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.