An Interview with Peter Consterdine

(This interview was conducted some years ago by Shaun Banfield of the excellent web magazine Shotokan Way)

Early this year, I had a superb opportunity to set questions forward to the brilliant Peter Consterdine. During the course of the interview – which took place over a period of weeks – he was kind enough to send me a copy of his new DVD ‘Peter Consterdine Training Day’. This helped me visualize the points he was making, and also enabled me to take the interview in a direction that would, I hoped, present an excellent insight into what he is all about. Here in this interview he talks about his early training career and competitive successes. The bulk of the interview however is far more focused in the direction that has occupied the majority of his study. Discussing his life on the doors, he talk about how his experiences with Sensei Kimura - who developed the famous ‘Double Hip’ approach – helped develop a more explosive and impactive approach. He also talks about his time in China, the concept of ‘Kickshock’, his work with Geoff Thompson and the ultimate reality of violence. We would like to thank Paul Herbert for his contribution to the interview and Dawn who works with Peter for all her help.

Shaun Banfield - Shotokan Way web site  

(Shaun Banfield)     Can we please start the interview by asking how you first got started in the Martial Arts?

(Peter Consterdine)     I started my martial arts at age 15 in 1964 in Manchester at a Wado Ryu club run by Martian Stott and Danny Connor. Roy Stanhope (future GB Team Manager), was a brown belt at the time and when Danny went off to the Far East for a few years, Roy took over, what were then the Sei Do Kan string of clubs in the North and Midlands. From age 16 I was teaching within the clubs. We’d had some good competition successes in the ‘60’s and both Manchester and Sheffield Sei Do Kan clubs (I fought on both teams), won the British Championships at Crystal Palace. In those early days, the championship was a club event, later moving to an Association event.

We were part of the BKA at that time and aligned with the Japanese, but in about ‘68/’69, having broken away from the Wado Japanese, a large number of the BKA North of England and Midlands clubs were formed into the Shukokai Karate Union (SKU), of which I was a founder member. This was under the auspice of Sensei Kimura (more later). The SKU went on to become a real competitive force in the UK martial arts scene and many of its top people were permanent members of the Gt. Britain & England squads, with Roy Stanhope, SKU Chairman being the teams' manager for many years, following on from Steve Arneil’s very successful reign.

(SB)  You were a British Full Contact Champion, would you please tell us about some of your experiences in competition?

(PC)     I was one of the very few Britain & England Karateka who fought full contact and it was Danny Connor who organized the very first competitions. These were, effectively, Full Contact Karate events and in the early bouts, some people fought in Gi. It changed with the advent of good boxers, who could kick as well.

The photo taken in 1976 is of Peter on his way to winning the British Middleweight Full Contact Title and the first of two knockouts 

Whilst I enjoyed good success, with some knockouts, I realized my hand skills were not up to the continuous nature of ‘boxing with kicks’ and it was my ability to impact (double hip etc) that got me through these bouts. It brought it home even more, that Karate, like all complex martial arts, work best against Karate! My concept on this you can’t play chess with someone who only knows draughts. This is why you always see such ‘grizzly’ sights when you put people from one art up against people from another. It’s no different from people who can’t speak the same language – there’s going to be chaos.


(SB)   Now as someone who has such a terrific competitive record, but also someone who has moved away from that scene, do you think competition has its value with regards to training for a truly violent attack on the street?

(PC)    For years, I’ve operated what I call my ‘box system’ and that is that there are aspects of a martial art which, whilst contained in a specific box, can ‘spill over’ (in part) into another box. In answer to your question, there are certainly elements of competition training which can help in the street, as there are elements of Kata which can work in the street. There are elements of full contact which can also spill into other boxes, but what I know for a fact is that you can’t take a whole system, be it the art or sport and expect it to function perfectly in another box (i.e. Street or Door). There is also the presumption that there is actually a ‘fight’ in progress when martial artists believe that their skills will work, but what I learned many years ago on the Doors is that if you let a conflict turn into a fight, you’re in a high risk strategy. You simply don’t know how good a fighter your opponent is and how unlucky you may be or lucky he may be – a fight is just a lottery. What I know from years of experience is that you have to stop it ever getting to a fight! That may mean, a pre-emptive strike.

The official photo of the Gt British Karate team prior to going out to the 1972 World Championships in Paris (Peter back row third from right)

(SB)     You mention the importance of pre-emptive strikes, could you please tell us about some of the set ups you use for this, physical and verbal, and could you tell us what trigger points do you have in your head that you use to know when it is time to pre-emptively strike?

(PC)     Pre-emptive strikes need preparation. If it’s possible these start even before the confrontation begins. When we go into any situation that is unfamiliar, or potentially threatening we should be making a constant assessment of the environment. This is in two parts – ‘situation awareness’ and ‘people (threat) awareness’. This is all to do with the issue of personal security, which is a book in itself, but, in essence, we should be making ‘Awareness’ (information gathering) a permanent feature of our daily existence. This is the foundation for the next level which is ‘Evaluation’ (threat) and, finally, at the top of the pyramid is ‘Avoidance’ (Fight or Flight). The Fight or Flight syndrome was developed as a concept by a psychologist in the 1930’s and is closely linked with the subject of ‘emergency hormones’, which fuel the process. One concept I operate during the Evaluation stage is what I call the 4 D’s and it’s my initial assessment of people; Drunk Drugged Dressed Demeanour All these are important in determining not only who I should be wary of (Demeanour), but whether that person is likely to be pain compliant (Drunk if someone’s wearing a vest, shirt, pullover, jacket and overcoat they  are, effectively, wearing body armour and body shots are not an option. If they’re wearing trainers and I’m in leather soled shoes on a wet marble floor, I’ll try and manoeuvre us elsewhere that gives me a good footing. When it comes to the actual strike I’ve pre-determined what it will be – just not when! – if at all. I’ve learned that when we are stressed as organisms, the over-reaction of the endocrine is no friend and the longer matters are left to go on the more debilitating they get. I’ve also mentioned elsewhere that our brains cease to perform under high stress situations and, in particular, our decision making powers are diminished. This directly effects our ability to pre-empt, especially if we try and ‘decide’ to do it – hence the ‘action trigger’. Without going into it in too much detail, I get ‘action triggers’ to work by means of  ‘primary conditioning’ (Pavlovian conditioning), by means of repetitively linking a word with an action – the strike. This can be practiced on a punch bag, but needs many hundreds of repetitions to make it a ‘conditioned’ response.

Peter (with beard) standing behind his Shukokai colleague, 
Stan Knighton who is to the right of Sensei Kimura - sometime in the 1970's.

With use of the double hip I can generate very big impact from an upright, social stance, ensuring that at all times I ‘talk with my hands’ so that they are always in front, always moving and becoming something the opponent eventually discounts and takes for granted, however, they are a guard, close to him and always ready to either trap or strike. Using the ‘warning and danger signs’ it is then a case of assessing the person’s arousal level and whether my tactical communication skills are working or not. When I feel it’s got only one conclusion I clear my mind, ensure I am doing the talking and then drop my ‘trigger word’ into conversation and that’s it!

(SB)     You studied Shukokai with Sensei Kimura. Can you please tell us about your study with him and the benefits this gave you as a Martial Artist?  

A photo from the 1970's taken during a Shukokai Karate Union (SKU) summer course. Peter behind Stan Knighton who is to the right of Sensei Kimura

(PC)     Training under Kimura was a ‘burning bush’ experience. I’ve trained with all the best style Japanese Sensei but Kimura was in a different league. He was the most explosive, impactive and fastest instructor I’ve ever met. His development of the double hip, kick shock and scientific body dynamics moved my martial arts into a different sphere. As the years went by, however, Kimura, who had always maintained a principle that change was necessary, kept developing the hip work, but for me the impact development couldn’t get any better than it was with the double hip. I’d adapted the double hip to a range of pre-emptive strikes and sweeps on the Door, so when the changes were happening, it was time for me to let go of the strict, traditional work. By that time, I had fought full contact, worked for many years on the Door and studied Chinese systems, so I was, by then, naturally breaking out of the restrictive nature of a single style. Kimura, though, was hugely influential on me and I hold his memory in the very highest regard and can still picture him in motion (a very frightening prospect).

(SB)     Could you tell us a little about some of your experiences with Sensei Kimura and possibly share your memories that you have of him?

(PC)     Sensei Kimura was, by far, the most influential person in respect of the dynamics of movement and impact development. If I see a photograph now of him in a certain position it actually runs as a movie in my mind and I can see the whole technique. His ability to literally flow across the ground, but at speed without any extraneous movement was startling at times. Early on, when he was first with us in the U.K. he cracked my sternum with an Oitzuki. I was supposed to block the strike, but I simply didn’t see him close the distance – there was no ‘tell tale’ sign, either vertically or laterally which one could pick up and with the ‘kickshock’ start to a move there was no build up to the body shift, normally evident when Karateka have to shift their point of balance. He could cover really long distances at speed and whilst many Japanese instructors do move quickly Kimura actually had massive impact when he eventually hit. He was also very ‘Anglicised’, very relaxed as a Japanese and very sociable. He was open and approachable, but as with most Japanese instructors, at times, a bit enigmatic. He was very articulate and, clearly, had worked, to a fine detail, the mechanics of movement and power generation. He was one of those people, whose movement, one tried to simply copy. What he taught was one thing, but to emulate his way of moving was another and I can’t see the same ‘blueprinted’ movement in other people from their instructors that you can in Shukokai people. In those early Shukokai days it was the South Africans who really had that ‘cloned’ Kimura look.

Senseis Kimura and Tani

He was a complete, refreshing change from the previous and often aggressive Japanese we were used to. In fact, the whole cadre of Sensei Tani’s Shukokai/Shito Ryu Instructors seemed out of a different mould. Another of that clan was Nambu who like Kimura was a person I could watch for hours, albeit that he eventually moved away from the core system he had come up through.

(SB)     You mention that he developed the ‘kick shock and scientific body dynamics’. Could you please expand on this and tell us a little about these developments?

(PC)     The principle of ‘kickshock’ was one of Kimuras’ technical innovations. In simplistic terms, it utilises the floor as one would a sprinters starting blocks – in other words, you have to go backwards before you have to go forwards. This is completely counter-intuitive to how we are normally taught and Oitzuki is a good example where from Zenkutsu stance, typically, one has to break the bodies balance, moving the weight over the front foot whilst at the same time trying to break the inertia of the bodies weight and accelerate – it can all seem very laboured. With kickshock, however, there is a very sharp and deliberate impact with the rear foot into the floor, creating an equal and opposite reaction back into the leg which, literally, explodes the rear foot off the floor, transferring the bodyweight instantly. When we then look at the body dynamics after the recoiled start, the body is kept perfectly square to the opponent moving forward, so holding back the release of the hip when the right foot hits the floor.

The release, though, is typically Shukokai, with the hip moving first, shoulder next and arm last creating the whipping action through which the bodyweight flows into the strike. If that is only the first part of, say, a combination with a right roundhouse after the punch, then the kickshock comes into play again in that when the right foot hits the floor we have the opportunity to either waste or make use of the recoil we can get from the foots impact with the floor. Traditionally, after the punch the kick would start, almost as a separate technique, whereas with the kickshock the end of the strike is the start of the kick as it recoils up almost before the strike has finished, obviating the need to use muscular effort to lift the leg for the kick – the recoil automatically chambers the knee without any effort for the roundhouse during which kick the arm counter-rotate against the kick thereby generating more impact for the kick, whilst keeping the body upright and square. It’s complicated to explain and as Kimura was very fond of saying “feeling is believing”.

(SB)     You also travelled to Hong Kong, and studied Wing Chun with Ip Chun. Can you please tell us about these experiences?

(PC)     I went with Danny Connor to Hong Kong and China and when Danny came back to the UK, I stayed on for another month. We went out in November 1990. We traveled to China, but my real purpose of going to Hong Kong was to train with Yip Chun. I’d trained for some time in Wing Chun with Sam Kwok, Simon Lau, Danny Connor and Alan Lamb and Yip Chun and the students in his Hong Kong club were the icing on the cake. Wing Chun was exactly what I needed for real conflict situations to fill the gap that existed with traditional Karate. On the Door, and in close proximity to an opponent (touching distance), there’s no getting into a stance, no long range, reaching shots and no ability to have a formal guard. Wing Chun and its trapping and open hand techniques are ideal as a distance filler. The Chi Sao (sticking hands) training is what I really extracted from the Wing Chun. I trained with Yip Chun in his very small apartment in the New Territories, there would be, maybe, 2/3 private students and Yip Chun doing Chi Sao in this small apartment, whilst his wife and sons sat on bunk beds watching TV. Yip Chun would often do Chi Sao with a pipe in his mouth and still tie us in knots.

(SB)     How are the Japanese and Chinese systems different would you say, and how have they both influenced you in your study of fighting?

(PC)     The Chinese systems are simply more capable of developing impact through relaxed technique. Certainly, the more ‘internal’ systems generate their power through really good dynamics, relaxation and great whipping action. Japanese Karate is far too muscular and heavily set in place, hence the generally poor impact generated, particularly in punches. It’s necessary with the Chinese systems to extract some broad principles if you’re going to try and incorporate elements into an expanded, Karate-based martial art. Wing Chun and Hsing I are very good additions for Karate people to blister on to their existing foundation.

(SB)     You have somewhat moved slightly away form the Traditional scene am I correct in thinking? Why was this?

(PC)     My Thursday morning ‘Training Day’ session with my old training partner, Brian Seabright, amongst others, is done in shorts and training tops and whilst we incorporate full contact training drills, our foundations are built upon Karate. I don’t feel in any way that I’ve moved away from Karate, but I have moved away from the, Church aspect of it. By that I mean, as with Western religions, that one can be religious and follow its tenets, without needing the strictures and medieval rules of a Church system. We have to remember that Japanese Karate, as we received it, was greatly modified from the Okinawan systems, to make it an acceptable practice for school children. I am still paranoid about getting basic techniques absolutely correct and aesthetic, but there comes a time when you have to start doing more with them. Karate, as its been taught for the last 50+ years in the UK has analogies with writing. The basic punches, kicks and blocks are simply letters. A short combination of techniques can be compared with a word and a more complex combination can be like a sentence and set sparring and Kumite may be paragraphs. However, to come back week after week, year after year, and go up and down a dojo, is like simply practicing the alphabet, it’s just futile. I always say that traditional Karate seldom gets any further than “the cat sat on the mat”. The chances of someone writing a piece of Shakespeare is remote and I disagree firmly with the belief that Karate systems develop great players. The great players would have been great whatever they had done and are not simply products of the system. To develop in martial arts we have to expand our repertoire, work with a range of complex training drills and incorporate drills and technique that fit naturally into what we do. Doing a right cross to a focus mitt should not be anathema to a Karateka as it is only a small variation on Gyaku.

(SB)     You also worked for 10 years as a doorman in the clubs of Manchester. This must have given you an invaluable insight into the world of violence. Can you please tell us about this type of work and what it taught you?

(PC)     Door work taught me that trad Karate, or any martial art that wasn’t modified for the environment, circumstances and threat level etc wouldn’t work. There are no bells, whistles, flags and referees and no official start nor arbitrary finish to the fight. Traditional training, even competition does not factor in the huge and immediate ‘chemical cocktail’ release (emergency hormones) that flood the system to fuel the ‘Fight or Flight’ response which are, more often, debilitating. Adrenalin, Dopamine, Cortisol and Endorphins flood the system in an instant and can cause the person to dwell more on these distressing personal feelings – massive heart rate, shaking, tunnel vision, broken voice – so as to dwell on them (somatic anxiety) more than they do on the threat (cognitive anxiety). As critical, and when an opponent is within touching distance, we have to accept the unassailable truth that ‘Action Beats Reaction’. In other words blocking does not work – the person who starts it wins it! Reactive blocking is simply not possible. So all the tens of thousands of blocks we have thrown are of no value when it’s face to face. If the person is within touching distance then other things go out of the window, the stance for one as does having a traditional guard. If you try and step back into a stance they’ll be all over you and anyone who says they will maintain a gap clearly hasn’t been there. The Common Law accepts the principle of pre-emptive strikes as a potential course of action – (R v Beckford). So when your assessment of the developing aggression (verbal and non-verbal) of an opponent is that violence is inevitable then there is really no alternative to pre-emption. Mine were open palm slaps to the side of the face and body punches – all designed to be a one strike option and no residual injuries – and with the double hip.

Playing the 'Bad Guy' at th UK's National Police Training college in the late 90's...

I’ve taught some 13 police forces, including firearms units as well as having a contract from the Home Office to teach at what was then a National Police training college and was a contributor to the existing Police Personal Safety Manual. All my teaching was predicated on impact development, pre-emptive strikes, performance under stress and CQC tactics. Late last year I taught for a Marines detachment in Plymouth – same stuff. In respect of the ‘Log Jam’, I use the analogy of the hour glass where there are hundreds of thousands of grains of sand in the top , but only one or two can get through the neck at any one time. One reason I pre-empt is because waiting too long to defend carries with it a whole range of baggage, in particular uncertainty.

We simply have no idea when the other person attacks actually when it will be, how and with what, all big question marks, so are brain runs through a whole range of possible options and when you analyze all the techniques, combinations, blocks and counters we know in Karate there is simply a log jam. I draw the egg timer on a board and put all the techniques etc in the top to illustrate how they all create a ‘technique jam’ in the neck. We simply know too much, yet can’t find one and the stress makes also diminishes our decision making processes. It’s called ‘paralysis by analyses’. It’s a real problem for anyone in a combat situation aggravated by the massive changes to the sympathetic nervous system and endocrine system. Things we feel we need, like our brain is actually shut down by the body as it wired for reaction to threat and doesn’t expect us to be cognitive about emergencies. Perversely with personal combat we often have to defer reaction to the flood of emergency hormones and psychological changes as we often have periods of dialogue. The result for people, even competent martial artists, neither Flight nor Fight, but FREEZE. There is a huge amount of information about this if people care to look.

(SB)     You mention the cocktail or chemicals that are released in a violent situation. How would you advise instructors to create an environment that would test the students under this type of pressure?

(PC)     Any stressful conditions will give rise to the release of what is called the ‘chemical cocktail’. It aids performance, giving the body more oxygen, glucose, increased heart rate, reduced pain, vasoconstriction, increased sweating, heightened awareness et al. To counter this, however, we can have, for example, muscle shakes, pounding heart, broken/high pitched voice, loss of fine motor skills, tunnel vision, loss of decision making powers, tachy psychia (psychological slowing down of time) et al, and a very high anxiety as a consequence of dwelling on the negative, often distressing symptoms (somatic anxiety). What we should know, though, is that our response mechanisms are blind to real or imagined events, allowing us to re-create training scenarios which can induce these systemic responses and, thereby, allow people to become familiar with what, individually, affects them from the array of symptoms and so develop coping mechanisms. Reality based training within traditional martial arts suffers from two training conditions – ‘state dependent’ and ‘context dependent’ training.

Context is where we actually train i.e. the Dojo which is usually well lit, clean, safe, and free from physical hazards, compared with a back street – poorly lit with a host of physical obstacles and unsure footing. State is the difference between the Dojo (excitement level up fear level down) and the ‘street’ (fear level through the roof!). It’s not always possible to change the context of traditional martial arts training, but it’s why the military and police train in specially constructed houses and real streets so as to simulate reality. This is why martial artists fair badly in real confrontations. They need good, stressful, scenario based ‘states’ and distressing anaerobic drills which duplicate the unpleasant feelings, particularly the wanting to give up!

(SB)     You're famous for using a 'double hip action' when striking - could you explain this process and philosophy to us and why do you think that a double hip movement is more effective than the traditional 'fixed hinge' single hip movement?

(PC)     The ‘Double Hip’ was Kimura’s dynamic or impact development. It arose by him comparing Karate punches with other sports that require a similar dynamic effect with an arm and hand – golf, tennis, javelin, shot putt, or simply throwing a ball. None of these other sports work the hips, shoulder and arm in any similar way to how we punch. They all have a backwards/forwards action of the hip, a delayed shoulder and a further delayed arm coming forward after that. This gives a real dynamic effect to the blow as the arm now simply conveys the body weight to the target. What is also different is between the pivot points.

The effect of delivering bodyweight when striking with the 'double hip.'

Using the analogy of two types of door, trad Karate uses a revolving door with a central pivot around which both hips rotate. The problem here is that the same weight goes out of the rear as it does to the front. Shukokai uses the lead hip as the pivot point just like e single door with three hinges – knee, hip, and shoulder locked in the door frame and not allowed to move backwards meaning all the body weight goes into the strike. Another key point is that the rear leg is not locked down on the floor but allowed to move up to facilitate the transition of the hips forward. All the body weight is rotated into the punch and the double hip is analogous with a tennis serve than it is with a trad punch. It works for blocks, kicks and sweeps. To study traditional shotokan for example, but also be totally committed to the development of skills that will work against street attacks, what advice would you give to these Martial Artists? Shotokan, or any other traditional karate system, is, as I’ve said earlier, like Chess. It’s complex, vast in subject and operates with a range of rules. It simply works best against itself, but not against a charging rugby player, grappler, boxer, or, in many cases a street fighter who disguises his intentions.

Students need to factor in being taken by surprise, need to experience massive chemical cocktail dumps, need to work from upright stances with no trad guard, need to limit the range of techniques and need to accept that in many cases what they have been told for years is more like old handed down clothes that won’t fit them and are not appropriate for many circumstances. Also they need to know that what they are being told is often just handed down without the person who is telling them having any real, practical experience that what he is saying is actually true – it’s a perpetuated myth. Most martial arts are ‘emperor’s new clothes’. It’s the church issue again, “don’t question things”. The church has now stopped the inquisition, but convinced everyone, including itself that it was justified and correct and everyone bought into it because it came with the stamp of ‘Authority’. The great phrase for me, however, is the motto of the Royal Institution – “Not by Authority”. This was our ethos when Geoff Thompson and I started the British Combat Association some 16 years ago. We now have nearly 400 Instructors, many of whom are running very traditional clubs but are with us for the freedom they enjoy.

(SB)     You mention Geoff Thompson. You have worked with him for some time now, what was it about him that drew you both together to work so closely and effectively?

(PC)     Geoff and I met via Martial Arts Illustrated magazine, when its editor Bob Sykes who I was training with gave me the manuscript of a book from a Karateka and doorman. The manuscript was for ‘Watch My Back’ by Geoff and having read it I wanted do an interview with him for the mag. We met and, as they say, the rest is history. Out of this, 15 years ago, came the British Combat Association (BCA) and a long term, close friendship between the two of us. As everyone who knows Geoff will attest, he is one of the gentlest people you’ll ever meet, but in contrast, ferociously effective when it matters and someone with no limits when it comes to intense training. We shared many of the same experiences as martial artists going to work on doors and came to many of the same conclusions, albeit via different paths.

There are few people with Geoff’s visionary drive and countless people who have been inspired by him to the extent that they have changed their lives around, many via the platform and springboard of the BCA. The BCA has been a home for the ‘practical’ inclined martial artists as well as a ‘refuge’ for the traditionalists breaking out of the restrictive bounds of the ‘style’ associations. It has launched the careers of some of the biggest names in British martial arts over the last 15 years, but always with the caveat that they are first and foremost nice people.

(SB)     So do you think Kihon training has a place in a fully functional fighting system?

(PC)     Kihon training certainly has a place in a functional fighting system. It’s back to my ‘box’ concept in that we have to consciously evaluate all the time that what we are doing is ‘role related’. A confrontation on a door, street mugging, or unprovoked attack is not a fight. I mentioned earlier that fighting is a lottery and good self-protection is about tactically intervening, so as to intentionally stop a fight developing and if it means a pre-emptive strike, so be it. . If someone wants to meet you at four on a field for a ‘square go’ then Kihon, in part, will have some relevance, but is still likely to get you into trouble as it’s a competitive function in the main, conditioning practitioners to do some very impractical things. Believe me, what most Karateka believe is impact, most averagely tough guys will simply walk through! It can be very sobering and people need not to mindlessly buy into the myth side of their martial arts – question what you are doing honestly, especially you ability to hit hard. During the seminars I give and I’m in my 43rd year of martial arts, I find few people from Karate who can hit hard and the fault is invariably with hitting fresh air and perpetuating the myth.

(SB)     Do you enjoy practicing kata still and what is your favourite kata and why?

(PC)     Time constraints with my training don’t now allow me to include Kata. But that isn’t because I don’t think it doesn’t have merit. Kata, apart from any practical application is great for the personal development of techniques, timing, movement, balance and aesthetics. Iain Abernethy, who trains with me every week, still finds time for Kata. 

(SB)     Can we just say a huge thank you for this opportunity to speak with you and may we wish you every success for the future!!!

(PC)      Hope it’s not too controversial and that I’ve covered the main points. 

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