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Foreward by Robert Twigger

My own position is clear: I am against being hit. That said, there are many different ways  to avoid being hit. You can train like mad and become as hard as a rock or you can run like the dickens. Which reminds me of something Bruce Reynolds said (the mastermind behind the Great Train robbery in 1963): “You’re either a fighter or a runner—I was always better at running myself…” There is no shame in running. Another story told by a policeman aquaintance and 6th Dan aikidoka: he was being chased by four criminals—so he started running, and running and running. He was super fit and pretty soon he realized only three criminals were after him, then two, then one. At that point he turned around and clobbered the one, then went back and got the second and third and finally the fourth. Running and fighting also works.

Lots of people start martial arts to avoid the possibility of being beaten up in the street. When they have trained a lot—maybe for years, they realize they needn’t have bothered—all they needed they had at the beginning: common sense, a few rules, the willingness to keep your distance. People telegraph violent intentions: it’s rather rare that a hit comes from nowhere and without any warning. People get hit because they get too close to people who like hitting others. It’s not a boxing ring out there, you can steer as far away from people as you want. In a pub you can stand with your back to the wall, no one forces you to get surrounded in a crowded place.

Author Nathaniel Cooke understands precisely this and his book deals clearly and effectively with all aspects of keeping your distance. Big people often get too close through over confidence, used to intimidating others they stand close for greater effect—until a short nasty person headbutts the bridge of their nose. Fighting usually happens around drinkers and places where drinkers congregate. Being drunk yourself doesn’t help, though it may make you more relaxed and better able to talk your way out of a confrontation (the sort of confrontation you would never have got into in the first place if you hadn’t been a bit legless). In my observation, it happens in cases of mistaken identity—a more common occurrence than you might think (I can think of at least five cases I have come across), someone with a desire for hitting decides you were that fellow he half glimpsed slapping his mate four weeks ago. So how do you deal with that? A bolt from the blue? Well, it isn’t always from the blue. Usually you have drawn some kind of attention to yourself, you’ve irritated or angered someone—maybe by having too good of a time—I know, crazy, but there you are. And the thug is looking for an excuse to drop one on you without warning—being a coward and also because there is nothing more effective. The advice is to be found within Nathaniel Cooke’s book—really you just have to be on guard against anyone who looks capable of doing violence—and you don’t let them get too close.

This habit of paranoia can go too far, Musashi, the great Samurai, apparently never washed in case he was surprised during his ablutions. The gunslingers of the Wild West never sat with his back to the door. You can easily develop little quirks and habits that see you always seated or standing in places where you can see what is coming: it’s the first step to- wards effective self-defense. The next is to have an escape route planned or a weapon that might be used. This could have been a large ashtray in the days when people smoked inside drinking establishments. Now you might be hard pressed to find something equally brain numbing.

There are countless books written on self-defense. Not all are nonsensical, but  many are. Nathaniel Cooke has clearly thought  a great deal about the subject and distilled its essence in a way that is wholly admirable. I have heard top martial artists and self-defense teachers, because they earn money from teaching techniques, talk a lot less sense than Nathaniel. He understands that it takes a lot of practice to a) learn some kind of martial art and b) even more practice to apply it effectively. The quickest way is to simply start brawling every Saturday in the street after the pubs have closed. Not interested in quite such a steep learning curve? Then learn a martial art and take every opportunity to muck around with other practitioners in between lessons, trying what you have learned in simulated street-type situations. Don’t believe those characters who say martial arts techniques never work in reality: I’ve dropped an attacker with a textbook aikido wrist lock—he was as shocked as I was that it worked.

Nathaniel’s book includes valuable interviews with “professional” practitioners  of restraint—these  are fascinating and  illuminating  in their own right. Probably the two trades best trained to restrain aggressive people are the psychiatric nursing and prison professions. The police tend to rely on their sticks and tasers, which is riskier all round (unless the attacker is armed with a knife or club).

All in all, for a highly readable, clear account of the reality of avoiding being hit, this book really hits the spot.

—Robert Twigger, author of Angry White Pyjamas

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