The following is a review I wrote back in 2005 upon the re-release of Geoff Thompson's book "Dead or Alive". This book remains a constant on my recommended list for basic self-protection seminars. If you enjoy the write-up please order your copy using the Amazon link at the end of the article. Thank you – Jamie Clubb
Perhaps we shouldn't, as the old cliché goes, "judge a book by its cover" but, having just read Geoff Thompson's "Dead or Alive" self-protection handbook, I can't help seeing the cover as symbolic of the book's content. Using a plain black background with no illustrations is a method used by publishers to announce, "this book needs no introduction or decoration – it speaks for itself." Many religious books employ this technique, perhaps playing on the cultural belief that Holy Grails will always appear as humble looking objects. This very often turns out to be false modesty veiling arrogance in its purest form. However, this is not the case with "Dead or Alive." You only have to look at the contents page and it becomes obvious that, at the very least, Geoff Thompson has done his best to be comprehensive on his chosen subject.
The chapters cover just about every subject associated with self-protection, listing them all in priority, beginning with "Avoidance and Awareness" and ending with "Self-Defence and the Law." They progress as rough contingency plans leading the reader through all the various stages of being attacked and how best to manage the situations. Thompson clearly defines the different types of attack along the way, backing up his statements with interviews with criminals, victims and newspaper clippings, and drawing additional information from articles written by experts in certain fields and quotes from known ancient strategists such as Sun Tzu and Myamoto Musashi. There is even reference to Winston Churchill's "Black Dog" that Thompson describes as part of the psyche: "the inner opponent, the ego, that taunts you after an incident, where you perhaps you did less (in your estimation) in your own defence than you thought manly."
Thompson's specialist focus – the psychological and sociological side to controlling yourself and your opponent in a hostile situation – is given full vent in perhaps some of the best chapters ever written on the subject. I am not surprised that this author has branched out into writing self-help and motivational books and videos. He covers a huge range, from recognising the different effects of adrenaline and their purpose to understanding certain behaviours involved in what he calls "the ritual of violence." None of this disappears into a self-indulgent wishy-washy philosophy on the human character – it stays with straightforward facts and offers simple workable solutions, mostly gleaned from practical experience and supported by case histories.
These chapters bookend the pieces written on the physical aspect of fighting, which describes Thompson's "Fence" as a practical confrontational management tool, where the potential victim can launch his pre-emptive attack. After looking at the areas of attack on the body, the striking weapons are examined. Thompson sees the hands as the most immediate and accessible weapon of unarmed defence, followed by elbows. Knees are also covered as a good in fighting and finishing tool. Kicks are considered to be best suited for finishing techniques. The head, a commonly neglected weapon, finishes the striking chapters. Grappling, and particularly groundwork, is considered to be part of the support system when things go wrong and is covered in equal detail as the striking.
"Dead or Alive" is an excellent introduction to Geoff Thompson's series of books. Nearly every chapter is isolated and expanded upon in various other titles. However, if there was one single feature that stood out of me it was the link between criminology and reality fighting. This is the first time that I have ever seen the connection being made. Geoff has clearly tried to set his book apart from other self-defence guides with his insights into the non-physical aspects of fighting and his simplistic attitude to what really works, but I would argue that the examination of the types of attack and attacker are what raises the proverbial bar. Understanding the enemy is a critical part of fighting any battle. "Dead or Alive" presents a series of interviews with rapists, serial killers, muggers, burglars and outright thugs. He uses articles from newspapers to illustrate his points and explains the tactics a person can use to avoid being on the receiving end, often quoting the criminals. It is sad that such an aspect has been neglected by virtually every self-protection manual I've read. It just goes to show the gaping the hole there is between formal martial arts and the reality of the street. For this use of sources alone I'd would recommend "Dead or Alive."
My journalistic temperament nags me to write a more balanced review of this book, but there is little a serious student of martial arts could complain about. Perhaps the odd typo appears in places that I can't remember. The drive of such a book won't let you dwell on them. Thompson makes no apologies for his "overzealous" and candid writing style. Like Andy Macnab, this is a hallmark of his work. When Thompson tells us something is "horseshit" or "bollocks", the reader can feel the writer's desire to drag us close to the hard reality of life in hope that we will take notice and stay safe.
The new edition has a new introduction by Geoff Thompson, who explains that he has changed little, "just a bit of polishing and some new illustrations." The "new illustrations" come in the form of recent photographs. Thompson reflects that little has changed in society – in fact violent crime has worsened since the book was first released in 1996. For such reasons it is important for this book to be brought to public attention again.