Taming my tiger – writing my story

Shotokan Karate, Basingstoke, JSKA, Ian Rand, Martial Artsa

Taming my tiger – writing my story by Ian Rand

Since starting training on the Complete Self Protection Masterclass I have been inspired. Not only by the brilliantly skilled instructors, Al Peasland and Mick Tully, but also by the people I now regard as great friends and family, we call ourselves the CSP family for good reason. I have been inspired by their dedication, skill, commitment, friendship and their love and compassion when any one of our group were suffering personally. I have also been inspired by their ability to write amazing articles about their experiences. It’s because of this that I decided to put pen to paper (well fingers to keyboard actually) to attempt my own article on my experiences, thoughts and fears of training with these wonderful people as a way of personally marking the end of this amazing journey, thanking a few people who have made it possible, possibly a bit of a catharsis of any old demons, and to hopefully inspire others to conquer their fears (or at least learn to harness and utilize them) and follow their own dreams. I haven’t written anything like this since leaving school so please forgive any grammatical or spelling errors.

As I approach the last amazing Complete Self Protection Masterclass session, I have just finished reading one of the books we have been given as homework, ‘Taming Tigers’ by Jim Lawless. This was yet another one of the generous free gifts given to all Masterclass students and as an extra special treat was personally signed to each student by name with the caption ‘Write your story’.  As you progress through the book you realize that the Author is telling us that our lives are ‘our story’, and everything we do contributes to writing it with a view to looking back one day when we’re old in the hope that we can be pleased with the story we wrote for ourselves. He argues that we are not usually the ones holding the pen when the story is being written but instead it is being done by our ‘tigers’, these are the noises and voices in our head that roar with anger and displeasure when we attempt anything outside of our comfort zone and tell us we’re much safer and happier staying as we are – and, if we are to ever better ourselves, they must be tamed!

When I started reading the book I soon came to an abrupt halt after I read the chapter on Rule number 1: ‘Act boldly today – time is limited’. It told me I had to decide what I wanted to do for the next chapter of my story and to do something bold RIGHT NOW, before being allowed to turn the page. I reluctantly stopped reading and spent the next 24 hours trying to think what I wanted to commit to and what bold action to take but all the while I was aware that I had to continue reading in order to complete the book before the next Masterclass. Eventually, I made a decision that I would ignore the instruction to not turn the page until I made my bold action, because in doing so it was stopping me from finishing the chapter. Not the chapter in the book, but the chapter in the story of my life that I was ‘writing’. This particular chapter will end when I complete this Masterclass and grade in a system that has been part of me since the day I started Martial arts and started writing ‘my story’. Here’s how the story goes so far…   

Firstly, a bit about my background in martial arts and the string of, what seem to me to be, fantastic coincidences that led me from reading a book about a legendary martial artist, Geoff Thompson,  to training regularly with his longest serving and most experienced instructor, Al Peasland.

 In December 1991 I was out at the local dump of a nightclub when, at the end of the night I was shoved for no reason by an idiot in the opposite queue leading to the door at chucking out time, whilst I was standing in the adjacent queue leading in the opposite direction to the toilets. I made the mistake of thinking this thug could be reasoned with and told him that I didn’t appreciate being shoved (it was no accident as he had to reach out from his queue to mine to shove me), next thing I knew his mate was joining in the argument and it still didn’t occur to me, as a naïve 19 year old that these idiots were only looking for a victim to pick on and my awareness was non-existent (I was in code white, switched off and ‘wide-asleep’ mode!) when it came to the blatantly obvious (to anyone else) beating I was about to get. This was something I soon realized when I felt 2 very hard bangs in the face, my nose exploded and I was ‘blinded’ from losing my contact lenses. By the time I regained my vision, found my friend and sprayed blood all over him whilst I spluttered out an explanation of what had happened, my assailants were nowhere to be seen and couldn’t be found by the doormen when I gave them a description.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I never saw these morons again and presume karma has, or will, deal with them appropriately so I’ll move my story on to May 1992 when a memo came round my place of work asking if anyone would like to join a new karate club that was going to be run by a 1st Dan black belt karate instructor from the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) who was also a security guard at the company I work for, Sensei  Stevan Harrison whom I will always be grateful for starting me out on my martial arts journey. Still smarting from the beating I had taken recently and with my confidence dented I knew this was an opportunity not to miss. I felt the adrenalin rush through me as I made my first ‘bold act’ and decided to go for it, despite others suggesting it wasn’t a good idea – my Mum for example, bless her for trying to protect her son, said I would be picked on for demonstrations by the instructor because I was so tall – she was right though, I still am to this day, but I tend to step up and volunteer for it nowadays anyway because ‘there’s no growth in comfort’, as Geoff and Al would say, and I learnt a long time ago you can’t hide at the back when your over 6ft tall!

I joined the karate club and after my first lesson hungered to know more so raided the local library for martial arts books. I found one on the shelf that sounded perfect, the ‘KUGB Guide to Better Karate’ and another that was coincidentally sat next to it, ‘Watch my Back’ by Geoff Thompson. I took them both home and devoured them, diligently learning and practicing, step by step, the instructions on performing the various techniques in the KUGB book by day when I wasn’t working and in my lunch hours, and reading ‘Watch my Back’ each night. I continued to train in traditional karate but always had niggling doubts as to its use in a real life situation thanks to Geoff’s book, where he put the techniques to the test working as a doorman in Coventry (polled at the time as the most violent city in Europe for its size and population). I continued studying Shotokan karate as often as my shift work and family life allowed but also continued to buy as many of Geoff’s books as I could get my hands on. I had a niggling feeling that something was missing for me personally within my training (and I stress this was a personal feeling, with no disrespect meant to my traditional roots or Sensei’s). As I progressed through the belts,  I always wondered what it would have been like to train with Geoff and his legendary instructors from the Real Combat System but I ‘knew’ that would never happen as I lived the other end of the country from Geoff, the internet didn’t even exist so I had no idea of how to contact him and anyway, he was an author and a famous person so about as likely as me asking to meet Madonna or a film star, it just never occurred to me that training with Geoff or grading in his Real Combat System would ever be anything more than a dream!

Thanks to Sensei Harrison’s brilliant instruction in Shotokan karate, I progressed through the ranks to 1st Dan black belt which he told me to take in 1997. 10 years later in 2007 he told me again, with 24hrs notice, to take my second Dan black belt (I was never in a hurry to grade, it just didn’t matter to me that much). I passed with a bit of help from some last minute training from my instructors at the time, whose excellent club The Ridgeway Shotokan Karate Club, was under Sensei Harrisons leadership. They were (and I’m pleased to say, still are) my good friends Sensei’s Dave and Amanda Gisby. I think It was around this time that I also found Geoff’s website on the internet and signed up for his newsletters. One day I received an email from him saying he was going to be doing an ‘Ultimate Self Defence’ open seminar for all styles of martial artist in Coventry. WHOOSH, I still remember feeling a huge hit of adrenalin as I read this, I knew it was something I should do but was terrified at the same time (Geoff’s club was legendry for a no holds barred, full contact, knockout or submission style of training known as Animal Day and the thought of training with these people (who I wrongly surmised must be complete psychopaths), scared the doo-doo out of me! I knew enough from reading Geoff’s books that this fear had to be faced and dealt with so I told myself I could handle it and would be all the better for the experience so signed up. I approached some of my fellow karateka to see if anyone was interested in joining me (ok, I admit I didn’t want to go alone)! But none were, so I had to face the fear of training with a very hard man and his equally tough students, make the long journey on my own early Sunday morning and not know anyone once I got there, I was already facing my own, personal Animal Day doing this as the date of the seminar approached and don’t mind admitting I thought of not going quite a few times in the lead up!

The day of the seminar came and after a bit of a sleepless night I was on my way to the AT7 centre in Coventry. I was not only training for the first time on my own outside of my own style of martial art, it was also the longest drive Id ever done without company in the car and I was well and truly out of my comfort zone and considered stopping and turning back on a few occasions. I got lost when I got to Coventry which didn’t help my nerves (no Sat-Navs in those days – yes I really am that old) but arrived in time (just) for a nice early start on a Sunday morning. I went into the changing area full of really tough looking guys and ‘bouncer – types’ and did my best not to make eye contact with anyone in-case they decided to knock me out! I was approached by a friendly chap who introduced himself as Tony Summers (bloody hell, I thought, he’s one of Geoff’s instructors!). I was amazed by how friendly and non-aggressive Tony was in welcoming me and felt slightly more at ease as I entered the training area where one of the first faces I saw was the legendry Geoff Thompson himself! I couldn’t believe it, after 15 years of reading this man’s work, here I was introducing myself to him. When he replied I was amazed to find myself talking to a softly spoken, kind and friendly man. Is this really the tough guy who knocked out countless people and had an undefeated reputation in over 300 fights? I shook his hand and couldn’t help thinking how many people had been ‘put to sleep for the night’ by the very hand I was shaking! I was star struck and in awe of the gentleness of this legend of a martial artist! As I found myself an area of the hall to warm up in I watched as Geoff greeted numerous other arrivals, some with a big hug! I couldn’t help feeling a bit envious of these people Geoff greeted so warmly but little did I realize I was on my way to earning the same greeting the next time I met him. (I later met Geoff and his lovely Wife, Sharon on a number of occasions when I invested in his brilliant film ‘Clubbed’ based on his bestseller ‘Watch my Back’). I now know this is the lovely way British Combat Association and Complete Self Protection students and instructors greet each other and, as I’ve previously said, we’re more like family than just fellow students, or even students and instructors (no bowing or ‘oss Sensei-ing with this club!).

So my ‘dream’ had already become a reality by meeting and training with Geoff Thompson, could things get any better? Actually, yes they could! This one bold action of training (alone and at some distance) with a legend of a man led to more happy coincidences. Geoff, introduced his fellow instructors of the day, one of whom was Iain Abernethy and after chatting with him at the end I checked out his website when I got home and ended up training with a man who helped bridge the gap between my traditional karate and its practical application in real situations. This helped with my search for reality and probably prevented me from giving up karate, which I have to admit to considering at the time, due to what I was feeling more and more was a lack of realism in the art. Also, at the seminar I saw some of Geoff’s other instructors including a man who (I’m ashamed to admit) scared the pants off me with his ferociously explosive punches even when hitting focus pads whilst lying on his back. I remember thinking I don’t fancy training with him! That man was Al Peasland, a man I’m proud to now call a great friend and one of my instructors!!!

How on earth this ever happened still amazes me when I think back to the other happy coincidences that led me to the current chapter in ‘my story’. After the seminar I went back to my traditional karate training with Dave and Amanda. They embraced the ideas I brought back behind Iain’s reality training in traditional karate and we made the journey as often as possible to train with Iain Abernethy at our good friend, Andy Kidd’s dojo in nearby Swindon.

The next coincidence came with the advent of Facebook (or at least my joining it), when I first signed up,  I searched for various friends and interests as you do, and when I typed in ‘Geoff Thompson’ I was taken to a photograph (that had me in the background) taken at Geoff’s seminar by a lovely lady who I still haven’t had the pleasure of meeting in person but count as a good friend whom I’ve had many a conversation with, Karen Gadd (then, Karen Wild). So I added Karen as a friend and we had various conversations about our mutual interest of reality in karate and I noticed the occasional post by Al Peasland so I requested to add him as a friend as well. Al graciously accepted my friendship request even though we’d never met and that led to getting an invite to one of his seminars at Tom Maye’s dojo in nearby Tadley. WHOOSH, there goes the adrenalin again! But I knew what I had to do and signed up straight away. I was in old territory now travelling alone to a seminar to train with people I’ve never met and, although I felt nervous again, I didn’t have very far to go this time so made one of the most important ‘bold’ decisions in my martial arts journey, to train with another martial arts legend from Geoff’s club, Al Peasland. This led to regular contact with Al, an invite to his seminar at Seni martial arts expo, a seminar he was holding in nearby Guildford at my (now) good friend, Andy Taylor’s dojo and finally to train with Al in his home town of Milton Keynes with his wonderful club, Complete Self Protection. Can I just say at this point that I knew this was my opportunity to train in the Real Combat System with one of Geoff’s best instructors and nothing, I repeat nothing was going to stop me! I discussed it with my wonderful Wife, Julie, who knew how much this meant to me so, despite the fact that we only have 2 weekends a month free due to my shift work and a child to look after she agreed to me training with Al once a month (in exchange for her getting a facial and massage treatment on the other weekend while I look after our daughter, a fair trade I think which we still continue to this day). I was pleased to have the opportunity to train more regularly with Al but wasn’t sure if he’d take on a student once a month but when I ran it past him I was really pleased when he said this wouldn’t be a problem. After training for a few months with Al’s brilliant club, Complete Self Protection (and again being surprised by the friendliness and humility of all his exceptional students), the opportunity to take part in CSP’s Masterclass arose, again there were the issues of committing to regular set Saturdays with my shift work and also the added problem of the fairly large (but well worth it) amount of money the Masterclass would cost. Again, I talked it through with my Wife and we worked out that it would be possible by booking off any weekends I should be working and I dealt with the money side by using my own savings rather than joint account money. I went ahead with my final bold action and sent an email to Al booking up and paying the deposit straight away so I couldn’t change my mind later (this also got me a generous early booking discount). A few months later, before the Masterclass started, I saw someone on Al’s facebook page asking if anyone would like to join up with them to get a further discount which Al was offering for 2 or more people and, after checking with Al who kindly ok’d it, I got a further discount thanks to Al and my new friend Andy Billington.

Between this time and starting the Masterclass another coincidence occurred nearer to home. My Daughter had lost interest in her judo club, for various reasons as children do, and said she wanted to give up after training for over a year. I put out a cry for help on my facebook status. This led to a reply by a lovely man, Wayne Lakin, who was very high up in the British Judo Association and in charge of helping instructors (especially in the area of teaching and motivating children). I’d never met him before  (we’ve since had him as a guest instructor on the Masterclass and I was able to thank him personally) but he emailed me his contact details and told me to call him. I did this, and we had a long conversation ending in recommendations for what to look for in a new club and to look for one with a ‘club mark’ which is a recognised award for a particularly good dojo, he also sent my Daughter a load of judo goodies to keep her interested which I am extremely grateful for. I did a Google search for local judo clubs and one came up with the club mark accreditation that caught my eye, Shin Gi Tai Martial Arts Academy run by Sensei’s Bryan and Lindsey Andrews. The club was literally 5 minutes drive from my house and from what I could see on the website it looked amazing, with a fully fitted dojo and equipment. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of them! An email was sent and another shout out on facebook checking the club was a good one, resulted in another martial arts legend, Tony Pillage, replying and saying he knew Bryan and that he is a good instructor. That was enough for me so we arranged to go watch a session or 2 and have a chat. I soon realized from talking to Bryan that he was an amazing instructor with a knowledge and attitude akin to the likes of Iain Abernethy and other British Combat Instructors and his soft voice and gentle nature combined with his skill on the mats reminded me of Geoff. They have a similar approach to CSP in that we don’t line up in grade order, but rather, we usually warm up in a circle and we don’t have to call Bryan ‘Sensei’ (although I often forget and still do, old habits die hard)! This led to another massively bold decision on my part, to give up pure Shotokan karate after 19 years of training with Sensei Harrison and his affiliated clubs, even though this meant saying good bye to friends and fellow students and not reaching my goal of 20 years with the club, especially as I have been there from the day the club started. Despite all these reasons to stay with my current club, the urge to train with Bryan and Lindsey was too strong to ignore and I have not been disappointed with my decision since then! The quality and innovative approach to training you get with Shin Gi Tai is unparalleled in my opinion, and I don’t think people actually realise how rare instructors like Bryan are, how far people will travel to train with similar instructors and how lucky they are to have a club like Shin Gi Tai on their doorstep. As a postscript to this chapter of ‘my story’ and as proof that I made the right (albeit very hard) decision to leave my club and join Shin Gi Tai Martial Arts Academy, they have since been awarded Hampshire and Isle of Wight Sports Club of the Year 2011!

So the time came to start the Masterclass, and I met some lovely people who are now my CSP family, including Al and his equally talented (hilarious and slightly mad) fellow instructor who we all love, Mick Tully, and the rest as they say, is history. In less than a week, I’ll be taking part in the last of the brilliant CSP Masterclasses and what an amazing journey it’s been! I’ve learnt new techniques, been introduced to amazing and wonderful new martial arts, made some lifelong friends and, hopefully, will attain a grade in the coveted Real Combat System that I always dreamed of, and as an added bonus, I’ll also be grading in CSP’s other art of the Minnesota Kali Group. After all that, it’s all back to Al’s, and his lovely Wife Lou’s, house for a BBQ to spend the rest of the day with some of the best people in martial arts (and I don’t just mean physically, also spiritually). All this from one bold action!

I don’t know what the next chapter of ‘my story’ will be but I know it’s going to be great and I know I’ll be holding the pen and doing the writing! Now what are YOU thinking of doing? What is it that you know you really want to do but it scares you to even think about? Stop thinking about it, take bold action and Tame Your Tiger! Write your story or at least the next chapter! I wish you all the luck and happy coincidences in the world!

Ian Rand, Karate, Shotokan, JSKA, self protection, Karate experiencePhoto of Ian training with Steve Rowe 8th Dan from Shikon