10 Questions With Al Peasland
The Combative Corner is pleased to present self-protection instructor-extraordinaire, Mr. Al Peasland. Al runs Complete Self-Protection in Milton Keynes and in the words of his mentor, the legendary Geoff Thompson, he’s “the most experienced instructor in Real Combat System and is one of the leading exponents and teachers of ‘The Fence’ in the world today.” After recording a wonderful, hour-plus video interview & later found that the audio had glitches, Al was kind enough to put this interview (for the 2nd time) into words. We thank you and our readers thank you! Now, get to know the Man of the Hour… Mr. Al Peasland.
How did you get your start in teaching self-protection?
Well, I’ve been teaching martial arts in general for many years. Even when I was starting out and probably only 4 or 5 years into my Karate training under Geoff Thompson, I was helping to teach the weekly classes, especially when Geoff was away teaching seminars. It was a great experience for me to jump into a teaching role at a young age. More recently, Mick Tully and I decided to start up some weekly classes in Coventry and later in Milton Keynes. I had already written my Fence Concepts book and filmed the DVD with the help of Mick, and launched Complete Self Protection as the overseeing company, so it made sense for us to get a regular base from which to share our joint knowledge.
The self protection element of what we teach is actually only a small part. I am a big believer in studying the full art and then extracting the “self protection” aspects from that, rather than just learning those aspects in isolation.
After all, if all you do is study realistic and functional techniques for a street confrontation, you will have a very small syllabus, and will very quickly have to start guilding the lilly and ultimately, you’ll end up studying the “art” again, just branded as something “reality based.” Having said all that. For me, the reason behind the CSP name was the first word of COMPLETE. Self Protection is not just about a fight on the street and should encompass all aspects of personal security, well being, confidence, emotional protection, the list goes on. When we start to embrace this aspect, then ALL of our martial arts training can start to have a positive impact on our personal security, regardless of it’s “street effectiveness”.
In what way did your work with Geoff Thompson direct/inspire what you are doing today?
Geoff is my brother-in-law, my mentor, and probably one of my biggest influences. Lets not forget that I met Geoff when I was 12 years old and just starting to go through some of my most formative years into adulthood.
At this time I was training 5 times per week with Geoff in the Karate classes and then, later, on a daily basis with Geoff as his private Uke. I have been close by, whilst Geoff went through his biggest journeys of leaving the Doors, touring the country and the world teaching seminars, bringing Reality into self defence training and making it very topical and forging a way for all the other reality based instructors to follow. Seeing Geoff chase his own dreams, getting his first book published, taking massively brave steps and facing his own fears and demons, all gave me the building blocks to do the same things. It’s not about following the same path though, just using the same strategies and approaches.
What Geoff taught to me and the rest of our group, and packaged it as Real Combat, what works outside, I then tested for myself on the doors of Coventry. Yes, I did follow Geoff’s footsteps on this one and Geoff actually gave me the platform, the necessary introductions and the right encouragement to do this. I would have happily taken his word for it that what he taught me worked for real, but it was more about the fear and the test for me, not proving out techniques.
Geoff has definitely shaped me in terms of some of the material I teach, but I also have other big influences in my life now from the martial arts world. Number one is Terry Barnett. My instructor in Integrated Arts, and someone who I have been privileged to train with in his private group for several years. Mick made the introductions and it was simply the best gift he could have given me. Terry has changed my game again, and certainly changed the way I teach and deliver my material, and also the way I now approach my training. Rick Faye is another very large influence now and Mick’s own JKD instructor. John Will – recently been very supportive.
Personally, what has been your biggest obstacles as an instructor?
A few things. One is finding the time to train as much as I know I need to in order to be a good instructor. For me, I believe, the more classes you teach, the more you need to train and continue to grow. As an instructor, you should lead by example and always remain a student as well. I’ve also had to make sure that I set out my stall and have faith that, sometimes what I teach may not appeal to everyone, but that’s not a reason to change or offer something more palatable to the masses. I think the other big obstacle is being able to market what I teach. I have really struggled with being the humble martial artist whilst at the same time, being the businessman to market CSP and publicise how great we are. I may have also been pigeonholed as the “Reality Based” instructor who teaches only the stuff that works outside and this is most definitely not the case, as I mentioned earlier. Those who know me, know that I am always self deprecating and quite ready to tell everyone that i don’t believe I am anything special in martial arts. So being prepared to look bad in front of my class is never a big obstacle, however, this is a great time to share something with you that I remember Rick Faye saying to the class, the first time I trained with him.
He said, as a martial arts instructor, it’s your job to teach everything you know of the arts, and not just the stuff you look good doing. Because, just because you are not good at something, doesn’t mean your students can’t be. In addition, if you only teach a small percentage of the arts, and your students can only make a percentage of that work – gradually, the arts spirals smaller and smaller, when it should grow and grow.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Obviously, being able to train and enjoy something I am passionate about, but then, Martial Arts is part of my life and not just something I Do, so that kind of goes without saying. I enjoy the family feel we have in our classes and the wonderful people this crazy hobby has allowed me to meet and become friends with. I’ve met and continue to meet, some of the most interesting, wildly diverse, unique, inspirational and beautiful people through my pursuit of martial arts.
I don’t know many other past-times where you would get such a diverse collection of people, all of whom become leveled when they put on their gi, or step onto the mat. It’s a privilege to be a small part of this and then, to top it all off, to have a small amount to contribute and offer to these people, is an honour. I also enjoy the process of learning, the testing and the stretching my abilities and skill-set. I enjoy being the student and learning. I really love the thought that there will always be something new to learn, something new to study and something new to grow a deeper understanding of. And this is just stuff within me, we haven’t even started talking about the stuff I can learn physically.
In self-protection, how do you go about training the ladies? (anything you do differently)
Not especially, no. I am a firm believer that women should be taught the same as men in all classes, with the exception of taking weight and strength differences into account in certain aspects of the session. Ultimately, if we’re teaching a session on “self defence” then it makes sense that the women in the class are able to handle and familiar with working with larger, stronger, men. However, I think it’s also important to be sensitive to the needs of all students, not just the females in the group, and by that I mean, taking into account any emotions that may be a factor. For example, having a woman in the group who’s possibly been attacked or beaten in the past, it would be insensitive to immediately ask that woman to drill some groundfighting with other men in the group. In terms of technique though, no – there should be no difference. How a woman should punch, slap, or strike to generate power is no difference to how a man should do it – so they both get taught the same.
What (in your opinion) is something that is greatly overlooked in our profession?
Hmmm, this is a tricky one because, the nature of this subject means there is probably a lot of stuff that I have overlooked and will not be aware of – we’re all human after all. Some things I do see that concerns me are the lack of etiquette in some Reality Based groups. I was brought up and weaned on traditional martial arts and dojo etiquette was a major part of that. I believe it’s this discipline, which leads to self discipline that can shape the martial artist. There seems to be some of this lacking in the classes which teach only MMA or Reality Based styles as they have dropped alot of the formalities and etiquette in order to spend more time training.
For example, I no longer wear a gi in any of my CSP classes, although I still do for my Judo training of course. But, I do still expect everyone to bow when they walk onto the mat. I hate to see people abusing equipment and throwing their gloves or pads around when they have finished their rounds. – just a pet hate of mine!
I also think that instructor fitness is overlooked a great deal. The idea of a “master” being out of shape and out of condition, does concern me. Unless there is a very good reason, I don’t believe any instructor should use the fact that “fights only usually last for a few seconds” as a reason not to be in shape! I only have to look around me at the likes of Dan Inosanto, Peter Consterdine, Terry Barnett, John Will, to name but a few, world class instructors who are all still impressively fit, active and probably still training alot harder than their students do, to know that, there is no excuse to be out of shape!
In a reality based type training, I also think the “reality” bit is sometimes overlooked. By this I mean, we attend classes where techniques to disarm knife or firearm wielding assailants are taught, without much thought to the actual reality that the student is living in. As Mick so eloquently puts it. If you work in Macdonalds, you don’t have to train as if you’re going to be working on “Black-Ops” every day. We need to put some perspective back into what reality actually is and then shape our training to better prepare ourselves for that, rather than just teach the stuff which looks great.
Many people neglect the art of Verbal Communication with their attacker? How do you feel about this skillset?
Yes, you are right. This is massively overlooked. Even when I see The Fence being taught, it is something that seems to be thrown in as an after-thought. Verbal communication doesn’t just mean, chatting to them to try to diffuse the situation. It can be using your voice in various manners to illicit prescribed responses from your attacker. From being calm and confident, or assertive and instructive, or aggressive and threatening. Your voice is probably your most powerful weapon when it comes to self defence. When we teach the Fence, we include the distracting dialogue to ask the attacker a question, engage the brain and then, if we have no other option, launch our pre-emptive strike. The key is, there needs to be a slight pause between asking the question and throwing the strike – to give the attacker time to register and begin processing the question. Unless we drill this question-pause-strike, combination in this sequence, and with the same timing we intend to use in the real situation, it is sadly quite likely to fail. With the addition of fear, adrenalin, and the high stress of such a situation, the chance of being able to calmly and rationally deliver the question, then pause, then strike, is going to be highly unlikely, unless it has been drilled and drilled many many times in the comfort and safety of the gym. This applies to any technique. We simply cannot expect it to work in the heat of battle if we haven’t trained it to death in the gym. Verbal techniques are no different.
What your thoughts about fitness, playing different sports, and it’s ability (if any?) in helping you become a better martial artist?
As I eluded to earlier, the more you teach, the more important I think fitness becomes. Sure, I don’t plan on getting into the cage any time soon, so I don’t exactly have to be fight-fit. But, training should be about longevity, heath, and enabling you to enjoy a safer and more fulfilling life. Health, fitness and well-being are a major part of that. So my martial arts should include fitness, flexibility and all those good things. If nothing else, the fitter I am, the longer I can train, which means the more I can drill techniques before I tire. This in turn means I can progress more quickly. Cross training, for me, should include everything and not just adding something like Judo to your martial arts repertoire. I often hear of instructors not wishing their students to train elsewhere, or study other arts. Mostly, I assume, through their own insecurities. But would those instructors worry if their student said they were also training in tennis or golf? Both of which can offer great benefits to their overall martial arts game. All sports offer something of benefit to your martial arts. Whether it be greater flexibility, fitness, balance, posture. Or improved body awareness for body mechanics and structure. It could even be a better internal understanding, the ability to concentrate and study deeper.
The key, for me, is doing something that you enjoy. Because, to be good at anything you need to practice it alot, and so, it makes sense to spend all that time doing something you actually enjoy.
Are there any special training exercise(s) that you think is an “absolute MUST” in self-protection training?
Relaxation drills. For me, being able to hit hard is the fundamental requirement of physical personal security. Power comes from relaxation and being able to hit accurately, quickly/explosively and this all comes from relaxation. I am a puncher, it’s something I’ve done for years and so, it’s natural for me to punch rather than slap or palm heel or hammerfist, for example.
One drill I like to do, for anyone wishing to improve their punching power, is to have the students alternately slap, then punch, then slap, then punch. The reason for this is to blend the relaxation that comes with a slapping technique, with the extra penetration and hardness of a punch. As Dave Hazzard says, “a punch should be like a lump of concrete on the end of a piece of string, not a marsh mellow on the end of a stick.” Only the hand should be clenched, the rest of the arm should be relaxed to allow the technique, the mechanics and the power to flow rather than tension which only restricts and holds power back. However, more important that all of the physical training – the one thing I ask any students of self defence seminars to do is to practice Awareness All too often, self defence instructors, when asked, will say the most important thing is Awareness. Then immediately go on to start teaching student’s punches, strikes and how to throw people over their shoulders.
So I like to spend more time and actually TEACH Awareness drills.
In one of our Roundtable Discussions, we asked our panel “What’s your New Year’s Resolution(s)? Do you make them, and if so, what are you goals for 2011?
This years resolution was not to make any new years resolutions. I guess I’ve broken so many in the past that I’ve given up now. However, goals for 2011 are already coming to fruition. We intended to move venues in Milton Keynes in order to expand our classes, and this is now happening. We’ve been busy running lots of seminars and now my second half of the year I am actively slowing this side of the business down as I know it has taken time away from my wife Lou and my friends and family, who are all far more important to me than a business. I do have more plans for more products in the second half of the year, new websites, more seminars and lots more exciting stuff to come.
I also intend to study Judo more and hopefully grade and possibly enter a few competitions, but nothing too heavy.
OUT OF ALL THE ATHLETES AND FILM STARS OUT THERE (LIVING OR DEAD)…NAME YOUR TOP 3 !!!
I could name alot of boxers who have all inspired me, but Muhammad Ali has to be the top of the list – I think that one speaks for itself – Sir Henry Cooper who sadly passed away – for his sportsmanship and attitude
I have always been a fan of those athletes who perform extreme challenges, and the most obvious one for me is Sir Ranulph Fienes. I’d love to meet him, and I think his exploits, his courage and his incredible life journey is one to be inspired by.
More recently, I have been enjoying following James Cracknell’s challenges. He’s a living demonstration of just what we can all achieve if we really set our minds to it. Some of the pressures he’s able to put himself under, when most of us would have given in long before, are simply amazing and we can all draw confidence and motivation from his achievements.
I tend not to be in awe of film stars as I think they are just people doing a job they love, and probably get far more press than other professionals at the top of their respective games.
However, I really like Sean Connery, both for the fact that he has come from humble beginnings and made his way to the absolute top, and also for the fact that he can play pretty much any character from any country and still get away with having his Scottish accent.
Lou suggested I should put down Tom Cruise as he is quite versatile and still steps up to the plate to do alot of his own stunts. I know he is also very generous with his time when he’s doing the red carpet events, talking to fans, etc. I also like Mila Kunis, a great actress, oh yeah….. she’s also hot.