When I say the name Geoff Thompson what springs to mind? Do a quick search on Google and you will find information about a famous cricketer and real estate agent of the same name. But they aren't who I am talking about. Geoff Thompson is a man of many talents recognized for his street fighting credentials and his no nonsense teachings among the most influential martial artists in the world. Plus he is well known for being the most fearless doorman in the UK, spending 10 years of his life manning the doors in his hometown of Coventry. Since then he has become an accomplished writer and motivational speaker, but as of late has shied away from the spotlight to focus on his writing.
He is an example of self-improvement and dedication, of how a man can turn his life around for the better. However, he wasn’t always successful and like many other admirable men, his journey was very difficult. It was his two bestseller books Dead or Alive and Fear:The Friend of Exceptional People that changed how I approached training as well as life. We will talk more about Geoff Thompson in greater detail in the next post on this blog called 'Conquering Fear'
When I read them in 2007 I was already an accomplished Karateka the pride of my dojo. However, upon parting ways from Shukokai Karate to try Close Quarters Combat for the first time, it made me realise that the first 7 years of my training were not the end, but only the beginning. I plauteaued in my karate training and was needing a new challenge.
It was in late 2007 I officially left my first dojo, after spending 3 years on Brown Belt 3 stripes. My comrades at the club, believed I should have been a Black Belt by now, and after asking my Sensei, when I could test for Black Belt he kept telling me "I will tell you, when you are ready." Needless to say I was frustrated by this, as I gave him 6 days a week for nearly 7 years. I thought my dedication to my training was enough. Apparently not. I then quit training at the dojo at the end of the year and sought a new self defence solution. My Sensei was in shock I quit after so many years of loyalty to the club. But I knew I had to seek an alternative route to excel at training.
It was while I was flicking through a Blitz magazine I found my answer. I saw an ad for the SFCA which was short for Scientific Fighting Congress of Australia with a picture of a muscular, menacing singlet wearing instructor by the name of Glenn Zwiers. The club logo of a knife wielding kangaroo emblazened on the top of the advert. I felt that he could teach me some new skills. I rang up and booked my first class. Glenn on the phone was rather cordial and well spoken and welcomed me with open arms. Definitely a far cry from the picture in the ad.
The first difference was the lack of formality. Everyone addressed each other by name, not by formal titles. Plus before class we stood in a circle and we all shook hands and introduced ourselves to each other. No lining up in belt order, or kneeling in 'Seiza' or 'Mokso' position, waiting for Sensei to yell "Yamae' to get us to jump up and yell "Kiai" before taking off our belts and bowing as we leave the dojo. The big difference was no traditional karate uniforms or belts.
Everyone was training in navy blue T-shirts, khaki cargo pants and shorts and they were wearing SNEAKERS! This struck me as odd, as I was used to training barefoot.
The warm ups were tough as we had to run back and forth along the training area, use kettlebells to warm up, climb up army ropes to the ceiling, Drop Medicine Balls on our chests with the aid of a training partner. My newly bought Navy Blue T-shirt was soaked with perspiration and looking at some of the more experienced students like Robert, Ralph, George, John and Big Matty their T-Shirts had turned light blue with excessive wear. They were breezing through this work out like it was a Jane Fonda workout tape. We often spent 20-25 mins just doing this warm up. I always felt like I was going to collapse after a warm up.
Often during training, I had to swallow my ego and pride as the short term CQC students, were making minced meat out of me on the mats. They had no prior training and were making a mockery of me, a highly decorated Brown Belt with vast Tournament experience. (Dont forget my shelf full of trophies!) I felt embarrased as while I could spar in stand up sparring, I was about as useful as a left handed screwdriver when it came to grappling and ground submission. I felt like I wasted years at training prior to coming here.
As time went on it became easier, but I struggled somewhat. I just had to adapt in order to survive each class. Our classes were a diverse mix of young, old, men, women with everyone from a range of professions from Law Enforcement, Security, Truckers, Lawyers, I.T consultants, PTs, Factory Workers and even Barmaids all training together without judgement or belt worship.
Watching Glenn teach us was a unique experience. He had a no bullshit approach to training and would make examples of derelict students in front of the class. I remember one Saturday I came to training a 'blow in' came to class. I never seen this guy before and truthfully he looked like a ratbag with his jailhouse tatts and crinkled odorous nylon sportswear. Anyway Glenn in his ever calm demeanour instructing a technique and this guy kept interrupting Glenn. Glenn then asked him to show the class how to do the move. From memory it was a choke or some type of head lock.
The guy clearly had been drinking heavily the night before so he wasnt thinking clearly when he randomly began charging at Glenn throwing a flurry of punches at Glenn for no reason. Glenn immediately switched from "Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde" and locked him up in a lock/choke and put the guy to sleep. He then yelled at the guy whilst choking him not to make fun of him during training and not to come to training drunk. The guy eventually slumped as he was passed out. Glenn opened the door outside and gave him a steady push out the door with his leg. The guy fell into a heap outside and Glenn locked the door so he couldnt come back in. It was at this point I decided to never get on his bad side and answer back especially with my prior training. Here I am a small fish in a big pond, and my karate rank means little here. Glenn was our teacher and demanded respect. Then Glenn began instructing from where he was interrupted, and didnt bat an eye lid. This man truly knows how to control his adrenaline.
As time went on I became fitter, and became rather muscular. The training was paying off, and I began making friends. Luke, Chris, Peter, Kristy, Belinda, Abby, Dimos and my favourite training partner Cameron. Cameron was a very lean, yet muscular guy and he was very patient with me from the day I became a SFCA member. We even would have Chinese Takeaway together after training some nights.
Over time, I began to forget my previous status as when I was at the CQC centre, we were all equals regardless of rank. I was so dedicated to my training I sold my first car to my dad, a Ford Falcon Station Wagon just to pay for lessons. I ended up buying a cheap Hyundai S-Coupe so I can afford to continue to attend training and enlist into the 3 month Amateur MMA workshop. The money I was saving in fuel costs and repairs allowed me to enlist into the program.
The workshop was brutal. 2 days a week for 3 months we had to become fit enough to fight in the cage. Back in 2008 it wasnt illegal to do cage fighting, and it wasnt until our government banned amateur cage fighting for a few years that what we were training to fight 3 x 6 minute rounds in a cage constructed with Temporary Cyclone Fencing in a Dance Hall with around 250 paying spectators. UFC had just became popular and the rise of MMA training was taking over as the martial art of choice.
Anyway, Glenn would take us out for training by making us run round the local football oval for several laps. Then we would have to do 'Gecko Crawls' from one end of the pitch to the other side several times. Didnt matter if it was raining or not we had to crawl on our knees on the muddy grass. Once we were done we began running around the Industrial estate of Mitcham and Nunawading. Our training area was a long corridor inside a brick building on Queen St, behind the railway line and nestled nicely amongst the panel beaters, mechanics and spray shops surrounding us. Often we would be running for 5kms at a time, and some nights would be clutching fake bayonets made out of welded scaffold pipe to simulate carrying a loaded rifle. Other times we would have to throw an 8kg Medicine ball to each other whilst running in a line. If you dropped the ball you did 'burpees' until Glenn told you to stop. In the early days of this 'training' I would often lag behind so I could vomit whilst running in order to keep up with the crowd. To this day I will always hate running, because of this training.
Glenn served in the ADF before becoming a crowd controller which is why a lot of our workouts were so gruelling. Peter was a champion at this kind of training, as he was training to join the SAS and at the time he was a Honda service technician and didnt really like it, so he lapped up the training. His slender frame also helped.
We also did a special weekend trip to the Grampians with the crew to practice abseiling, rock climbing, hiking (This is where I became hooked on hiking) as well as 'Force on Force training' We slept in cabins, were woken up early at 5am for a breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast and spend the days training and conditioning ourselves. In the evenings we would sit in front of the firepit, and just relax and talk amongst ourselves.
On the second night of the camp, I overheard Glenn talking with Chris one of the other students. I was about to head into the shower with my towel wrapped around me when Chris asked Glenn what he thought of me. I was seeking approval from Glenn as I never really got praise from my previous Sensei. Glenn then told Chris "Simon, the builder's labourer? Yeah he is an alright guy. Trains very hard. I see potential in him." For the first time in my life I felt accepted by my peers. Growing up I was always the odd one out or was last to be picked on the sports teams at school. I finally felt like I belonged to something great. I wanted to make Glenn proud of me.
I think I really impressed him during 'Force on Force' training the next day, when I was fighting against Dimos. This was the test for Fight Night. We were training inside a derelict metal shack complete with bare walls plugged with insulation batts. It was rather warm and sticky that afternoon. All we had for protection was mouth guards, and MMA gloves with well worn jigsaw mats on the floor. Dimos had a Kung Fu background but also dabbled in Muay Thai. I was just trained in Shukokai Karate and only started cross training in Bushidokan (Hybrid MMA) in the last month or two.
Dimos clung to my back like a hyperactive monkey and was punching me in the head. I then reached around with my shoulder and grabbed his head and flipped him on the ground. I then mounted him and got him in a scarf hold. I was the winner of the test. Everyone congratulated me and Glenn shook my hand with pride. I was in euphoria. Everyone took turns and tested out their skills. Once everyone had a go, we packed up our equipment and bags and bundled into the rented Toyota Hiace van from Budget and drove back home. By now, everyone was tired and Glenn was eagerly driving us home after an action packed long weekend away.
After this gruelling training regime, I lost weight and packed on even more muscle. I was always relatively muscular due to working as a builder's labourer for most of my life, but for the first time I had abs. I looked like Peter Andre minus the fake tan. Anyway, Fight Night was approaching and as a reward for our hard work Glenn got us custom made fight shorts with the club logo and a nickname for each of us. Mine was "Tap Out". I was under the impression it was just the name of a newly released clothing label, but that moniker was given to me because when I would be grappling with my classmates on the ground I would toss and turn like a water starved floundering kipper before being thrown in the frypan. I also would tap loudly on the mat.
The day of Fight Night was here a fortnight later. It was held at Mar Shere Dance Hall, in Ferntree Gully. A queue was forming out the front. Class mates like George, John, Matty and Rob were watching for support. Bikies were pulling up to park, and there was a small crowd of spectators standing in a circle. I gently nudged my way through the door and got changed. Several minutes later the doors open and tickets were stamped. People sat on Garden Chairs in front of the mats surrounded by Temporary Cyclone Fencing. Glenn was the MC for the event and was wearing a white tuxedo, leather shoes and microphone clutched in his hands. (His homage to American Ring Announcer Michael Buffer?)
Everyone who I spent the last few months training with was here. Dimos however was not wearing his gifted fight shorts but a torn tight fitting ladies training T-shirt and Pink Hot Pants.I was thinking to myself, either he is a penny short of a fountain or he is a cunning strategist. He was the latter. Not only did he rile the crowd up when he was competing he won several bouts.
It is funny, as I am writing this I remember so much of the lead up to this event, but I remember very little of the match. I think it was because I was so focused on breathing and having Luke pummel the shit out of me, I cannot retain the memory. My bout was over in 3 minutes, as Luke won on a technicality. The rules were non existent except 'Hit Hard and Fast' I was wearing a Hockey Mask with Visor as protection to my head. The fog from my persipiration made it impossible to see. All I felt was the ass kicking Luke was giving me. I then collapsed in a heap as I was out of breath. I just couldnt get close to him. Luke had good reach as he was rather tall and previously studied Tae Kwon Do.
Anyway, after being knocked out of the first round I made my way to the small table with some crackers, chips and dip and cans of Pepsi offered to the fighters once they finished competing. I helped myself and sat on the sidelines and watched the others fight. Maybe it was the nerves of fighting in front of strangers beying for blood and carnage or the fact I never fought without rules, but that experience taught me to face my fears. This is what this post is about confronting your fears and leaving your comfort zone. Trying a new style, meeting new people, being pushed to my limits physically, all helped me face the fear of CHANGE and instead of fearing it I embraced it.
Do I regret never getting my Black Belt in Shukokai Karate? Sometimes. Do I regret leaving the nest and trying a totally new style and changing my training methods. Absolutely not! I honestly feel that despite the fact the CQC centre closed down several months later and Glenn was no longer teaching us, I spent 2 years refining my skills and becoming a better martial artist. I also credit Glenn partially to help me change careers as I was a Builder's Labourer when I started and by the time the club closed down I was a newly licenced Crowd Controller. His influence as well as my mother's helped spark the career change for me. Even though some speak poorly of Glenn for closing up shop without telling us students, I saw a man who wasnt afraid of pushing boundaries, experimenting with a style that isnt widely practiced outside of military and law enforcement circles. I was fortunate as a civilian that I got to learn CQC amongst only a handful of people qualified to do so, before Reality Based Self Defence in Australia became the best thing since sliced bread.
In fact after Glenn went out of business, Peter Sciarra my trainer for the last 6 years took the reins. Even though he was no where near as hard on us during warm ups, and I had to travel almost an hour to ever class, I am grateful that I got to continue my journey in the combative arts. It is only until recently that I changed to Kung Fu for personal reasons.I believe that Glenn and Peter played a big part in my development as a teacher. I also thank Hock for granting me 'Advanced Instructor' status after the last 8 years of dedicated CQC training.
The moral of this post is "If you aren't growing you are dying!" The inventor of Krav Maga (Israeli Unarmed Combat) Imi Lichtenfeld trained in several martial arts including Boxing, Wrestling and Jujitsu to develop Krav Maga. He was a pioneer by creating the system to protect the Bratislavan Jewish population from racist gangs and thugs. Imi is someone who stepped out of his comfort zone early on and became so well trained in Unarmed Combat he was asked to train the IDF his unique system.
I hope this post was enjoyable for you to read to learn about my humble beginnings from cocky student to seasoned professional gives you some insight about the importance of trying new things. I would like to take a minute to thank the SFCA crew at Nunawading for their contribution to my success as well as Peter Sciarra for helping me refine the skills originally taught to me by Glenn. And Glenn wherever you are I want you to know you had a huge impact on me. You had you reasons for abandoning the club, but I forgive you and I want you to know I am thankful for the lessons you taught me.
Read my next post, where I will talk more about the legendary Geoff Thompson and how he confronted his fears, as well as how you can too make a change for the better. I hope this has inspired you and has taught you that "To understand your fear, is the beginning of really seeing.."
(Quoted by Bruce Lee 1940-1973)