10 Questions with T.J. Kennedy
The Combative Corner is proud to introduce to you (if you didn’t already know), Mr. T.J. Kennedy…a martial artist with an array of talents, such as: Krav Maga, Irish Stick Fighting and Muay Thai. T.J. Kennedy is the chief instructor and founder of the Hybrid Fighting Method™ (HFM). Apart from teaching this unique system, he also serves the public as a self-defense instructor through SAFE International™, an organization that teaches youngsters (from high school up), private groups, and corporations, valuable lessons in personal self-protection. T.J. lives and teaches in Ontario, Canada. For more info on T.J., visit his website [here], his blog [here] and/or his YouTube channel [here]. Those who want to be updated by email on his newest articles/posts, workshop dates, etc., should also sign up for his newsletter (located on his blog).
Now… let the interview begin!
(1) What’s your martial art background?
I started with Tae Kwon Do in high school. For the entire duration of my childhood, I so badly wanted to take martial arts, that after years of pestering my parents, they finally signed me up at a local school. I spent just over 2 years there.
After that, I learned Krav Maga, the self-defense system used by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I have also trained in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Karate, Bujinkan Ninjutsu, some Jeet Kune Do, and various pressure point systems.
If I were to boil it down even further, I would say that a majority of my background is Krav Maga, with significant Muay Thai elements – peppered with the rest.
(2) Did you know always know that you wanted to teach self-defense professionally? If not, what was your direction/job and what got you onto the path you’re on now?
Well, for years I was a devout Pentecostal Christian (I am now an atheist…and much happier), and I went away to college to study for my Bachelor of Arts in Theology. I spent 3 years in this 4 year program, with an intercultural focus, and travelling to and from Southeast China and Hong Kong teaching English to all ages. My goal was to travel/move to China and become a Christian missionary.
In my third year, I got engaged to be married, and decided to take a year off of school to work and save money for the costs associated with my engagement. My fiancée was a Chinese national, and we had plans of getting her a Canadian citizenship. So our process was to first bring her to Canada and get married, work and live here in Canada until we were able to secure her a Canadian citizenship (in this time I would finish my final year of school), and then move back to China and work as missionaries to the Chinese people.
It was soon after my return from China to Canada in 2002, alone, that I gave my head a shake. I realized that at only 21 years of age, I was nowhere near ready for marriage.
To make a long story short, I broke off the engagement, and got a job as a security guard to pay the bills. During this time, I was looking to start training again in some kind of martial art (I had just over 2 years of Tae Kwon Do in high school).
I had discovered a martial arts school local to me that taught Krav Maga. I booked a trial class, and on a fateful Saturday morning, on a mere 3 hours of sleep, I laced up my shoes and stepped onto the mats with 3 other guys and our instructor for the day.
I felt like a fish out of water. I accidentally poked one of these guys in the eye…twice I think. I also quit halfway through, running to the bathroom to puke from the amount of knee strikes I was absorbing through the kicking shield. I was about to dip out the door when the instructor encouraged me to get back on the mats and finish the last 20-25 minutes of class.
I did, and ultimately decided that if that 60 minute class could do to me what it did, but all these other guys could handle it – then it was something I needed to invest my time and money in. I signed up immediately.
Fast forward 6 months of training 3-5 days a week, and I knew I was in love with self-defense. I knew in my mind that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I told my instructor this, and a year later I was in my first instructor certification course in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The more knowledge I attained and the more I trained, the deeper in love I fell with self-defense and martial arts as a lifestyle.
I took a part-time job as a bouncer in January of 2004 to help pay my bills, as I was at the time not working as a security guard, but as a self-defense instructor.
I got “the itch”, wanting to try my hand at combat sports, so I started training in Muay Thai, Boxing, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In 2007 I had 2 Muay Thai fights. The first one I got knocked out cold at about 1m30s into the first round. My second fight, 3 months later, I won by split decision after a hard fought 3 rounds.
At this point in time, I was passionate about fighting, and passionate about self-defense. I sat down one day and challenged myself to be excellent at whatever I set my hands to. I realized that for me, I could be fantastic at fighting, or fantastic at self-defense (and the teaching of it) – but I would have to dedicate 100% of myself to one or the other if I was to be the best I could be at it.
So, on that day, in that very moment, I chose to pursue my dream of teaching self-defense with unwavering focus – and I haven’t looked back since.
(3) What is the biggest obstacle for you as a self-defense instructor?
For me, the single biggest obstacle as an instructor of self-defense is getting people to be proactive about their own safety and the safety of those close to them. Some puny percentage of the general population takes any kind of self-defense training, but the need for this kind of training is undeniable.
I think people never really think about what would happen if they were attacked violently. It’s always something they hear on the news, but not something they think about happening to them.
However, the frequency of violence doesn’t really matter, because all it takes is once. To be sexually assaulted once, shot once, mugged once, stabbed once, kidnapped once – is enough to scar someone for life (both emotionally and physically).
(4) Is there a style of martial art that you haven’t gotten an opportunity to study yet, but would like to (and why that style)?
There are many arts or systems that I am aware of that I have not formally studied yet that I would love to. Capoeira, just for the fitness aspect of it. Kino Mutai, the Filipino art of biting, gouging, and pinching. Sayoc Kali for its vicious use of knives. Tom Patire’s Last Resort Tactics (LRT) and Hom Do (his lethal force system).
As the creator of the Hybrid Fighting Method (HFM), I always have my eyes and ears open for new ideas, and old ideas that I haven’t heard yet. If there is something of value in them, I like to take what is of value and incorporate it into my system. For this reason, I will always be a student of many arts and systems.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” I think our learning as people and as self-defense instructors should never stop. The very moment we think we’ve “arrived”…we haven’t.
(5) I know from your bio that you do Irish Stick Fighting. Probably one of the lesser known arts from your list. Can you explain to us what it is and why it appeals to you?
Rince an Bhata Uisce Beatha (pronounced: rinkan batta ishka vahaa, which translates to: Dance of the Whiskey Stick) is a Doyle (Dubhghaill) family style of traditional Irish stick fighting which was common place in the faction fights of the 18th & 19th centuries. While most Irish styles used the one-handed methods (much like fencing), the Doyle style evolved from a one-handed style to the much more effective two-handed style when a family member fused the principles of pugilism into the motions of the stick. Passed on from generation to generation, this two-handed style was only taught to individuals with the surname Doyle.
A much sought after style, Rince an Bhata Uisce Beatha was thought to have derived its name from the fact that the style’s creator rented his stick fighting services out to guard illegal distilleries from rival whiskey makers. ‘The Whiskey Stick’ soon found its way to Canada via a Doyle who left Ireland to start a new life in Newfoundland in the early 1800s. From there, the style found itself passed on from father to son for generations and finally to the current keeper of the flame, Sifu Glen Doyle. Breaking with tradition of only teaching Doyles, Glen has spread the popularity and tradition of Rince an Bhata Uisce Beatha to anyone with the intensity and desire to learn it.
I first heard of Glen and of Irish stick fighting in Inside Kung Fu magazine years ago (it was before 2000 for sure).
Last year, I had an opportunity to meet Glen, and so I jumped at it. We met for coffee and talked for an hour or so, and then he took me to check out his training studio. We hit it off, and Glen struck me as one of those rare human beings that has a heart of gold.
We exchanged numbers and emails, and shortly thereafter I received an invitation via email to a training and certification course run by Glen on April 10th-11th, 2010. Not really knowing what to expect, but deciding to check it out, I went and learned the fundamentals of his system of stick fighting. I was immediately blown away by the system’s simplicity and efficacy. I was surprised that without changing a single thing about this system of stick fighting, it could be used for real and practical self-defense.
It is a very simple system to learn, and it is brutally effective. It is the only stick fighting system that I am aware of that WANTS to be close quarters (there may be others – but I am not aware of them). The more I learn of it, the more I fall in love with it. I have decided to offer instruction in it alongside the Hybrid Fighting Method as I believe it is invaluable.
I am currently a Level 1 Instructor in this system, which has 8 levels to it.
(6) We spoke a little over Skype regarding the message that we are trying to spread to the public about self-defense. In your opinion why do you think people should take self-defense?
For the same reason they should put on a seatbelt every time they get in a car. For the same reason that they should wear a life jacket when they are on a boat.
They may never get in a car crash; they may never fall off of a boat; they may never get attacked by somebody. But if they do, they will be thankful they had taken the precautions to save their life.
Literally every person that is drawing breath can, and will, benefit from self-defense training if they take it.
(7) Who are some of the people that you look up to in our industry (and this includes the traditional martial arts as well) and why?
Well, there are plenty of people that have influenced me one way or another over the years, but the ones that immediately stand out are:
Richard Dimitri – I love guys like Rich. Very cerebral, and constantly analyzes what he teaches and his own motivations for teaching it. I think human beings are still evolving, and Rich is one of those guys at the crest.
Richard Grannon – As a bouncer, I was one day watching YouTube videos on bouncers, and came across a video of Richie Grannon. Listening to him talk about how he was hurt badly as a doorman, how he dealt with fear, and how he now worked as a “self-protection instructor” – I was immediately drawn to this guy. The story he tells is very similar to mine – and so I felt a strong connection to him. After watching his videos, I really bought into the concepts he teaches. I don’t think anyone can go wrong listening to Richie Grannon.
Tony Blauer – Tony, in my mind, is probably THE guy when it comes to self-defense; the same way that U2 is THE band when it comes to popular music. He’s not a god or a grandmaster or a mystical ninja – and he makes that abundantly clear in his videos and courses. I really respect that. Demonstrating the ability to be human and make mistakes in public view is ballsy…and admirable.
Shawn Zirger – This guy is a Senior Instructor under Paul Vunak for Progressive Fighting Systems. He is the founder of the Zirger Academy of Jeet Kune Do (www.zirgeracademyjkd.com).
I don’t think there is any single human being that I have had the pleasure of spending time with that has a comparable depth and breadth of combative knowledge to rival what Shawn has. And the really cool thing about him is that he shares that knowledge freely, completely, and passionately to any desiring to learn it. He doesn’t know it, but his influence on me has led to significant changes in the Hybrid Fighting Method.
Tim Larkin – I really dig Tim for two reasons. One – for doing his thing regardless of support or opposition because he believes it is right. Two – for taking the time to field my questions and offering his experience to help me grow as a person and as an instructor.
Gord Wood – Gord…he has been a tremendous friend since I met him in 2003. He really showed me how to teach martial arts, and out of everyone, is probably the largest influence on me from our industry. He and his wife, Ashley, run a school out here in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada called Evolution Martial Arts (www.evolutionmartialarts.ca). If anyone comes out this way, you owe it to yourself to train with Gord. He’s an outstanding instructor, an amazing friend, and a wonderful human being.
(8) What has your experience as a (former) bouncer taught you?
Being a bouncer has been a great experience (mostly) for me. I have learned how to read body language very quickly, how to talk to people to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation, and I have also developed a keen sense of awareness of my surroundings of any place I walk into based on my experience as a bouncer.
On a physical level, I have learned through experience (some good; some not so good) what combative techniques/tactics/strategies are effective or ineffective. I have been fortunate as a bouncer, having never been seriously hurt, save one time. I have been shot at, knives pulled on me, hit in every way imaginable by fists and feet; but the one time I got hurt badly will stick in my mind forever.
I was a bouncer in a downtown Toronto nightclub. On May 3rd/2009, there was the largest fight I have ever seen in my 7 years of bouncing. The call came over the radio that something was going down, and so all of us security ran to the part of the club where the fight was happening. I’ve never seen anything like it – a brawl/riot among 2 or 3 VIP tables. So, all the ingredients were: 30ish people, 12 bottles of vodka, 12 glass pitchers of juice/pop/etc., about 50 drink glasses, about 50 shot glasses, unknown amount of beer bottles, and 3 large flower vases on the windowsills.
When I got there, there were already 3 or 4 security inside the pyramid of bodies trying to break up the situation. Glassware and bottles were flying everywhere…it was chaotic. I stopped on the outskirts of the fight and covered my head due to all the airborne glassware. A guy in front of me was standing on the couch and he threw a vodka bottle at another table, so I grabbed him and threw him to the floor.
As I did this, one of his friends came from behind me and smashed a vodka bottle over the back of my head (brand was Belvedere – at least it was the good stuff…lol). I saw a flash in my eyes, my ear was ringing really loud, and my legs both instantly gave out. I dropped like a sack of potatoes. After I fell, I tried to get up, but my legs just wouldn’t move. I sat there for a minute covering my head trying to gain composure. As I tried to move again, the guy smashed another bottle off the front of my head. I pulled myself away using my arms, as my legs were still jelly. As I turned around, that same guy stomped right in my face. I managed to stand up after this, but I could barely keep my balance.
I had no strength in my limbs, so as much as I wanted to clobber the guy, I made the decision to get the hell outta dodge. When I saw myself in the bathroom mirror, the entire right side of my head, face, ear, neck, chin, chest, and stomach – were completely painted with my blood. My jacket and t-shirt were also soaked in my blood. I grabbed some towels, wet them in the sink, and applied pressure to my head wounds. I made my way to the staff area at the back of the club, along with 3 other bouncers that got hurt, and we waited for the police and ambulance to arrive.
We all took the same ambulance to the hospital and by 7 a.m. I was out of the emergency room, with 4 staples in my head for one of the cuts, and a nice little gash on my forehead where the 2nd bottle hit. The rest of my scalp has some small cuts and scrapes and one more gash from the broken glass from the bottles. As a guy with a shaved head, I am still to this day discovering scars from that night…lol.
I thought I was on the outskirts of the fight, but clearly I wasn’t – as the guy that clubbed me came from behind me. Sometimes my ego hurts because I didn’t stay and fight, but when I look at it, and the fact that my body wouldn’t respond to what I wanted it to do (it took all my effort just to stand up and to stay standing), I realize that I made the right decision to bail and save my skin.
After the fact, I was told by my coworkers who were working that night that I had knocked out 2 guys before I got to the one who threw the bottle – which would make sense as to why I was targeted. But I don’t remember everything from that night. Having had a concussion before being knocked out in my first Muay Thai fight, I know that there are blocks of memory that are lost.
I am thankful, and lucky to be alive to tell the story.
(9) I know that through SAFE International, you get a chance to talk with young kids all over the country and abroad. Is there an underlining message that you make sure that they understand regarding their safety?
I am always sure to communicate to them that although they can’t control who attacks them, or where they are when they get attacked, or how they’re attacked – the one thing they CAN control is how they respond. I tell them that if they forget everything I ever teach them, to at least remember this one thing: Ask yourself what you have available to cause injury to the attacker, and what targets on the attacker are available to injure. Then do everything in your power to cause that damage. What weapons are available to you (hands, knees, elbow, bites, etc.)? And what is available to injure (eyes, throat, groin, etc.)?
(10) What is your method of training to prepare yourself for a violent attack (mentally, physically or both)?
I first start by training a specific technique slowly and in a very controlled manner. I go through several incidental options that are a by-product of attempting the specific technique. I do this with all techniques I am learning. Then I pick up the intensity and get it to the point where I can perform it at full speed and full power.
After this, I allow my training partner(s) to attack me in any way he chooses, starting slowly again until I am proficient, and then I amp up the intensity.
After I am able to confidently defend myself in this context, I add variables of role play, scenario training, etc., to really ingrain the training into my psyche and muscle memory. That way, when an attack happens, I don’t have to think about what to do (because with all the physical and chemical stimuli I can’t anyway). I just react according to the principles and techniques I have developed.
Bonus Questions: What are the future plans for Mr. Kennedy?
On November 27th I have an Irish stick fighting championship match that will prove very challenging. My opponent is a good friend of mine, Colin Simpson, who has been training for years longer than I have in this system. I am glad that we can be friends now, beat the hell out of each other for 5 rounds, and still be great friends after the fact.
Sometime in early 2011 I plan on having Hybrid Fighting Method instructional DVDs and downloads available to purchase. The quality is phenomenal! I’m not just saying that because their my DVDs, but because I was fortunate enough to secure an amazing filmmaker, Mark Hemstock of Hemstock Films (www.hemstockfilms.com) to film and edit them.
Beyond that, I look forward to preparing and running instructor certification modules in HFM, hopefully by this coming summer.
But before I do any of that…I need to catch up on some sleep!
Thanks for conducting this interview with me Michael; I really do appreciate you taking an interest in what I do. It is an honour when someone asks me to share my knowledge and experience with them, and I don’t take that lightly.
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WUSHU SPECIALIST – PHILIP SAHAGUN