September 15

Martial Arts Qualifications and the Vampires


Well its been a busy few weeks for me and I have a lot to cram in over the next few days to catch up after a much needed holiday.

However its time to get some writing done and today’s post is all about a recent debate that took place on my own forum.  It centres around Qualifications and people I refer to as Martial Arts Vampires.

The Need for Qualifications

OK so here we go! Just so we can be clear about the issues here is the post that started it all. I wont bother naming people here as that’s not my style but it went like this.

Also be interested in knowing more on who Andrew Holland trained under and what credible ranks he holds? (and in what systems) Particularly interested to know what validates Primal as as a quote “effective system of self defence”

I’m not going to name the person who wrote this but basically its a guy who has been in magazines and is the UK lead for a self defence system, he went on to say a couple of other things that were quite rude so he was promptly shown the door. I wont name him because by nature of me writing his name would give him a  pretty big internet “boost” and I don’t want to help him or his system in any way. Which is a shame because I’m sure he was a really nice guy and good martial artist and I have always allowed people from any system or style to write articles for me and If people need a traffic boost or product review I’ve tried to help.

However this individual is not welcome on my forum and has been shown the door.

To those of you thinking that there is nothing wrong with a martial artist being asked to prove his history let me say this. When  you go for a job you give you your CV or your qualifications. The employer never asks for your certificates! They ring your references and then judge you on your performance in the role, you then deliver the goods that they pay you for ie the role or job or in the words of Alan Sugar

“your fired”!!

The reason behind this is simple. If you claim to be something your not you can end up committing criminal offences

Now I don’t really need to over do this as its not a major issue to me (Im quite secure in my background and ability) but I feel that it needs addressing. The martial arts are a business and that creates competition. This means that people will not be happy when someone comes up and potentially takes business away from them. So I get the whole need to try and criticise others or try and bring their credibility into question. Its a very natural thing to do for certain types of individuals.

And… yes you got it people are starting to hear more about me, hearing that I am teaching at the MA Expo, hearing I have a blog that is among 50 best self defence blogs online, heard that I was invited to be on BBC Radio 2 as a self defence expert and these  people are then asking questions like “who is he? what’s his background? who were his teachers? what ranks does he hold?”

…….. yawn yawn boring. Its almost as if they are saying “who are you to give advice or even have a website, self defence system or anything else”.

Now what’s interesting is that this whole things came about around the time another martial artist wrote an article in a magazine about how its OK for people to ask for qualifications and you should show your qualifications….yawn yawn, sorry I dosed off thinking about it all.

The vast majority of self defence qualifications out there are useless and not worth the paper they are printed on!

Sorry but that is the truth. There are a few things people need to realise when it comes to violence and dealing with it. Violent people don’t care about your qualifications, criminals don’t care how many black belts you have, how many certificates or hall of fame inductions you have. They don’t care that you are a qualified Thai or boxing coach. They don’t care that you have invented a self defence system and they also don’t care about your early bird offers for your courses.

Nasty people would wipe their backsides on your pretty certificates. I know this because I happen to of met my fair share of nasty people.

A Qualification is:

Qualification may refer to: A title or attribute gained in education , through examination or by certification 
That’s all it is folks. It is not a sign of ability. It is not a sign of experience. It is not a sign of excellence either because as we know not all certificates or qualifications are equal.

Vale Tudo- The Old days

I was about 21 years of age I stumbled across a martial arts gym in an industrial estate and noticed they had some Vale Tudo classes. Now if you want to know what Vale Tudo was all about then check out the video below.

Now I was boxing at this time and got talking to a guy I know called Lenny. He was a coach at the local boxing club and by all accounts a really tough bloke (he still is) but he was also someone who loved training and the martial arts. He knew about the club as his friend G was the owner and doing the training. To this day I have no idea what belts or certificates G has because it never mattered to me.

I basically got an invite to got to this club and take part in vale judo classes. They were excellent and there were loads of different people from different backgrounds training there. Our training consisted of ‘anything goes’ combat and we usually sparred at the end. It was great fun but very tough on the body. The instruction was first rate.

My point is this, we never cared what any ones belts were, their styles, their systems or anything else. I never asked to see G’s credentials. I didn’t care about his lineage, his teachers or any of the other nonsense. Why? Because when you are being taught quality stuff by a person who has ability you just know it. You can feel it.

The same happened when I went to an Andy Norman seminar. It was just prior to the Keysi split and I went with an open mind as I have been let down by the reputation of an instructor before. Needless to say I was blown away by his style and his approach. However I still (until very recently via MAI magazine article) never knew what qualifications Andy had in martial arts. He oozed experience and knowledge and I chose to believe in him.

It was not what Andy had said he had done (because he never talked about his background) it was all about what he was teaching that day. I had the same experience when I first met Georgi Georgiev in a leisure centre in Alsager. We just started grappling (I only knew he was a Bulgarian Black belt) and wow, the way he moved, the way he taught and what he said just made sense. He spoke with a presence just as Andy Norman did that oozed experience. It cant be replicated no matter what your certificates say.


Boxing Gyms Mentality

I grew up around boxing gyms and used to follow my dad to clubs where he coached. It wasn’t my thing at aged 6 (I did the odd class) but I got into it at about 11 or 12 years old. However once again, no one ever really cared about the qualifications of the person coaching you. You got on with YOUR training and were grateful if someone told you your guard was dropping.

People didn’t have egos, they just got on with it and because you were there to train and that was your job because your next opponent could be out there training harder than you and you couldn’t let that happen. That is a boxers mentality.

So When I get asked by a martial artist to explain my lineage it grates on me. Because it doesn’t matter what you say you are, what you say your background is or what grade you are what matters is that you can deliver the goods!

It doesn’t matter what your claims are, it matters that you can deliver your promises.

Lets take a look at some of the promises out there.

Current Self Defence Claims

I did a quick trawl and found a few of the following claims knocking around the web from self defence instructors/systems:

  • Fear No One
  • It works
  • techniques and thinking that I have never seen broken and have stood their ground in adverse conditions
  •  the system is constantly evaluating other methodologies such as those used by the various U.S. Special Forces to add in any of their techniques
  • easy to learn and efficient way of defending oneself and your loved ones.
  • a practical and tactical system that teaches how to prevent, deal and overcome all kinds of violence and attacks

Now I took these claims from numerous systems and sites. They are pretty standard across most martial arts systems. But they are just words. All these promises are no different than saying you have a black belt when you dont.

Now dont get me wrong I worked hard for my own black belt in Judo and had to win 5 fights in one day for it, including 3 in a row. And I am not saying if you have black belts that you shouldnt boast about it or be proud of the fact.

However there are lots of very tough and skill full fighters and coaches out there who never graded in any system. They trained for years in gyms with their mates and a punch bag and some gloves. They borrowed what worked and were passed down techniques from others or saw things work for real. Many often have professional experience of violence in a non sport based environment. Just because they dont have blogs, websites or dvd’s doesn’t mean they dont have knowledge. The world is littered with extremely capable non martial artists.

As the old saying goes “don’t fear the man who brags of beating up people, fear the man who sits silently in the corner of the room” its the quite ones you have to watch out for!

It is a major mistake to think that if a person isn’t known in the martial arts world that they are not any good. Having a public profile is a choice.

There are people out there who have become very capable just through training with there friends or parents and there are those have become very knowledgeable via ‘real’ experience


Why Experience Matters

In ‘Bounce the myth of talent and the power of practise’  which is the excellent book about performance by Matthew Syed it states

The essential problem regarding the attainment of excellence is that expert knowledge simply cannot be taught in the classroom over the course of a rainy afternoon, or indeed a thousand rainy afternoons

The book goes on to call the experience and insights developed through practise and experience as Combinatorial Explosion which is a term borrowed from computing. In basic terms as the book says

It is not something you are born with it must be lived and learned

The premise of the book is simple. To become good at anything you need practise and experience, that is the simple way experts and expertise are created. In essence it doesnt matter what your certificate says, after you gained it the knowledge only becomes useful if you go out and train, go out and practise what you have been taught.

Knowledge without action is worthless.

My Background and Vision

 I am not a person that needs to shout about his experience to the world. I do not need to be photographed with my certificates or have my photo taken with martial arts celebrity. Because if I ever need to defend myself I know that none of this matters when I am surrounded by a group of thugs.

It doesnt matter about the names of my instructors, it doesnt matter which styles I have trained in or who my certificates are under. What matters is that I believe in my training, what matters is that I am actually training.

I dont need to have been a body guard in the middle east, I dont need to rave about protecting celebrities or that I have a background in NLP or hypnotherapy (because I dont). If you have or do thats great for you, but it means nothing.



My vision for Primal is that martial arts become popular again with the general public. This is done by modernising the product and creating a team of instructors who can learn from each other and have a system or style that people can develop for the needs of their students.

I want to dissolve the needs for people to cling to styles or old traditions. Instead we need to package the martial arts in a way that creates opportunities and above all provides the public with an amazing training experience that focuses on developing confidence, fitness, strength, flexibility, friendship and of course self defence skills.

At its core Primal is a very effective form of self defence however I truly believe that you don’t need to have more than good levels of common sense, striking and grappling to be effective in self defence. So that would make for a pretty boring class. So Primal fills the need for self defence training yet adds other elements to make it a ‘training experience’. And what is great is that with our top team taking shape we will be bringing in elements of knowledge from all across the martial arts spectrum.

This will create a training environment with unlimited possibilities. From Aikido arm controls, to boxing footwork, to Judo Grappling to Hi Intensity fitness training. If it works, if its fun and can be placed into the structure of a class then Primal will bring it in. No one owns martial arts techniques, no one has the right to say how you train.

Do you still think in 100 years people will be studying ancient forms of martial arts? I don’t think they will. People want an efficient form of exercise that has other benefits including self defence.

Primal is about training, having fun and making friends. It is not about being the toughest fighting system, it is not linked to navy seals, whales or any other fish or mammal. It shatters every tradition in martial arts and self defence. So if your a little bored with all the blood and guts in the self defence industry and get embarrassed at the thought of dressing up in camouflage trousers and training in  darkened subways then Primal may be the thing for you.

If not then its cool as well.


One of the key aspects about primal is that it is based on my belief that I am forever a student. I dont have all the knowledge out there nor the time to go out and learn it. I am forever a student. In fact I love the saying

Everyone knows something I don’t

I have made no secret about he fact I want instructors to be able to bring in their knowledge to add to primal. I really want to learn from others but I dont have the time to go to classes in numerous martial arts. Who does?

That is the ethos of Primal, its under one roof.

However I still recognise that others have knowledge out there and I would love to learn from them.

And just so we are extra clear here is a brief list of all the people I really want to learn from again, or train with for the first time:

Andy Norman- Defence lab

Cant say enough about these guys and what they are doing. Totally blown my mind with Keysi and if there was a Defence Lab near me I would be down there.

Peter Sciarra- Amazing to watch, gotta learn from this guy

Dave Turton-

The guy is a legend, really nice to speak to and full of experience and knowledge. This is high on my to do list.

Anthony Pillage- Really want to learn his pressure point stuff, loved his DVD, thouight it was really cool. Great guy, a person who has built a great gym form scratch.

Nudda Max Training- Cool hybrid stuff by Antonia Faedda, would love to try it.

Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine- Needs no explaining but it is still on my list

Jamie Clubb-  This guy has inspired me over the years and I loved his thought provoking Vagabond Training.

Eddie Quinn- I hear a lot about the Approach. Not sure Its for me but I want to check it out.

Phil Norman-Ghost. This looks really cool and I know Phil is a true expert in Combat. Ghost is high up on my list

Go Tsunoda- Former Team GB Judo coach and simply amazing to watch

Georgi Georgive- Love this guy, amazing coach, sambo expert.

Steve Pullen MBE- Learn from this guy all the time, amazing Judo and master coach in every way

Steve Ravenscroft- Brilliant Judo expert, great coach and 5 times British Champion

Kevin Pell- Look forward to learning from this guy with a  lot of experience

The list isn’t exhaustive but  I really want to learn from these people and I will do one day I hope.

My point is simple, I dont need qualifications from them I simply want to learn. If I get a certificate that’s great but it means nothing.

The Vampires

Now I started this post with phrase vampires . The truth is quite simple. It isn’t the qualifications that bother me so much, if you have them great I personally feel they mean very little in self defence. The problem is that there are people who feel you are nothing without them. As I  have stated this is very wrong.

However what does happen is that people feel the need to try and create negative energy and such your positivity out of you with forum comments, poor on line attitudes and keyboard warrior crap.

These are Energy Vampires!

Every crap comment, criticism takes time to reply, time to deal with and it really is just a waste of energy. I personally would rather spend my time with my family or reading, training, writing or watching a good film. I do not enjoy arguing on forums with keyboard warriors people have their opinions and are free to have them. Just don’t expect me to get involved with endless debates.

Now we have come to the end of this rather long posts and its time for a conclusion.

My Opinion is pretty simple. If you have qualifications, have trained with people and have 10 black belts and you want to tell others, then please do so, it is totally up to you. I am proud of some of my qualifications as I am sure you are, yet I am also proud of things that I have done and experienced which never came with a formal piece of paper.

The qualification isn’t important, its what you believe. Be honest to yourself and everything else will work itself out. However if you are one of the types of people who go out to gain as many certificates as you can. Remember that the knowledge is pointless unless you are out there training or practising from the frame work that knowledge gave you.

However when it comes to asking people to prove their qualifications, their lineage or their skill in self defence and martial arts. Please don’t, those days are long past.

It doesn’t matter where we have been, what is important is where we are going!

Keep safe



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