Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Ancient arts, modern world – are they fit for purpose?

This blog no doubt will upset the die-hard traditional practitioners but the content of the blog does have a serious point to it and that point is do old bugei martial arts systems have real practical use in a modern world?

Arguments on this very issue have raged for many years now and the internet forums for the martial arts are a blaze with arguments on who and what is the best way to deal with physical violence. I am going to avoid the subject of weapons; the reason for not discussing the weapon arts comes mainly down to the fact that the majority of mature adults know that it is illegal both to carry and use weapons in public, that said there are a few idiots out there that think they are the exception to the rule.

To continue the blog I’d like to use an issue that is always hotly debated amongst martial artist and instructors alike: joint locking. Now we’re not going to use a particular martial art in general as an example as there are far too many to discuss from all cultures, not just Japanese. I have met instructors who are adamant that effective joint locking will work with the use of good evasive foot work and control of the aggressor rendering the attacker immovable and in great pain.

Having been on the receiving end of many a sankyo and nikkyo both in ju jutsu and aikido I can agree with the claim of effective pain, however I would like to mention that these techniques were performed in the dojo under controlled conditions, with the ever present thought of the insurance policy in the back of your mind if the technique is performed wrong or too brutally and the fact that as an uke I am allowing the technique to be applied freely so tori can study the technique.

As a former doorman I have never gotten a joint locking technique applied to control an unruly customer; there are a few reasons for this: one, we usually worked as a team or group to deal with violence and two, the environment is totally different from a clean respectful dojo with an insurance policy. Outside the dojo there are no rules and the average aggressive person that is pissed off through drink, drugs, you spilt my pint and you’re trying to get off with my bird will not be compliant or respectful to you; also keep in mind that we are discussing controlling one person here and not multiples.

Over the last six years I have been invited to teach on many courses and on all these courses we have always taught simple and direct techniques in a controlled, aggressive manner. These techniques range from elbows, head butting, knees and one of my favourite techniques, biting but to be totally honest this would only be used in the extreme.

Now I am not condoning violence as something to be proud of or that these techniques are an answer to all threats of violence; believe me, I have been on the receiving end of a good kicking so nobody is infallible.

All situations are different and have unique problems that have to be dealt with at the time but I like the techniques I have used in the past; I would use them again in the future, such as pre emptive striking, closing the distance using atemi waza and then control the aggressor if it is needed using joint locking.

In this modern day and age I believe that the only real use of joint locking outside of the martial arts should be by law enforcement, prison guards and the military etc. The reason I state this is because they usually work as a unit and not a singular person when trying to subdue and control an aggressor; how many times have we seen half a dozen police officers trying to control someone to get the cuffs on? Now this comes down to the law and rules of engagement they are bound by; even so I have witnessed quite a number of police officers used to finally control an aggressive drunk when a good old fashioned right hook or elbow would have solved the issue much quicker. Many say the police have their hands tied and I agree having read the police manual on the use of force to detain a person, in my opinion it all comes down to covering backsides and insurance.

It is not my intention to use this blog to promote our particular way of training or use of technique, nor do I claim that what we do is the be-all-and-end-all in the self protection world. Indeed there are many more experienced people out there than I and deal with these issues on a daily basis in a variety of employment situations. That said, I have stood in line and learnt from these people and I personally agree with their methods and approach, many would not.

I was motivated to write this blog having read the statements and articles by Sensei Taran McCarnum and Sensei Dave Thatcher. I will admit to only knowing them through the martial arts community but their honesty and candour was something I was immediately drawn to, further more I also agree with them on the issue of the amount of total rubbish being taught as safe practical defensive techniques in a combative situation.

Thanks to YouTube every man and his dog wants to be on the big screen to strut his stuff and make his claim on what is effective to deal with violence and let’s be honest there is some total crap out there; everything from rape prevention to gun stripping an opponent. There are a lot of issues usually not discussed on these videos such as terrain, emotional state, environment, one or more aggressors, weapon involvement, drink, drugs and adrenaline etc. Also none of us are psychic so no-one can predict how any given situation will turn out and no amount of training will solve that but it does give you an edge providing it is practical and hopefully effective.

On recent courses up and down the country I have witnessed absolutely abysmal training standards and techniques been taught to deal with violence; this training came across as a corporate product guaranteed to work one hundred percent of the time, all the bells, whistles, badges, certificate of attendance and more gold on a black belt than black. The instructor was extremely confident in his verbal delivery skills and motivating the group but the content taught was in my opinion total rubbish and not a true reflection of what I have in the past witnessed on many occasions.

Teaching gun disarmament to a society that does not use guns personally on a daily basis and the fact that the average person is not desensitised to firearms is both dangerous and fool hardy; even I could not tell you how I would react to a gun shoved in my face, then again I am no body special either. The knife work was impractical and the attacks were slow and controlled from the attacker; real knife attacks are fast, aggressive and in some case not seen until you have been stabbed. This course was a classic case of a classical martial art being used to sell a product and give false confidence to those that attended. No doubt the instructor knew his art inside out but was using it in a foolhardy way.

For the most part if I attend a course and think a particular technique is total rubbish I just don’t take it on board; I have met some really arrogant instructors laying down the law on the rights and wrongs of effective self protection and why they are right and the rest of the world is wrong.

I have had the privileged to have trained with what I consider instructors at the forefront in dealing in effective training methods, not just techniques but training the body and the brain to deal with violence. The one thing that stands out with all these instructors is the practicality of technique in the given situation; simple techniques delivered in a brutal manner if warranted. The guys have been at the hard edge of what most of us will never have to see or deal with and personally I agree with their methods.

Complicated techniques such as joint locking may have their place on the ancient battlefields for the use of stopping a samurai drawing sword but I personally have never had my wrist, elbow etc. grabbed in a fight and I am certainly not going to ask a person to grab my wrist just to try out a technique when I can drive an elbow to your face or stick in a good head butt.

At the end of the day all of us will do what we want to do with regards to training and practising our chosen martial arts or modern training systems. However it is my wish that “you” having read this blog at the very least question yourself, your training and methods of training.  There are large groups of people training that do not spar hard so how can they know if they can take a punch? Not to mention those that train only in a pure art but never train to use it effectively or adapt it for fighting.

Quality effective training or disillusioned week in week out rubbish sold to you as a product? Only you can make the choice, I hope it’s the right one.

To find out more about Evasive Self-Defence Combat System visit http://www.esdcs.org or e-mail John Barrass at: john@kurinami.wanadoo.co.uk

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Cutting Edge...

It’s a well know fact that just about everybody within the martial arts community around the globe can distinguish between most of the more common empty hand arts or systems. I, as most people who know me well will know, have been involved with the martial arts since childhood and now teach my own progressive combat system. In addition to empty hand training I also student the Japanese sword arts; I say student as I believe one never stops learning or refining ones knowledge of the weapon arts, their history and the techniques within the art or any other martial art for that matter.

Lately I have been extremely fortunate to have been invited to teach the Japanese sword around schools and dojos in the UK. This has been of tremendous benefit in helping to spread the weapon arts and also the added benefit of meeting some top class instructors and students who have now become friends.

That said, it does surprise me somewhat how many senior grade instructors there are who cannot distinguish between the Japanese sword styles and there uses. With this issue in mind I have drafted a small but hopefully useful explanation of each individual art and its purpose. One should be very aware however that there are unique and sometimes very subtle differences between each school (ryu ha) 学校方法 and these subtle differences can have a dramatic impact on the art and the use of the sword. Other differences can include the syllabus and purpose; for instance we shall use kenjutsu as an example. Some kenjutsu schools will only dedicate themselves to the use of the sword however other schools will study such topics as senjo kumiuchi (battlefield wrestling/fighting techniques) or hojo jutsu (rope tying/restraint techniques) or the use of both. Other schools will study the spear (yumi ) or the halberd (naginata 鉾槍).

Here follows a basic description of the main sword arts and their uses. I hope they prove useful but please note that they are basic descriptions only; further and deeper examining of the sword styles is encouraged to improve your knowledge:


Iaido is one of the Japanese traditional budo concerned with drawing the blade and cutting in the same motion. (Budo means martial arts or military arts in Japan). A typical form consists of the draw and cut, a finishing cut, cleaning the blade and returning it to the scabbard, all without looking away from the imaginary opponent.

Most practice is solo, eventually with shin-ken (a real blade). In contrast with Kendo, Iaido is performed without protective coverings of any kind. Students must strive to achieve power, precision and perfection in their form. Along the way they learn balance, grace, and control both of the body and the mind.

Iaido dealt more with everyday situations rather than those on the battlefield. The term "Iai" is taken from the Japanese phrase: "Tsune ni ite, kyu ni awasu". The meaning of this is, whatever we may be doing or wherever we may be, we must always be prepared from any eventually.

The techniques themselves dealt with many situations such as a sudden attack by several opponents, a surprise attack while bowing to someone, an enemy lying in wait behind a sliding door or an attack in a darkened room. The permutations (suppositions) were countless.


Iaijutsu is an ancient sword art that predates the more common iaido and focuses on the art of drawing and using the sword. Although the terms are very ambiguous generally speaking many use the term iaijutsu to speak of a more combative form of iaido, whilst kenjutsu focuses on the actual use of the sword rather than the drawing and re-sheathing. The origins of iaijutsu are unclear, some credit its creation to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu who founded the Muso Shinden-ryu school of swordsmanship, however others argue that Iizasa Choisai Ienao devised a system that we would now recognise as iaijutsu almost 100 years before.

Iaijutsu skills were not designed to be used on the battlefield but rather existed to allow samurai to defend themselves in day to day life, hence the focus on drawing the sword very quickly and disabling your opponent should the situation arise. This also explains why many iaijutsu and iaido kata are practised from sitting and kneeling positions as well as from general, everyday standing up.


Kenjutsu is a military art form which was created in Japan in the 15th century. It was primarily designed to prepare samurai, as well as ordinary soldiers for combat on the battlefield. The main emphasis of kenjutsu centres on the practice of swordsmanship. But in some styles the practice of other battlefield-related weapons is also an integral part of their martial study. At the simplest level, it can be viewed as a collection of combat techniques for various weapons, most notably the sword. At a more complex level, it can be considered the study of the strategy large-scale and small, offensive as well as defensive.

The study of Kenjutsu is purely the study of the sword art and it’s developed through practice. Any person can swing a sword but to study the sword you must develop the mental and spiritual aspects of the art as well as the physical.

Shin-Ku-I (Body, Mouth, Mind) or more accurately Action, Word, and Thought is how the Samurai were evaluated. What make the difference between a student and a swordsman is Ken Shin Ichi Nyo, or Sword and mind as one. One must train as if the sword was a part of them; if it is looked at as a separate entity you will never develop the skill to master the art.

The sequence of training in Kenjutsu is as follows:

Kihon O Manabu :- Emphasize the basics

Kaisu O Kasaneru :- Development through repetition

Jiga Ni Tsuite :- Controlling your ego

Dai - Kyo - Soku - Kei :- Big - Strong - Fast - Light

Saigo Made Einoku Suru :- persist to the end – never give up. This is true for both the practice of the art and the attitude in combat.

Yudan Nashi :- Never off guard.

The motto of the Samurai was "Shinu Kikai O Motomo", "Looking for the opportunity to die".

This was not a defeatist attitude. The Samurai held life in great esteem and were very selective on what "cause" they would lay their life on the line for. It is easy to kill a man when you yourself are willing to die.

In terms of learning to fight with a sword, kenjutsu has a more complete curriculum. Kendo of necessity limits the range of techniques and targets. Kendoka generally use shinai, which allow techniques which do not work with real swords. Kenjutsu practitioners do not usually use shinai in training, preferring to use bokken (wooden swords) or katana (steel swords) in order to preserve the cutting techniques of real sword fighting. Kenjutsu training largely consists of practicing cutting technique and performing partner kata. For safety reasons, free-sparring is seldom practised with bokken or katana.

It was natural for the samurais to practice every day with their sword. To the samurai the sword was their foremost weapon and privilege - other groups in the society was forbidden to bear swords. Furthermore the practice with the sword was much more than preparing for battle. Around the Japanese sword grew a whole philosophy. It has many names, as ken, katana, tachi, and To.


Kendo which translates literally to 'The Way of the Sword', is a contemporary Japanese martial art that evolved from the traditions of the samurai, the warrior class of ancient Japan, based upon sword fencing techniques developed over centuries of combat. Like many Japanese martial arts, the philosophical foundations of Kendo revolve around the precepts of Zen Buddhism, and the guiding belief that enlightenment and heightened awareness, flow from the ability to focus and calm the mind. Following in the footsteps of the samurai, modern practitioners of Kendo, or 'Kendoka', as they are called, strive not only to master the physical techniques of the Japanese sword, but, also, the mental and spiritual aspects as well.

Although Kendo’s roots lie with the ancient samurai, the art has evolved over the centuries, adapting as societal conditions changed, to its present form where competition between practitioners involves not life and death combat with razor sharp blades, but controlled matches governed by strict rules of conduct, and non-lethal instruments. This difference in focus, distinguishes Kendo from 'Kenjutsu', which is also a Japanese sword art deriving from traditional fencing. Unlike Kendo, whose techniques are updated for practice as a non-lethal aesthetic, Kenjutsu’s primary focus is combat and warfare, and as such, closely parallels the actual lethal techniques employed by the samurai on the field of battle.

In place of the katana, the traditional sword of the samurai, modern Kendoka use shinai, an implement constructed of four bamboo staves bound together at specific junctures with leather bands. This non-lethal weapon, along with the use of body armour, or 'bogu', as it is referred to in Kendo, enable Kendoka to engage in fencing contests without the fear of death or serious bodily injury. The bogu is modelled after the traditional armour of the samurai, which unlike the cumbersome metal armour of European knights, was lightweight and designed for optimal movement and flexibility.

Kendo practice traditionally takes place in a training hall or, 'dojo'. Organization of a dojo is hierarchical, with the master at the top, and beginning students at the bottom. As in the other Japanese martial arts, the belt or 'kyu' system is employed, with the highest rank or 'Dan' being the black belt. Students train in Kendo through the practice of 'kata', a series of formal exercises passed down through time that replicate the movements and techniques required in traditional combat. In addition to learning and practicing the different kata, Kendoka also engage in informal matches known as 'keiko' or 'kumite' which are moderated by senior members of the dojo, and test the practitioner’s live combat ability.

A challenging and rigorous martial art, Kendo distinguishes itself from other forms of martial endeavour primarily due to its intense involvement with observing the etiquette and form of established traditions. While other martial arts primarily focus on the physical performance of the practitioner, Kendo is concerned equally with the mental and spiritual development of the individual as well. Through the mastery of traditional kata and the experience of kumite, Kendoka strive to achieve the same sense of transcendence and discipline exemplified by the samurai, Japan’s original swordsmen.

Batto Jutsu

Battojutsu is a form of traditional Japanese swordsmanship. Literally translated as "sword drawing techniques", battojutsu is defined as rapidly drawing the sword from its scabbard while performing a simultaneous cut or strike, all in one continuous motion. Such skills were essential to the classical warriors of feudal Japan, better known as the samurai who trained to use their swords with blinding speed from nearly every conceivable situation. These techniques are referred to as iai (drawing the sword from a seated or kneeling position), tachiai (drawing the sword from an upright position such as standing, walking, and running). 

The initial actions involved with batto include nukitsuke (the simultaneous draw and strike); which may be followed with furikaburi (bringing the blade around); and a killing blow such as kirioroshi (cutting downward). Follow-up actions include some form of chiburi (removing the blood from the blade); and noto (re-sheathing the blade).

To find out more about Evasive Self-Defence Combat System visit http://www.esdcs.org or e-mail John Barrass at: john@kurinami.wanadoo.co.uk

Friday, 2 March 2012

Black Belt Value

A guest post from Grant McMaster...

The goal of the black belt has become a greatly inflated ideal in the western mindset, and sadly is rarely a true reflection of an individual’s ability or understanding of the martial arts.

Historically the belt system was part implemented by Dr. Jigoro Kano, the Japanese founder of Judo and a well respected educator of his time.Some sources indicate that the belt system was simply limited to white and black belts with a black belt being awarded to a competing student, or more precisely to a student who was capable of receiving technique.
This belt implied that the student was sufficiently developed and trained as uke to withstand and respond appropriately to a technique applied by his instructor. It did not indicate that the student was ready to begin instruction and certainly didn’t indicate that the student was a master.

Within present day Japan the tradition of students wearing a white belt until they reach Shodan continues in many places, although some progressive schools have adopted brown belts to indicate their higher kyu grade students.
Within Japanese Martial history the belt system was predated by a system of written licences or ‘Densho’. These Four licences Shoden Menkyo, Chuden Menkyo, Okuden Menkyo and finally Menkyo Kaiden were hand written by the Soke of a ryu or school and clearly indicated a student’s ability, personal standard and rights within his school and style.

This practice was rendered largely obsolete at the turn of the 19th century as the massive variations between the separate ryu rendered the licences as unreliable as a form of standardised rating.
This was largely due to the enduring legacy of secrecy within Japanese martial arts evident during this period of history.

Although the Menkyo system remains in use in Japan and is used by clubs outside of Japan it is largely unrecognised except by a hard core of martial arts experts/enthusiasts or those with an interest in Japanese history.
The modern belt system was further expanded to include different colours for the kyu grades, and also for the dan grades after 4th or 5th dan, whereupon the Yudansha or ranked student would wear some combination of red or white upon his belt.
This system of grade indication is now widely entrenched in the martial arts world, but whilst it appears to indicate a uniform level of ability, in fact it does not.

The grade of Shodan or first degree black belt can now only be seen as an indication of knowledge within a schools technical syllabus. This subjective value causes a great deal of confusion both to the layman and to established martial arts students.

To explain this it is necessary to understand that there are vast differences between the many martial arts that arise out of historical origins, modern interpretations and the body of knowledge within the styles.
A good example of this is the time that is takes to reach Shodan within two markedly different systems, for example sport based Taekwondo and traditional Ju Jutsu.

Ju Jutsu is a system of unarmed combat that is adaptable to body type and ability and has evolved from the martial practices of the Samurai; it may be traced back roughly 800 years in its earliest form.

To gain a Shodan in Ju Jutsu may take a novice student as long as 10 years, or longer due to the large number of complex techniques required and manner in which they are required to be executed, it may also take less time depending on the time and effort put into training and practise. Further to this there are often no Kata or preset forms in traditional Ju Jutsu although some modern schools implement Kata for weapons training.
Taekwondo is a modern sport art which was heavily influenced by the Japanese Karate styles during Japan’s occupation of Korea in the first half of the 1900’s, whilst several techniques may be traced to some Chinese and early native Korean martial traditions, it is a far simpler art aimed at the sports arena.

It is possible for a novice student to gain a Black belt in Taekwondo in as little as 2 years with no prior training although the normal duration of training would generally be longer.There is even evidence of this period being markedly shorter if the student has prior experience or shows significant aptitude for the style.
This speed of grade acquisition is possible in Taekwondo as the style is comprised of many Kata, and its essential core techniques are restricted to striking and kicking variations.
This division between levels of attainment and the volume of learning between styles lies at the heart of the issue of the ‘Black Belt’ value argument.

The unfortunate appearance of commercial schools which hand out a black belt to students who pay their fees and attend regularly, regardless of their technical ability or knowledge further complicates the universal standard of a Black Belt.
The current methods of establishing the ability level of martial arts Yudansha (Black belt) tend to be limited to association based standards. Adaptability of technique, teaching ability, experience and overall aptitude is impossible to quantify without a general consensus among martial artists as to what constitutes a ‘Black Belt’.
The establishment within associations of ‘Masters Forums’, generally comprised of Instructors of Yondan (4th Dan) or above helps to maintain a standard within that Association, but only if the forum members are from different and contrasting styles.
In conclusion, there is no clear comparison across the various styles amongst the Yudansha or black belted grades, and it is unlikely that there will ever be an accepted standard between contrasting purist styles.

It may take 20 years for a student to master a single style, and many martial arts practitioners tend to mix styles once they have achieved a certain level of competence. Essentially the colour of the belt he wears is unimportant; the truest indicator of a practitioner’s knowledge and competence may lie in his ability to replicate any technique from his syllabus perfectly and adaptively, for himself and for his students.

Sensei Grant McMaster
Shoshin Ju Jitsu

To find out more about Evasive Self-Defence Combat System visit http://www.esdcs.org or e-mail John Barrass at: john@kurinami.wanadoo.co.uk

Friday, 16 September 2011

Rapid Response

In my last few blogs I have waffled on about one of my passions, the Japanese sword and the Japanese way of life. 

I have been inspired by many instructors and authors over the years such as Dave Lowry and Steven Turnbull and many leading authorities on Japanese civilisation.

As much I am tempted to carry on writing blogs about the knowledge I am gaining on these subjects, today I would like to write about a subject with many different names. Self Defence, Street combat,
 Defensive Street tactics, Close quarter combat etc, etc and the list goes on. 

Of course the name of our system is no different E.S.D.C.S - Evasive Self Defence Combat System. A long winded name I agree but it has a purpose.
E – Evasive, move and keep moving. A moving target is harder to hit.
S – Self, well it’s like it says, self. You’re trying to protect your body from harm.
D – Defence, defence can incorporate many thinks such as your personal protection to the protection of your family or property.
C – Combat, to be combative and respond in a manner appropriate to the level of conflict a person is experiencing.
S – System, whatever it needs to be in order to stay safe.
Like all things in life we are not born with the knowledge or the immediate skills that are needed for daily life experiences. 

A person must study and were self defence is concerned they must train. Simply reading a book or watching a DVD does not give the person the physical experience or the experience of mental stress that can inhibit your responses and reaction times.

Occasionally I go back to former martial arts clubs and train. I do this for two reasons: one is to catch up with old friends and instructors, ninety nine percent of what I know has been taught to me by these people and two is to keep the arts fresh both mentally and physicall, even if I am getting older and fatter.

Just like the authors of ancient Japan and my instructors of the sword I have also been inspired by many of today’s leading instructors of dealing with conflict. Like most people into defensive systems I have read the books and studied the DVD’s on the market. 
But lately I find myself looking at the old school way of thinking and training. 
It’s my belief that a system must grow and change with the times, if one does not improve one’s techniques to make them faster, easier, fluid, direct and simpler to perform under pressure then it just becomes the way. 
My methods within the club continue to grow, always looking to improve the system and make the student more aware and better at what we do. I encourage the students to test the techniques and to explore all avenues available to them, including training at other clubs and with different instructors to gain more experience.
Our club exists because of its members, no members no club. There are experienced and novice martial artist alike as members, people who have never trained in any martial arts and guys that train in mixed martial arts. 
Each person has a different opinion and outlook on life and I believe it is the same with martial arts and self defence or combat systems. What may set our system aside from others is that the techniques are moulded around the students’ abilities rather than the person been forced to learn a prescribed set of movements that are not natural to them. 
A kick is a kick, a punch is a punch and an elbow is an elbow no matter what the applications maybe. As human beings we are all unique, the way we move, think and act. Even a person's physical abilities will affect the outcome of their actions, this is why the system techniques are moulded around there abilities. They elbow, kick and punch etc to suit their natural abilities. 
Given time we can all become very adept with our techniques but how many practitioners of martial arts and self defence systems alike have had a real high pressure violent experience to test their responses when it matters the most?
In a safe training environment we can all be confident in our abilities but can we act the same way when it matters the most.  Reaction times, dealing with the adrenaline rush and your sudden experience of violence creating fear, how will any of us act until it happens? You may well ask about me! What gives me the right to waffle on about the experience of violence? Well, feel free to contact Sunderland Royal Infirmary A&E for details. 
This does not mean I’m a fighter it just means I was too stupid to back down or run like hell. On the positive side I have experienced the feeling of getting the hell beat out of you, which can desensitises you to the shock of been hit.
Now it’s a safe bet to say that most martial artists and defensive system practitioners have heard the usual comments from those who don’t train or have a misunderstanding of why people like us do what we do. 

Karate kid, mister Miyagi, Bruce Lee, Jap Slapper and Hong Kong Fuey, should I go on? It goes with the territory I suppose. I also love the one, if I kick you in the nuts your knackered mate! If only I had a quid as they say, truth is they might be right.

Just because we train on a regular basis in whatever style we do does not make you an effective fighter, my personal feeling is that it does not matter how black your belt is if you don’t see it coming for whatever reason and he connects with your happy sack then say hello to Mr cauliflower bean bag and a load of pain.

I have had a similar conversation with a chap who is very good at what he does - MMA. He’s physically fit, has a good knowledge of his techniques, confident and well trained; the last place I want to be is wrestling on the ground with this guy. 
I have learnt a lot from him and he’s become a good friend. But he also understands our methods of training and that they're not for three rounds in a ring. An MMA fighter has to abide by the rules of the cage but outside the ring he’s just like us. 
He can also head butt, eye gouge, finger snap and rip, tear, strike the groin. And my personal favourite biting, sinking your teeth into flesh, chewing muscle and sinew will make the biggest of aggressors feel pain. Of course these techniques are for the extreme and I don’t condone them for everyday use.
What’s my point you may ask? Simple, should it matter what we do if we enjoy it?
Any of us could become a victim during physical confrontations for any number of reasons, especially if you don’t see it coming and you’re taken by surprise. 
I don’t believe having a black belt or practising a martial or combative systems make a person a fighter. It may make you good at your particular style, but how do you know if you can fight if you have never fought to experience all the emotions and actions that occur during an assault? 
I teach to the best of my abilities which are with the help of my students continuing to grow, I make them no promises either that the system is the be all and end all of defensive training. 
Could it work? Should it work? How will it work? Will this or that happen? The truth is we won’t know until it happens and then only the person will understand and respond in any number of ways with many different outcomes. 
The top and bottom of it is you just don’t know. New members, friends and family always ask the same question, so what you do if this or that happens? And they always have the same look on their faces when you give the same answer, I don’t know.
Rapid response
I think a lot of people misunderstand this statement for the use of violence or self defence. It can mean a few things like the ability to run or talk your way out of the situation. 
But were fighting or possible conflict may occur I am a big fan of the pre-emptive strike. Hit hard and hit fast and if it turns really nasty and the situation warrants it then eye gouge, grab the groin and twist or snap fingers. 
If your life is at risk were weapons or techniques to end your life are in use are you really going to apply complicated techniques such as joint locking etc.
As an example let’s look at the police, they taught restraint and control and conflict resolution training to defuse situations peacefully. 
But because they have to uphold the law they are also subject to the same laws as civilians. 
How many times have we seen on the reality TV shows four or more officers trying really hard to overpower a single person to get the cuffs on even with batons, pepper spray and tazers? 
If a police officer were able to use any means necessary I thinks some criminals would think twice about having ago.
I do not condone violence or brutal techniques I am simply saying if you can't run and you have no choice then keep it simple; be assertive with a rapid response and if necessary be brutal. Gouge that eye, grab the balls, head butt, claw the face and bite if it’s really going to save your ass whilst you’re in the process of been raped or beaten to death. 
Dealing with weapons is even harder to deal with under pressure. Run if you can run, the nearest shop, someone’s house – run in screaming for help rather than run four miles home. 
But if you have no choice then be rapid, be ruthless and end it as soon as possible. 
Will it work, can it work? I believe none of us can answer that until it happens. 
If person sticks a gun in your face for your car keys give them the keys or you had better be supper confident and faster than a bullet can travel. 
I have never had a gun rammed in my face and I don’t want it to happen either. 
Ask yourself a question. What would you honestly do if you came face to face with a pistol in your chest or mush? 
I mean what would you really do if you knew it was a real gun with real bullets and there’s no option to comply or respond? 
I think my first action would be a change of underwear or magic tree air freshener tied to my jeans.
I was reminded by a new student of an old saying that I agree with: I’d rather be tried by twelve that carried by four.
Let’s enjoy whatever we do, but let’s not be blinded by it or believe it’s the be all and end all. 
Train and enjoy your style or system, get the most out of it and who cares what others thinks so long as you happy. 
But remember life’s just too short to fool yourself either. Take the blinkers of and think outside the box. Train hard, question everything but above all enjoy it.

To find out more about Evasive Self-Defence Combat System visit http://www.esdcs.org or e-mail John Barrass at: john@kurinami.wanadoo.co.uk

Sunday, 14 August 2011

From Nothing to Something

Ivory towers and soap boxes, the two worst problems in my opinion in the martial arts world today; or to put it another way: politics.

No matter what we do as humans in this life somewhere along the way our daily lives will have been influenced by politics and opinions of others. Everybody is entitled to an opinion and their beliefs and I respect that. However it becomes a problem for me, like so many others I am sure, when opinions and beliefs start to get rammed down ones throat in the hope of swaying our beliefs and opinions - can’t do this, can’t do that, don’t train with this guy etc etc etc.

Respect also seems to be another value that’s missing lately, not just from the martial arts but from all areas of society and what is even worse than this is those that demand respect, they seem to forget respect has to be earned. Of course it could be that I’ve been having a lot of bad experiences lately.

Those who know me well enough will tell you I walk my own path and will make my own mind up what is best for me, especially in the martial arts. I have learned that life is short, very short so to waste it is just plain foolish. Those same people will also tell you that although I love the martial arts, ancient, old and modern I don’t worship the black belt. I respect the belt but it does not define me as a person and I don’t need it to stand out in the crowd.

Many people seem to have forgotten that the Dan grade is the start of a journey, think of it as learning the alphabet, now it’s time to put the letters together to make words. If truth be known I am not even a particularly good martial artist or fighter; in the whole grand scheme of things I am just your average Joe. I do what I do because I enjoy it, not to be looked up to or feared by others etc. If a person decides to train with me then great, if you don’t then fine, thanks for coming along and having a go and the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Just for once, just once mind you, I thought I might get up on the soap box or climb the ivory tower to see what the view is like and maybe express my opinion for a change, hopefully in a positive and respectful way. Now some might say I am being a hypocrite for doing this, but they also say if you can’t beat them then join them.

Well I am getting on my soap box just this once to help me write this blog. I don’t need to beat anyone and I don’t need to join them either. So here goes:


Yes you read it right folks; every single thing on this ball of rock, universe or galaxy is made up. But for the sake of keeping our feet on the ground let’s stick to the subject of martial arts, eh?

At some point in history no matter what fighting style one chooses to participate in it all began with an idea or actions that forced the need for its development. Now whether these forces were born out necessity such as war or not is another subject altogether. Old or modern it makes no difference, warriors may have moved from the battlefield to the streets or the ring but it is steadfast commitment to pursuing and preserving fighting styles that ensure that they are passed on for the next generation.

The creators of all arts old, ancient or modern should be respected not deified and worshiped. At the end of the day they were men, men with ideas and influence but men nonetheless; as the saying goes all men are created equal, if only this were true.

In modern times man finds ever more weird and destructive ways to kill or maim his fellow man, usually down to beliefs and opinions that weak minded men follow to be part of a group or belong to something. Ancient armies evolved their weapons and fighting styles not just to kill but also protect themselves just as modern warriors and armies of today do.

Whether your art, system or way is ancient or modern it had a starting point, with a fist, foot, a stick, a bow or a tank. As most of us know, some fighting styles date back thousands of years to human’s earliest known cultures, whereas others are relatively new in comparison. It is true that the ancient arts have had an impact on modern styles somewhere along the line, but I am still at a loss as to why we can’t just respect each other’s beliefs and opinions in our chosen arts, old, ancient or modern. There are millions of us on this planet of all colours, races, religions and beliefs. We’re not all going to like each other or all get along but a bit of leeway might go along way every now and then.

I do what I do and I train in what I train in, it’s as simple as that. I am not trying to stand out in front of the crowd or take over the martial arts world for fame and notoriety. I simply enjoy what I do and I don’t want to ram my way of thinking and beliefs down anyone’s throat. For those of you in the martial arts world that do I would like to ask you a question:

If you are not happy as an instructor or with other instructors, students or styles in the martial arts or the way you have been treated, who judges you and how do you treat others?

“They say, people will like you or hate you. Rate you, help build you or break you and sometimes try to shake you. How strong you make your stand is what makes you.” (source unknown)

With respect,


To find out more about Evasive Self-Defence Combat System visit http://www.esdcs.org or e-mail John Barrass at: john@kurinami.wanadoo.co.uk

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Simplicity Under Pressure

As one of hundreds if not thousands of instructors teaching some sort of self-defence or combat method I am continually asking myself the same question. Are we really preparing our students for a real confrontation in the street? Are the safe training environments of the club or dojo giving a false sense of security to the students and how many students are now training to deal with multiple aggressors?
Government records show that of all the violent crime that took place in the UK last year more than half of the attacks were carried out by multiple assailants. Some of these cases report two or more people attacking one person (including the use of deadly weapons). The more traditional methods of learning any given art or system as most people know is the one to one approach.
Each student takes it in turns to practise the given set of techniques or combative drill. But what happens if you take them out of the comfort zone and add one or more aggressors to deal with? 

My own experience little as it may be has taught me a great deal, the biggest issues I have had to address were the reaction times and effective response to the threat. Many techniques that I have practised for years became difficult and ineffective under pressure against multiple attackers leaving me vulnerable and in danger of ending up on the ground where it becomes even harder to deal with opponents.

I have been taught a great deal by some great instructors about response times and the fight or flight situations that occur in the first instances of violence. But all that aside I keep coming back to what I believe to be the most important lesson you can learn in any self-defence or combative training system and that is one of simplicity.
Now please don't get me wrong, I'm not preaching to anyone on how or indeed you should teach or train in any given style. I am simply saying that the simpler the response the more effective it may be. Many actions such as distance, timing and foot work can very quickly be forgotten or less effective in the street or under the threat of real violence.
The one action or if you like "emotion" that I feel is missing during a student’s regular training programme is FEAR. Now I am not talking about the fear of getting injured or injuring a fellow student or indeed the fear of getting the techniques wrong during practise or grading, but real in your face fear is hard to show and teach in the club, after all no serious instructor really wants to hurt a student in the same manner an attacker would. So how do we go about preparing a student? For me this is a journey that I am still exploring with my students.
The one exercise our style practise is what we call E.V.P.A extreme - verbal - physical - assault. To put it simply students shout and scream at the tops of their voices all manner of verbal insults at each other from the start of the attack or during the attack to demean and disorientate the defender. These exercises range from the basic stand up argument to the sudden spontaneous attack. Again these attacks are done against one or more attackers to take the student out of their comfort zone.
Pain and fear can be huge shock to most people during violence, both at the start and continued throughout the act of violence. It can be very difficult to deal with both under pressure.
Below I have written the advice I was given many years ago by someone whom has experienced violence on a regular basis. But I would like you the reader to understand one thing, Reading the advice and using it when it matter most are two different things.
Pain and Fear
Pain is a function of the body’s nervous system – nothing more. It lets us know when our bodies are being hurt. In a fight we expect our bodies to be injured. Though it is possible to win without injury, it unwise however to assume that to be the case. Use your pain to drive your ferocity during the fight. If you sustain serious injury, do everything you can to concentrate on the fight. This is difficult but not impossible. Do not focus on your injuries. Think about surviving the fight. There will be plenty of time to heal later.
Just as pain is merely a function of the nerves, fear is simply an emotion. It can be harnessed, controlled and directed to your advantage. Never consider the attacker as bigger, stronger or better than you. This is self – defeating. You will lose the fight. Think of him as a target then systematically evaluate and destroy until the threat is finished.
Fear, in a fight fear is a big factor only if you let it be. Take firm control of your emotions and force yourself to act. As with pain use your fear to fuel your response towards violence. It is irrelevant that you might be afraid; the attacker is counting on it to make you the victim. There is nothing wrong with fear. Just don’t let it get in the way. It’s a natural emotion for all humans.

To find out more about Evasive Self-Defence Combat System visit http://www.esdcs.org or e-mail John Barrass at: john@kurinami.wanadoo.co.uk

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Fighting Without Learning to Fight

Ok so we all know how many books and DVD’s are on the market about learning self defence, street combat and martial arts. One man and his dog seem to be cashing in on these fast track methods. Everything these days seems to be fast, fast cars, food, cash, takeaways, credit and so on and so forth. No wonder were overweight (me included) and up to the eye balls in debt as a country.
Has anyone stopped to consider that fast does not always mean better, some time ago I had an individual knock at my door asking me to join their organisation in a particular martial art. Now I don’t want to go into all the details but let’s just say I was told I would be a black belt within eighteen months (yes you read that right – eighteen months) and have my own dojo with a large quantity of students and lots of lovely badges for my Gi and all I had to do was give them most of the money made from the students. Needless to say I did not take them up on their offer (would you?). Of course instructors need to make money, the rent for halls and sports centres is on the increase and equipment does not buy itself but at what point do we draw the line before we start ripping people of with their hard earned cash.
Okay so I’ve had a bit of a moan so what is my point? Well it’s this; how can anyone hope to learn effective methods of combat or self defence without ever having taken a blow to the body. I make no bone about the fact to my students and anyone else for that matter about the fact how many times I have had my backside handed to me during a fight, I have even mentioned this issue on many courses. My assistant instructor (Matt Chadwick) told me about a quote he had read lately “a black belt only covers two inches of your backside, the rest you have to look after yourself “Now don’t misunderstand me the Shodan grade is an achievement and one to be proud of for many years of hard work in whatever chosen art a person chooses to study. Let’s just imagine for a moment I took the offer of eighteen months for a black belt from that organisation, the only person I would have fooled was myself.
Its fare to say my club is not big, it does not have a high turnover of new members and I have never made any money from running the club. We only grade once a year and that is usually a six to eight hour course designed to wear the person out before taking the grade, even then they have to compete in the battle royal after the grade with the rest of the club. Okay some of you are asking what the hell a battle royal is. Well basically it’s a five minute free for all punch up were anybody can attack anybody using any technique at anytime, group members are also encouraged to gang up on other students. Sound easy? Well try that for five minutes after training virtually none stop for six to eight hours. Not all pass the grade but if they do then trust me they deserve it.
It is my belief that sparring drills and group fighting should be an essential part of any students training and lots of it. For a start it can help people overcome the fear of getting hit and accept the fact that during violence you’re going to get his at some point. Conflict resolution training etc have their place but when it comes down to protecting yourself you may on occasion have to throw your own punches and kicks to protect yourself. How effectively does a person really think they can learn to defend themselves from books, DVD’s and the ever growing number of fast track training courses?
I have had many occasions from prospective new students heard the words “so how long until I get my black belt” This weighs heavy on the heart, as I know these people will never become regular students”.
I attended the ultimate fighting championship eighty held in Newcastle a few years ago which as you might expect was packed with fans and martial artists. In our section there was a particular rowdy group of young lads whom new everything there was to know about fighting, the fighter is doing this wrong, he should have done this, I would have done that and shouting stand them up ref etc. For a start unless you’re a professional fighter that makes a living out of fighting what sane person really wants to be involved with violence? And secondly what make the average Joe think he can get in the ring with an armature, semi professional or professional fighter? We go to work, have families, go out on the drink with mates etc and maybe train a couple of times a week. They train virtually every day on fitness, cardio, bag work and sparring, they are used to getting hit hard and fighting back hard.
It may seem like I am anti-martial arts, nothing could be further from the truth as I have spent most of my life since early teenage years learning them. Learn your art, love your art and practice it to perfection. Cross train and enjoy what you do to the max but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re a fighter because of a piece of dyed cotton cloth round your waste, a few DVD’s and books and a bit of kumite every now and then. It’s a safe bet to say that the person of persons attacking you are not bothered about form, posture or the history of a martial art. They simply want to hurt you. How many of us martial artist and self defence instructors put ourselves under real pressure to test our abilities and techniques. It’s real eye opener when your training partner or partners are really trying to hurt you for real.

To find out more about Evasive Self-Defence Combat System visit http://www.esdcs.org or e-mail John Barrass at: john@kurinami.wanadoo.co.uk