(First published in Martial Arts Illustrated 2006)
Jamie Clubb continues his exclusive interview and training experience with John “Awesome” Anderson, Coventry’s most revered Doorman and one of Geoff Thompson’s biggest influences.
“Simply Awesome”: John Anderson
“People are animals and most people don’t realise this fact until it is too late”
– John Anderson
There is little arguing that John Anderson was a large influence on the life of Geoff Thompson. He features in a lot of Geoff’s work from the real-life accounts he gives in “Watch My Back” to the fictional characters Geoff created in his stage play, “Doorman”, and his short film, “Bouncer”, the image of John Anderson represents the image of the doorman at the top of his game. The “Mr. Anderson” fence is even given as an example of a highly advanced version of this method of line-up. Now, after going through a physical training experience under John’s guidance I was ready to listen to the man’s sage advice on the true rules of engagement that exist on the street.
Over the two to three hours that I spent working with John we just covered two techniques, the cross and the hook. This is the nature of real fighting. The most important part is the line-up, which is derived from the principle skill of awareness. Then, from understanding another’s body language and controlling the situation, you can make the best decisions to ensure your safety:
“If you are going to throw a punch, throw a punch to finish the job. Don’t go in half-hearted. There is no point jabbing first or throwing in silly little punches, thinking ‘well I don’t really want to hurt this guy, but anyway’. That’s when you are going to get into shit. Because then, if you turn it around, the other guy is going to think ‘he’s trying to hurt me, now I am going to hurt him’. You’ve fuelled him with a perfect excuse. So the safest thing for everybody – and it is the safest thing – is to get out of all this rolling around trying to hurt each other. Just knock the guy clean out with a pre-emptive strike. That way you are not stamping on each other’s heads. It’s over and done with nice and quick. In the eyes of the law, he has invaded your space you acted pre-emptively and in self-defence. I’d rather be tried by twelve than carried by six. That is the way I have always looked at it.”
The same energy that can be given tangibly to an aggressor by opening up with half-hearted punches or techniques can also be acquired by simply escalating a potential threat. This usually happens when you either engage in a pro-longed argument or – worse still – you delay your physical response by either moving back or allowing your aggressor into your personal space. The energy translates to confidence and gives the aggressor more self-assurance, often at the cost of sapping your own and reducing your chances of acting pre-emptively. After you have established the boundaries of the fence, following through on your action-trigger is of paramount importance.
However, John fears that despite a lot of people wanting to learn self-protection, many are not mentally strong enough to carry it through to its physical conclusion. Personally I feel that’s why there are so many technique-heavy or gimmick-laden “Reality-Based Self-Defence” classes and courses on the martial arts scene. It plays to the insecurities of students who fear the truth that real fights are mainly decided within the first few seconds with clinical straightforward techniques. This is even long after he has taken up his own form of martial attribute training by assisting and taking Matty Evans’s grappling classes:
“The stuff that works is so simple. Simplicity works every time. Cut something [a technique] down and make it as small as possible and work it off that.”
John explained to me that the best way to watch a conflict at its most natural is to view a schoolyard brawl. He believes that is where our most natural instincts for fighting come from and are technically (in a streetwise sense) at their best (The anthropologist, Desmond Morris, also observed this in his books “The Naked Ape” and “Manwatching”. My thanks go out to the other famous doorman of MAI, Dennis Jones for pointing this out to me.) Headlocks, chokes and so on are all natural movements. He explains that you have only to watch a boxing match to see “Primal Grappling” come into play. When boxers begin to brawl and the referee splits them up you often see one fighter with his arm draped over the back of his opponent’s neck. All the boxer has to do is link arms and lift to get a guillotine on. Side headlocks and rear chokes are also common place in a typical brawl. The famous shoot, rugby tackle or double leg takedown stems from a very natural motion. John explained that in a real fight a person will naturally drop low and clinch someone who is punching them. Their original intention is perhaps not to take their enemy down, but rather just to stop getting hit.
Once our training session was done I could not resist asking John about his experiences teaching Geoff Thompson on the doors. When John recounts the stories it’s almost as if we are back during the days when they both were working in Coventry’s roughest nightclubs:
“The thing with Geoff is that he watches and he learns. Sometimes I would do something in a nightclub, where I have had to look after myself and he’d come up to me later and say ‘run that through with me one more time’. I’m a natural fighter and I’d ask ‘well, what did I do?’ and he’d say ‘I suppose I’ll have to go and have a look on the camera on the camera again’ [laughs]…This is his philosophy through and through, and he doesn’t care what the cost is. Even if he got his face bashed up he wouldn’t care, so long as he was learning.”
So, there you have it from a true contemporary of Geoff Thompson. Even back in his “limited” days of violence working the doors in Coventry, Geoff was prepared to pay the price in order to gain any information he needed.
Going back to Coventry’s most troubled period, I asked John what it was that he first taught a new doorman. He said he told them to listen to him and to do what he told them to do. To begin with he would have new doormen keep close to him at all times. This was partly to do with discipline – “It’s a bit like being in the army and an army is no good without discipline. You have to lay the laws down” – and partly to do with safety, as the new doorman learnt his job on the spot. He went on “the first basic rule that I would tell any of them is to never go into a situation on your own”.
Like Mick Coup, Peter Consterdine, Mo Teague and Iain Abernethy often preach, John Anderson believes that not being aware is the single most common and most fatal mistake an inexperienced person has when it comes to dealing with the reality of violence. The average person has no conception of what human beings are capable of when it comes to attacking another person. John told me that “people are animals and most people don’t realise this fact until it is too late”. Looking back at the video footage I took of my training session with John, I noticed that John’s fence was up at all times. He naturally kept a respectable distance from me and at no time whatsoever throughout our talk did he ever have his back fully to the gym door. John explained that if he walks into a pub he finds himself standing at the side of the door so that people have to walk past him before he sees them:
“I can’t have my back to a crowd. If I am in a café I always look for a seat where I can see the entire place and I know what’s going on around me”.
John left working the doors when the new qualification and “legalization” came in. He saw this time as the transition from “bouncer” to “doorman”, and he always preferred being a bouncer. John believes the new legal doormen are being used, even if they don’t realize it, they are being manipulated and no longer have full control over how they can handle violent situations. He did not want to be a part of this new scene for that very reason.
After leaving the doors John had a fairly quiet life for a little while. He said it took quite a bit of time to get out of the whole the scene and joked that he even found himself standing on his own doorstep at night time. Then Geoff approached him and told John he believed he had a lot to offer and was wasting it by not applying it to teaching. John said that he never considered himself to be a good teacher, but began to become more convinced when Geoff said that he had a lot of talent many willing people could benefit from. John also said that he was a little wary over who he might be teaching. He said, “I’ve always had this bit of a complex, where I had gone from years of putting thugs in their place to the prospect of possibly teaching a thug.”
At the time, and in reflection of my short time spent with John, it seems ironic that this man who had no formal training in martial arts at all – although trained hard to perfect all that he saw and experienced – not only truly represented fighting at its most efficient and effective – learnt, drilled and pressure-tested in the “Arena of Life” – but also lives the ethics so often preached about but very rarely seen by the martial arts “masters” of today. John is truly a very modest man. He entered Matty’s grappling class to learn from his student’s student and later through both Matty and Geoff’s encouragement began teaching the skills he had used to protect his own life and the lives of others. He agreed to assist Matty when Matty decided on starting a new striking class – an area John was very well-schooled in – only to “help out”. John said “Matty is a great guy and I wanted to help him.”
Today John still only teaches two classes a week under Matty’s banner. Matty and Geoff between them have done a great job in bringing him back into the public light. Looking back at the tremendous impact Geoff Thompson made on at least the UK scene and the resounding echoes of his methods today, it seems incredible that John Anderson, a key core area of Geoff’s inspiration, is not being touted by every martial arts seminar organizer in the country. I am very keen to see more of him and to learn more from him. Geoff was right, John has so much to offer and my “Clubb Chimera Martial Arts” school treasure the footage and Dictaphone recordings I have of his training session with me. My student, Steve Male, did not need to be asked twice whether he would be able to videotape the whole event and he now often supplements his training with me with classes under John’s guidance. Upon asking about whether we are all going to see more of him, John casually replied in typical humbleness that he did not look that far ahead into the future. He would always be there to help Matty, but he would also consider taking a turn for his own good – “I am deeply thinking about maybe getting out of the factory and doing this for a living”. I couldn’t think of a person who could make such a right decision!
I would like to offer special thanks to my friends: my instructor, Matty Evans for arranging it all, boxing coach Glen Smith for allowing us the use of his fabulous Red Corner Gym, my student, Steve Male for holding the video camera throughout the training session and, of course, to the great John Anderson, a person that inspires in everyone word in anybody who has met him. That word, of course, is simply “Awesome”!