Fear gets to all of us at different stages and for different reasons. Sometimes it immobilises us in the workplace, in the home, on the street and can raise its ugly head in situations ranging from making speeches to vicious encounters. Personally, fear has been a feeling in the pit of my stomach leading up to situations and it was something I needed to confront so that I could further my studies of self protection. It wasn’t until Aidan Carroll of Hard Target Self Defence gave me a DVD called ‘Extreme Combatives’ that my dealings with fear were to take an important step forward. ‘Extreme Combatives’ shows a variety of violent encounters and how they would be handled by four masters of different martial arts. Of these masters, the one that stood out was Bill Kipp. When I saw his no-nonsense approach, I knew that I wanted to train with him. I asked Aidan who he thought was the most effective on the DVD and he said that without a doubt it was Bill Kipp. He also said that Bill Kipp is one of the best in the world so with this in mind, I set about learning more about Bill and where I could train with him.
I came across Bill’s website (www.fastdefense.com) and read about his background and the system he developed. Called FAST Defense, it stands for Fear Adrenal Stress Training. This immediately got me interested as I wanted to see how my skills and thinking would cope under stress. This would be nothing like conventional sparring but more like the drills that I do with Aidan Carroll in Krav Maga class. Bill states on his website that FAST Defense “focuses first on the inevitability and effects of the adrenaline rush, and then uses simple and proven techniques while in the adrenal state to ward off attackers. FAST Defense starts with verbal skills to stop an attack before it becomes violent, and works up to physical skills at the appropriate level should the attack escalate.” I was really looking forward to training with Bill so I took no time in contacting him.
Within 24 hours, Bill responded to my initial inquiries and told me where he would be in Europe over the next couple of months. Frankfurt was the easiest place for me to get to so Bill kindly asked one of the German instructors to contact me to make arrangements. Within minutes I received a mail from Mike Buchschatz of FAST Defense Germany who organised everything for me including sourcing my accommodation (which just happened to be the same hotel as Bill and his wife, Debra). I was on my way to Frankfurt to train under Bill Kipp on the 5th of May which was approaching fast! Although I was excited at the prospect of the weekend of training, there was also that feeling in my stomach…that feeling of adrenalin. I would be spending two days training; Day One would consist of Basic FAST Skills and Day Two would be dedicated to Groundfighting.
The 5th of May came round and as I got onto the plane and settled into my seat, I thought it only appropriate to read something by one of my favourite author’s Geoff Thompson. I got stuck into reading ‘The Fence’ and as I got further into the book, I started thinking about the course which I was about to undertake. I had heard that it was a very intense experience but I was ready to face my fears. I arrived in Frankfurt and went straight to the hotel to settle in. Mike Buchschatz called me to make sure I arrived in time and then gave me directions to the training hall. Mike’s background is in a system called Nindokai which was founded by Dr. Gerhard Schonberger. Gerhard has a very impressive background obtaining a 5th Dan in Bujinkan, 5th Dan in Nindokai, and a 2nd Dan in Ju Jitsu and the list doesn’t end there. Nindokai is a complete combat system which contains self-protection and personal security, civilian close combat, military close combat (CQB) as well as weapons and improvised weapons. These guys were very capable to assist Bill Kipp and I was really looking forward to training with them.
I arrived at the venue about fifteen minutes early. Mike immediately introduced himself and the other German instructors. They were all very welcoming and I immediately felt at ease. Bill then introduced himself and was happy that I had made it over from Dublin just to train with him. Before long, Bill asked us all to sit down in a circle so he could introduce himself and FAST Defense. He spoke of his past; the fear he was subjected to as a child having been beaten in unconsciousness by his older brother on numerous occasions. He spoke of his stint in the US Marines and the Special Forces. He explained that he did this to face his fears and hopefully overcome them but this didn’t happen. It wasn’t until he came across adrenal stress training that he could get to the root of what fear was and how you could turn it into a positive force that would actually help in stressful situations. Bill went on to say that the day’s course was about three and a half hour course and that it would be the fastest three and a half hours of our lives. It would be full of different emotions ranging from fear to exhilaration and many other emotions in-between. Each of the participants then got a chance to speak about themselves and why they were there. Some had extensive martial arts backgrounds while others had no experiences but wanted to learn how to cope with fear and learn some basic techniques to hopefully defend themselves. There were people from all walks of life; doctors, accountants, life coaches, police officers and a few housewives. All there with one common purpose…to face their fear.
We immediately got stuck into the verbal de-escalation phase of the course. We went out one by one to the middle of the hall to be confronted by tough talkers who would get very aggressive and we had to verbally de-escalate the situation. A couple of people got very upset at the level of aggression directed at them, causing them to break down in tears but to their credit they kept up the de-escalation and came through it. When it came to my turn, I was pitched against Mike Constantinides of Frontline Solutions in the Netherlands. Mike came out and proceeded to slag me off until we got into a serious verbal with the aggression steadily increasing. There was tension in the room as we both tried to out-do each other with pure aggression. Bill wanted me to ease off a bit and simply tell Mike to “step off” while having my fence up at all times. My own feelings from my training with Aidan Carroll and from living in Dublin is that you should raise the aggression even higher than your aggressor in order to get through to him and cause an adrenalin surge in him. You would do this by body language, psyching out the aggressor and using aggressive posturing. If you feel the aggressor is not fooled by your aggression and he continues to be aggressive, you can then become more submissive, engage his brain and preemptively strike. I think that this is an approach that would work better on the streets of Ireland.
Next, we worked on very simple techniques. Striking to the eyes, knees to the groin and palm strikes. We did drills using all techniques calling out the name of the strike to help concentrate and remember the techniques. “Eyes, eyes, knee, knee” echoed around the gymnasium, everyone with a look of determination etched on their faces. Then, while taking break, we saw the Bulletmen gearing up. With this, tension was building in the room as we knew that our live fights were coming up. We were lined up and were mentally gearing up for the fights ahead. Lead out into the middle of the hall one by one, we had to stand with our eyes closed and waited for our attacker to pounce on us. Silence filled the room. You hear nothing, see nothing and then BANG! It was like being hit by a bus. I opened my eyes and went straight for the eyes of my attacker. I hit out with everything I had, striking the eyes, kneeing the groin and as he eventually collapsed, I finished with a driving knee to the face. I quickly looked all around me, keeping my fence up as Bill stepped in to verbally harass me. I repeated the drill that I had done with Mike Constantinides and got out of there. I had one more fight with the attacker hitting me from behind. I quickly struck the groin hard as I could getting out of his grasp. I turned and proceeded to strike hard and fast as he fell to the ground. But as I turned to check my surroundings, Bill had set up a surprise for me and had me attacked again. The fight was on and lasted maybe another ten or fifteen seconds and finally I was left standing, my vision beginning to widen again from the tunnel vision of the attack and my hearing was quickly coming back so I could sense any impending attack.
After the fights, we sat and watched each fight as an instructor had been filming our every move. Bill’s wife Debra told me that I did very well having fought three guys in my last fight. I replied “No, I fought two guys”. She smiled and just said “Watch the video”. I did and she was right, I had fought three bulletmen but can, to this day, only remember the first and the last. My adrenalin had kicked in and I was in fight or flight mode, using what is referred to as the ‘low brain’. It is the survival part of the brain that we call on in times of adrenal stress and matters of life or death. But the proof of the three opponents was there on video. That was such an important element to the course; being able to see how we were able to perform under duress taught me a lot about my own skill level and the areas I need to work on.
At the end of the course, we all sat around in a circle and gave our thoughts on what took place. One woman, a life coach, said that she felt empowered and said that the course content will help her to face fear in the future. Another woman said that she was shocked how she broke down in tears, that she thought she was stronger but had learned a lot about herself and how she can handle fear. I also had a conversation with a police officer from the Netherlands who is involved in educating police officers. He told me how he has studied various systems but found FAST Defense to be the most effective in a very short amount of time. My own though is that the FAST Defense Basics Course is a very good introduction to the system. It can teach you the basics of conditioning for control and how to use fear and the inevitable adrenalin rush that occurs in intense situations.
We do our own version of fear adrenal stress training and pressure-test our skills on a regular basis to keep us sharp. This training simulates the realities of a violent attack and will give the student a glimpse into how they may react in such a situation. Some people will say “but it’s not real when you do this in the safety of the dojo” and that is true up to a point. But you have to remember that your body cannot tell the difference between a real threat and an imagined threat therefore you will still experience (some of the following) adrenalin dump, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion and other associated affects both mental and physical. We all have to go to work and do normal day to day things so we can’t be injured all the time but this training will approximate the feelings of a confrontation. You will get to test your distancing, timing and spatial awareness and your anaerobic fitness. It allows us to see what we need to work on and where we have improved. This is an important area of training that should not be overlooked. Each student should be gradually introduced to the concepts and slowly exposed to pressure testing. They will develop in leaps and bounds if they incorporate these vital drills, as without it they will be missing a bit piece of the equation.
For further details about Bill and FAST Defense, please visit www.fastdefense.com