Russell is the founder of MeanStreets Self-Defence, co-founder of the online Martial Arts Guardian magazine, and the Director of MSDA (MeanStreets Self Defence Association). He is also owner and Chief Instructor at Jarmesty Martial Arts Academy where he teaches over two hundred students, five nights a week. Russ is 3rd dan and received his black-belts from Hanshi Trevor Roberts. In 2016, his Brutal Bouncer DVD box-set won Self-Defence DVD of the Year at the British Martial Arts awards, where he also received self-defence Instructor of the Year.
Thanks for taking time out to chat to Tough Talk Russell. When did your journey in martial arts start?
I started studying traditional style karate at around the age of seventeen. After just three years I attained my black belt status, which ignited my passion for martial arts. I was keen to explore other disciplines and to further my understanding of the arts, so I sought other clubs and influences to develop my knowledge, skills and understanding. However, while still attending karate sessions, I also began learning from Hanshi Trevor Roberts - two-time British Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Champion; four-times British Ju-jitsu champion; British Sambo champion; Grand Master; 8th dan Ju-jitsu; 6th dan Shiai-Jitsu; 6th dan Combat Sambo; and Russian Master of Sport. Trevor has trained over thirty British Champions. Unfortunately however, me studying under Trevor as well caused some political friction between me and my other karate instructor, and so I moved across to continue my studies solely under Trevor.
How did you find Trevor's training methods?
To be honest, I instantly fell in love with the brutality and honesty of his way of teaching! I had found a new home. Trevor was also a doorman with many years experience, and it was at this time one of my oldest friends was attacked and badly injured. This stirred up a gut-felt desire to do something about trying to stop this sort of brutal and unnecessary attack from ever happening again and so, after a chat with Trevor, I started working the doors too; firstly to catch as many bullies as I possibly could, and secondly to see if martial arts and combat training would actually worked in a real fight.
And did it?
Well... not really! I had my suspicions that karate wouldn’t work on the streets, it just didn’t look or feel like real fighting, However, I couldn’t say the same for Trevor's Ju-jitsu though; I knew it was time to ‘don the blacks’ and see what it was all about.
Right from the start, for the streets and on the doors I realised that I would have to bin 90% of the karate I had learned; although it had massively built up my speed and conditioning, it was a little less than useless on the streets. The scenarios I was facing on the doors didn’t include bowing and a respectful tap around, they involved deadly intent and people who wanted nothing more than to hurt me and leave me in a pool of my own blood. Ju-jitsu, on the other hand, fitted like a glove, and it was as if the scraps on the doors were just another training session.
How did your training then develop?
I always knew there was still something missing; the art fit beautifully to my new lifestyle, but my fear and the nerves before a physical confrontation, never really changed. And so the next stage was understanding and taking ownership of that good old thing called adrenaline; it was the missing link. The feeling, the emotions, the control. Control is key in a street fight.
Adrenaline, fear or liquid gold - whatever name you want to give it - offers qualities that are universal and can’t be changed. If you mistake this adrenaline for fear, it will freeze you to the spot, fill you with self-doubt and make you feel scared... and you don't want to fight someone else when you’re already fighting yourself. So this is the key; harnessing that adrenaline and focusing its effect on you and learning how to channel it. It's your very own superpower; it's liquid gold. It anaesthetizes you to pain and makes you faster and stronger than you've ever been. Popeye had spinach, we have adrenaline. You've heard stories of people lifting up cars due to extreme situations. How? Simple, they used the adrenaline and didn't let it use them - don’t fear it and don't make it your friend. Understand it, take ownership of it and use it. Once you've spent time feeling it, controlling it and finally taking ownership of it, you’re 90% there. Unfortunately, you can’t start to understand adrenaline if you’ve never stepped into the fire; and this is the biggest part of my training now.
Were you still training under the guidance of Trevor?
Yes, I continued to learn and grow under the guided hand of Trevor, even when when I broke my neck in an accident and it stopped my training and door work for a while, I still continued to attend classes, watching and absorbing all Trevor had to offer, even though I couldn't actually take part. Watching and listening still gave me an opportunity to learn and develop my expanding knowledge from a new perspective. Although Ju-jitsu offered what I needed and was more geared towards up-close techniques that suited to my combat style, once recovered, I decided I need a broader learning experience to further develop my skills, so I went looking for a club, any club, that would complement my style. I then ventured into Russian Sambo and, from that point on, I stayed in-house with my own students, friends and other door lads. Over the following few years I spent piecing together all the gold from each style to make it applicable for the world I was in - the 'Door' world.
Did anyone else influence your training?
Yes, one of my main influences at that time was Geoff Thompson, renowned in the self-defence world. Geoff is an award winning writer, a teacher and self-defence instructor. He has also written several books on self-defence, martial arts and fear control. I had read everything Geoff wrote, including his first book called Watch My Back, watched his videos and had implemented his teachings into my own training.
Big Jimmy Kelly, a well known figure on the Manchester's door scene and in martial arts, also influenced me a lot. An ox of a man who's fitness was untouchable. We worked for many years together and we knew we would be safe, the trust we had was very high.
Alongside Trevor Robert and Geoff Thompson, I also drew much of my knowledge and experience from old-school doormen; many of them may have been lacking in techniques but their mindset and experience more than made up for it. I watched every move they'd make; how they talked, how they stood, when they'd fight and when they wouldn't. I knew that experience was key and that door work really influenced the way that I learnt, taught and developed my style of combat. For example, whenever there was an incident I would analyse how it had played out and rework the methods of control and manipulation used to subdue or remove an individual. I would then take that incident and apply it to my classes, tweaking and moulding and shaping the encounter to understand how this approach could be improved. I would then wait for that incident to come again so I could test how I had trained to combat it.
And your motivation?
Survival! Survival was my main motivator; knowing that each time an altercation took place on the doors, it was my job to ensure that the person taking a ride in the ambulance was the trouble-maker, and not me.
How did you feel working in an often violent environment?
There was a period of time where I started to wonder if I was any better than person facing me; violence was the common ground between me and many of the people I would come up against. The difference however, was that I knew i was using violence to help innocent people; the public, the clubbers, the nicer side of society, while the trouble-makers were using their violence to dominate, control, manipulate and abuse. Like I always say; the best defence against evil men is good people skilled in violence.
Violence, once it’s on the cards, is best dealt with instantly. Learn to punch hard, know dirty places to go, learn how to dig deep and give yourself an extra dose of adrenaline. Don't over complicate things and don't over complicate philosophies when it comes to fighting either. It’s easy once you can control it. And remember, if you don't put pressure on them, then they will put pressure on you. And so, if you know it's going to kick-off, you'd be stupid to let them get in first. You can talk to some people, even plead, but there's always a minority that just need a crack before they can listen. Pain is a great motivator for people to stop fighting. My fighting style comprises of power, speed and things that hurt. If it hurts... it works.
There must be a lot more to it than violence though?
Politeness! Politeness is a huge key too and I have always made a very big point of being as nice and polite as possible whilst being a hair-trigger away from being the exact opposite. If you growl and snarl before you hit someone, then they always see it coming; however, if you smile and offer polite words, it’s easier to get the shot in. Also, of course, the savvier you become in verbal sparring, the less likely you are to get your hands dirty. This leans to the principle of what I teach; nobody wants to fight but if you are in a fight, then you have to know how to fight. If all options of discussion are exhausted then it is almost certain that you will be fighting. So you have to know how. Learning to become comfortable with being uncomfortable is the key.
Initially my own insecurities meant that when I would see someone in front of me as massive threat, I would have to destroy that threat as quickly as possible. However, as I grew and understood more through my training and work life, I began to see each threat as more of a challenge. This meant that my approach and view of altercations altered; I learnt not to over react just because I got hit with a few harsh words and harsh stares. But, when the violence did start, the kind words and polite gestures would stop.
I have always surrounded myself by like-minded people, not just martial artists, but doormen, friends and experienced individuals all willing to offer what they know to help strengthen and empower others to be able to protect themselves efficiently and effectively.
How did your own combat style of MeanStreets evolve?
MeanStreets Self Defence System was formed from what I took over the years from each style; from karate the speed, power and timing, as well as his golden front kick that has saved me more times that I can count. From Ju-Jitsu I took the pain of every lock, choke, face bar, joint manipulation and anything that snaps. As well as this, I enjoyed the mauling side. But getting in close with all these techniques is useless without the golden ingredient; mind-set. I had the luxury of already knowing what I wanted to achieve, and I knew that without the correct mindset, even the best punch in the world, if it was delivered with nervousness and fear, would have little effect on ten-year-old girl let alone a 20st monster who wants to put you away, quick.
Working on the doors and testing MeanStreets in real-life scenarios completed the system and, for the last ten years, this is all I have taught; it's raw, brutal and it works. I now travel up and down the country holding MeanStreets seminars, I run a full-time academy in Atherton with over two-hundred students and have ten instructors, with backgrounds ranging from doormen, army veteran's, long-serving policemen and well established martial artists, teaching MeanStreets banner across the country. I knows the importance of experience when teaching real self-defence, so all my instructors are highly experienced in the world of violence. MeanStreets is a functioning martial art that can save your life. I keep it simple; if people wanted a fight then I will gladly show them what a real fight looks like.
Any last thoughts...?
If you can avoid violence, please, please do. But if you can’t, then make sure you get in first and get in hard. Most importantly, keep your wits about you and if talking doesn’t work just do what you have to do, quickly, and get out of there.
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