The Basics

As I see it, there are three aspects to our training that underpin the physical ability to ‘fight’. These are the ability to:

1) Efficiently deliver precise, effective, impactive strikes to the head

2) Protect your own head from strikes (and familiarization with the sensation of receiving impacts that  interfere with equilibrium)

3) Efficiently/athletically move one’s body in a way that maintains balance and stability

In other words; punching/palm-striking, covering up against strikes, and footwork. Without going into vast detail about each subject, these three qualities combined give the individual the foundations of attack and defence.

Striking The Head

It has been proven time and again, that impact to the head is the most effective unarmed means of neutralizing an attacker. Indeed, punching to the head is the most common form of physical violence used by street thugs, and with good reason.

When martial arts legend Geoff Thompson said many years ago “If you want to learn to defend yourself, learn to hit f*cking hard”, I admittedly thought this was a little over simplified. However, the more I’ve come to learn about - and experience first hand - the effects of being hit in the head (as both the receiver and deliverer), the more I’ve come to appreciate the truth to his words.

Here’s some interesting facts for you…

In the United States traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death for persons under age 45… The force of a professional boxer's fist is equivalent to being hit with a 13 pound bowling ball travelling 20 miles per hour, about 52 g's. Plopping down into an easy chair can generate up to 10 g's” (

And according to David Kushner’s article for the American Medical Association (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury 1998), “The most common causes of TBI include violence, transportation accidents, construction, and sports

Click to play

I quote these not because I want to train my students to become killers but to underline the effectiveness of striking (often repeatedly) the head of an attacker. And these deaths aren’t just statistics on paper either; a guy I went to school with died as a result of being hit in the head in a fight (although this was with a metal pipe and not a fist) and only a couple of months ago did I attend the funeral of my friend’s mum who died as a result of hitting her head after falling in the street.

Covering-up Against Strikes

Needless to say that even if you do become proficient at punching and can make a pad-holder fly across the room or put dents into a heavy punch bag, human beings aren’t inanimate objects and (for some reason) don’t like being hit in the head. In other words, they’ll try to stop you and most likely by doing the very same thing to you. Indeed, the reason you are defending your self is very likely to be because they attempted or intended to hit you in the head in the first place!

And so for this very basic reason, defending against impacts to the head plays a huge role in our training. This doesn’t mean ‘blocking’ or evading punches like in the traditional or sport-based martial arts, but instead covering and protecting the head so as to be able to ‘take’ a hit. Without getting into the ‘why blocking doesn’t work’ lecture, if blocking punches worked against real punches mid-fight, boxers would do it, wouldn’t they?


Fighting for your survival is never going to be an easy thing. It will be dynamic and dramatic… you will likely be pushed, pulled, and knocked about. No wonder that so many fights end up on the ground. The remedy then, is to train in such a way so as to hone the instinctive ability to keep your feet underneath your centre of balance within the chaotic movement of combat.

Footwork can be considered the foundation of the previous two subjects too. Effective striking to an attacker’s head takes lots and lots of commitment (among other things) which essentially means throwing yourself bodily towards them while at the same time maintaining stability. And while covering the head against strikes protects from surface-level tissue damage (broken noses, cut lips etc) it in no way is an absolute defence against the shaking of the brain that results from heavy impact to the head (like a motorcycle helmet will protect from skull fracture but can only slightly reduce the concussive effects of hitting the tarmac). The point is, even if you cover up against a strike, you are likely to get a little rattled from the impact. And so, the ability to stay on your feet and not trip over yourself like a drunk is important here also.

These three qualities are like the basic components of a building; floors, walls and a ceiling. Without these there generally is no building. You’ll have no foundations to lay your wooden floorboards onto, nothing to put your double glazing into, and no need for guttering or roof tiles.

In a similar way, we want to create a default defensive response that consists of basic, generic techniques and tactics. Only if we have such a foundation should we then explore secondary, back-up techniques. And even then, those techniques must still be basic in their own right. Self protection expert Mick Coup, when describing his Core Combatives system (which shares many similarities to what we do) says “There’s basics, basics and some more f*cking basics”.

Also (borrowing some more terminology from Mick) we even want our secondary techniques to not just be ‘possible’ in their effectiveness, but PROBABLE. Bear in mind that it’s possible that a gentle Tai Chi movement could work in self defence. But it’s certainly not probable. What we’re interested in are techniques that have a high likelihood of working (based on an understanding of human physiology, physics and on what we know has worked time and again throughout the history of human unarmed combat)

That being said, I don’t believe that creativity and individuality should be completely ruled out of our training. Our class certainly doesn’t feel like a scientific experiment. The fact is human beings are not rational, logical beings, but emotional beings. And we are all different physically and emotionally.

This is why the system that I teach has no name (at this point in time, anyway). It can be described as self protection, self defence, martial arts, unarmed combatives etc, etc (and I don’t really care what you call it). The point is, I wouldn’t want to try to make everybody do exactly the same thing in terms of how they perform a technique. The only thing I stress is that whatever you do, make sure it is likely to work and is tactically sound.

And bearing in mind that no matter how much of an individual somebody is, human beings are all generally comprised of a head, two arms and two legs. Therefore, although there is a tiny bit of room for creativity and individuality in what we do (unlike the traditional arts where it’s all art and there is very little ‘martialness’ to be found), any creativity must also be heavily coated in probability!