On Saturday, March 22nd, I was invited to a seminar, at the Thurles Kickboxing Club, on a relatively new Self Defence system called “Defence Lab” delivered by founder Andy Norman. Those involved the world of combative martial arts may recognize Andy as the co-founder of the Kaysi Fight Method from a few years back – as featured in the movies “Batman Begins” and “Jack Reacher” and also studied briefly by Alex Reid in his documentary tv show in the lead up to his MMA bout with Tom “Kong” Watson.
I’ve been around a few different combative styles down through the years, some good, some bad and to be fair I wasn’t expecting anything ground breaking. Afterall, self defence has been around for so long now, what can possibly be new?
There are a lot of traps that a self defence programs can fall into with regards to what it claims to be or what it promises its students will be able to achieve – for example, defending against knives and guns or claiming that fitness levels don’t matter. Thankfully, Defence Lab stayed clear of those and on the whole, seemed to me, to be a very well thought out and a logical approach to real world violence.
A few key things stood out to me as being particularly logical.
- Embrace Chaos. The self defence lesson began with the warm up. Whilst most of the martial artists in attendance were used to jogging in a circle to raise their body temperature, Andy had the participants running in opposite directions, some going backwards and all encouraged to randomly change direction. As he explained, there’s no order or formations in a night club or alley way. Neither is it quiet – hence during practice drills, Andy had music playing at night club volume – adding to the chaos.
- Mobility on the knees or sitting. A good chunk of the earlier part of the seminar was dedicated on methods of movement while in compromised positions such as on one’s knees. The ability to move forwards, backwards and swivel whilst keeping your hands for protecting your head was high on the priority list.
- Learn to Grapple. Speaking with Andy during lunch, he told me about how he regularly trains with high-level grapplers and has even developed an MMA program along with BJJ World Champion Braulio Estima. He encourages all his students to put a lot of time into their ground game, if for no other reason that to be familiar with controlling a downed opponent or escaping bad positions.
- Always spar multiple opponents. In all the drills throughout the day, none were with a single opponent and all drills progressed to live sparring quickly after learning a technique. Andy was adamant on this point. One on one drills teach you to have tunnel vision – which is great for sport martial art – but dangerous in a chaotic scenario. At the very minimum, always practice with a flanking or blindside second opponent.
- Embrace natural instincts. A lot of the blocks and movements of the D-Lab system are simple progressions of natural flinch responses, which Andy says are actually quite appropriate for the most part.
- Violence – get used to it. This is not a sport. There’s no camaraderie. All the training in the world is null and void if you don’t desensitize yourself to pure unadulterated violence and constantly expose yourself to it.
- Be physically prepared. If you’re out of shape, you’re an easier target. Don’t expect technique to be enough to get you out of trouble. Get fit, stay fit. There are no shortcuts.
While all the above points seem logical, I can absolutely say that Andy implemented all of these elements into his system.
On a whole other subject, I spoke with Andy on the business of martial arts. D-Lab is un-apologetically set up as a Worldwide Franchise. He intends to grow the brand, and to profit handsomely from his years of accumulated knowledge and practice. Andy spoke about how the concept of profit was something he felt he needed to justify in the past; How teaching just for the passion of the sport was something to be proud of; And that anybody seen to make a profitable business out of their knowledge was accused of selling out. And of course, martial arts is one of the very few industries where this true. If somebody goes to university to study for 7 years to be a doctor, they don’t treat patients simply for the passion of it. Not on your Nelly. They charge and nobody questions it. Why? Because the value of their study is recognized and understood. Meanwhile, a martial artist can study for 20 or 30 years (albeit part time), spend thousands on training fees, seminar fees, travelling to competitions, accumulating experience and skill but for the most part, we’re expected to pass that on for the ‘passion’ of the sport. Going on to make a very interesting point, Andy explained how he had done quite well for himself in recent years and yet he’s still as passionate about martial arts as he ever was. The difference is that now he can provide for his family on a much better scale. He presented a challenge to me: “Try paying your mortgage with passion… see how that works out for ya”. Yet another challenge was added: “Try walking out of here without paying for the soup… surely the chef is passionate about food… he won’t mind…. See how far you get”.
Overall, I felt a great value out of being part of the seminar. I felt confident in the thought that went into the D-lab system from a physical martial art point of view. And because Andy was so up front about the business end, I felt confident that the cloak and dagger, mystique and magic of blind loyalty based systems had no part to play here
Combatives or Self Defence as a training method is not my cup of tea personally but I recognize and acknowledge a good product when I see it and I’d have no problem recommending Defence Lab to anyone looking to learn how to handle themselves.
For anybody looking for more information on Defence Lab, visit www.DefenceLab.com
Thanks to PJ for the invite and to Andy for his time to chat to me about his system.