How It All Began

For some time, I had wanted to establish a self defence, practical martial arts association – based on a policy of ‘no politics’ and with a ‘family’ feel to it. In 1993, however, I was still the Chief Instructor of the British Karate Association (BKA), and I knew that it wouldn’t work to ‘blister’ on to the BKA a heavy-hitting practical element, as it was and still is a single art, Karate organisation.

As these things 'spookily' happen, and at the time I was pondering the problem, Bob Sykes, Editor of Martial Arts Illustrated (MAI) for whom I was writing articles, sent me an early book manuscript, written by a doorman and martial artist. As I’d worked the doors in Manchester for many years in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Bob asked whether I would review the book for MAI. I did just that, loved every minute of it, laughed at the description of some of the incidents and was totally in agreement with the approach taken by the author in dealing with violence. I phoned the writer to arrange an interview up in Huddersfield in the north of England, as I thought the book and the person would make a really good story. This book was ‘Watch My Back’ and the author was Geoff Thompson – the rest, as they say, is history.

I knew instinctively at that first meeting that Geoff was committed to ‘going places’ and, more importantly, was a genuine, loyal and very talented individual. I didn’t take long to make the decision and asked Geoff whether he would come in as Joint Chief Instructor of the BCA; he did and we were off and running. I think its safe to say that Geoff was the first person whom the BCA, as a ‘platform’, launched into the public domain and since then we have both lost count of the household names in practical combat who have come through the doors of the BCA and gone on to their own, very deserved, high-level personal profiles.

I don’t want to run through a list of names, particularly as I’ll miss someone off and I’m not trying to make a big issue out of it, simply to make the point that no other organisation would have encouraged people to the degree we have, for them to push their own boundaries, be it writing books and articles, making films or making a name for themselves on the seminar circuit, even to the extent of encouraging them to build-up their own organizations. Almost without exception, the overriding talent of these individuals, which is why we encouraged them to succeed, was that they were, simply, nice people.

The other promise we made to ourselves was that, irrespective of talent, we would not invite anyone to be a guest instructor on our BCA instructor courses, who was not one of those ‘nice people’, nor for whom ego exceeded talent. It’s a remarkable achievement that we have never let this idea slip, and when you think that with 6 seminars per year for first 15 years of the BCA we’ve had some 90 instructors (many repeats), including Geoff and myself.

I feel it’s been one of our greatest successes, promoting those people we believe have exceptional talent. Our other great achievement is that Geoff and I have never compromised what we believe about the realities of real life combat, nor backed away from telling uncomfortable truths about the role of traditional martial arts in this arena. We broke the mould with our first videos The Pavement Arena series and we still get e-mails from around the world from people for whom these films changed their perspective on possibly years of inappropriate thinking and training. We also never shied away from the message about the need for the intensity of training and anyone who has trained with either of us, will, I hope, endorse that.

We have been unreservedly controversial and not simply for the sake of it, as some people whose work I read today are, but simply because we had a message to deliver that was uncomfortable for many mainstream martial artists to reconcile as they had, blindly, and without question taken on board what they had been told, as their instructor had been told before that. But what was almost heresy then, to suggest that traditional martial arts does not work in the street (or any other real life, violent scenario) without major modification, is, 15 years later, not something that raises an eyebrow. We hammered home (no pun intended), the message about pre-emptive strikes, not the fallacy of defence when faced with violence at close range.

The flip side of the controversy, however, is both Geoff and mine’s commitment to quality martial arts. We are martial artists first and foremost and again, anyone who has trained with us will attest to our dedication to the absolute, very best technical and aesthetic practice of the arts. But what we have always espoused is that there is a ‘box’ for everything, be it working on a door, being attacked in the street, being in a full contact or traditional competition and what we practice in one box cannot, as a whole, transfer to one of the other boxes without serious modification. That has always been the message and will never change.

In terms of the blowback of outrage, it was Geoff who bore the brunt of it, the new boy on the block, whilst I was, somehow, possibly as an elder statesman of the Karate world, excused. Maybe they just thought I’d started to go a bit senile and could be forgiven. What many people may not know is about the endless number of people Geoff has helped in their lives and not just in the martial arts. He is, for me, one of the very best motivators and has encouraged inumerable people to turn their lives around.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the BCA was the very first martial arts based organisation dedicated to the issues of self defence. That said, I will always credit our old friend and BCA consultant Coach – Dennis Martin of CQB Services, as the person who led the charge for reality in personal combat and our late friend and very much missed, Peter Robins, with his dedication to reminding us that we were not inventing the wheel and that his own hero‚Ä® W.E. Fairbairn had flattened the ground for us all to stand on over 70 years before.

Even today, with over 700+ instructors across the 3 Combat Group Associations and many thousands of students, we are still a family, but it’s a family of not only the practically oriented individual, but an organisation with some of the best traditional martial artists in the UK. Our non-political stance, freedom of expression for people and our willingness to help instructors grow and develop, has attracted nearly every martial art practiced in the UK. From Krav Maga to Judo, we have some of the best people in their Art. Alan Petherbridge 10th Dan Judo and our most senior Coach is the highest graded Judoka in Britain and after Anton Geesink, the highest grade in Europe. We don’t attract people of Alan’s standing by having an organisation that ‘builds walls around people’, as do most of the traditional groups, as I know that once walls are built then people are only ever wanting to climb over them.

The year 2008 saw the launch of the World Combat Association (WCA). The WCA, again, is an organisation that I have had on the stocks for some time and For many years, we attracted considerable interest from international groups who want to join the BCA, but as a domestic organisation it has never seemed an appropriate fit for them. The WCA now extends the ethos and philosophy that has seen the BCA reach the heights it has, to the very best of the world’s martial arts instructors and their students. Following that launch in 2011 we started the British Combat Karate Association (BCKA).

What about the next 25 years? Well, more of the same, but if it’s possible, better still! We have a range of projects for our Instructors and their clubs and with the launch these new web sites we will have a very interactive operation with great promotional opportunities for all our people as well as the usual friendly support.

Peter Consterdine

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