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Martial Arts

Reality Based Personal Protection – Modern Day Martial Arts?


Defensive Tactics, Ground Survival, Knife Survival, Crime Survival and Terrorism Survival are the modules that I saw on the Jim Wagner Reality Based Personal Protection Instructor Level 1 Course menu.

I had recently spoken to Pete Lee, the UK Director for Reality Based Personal Protection, about this course and was looking forward to seeing what the course actually entailed. I mean, ‘Terrorism Survival’, sounds very ‘American’.

I did some digging on Jim Wagner and found that he was actually what we would call ‘quite qualified’, a typical British understatement with a wealth of practical experience on the subjects that he was teaching.

Every day was to start at 8am sharp and finish at 5pm or later for those on the Instructors course and we were provided with detailed course outlines on which we were to make notes as we saw fit.

I must admit that I was a bit sceptical about this course and was interested to see what kind of person we had attending. I was pleasantly surprised by the mix of people attending. We had ‘contractors’, security personnel, 62 year old civilians; ‘Combat rehabilitation workers’ from Liberia, Police Constables, martial artists, non-martial artists, and a female teaching assistant. The course had people with all levels of practical experience from front-line combat, front-line policing through to nothing at all. Their reasons for being there were as diverse as their backgrounds and I eagerly anticipated getting feedback from them towards the end of the course.

Jim Wagner not only has a lot of practical experience on what he teaches, he also has years of martial arts training under his belt, having regularly trained with Dan Inosanto, Richard Bustillo and Paul Vunak to name just a few. So I must admit that I was surprised when Jim opened day one (Defensive Tactics) with the statement that those without martial arts training, probably had a slightly better chance of picking up what he was going to show us because they did not have years of conditioning behind them as to the ‘correct’ way to hit, kick or block.

The day was full of eye-openers with Jim teaching a unique and straight forward approach to the number of angles you could use to attack an opponent (ten) and the number of angles you can block such attacks (ten), the number of directions you can move when attacking or defending (ten). All of the training was done with as high a level of contact as the trainee couples were comfortable with the result that mistakes were quickly ‘punished’, reinforcing the correct way to move, hit and block.

The physicality of Day One reflected the way the course was going to proceed throughout the week. Practical lessons were reinforced with lectures, anecdotes and scenario based training. Every day saw new drills being introduced and the skill level of all involved grow.

Day Two covered Ground Survival and was not at all what I expected. I was expecting numerous BJJ or submission drills and donned my rash guard accordingly. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Granted, Ground Survival covered break falls but again these were tweaked so that they would work on concrete, not just mats. Once we had got to a decent proficiency in the break falls on the mats, Jim threw us a curve ball and took us outside the walls of the nice comfy dojo. Then he had us perform the front forward fall onto the concrete (see the pictures). That was another thing about the course it constantly took us out of our comfort zone and challenged our abilities, beliefs and mindsets. No matter what experience we had, there was always something new to learn.

Day Three was one of the most topical days, and one that a number of trainees had signed up to the course for, Knife Survival. Having more than 16 years of experience in the martial arts, I’ve covered a number of defences, disarms and counter-knife techniques. Needless to say, I wasn’t too pleased when Jim called me to the front of the class and told me that he was going to attack me with a knife for three seconds and that I could do anything I wanted to defend myself. I had no difficulty at all in using my body to soak up his attacks and no success at all in defending myself. The speed, power and ferocity of a three-second knife attack has to be experienced to be believed. No matter what you think you will do when faced with a knife, the ‘reality’ is a very sobering experience indeed.

Within thirty minutes however, Jim had shown us how to deal with such attacks and we moved on to more and more practical drills. The day culminated in a blind attack. Both participants covered their hands in stage blood to both add to the realism and to make it harder to grip. The victim then had his eyes covered by Jim and the attacker was given the go ahead to launch his attack. This was where we had to put the previous eight hour’s worth of training into full-contact practice, ensuring that we followed the core principles of Grab, Close, Takedown and Escape.

The thing that sets this whole course apart from others was the fact that the whole week was in fact geared towards principles and concepts rather than techniques. Yes techniques played a part, but we did not, for example, practice one knife defence against a thrust, another against an overhead stab, another against a slash and another against a hooking attack and this applied to all the defence drills we covered over the week. This avoided over-complication, log-jam (or the ‘fast-food concept as Jim explains it) and allowed all of the attendees to be able to take on board the lessons taught.

Day Four was another topical subject, Crime Survival and had us dealing with the typical sort of attacks you might face during a mugging or drunken fight. Trainees fought one, two and even four opponents during the morning.

The morning also saw an invaluable lesson on how to speak to the police and how to conduct oneself in a courtroom. British Constables were on-hand to give advice as to how to answer questions truthfully but without sounding like an ego-inflated martial artist out to test their mettle.

The afternoon saw us entering the town profiling soft and hard targets, looking at choke points and examining how people reacted when they saw two lines of males leaning against the opposite sides of the choke points. Amazingly, not one person stopped and took another route. Granted they looked and acted nervous, especially when we all stopped talking and watched them, but they still carried on through the group.

Friday was less physical with regard to contact, but at the same time it was still a hard session. Terrorism Survival is not something most people would think about when they are considering taking a course in Self Protection or Self Defence. As a bizarre coincidence we took part in a number of scenarios that covered possible attacks on airports. Little did I realise just how relevant the training would be.

This was one of the most challenging, physical and tiring courses that I have ever been on. Everyone who attended confirmed that they had come away with skills they considered vital and applicable to their lives as well as principles and concepts that they could pass on to their students.

No matter what your background or level of experience this course is guaranteed to have you re-evaluating the way you train, teach and what you consider to be ‘martial arts’ and ‘self-defence’. I challenge anyone to attend this course and fail to learn a life-changing approach, technique or principle.

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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