all seemed to belong to far more comprehensive methods. Western Boxing, for example, had throws and wrestling techniques and he even found that the father of modern pugilism, James Figg, was an able swordsman and a deft wielder of the quarterstaff. Iain found that he had not very far to look to find the throws and grappling applications in Karate. They were written about and demonstrated by such masters as Mabuni and Funakoshi. He brought Tegumi the Okinawan grappling art to public attention and explained how it was integral to traditional Karate. Iain promoted the views of Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson in his exploration on perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood area of Karate practice, the kata. Through his method of Bunkai-Jutsu he encouraged traditionalists to cross train in Western Boxing, Kickboxing, Wrestling, Judo and various other disciplines to condition the different aspects of a kata’s practical application. Furthermore Iain took out the sporting element (an area he had been very keen on before) and devised flow and resistant drills that were geared towards Karate’s original purpose, as a method of civilian self-protection.

Alan Gibson trained with boxers and put his system under constant pressure to see, where Wing Chun worked and how it could be applied efficiently. Like Iain he also found historical sources that were in direct contrast to the passive Chi-Sau (sticky hands) obsessed and non-resistant methods of Wing Chun practiced by the mainstream. He also devised scenario-based pressure-testing drills that reinforced the principles of this close-quarter fighting method. In 1990 Alan founded the Wing Chun Federation, a body that encourages cross training in various different martial arts and has seen affiliation with other open-minded Wing Chun groups.

Meanwhile as the post-modern traditionalists busied themselves by justifying their arts’ claims to combat efficiency, Chris Rowen, a hugely respected traditional Goju Ryu Karateka, had re-appeared on the radar. At immediate face value Chris was everything you would expect of the traditional martial artists. He expected organized lines when he taught; he stuck to ancient rituals that honoured the Japanese Shinto religion and he dressed in the full formal Japanese regalia, keikogi and hakama. Yet there was something very different about Shihan Chris Rowen, which made him very different from other traditional instructors. During his interview with me he explained about his background in Western Boxing, Ju Jutsu and Karate before he made the decision to travel to Japan and seek out the legendary Hanshi Yamaguchi Gogen. At his 2005 Seni workshop, Chris Rowen expressed to the gathered martial artists how he did not like the idea of styles. The words could have comfortably come from the lips of a “revolutionary” Bruce Lee during one of his candid TV interviews. Upon interviewing Chris, I listened to his descriptions of how his teacher, the great Hanshi, had enthusiastically brought in Mongolian wrestlers and other martial artists to share their knowledge in his Hombu. I used Chris’s famous line “no one has a monopoly on knowledge” to preface the first DVD. Through Chris I confirmed what Iain had been preaching and what I knew in my heart was the truth: cross training had always been a part of realistic martial arts practice.

The first Cross Training DVD was a huge success and both Nick and I were overjoyed with the response it received and the enthusiasm the featured instructors gave. Inspired by Geoff Thompson’s original impact on mainstream martial arts, the first DVD went through “The Anatomy of Combat”, beginning with the pre-emptive strike and ending with ground-fighting. The instructors on the DVD were Geoff Thompson, Peter Consterdine, Mo Teague, Alan Gibson, Chris Rowen, Iain Abernethy and Rick Young. This time around we added to the original cast three more excellent instructors.

Matty Evans is Geoff Thompson’s nominated chief instructor who, since he began teaching, has advanced the instruction of grappling, further looked into different angles of attack in hand striking and also continuously studied the ever-changing world of Mixed Martial Arts strategies. He has also furthered his research by going back to Geoff’s real-fighting influences by bringing the legendary nightclub bouncer, John “Awesome” Anderson, into his regular classes. Matty is constantly giving private lessons in his home city of Coventry, but over the past year has begun to emerge on the seminar circuit too. Being the most immediate heir to the Geoff Thompson Real Combat Method, his potential is palpable. I first met Matty at the same time as my initial meeting with Geoff Thompson. Since then I have always been grateful for his capacity to question everything and desire to test any opinion or view. Like, Iain and Alan, there is an element to Matty that is thirsty for the knowledge of the past, but whereas Iain’s and Alan’s primarily concentrate on their respective arts, Matty’s appears to be a widespread search across Britain. I have found that his methods, whether consciously or unconsciously, seem to hark back to the per-twentieth century days of British pugilism and wrestling. I have often called his and John Anderson’s wrestling principles “Primal Grappling”, which seems to aptly describe the survivalist intentions behind their teaching, and both and he and John regularly refer to their striking as “Dirty Boxing”.

If Matty acts as the devil’s advocate in the world of reality martial arts then Mick Coup is the base strategist, returning everything back to the fundamentals of efficient fight management. Readers of Martial Arts Illustrated may have read my four-part series on my training experiences with Mr. Coup and by now will be accustomed by his insistence on keeping everything ruthlessly efficient. I was first put into contact with Mick before he began running his C2: Core Combatives classes, seminars and workshops at the end of 2005. Mick’s rise to success has been fast and relentless. His CV is an impressive list of military and civilian experience dealing with genuine life and death violence. His whole C2 syllabus is centred upon programming high percentage methods of attack, de-evolving all methods into a robust few that fulfil his practical criteria. Everything Mick does is clearly driven by a military attitude towards getting the results he wants. During the comparatively small amount of time I trained with him, I learnt a lot of hard personal lessons. The Core Combatives were a welcome guideline to the way I teach my own cross training system of Clubb Chimera Martial Arts, but more than anything I learnt about being stricter with my own agenda in all aspects of life.

Russell Stutely is the founder of the Open Circle Fighting Method and Body Alarm Reaction. Russell is both known for his pragmatic approach to pressure points as well as his use of “players”, which are designed to enhance the effectiveness of martial arts techniques. Russell is already an established and highly successful seminar instructor. He regularly runs a variety of workshops for the “Mind Body and Kickass Moves” alliance of martial arts clubs, such as Steve Rowe’s Shi Kon and Tony Pillage’s “The Way of the Spiritual Warrior”. I first met Russell on a weekend training seminar that was organized by Tony Pillage. Russell and his team have wide interest in the martial arts and a constant interest in researching ways to improve techniques in the all the martial arts. I enjoyed my experience training with Russell so much that I was back to attend a workshop he held at Tony Pillage’s club that very same week. His knowledge of “balance points” was of particular interest to me and found that they applied very well to my current study of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Submission Grappling. I currently hold an assistant coach certificate in Russell’s OCFM system.

The second DVD begins a series that concentrates on specific areas of the Anatomy of Combat. This one is titled “The Anatomy of Hand Strikes”. I chose hand-strikes as they are naturally the most accessible tools we have at our disposal and therefore the best place to start for our combat synopsis.

Before we got to the actual use of hand strikes, however, I unapologetically wanted to make a point about getting across what happens before they can come into play. Awareness, described as “Zanshin” in Karate, is a paramount skill with regards to the realities of combat. Behaviour, attitude and the process of defeating “victim selection” can stop a conflict from ever happening and therefore I believe it should be given more coverage. So, I addressed this matter with a fair number of the instructors and had Mo Teague take up the majority of his spot on the day of the seminar explaining the importance of being streetwise.

Mo’s SSTTM system, which is an acronym for Streetwise Strategies Tactics Techniques and Mind-Set, is a long awaited return to looking at the causes behind violence. The hands may be our most efficient tools, but they serve little use if you are taken unawares. “Naivety kills” has always been Mo’s simple proclamation on street-fighting. Before a physical situation is to even be considered one has to be switched on and constantly aware of a changing environment. Understanding what leads up to a violent assault makes you much better prepared. This is why Mo has devised these courses. The introduction of more courses like this, such as Tony Somers “Intelligent Self-Protection”, will hopefully begin to keep the obsessed over physical side of self-defence training (what Mo says only constitutes ten per cent of self-protection) in context. Mo was among the first instructors who embraced Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson’s approach and combined it with the experience he gleaned from active military service and as a Guardian Angel. SSTTM forms part of his Functional Jeet Kune Do outlook.

On the day Mo also worked on the background of the line-ups and gave the students a multiple opponent drill. Mick followed this up with his Core Combatives, working “hard skills” by concentrating simple hand attacks on the highline. Matty Evans followed this over into looking at different angles of attack and different places to strike from, such as the ground. Alan Gibson then moved on with the use of combinations with the hands. Iain Abernethy continued on this theme, looking into methods of referencing and controlling the enemy when applying strikes. Russell Stutely took an apparent tangent with an elbow strike, but underlined a principle relevant to the whole project in generating force. The day was finished, in the best way possible, with the hugely charismatic Chris Rowen. Chris summarized all of the activities. He remains our traditional martial arts stamp of approval on the whole project.

The day bore witness to some brilliant interaction between the different instructors. Iain explained that he learned a new way to look at things every time he viewed a different instructor. His referencing strategies, designed for times of extreme pressure are comparable to Mick Coup’s indexing and controlling methods. Iain was also impressed by simple training ideas such as the way Matty Evans encouraged students to hold focus mitts closer to their faces to promote better accuracy by the striker. Matty set the best example of respect and thirst for knowledge martial artists are expected to show by his training under all the instructors that followed his section. It was great to see Matty and Alan Gibson – two martial artists who usually would have no reason to meet – working through a Karate drill taught by Iain. Whilst some tried out each other’s differing training drills, others enjoyed finding strong similarities that connected their approaches. Mick and Russell, for example, teach a virtually identical concept in generating force. Chris’s final section on the day was watched by Iain, Nick and me, who always found his humour and delivery very entertaining. “You must always have Chris end these seminars” Iain said to us, as we laughed at another one of the Shihan’s eccentric one-liners.

The day proved to be a very enjoyable experience for all those who attended. Afterwards I really got a strong feeling of how well things were changing in the martial arts world in general. Now we had to do our best to get this across in the DVD.

By the time I had made the long journey over to Summersdale’s offices in Chichester I was already pretty tired from attending an all day SSTTM instructor course under Mo Teague in Weymouth. In hindsight I should have stayed over in Weymouth, but instead headed back to my fiancé’s home in Kenilworth that night and then got up at the crack of dawn to make my way over to put all the Cross Training footage together.

For the next two days Sam Bailey, the DVD’s editor and cameraman, and I worked on getting a rough format together for the DVD. Coming from a showbusiness background from growing up on a circus, to running a professional wrestling show to supplying exotic animals in the film industry, I am not unaccustomed to long working days, but even by all these standards this was fairly full-on. Never once did Sam complain. He kept a cool and calm attitude as the time continued to stretch on into the early hours of the morning of the first day and on the second day as each of the connecting shots, where I narrated, was ruined by various members of public walking into frame. To come to think of it, what was the bloke on?

The first day consisted of putting together the footage from the seminar plus new footage from Geoff Thompson, which Sam, Nick and I had done the following week in Coventry and Rick Young, which Sam had filmed up in Edinburgh, and the archive footage of Peter Consterdine. Sam had already designed a very professional opening sequence that linked with the first DVD, but also showed a unique more upbeat style. Each chapter was divided under the following headings: “Awareness”, “The Fence”, “The First Strike”, “Maintaining the Attack”, “Generating Force” “Philosophy of the Fist” and “Drills”. These would be book-ended with my introduction and conclusion, and connected with narration, all of which were scenes to be shot the next day.

It was not hard to find common themes linking all strategies employed by the various different instructors. All promoted the importance of being aware. All agreed that violence occurred at very close distances and action beat reaction every time. All agreed on a basic consensus regarding generating force through the body first before using the hand or at least using the whole of the body rather than just the arm.

There were some differences in opinion, of course, but in terms of basic principles these really only varied on individual execution. Technique selection is the area where the martial arts practitioners find their main obvious differences between styles or systems. As Chris Rowen so succinctly put it in his summarizing section, “tactics might be the key word”. For example, the angles that Geoff Thompson and Matty Evans discovered to be the most effective for them defy the methods that Russell Stutely and Mick Coup insist are the most mechanically efficient. The most apparent difference on opinion that almost varies from instructor to instructor is the employment of a closed or open fist when teaching someone self-protection for the first time. The DVD showcases the differing opinions on this under “The Philosophy of the Fist” section, which serves as a miscellaneous chapter on a range of issues concerning the use of hand-strikes. It is on this section that Russell Stutely reveals that the origin of the waveform he teaches can be traced back to Rick Moneymaker and the palm strike of a silverback gorilla!

On the second day I was introduced to Louise Musgrove, a TV producer who has been brought on board as Summersdale continues with its big push to television. Lou knew of me through my father, as the production company she had worked for had booked my parents’ animal company out for six years running on a children’s TV series. She turned out to be an excellent coach for me, helping me get through all narration, as I tackled one of the most notoriously difficult areas of presenting: talking and walking at the same time! Okay, it doesn’t sound that hard, but for some reason when it comes to talking “down the bottle” to that bit of black plastic the most colourful of “live” characters can become as charismatic as a darlek! Nevertheless I learnt a huge amount in the relatively short amount of time I spent under Lou’s guidance. The day was finished with work on all the voiceovers for the various different scenes.

On the 7th May Seni 2006 hit the NEC. This was the ideal opportunity to preview the new DVD and when one considers how smoothly all the different stages had gone, British pessimism seemed to dictate that we might be heading for a Burton on that day. Such negative thoughts were quashed pretty much early on. Cross Training 2 enjoyed a very popular premier with various different members of the martial arts community watching it at the Summersdale stall and many customers snapping up copies of this special preview edition. Best of all, the whole weekend saw many of Summersdale instructors meet up again.

Tony Somers once told me that fifty-five per cent of communication is body language. Common knowledge describes the hands are one of our most expressive tools. The closed fist represents the tight coming together of the hand, a solid unification of all the unique digits, often employed to express a powerful and defining message, be it physical or political. I think it provides a pretty accurate metaphor for the intentions of “The Anatomy of Hand Strikes”. The DVD and the martial arts are the common base, individually we have our own independent goals, but united we drive forward to punch a hole through the barriers that separate martial arts students from commonsense.

Article by: Jamie Clubb, jamie@clubbchimera.com.

Article date: August 2006.



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