(First published in Martial Arts Illustrated 2006)
Jamie Clubb begins his private training session and continues his exclusive interview with John Anderson, one of Geoff Thompson’s biggest influences!
“Simply Awesome!”: John Anderson
“John Anderson will always be my ‘sempai’”
– Geoff Thompson
My private lesson with John Anderson concentrated on various fence line-ups and helped me develop more force in my strikes, particularly with my left hand. John’s major punch is the left hook, which worked very well with his deceptive line-up, but – having said that – he carries serious firepower in both hands.
As a basic drill we looked at the transition from passive to aggressive fence. What I call the “Passive” or “Calm” fence is what many doormen call “talking hands” or “doing the Italian”. This is the natural hand gestures a switched-on person uses to protect their personal space. At this range one can gauge the actions of a potential attacker, talk the situation down or get in the all-important pre-emptive strike. On a personal note I consider this to be a fundamental skill that should be adopted by all martial arts schools that profess to teach self-protection skills.
John’s first action trigger that he teaches involves a short step back with an assertive push with the leading arm. Geoff always explained that the leading hand acted as a sensory tentacle to judge your potential attacker’s intentions. This is where the “Aggressive” or “Angry” (my phrases again) fence comes in and the intentions of the defender change from an amicable talking down of a situation (or a deceptive line-up for a strike) to a forceful method that both induces adrenal dump in your antagonist and creates greater space for your line-up.
John made the point of always having the fence on the inside of the antagonist’s arms for greater control of a situation. You can perceive what is going on much easier by keeping your hands in this position. A person who wants to physically attack you will have to make contact with your hands or arms, which serves as your immediate action trigger for you to strike. Obviously having your hands on the inside will give you faster access to your main target area: the face.
Every punch must count and the philosophy of the “one punch kill” is applicable. John believes in putting full bodyweight into a strike each time by use of the hip and continuing to follow through until the threat has been eliminated. His attitude to making a classical boxing jab work more effectively is typically simple: put your right foot forward! In other words, step in and turn it into a left cross. It is not so much the mechanics behind the textbook jab that are at fault, when we are discussing “the street”, but rather it is the intention behind the punch. A jab is generally not employed by a boxer to destroy his opponent. He uses it to irritate, feel out or set his fellow boxing opponent up. In the visceral world of street-fighting such luxuries are non-existent and a complete waste of resources. If you have the opportunity to strike, make it final.
Footwork is also completely different and more natural than what you encounter in all sport-derived combat arts:
“Don’t go up onto the balls of your feet when you are lining someone up – dead giveaway”.
Likewise when you start following up on your pre-emptive strike you blitz – as Matty had previously told me – walking forward and punching rather than shifting forward like a modern western, Kick or Thai boxer. As I had come to expect from John, there was nothing overly clinical about stance-work:
“Don’t worry about your stance, so long as you have got weight behind your punch. Obviously you don’t want to be too square-on and off-balance. The stance must be natural and comfortable.”
However, John’s trademark technique that was used to dispose of “ninety-five per cent” of his enemies is actually a lead hand punch. His left hook is delivered with a very deceptive fence that brings your right hand forward to torque the body, creating force for the opposite side. The movement brings you very close to your aggressor and resembles a gesture someone might make if he could not quite hear what his potential attacker was saying or the physical accompaniment to John’s line “leave it out mate”. To the naïve onlooker – and indeed the potential attacker – the action looks dangerous and overly confident with the defender’s face very close to the antagonist’s, putting the defender in range to get punched or head-butted. However, what the spectator sees but does not observe is that the rear right gesturing hand is protecting the face and, of course, the leading hand being brought back with the twisted body to unload a powerful short hooking punch. John’s own version of this punch involves a level or high elbow – never a dropped one – and a whipping motion from the hip:
“The left hand is the reflex hand [on a right-handed street-fighter]. This is the hand that is thrown out first and you feel your enemy with [from the fence]. I noticed a few times I had caught a few people with this hand, so I developed it and discovered how to get more power into the strike. Then I began knocking people over with it.”
Action-triggers are at the core of John’s methodology. Like all good street-fighters and self-protection instructors, he favours being responsive and proactive rather than reactive to a situation. Therefore his pre-emptive strikes, if not delivered from his own set-up, are delivered in retaliation against someone’s aggressive physical gesture and intentions are made clear. This is usually when his personal space is invaded. John drilled this initial contact response in our lesson by having the “aggressor” place his hand on my chest. John instructed me to immediately strip the arm off and strike with the same hand. This saves time and is an unexpected attack. Most people will instinctively expect the other hand to strike. By stripping the arm away you have uncovered an immediate target; a target you can then exploit straight away using the most accessible weapon: the stripping hand.
Examining the finer details of this drill, John explained “It’s all about being set in the right position to start with. If you have to set yourself at the same instant you are thinking about throwing a punch then that’s twice as much work – it’s twice as much to think about.”
At this point it is important to mention that John is a strong believer in being able to strike from any position. When I asked him why he favoured the left hook, he remarked that despite being a far more advanced technique to execute than many people realize it was the most appropriate to deliver from most angles and positions both before and during a fight.
Another drill of John’s that is used to develop force from any range and to prevent telegraphing is what I have termed the “straight-arm fence”. This involves keeping both arms straight and immediately striking a focus-mitt with whatever punch is appropriate when the pad comes into range. Another drill involves creating a small space between two focus-mitts to develop short-range hooks.
A variation on the hooking principle is the slap. During my research into self-defence instructors I have noticed that all the good ones follow very similar principles, but preferences over teaching the open-hand techniques differ a lot. John explained that he generally employed slaps on aggressors who he knew were no great threat to him. Having considerable experience working on the doors behind him, John could assess pretty well what sort of person his opponent was going to be like. A good open-hand strike could be enough to make someone to re-think intimidating a doorman and also reduce the chances of the doorman getting prosecuted. I then asked the question from an instructor’s point of view. What would John teach an uninitiated person to use first: an open-hand strike or a punch? John said, without hesitation: the closed-fist. Quite simply he sees the fist as a higher percentage method:
“You try to inflict as much damage as you can. It doesn’t always work with an open- hand. You can knock people out with open hands, but this is when you are an expert. Learn how to punch properly and learn how to punch without gloves on.”
The gloves issue is another one that seems to tie all the serious self-defence instructors together when training for the one shot. John sees gloves as much a psychological constraint as a physical one. He recalled boxers who worked the doors with him wearing normal gloves just to give them the confidence garnered from the connection of having trained to punch with something covering their hands.
My first training session with John was over. What I had learned was what I believe really resides in the back of every martial artist’s mind: awareness, simplicity and commitment wins through every time. It is a natural truth and it takes someone with no formal combat art background to bring the matter to public attention. With the physical side of things done with, it was time to question John further about his background and philosophy on the reality of violence.
(c) Copyright Jamie Clubb 2006