“Cross-Training in the Martial Arts: The Anatomy of Combat” Bob Sykes of “Martial Arts Illustrated” Interviews Jamie Clubb about his New Ground-Breaking DVD
- Where did the concept for the DVD “Cross Training in the Martial Arts” derive?
I have always been what the quasi-traditionalists affectionately call a dojo-hopper or martial whore. I suppose that stems from the fact that some of my earliest martial arts books and therefore influences were of the comprehensive variety. I’ve just always had a very eclectic nature. For a while I hunted for the elusive martial arts Holy Grail, but it was only in very recent years, when I found myself training with so many different instructors that I realised just how similar certain concepts were. This was the same for both the good and the bad instructors. The good instructors, irrespective of their style shared a few commonsensical base principles, whereas the bad instructors often seemed to be talking the same rubbish but under a different veil.
When I got into writing about martial arts and interviewing more remarkable people for your rather excellent publication, it soon became apparent that there were lots of things that just had to be said. This philosophy put forward in the DVD is at the heart of Clubb Chimera Martial Arts, my own syllabus, which is unique in respect that it has no techniques whatsoever, but is ideally suited to the open-minded individual. The DVD me the opportunity to show students of any discipline just how fundamentally important martial arts cross-training really is and how much styles are merely an illusion.
- Does the notion of cross training in the martial arts actually exist or is it just a matter of interpretation?
It is definitely just a matter of interpretation and a very modern one at that. The expression and notion of cross training is not restricted to just the martial arts world. Recent years have seen more people taking up a broader variety of physical pass-times and the advent of cross training sports equipment. Of course, this is nothing new either in the more serious sports world as multiple discipline sports events like decathlons, pentathlons and so on have been with us for a long time. When people in the martial arts community speak of cross training they often think of Mixed Martial Arts, which, as a sport, only really became globally recognised in the early 1990s. Then they think of Bruce Lee and his philosophy of Jeet Kune Do. However, if we look at Lee’s era he was far from being a loan voice in the martial arts community. All of his contemporaries from Chuck Norris to Joe Lewis were avid cross trainers. Lewis initiated American Kickboxing, which was a direct result of Western Boxers and Karateka working together. Gene Le Belle learnt several styles of grappling long before he met Bruce Lee. However, this is all still very recent stuff. Every single martial discipline practiced today has its roots in martial arts cross training. I have yet to read about one martial arts innovator who did not cross train in more than one discipline. It is not surprising really. You go to school and learn a wide variety of subjects, why should your martial education be any different. It is my view that to intelligently cross train is the most respectful thing you can do to your core art and the true masters of the past.
- The DVD in question focuses on a unique line up of renowned martial artists such as Geoff Thompson, Peter Consterdine and the awesome Mo Teague to name bur a few. What was it that influenced this irrepressible line up?
Britain and not surprisingly amongst the most open-minded people.
- Who in your view, Jamie, impressed you the most?
Damn you, Sykes! You know I have to be apolitical in the martial arts world while I write for your magazine! On a serious note though that really is a difficult question, as the more I see of each of them, learn from them and get to know them the more I am impressed. I grew up in a showbusiness family (my family run a zoo for the film and TV industry) and I regularly saw famous people. Therefore I became fairly immune to celebrity worship early on. However, the world of martial arts was not at first open to me because I lived out in the sticks. So, through reading the martial arts press, many of these people became my chosen celebrities.
Geoff is my main martial arts hero and probably the biggest influence over the structure I took with the DVD. Whether he likes it or not I often make him my mentor and he has helped me out a great deal. Geoff was my equivalent to Bruce Lee in the martial arts world, influence-wise. After getting a rather sharp reality shock, it was Geoff who I wrote to, asking for advice. Ten years later I made contact with him again and since then I have had the huge privilege of working amongst his incredible circle of influence. His chief instructor, Matty Evans is my club’s honouree chief instructor and a good friend. He recently ran a seminar for Clubb Chimera Martial Arts Tony Somers is a fantastic inspiration and recently presided over my student’s last grading. There have been many others too. It is Geoff I have to thank for getting my work into Martial Arts Illustrated and some of the wonderful projects I have written about.
ken the next logical step after the huge “reality check” the traditional martial arts industry received in the early to mid-1990s. He has some fantastic drills, which I have since incorporated into my classes and I have yet to read something he has written that I don’t agree with one hundred per cent. Iain also makes up that very rare commodity: a well-versed historian who understands the commonsense connection between the past and present. He is neither stuck in the dogma of yesterday nor the trends of today.
Alan Gibson. He sent me a couple of his early DVDs to review. My mind was open, but I was expecting a rather dull argument over the relevance of Wing Chun in modern times and I’ve seen a fair few. I was shocked at what I saw. Alan shared a very similar view to Iain Abernethy on researching and training in traditional martial arts. Many who attended the Summersdale “Masters Seminar” were shocked and intrigued by Alan’s approach, and this included students who were as far away from Wing Chun as you could get in the martial arts world. I also had some great discussions with him back at his home, where he explained some very straightforward ideas and introduced me to some great martial artists.
You will have to forgive the cliche, but Rick Young is truly the marital artist’s martial artist. Rick is the archetypical modern cross trainer. He has lived and continues to live the life most martial artists dream about, but have not gathered the mental fortitude to undertake. This is a guy who has trained with the best in virtually everything he has done and has raised himself to national and international standards in various different martial arts; his most recent achievement being among the first three Britons to receive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts. I have only trained under Rick in a couple of seminars that I reviewed, but I love his insightful and inspirational MAI column and look forward to the next time I get a chance to learn from him. One of his instructors, Paul Kelly, has been a great source of business advice for me since I joined NEST Management this year.
Peter Consterdine is only briefly seen on this DVD. He is a great instructor and one of my current ambitions is to attend one of his feared Training Days I must be a masochist! Peter has a great attitude towards self-defence and the martial arts industry. I thoroughly enjoyed training under Peter and Geoff at their last seminar together. I am a very proud instructor under Peter and Geoff”s British Combat Association.
I actually met Mo before I met any of the previous instructors in person. That was only early in 2004, but it kick-started me on regularly attending seminars, writing them up for MAI and training like a demon. I hope to train with him a lot more in the near future. Mo always impresses me with the way he puts both self-defence and life into perspective with anecdotal evidence and straight-talking.
Last, but most certainly not least there is Chris Rowen. I am very happy to say that Chris has become a good friend of mine. At the “Masters Seminar” this year I remember sitting down and moaning to him about something. In a matter of seconds he made me realise just how trivial my gripe really was and I suddenly felt much better about everything. I used the Yoda simile in an article I wrote about Steve Rowe, so I guess I would have to compare Chris to Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. He’s a very kind, wise and spiritual man and, by Christ, can he hit hard!
- I personally found Mo Teague’s notion on the invisible fence to be the most interesting aspect on the DVD. How much more do you feel Master Teague can contribute to the ever-evolving world of martial arts?
Mo sees martial arts as falling into one of three categories: a sport, tradition and reality-based, and teaches in a way that encourages the development of the mind, the body and the spirit. These are his two triangle philosophies, which influenced a lot of my ideas when I first started teaching my own syllabus of Clubb Chimera Martial Arts last year. I like his frank attitude to training and self-defence in general. Mo is great at cutting the quick with martial arts. Self-defence is his priority, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any regard for the sporting and traditional sides. Tradition is very evident in his attitude to respect and ethics whereas sport is as part of his attribute training. It’s great that he has finally started his own DVD series, but the world is still criminally deprived of a Mo Teague book. Someone should really get onto him about that. I’d certainly buy his autobiography!
- I could never imagine Mo Teague doing Tai Chi, however, going back ten years, the same could have possibly been said about Geoff Thompson, who’s latest message announced that we should “stop working out and start working in” what’s your response to this, is Tai Chi a valid option for modern cross trainer?
That’s funny, as the last time I read about someone advising to “work in rather than out” it came courtesy of the renowned scholar and philosopher, Billy Connolly! It’s actually in the biography written by his wife.
I have studied more Qi gong than Tai Chi, and have trained only a very small amount of that, but still use it in my own teaching and training. I did my short period of training under the fantastic Chinese martial arts instructor, Neil Genge of the Bristol Wu Shu Academy. He would also take a traditional Yoga class before he began his traditional Chinese martial arts class. Since then I have seen Yoga exercises and internal methods used at the beginning of a Muay Thai class, a traditional Ju Jutsu class and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class. My view is that the barrier between internal and external methods is artificial. I have very little experience in actually practicing what it is often pigeon-holed as internal styles, but I consider myself to be a spiritual person and no self-appointed guru is going to tell me otherwise. I grew up on a real circus in a circus family that stretches back over three hundred years, so I am not impressed by “magic tricks”, neither am I impressed by brain-washing cults or fanatical religious sects, as I’ve seen enough of them in the flesh too. Rather I am more impressed by compassionate and wise individuals who through their own internal philosophy help others and society in general by cultivating positive energy through doing down-to-earth good tasks.
I think the martial artist begins with the external elements in life and then changes to more internal methods as time goes on. Martial arts history seems to dictate this, but human beings in general follow this pattern too. For example, Muhammad Ali claims that his best work started after his boxing career ended. Violence is limited, but often exposure to extremities pushes an individual to look more introspectively and spiritually, especially when they feel they have nothing left to prove externally. There is a lot to be said about the Dog Brothers philosophy of “higher consciousness through harder contact”. Geoff Thompson’s instructors say that eventually their training sessions with him evolved more into a meeting of minds and discussion than a physical experience, once the Animal Days were over. Even the pragmatic realist Iain Abernethy has written an engaging book called “Mental Strength” that delves into the less tangible aspects of personal advancement.
You mentioned Mo Teague, who is actually a very philosophical and spiritual man. As I said earlier, “Spirit” is part of his trinity philosophy, along with body and mind. His sessions may begin with the premise of being very pragmatic and streetwise, but he always ends with a discussion on how the martial artist should seek to better himself as an individual. Mo says that he is profoundly influenced by those who triumph over tremendous personal disadvantages and uses such examples to underline the ethic behind his “attribute” training.
London when she suddenly decided she wanted more from life. Sadly she dove headfirst into Qi gong training; trying to “master” it with the same expedience she had the legal world. This resulted in her becoming seriously delusional and ended up having a nervous breakdown whilst attending a seminar in China.
The transition from external to internal should be a smooth and very natural process. It should not be a case of changing what forms you perform, but rather how you think and behave. Too often spirituality is a word banded about as an excuse to be lazy. However, if we are to look back at the great spiritual leaders of the past we see that they were all very hands-on people. Jesus was apparently raised in a carpenter’s family in an occupied country, Buddha had to throw off his life as a prince for poverty before achieving enlightenment and even the spiritual leaders of the twentieth century, like Mother Theresa and Gandi, were pragmatic people who endured very physical lives.
So, yes, I think internal training is a healthy area of study for the martial arts cross-trainer, but I also believe it to be a natural destination for the dedicated external martial artist. This is something I reflected in my Clubb Chimera Martial Arts syllabus. I begin with no-nonsense self-defence, as this is at the core root of all martial arts, but as the student progresses into more extreme physical tests, so they are required to contribute to the local community and demonstrate individual expressions of their studies either through their own projects. They are also required to demonstrate independent research into other martial arts classes. This stops them from becoming close-minded in either the martial arts world or the real world.
- How in your view do the traditional martial arts fit into the modern relm of cross training?
Alan Gibson and Steve Rowe are fantastic ambassadors for the traditional arts. I love training with them, as they help me put all my other cross-training experiences into perspective.
For example, there were several Jeet Kune Do and Muay Thai stylists at the “Masters” seminar who were suddenly buzzing about what Alan, Iain and Chris were teaching. It really made me happy, as it was nice to see other “modern” martial artists getting what I was getting from cross-training in the traditional arts. Suddenly simple objectives were being defined. Alan’s point about concentrating on a direct path to the same target – that of the head – for efficiency made perfect sense. This is one of Wing Chun’s main teachings. Iain’s resistance training makes one clear distinction from the usual resistance training you might find in a full-contact sport: the objective is on self-protection rather than “winning”. Putting the onus on this goal underlines the primary intention and nature of traditional Karate, which is a system that was not created for winning competitions against other martial arts sportsmen, but rather ensuring survival in civilian combat. Chris Rowen used Karate’s core philosophy on developing the single strike by breaking down some very simple, but powerful hand techniques and drilled them in a realistic fashion. They were easy to pick up and made perfect sense to all those gathered.
Outside this seminar I was very impressed by the traditional Tai Chi and Wado Ryu Karate instructor, Steve Rowe. During one of his workshops he began a series of self-protection drills that would have not looked out of place in a Geoff Thompson, Peter Consterdine, Matty Evans or Mo Teague seminar. Then, once the principles had been established, we were given a simple method of remembering them when we don’t have the presence of a training partner: it’s called kata. Again, I emphasise the point, the teacher is all important and so is an open mind.
- Mixed martial arts and cross training is there a difference?
By definition you wouldn’t think so and Mixed Martial Arts clubs do encourage their students to train in specialist areas represented by certain martial arts. However, things have changed dramatically since the early days of Vale Tudo and the UFC. Many argue that Mixed Martial Arts or Vale Tudo is just a rule-set and not a set discipline. However, it is the rule-set that has defined the art. Although all individuals have their own interpretation of fighting, as with all things, certain common style has emerged. A Mixed Martial Artists syllabus will include cross-training, but that cross-training will generally comprise of Muay Thai, Western Wrestling (be it Collegiaten or Freestyle or Greco Roman) and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Some also include Western Boxing, but this is less obvious. I would say that it has very much become a style unto itself and on a personal level I think it is a fantastic experience for any fit and healthy cross trainer to engage in.
- Can one be a complete cross trainer without studying the art of Brazilian Ju Jitsu?
A very shrewd observation! This is current discipline I am studying as a white belt and can completely understand the addiction. Most Mixed Martial Artists study Brazilian Jiu Jitsu these days and the same goes for many Jeet Kune Do students. In fact, a fellow Brazilian Jiu Jitsuka of mine often jokes about most JKD instructors owning the “obligatory blue belt”. However, of course, these are all recent developments. With the exception of Geoff Thompson’s American Real Combat Method instructor, Lito Angeles, who is a BJJ purple belt, none of his instructors studied BJJ. They are all very apt Newaza exponents, however, having been fortunate enough to have trained with Neil Adams instructors before Judo became more stand-up orientated.
I have found that like Jeet Kune Do and the Geoff Thompson Real Combat Method, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu appears to culture a type of martial arts college atmosphere. In this respect, BJJ is very different as it is a very specialist method, concentrating on grappling and, in particular, what Judoka call groundwork. Many of the students at Gracie Barra in Birmingham have already got high ranking qualifications in other styles and they seem to come to BJJ in order to fill in the areas they feel are missing from their martial education. The college or university atmosphere makes for a much more relaxed and less regimental class. There is something about grappling that throws inhibition to the wind. BJJ’s appealing rag-tag yet extremely sophisticated style really gets to the nitty-gritty of human development. There are far less rules than there are in Judo competition and the philosophy is more focused on the most efficient way to submit someone rather than pull off the cleanest technique.
The definition of what is complete is a very personal issue and I would never try to tell someone what they should do to become a complete martial artist. My syllabus covers groundwork and grappling, but it is left open for the student to put it into perspective. Personally from a self-defence aspect, BJJ, or more specifically my BJJ instructors, Braulio and Victor Estima and their coaches and senior students has taught me a lot about positioning and confidence on the ground when everything else goes wrong.
- What arts do you currently study?
I am also training under Mick Coup in Core Combatives. Mick will be someone the martial arts world and particularly reality-based martial arts crowd will be hearing a lot about soon. Watch this space.
My Clubb Chimera Martial Arts schools are designed for the cross-trainer. In order that my students don’t become clones of me and I don’t get carried away with what I call Martial Academia, I regularly bring in other martial arts instructors. These are people I respect a lot, but nevertheless have completely different backgrounds to me. I also bring in different self-defence instructors to preside over my grading panel as a self-imposed club policy to keep me, my students and my ever-evolving system in order. They stop me from forming a style or creating clones. Instead I just want the self-defence aspects to be transparent to anyone who understands the realities of violence and self-protection.
- The three-second fighter. How important do you regard this topic to be?
I regard it to be perhaps the most important physical aspect to reality fighting. It’s an area that is neglected by the vast majority of martial arts schools and even self-defence orientated. It is impossible to replicate in sport and rarely explored in kata. Nevertheless the majority of fights happen at interview range. When people say they didn’t see something coming or understand why someone attacked, in most cases they have completely been unaware of the “interview stage” in modern violence. One has only to pick up a paper and read about a recent attack and I guarantee that more cases than not the victim or witnesses will tell you the attacker engaged the victim in some sort of verbal confrontation or lined them up before getting physical. It is true that people get ambushed and this also happening more and more frequently, but generally speaking, whether it is a mugging, a rape or a gratuitous assault the modus operandi of the attacker is usually to engage the victim in dialogue to breach their personal space and overpower them.
For me drilling the fence, which is at the core of three-second fighting, is one of the main ways a martial arts student can practice awareness in a realistic fashion. For me, the whole idea of what the Japanese call the kiai shout is part of the aggressive or deceptive dialogue used by an attacker or a switched on defender. In fact, I see it as an example of what the samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, described as the first kiai. Commonsense and real-life experience tells us that in the majority of cases he who strikes first usually wins, but the martial arts world usually bypasses this in favour of working out rather academic contingency plans. My personal belief is that this is completely against the true of martial arts practice. The sad thing is that even those who would agree with me still spend most of their time teaching what to do if someone puts this hold on you or hits you this way. This is why, with my classes, we always go back to the fence. Of course, another problem is that the human being can’t help but over-complicate matters and too many people now think the fence is this textbook static hand gesture, which it most certainly isn’t.
- Jamie, if you had to pick three martial methods only. Which three systems would you pick?
- What did presenting the DVD teach you about the martial arts?
It taught me how similar all the best people really are in their outlook to life and the arts. It also further established my belief that cross-training is something that should be readily encouraged if we are to break down prejudices and insecurities in the world of martial arts.
- Art for art sake or training for training sake at the end of the day does it really matter?
Well, it is really up to the individual. Personally I don’t ever want to hide behind a style anymore than I would want to hide behind a religion. If I make mistakes, then that’s my fault. It’s my fault for staying with and continuing to listen to a crap instructor or it’s my fault because I haven’t bothered to train hard enough on something. I don’t like to abdicate responsibility and I am not keen on empowering inanimate objects, let alone inanimate words like the name of a martial art. It is my belief that the greatest tribute you can pay to the masters and innovators of the past is to test the principles of their art and research it in a practical way; become a better person through being honest about your ability and strong in the way you uphold your personal ethics. I am forever a student and I only train in places where the people are better than me. This was always Geoff’s advice and I have always naturally evolved in this way. As soon as I rose to the top of a class I would move on to test areas that I knew I was weak on, always with people miles better than me.
My philosophy is to put commonsense before principles and principles before techniques. There is a fictional boxer in the Bryce Courtney novel “The Power of One” who gives the sage advice, “Always remember right from the start, first with the head and then with heart”. For me this is not to say that passion is not important. It is the driving force behind most of us martial artists, but whenever we approach something I believe that rational thought must prevail before we follow through with our enthusiasm.
“Cross-Training in the Martial Arts: The Anatomy of Combat” is officially Summersdale Productions best-selling DVD of 2005 and has been credited by Martial Arts Illustrated as “DVD of the Year”. “Combat” Magazine also gave it the “DVD of the Month” slot in its December issue.The DVD is available either through Summersdale at www.summersdale.comor at other stores, such as www.amazon.co.uk
Further Reading: “A Philosophy of the Fist: The Making of Cross Training in the Martial Arts 2: The Anatomy of Hand Strikes”