Self-Protection Ground Zero (diary entry)

fence 2


Today’s double lesson was with a new client. He has a background in rugby and traditional martial arts. He has decided to begin his training with me on the 10 lesson basic self-protection course.

As covered in the lesson and in previous diary entries on the same subject we began with a discussion on defining self-protection. Self-protection can be divided up into soft skills that we call “personal security” and hard skills we call “self-defence”. Soft skills cover attitude, awareness, avoidance, conflict management, behavioural studies and various other non-physical skills used to avert a physical conflict from happening. They also cover much of the post-fight situation, which I will discuss in the latter part of this course. Hard skills cover all the physical areas of a conflict from the pre-emptive strike to dealing with the most likely worst case scenarios. They are a series of suggested techniques that are easy to learn, maintain and have a high percentage success rate when applied in a counter-assault situation.

I credit Geoff Thompson, Peter Consterdine and Mo Teague for the bulk of the way I teach self-protection. Their material is still valid and provides a solid base for anyone approaching self-protection.


Perhaps the most important aspect and largest hurdle for any coach to address is the attitude of the individual wishing to undertake self-protection training. Without the “correct” attitude, a prospective student will be building their metaphorical castle on sand. A client first needs to have a vested interest and commitment to the material. This would mean testing various non-physical skills out on a daily and regular basis until they become habits. Another important aspect of attitude can be seen through physical training, exerting oneself under various pressures in order to confirm a strong willingness to survive in a conflict situation.


Awareness is probably the most misused word in the Reality-Based Self-Defence world. Many people articulate it in a way that is not realistic in day-to-day life. The Jeff Cooper Colour Code is a simplistic guide to awareness. I used to teach it all the time. In fact, it was part of my grading syllabus back when I had a grading syllabus. Unlike my colleague, Andrew Holland, I am not completely against its use and teaching. However, I think situational awareness – a concept Mo Teague started to use on his Hard Target courses – is as practical way to convey to understand civilian violence as you can find. Mo divided it up into People, Places, Times and Hazards. Each of these factors determines the level of a threat. We went through this in some detail, also explaining why the Colonel John Boyd  OODA Loop is best adapted to Mo Teague’s Three Rs (Recognise, Read and Respond). The quick reason is that your reaction loop is going to be even slower if you have to decide when your attacker has already made his decision!

Understanding Motives of the Enemy & Options

We discussed various examples of offenders likely to be violent. What their aims were and best suggestions on responses. This included the most likely muggers, street-taxers and recreation motivated attackers. We also discussed the difference between an assault and a match fight. Understanding the match fight is crucial, as it is an evolutionary trait for civilized man to regress back to his primeval self and think that interpersonal violence is all about mating rights. Self-protection education teaches us to avoid violence in most situations and that most certainly includes instances that are really fights over pride. Judgement calls mustn’t be discounted in this instance, but I would advise that if you do decide to engage in a conflict you could have easily avoided it was to save another human being rather than your own reputation.


This brought us onto the importance of preserving personal space. This is underlined by awareness because if you are not switched-on then your personal space will be gobbled up before you know what is happening. The primary objective is to avoid the fight and if that cannot be accomplished to act first, act efficiently and to neutralise the threat quickly. The pre-emptive strike is delivered off what Geoff Thompson famously labelled “the fence”. This is a concept more than a technique and describes any means used to create and maintain personal space in a proactive fashion. Here the defender can use the fence to set-up his pre-emptive strike as a response to the clear violent intentions of his would-be attacker.

Angry Fence to make space


We then moved onto hard skills in earnest. This began with targeting and setting up strikes off the fence. Here a coach moves into the student’s space “setting off” the pre-emptive strike. My client had a clear preference for a fist rather than a palm strike. We discussed the pros and cons of both. My DVD on the subject debates both. I decided that this was his most natural response and I was satisfied he could throw the technique with little worry of injury in training (in practice that might be a different matter).

Once I was satisfied that he was setting the strike up correctly and he had familiarised himself with the target we moved onto the focus mitts to develop power. After going through the basics with a simple cross we wound things back with restrictive training and making the technique more natural. The strike should be thrown with minimal telegraphing. This can be boiled down to striking from a walking position. As we walk so we transfer weight forward. The same applies, in principle, to a strike. We then took this onto the focus mitts. Next we trained the strike from various ever more restrictive positions. This prompts the student to better engage and recruit muscles. When these restrictions are removed he tends to find he can strike harder from short distances.

Further Info

The client has a pre-existing shoulder injury. Do to the complex nature of the shoulder – the most unstable joint of the body – it is hard for a non-physiotherapist to advise the best care other than to direct the person to a qualified physiotherapist. He has been advised away from heavy presses and I am not going to contradict that. Some good stability exercises I have found that serve martial artists well are the Turkish get-up, the waiter’s walk and the kettlebell arm-bar. Here is a good way to combine the Turkish get-up with the waiter’s walk:


And here is a good tutorial on the kettlebell arm-bar, advised by a physiotherapist specifically for jiu jitsu fighters:


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