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Martial Arts

Geoff Thompson – The Warrior Poet


This is another one of my favourite interviews. Geoff was very frank and open with me and the material he sent me prior to the interview was a gift  that I was not expecting.It also prepared me very well for the interview and gave me a great insight as to the man I was going to be interviewing. For some reason, I don’t believe that this was published which is a shame, but which gives me a unique article for my blog!

When you first started writing, you had just come out of what could be regarded as a really dark part of your life, which of course you wrote into your book Watch My Back, I believe that this is about to be released into the cinemas as a major film. Can you tell me more?

Yes, the film Clubbed is inspired by my autobiography Watch My Back, it is due for release in September this year. I have been working on it for fifteen years, it has been a real labour, but one of love, I am very proud of the end product, it is a beautiful film and it says all the things I wanted to say, about violence, about our potential to achieve, about managing fear and depression. It is a really polished film, great direction, great performances – very harrowing in places but also very funny. I am very proud of it. God wiling it will be a great success, it certainly deserves to be, there has been a lot of hard work and love gone into it, and the producer Martin Carr deserves a medal, he has been amazing, raising the money to shoot it privately, securing an amazing British ensemble cast and getting us a great deal for cinema and DVD. I owe him a lot and I love him very much.

I believe it has a strong ensemble cast?
Yes, we were blessed, we have great British actors like Colin Salmon, Sean Parcs, Maxine Peake, Scott Williams and a great lead in Mel Raido, who you may have just seen starring in the TV drama ‘He Kills Coppers.’

Have you been able to put that dark part of your life behind you now?
It was a dark part of my life, but one that ultimately brought me great light. It was working the doors that taught me about reality training, it informed pretty much everything I do now. It taught me how to have a fight physically if that was necessary, but it also taught me about metaphysical self defence, the realisation that we bring into our lives all the things we think about emotively. In my late twenties of course all I thought about was fighting, I talked about it, read about it, watched it on video and even dreamed about it.

My thoughts were so emotive and so intentional that I manifested pubs, clubs, bars and thousands of people that wanted to fight with me, I actually attracted them all with my thinking. The violence in my life was not there despite me, it was there because of me, it did not come to me, it came through me. I was creating it. The moment I realised this I stopped obsessing about fighting – because I no longer wanted it in my life – and started to think instead about more productive and creative things. I used the same emotive process of powerful thinking, and changed my life to that of a writer. But this process has to – like everything else – be accessed through the physical. You cannot hit the peak of Everest without passing base camp. That is why I still think that the Animal Day concept for combative arts is so essential. As the Dog Brothers say, the higher consciousness comes through harder contact.

If you were starting out in martial arts again, which martial art would you choose and why? Personally I would not change my route. The one I took, through traditional arts like Shotokan were perfect for me, they gave me an amazing base, one that I have always been grateful for. In the early seventies karate was a system for titans, it really did develop some amazing martial artists. It is popular (and very easy) to knock the traditional systems these days, but I trained under legends like Enoida, Kowazoe, Terry O’Neil, Frank Brennan, Andy Sherry, Ronnie Christopher, Mick and Rick Jackson, John Johnston and Bob Poynton and let me tell you, these guys were and still are artists in the true sense of the word, and very, very martial. Most if not all of them worked their magic in some savage arenas.

People think that I am an experienced fighter, and of course I am, but compared to the experience of someone like Terry O’Neil, I feel like I have hardly done anything at all. Shotokan for me was and is a very complete system, everything you need from standing to ground is in the kata. I don’t think that many of the traditionalists harvest that knowledge, neither do they pass it on to their students, but it is there and it is very potent. It is why I really like and champion people like Iain Abernethy, because they are bridging the gap, and helping traditionalists see the potential within their own systems. I went into Judo and wrestling and Thai to explore the neglected areas, and I have become more rounded for it, but I have always acknowledged that everything I learned came originally from that amazing Shotokan base, and the massively inspiring examples like Terry.

What are your thoughts on reality-based martial arts?
When I was pioneering RBSD way back in the eighties, it was very popular for people to think of me as a thug, nowadays everyone is doing RBSD, and I am delighted about that, in fact if you are not involved in RDSD you are seen as old fashioned. So for me it is a very welcome addition to the martial arts forum. And of course these things are cyclical, RBSD has always been there, it just needed re-inventing. People like Dave Hazard were mixing the ranges and fighting all out in Japan in the seventies (Dave has an amazing new book out, if you get a chance to read it), Dennis Martin and Terry O’Neil were into the reality scene as far back as the 60’s, and before that of course the incomparable Steve Morris was kicking some reality rump when most of us were still in pampers. These guys were not only mixing ranges but also giving their technique the ultimate acid test on the violent doors in Liverpool and Coventry and madchester, and before them people like Don Draeger traversed the globe looking for martial sapience, and way before even that in the late eighteen hundreds, early nineteen hundreds, the likes of Hackneschmidt, Pojello and Zabisco were taking on all comers, any range no holds barred. RBSD has always been there, it just needed re-inventing, and I am delighted to see that is has been and that It is thriving.

At what point did you start to change your view on life and see things more philosophically? Napoleon Bonaparte said that there is nothing like the sight of the battle field, after the fight to inspire princes with a love of peace and a horror of war. After spending nearly a decade on the doors in Coventry I realised the absolute futility of violence. It was like spending a decade experiencing all nine circles of Dante’s inferno. It was a very dark time, but also a hugely revealing time. I later realised that I was hugely violent (like all violent people) because I was scared and because I was insecure.

Violent people are not confident people; if they were they would not need to be violent. Having said that I don’t think that I could have found my current idyll, without going through that very violent time. The great thing about being involved in excessive violence is that it completely strips the romance away from it. People have this idea that fighting is some how noble, that it is all camaraderie and honourable battles and free beers on the bar afterwards. It isn’t. It is literally hell. I damaged a lot of people during that time, I turned up at their homes and at there jobs to serve the penance – and I was damaged badly myself. Four of my friends did not make it through, they were murdered. My coup de grace came after I nearly killed a man in vicious car park match fight. At home, after the fight, after the guy was taken to the hospital still unconscious I realised what I had done and what it was about to cost me. I had a young family, a beautiful wife, and that most precious of things, my liberty. And I was about to lose the lot. I unashamedly got down onto my hands and knees and prayed to God for another chance. I promised that if he allowed this guy to live I would change my ways. After the longest night of my life the man did live, and I did keep my promise, I later left the doors and embarked on my current path.

Are you, through films such as Clubbed and Romans 12:20 attempting to atone for your previous life, or to seek closure within yourself?
All of my writing is dually about atonement and about catharsis. And all of the films I write tell the brutal truth and demonstrate the cold reality about the consequences of violence, because the reality is that there is always a consequence. No one gets away with anything, what you do will always return home to you, no matter how many times you try to deny to yourself that it will not. That was my biggest lesson from the doors, that this is a reciprocal universe, that what you give out you will get back. Which is great if you are giving out good stuff, but not so clever when you are dishing out shit.

What part of your past life do you regret the most?
Everything that has happened to me has brought me wisdom and knowledge, and the greatest revelations all came from my darkest moments. To regret anything that I did would be to regret who I am today, and I do not regret who I am today, I love who I am, I love my life. So regret is not a part of my vocabulary, because it would mean wishing that I could change my past and if I did that I would not be able to write what I write and the teaching I proffer would not be sapient. I am ashamed of things that I have done, embarrassed, and also very sorry, and believe me when I tell you that I have also paid dearly for every bad deed, but regret is a waste of my time, because I am every experience that I have ever had, and happy to be so.

If you hadn’t been sexually abused, where do you think you would be now? Would your life have still followed the path it has?
Undoubtedly I would be a very different person. Where I would be now is anyone’s guess. The sexual abuse that I suffered destroyed my confidence as a boy, it left me with low (or even no) self esteem, a huge abandonment schema and more fear than you can shake a stick at. It was traumatising to wake up in the morning after the fact knowing, absolutely and unequivocally that your life will never be the same again.

When I went to bed on the night of my abuse (and off course in retrospect I can see now that there was months and months of insidious grooming leading up to it) I was 11 years old, when I woke up the next day I was a hundred. How I coped I don’t know, only that I did and that I am very proud of the fact that I did. I was a courageous young boy. If I am being honest, and I feel I should be brutally honest, I think I realised very early on that I could go one or two ways with this, and it was definitely my choice. I could be a victim and allow the abuse to destroy me, or I could be a warrior and use the experience as purchase for a fantastic life. I chose the latter. I took the massive angst and the often uncontrollable fear and I drove them into martial arts training, and door work then into a prolific writing career.

The film Romans 12;20 is all about my experience and what I did to release myself from it. I am grateful for that experience, I found God through it. Leonard Cohen wrote a beautiful song called Suzanne, and part of the lyric talks about Jesus walking on the water and watching from his lonely wooden tower and realising that only drowning men could see him, and when he was sure of this he made all men sailors so that the sea could save them. My experience felt akin to drowning, and through that I was able to see God. So I am grateful, I believe that everything that happens to me is good.

Martial arts are often thought to be spiritual in nature, albeit with a very humanist approach, how do you view this thought?
Martial art starts with the gross physical, and through that we can explore the physiological, the psychological, the emotional and ultimately, if we train properly and take our selves though the forging process then, yes, it is very hard not to bump into God. It is the ultimate aim (I believe) as a martial artist to find spirituality.

Who inspires you in the martial arts?
Many people, too many to list without the danger of missing people out and offending great friends. Peter Consterdine mostly I would say because he has been such a great mentor for me. When I was just starting out and writing often unpopular and uncomfortable things (for people to hear) about animal day and reality training, he took me under his wing and really guided me, and he still does today. If I have a problem he is the first person I call. I have massive respect for him, not least because he is one of the real legends in martial arts but also because he has become a really close friend. He is one of the martial arts stalwarts, what he has not done is not really worth talking about, and he is still in amazing shape even though he is ninety years old (I joke of course, he is nearly sixty). There are many people that I have been privileged to meet and train with and that have inspired me, but Pete is the man that I feel I owe my martial arts career to.

What do you think is the greatest innovation in the martial arts since Bruce Lee?
Probably the reality scene, especially the very honest stuff regarding things like fear management, mixing ranges, the fence and the very controversial (almost always ignored) pre-emptive attack. The innovative work by people like Dennis Martin relating to the street is for me more important than anything else. It is the base camp of martial arts. I love all the spiritual stuff, I live for it, but it is not much good if you still cannot make your art work outside the chippy on a Friday night. Before we get to the spiritual we first have to master the physical, because everything else will come through the physical, and if your physical does not stand up to the rigours of a real affray, then you have built your tower on sand. There needs to be much more of this I think. I can remember scouring the magazines and book shelves in the early days to find some honest advice on this and finding hardly anything, other than Den Martin (who I followed avidly) that is why I decided to write my own stuff. The next big thing will be metaphysics. Watch out for it.

Chi is something that is always debated within martial arts, what do you think it is, and can it benefit a practical martial artist?
It is very hard to define. It is like a happy accident that very few people know how to make happen. But I do know that the martial arts (if trained properly) can make you accident prone. I found chi through doing thousands of hours of training and by placing myself in some extreme places. It tends to come through you (as though you are a conduit) when you let go of ego and close down the conscious filter. The moment you try to do it you fail, the moment you let go of the need to use it you succeed. It is one of the great sidhies. When it does come through it is like you are plugged into the mains, not only does it empower your physical, but it will also shape its self into great works of art, films, writing, anything at all actually. It will take the shape of what ever you intend. Chi is like a gift, like a bonus you get when you bang the hours in. It is unlikely to be accessed through recreational type training.

Considering the values that martial arts supposedly teach, do you think that martial arts should be doing more to help society through community work, good deeds etc?
Yes, but the responsibility is not with the martial arts, rather it is with the individual. One of the problems with the martial arts of course is that there is often an elitist hierarchy within clubs and associations, lots of unnecessary politicking and in many cases martial arts ego systems (instead of eco systems) that are little short of bullying and cultish. It is not easy to hear, even less easy to say, but very true all the same. We all know it, people just don’t like to talk about it. Martial art is meant to develop higher consciousness though harder contact, I often find that it promotes higher ego through hardly any contact at all, certainly not any contact with reality. I think that before embarking on helping to change society martial artists should first embark on a journey to change themselves. If you change yourself, you are automatically investing in society in a positive way.

Do you think that society is really as violent as it seems, or is it just that the media is making us more aware than we ever were?
There is definitely more media coverage, and it is very often maliciously inflammatory. Most of the news (TV, radio and papers) are quite pornographic in their reporting of violence. If you put the news on (which I rarely do) it is always bad news. It depends on how you look at it. If you follow statistics, then violence is probably on the increase, if you are a student of metaphysic then you will realise that there is as much or as little as you want to create. I personally don’t think the situation is any worse than it has ever been, as I said earlier, it is largely a state of consciousness. If all you think about is how scary the world is, you are likely to attract evidence to prove that to be true. I am aware of the fact that I attract (or create) what I think about consistently and emotively, so I don’t think about violence. And because of that I don’t attract it.

Do you think that turning the other cheek is taken too literally and that this hinders us when decisive action needs to be taken?
In self defence all you can do is give people information, options and tools and allow them in all good conscience to make their own decisions. I learned from my years of travelling and teaching that it is not our job to tell people what to do in a self defence situation, only to inform them of what we know, show them all the things they could do and the consequence of all the things they might do. If a persons idea of self defence is to turn the other cheek I am not about to convince him otherwise. If he wants to know what works consistently in physical self defence I will tell him truthfully that blocking and trapping and countering are not consistently effective, and that only the pre-emptive strike will give him a repeatable results. And if he chooses to go that way then I am duty bound to inform him of the training needed to make that a reality, and the consequence, moral and legal of hitting first. And (forgive me for repeating myself) if we are talking self defence then we have to look at environmental self defence, psychological self defence, physical self defence, and ultimately metaphysical self defence.

Do you think that the mantra of ‘you must not misuse martial arts’ hinders students?
Only lack of good information hinders students. And if you are teaching and you do not have good information yourself then don’t teach until you do, because what you teach will be dangerous. If you are going to teach self defence for instance then you need to be expert on pre-fight, in-fight and post fight psychology, the adrenals and how to control them under extreme stress, attack rituals, pre-fight body language, the fence, pre-emptive attack, and the post fight judicial (how you defend yourself in law if you have been in an affray and you injure someone). People teach martial arts and expect it to translate immediately to the street. It simply doesn’t. The street needs to be taught as a separate entity, and preferably by someone that has a lot of live experience.

Do traditional martial arts on the whole offer a valid system of self-defence, or do you think that they condition the wrong mindset in their students?
No they don’t prepare people, is the succinct answer. On the whole the martial arts in general, not just the traditional systems, do not prepare people for reality, because reality is not the dojo or the ring. As much as I admire the warriors who get into the ring and train hard at the club you still have to separate street from sport and art. They are as different as climbing a wall in a sports centre and climbing a mountain in Wales where one slip makes you dead.

The street is full of hidden terrors that can only be experienced on the street. It is not just about the fight. The physical bit is pretty easy, it is about hitting very hard and hitting first. It is the terror of a real situation, the fact that you might very well die that needs to be addressed. When I look at modern martial arts I do not see people doing life or death training, or training to save the lives of the people around them. I see people training for a controlled (no mater how physical) fight with no post fight fear of reprisal or death. You might kill someone in a real fight and lose your liberty, you might (and often do) fight some one who is connected and end up with an enemy that decides to burn your house down and attack your family. And when you are face to face with a street adversary all these things become immediately evident and the pressure of knowing all this is often enough to cause you to lose your courage before the fight even begins. The only way to prepare for this is to either do flight simulation at the dojo, recreate a real fight right down to the smallest detail, the biting, butting, gauging, swearing, every and any range. This is real training and it is not for the feint of heart (that is why so few people train for reality). Or you can go out and work in security and see for real, that is the ultimate acid test. And let’s be honest, the reality stuff is pretty ugly, so my advice is get it done and out the way so that you can start working on the beautiful art.

‘Jesus is my Google’, why have you chosen Jesus as your spiritual anchor as opposed to ‘a tree’ such as in your ‘God is a House’ broadcast? When did you undergo this spiritual change?
It never changed. It has always been thus. I have always been a Christian. I was brought up catholic and Jesus Christ has always been my focus of prayer. It suits me culturally, but I still have a massive appreciation for other cultures and religions. Like the martial arts I love diversity and will learn from anyone.

You said that ‘Terror gives us opportunities to be brave’, how can ‘normal’ people overcome their fears? Do you think it’s possible that those people who succeed have something that those who don’t have and that it can’t be learnt?
We are all normal people. Normal people (and I include myself here) overcome their fears by facing their fears. Some people of course might be innately better prepared or less sensitive to the adrenals, but ultimately I believe that anyone can overcome fear if they have enough purpose. The concept is simple, even if the practice is very hard. If I thought that it was there just for the few I would never teach again and I would never write about the subject of fear. I am excited because I know that anyone can become anything if they are prepared to engage the difficult to get there. Anyone can learn this stuff, but they have to really want it, like a drowning man wants air. It s not something that you are likely to pick up at your local Argos or the supermarket. It is for anyone that wants to take the journey. It is uncomfortable, but as we all know there s no growth without discomfort.

You emphasise positive thoughts, how do you over-ride the negative thoughts that come into your mind and can you give a good starter technique for a beginner?
To develop powerful thinking you need to have a strong degree of self control. Controlling thought takes self knowledge and self mastery. I think that the best way to start this is by first gaining control of the real basics, like palate (what you eat). The self is the self’s only the friend and the self is the self’s only enemy. To gain control of the self start with the food. As Ghandi said, if you control palate all the other senses fall into line, once you control the senses you control yourself and when you can control your self you literally get to control the world. What you eat and drink, what you watch on TV or listen to on the radio, the company you keep all has an effect on who you are and how you think, they all effect the adrenals, and when the adrenals are fired up and you find yourself in sympathetic nervous system (what is known as fight or flight) you are in a predatory state, and in a predatory state control of thought is extremely difficult. So I think that food is the first step. Once you gain mastery of food, then turn to the other bad habits or addictions. All our power is locked into our addictions, to get it back we need to kill the addictions. If you can do this (palate and addictions) you will already be a powerful thinker, you’ll have to be to be able to beat these two squatters.

With the fence being a commonly-known technique, are you working on an evener that people can use?
It is nice to know that the fence has become a common parlance in world martial arts, and that it is being practiced around the globe. People think that the fence is commonly known because of this and because it is in the magazines all the time, but really it is not known, not properly anyway. People in security have said to me that the fence needs to be modified because punters can tell now when you are using it and what it is. But the whole point of the fence is that if you do it correctly no one should know that you are using it, it should be inconspicuous. If people know that you are using the fence then it is because you are not using the fence properly. One of the problems with learning or copying the fence from a book or a magazine is that you end up doing a static version of the fence, which literally means just banging your hands in a sort of guard between you and your opponent. In actual fact the fence should be so inconspicuous and so fluid that it never really stays in the same place for more than a few seconds. This way the opponent is being controlled by you, but does not know that he is being controlled, certainly not on a conscious level, all he can intuit is that there is no thoroughfare for his attacks. The best way to learn the fence is to do a course with someone that really knows it well. I can personally recommend or Alan Peasland or Matty Evans or Tony Somers. They all do private tuition and they all do classes and master classes in the fence.

In the film Clubbed you are portrayed as a man that starts out as a floor sweeper in the factory who then finds his courage when he becomes a bouncer in the very violent world of 80’s nightclubs. If you were just starting out, would you still work on the doors?
If I was just starting out I would not change a single element of my life, certainly not the doors. People just do not realise what a warrior it takes to work a nightclub door, you literally place your life on the line every night. All the guys and girls out there working have my utmost respect. Working pubs and clubs in the very violent eighties is what made me, and I will always be grateful for that.

I know that you and your wife Sharon taught the actors in Clubbed in order to add some reality to the fight scenes. Was that successful and how difficult was it to take people that had not trained before and make them look authentic?
As you know I have always trained for reality and over the years I have developed a fast track teaching methodology that enables me to get people punching very hard very quickly; restriction training, shape-modelling etc. This is what I perfected on my monthly master classes and a monthly DVD instructional newsletter that I do, and it is what I brought to the table when working with the actors on Clubbed.

We only really had about three weeks to train the lads before the shoot, and we continued to teach them all the way through. And yes it worked, they did not only look authentic they actually were authentic. The main guys that I worked with were Mel Raido and Colin Salmon, and both of them trained like titans, I was absolutely amazed at how quickly they picked it up. Colin pretty much morphed before my eyes, a very powerful man, and Mel, well to be honest by the end of the film he was hitting like a professional. We filmed most of the training too, so when Clubbed goes onto DVD you will be able to see it on the special features.

And what of the future?
Training is always my base, so loads of that, I am working on several films with Martin at Formosa, four new books, a new stage play, and hopefully a bit of spare time to have cakes with my beautiful wife.

Geoff, thanks you for the interview
Always a pleasure.

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7. Matthew was Features Editor, Technical Consultant and regular columnist for magazines such as ‘Fighters’, ‘Combat’, ‘TKD & Korean Martial Arts’ and ‘Traditional Karate’. These are the four leading martial arts magazines in the United Kingdom. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed 'Practical Taekwondo: Back to the Roots', which has been sold around the world. With regard to his martial arts background he has been studying martial arts since 1991. In 1995 he hosted Professor Rick Clark of the ADK and since then has been studying pressure points and their uses in the martial arts and on the street (initially as a Special Constable and as a Door Supervisor). All of this practical hands-on experience means that he is uniquely placed to write fight scenes that are not only plausible but some of which are based on personal or anecdotal experience. Matthew has had a number of short stories published by Fringe Works, KnightWatch Press, Anderfam Press and Emby Press.

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