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 or e-mail John Barrass at:

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 or e-mail John Barrass at:

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 or e-mail John Barrass at:

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 or e-mail John Barrass at:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Virtues of Bushido

As an instructor whom trains with the Japanese katana I have often been asked my thoughts on the code of bushido. Whilst I have great interest in all things Japanese especially feudal fighting techniques I make no claim to fully understand the spiritual development of the fighting men of Japan. After all I am not Japanese and I am certainly not a samurai.
Like most western martial art enthusiast that study the history and origins of their art and how they were developed through the ages the knowledge has been gained from long hours with one’s head stuck in books or searching the hundreds of internet sites on these subjects. I have received a great deal of help on these subjects from friends and fellow instructors on internet forum sites. Although the discussions can sometimes be heated about techniques and the dates of historical events that took place in Japan the general feeling is one of friendship and the pursuit of correct knowledge.
Depending on which author you agree with the virtues were either a set of values on how to live one’s life as a samurai in Japanese society or a way to prepare one’s self for death as a samurai. My own personal view is that modern society would find it very difficult if not impossible to live our lives using the virtues of bushido.
Below I have written a general description of what is considered by many scholars to be the most widely accepted version of bushido. Please enjoy them and make of them what you will: 
Bushido refers to the strict moral code principals that developed among the samurai (military/war) class of Japan, on a basis of national tradition influenced by Zen and Confucianism. The first use of the term apparently occurred during the civil war period of the 16th century; its precise content varied historically as samurai standards evolved. Its one unchanging ideal was martial spirit, including athletic and military skills as well as fearless attitude towards the enemy in battle. Frugal living, kindness and honesty were held in high esteem. Like Confucianism, Bushido required filial piety but originating in the feudal system, it also held that supreme honour was to serve one's lord.
"There were many forces acting on a Samurai since they were at the top of Japanese society, they were required to live, breath and enforce all the laws of the country - written and unwritten. Their own lives were ones of complete service and they were subject to a very strict code of Bushido. Until theTokugawa Shogunate ruling period, most of the Code was not written down but whether written or unwritten, it was followed - to the death.”
 Be acutely honest
throughout your dealings
with all people. Believe
in justice, not from other
people, but from yourself.
To the true warrior,
all points of view are deeply considered regarding
honesty, justice
and integrity.
Warriors make a full commitment to their decisions.

 Heroic Courage
 Hiding like a turtle in a
shell is not living at all.
A true warrior must have
heroic courage. It is
absolutely risky. It is living life
completely, fully,
and wonderfully.
Heroic courage is not
blind. It is intelligent
and strong.
 Warriors have only
one judge of honour and
character, and this is
themselves. Decisions you
make and how these
decisions are carried out
are a reflection of
who you truly are.
You cannot hide
from yourself. 
Through intense training
and hard work the true
warriors become quick
and strong. They are not as
most people. They develop
a power that must be
used for good. They have
compassion. They help
their fellow man at
every opportunity. 
If an opportunity does not
arise, they go out of their
way to find one.
Honesty and Sincerity 
When warriors say that they will perform
an action, it is as good
as done. Nothing will
stop them from completing
what they say they
will do. They do not
have to "give their word."
They do not have
to "promise."
Speaking and doing are
the same action.
Duty and Loyalty
 Warriors are
responsible for everything
that they have done
and everything that they
have said, and all of the
consequences that follow.
They are immensely loyal to
all of those in their care. To everyone that they
are responsible for,
they remain
fiercely true.

To find out more about Evasive Self-Defence Combat System visit or e-mail John Barrass at: