Brian is the founder and chief instructor of the Concept Martial Arts Academy Belfast. He has been involved in various martial arts for over forty years and holds various ranks in a number of martial arts and combat systems including; Muay Thai, Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do.
Hi Brian, thanks for taking time out to chat to Tough Talk. When did your journey in martial arts start?
Hi Robin, thank you for the invitation. So, my martial arts journey started way back in 1973, the year Bruce Lee died. I had never heard of him before his death, but soon found out a lot more after the flood of newspapers articles, magazines and TV programmes that followed his death. And, by using and adapting his philosophies, Bruce Lee still continues to play a important role in my life to this very day.
What was your first martial art?
My first martial art was actually judo. My father took me along with my brothers when I was around ten or eleven years-old. I trained there for a while and received a few junior ranks. I then took up Go Ju Ryu karate a few years later and studied and trained at that for a good number of years and got to a really high standard. The club unfortunately closed down due to unforeseen circumstances and was disbanded. At that time, the town in Scotland where I came from, Coatbridge, didn’t really have any other martial arts clubs; it was karate or judo, and that was about it!
It was only when I moved to Belfast In 1983 that I really began studying different martial arts and tried a few different clubs; Ju-jitsu, Thai jitsu, Muay Thai, boxing and I even went back to karate for a short time. It was here that I also discovered a Wing Chun club and trained hard learning what I could whilst trying to juggle married life, three kids and a full-time job.
How did your martial arts evolve from there?
My path in martial arts changed with a chance meeting in 2008 when on holiday in Majorca. It was there I met Quan, (Tylus Quan Do), the founder of CCU (Core Combat Unlimited). He was teaching self-defence lessons around the holiday hotels and advertising himself as a third generation Bruce Lee student. I did two lessons with Quan at the hotel where we were staying, we became friends and I invited him over to Belfast to teach a seminar. A few seminars and a few more visits later, he asked me to be his first trainee instructor in CCU. I accept this challenge straight-away and soon after set up my first club which, at the beginning, I called Core Combat Unlimited Belfast, but I changed the name in 2016 to Concept Martial Arts Academy Belfast to coincide with the philosophy of what I teach now, I’m currently set up and certified as an Mixed Martial Arts instructor with NAKMAS, although it has no resemblance today's MMA /UFC cage fighting scene. I still remain friends but I’m no longer associated to Core Combat Unlimited.
What is Concept Martial Arts?
Concept Martial Arts has a couple of meanings. Mainly it’s about Basics, I teach basics, and put most of the emphasis around it, that’s one of the concepts. All martial artists, no matter where they come from or however far they get, all come back to the basics. It’s what you need to grow, so that’s what I do. I give students the basics to build their foundation to expand how they wish. Concept does however teach some advanced techniques and drills, for example: I may show four or five different ways you can defend against a punch using different arts, I then let the student work on what works for them or adapt it to suit. I don’t like the do-as-I-do approach to teaching as it just produces robots. I don’t teach full systems or styles; I never use these two words to describe what I teach, as it only sets things in stone and that’s not what Concept is about. So the other meaning of Concept is an idea, or a way with no way. I base it on the JKD philosophy; “Using no way as way / using what is useful and disregarding what is useless.” I also introduced a grading system of certified sash levels basically to gauge a student’s progress; we don’t get too hung up on them. But I’m always changing the structure and syllabus of what I teach as it’s always a 'work in progress' as I may find new ideas or arts that fit in with what I do. My first rule though, when I’m teaching a class or if I’m teaching private lessons or teaching a self-defence seminar, is always the same and very simple - and I do think that most self-defence teachers and true martial artists would agree - “Learn not to fight! But train hard should you need to.” A total different mind-set to today’s UFC when I think sometimes pride and ego play a big part.
What other arts and fighting styles are incorporated in the Concept system?
The lists of my arts I take from and teach within Concept are: boxing, Wing Chun, JKD, Kali, Silat, Muay Thai. These are the main arts I’m qualified to teach, but I study and learn and teach whatever I can. I also teach yoga and use this for cool-downs at the end of a lesson. I sometimes have guest instructors from various arts, and I’m always eager to learn myself, and teach students new ideas from other arts.
I recently had Tommy Carruthers over for a seminar teaching my students his JKD (IFO) I prefer Tommy’s approach to JKD; simple, quick and efficient. I use a lot of his philosophy’s and his drills when I teach the JKD portion of Concept. I’m not an instructor or linked to Tommy, but I do give him a lot of credit and mention his name out of respect when I teach any of his drills. Usually you can find interesting ideas and techniques form seminars, or just cross-training with other clubs or instructors. With today’s technology even Facebook and YouTube can be a fantastic source in finding new training and teaching material. I even give students from different clubs an opportunity to demonstrate their techniques to me and my students; I’m never about staying still, always learning, growing and willing to change and adapt.
How is your teaching structured?
Before I teach a class, I put a lot of emphasis on conditioning and fitness. Every warm-up is different; I’d use basic running, light sparring, various stretching routines, press-ups , sit-ups, etc. I’ll also use warm-up exercises from different arts. I like to always change the warm-up so students never know what to expect at each class. Conditioning the body is also a big part of the warm-ups. We hit bone against bone, punch and kick the body, slap the forearms, etc., each drill is to condition the body for taking blows and deflecting attacks. The grading syllabus and self-defence techniques are taught usually in the second part of a class after we do the warm-up and cover basic strikes and pad work.
Sparring is another main factor of a normal class. Here students can try the techniques they have been training in that night, or try something else they may have picked up and then see how they can make it work in a simulated fight scenario. The Circle Drill is a sparring type drill I like using involving one student standing in the middle of a ring of other students, the student in the middle then gets attacked by one attacker at a time, then at various and random times and angles by two or more attackers, to see their response. Controlled fun, but the drill teaches valuable lessons as you may not always be in a situation having to defend yourself against just one attacker.
How does this work with the varying abilities of different students?
It's useful using various martial arts in different classes or self-defence lessons, as some students get some techniques better than others, and so in this way everyone gets an opportunity to learn and develop. Plus it stops classes being repetitive and gives students a good variety of the arts over the following weeks and months. When they practice a new technique they are encouraged to interpret the technique on how they feel, and then finish with their own ending; it can be a choke, a take-down or more strikes using any other style or art they choose, or combine it with another technique. I leave it up to the student to feel and react and not by over-thinking. An example would be using the Muay Thai Teep or push kick, to keep distance from an attacker, then switching to Tae Kwon Do or karate kick to get up close, then using the trapping skills of Wing Chun / JKD, then follow with a take-down or throw from Ju-jitsu / judo, then some ground work from BJJ or Silat. It doesn’t matter what you use or what order you use it in, as long as it works. Just go with the flow or “be like water!” as Bruce Lee would say! Not everyone can kick high, not everyone can grasp the fluid motions of some arts, not everyone can move around on the ground with ease; we are all different. I always tell the students; “I can’t move exactly like you and you can’t move and be exactly like me and therefore your technique, although similar, will always be different to some degree than me or anyone else.” You could say I teach and encourage students to find themselves and their own way.
In saying that, you can never really predict a fight 100%. You should never have a game plan; that mentality is so wrong and stupid, one mistake or one counter, that so-called game plan goes out the window and, as your mind quickly tries to work out your next game plan, it’s all over for you. You should be mentally and physically prepared for anything and be able to react quickly! There is a difference and this part is very important and I like to hammer this home to students. Some of the stuff you do in class like techniques and sparring isn’t real; it's simulated and there is a referee - so to speak - strikes are controlled, you have gloves and protective gear on, there are rules, your training partner is compliant in the technique, etc., etc. You must never think that everything you do will automatically work outside for real or you may be in for a very big shock. You have to separate the fact from fiction. If we were to do the real stuff for actual street defence like groin kicks, eye jabs, knee strikes, etc., we wouldn’t be able to train with each other! So you have to separate a class environment with a street environment as there are no rules in the street!
Do you use any weapons in your training?
I only use two weapons in training; the kali /rattan stick and knife. These are the two weapons that you are most likely to come across on the streets - I haven’t, as yet, come across an attacker on the streets with a nunchaku, Katana, or three-sectional staff! Knives can vary in size and shape of course, and a stick could also be a snooker cue, tree branch, walking stick, umbrella, etc., but learning how to use them can also help you understand how to defend against them. We teach twenty-eight striking angles for stick and knife. These angles are drilled religiously, so students know when called upon, they can demonstrate and defend. However, if attacked you may not always be successful of course, and anyone who teaches a knife or stick defence technique and says that it will definitely work in real life is a fool - most knife and stick attacks happen so fast and usually from behind and are very difficult, if not impossible to counter but, as Dan Inosanto (ed: a Filipino-American martial arts instructor from California who is best known as a teacher and a student of Bruce Lee and a renowned authority on Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Martial Arts) told us at one of his seminars; “The techniques you learn may work for you but sometimes they may not work in a real-life situation! But it’s best to know something, than to know nothing.” True words but there are so many people out there actually promoting knife defence it’s ridiculous and farcical. When it does involve knife awareness should be taught more and running away if you can is always the best defence against a knife
Did you ever think you'd be teaching your own style?
I never use that word “Style” it’s a word that a lot of people would ask you. What Style do you teach? I like to think I have “no style”. Concept is an ever changing and growing idea, so saying it’s a style only prevents it from evolving, but to answer your question; No, I would never have thought that, when I first started training in judo way back in 1973, I would one day be teaching my own concept of the martial arts, let alone be able to trace my certified training linage back to Bruce Lee - my inspiration and my childhood hero.
I’m also very proud to teach the students I have at my classes and private lessons, and hope that I give them inspiration to grow and maybe become teachers themselves one day. But most importantly, I hope that they can defend themselves or their loved ones if they ever find themselves in a bad situation. At Concept, I personally believe that training and researching as many of the martial arts as possible which is so important to growing and learning. You may favour one style or one system over another, but try everything and don’t be closed-minded. It doesn’t matter which art you take from as long as it works for you and when you need it to work for you.
You are the art!
Link to the article with Tough Talk