An Invitation

Here at English Martial Arts we pride ourselves on being a friendly and welcoming group and we’d like to take a moment to cordially invite you to come and meet us. Maister Neil explains more.

Anyone who has ever practiced a martial art can appreciate the commitment and discipline it requires.  The lumps, the bruises, getting home and soaking aching muscles in the bath and still waking up hobbling the following morning.

This is something we all have in common – but more than that martial arts is a community of people who are curious and eager to learn who strive to be more than they were the day before and who are always seeking perfection in their art (even though we know we’ll never find it!)

Martial arts groups tend to work in isolation or within their own specific associations, which is only natural but I’d like to extend the hand of friendship out to all martial arts groups around the country. We’d like to know you better, to understand more about your art and what it means to you. We feel our art is second to none – not better or worse – but as good as any other art and I’m sure that you share that sentiment regarding your own art.

English Martial Arts has students from a hugely eclectic mix of martial arts backgrounds, from Kung Fu to Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do to Ju Jitsu. This is an open invitation to teachers, instructors and students from every style. We’d love to welcome you to our club to talk to us or do a demo. We’re not interested in being idiots – you and your art will be treated with every respect and courtesy as it should be.

Best of all, St Albans has some really superb pubs where we can have a chat and swap stories afterwards.

We look forward to meeting you.



Interview With Terry Brown

With more than 50 years experience, Terry Brown, our Founder and Chief Examining Instructor is recognised internationally as one of the best martial arts instructors in the business. EMA Student James Danson asks the questions.

What is the state of Fong Yang today?

Those of you who have read my profile will know that long before I discovered traditional English martial arts I was a student of Fong Yang kung fu, aka the Beggars Art. At the same time I also trained in Singapore’s indigenous martial art called Khong Chang which is also known as Chinese karate. Although English martial arts eventually became my main focus I still practise Fong Yang for my personal benefit. but I also feel that I have an obligation not to forget the arts, parts of which date back more than 1,800 years. I haven’t returned to Singapore since my teacher Sifu Tan Siew Cheng died which is more than twenty years ago but I stay in touch with the Fong Yang Association members from whom I know that both Fong Yang and Khong Chang are both still active and both are competing in, and winning, various competitions.

Grand Master Tan Siew Cheng and Terry Brown

What do you enjoy outside of martial arts?

My life outside of martial arts is of course my family but I also like political and social history. Social history of course includes sporting pastimes and it was the latter that led me, eventually to English martial arts. Nowadays much research can be carried out online but when I researched English martial arts there was no such thing as the world wide web* so my life was split between work visits to libraries, museums, and public records offices and such like; I spent many years laboriously writing everything down longhand.

* www started in 1993

What advice do you have for absolute beginners – where should their focus lie?

caveat emptor, the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made.

I say the above because there have always been fake martial arts instructors around and therefore the need to check out the backgrounds of MA instructors. If the person you are enquiring about is teaching a recognised system you can check if he recognised by the governing body of the system in question. If there is no governing body then I suggest you visit the bullshido website which is dedicated to exposing frauds and fakes. You might also run across people (as I have) who claim that they teach a secret system of WMA that has been passed down through their family for centuries. The fact that it was a hitherto secret family system is, they claim, the reason why they can’t produce authentication. This is much less of a problem with Eastern martial arts; kung fu, for example, has many known and recognised family systems. I once sparred with an instructor trained in a formerly secret family system supposedly used in battle in England almost a thousand years ago! The instructor in question was embarrassingly inept.

Some years ago I watched a football programme in which a premier team manager said he never trusted videos showing unknown players performing like Pele because such videos can easily be faked. I would advise the same approach before accepting videos as proof of competence. Of course there are thousands of excellent videos made by brilliant instructors offering online teaching but such instructors will happily furnish proof of their martial training.

Having chosen a good teacher you must then, to a degree, surrender yourself to his knowledge and timetable. If I were to give one piece of advice it would be to ‘work without lust of result’. In other words train because you want to learn as much as possible rather than to become the best. There can be no ‘best’ in knowledge there can only be students of knowledge. This of course means that there can be no ‘masters’ of knowledge either.

Each of us will have a portion of knowledge pertinent to ourselves and we should not be ‘jealous’ of the knowledge of others. It would avail me nought to be jealous of the knowledge of Einstein or Newton because they were giants of knowledge and I will never be that. Giants of knowledge though they were THEY WEREN’T MASTERS OF KNOWLEDGE and they knew it, that’s why they were ceaseless in their search for further knowledge. So my advice, not only to beginners but to advanced students as well, is to be ceaseless in your search for martial knowledge. That way you can have something in common with ‘giants’ like Einstein and Newton.

Lack of the aforesaid ‘jealousy’ enables me to look at other martial arts with an unbiased eye, to recognise that other martial arts can be highly effective and as good as English martial arts or as good as Fong Yang. This is important because a ‘jealous’ mind hides your own weaknesses. Before leaving this question I would like to quote Grandmaster Tan Siew Cheng who said to me when I asked a silly question ‘You will master martial arts when you master life and you will master life when you master martial arts’.

How did your martial arts training affect and influenced your research, whilst engaged in the process of single-handedly resurrecting EMA?

I have previously written about ‘knowledge’ in relation to martial arts, my quest for martial knowledge began when I had the great good fortune to meet Sifu Tan Siew Cheng who was the Grandmaster of Fong Yang Kung Fu aka the Beggars Art but more of that later. The point is that over the next thirty years that I trained with ‘Uncle’ Tan I learned a lot. Perhaps the first thing I learned was that one lifetime wasn’t enough to learn as much as I needed to know.

Normally Uncle Tan would have decided which particular forms (kwoon tolls/ katas) to teach students based on their physical build and character. Some forms were taught to all students – internal strength forms, the fierce Tiger forms, as well as Blossom Finger forms and the signature weapons of the Beggars Art which were Buanchune Kune (Manchurian Walking Stick) and Por Tay Koon (Sackcloth pole). Beyond the intermediate level (equivalent to black belt) Uncle Tan would begin to teach according to the previous definitions. Smaller students might be taught Kow Koon (Monkey Art) The powerfully built would continue with Fierce Tiger forms and and Kim Kang (Golden Strength) forms etc…There are more than eighty forms in Fong Yang Kung Fu so there were forms to suit every type of person. If you were marked out as a future instructor (gauged by effort and loyalty) then you would be taught forms that didn’t necessarily suit you but you would need to know in order to teach the Art. Thus it was that I learned Monkey Art forms which didn’t really suit my long legs. Nor did I enjoy practising Eagle Claw and numerous other forms that just didn’t suit my build or character. Altogether Uncle Tan taught me more than fifty forms of the eighty or so contained in Fong Yang kung fu. Knowing those fifty or so forms hasn’t made me a better fighter but they have made me a better teacher.

Those fifty or so forms have also given me is a unique viewpoint from which I can compare and judge the pros & cons of each family of forms. For example to compare the differences between monkey paw and white crane beak. To understand the ‘controlling’ aspects of the snake forms and so on. Not only was I able to learn the differences of the forms but the physical movement of joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles leading up to the actions in the forms.

Eventually I was able to compare hundreds of actions and understand the physiology of the movements and how they contrasted with and supported each other. This was an incredibly important ability when it came to working out the many techniques and Plays (forms/katas) of English martial arts. I didn’t have to copy any movements from kung fu or karate because those fifty plus forms had taught me how to interpret body movements. There are of course similarities, for example in Western martial arts there is a move in swordsmanship called the ‘serpentine’. This movement involves blocking an incoming sword strike with your own sword and then wrapping your left arm around your opponent’s sword arm to immobilise it. There is an almost identical movement used in Manchurian walking stick fighting, like the serpentine you block an incoming strike of the opponent’s weapon but instead of wrapping your left arm around his weapon arm you catch the wrist of his weapon arm and twist his weapon arm downwards while you strike him on the neck with your stick.

English martial arts have there own movements which, combined with the principles of English martial arts marks them out from other arts So there has never been a need for me to copy any other martial art.

What’s the difference between approaching this research as a martial artist historian, rather than a historian researching a martial art with little or no martial arts background?

An interesting question but one that is relatively easy to answer; if specialists in any given field writes a book they can largely their own experiences. Most experts will ask their peers, prior to publication, ask their peers to review their work and, if all is well, publish. However if non-specialists decide to write a book they are then compelled to ask specialists for help. This means that they are more or less forced to accept what they are told.

Books on Arms and Armour don’t discuss how weapons are used, instead they discuss such things as weights and dimensions of various weapons and armour. So if an Arms and Armour expert, for example, decided to write a ‘how to book’ about Western Martial Arts he would need to find a Western martial arts expert to consult. Nowadays there are a number of acknowledged WMA instructors that could be consulted but go back twenty years or more and WMA groups and instructors were very rare indeed. So, given the said paucity of WMA experts, someone in need of such an expert might instead go to a re-enactment group or a sports fencer! He might then, for example, be told that thrusting is superior to cutting! if your toilet doesn’t work, call a plumber, If your car breaks down call a mechanic. If you want to buy a Western martial arts ‘how to book’ make sure it is written by a recognised WMA teacher not by people who have never studied a martial art in their lives.

Have you considered releasing a follow up to your ground-breaking book?

The short answer is yes but, as John Lennon wrote ‘Life is something that happens while you are busy making other plans’. I certainly plan to but John Lennon’s views still hold 🙂

What do you envisage for EMA in the future…and for HEMA more generally?

When I first ‘discovered’ English martial arts (1980) I had no thought of writing a book or of teaching it. I was just so pleased to have heard of it, to have learned that the English had created a system every bit as effective and technical as systems from Asia. It wasn’t that I wanted to denigrate Asian martial arts, after all I had, at that time, been practising Fong Yang and also Khong Chang for thirteen years and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. It was just the sheer joy of discovering that we had emulated Asian masters and systems. However as time went on (I researched my book for 17 years) I began to understand and admire the systems which I was researching. So by the early 90’s my thoughts had turned to teaching this fantastic art. I began by drawing matchstick men depicting the techniques. Pretty soon I had three A4 folders full of matchstick men techniques. So, as strange as it sounds, I began to practise the techniques by myself, I would act as the attacker (The Agent) and then play the part of the defender (Patient Agent). But I wasn’t ready to start teaching because I knew I still had work to do.

By 1994, although my book wasn’t completed, I had found a publisher (Anglo-Saxon Books Ltd) and decided that I needed to pressure test my matchstick men techniques, so I placed a tiny advert in a Martial arts magazine and Frank replied to the advert (Anciant Maister Frank Docherty). We met and we hit it off straight away. I explained the situation viz a’ viz the matchstick techniques and Frank agreed to help me pressure test them. I don’t know who was the crazier, Frank or me but boy we really, and I mean really pressure tested everything. What we both realised, with great pleasure, was that George Silver’s methods really work and that you didn’t get injured when using his methods but we were more likely to be injured going against Silver’s methods. The same applied to Zachary Wylde’s methods and various other English masters. I discovered Frank to be a very valuable training partner when it came to pressure-testing my interpretations of Silver, Wylde and Co. Thank you Frank.

As for the future growth of English martial arts it can only ever be organic growth based on time and quality. Initially Frank didn’t want to go through the Prizing system, not because he was scared of failure and he was definitely not scared of being hurt; in fact I have never met a more fearless man than Frank, but Frank was already a highly accomplished and experienced martial artist when he started training with me and I think that Frank genuinely wasn’t interested in having any more titles of rank. However, once I explained to Frank that if he didn’t follow the route from Scholler to Maister then we couldn’t ask anyone else to follow it, he quickly realised that he should follow the that route. Tradition is important because tradition means time, the time from Scholler to Maister takes a minimum of twelve-and-a-half years. This means that students train long enough to develop the necessary skills to be a Maister. If you then consider the meaning of the term ‘kung fu’ which basically means ‘skill/time’ or ‘work/time’ you realise that both Chinese and English martial arts require their students spend a long time learning their skills.

To get back to the ‘organic’ growth of EMA it is also vital that we follow the rules of the Company of Maisters, for example there should only ever be Four Anciant Maisters. Sooner or later someone will suggest there should be five or six Anciant Maisters, or Four Anciant Maister in every country. If that was ever allowed it would lead, in a short time, to the disintegration of the Company of Maisters with groups splintering off to form their own little associations. I’ve seen this so many times; when the greedy and the ambitious persuade others to break tradition (in order to fill their own pockets and satisfy their own egos). So what we really need for organic growth of the Company of Maisters is a gradually increasing number of students who are prepared to spend many years developing their skills. These same students will then become loyal to the methods and traditions of English martial arts, so when they themselves achieve the rank of Maister. If everyone follows this then the Company of Maisters and of course English martial arts will achieve organic and therefore sustainable growth.

We should also guard against calls to modernise the art. Principles can’t be modernised because they are immutable and unchanging because people still fight exactly the same way now that they did a thousand years ago. They still use knives, mugs, feet, sticks, etc., and that’s why you can’t modernise the art.

As for the future of HEMA I have been fortunate enough to meet many of the world’s leading researchers and instructors. In every case that I know about the top researchers are also the top instructors. I have met four AAPs (Absolutely Awful Prats). Two in America and two in Britain. I now refer the reader to question 3, The bit where I referred to was about a premier team manager said he never trusted videos… because such videos can be easily faked; well one of the two British AAPs produces instruction videos and talks knowledgeably about Western martial arts but couldn’t actually fight his way out of a wet paper bag. Referring again to question 3 this person has actually no background (that I’ve heard about) in any martial art Eastern or Western. So again I remind you to check people out. Getting back to the ‘future for HEMA’ question, the vast majority of researching instructors are genuine and that means that their personal students have now become instructors and are also genuine so I would say that HEMA is going to be all right.

Have you found common misconceptions regarding English Martial Arts?

There are two that drive me absolutely bloody bonkers. The first is the ridiculous criticism that the English system of martial arts is a hand-sniping system and the second is that the English system is purely defensive. Both are absolute rubbish and totally unfounded.

Regarding the hand-sniping argument you would have been a damn fool back in the day if you didn’t hit the hand if the opportunity arose. However even a cursory glance at the works of Silver, Wylde et al shows that every other part of the body was targeted as frequently as were the hands. In fact the targets were decided on what the principles said it was safe to strike.

In relation to the accusation that the English system is a defensive system you only need to understand the principles to know that, if the principles said it was safe to attack first then you attacked first. Yet again it the principles decided, if the principles said attack then you attacked. If the principles said defend then you defended. The earliest known English martial arts manuscript, which deals with the long sword makes it very clear indeed that attacks are as common as defensive moves. Indeed any system that relied purely on ‘defensive actions’ or ‘hand sniping’ would have died out centuries ago. The English system is as attack-minded as most other traditional martial arts but the golden rule is only attack if the principles say it is safe to do so.

What common misunderstandings of the principles would you like to address? 

The Eight Times are Silver’s way of explaining the relative speeds of feet, body, and hands, or hands, body, feet. He does this so you may understand cause and effect. He gives four of those eight times as true times and says that any action that begins with the hand is a true time and any action not starting with the hand is a false time. He lists the four fastest times and he lists the four slowest times BUT remember moving in the order he says (for the fastest times) is not compulsory. There will be times when you need to use the second third or fourth fastest time. For example if he is so wide-spaced that you have time to move the hand and both feet. In effect you can ‘trump’ his false time with your true time; if your opponent uses the slowest of the false times you can use the 3rd slowest of the true times, for example, to beat him.

Terry’s book, English Martial Arts is published by Anglo Saxon Books and has been in print for over 20 years. Click HERE to get your copy. 

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Training As You Get Older

Something we all have to contend with is ageing. In this article, Personal Trainer and Door Supervisor Alvin Soosay gives some practical advice to help the older among us continue to stay in fighting shape. 

Training as you get older, recovery methods and how to adapt training to ageing.

As a society on the whole we tend to become lazier as we get older, develop more illnesses, injuries, reduce mobility consequently having a negative effect on our quality of life and general health. Although all of you reading this article are keen and practicing martial artists who have some degree of physical activity under your belt, there will come a point in your life where the effects of aging catch up to you and will impact not only your fighting ability but more importantly your quality of life. You want to have the best quality of life for as long as possible, to be fit and healthy to enjoy your family life, participate in your hobbies and fulfil your work requirements.

Ageing brings about the development of several possible adverse health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiac related diseases among many others. However in this article I will focus on sarcopenia, which is ultimately the decline of muscle mass and bone density due to ageing. It is unfortunately a common condition that affects people over the age of 50.  This does not mean that you can’t delay the onset of sarcopenia with appropriate and regular strength training with the addition of cardiovascular training. I advise everyone regardless of age or gender to weight train at least 3 times a week. Now this training doesn’t have to be heavy max effort lifting, even light weight resistance training for those older individuals over 65+ will suffice and reduce the rate of sarcopenia.

I recommend consistently doing cardio vascular training 3x per week to combat the effects of age related illnesses in particular those associated with cardiac health. Your heart is a muscle, train it and it will become stronger for longer periods of time. Neglect it and it will get weaker with age simple as that. 

Those of you that are able to do heavier lifting I encourage you to do this, not only to develop strength,  force and power required to make you a fighting machine but it will also make you a more robust human with thicker bone density and muscle mass which will not reduce quickly as you age. Think of a house with a strong foundation, it is going to take longer to deteriorate than a poorly made foundation- the same applies to the human body. Years of resistance training will build a body which takes longer to lose as you get older.

As martial arts fighters you need to prevent the onset of sarcopenia as long as possible to enable you to train and fight with maximum power, strength, force and technique. I would like to touch upon prevention of injury with ageing. As we all get older we tend to lose balance, coordination, strength and take longer to recover from illness/injury. It is common for older individuals to slip, fall or injure themselves doing everyday tasks- these injuries can be prevented very easily by incorporating strength training with weights and cardio training into your life. The stronger and fitter you are the less chance of injuring yourself as you get older, in addition you would recover quicker should you injure yourself unfortunately. 

As we all get older we have to adapt our training, the simple fact is that we will not be as flexible and supple or strong as we once were at younger ages, however with anything else we adapt and overcome- this is not an obstacle to anyone to stop training. As I said earlier I recommend everyone to weight and cardio train a minimum of 3x week, the younger guys and girls I recommend training heavy with barbells and dumbbell avoid fancy machines and cables as this doesn’t build that robust body as mentioned earlier BARBELLS AND DUMBBELLS DO!!!!

Those of you able to run on treadmill or other surfaces I encourage doing so, however those who suffer from joint pain I suggest using a bicycle, rowing machine or cross trainer which will take the impact of the joints and allow you to do cardio without further pain. WEIGHT TRAINING WILL REDUCE JOINT PAIN REGARDLESS OF AGE.

As we get older training can be adapted to less free weight exercises and move into the direction of machines cables and band resistance training. Bands are an excellent training tool, I advocate the use of it religiously myself, and is very beneficial for the older generation who perhaps don’t feel comfortable in a gym setting. Bands can be used at home with limited space, provide enough resistance that a free weight or machine can offer and will reap the same benefits of lifting iron. If you are an older person who doesn’t like the gym scene PLEASE purchase some resistance bands and workout at home, focus on training your core, lower back and glutes as these are the 3 most important areas for pain free movement.


I would like to talk about the importance of mobility. Regardless of age we all need to have good mobility for a pain free life but also to be good at our chosen sport. Poor mobility means a reduced range of motion which will ultimately lead to injury. Most injuries are related to POOR MOBILITY/FAULTY MECHANICS AND POOR TECHNIQUE. Martial artists- you want the best mobility you can in order to perform kicks, grapples on the floor, punches and takedowns. Reduced mobility will impact your range of motion. Lets take a round house kick or push kick for example, with poor mobility and reduced range of motion you are weaker technically because the muscles responsible for executing a powerful kick do not work at maximum capacity, but due to a shorter range of motion you will need to get in closer to your opponent to kick which opens yourself up as more of a target for their offensive strategy. 

How do we combat poor mobility? First of all get some bands, I know I’m flogging a dead horse here but I can’t stress enough the benefit and importance of resistance bands. Having several injuries in my shoulders largely due to awful mobility I educated myself on how to develop proper mobility using bands multiple times a week to recover from injuries and back to full strength. Bands can be used to stretch every body part far better than you can naturally, with the added band tension your able to take your muscles past their limited range of motion to the point where you’re causing permanent change to the length of muscle fibres (if you’re like me you got pathetic natural motion you need a lot of band tension). Again for you fighters this is vital to keep your muscles as mobile as possible so you’re flexible and supple enough for you to perform the necessary movements and techniques specific to your fighting discipline.


Mobility brings me onto my next point which goes hand in hand with mobility (as I previously mentioned most injuries are the result of faulty mechanics and bad mobility) which is recovery methods. You are only as good as what you can recover from and believe me I’ve learnt this the hard way. For years I trashed my body in the gym and several sports leaving me with injuries which took a long time to recover from. My lack of recovery methods and awful mobility was the main reason for this. Once again, relating back to the topic of ageing, as we get older it will take the body longer to recover from workouts, sports, injury and illness hence proper recovery methods are crucial. DO NOT wait to get injured to start using recovery methods, as the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” The methods everyone can easily use on a daily basis which are very cost efficient are; ice baths, ice packs or ice compression sleeve (very cheap), trigger point release, foam rolling, massage sticks, gua sha (muscle scraping), hot and cold showers.

I use every one of these methods on a regular basis and it has tremendously improved my recovery from years of heavy lifting and improved my mobility and flexibility allowing me to train harder and reduce risk of injury.  Those of you who have desk jobs or physical jobs after a long day at work I advise taking a hot and cold shower and getting a trigger point ball or foam roller on your lower backs, as this is a common area to suffer tightness and weakness. Obviously if you have other troublesome areas then pay attention to those too in addition. I personally recommend hot and cold treatment either using a bath/shower or ice packs. 

I would like to wrap this article up by reiterating the importance of exercising whether it be heavy weights, cardio vascular training or band resistance. It will prevent the health implications associated with ageing. It will give you a better quality of life for longer periods of time. Make the necessary adaptations to your training depending on your age and current physical state, younger individuals use free weights, older guys use band resistance if weights are not feasible. Prioritise mobility into your lives, not only for benefits to your training but for a pain free life and reduced risk of injury. Spend time doing recovery techniques, it will increase your mobility and reduce risk of injury.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article, hopefully it will benefit you not only in martial arts but in having a healthier longer and pain free life.

Remember… WORKOUT, MOBILITY, RECOVER= BETTER, HEALTHIER LIFE… quite simply just keep moving.

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The Art of Kicking and Punching and The Science of Defence.

English Martial Arts students come from a variety of martial backgrounds. 3rd Dan Black Belt in Kukkiwon Taekwondo and English Martial Arts Free Scholler, James Danson tells his martial arts story and explores parallels he’s noticed between the two arts.

My journey in the martial arts began in 1982, at the tender age of eleven. Although a ‘born Australian’, I had recently re-emigrated with my parents to Perth, Western Australia, (arriving in late 1980) having spent most of the first decade of my life in the United Kingdom. To say that the readjustment to life in Australia was difficult is employment of the great British art of understatement. Simply put I was the only English kid in Liwara Catholic Primary school and being a ‘Pommie kid’ in 1980’s Australia was certainly no fun. Poms or Pommies rated in the minds of the very parochial and (to our eyes) somewhat backwards Australians, as only slightly higher in importance than amoeba and about as welcome as a fungal infection. 

Consequently, I was picked on every day and got into a fight at least once a week. My first fight was with a cocky kid with a bad mullet haircut and a mocking, shit-eating grin. Hs name was Justin Langer and he would later go on to captain the Australian cricket team. I remember also that I won this particular skirmish.  When, after weeks of taunting about my accent and appearance, I sharply kneed him in groin and then (grabbing him by his rather silly haircut) brought my knee repeatedly up into his face. 

The problem was I hadn’t won in ‘the right way’, in so much as I hadn’t fought under the unwritten rules of the Aussie school yard…fists fine, wrestling o.k. …but apparently feet and knees…not so much. Some older boys intervened, saving Justin from what might have been a nasty kicking and I very quickly became public enemy number one. Furthermore, I could expect very little help from the teachers, many of whom wore the prejudice and obvious dislike for ‘the Poms’ on their sleeve. Whereas others considered it ‘character building’ and ‘boys being boys’. I was on my own. 

This was something of a new experience for me as my two much older (and very protective) sisters had chosen not to emigrate with my parents (one remaining in the UK with her new boyfriend and the other emigrating to the Middle East with her new husband). It was a lonely and frightening experience for a skinny, awkward English kid from Bournemouth, as both my parents were busy trying to build a new life and establish themselves in both business and society. 

After nearly two years of this treatment and with the school doing precious little in response (and in truth, what little they did do was not only ineffectual but actually exacerbated the situation), my mother decided that I needed to learn to fight back and fight back hard…bollocks to the school, bollocks to the backwards, bigoted Aussies and bollocks to the pre-conceived notions about a ‘fair fight’. This notion of a ‘fair fight’ often resulted in me getting battered by often larger, stronger, older Aussie kids (having been put up one year on arrival at the school as I was also brighter than most of them). Thus my Mum in her wisdom enrolled me in ‘Tae Kwon Do’ classes at the local recreation centre. 


Enter Siang Kooi Quah, a Chinese Malay gentleman who is perhaps one of the most important male figures in my formative development next to my own father. 

Known to me as a child as simply Mr Quah (not Chosu, Sensei, Master or any other imperious title) and later in life as simply S.K. This quiet, humble, normally smiling and generally affable man was quite literally my saviour and I have often since wondered what might have become of me if he had not entered my life when he did. 

He could be however (and often was) a stern and demanding instructor. His usual refrain being, in his at the time limited and broken English… “No! No! Zhames do it again!”


I must have been a frustrating student to teach having the grace and co-ordination of a baby goat (with learning difficulties) and being about as flexible as a broomstick. Fortunately S.K. was endlessly patient and slowly (painfully slowly as he will no doubt attest) I began to pick it up and begin to get more flexible. Perhaps as a consequence we became (and still are) quite close.


The training was hard…really hard. In a way that many modern students of Taekwondo would struggle to understand. The hall in which trained had hard and often dusty wooden floors, which were both slippery underfoot and unyielding when you fell or were often knocked down. There was no air conditioning and in Summer we trained in 30 degree plus heat to the point of exhaustion and often near collapse.


This was a ‘deep science’ and a deadly serious combat art…the authentic old school, hard style, martial art of Taekwondo. Nothing like the middle-class gentrified and somewhat superficial combat sport it has now largely become. 

This was the Taekwondo of the 60’s and 70’s, born in the harsh environment of post war Korea. Today it is called Siljeon (or real combat) Taekwondo, but back then it was all ‘just Taekwondo’. 

All parts of our body were conditioned and trained to be used as weapons. Fists, knees, palms, both edges of  the hand, the head and of course the feet, with kicks being delivered using the ball of the foot, shin, heel and edge of the foot, rather than simply the instep as is so common today. We also learned throws, sweeps, takedowns, joint twisting and locking (often to the point of near injury) and vicious open hand techniques such as the spear hand and arc hand strike to soft and vulnerable targets. We learned techniques that were both direct and by today’s standards rather simple, but we drilled them endlessly until we could deliver them with crippling power if ever used in anger. We also learned combative principles such as the ‘theory of power’ and to attack, attack, attack…being the best ‘self-defence’.

Recently a great man said to me ‘techniques fail but principles do not’ and I once asked S.K. what he felt was the most important principle to understand in Taekwondo. His response was typically direct and succinct… “Can you knock him down? If you no knock him down …your Taekwondo no good!”

Hence, in order for my Taekwondo to be ‘any good’ a sound understanding of power and how it is both generated and effectively delivered was vital.

The Taekwondo Theory of Power is based on an understanding of biomechanics and Newtonian physics (which also underpin English Martial arts) as well as concepts taken originally from both Japanese and Chinese martial arts. For example, the power of a strike increases quadratically with the speed of the strike, but increases only linearly with the mass of the striking object. In other words, speed is more important than size in terms of generating power. This principle was incorporated into the early design of Taekwondo and is still used today.

Also, the smaller the impact area of the striking weapon the greater its penetration and all kicks and strikes should be delivered to the centre line (an imaginary line running through the centre of the body). Judgement of distance is thus vital.  Too close and the kick or strike is a push, to far away the force is dissipated and the strike/kick is ineffectual. Somewhere in between is the optimum range to deliver disruptive force into the target, possibly knocking out your opponent or causing internal damage and at the very least stunning or incapacitating them. Taekwondo is hard style and much like English Boxing and the Science of Defence you must be able to swiftly deliver serious stopping power in order for it to be effective. 

This corresponds to two of the most important principles in English Martial Arts, the principle ‘grounds’ of judgement and distance. In English Martial Arts we are taught that with judgement you keep correct distance and with correct distance you get time to find place…but in Taekwondo this judgement of distance also places you at the optimum range to deliver maximum power.

Some of the other key components of the Theory of Power include: 

  • Reaction Force – the principle that as the striking limb is brought forward, other parts of the body should be brought backwards in order to provide more power to the striking limb. As an example, if the right leg is brought forward in a roundhouse/turning kick, the right arm is brought backwards to provide the reaction force.
  • Concentration – the principle of bringing as many muscles as possible to bear on a strike, concentrating the area of impact into as small an area as possible (as alluded to earlier).
  • Equilibrium – maintaining a correct centre-of-balance throughout a technique.
  • Breath Control – the idea that during a strike one should exhale, with the exhalation concluding at the moment of impact.
  • Mass – the principle of bringing as much of the body to bear on a strike as possible; again using the turning kick as an example, the idea would be to rotate the hip as well as the leg during the kick in order to take advantage of the hip’s additional mass in terms of providing power to the kick.
  • Speed – as previously noted, the speed of execution of a technique in Taekwondo is deemed to be even more important than mass in terms of providing power.


Nor is this where similarities between the Art of Kicking and Punching and the Noble Science of Defence end.

In Taekwondo we stand ‘side on’ to our opponent, to present less of a target. We also ‘step offline’ to 45 degrees rather than meeting an attack head on, thereby being able to counterattack the assailant’s exposed and vulnerable areas (ideally with a kick) whilst avoiding their attack.

This is similar to the principle of wide and narrow spaces in English Martial Arts. This principle revolves around the idea of how much your body is exposed to attacks by your opponent. If you are ‘narrow spaced’, you are also standing ‘side on’ to your opponent and are consequently less exposed. Conversely, if you are wide spaced you are standing square to your opponent and thus exposing more of your body to an attack.

The ‘magic angle’ for English pugilists and swordsman was 30 degrees, which not only placed you offline, but allowed you close enough to strike your enemy whilst placing your opponent at an angle and in a position that they could not strike at you without again stepping forward. 

Both old school Taekwondo and the English Science of Defence were (as the name of the latter indicates) ‘hard styles’ using scientific principles for the purpose of self protection. It should come as no surprise then that they share so much in common, both in terms of techniques and the principles on which they are based.


When I first encountered the English Martial Arts (through Maister Frank Docherty) back in 2009, I instantly recognised these similarities and it was apparent that English Martial Arts were also a ‘deep science’. Whilst the techniques often seemed simple, direct and brutally pragmatic this belied a sophisticated and complex fighting art informed by scientific principles and ‘combative truths’ that are both universal and perennial.

Perhaps best exemplified in the person of our founder – ‘Ancient Maister’ Terry Brown.

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Exercises For Isolation

Personal Trainer, Door Supervisor and Former Soldier Alvin Soosay, gives his suggestions for maintaining and developing condition during lockdown.

As most of us right now do not have access to a gym and grow increasingly frustrated with not being able to train with the usual equipment we’re used to in a gym setting, we must not slack of training. There are hundreds of exercises that can be done whilst in isolation without the typical gym equipment. The key is to get creative. If you have resistance bands GREAT, this is a vital piece of kit that can be used to train the whole body. If you don’t have resistance bands think outside the box, use furniture at home, objects, boxes, suitcases, rucksacks, bricks. Recently I got chopped tree stumps from my local park and now have them in my back garden and walkway where I use it for strongman lifts and distance walks whilst carrying them.

Here are a few examples of exercises you can do with everyday objects and furniture in your house:

3 sets of 15 reps per exercise. To make it more of an intense workout select 6 or more exercises and perform in a circuit type format non stop back to back exercises per rotation. Then take a 2 minute break and perform the rotations another 3-4 times.

  • Push ups- normal push ups, legs up onto a sofa (decline) or hands up onto a chair (incline). Make this harder by putting a rucksack on your back whilst doing it. Can be done with 3 chairs. Elevate your legs onto a chair behind you and each hand onto a separate chair left and right. As you lower your body it will dip into the gap between the chairs making it a harder variation.
  • Squats- air squats, box squats by sitting onto a chair and getting up, again make the exercise harder by putting a heavy rucksack onto your back.
  • Triceps dips- this can be done of the back of a chair, vary the width of your hand placing to make it harder/easier. To add resistance put something of weight onto your lap whilst doing dips.
  • Lunges- put 1 leg onto the sofa/chair with 1 leg forward and squat down, switch legs after completing a set of 15 per leg. To add resistance you could carry shopping bags full of items in each hand or water bottles, again a loaded rucksack can be used.
  • Suitcase carry- pack a suitcase to the weight you desire, hold it in 1 hand and walk a distance then switch hands. Repeat this several times and you will feel your core muscles on fire.
  • Sit ups/ ab crunches/ laying leg raises/ flutter kicks/ Russian twists- all these simple core exercises can be done at home if you want to add resistance simply hold a weighted object whatever you have around your home.
  • Planks- can be done in traditional way, incline with your arms rested onto a chair or table and decline where your legs are elevated higher than the torso. For added resistance wear a rucksack whilst doing it.
  • Reverse hypers- I cannot stress the importance of doing this exercise even without the actual machine itself it can be done with improvisation. After suffering back injuries, myself the reverse hyper and hyper extension helped me recover my back and aided me in lifts to the strongest and best shape of my life thus far. If you suffer from lower back pain in stongly encourage you to do this exercise multiple times per week in a high volume and you will see improvements in your lower back strength, posture and a reduction in back pain. Here’s how to do it at home; Jump up onto a bench or table where your waist line meets the edge of the surface. Your upper body will rest on the surface without moving. Raise your legs up by contracting your glutes muscles and lower back muscles, lower the legs back to starting position. If you have ankle weights then attach them for extra resistance.

The above are an example of exercises that can be done at home with everyday objects, get creative, think outside the box. Also think about movement fundamentals such as pressing, pulling, squatting. Consider the normal exercises you do in the gym such as shoulder pressing and bench pressing, now improvise the same pressing biomechanics but with a loaded suitcase or a ruck sack or camping bag.

The importance of strength training to fighting systems/martial arts

Strength training will develop overall strength which will allow you to generate more force, power and speed. DO NOT make the mistake of thinking weight training will turn you into a slow muscle bound freak it will not if done properly with specific rep and set ranges as I will explain in further detail.

Everything in sports is based on force, power and speed. Lets look at force….

Force = mass X acceleration

The quicker you can move a weight you are going to develop more force. This can be done with several methods but I recommend concentrating on 2 principles which are maximal strength (1 REP MAX) and speed strength (ability to move weight with speed approx. 0.8-1 metre per second). If you are a 100kg man who can bench press 100kg with ease at a relatively fast speed, imagine that force being translated into fighting… that’s a 100kg force that you can generate into a punch, your opponent is going to feel some pain when hit with that force.

Speed strength as I mentioned is achieved my moving a smaller weight in an explosive manner with multiple sets of 3 reps at a time with short rest periods in between. For example 9 sets of 3 on bench press with 30-40% of your 1 rep max done as explosive as you can. Again… imagine being able to generate that speed of throwing a punch or kick, you are going to be a devastating fighter !!!!

Strength training makes your body stronger hence more “bulletproof”. You will be more conditioned and stronger than your opponent in a fight or in training. Compared to a fighter who neglects strength training you will have more power and force behind your punches and kicks and your body will be harder to “break” you are a more robust athlete overall.

In fighting as well as every other sport, all major movement patterns occur at the shoulder and hip region. In any martial art/ combat discipline all power derives from the shoulder and hip. Therefore it is essential to perform strength training exercises that target the shoulder, hips, glutes and core muscles.

Please do not be ignorant in thinking core muscles involves ab crunches to look like an FHM model, proper core training should include movements that target the obliques, rectus abdominus, spinal erectors and iliopsoas muscles that tie into the hip. Exercises such as reverse hypers, Russian twists, suitcase carry, kettlebell swings among other should be conducted on a regular basis. A strong core will give you that balance and ability to generate force through your body when throwing punches, kicks, take downs and ground grappling. Very important for those practicing judo where hip tosses are common, a strong core is needed to toss your opponent over your hip and to the floor without injuring yourself.

Exercises for glutes such as; glute bridges, glute kickbacks, duck walk with bands, hip abduction and adduction, Romanian deadlifts, walking lunges, mountain climbers. These should all be incorporated into your training. Strong glutes will allow you to develop a tremendous power when kicking, movements such as round house kicks, push kick will be much stronger once you develop bigger and stronger glutes.

Exercises for shoulder such as, landmine presses, overhead military presses, punching with dumbbells, face pulls, single hand med ball throws. These will develop incredible punching power, if your able to press weight above your head or in front of you with force…. Imagine how much power you can generate when you are punching an opponent without any resistance.

This is an example of a workout I recommend you implement into your training regimen:

I want to briefly touch on another training system that I believe is vital for any fighting system; CONTRAST TRAINING. It involves core compound lifts such as a bench press followed by explosive dynamic movements done back to back in a circuit fashion for a rotation. It works explosive power and strength, crucial in developing that “fight muscle”. Below is an example of a contrast training circuit

Perform these exercises non stop back to back. Once completed each rotation of this take a 1 min break and repeat 3 times. Remember the point of this is explosive power, you want to perform the reps in a highly explosive manner. If you struggle to develop punching power try this workout twice a week and see the difference in the power and speed of your punches.

As I said earlier on in the article strength training is vital to becoming a better and more effective fighter regardless of what martial art discipline you participate in. It will not turn you into a bodybuilder or inhibit your flexibility, technique or fitness in regards to fighting. It will turn you into a stronger, faster, fitter and more efficient fighting machine with less chance of injury to yourself and a greater chance of exerting pain onto your opponent.

I would like to briefly touch on how strength training can also have real life applications outside of a martial arts setting. I was a doorman for 10 years, during this time I’ve encountered dozens of physical confrontations and scraps where I was able to take necessary action to diffuse the situation using physical force without injuring myself. I attribute a lot of this to strength training. Being a bigger person allowed me to exert more force over another, overwhelming them with power and speed that they could not handle giving me the upper hand. I am not an expert in martial arts and not that technically great at fighting however I was able to be effective many times over with physical confrontations purely through having the added advantage of strength. Strength coupled with pre-emptive strikes enabled me to always get the better of the person I was dealing with. Do not hesitate in situations like this you do not know the skill level, capability or whatever weapon the person may possess. Overwhelm them with force before they have a chance to attack you and you put yourself in a better position to then use your martial art techniques and neutralise that threat with minimal damage to yourself.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and remember if you are training at home without a gym, don’t forget the fundamental movement patterns you normally do, adapt it with whatever weighted objects you have at home. BE CREATIVE WITH YOUR WORKOUTS AT HOME, THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX ALMOST ANYTHING AT HOME CAN BE USED.