Very rarely do you get the opportunity to meet someone who is genuinely passionate about what they do. Geoff Thompson is genuinely passionate. Over the past few weeks, through this interview, I have taken a journey with a man who is steadfast in all that he does, and whose passion is overwhelmingly contagious. – Emma Robin 2008
Questions by The Shotokan Way
(ER) I read a newspaper article quite recently about a girl who was attacked by 19 youths. She stated that at least four people separate from the gang witnessed the attack and did nothing, not even rang the police. Do you think it is our responsibility to try to help in situations like this, or to protect ourselves first and foremost?
(GT) I think so, yes, we should always try and help if we can. But of course most people have no idea about how to do that, any more than they would now how to save some one from a fire or apply a suture to a victim of a car accident. The first rule they teach you in life-guarding is to first ensure your own safety. When you are safe then you can and should do everything in your power to help the person drowning. This works in water only if you are highly trained. If you are not then the chances are you will be pulled under the water and drowned too. In self-defence situations people often do not get involved because they are frozen by sheer terror. You cannot underestimate the power of fear. It triggers a natural and powerful flight or freeze response that is very, very hard to resist. It takes a strong-minded or experienced person to override that instinct and step in. And even then, if you do manage to step in, what are you going to do? If you are not trained to deal with the explosive ferocity of violent attackers you are unlikely to be effective, and you are quite likely to get badly hurt. You might think that ringing the police in such an attack would be a simple enough act, but in reality it is not. The adrenal response draws a lot of blood away from the thinking brain during fight or flight and pumps it to the major muscles, which are seen as being more useful in a physically threatening situation, so even thinking logically becomes difficult. And of course people are terrified of the consequences of any involvement in a violent situation, whether they are in the middle of the affray or on the periphery. It’s the selfish gene. It overrides morality and ethics and societal expectations and does what ever is necessary for survival. I absolutely still think that people should step up, I think that we should never stand by and watch others get hurt, but to do that we need better preparation.
(ER) You refer to “a character X-Ray” and you also mention this phrase in the Animal Day Sessions. What do you mean by this? How important is character in dealing with a violent encounter?
(GT) Character is everything in a real situation, because without it you will never be able control the often overwhelming amounts of fear that swamps your system. Training is all about developing character, like tempering a blade in a hot forge. A character X-ray is placing yourself (or your art or both) under extreme pressure to see how hardy your character really is. You might think it is titan, but until you bang the pressure on you will never really know (a sure sign of an undeveloped or weak character is someone that claims they would never lose their bottle in a real fight. It generally means that they have not felt real pressure yet). I have met many, many seasoned people who have fallen to pieces under pressure because they did not take their character into the forge. So to me, character x-ray means stepping into an animal day (or any high pressure situation) to allow you (and everyone else) to see what is inside. What weaknesses are lurking? How will you react if someone takes you to the floor? How will you cope if someone postures and swears? What if they threaten to burn your house down? The part of you that is going to have to handle a real situation is not the part of you that is sitting here reading this interview now. That is fact. The part of you that is reading these words is your conscious self, it is front of shop, the part that runs the show during homeostasis, when the body is working in the parasympathetic nervous system and doing normal things. In a fight situation the body goes out of homeostasis and into sympathetic nervous system, what we know as fight or flight. The front-of-shop self that you know and love is relegated to a back seat and another part of you, the primal self, will rush forward and take over. You’ll be on autopilot and you will go into any one of three phases; fight, flight or freeze. In this mad age of crazy neurological stressors, anyone of those three responses could be the wrong response for the situation that you are facing, a response that could get you killed because you froze when you should have attacked or attacked when you should have ran, or ran when you should have stayed and fought. Or any wrong combination of the three. In days of old when man hunted for food and dragged ladies around by the hair in the courting ritual, fight, flight or freeze was simple enough and it more often than not saved your life. These days the sound of a car backfiring is enough to trigger your adrenals. The response is out date and often dangerous. So it needs retraining, or re-educating. What I learned to do was trigger the adrenals with simulation training in order to get acquainted with the primal self and monitor its response to stressful situations and - where necessary - take back manual control and re-train it. The self that is reading this article does not concern me because he/she is not going to be there when shit and fan meet, it is the primal self that I am interested in, because that is the fellow (or girl) that needs the training. You don’t want to leave it until you face a real situation to find out, because by then it might be too late. Now is the time to do it, while you still can.
(ER) You use the phrase ‘Courage Muscles’, with regards to facing fear. Could you please elaborate and explain what you mean by this?
(GT) If you want to build skeletal muscle you do anti-gravity training, like lifting weights. The act of pushing the muscle to failure creates (what is known as) ‘the burn’. You break the muscle tissue down, and then it rebuilds bigger and stronger. Over time you increase the load on the muscle, and the muscle responds and continues to build. The same process occurs when you place increasing loads on your bones.
What I discovered was anti-gravity training for the mind.
By facing fearful situations I was able to build my mental muscle to advanced levels, so that my mind could handle increasingly fearful situations. I actually pyramided the confrontation. I drew a pyramid on a piece of paper, and on each step of the pyramid I wrote down one thing that I feared. Least fear on the bottom step, building to my greatest fear on the top step. My anti-gravity training consisted of facing down these fears (bottom to top) until I had completely overcome them. Each fear you face and successfully overcome builds your strength, enabling you to take on the next fear and the next and so on, until you are at the top of the pyramid. My original pyramid had fear of spiders on the bottom step (my least fear) and violent confrontation at the pinnacle (my greatest fear). So my journey started out (and this is not a metaphor, this is what I actually did) with me being afraid of spiders and ended up with me becoming a bouncer facing violence and potential death on a nightly basis. Once I was at the top of that pyramid, I (of course) found myself at the bottom of a brand new pyramid of fears. That’s what is exciting about this grand life, there are always new challenges, and whilst we are growing fear will always be there, you don’t lose it, you just learn to change your relationship with it. Fear is the friend of exceptional people.
(ER) Fear is the friend of exceptional people, can you explain the idea behind this phrase, and a phrase you have titled one of your books.
(GT) Fear is the enemy of happiness and progress. But only because it is so misunderstood. For those that understand fear, for those that learn to manage and channel fear it becomes a friend, but it takes an exceptional person to be able to tolerate, like, and actually love fear. So fear is the friend of exceptional people. My life has been about finding ways to become an exceptional person, and to teach others to do the same. This whole incarnation has been a practical investigation into fear and its workings, that is why I write about it so much. I learned early on that everything I wanted to achieve in life, everything, was sitting just south of my terror barrier. So if I was to be a great success I had to break through the fear-veneer. It is almost as though that invisible line of fear is like a force field erected between different realities, and if you want to experience new realities, you have to go through that force field. When Carlos Castaneda was training under the mystic Don Juan Matus, his master said to him, “Your reality is like a room in a house of one hundred rooms, if you train with me I will show you how to access the other ninety nine, in fact if you train with me I will show you how to get out of the house.” He went on to say that all the one hundred rooms (and in fact ‘outside of the house’) are all within you. But – and this is the caveat – before you can leave the room that is your current reality, you have to take on the dragon of fear.
(ER) Adrenaline plays a huge part in any confrontation and can render those unaccustomed to it useless. Do you have any drills that can mimic this adrenaline that can be done in the dojo?
(GT) Pretty much everything I do is a drill for reality. I call it ‘simulation training’. Like a pilot that climbs into a flight simulator to practice flying manoeuvres, you have to recreate, in the controlled arena (the dojo) a real situation in every detail, right down to the swearing, the spitting, the screaming, as close to no-holds-barred as you can get. In other words, simulate a real fight in the dojo, allow any range and any technique. If you allow biting, just bite and release without breaking the skin, if you allow eye gouging, just touch the eye and release without actually harming the opponent. The moment you simulate reality, the adrenals will be triggered and you will be getting real, life saving practice. You will be (as they say) in the arena. It is too easy to think that your training is real because you go for it a little bit in sparring or competition, but most dojo fighting is controlled and unrealistic. You don’t necessarily have to do this every night of the week, perhaps set up a special animal day night for the serious practitioner. When you simulate reality you’ll be surprised at the results. You will see many of your fourth and fifth and sixth dans getting beaten by yellow belts that’ve done a bit of rugger.
(ER) How do you face someone threatening to hurt your family? Personally I can think of nothing worse. Within your character, how do you differentiate between controlled aggression for the purposes of defence, and the desire to hurt someone threatening something that’s important to you? How do you deal with the anger, and even hate?
(GT) In a word, intention. If your intention is to defend yourself or a family member or an innocent person, then the act of being physical, no matter how severe would not be seen as a violent act. Violence is not in the act, it is in the intention. So if you have to defend yourself or another and you have God in your corner, in other words if your intention is honourable, then I would not class it as a violent act. But, and this is a big but, one that is hard to get your head around, if you can completely keep your consistent and emotive thoughts away from fear and violence and confrontation, you are very unlikely to bring it into your orbit. Certainly that is what my own experience has taught me. As for anger and hate, they are just energy that has taken a specific form, if you are controlled enough in the self, you can dissolve these very strong emotions back to their base parts and re-shape them back into something else. Everything is energy, science tells us this much. We use our judgement and our desire and our intention to make shapes with it, and if those shapes are things like hate and anger then they become weapons that we attack people with behaviourally. If we do not find a behavioural release and instead internalise these emotions, then they become an internal caustic that attacks the smooth internal muscles like the heart, the lungs, the intestines, the bladder and bowel, they even travel through the blood stream to the brain and kill neurotransmitters. If I have any of these catabolic emotions rising up inside of me, current or historical, I transmute them into something wonderful, like a good training session, an article, or – when you are more advanced - love. These emotions are very powerful and if we can re-distribute them we can use them to create a prolific workload. That is how I am able to get so much work done. I have all that energy inside me and I create great things with it, things that benefit me and things that hopefully will benefit mankind.
(ER) You speak of ‘intent’ and its influences on power and on situations that people could find themselves in. How do you incorporate the idea of intent into the lessons you teach? How do you explain this idea to others?
(GT) Intent is really just certainty. When a wish becomes a strong desire, and strong desire becomes full intent, full purpose, your power to manifest that intention magnifies. If your idea or your wish is just half-hearted and uncommitted nothing is likely to happen, why would it, you have to connect fully to the intent with everything you have. This is true whether we are talking about throwing a punch or climbing a mountain. If you fully commit an attack in training or in the street with no fear of consequence, it will be almost impossible for your opponent to get out of the way. I once had my house burgled, thousands of pounds worth of jewellery stolen. I was so angry that I went out and hunted down the people that stole it. The police said I would never see the jewellery again, my friends said the same and even the insurance company believed the odds of getting it back were so small that they did not even consider it worth trying. I made it my full intention to get it all back. Within a week I had found the burglar. He (actually it was a she and a he, a husband and wife team) had already sold my gear but felt my intent so strongly (I was carrying a bat, I think that helped) that he went out and brought it all back again. It was the first burglary in history that actually cost the burglar money, because everyone he had sold it to sold it back to him at a higher price than they bought it. I got it all back. That was about intent. I did the same to get my first black belt and the same to win my BAFTA. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe believed that our real power to succeed lay in decisive and bold action. He felt that when we had full intent it was as though the universe conspired to help us, triggering all sorts of assisting events that would otherwise have been unimagined. This has also been my experience. When I fully intend to do something, with no doubts and no hesitation, that thing is already done. If you click into intent not only will mountains move and seas part, even the constellations will get out of your way. People rarely click into full intent because they are afraid of their own power. And if they are afraid of it, then they will never engage it fully. I practice intent in everything I do.
(ER) Do you still place a lot of value on teaching verbal dissuasion techniques to those people who train with you?
(GT) Yes, I always think that you should talk a situation down if the option is there, and it usually is. I see a physical response as a very last resort, ultimately for a stalwart I would see it as a failure.
Violence in some pockets of society is a language, a very basic and course language, but a language all the same. If we want to be able to defend ourselves against these dangerous elements then of course it helps if you can speak the lingo. I learned it well on the doors of Coventry nightclubs but, to be honest I found it very ugly, so I later learned to perfect a higher discourse, which is, as you rightly suggested verbal dissuasion. In very basic physical self-defence I recommend avoidance, escape, verbal dissuasion, loop-holing, posturing and – if all else fails the pre-emptive strike. At a higher level I teach metaphysical self-defence, which involves self-defence against the self (addictions, vices, fears etc.) and defence against accidentally projected manifestation (people manifest violence into their lives with un-schooled and fearful imagination).
(ER) How important is the ability to be physically proactive and pre-emptive?
(GT) Life-and-death important! Nothing less. People die in street attacks every day. It is not a game. During my door years four of my friends were murdered. There are no whistles and bells, no referees, no orange at half time, no bows, no touch of gloves, no honour and certainly no rules. You are either first or you are last, and last in this arena might mean the cold slab. If you have to be physical the pre-emptive strike is the only consistently effective technique. From my experience blocking, parrying, trapping etc do not work effectively or consistently when the pavement is your arena. They look as though they might work, they feel as though they should work and in the dojo they are all certainly very effective, but the dojo is not the street, it never has been and it never will be. You only have to look at human conflict (civil, national and global) over the centuries to see that war always demands artifice and it always demands pre-emption. The street might be a war in microcosm, but it is no less war-like. The pre-emptive strike really is just common sense, and the moment you face an angry man who wants to flatten the world with your head you will know, no-one will need to draw you diagrams, you will just instinctively know. What we are generally sold in Martial Arts as effective self-defence is at best foolhardy and naïve and at worst a lie. And the reason I am being so blunt about it is because that lie will get you killed if you don’t question it.
(ER) In today’s age, many attacks occur in packs. How would you control this kind of situation? How do you focus your zanshin on a target that keeps switching?
(GT) You don’t. On a base physical level you use artifice and pre-emption to attack first, and then you hit everything that moves as hard as you can. On a psychological level you make yourself so good at your art that that it can be read from a hundred yards by any aggressor, thus taking you out of the victim pool. People innately know when they are faced by a warrior, that is why they tend to choose the young, the old, the infirm and those that are detached from the herd as their victims. On a spiritual level I’d be thinking ‘I am going to kill all these enemies by making them friends.’ And on a metaphysical level, man I would not even allow myself to mentate on such a question, and that way I would not draw it into my orbit.
(ER) What made you develop the idea of ‘the fence’? How important is the subtlety?
(GT) Good question (the subtlety bit). The Fence is an organically grown defence system. I placed my bones into a very violent environment to temper myself, and the fence developed as a by-product. If I was only going to teach you one physical technique that might save your life it would be the fence. It is so powerful that most people (inexperienced people usually) can’t even see it. They think it is a supplementary technique that they can add to their bulging technique portfolio. The power (as you rightly intuited) is in the subtlety. It is an easy technique to get wrong and a hard technique to master, mostly because people often do not see what there is to master. It looks so simple. The key is that the fence should be so subtle that the person you are facing does not even know that you are using the fence. That calls for expert execution - mastery no less. You should use the fence to control that all-important gap between you and the opponent, without allowing him to know that you are controlling the gap. The person that controls the gap controls the fight. You can also use an overt fence of course (known as the conscious fence) as part of posturing, where you actually tell the opponent that you are controlling not only the gap but him also, but that is another aspect of the fence and probably best left for another article.
(ER) You train for one punch. What kind of exercises do you use to make sure that this first punch will be effective?
(GT) I heard a lovely line once about writers; it was delivered by Sean Connery in a film called Finding Forester. His character played a literary giant called Forester who, on being asked the secret to becoming a writer answered, ‘write!’. Because that is what writers do, they write, they don’t sit in café’s talking about it, they just write. That’s how I developed my ‘single shot’. I just stood at a bag and literally threw millions of punches. I’d think nothing of doing a five-mile run and then 40 rounds on a punch bag. I’d isolate my punches, doing just lead hand jabs, just right crosses, just a left or a right hook, and I’d drill it and drill it and drill it until I was sick to death of punching. Then I’d jump back on the bag again the next day and start all over again. My intention was to take my ‘one punch kill’ to the PHD level, then professor level, and then beyond that. Man I was so hungry though - and I think to train maniacally like I always did you need to want it like a fat kid wants a chocolate bar. Musashi said that to get a technique you needed to do 10,000 repetitions, and to own it you needed to do 100,000. When you start hitting numbers like that let me tell you that you find something. A certain feel, a certain sense of…something that actually cannot be articulated but you will know it when you see it because it is so distinct. You cannot find it in a book or an article or an interview. It comes only from taking yourself beyond yourself. You will certainly not find it (as Dante said) from a cushion or from your bed (the cushion or bed in this case representing any system that offers comfort as staple). I have come to think of this ‘feel’ as a happy accident. I don’t really know how specifically to find it, but I do know the methods of becoming accident-prone. And diligent, one might say excessive training is one of them.
(ER) Training for that one punch, one decisive blow - in budo - is known as ikken hisatsu and the philosophy is identical. Would you consider yourself a budo-ka in this way?
(GT) Absolutely. That is what my life is. I am often faltering, certainly not a master and find myself slipping from the path all the time, but I do definitely live a warriors life. I cannot think of a better way of living.
(ER) Do you think that tradition has a place in the modern dojo? Bowing, kneeling to open and close a class, Japanese terminology?
(GT) I’d say that we would be pretty lost without it. I love the etiquette, it is a big part of the discipline, but I do believe it should have congruence, it is not good kneeling and bowing and showing respect in the dojo if you do not carry it over into the outside world. I’ve lost count of the amount of Martial Artists I see who do the traditional thing in the dojo, but outside they have no morals, no ethics, no respect and for themselves or for others. It has got to mean something or why bother.
(ER) For those karate-ka who want to retain the traditional element of their karate study, how would you suggest they introduce a more-reality based approach?
(GT) Set a day a week or month for those that seriously want to develop, to place themselves and their art under pressure. Free spar and allow every range, so if a player throws a sloppy kick and it gets caught the fight will go to the floor. Put gloves on and make the fight knockout or submission. Once a month invite a coach from a different art (judo, boxing, wrestling, Thai etc) to come and train your senior guys and girls. Encourage your dan grades to leave the trunk of the tree to explore the branches. I would tell senior players to get a dan grade in judo, or to qualify as a boxing coach. My senior players were qualified and expert in Greco, freestyle wrestling, Sombo, Thai boxing, western boxing, Ju-Jitsu. Every week I would have someone visiting to teach a private course for them and me. You can’t be a jealous husband about your students; you need to encourage growth by inspiring exploration. And if your club does not allow you to do this, or actively encourages you against it you have to ask yourself, is this a Martial Art or is this a cult?
And listen, regarding this advice, don’t take my word for any of it. Try the ideas out for yourself. Place your art under great scrutiny, place massive pressure on it. It’s like taking a vessel out to sea, you must make sure that it is sea worthy first, that it is water tight. Don’t take my word, or your trainers word or the word of your master in Japan, the bottom line is you need to know for yourself, because if you are in a real situation and it doesn’t work, you might die, a family member might die. In Milton’s Paradise Lost he uses the word sapience, meaning in context to taste. It is not enough to be told, or to read or to watch, you must know, and the only way to know is to taste.
In the dojo an error might mean a split lip. In the street it could mean a toe tag and a slot at the local cemetery. And the great thing about pressure training is that it will develop a sinewy mentality that will enhance every aspect of your life. What I love about his kind of illuminatingly honest training is that once you have undergone it, once you have negotiated your way through that forging process you will neither want to get involved in a real fight in the street or need to get involved in a real fight in the street. Once you master the physical you will spill over into a much deeper level of knowing. As Don Draeger said, you will be so good at your art that if you stand in a room full of people those people will be better protected just because you are there.
The physical is real, it is important and at the end of the day everything you learn later will come through the physical, but (metaphorically) it is just the base camp at the base of Everest.
(ER) You mention developing a sinewy mentality. Would you say emotional strength is as important as physical strength in a pressured situation?
(GT) The physical without the emotional is just ornament. It is pretty, it looks nice but it is of little use. I have witnessed many, many high level Martial Artists fall apart like a cheep suit in the face of an aggressive adversary. It was not because the art was not good, it was simply because the art and emotion were not put through the forging process. All arts and all people metamorphose when you place them under pressure.
(ER) You also mentioned the cultist element of the Martial Arts. I am personally very interested in the role of the ‘sensei’ and the dangerous amount of power that we as students give them. Where do you feel the role of sensei begins and ends? How can we prevent this ‘demigod’ worship whilst retaining the discipline and hierarchy?
(GT) By bringing the same scrutiny and the same diligence in choosing (or sticking with) a sensei that you would bring to anything in your life. I see the most intelligent people in the Martial Arts become gullible fools before (what is often pedalled as) tradition. Put the same people in a business situation, or even before a salesman flogging a car or a computer and they will be as sharp as tacks, but before tradition and the sensei and the scrutiny becomes blind dangerous belief. You see people suffer abuse and violence and bullying and dogma in the dojo without raising an eye-lid and it is worrying. This is an objective observation. I know that I might sound cynical or evangelical, but really I am not, this is just what I see and what I avoid at all costs.
A good sensei should (as the old saying goes) give his student roots and wings. I see the role as a guide rather than a teacher. What can you teach anyone anyway? Form and technique and history, but we cannot teach people to live a good and brave life. We can inspire them to live a good and brave life if we are the embodiment of what we teach. And we can be a catalyst to that worthy aim, but what we learn in this life that is of value is what we do. We are what we do, not what we know or are taught. Knowing without doing is impudent.
(ER) Impact training to many karateka is not a common practice and when it is, it’s very often only done so from a traditional stance with traditional techniques. How important is it do you think to experience impactive training e.g while on the ground on your back – a position you are more likely to face outside the chippy?
(GT) It is important to be able to hit/fight from every and any position. That is fact. The street is no respecter of system or grade. It deals reality in spades, and you either fit into it or you get a lift to the A&E or worst. It will place you in positions/situations that you could never imagine, so it is important to train for that. In the gym you are allowed mistakes, so that makes it a good place to learn. Outside one mistake could see you killed. Four of my friends were murdered during my years as a doorman. If you want to be prepared for real situations, you need (as the sumo say) to cry in training, then you will be able to laugh in the arena. For me this means brutish self-honesty and ‘flight simulation.’ The self-honesty is about taking a character and an art inventory. Imagine that you were (metaphorically) taking yourself/your art under the ocean. Are you watertight? And be honest, because if you lie to yourself, it might not just be you that drowns. Most systems, most characters are nowhere near even close to being watertight because they just do not train for it. Flight simulation is about simulating a real affray in your dojo, to test your art/character to see if your self-evaluation is correct. If it’s not, then the same kind of pressure training can help prepare you.
(ER) Karate, like boxing, teaches that the punch comes from the ground up through the legs. When for example laying on the back, how should you use the body to create energy?
(GT) If you place yourself in these positions and practice, you might be surprised at what you discover. I developed a method called ‘restrictive training’. Through this I was able to summon instant power from any position and any range, even the most restrictive. Whether I was in a car or a phone booth, a toilet cubicle or a farmer’s field I was able to draw an explosion of power from (seemingly) nothing. I encouraged my students (and myself) to punch from seated positions (floor, chair etc) kneeling positions, off their back, on their belly, back against the wall – anywhere that massively restricted movement and so encouraged the chi channeling. From these positions you are unable to employ hip twist or use momentum to garner power. So it forces you to find something else. And you do. Very quickly. Because of restriction of movement and space you develop massive relaxation through necessity, because when you have no range to work with, tension and stiffness completely impede power. We also started to employ joints (the more the better) in the technique, so that (for instance) if I was in a phone booth or a toilet cubicle or a packed dance floor I could summon tremendous power and explosion without even moving my feet. And then there was intent, which is one of the first things that starts to grow when space is at a premium. You realise very quickly that intent of power is power. Then there is that certain something that only restriction training can develop, an indefinable energy, an explosion at the end of the technique that cannot be brought or bartered for. The Chinese call it Chi, the Japanese Qui – it has as many names as there are cultures. Personally I don’t want to place a name to it or throw a shroud of mystique around it. It works so well that my students have to start pulling their punches because the power they are generating is too much (too soon) for their bones (they start picking up injuries etc) and too much for the bones of their opponents. Not only does it force people to find some other source of power than the one that they normally employ, it also acts as an accelerator, and people become big hitters much faster than normal. It would be no exaggeration to say that I get people punching twice as hard within in one session using this method. And if the concept of power through restriction over-flows (as it should) into your world outside the dojo, you will find yourself drawing massive power from life restrictions; money, relationships, health, environment etc. Within every restricted life situation is a hidden well of potential power.
(ER) What other types of positions do you suggest people experience impactive training?
(GT) Any and every situation that you think you might be in when attacked. Sitting in a restaurant, on a toilet, in the driver’s seat fighting someone in the front passenger seat. I once watched my best student lose to a lower ranking fighter because I made him fight wearing a tight anorak, carrying two bags of shopping. He ended up getting choked out with the neck cord on his own jacket. To be honest though, the situations are less important than the spirit, because if you develop indomitable spirit through honest forge training you will be equally deadly whether you are naked in a shower or wearing full combat gear on the door.
(ER) Brown Paper Bag is a film made with incredible honesty. Are all your screenplays autobiographical to some degree?
(GT) Thank you. I love that film, I love the powerful acting and the wonderful direction. It is based on my brother Ray who died from alcoholism. He was a wonderful man and I love him very much. I wanted to write something that tackled denial and that re-humanised alcoholics. They are people, someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s mum or dad. Everything I write usually starts with an experience that I have had that has moved me, then I allow it to flower and shape itself for an audience. Romans 12:20 is a half hour film that I wrote about being sexually abused when I was 12 years old. It was directed by two gifted brothers, Paul and Ludwig Shammasian and it is an incredibly emotive film. Similarly Clubbed, my first feature for the cinema (out in January 09) was inspired by my autobiographical book Watch My Back, as was the short film I made with Ray Winstone, Bouncer and the play I did for the theatre called Doorman.
(ER) Do you find writing such personal scripts taxing emotionally or is it therapeutic for you to face and deal with issues like the sexual abuse?
(GT) Therapeutic certainly, and with the more difficult scripts like Brown Paper Bag and Romans 12:20, both cathartic and extremely painful. Any kind of creative manifestation is like giving birth, it is extremely taxing, but ultimately life affirming. I actually love writing, so that helps, and of course I have developed my will through years of training, so I am able to endure, even when every sinew is begging for relief.
(ER) How did you feel winning a BAFTA for Brown Paper Bag?
(GT) It was an amazing night. Amazing. And I was blessed because my wife was with me so we celebrated together. I had always planned to win a BAFTA, but I didn’t realise it would happen so soon into my film writing career. I feel very blessed. When I am teaching or doing a book signing I often do (what has come to be known as) my BAFTA talk. I bring the statue along, let people feel it so that it becomes very real for them (it is very heavy), then I pass around the note pads on which I wrote my original book Watch My Back. I explain that I wrote Watch My Back whilst sitting on the toilet seat in a factory that hired me to sweep floors. My story started in an oily factory toilet and ended up on the world stage at BAFTA. I then ask them to draw a comparison with their own life; where are they now and where would they dearly like to be? Because if I can achieve my dream from such an inauspicious beginning – I left school with no qualifications - then why can’t they?
(ER) You speak a lot about creative energy, and the sheer volume of work on your website alone suggests that you have a lot of creative energy to burn. Is writing how you channel your energy?
(GT) Yes, writing is my way of channelling all the energy that I used to misappropriate on nightclub doors in Coventry. And I am quite happy to use anything and everything I have as a base material. All my youthful angst about being sexually abused, bullied or rejected in childhood romances, every slur or insult or attack - I am quite happy to draw from that vast reservoir. Similarly I also draw massive energy from all the great things that happened to me; my parents, friends, successes, love – it is all there in the memory banks looking for a little reincarnation. You can recycle it all. That is why when people tell me that they had a terrible upbringing and were abused I say “Congratulations, that’s amazing, you can really do something with that.” I have made fortunes from recycling angst. It has also been great therapy for me. The problem is that people choose to use the past as a reason to keep themselves rooted in fruitless lives. I am not saying that it is easy to recycle the past, but it is a choice, and whoever said that life was easy? It is not, but it can be very profitable.
(ER) Dead or Alive is a massively successful book. What would you say made it so successful?
(GT) Honesty. In a word. I read many books on self-defence and they were full of thumb-locks and shoulder throws, things that the majority would not be able to pull off. I wanted to write a book that would really prepare people, give them a fighting chance. I see self-defence as much more about avoidance that a physical encounter. To the greater majority, even (perhaps especially) trained people, being involved in a physical confrontation is like being caught in a burning building. I wanted to teach people to avoid the fire, escape the fire and – if all else failed fight the fire. What I did not want to do was try and teach them to be firemen, because that takes a lifetime of dedicated study and I know that most people are not prepared to do that. They want self-defence delivered to them in a neat package tied with a bow, and that for me in not a tenable proposition. So I filled the book with all the things that I thought were vital, like attack rituals, interviews with attackers and victims, sections on pre-emption, fear and the law etc. I think that when people read an honest account it speaks to them, that is why I think Dead or Alive is so popular.
(ER) Can I please say a huge thank you for this opportunity to speak with you. It truly has been insightful and fascinating, and may I wish you every success for the future!
(GT) Thank you Emma, it has been a real pleasure and I appreciate the opportunity to plant a few seeds.