Sunday, 18 March 2018

Defy Your Destiny

In July 2017 I checked my luggage in at Heathrow airport to take an Etihad Airways flight from the UK to Abu Dhabi. This was the first phase of a two-part journey back to Australia to complete the Krav Maga Global, Australia & New Zealand General Instructors Course (or KMG ANZ GIC 2017 for short).

Over the preceding week I had had many thoughts about my future and the very real possibility that I would fail the GIC. 

The course comes in three parts in most countries, two in some. KMG ANZ do it in two. Part 1 had been in the Gold Coast of Australia and was 12 days of learning under the tuition of Expert level 4 examiner Rune Lind**. The course, while enlightening, educational and mainly fun had also been bone jarringly exhausting and physically painful. 7 to 8 hours per day of training isn’t that hard to handle if you are even reasonably fit. But with the necessity to teach, make notes and stay mentally aware, it was VERY draining.

I thoroughly enjoyed it but on the last day, when Rune took us to one side individually to give us our personal feedback he said to me “If you carry on as you are, you won’t pass part 2. But do it anyway, because then 1 is locked down and you can retest 2 later on if you need to”.

I have covered the anxiety issues, and how it felt to fail, in my blogs Schroedinger’s Pussy and After A While… but recently I realised just why I really did it.

Just why I went back at all.

When part 1 was getting closer I was exercising as much as I could. I was backpacking in New Zealand at the time and, in order to get my mind on the right wavelength, I booked the return flight back from the UK to Oz for part 2 months before it was due to happen. Retrospectively this wasn’t necessary as you can do part 2 in any country where they are happy to accept you on the course, if you’ve completed part 1. However at the time I wanted to convince myself that I could see this through.

A tourist visa to Australia (or at least, the one I had) is valid for 9 months per year from the date of first entry. However, you must leave every 3 months in order to keep the visa active. So I had no choice but to quit Oz after part 1 had finished and I intended to spend it with my dad in Greece. 

When it came time to pack up my groin guard and fly to Melbourne for part 2, I had figured out how to “not go” and also get the money back. A lost passport would have been covered by my Platinum insurance and the non-refundable return flight as well. I decided only when I handed my luggage over at check-in desk to actually go back.

After another, more arduous, 12 days of training I failed the GIC as I had known I probably would.


All my life I have dreamed of being brave, being a warrior and defeating monsters. My earliest dreams, at the age of about 5, involved me as Lance cowboy, a hero of playschool*** who other kids held in awe and was loved by all. However, growing up my reality was very different. I had no ability to fight and while I wasn’t a coward (I’d stand still and take a beating to prove I wasn’t scared) I gave up trying to make a difference to my own limitations by about the age of 14. 

If something came unexpectedly, then I’d deal with it as best I could, but I would avoid situations that could cause me pain, loss, humiliation or other draining emotions, and keep my life on an even keel.

When I was 19 two bouncers in a pub I worked in, held me down and forcibly cut my hair. I did nothing and tried to laugh it off.

When I got a job after leaving uni, I quit due to bullying from my supervisor after making zero effort to fight back against her behaviour. 

My next job was populated by a bunch of wankers who were banal and bullying in equal measure. Again I did nothing.

A job I got in 2002 where my boss refused to pay me properly on my final day, I put up no resistance.

When I fell in love in 2004 and couldn’t deal with my emotions I ran away and hid for over 8 years, telling myself outrageous stories about how the woman must have felt about me.

When, in 2010, and a police officer, my sergeant bullied me gleefully until I resigned, I put up only token resistance and only made peace with the situation after publishing a book about it all.

Any key event in my life I wouldn’t see it through. I would stop and say that I’d stood my ground long enough and now it was time to move on.

And then GIC came. 

I had been training in Australia and New Zealand at a few clubs when I asked Adam White, the head of KMG ANZ if he’d let me take the course. I made it clear I couldn’t promise regular training but that I would still give it my all. Problem is, techniques need to be absorbed into muscle memory and by not training in clubs more than once every month or so, there was no way I was ready and deep down I knew that.

To fly back to Melbourne from London was going to take me about 30 hours. It was winter in Australia in July so I would not only be tired, I would be cold and uncomfortable too. The training would start early and end late. I would have homework to do. I would be facing a range of negative emotions and would hopefully be able to get over what I found out later is called The GIC Hump. This would be hard. It would be one of the hardest things I had ever done and to top it all off, I had little chance of success. I simply wasn’t ready. 

On day 12, the last day, I gave it as much as I could. I had passed both the theory and teaching exams on days 10 and 11 and while I knew I was bollocksing up the techniques that part 2 examiner Franklyn Hartkamp was asking us to demonstrate I still lived in the moment. After 5+ hours we all got our results and Franklyn made it clear that while I had got good passes on the first two exams he wanted me to wait a year before retesting, my techniques had been that lacking in polish. He also expressed surprise when I said I would be flying back to Europe in 2 days, asking “But you’re coming back?” and then saying that he’d never had this situation before, where someone had been in a country ONLY to take the exam and was leaving straight after.

Through all that pain, and eventual disappointment, I had spent a lot of money, time, sweat and pain on something that I now needed to do all over again if I still coveted the Instructors’ T-shirt.

But then….

I had come back. I’d sen this to the end. I’d not made a false insurance claim and told myself that I could do part 2 “another time”. I’d travelled a ridiculous amount of miles and gone through a world of pain. And that was the achievement. For possibly the first time in my adult life I had, with my eyes wide open, decided to not turn the ship around, tuck tail and run, or do a U-ey. I’d faced my fears of both failure and pain and both participated in and completed something that, even three years previously, I NEVER thought I would be able to do. I had fought with guys both better and worse than me, and had my 42 year phobia of fighting finally cured during the sparring on day 11 of GIC part 1.

I resigned my jobs, I didn’t protest when two thugs cut my hair for a laugh, I hadn’t been able to tell the woman I loved how I felt about her, but now, knowing that I was 80% likely to fail I had still gone back and done this. 

This was the achievement, not the G1 patch or the Instructors’ certificate and T-shirt. To know that I could trek across the world to pursue a dream. Something I’d always wanted, and not back down when the odds were against me. I’d faced my demons and I’d had a good time. A video of me fighting during the grading shows me getting my arse handed to me by a much bigger, better and stronger opponent (who at one point, kicks me in the HEAD from a standing position). The same video also shows that while I’m out of my league, I’m also not backing down. He was the personification of the GIC. I knew I couldn’t beat him, but I tried anyway and stood my ground.

This experience gave me back a lot of the self esteem I lost growing up. In 2010 I had a tattoo done on my left arm that said “Defy Your Destiny” and for once I tried to. 

I now know that even if I never retake the GIC I have the power to try whatever I want.

** Now Expert 5.
*** Kindergarten to Yanks.

Thursday, 22 February 2018


Now…I am a fairly cynical person most of the time. Having been bullied for years both as a child and adolescent, I have an attuned sense of what’s going on around me and in later life I worked for just over 3 years as a police officer. These two factors, plus training in Krav Maga mean that I was usually in a state of alertness for most of the day. This used to annoy the shit out of a friend of mine in the UK who pointed out that I was unable to relax over a beer as my eyes were constantly checking the room for possible danger and/ or seeing other people as a potential threat (no doubt exacerbated by alcohol).

I have for years tried to avoid being a slave to technology in public, because that can lead to unpredictability and horrid stuff. I worked as a postman for 4 years and zoned out in the job a lot, mainly because it was dull, and I would listen to music on a pair of headphones. However I would double up on other senses in order to try to compensate for my lack of ears while pushing my mail wagon around.

I’m also a keen cyclist and have cycled in both central London and Rome. Both these cities are fairly intense and stressful for bicycle enthusiasts and my senses were attuned at all times to what was going on. I learned in London to “ride assertively AND defensively” and would be hyper aware as I navigated through Elephant & Castle or via Cristoforo Columbo (the former is a dog’s arse of urban design, the latter a notorious link road from Rome to EUR that has a LOT of motor accidents on it). By being constantly aware of what was going on, and more importantly what MIGHT happen, I never had an accident, although I witnessed several.

The way I lived my life on a daily basis was in a heightened state, but the problem was that this became anxiety or even paranoia due to my inability to relax. 

Recently I heard about a wonderful yet simplistic thing called the Cooper Colour Code.
This code goes white, yellow, orange, red and dictates the state of mental awareness that we should be in on a daily basis at all times.

To break it down…

White means no awareness of anything other than what you are either looking at or thinking about. You should only be in White when you are asleep.
Yellow is a state of awareness of what’s around you at all times.You are focussing on everything yet this ISN’T paranoia. It merely allows you to process the world you are passing through as things happen rather than…
Orange, which is that something MIGHT happen in a second or two, and you need to prep yourself because you might move to…
Red, which basically means the something negative is now happening.

Too many people are in White mode when they are NOT asleep. 

We’ve all seen it. The woman on the underground with headphones in, texting and her bag to the rear. Blind, deaf and dumb. The two guys talking while walking and paying no regard to the people around or ahead them. 

I looked at what the colour code was and it basically said that Yellow is the state we should all be in all the time while awake, and (and here’s the beautiful bit) if you remain in Yellow, you will only usually have to rise to Orange and rarely to Red.

To explain…

You are conscious of your surroundings. You are behind the safety line as the train pulls in to the Metro station at Circus Maximus in Rome. You get on and check who is either side of that empty seat. You sit, and because you want to read your book you put your bag either on your lap or between your feet. You have the book at an angle so that you can use your peripheral vision and all’s well.


Someone moves and stands next to you BUT they are a little close and there’s no reason for it as the carriage is not full. Because you are in Yellow mode you spot this quickly and reposition yourself slightly to create more personal space. You have just reacted in Orange mode. However the person moves into your personal space again so you simply get up and move. You’ve avoided going into Red mode by being alert AND reacting to a POTENTIAL problem before it could happen.

The good thing about this, is that it tapped into my existing behaviour, but cut out the stress and paranoid delusions that went with it. I cycle in a constant state of Yellow yet no longer believe anyone in a car is a potential arsehole. Similarly I use public transport in a more relaxed frame of mind because I know where my stuff is, I’ve padlocked my zips together on my backpack, my wallet & phone are in a zippable inside pocket, and my bag is carried to the front like a kangaroo’s joey, when in crowded places.

Various armies apparently use this code, with some adding Black to the list, meaning that something lethal has just happened. But that’s a little too dramatic…

By using this code I feel a little more prepared each day and have noticed that I’m less inclined to forget things or not know what I have on me when I come to lock up my bike. I know where the pump is, because I Yellowed its existence earlier by noting that I might need to change a puncture. I remember where my waterproof jacket and trousers are because I had Yellowed them into my backpack before setting off.

I know this works because 2 weeks ago I was cycling to the Decathlon sports shop nearby in Rome, and a car was coming out of an exit road on an intercept path. I guessed he might not have seen me so Yellow became Orange and I slowed down. Sure enough, the cunt was texting on his phone and had I not seen him and allowed for it, he would have hit me.

My torrent of verbal abuse probably wasn’t understood as it was in English.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Without You...

As Mick pulled into the carpark he was mildly amused to see that the sports hall still had the same graffiti on the wall as 15 years ago. The town had expanded since he’d been away but this was reassuringly still the same. Someone had long ago painted “Give Violence A Chance” in bright green across the wall next to the emergency exit at the back. 

He smiled and turned off the engine just as his phone rang. 'John Mob', the screen flashed, probably wanting to know where he was. 

“Hi mate”
“Good morning old timer, where are ya?
Mick chuckled. “Out back, just pulled in.”
“Great, I’m at the front I’ll nip round”.

The line went dead and in less than a minute John appeared, a big grin on his face. Mick stepped out of the car.

“Mickey!” John said, throwing his arms wide and Mick stepped forward and they hugged, clapping each other on the back. John looked at the car. “Christ! Can’t you afford better than that?” he exclaimed, his face creasing in mock disgust.

Mick laughed. “See your sense of humour hasn’t improved since you were a student. Put on a bit of muscle since then too I notice. You were so skinny back in the day, you had to hold your arms out to your sides every time you walked over a drain”.

John laughed again. “So good to see you mate. It’s been way too long. When I heard you were coming back I was over the moon.”

Mick was touched and nodded in acknowledgment. “Yeah, it’s been a while. What grade are you now? G5?”

John spluttered in mock indignation, “Err…no, E2”.

Mick whistled softly. “Impressive. I’m seriously pleased for you John, you were just a scared kid when I met you. Now look at you. Grading with Eyal and married with a kid”.

John smiled and put his arm around Mick’s shoulders. “Come on, the seminar doesn’t kick off for half an hour but I want to introduce you to a few people”.

As they walked around the front Mick noticed that the reception had completely changed and the interior of the sports hall was a refit on the previous times. Gone were the faded court markings and tatty nets that had hung in his day. The whole thing had been renovated and looked much more impressive. A large green net was drawn across the large hall, splitting the room in two. Only the facade, it seemed, had been left untouched.

At the reception was a young woman and John said “Honey, this is Mick. Mick my wife Jennifer. And the thankfully asleep baby in the push chair is Robert”.

Jennifer stood up and smiled as she extended her hand. She was dressed in a Krav Maga T-shirt and black sweat pants, her long black hair tied back in a pony tail. “I am SO pleased to meet you Mick. I have spent years hearing stories about you from John. You are quite the hero at our place”.

Mick blushed slightly as he shook her hand. “Pleasure’s mine. Your baby looks gorgeous.” Robert was fast asleep, oblivious to the reunion.

Jennifer snorted and said “Pain in the bum like his dad but I love them both”.

John gently pulled the pushchair out and wheeled it past the reception desk to the main hall area. About 10 guys were sat on the benches and stood around talking. All were in Krav logoed T-shirts and a few had the barred grade patches sewn onto the right leg of their trousers and shorts.

“You managed to round a few up then?” Mick said grinning. “They all want to listen to what an old fart like me has to say about Krav?”

“Yeah, these guys said they’d come. Couldn’t get any more unfortunately. Short notice and all that. They know you were around when Eyal was with IKMF and before KMG was formed. They want to hear what you have to say about things then and how it’s moved on. I mean Krav is a global phenomenon now, you’ve seen it expand. It’s gonna be good to hear stories from someone who was there back in the very early days.”

As they approached the group John said loudly “OK guys. This is Mick my former instructor. You’ve all heard about him. He’s hear to tell you what the good old days were like. Be gentle as he’s a bit long in the tooth and can’t hear too well”.

The students laughed and Mick shook their hands one at a time. All seemed happy to see him and he could feel his nervousness slipping away. To be honest, he hadn’t expected more than about ten students to turn up to hear him talk so he wasn’t disappointed.

“And…better late than never…Mick I think you’ll remember this young lady”.

Mick turned to see a very attractive woman in her early twenties walk towards them and put her kit bag on the floor. Mick didn’t recognise her at all. She walked up and stood before him and smiled, putting her hands on her hips and cocking her head to one side. “Now, Mick Tanner, don’t you DARE tell me you don’t remember me!”

The stance and the tone tipped him off and he spluttered “Chloe?!!” not quite believing that the scrawny 7 year old he’d taught Krav Maga to was now standing in front of him

Chloe laughed and threw her arms around his neck. “See John, told you he’d guess. That’s a tenner you owe me”. She stepped back and unzipped her fleece. “I even wore the T-shirt”. A faded JKW- Junior Krav Warriors T-shirt was underneath her jacket. Mick remembered that he’d had to give her an XL one as there hadn’t been any in her size left. At the time it had made her look like she was wearing a dress. 

Mick laughed. “My God, so someone still has one of those. I’m flattered you kept it. Might be worth something on Ebay in few years if you look after it”.

Chloe tutted theatrically. “I’ve been offered money for this, good money. Told them to get lost. Collector’s item”.

John stepped forward. “Mick we can kick off when you’re ready, I think everyone’s here who’s coming. Guys, two minutes just get near the front of the mats and we’ll come up for the first Kida and then take it from there.” 

John led Mick to where a desk and two chairs were standing, with a large pile of certificates stacked neatly on the desk. Mick chuckled “Think you over ordered on the certifs.”

John shot Jennifer a death glare who blushed slightly but looked away and continued feeding Robert, who’d now woken up, from a bottle. 

“Oh err…yeah, we ordered loads so we could use them for other seminars. Only the first 15-ish are for today.”

Mick nodded, taking off his jacket and placing it on the back of one of the chairs. He began stretching his arms and said “When you’re ready mate”.

They walked to to the front of the mats and stood facing the students who formed a neat line, hands by their sides, ready to bow. 

John began to formally introduce Mick. “OK guys, you all know who this is. Mick Tanner, my former instructor back in Junior Krav Warriors 15 years ago. He was a big influence in my life and he’s here to teach you lot today and also tell you some tales about the good old days.”

Mick stepped forward slightly “Thanks John. OK guys…” he was about to bow when John spoke again.

“Chloe, can you do us a favour and open the net all the way. Don’t think we need it today. It’ll give us chance to spread out.”

Chloe grinned and moved quickly to the green curtain taking one end and began walking across the hall. Mick stood patiently waiting and then stared in shock at what he could see. 

As Chloe pulled the net back, there were other people standing behind it, all waiting silently. As the room became one again, they began moving forward to take up a place in the existing line. Some were wearing JKW T-Shirts and all were grinning broadly. 

“What the…?” he exclaimed and John said quietly…”You didn’t really think only 10 people would want to hear the legendary Mick Tanner talk to them did you?

The men and women spilled out and took up places till there were two ranks of people. Mick quickly did a head count and there were over forty people. He still didn’t quite comprehend what was going on. One or two faces he recognised but he was at a loss as to who most of the students were. 

When the final person had taken their place, and Chloe was back in the, line John then barked “KIDA!” and everyone bowed. “Now all of you take a floor” and the group sat down.

He turned to Mick. “I thought, as you said on the phone, that I’d get maybe 10 or 15 guys if I was lucky but as soon as your students found out you were coming back my phone didn’t stop ringing and my inbox is full to bursting. Less said about Facebook messenger the better”.

There was a ripple of laughter from the sitting students. 

“With the exception of the people I introduced you to at the start these are all your ex students. Where’s Shane?” 

A hand went up.

“Tell Mick where you came from to be here today Shane”.


"Indeed, Brussels. We’re going to make sure you get your flight home tonight in case you decide to stay”.

More laughter.

Mick looked totally confused. He remembered Shane. Big, sweet natured lad who had been brought to the club because as his mother had put it, “he’s too nice to hit bullies back”. He had a G2 patch on his black sweat pants. 

John then clasped his hands and said “Right, one at a time. Please stand up and thank Mick for whatever you feel you’d like to thank him for”.

A hand went up and John nodded. A woman stood up. “Mick, I’m Louise Jordan. You gave me special training when I got the flu when I was 9 so I could get my J5 patch. Thank you”. 

She sat down again.

Mick had to think for a moment before he remembered Louise. God yes! She’d been heartbroken when she was poorly because she’d have to miss her grading. He’d trained a few times with her to make up the lessons she’d missed and she’d passed her test with the highest score of anyone there.

Another person stood up. “Mick, my name’s Declan Jones. I was getting the living shit beaten out of me at school and the teachers told me that I shouldn’t hit back. You taught me to stand up for myself and the bullying stopped. Thank you”.

Laughter again as Declan sat down once more. Mick remembered the bruises and the fear in the boy’s 10 year old eyes. He’d told him to hit back if he had to and that it was nothing to be ashamed of.

A third person. “Mick, I doubt you’ll recognise me as I was, to put it politely, a bit fatter back then, but I’m Gary Miller and you got me to stop being a slob and look after myself. I can’t thank you enough.”

Gary had indeed been a fat kid. He was tall and athletic looking now, a P5 patch on his shorts.

One at a time the students stood up and gave him their gratitude for what he’d given them when they were kids.

The last person to stand up was a woman of about 30 and she said “Mick, I found new confidence because of you and on behalf of all of us here we just want to say thank you for what you gave us all. Without you none of us would be the people we are.” She sat back down again and applause broke out. Mick looked at John who was clapping as well. He smiled and Mick began to well up, tears filling his eyes. 

“Oh dear! Now look what you’ve done. Come on everyone, give the old man a hug” John said. 

They all stood up and mobbed him, slapping him on the back and shaking his hand. Further words of thanks and gratitude being spoken.

Finally the group thinned again and everyone formed two staggered lines. Mick knuckled his tears away and smiled at John. “Thanks mate” he whispered.

John smiled back and winked. “No mate, thank you”. He turned to the students. “Alright you lot, are you ready? KIDA!”