Martin Day

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Blitz Martial Arts Magazine, Vol.28, No.11, November 2014

Combat Karate is a truly modern martial art that integrates skills and techniques from a variety of styles, based on founder Martin Day’s considerable experience in the fighting arts. Few instructors can claim a pedigree equal to Martin’s. Day served in the British Army for twenty years before founding his own style.

“I can’t say everything for security reasons,” says Martin at the outset of our discussion, “Because I signed the ‘Official Secrets Act’ when I left the British Army.”

Day retired with the rank of Warrant Officer and undertook “almost every course the army had to offer.”

“I joined the British Army as a green, quiet seventeen year old,” he says. “I made a decision to do as much as I could and to get as qualified [and acquire as much] knowledge as I could. In late 1973 I joined an infantry regiment, the oldest by continuous service, called the ‘Coldstream Guards’.

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“I was very ambitious. I always believed that life is about achieving, especially in the physical sense. I did almost every course or selection the army offered. Later in my career, I took on special forces commitments.”

Martin’s signature on the ‘Official Secrets Act’ means he has to stop short of specifics, but those ‘commitments’ give the general idea. Those commitments taught him the meaning of hard training.

“It was a big test of skill and character and determination and those kinds of clichés.”

Asked to describe some of the tougher qualifications he undertook, he tells a story that sounds like something from a Monty Python comedy sketch.

“One of the hardest things I’ve been subjected to is sleep deprivation. One night, after about two hours sleep, I was awakened by someone whispering in my ear. We had to exit the building – through the windows – and line up for physical conditioning training. Mind you, this is in the middle of winter and it’s absolutely freezing.

“Then, we had to swim through a frozen lake and take up an observation position with another bloke and sit there with nothing but a notebook and a pencil for 48 hours or so. After that time, the instructors would come around and give us a flask of hot water, a potato, and an onion. Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?”

Something tells me he wasn’t laughing.

Martin was deployed extensively during his period of service, seeing combat on a number of occasions.

“My first deployment was when I was eighteen, in the Middle East as part of a UN peacekeeping force, protecting a civilian population. It was the first time I was exposed to extreme violence in a conflict situation.”

To a civilian, any violence is extreme. Martin’s experience allows him to define it more accurately:

“There was a total disregard for human life; not just military, but civilian as well. We were in the thick of it when it kicked off in a major way. We had to fight our way out.”

His army career saw him deployed on many occasions including stints in Africa and the Middle East, as well as training in places like Germany, Belieze, Canada and Hong Kong. In New Zealand, Martin was charged with the training of the New Zealand Defence Force and Gurkhas in weapons, tactics and unarmed combat.

Martin’s interest in unarmed combat was sparked early by his father’s prowess in the field.

“Dad was a really old-school, tough bloke. He was a Korean war veteran, stationed there between 1950 and 53. He was a farmer. I grew up on a farm and moved into the ‘big smoke’ as a teenager.

“In Sussex, we used to live next to this huge guy known as ‘Big Frank’ – he must have weighed twenty-two stone. Everyone was scared of him; he was the local bully. We ended up in a council house next to this guy. One day, dad reversed out onto ‘Big Frank’s’ lawn. His wife came out of the house, swearing.

“Dad got out of the car to try and calm her and she went at him. Then, she called Frank. The guy has come at him and dad just stood there, threw a hook and floored him. Frank went flat into the hedge. Dad tried to help him up – the guy couldn’t believe it. [He was] like a little kid; nearly crying from the shock. That was my introduction to self-defence. It’s not about strength; it’s mainly skill.”

Having pursued every qualification made available by the army and serving as both a physical training instructor and unarmed combat instructor, it comes as a surprise that Martin didn’t have any experience of traditional martial arts training.

“I hadn’t had much opportunity to train, because I was moving around so much,” he says. Toward the end of his career he went on ‘gardening leave’, an army term for extended leave granted to soldiers to decide what they wanted to do once they left the military and integrated back into civilian life.

“I spent quite a bit of time in London, and trained with some different organizations. I trained in freestyle karate for about ten years, and then I set up Combat Karate. I implemented kicking and punching actions, along with unarmed combat and pressure point stuff. ”

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Fifth Dan Patricia Day, Martin’s wife, was one of his earliest students.

“I got involved as Martin’s partner. I started training purely for self defense reasons,” she says. “What if I get attacked?’ I wasn’t a sporty person, but I loved it from the start. It’s great for fitness and maintaining health; keeping young, keeping flexible. It also gave me the confidence in knowing what to do if I was attacked. That’s the main thing.”

First Dan Andy Meek was one of the first students at the Noosa chapter of Martin’s Combat Karate school.

“I’d done judo at uni, when I was nineteen,” says Andy. “I got my first Dan, but quit due to injury. Martin opened his school in Noosa in 2009, which was literally just around the corner. A friend told me about it, so we went and had a look and [we were] very impressed. I realized just how much I needed to do with fitness and flexibility and got stuck in.”

“I’ve got the same philosophy as most military men,” Martin says, “You take out the primary weapon of the attacker, which is the brain; you aim to shut down the brain so it can’t tell the body what to do.

“You use pre-emptive strikes to… hit vulnerable targets; the windpipe, eyes, groin, and the internal organs. As soon as you’ve caused an injury, the attackers are vulnerable. You can continue targeting until they go down, so you can walk – not run – away, still observing the area.”

Walking away from a violent attack seems a strange way to proceed, but Martin explains it differently.

“If you’re walking, it’s because you’re in control [of the scenario] all the way through.”

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Martin’s wealth of actual combat experience gives him a clear and simple basis for teaching.

“You have to have the intent to do what you need to do. You control your emotions before, during and after so you can walk away.”

This outcome is the focus of all training, and is served by addressing the following elements.

“I break training down into three main areas,” he says. “One, bodyweight conditioning. You have to lead by example. Make them strong. We do conditioning at the beginning and end of every training session.

“Two, martial arts. I class martial arts training as conditioning. Deep stances, I mean, you’re never going to get into a deep stance in a confrontation. But deep stances and other drills are part of it. Three is self-defence. Number three is the priority. I believe all martial arts should be about effective, keep-it-real self-defence.”

In recent times, Martin has come into contact with the Filipino Kyusho Organization of Grandmaster Angelo Baldissone and has found it to be a revelation in the practise and structure of his own art.

Andy Meek cites the inclusion of Panan Tukan Filipino Boxing as a major benefit of Combat Karate.

“It’s about taking the posture of your opponent.”

“I have become involved with Grandmaster Angelo Baldissone in the last few years,” Martin says. “He comes to train and stay with us once a year. Training is not so much about techniques and actions, it’s about principles. Once you’ve mastered principles you can add any action around them, not vice-versa.”

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Martin details those principles as follows:

“First is posture. Two, is footwork. You need to be at the right place, at the right time. Third, elbows in. This allows a position of strength and minimal movement. Four, you need to close the gap and get chest to chest and occupy the space of the attacker.

“Your body moves forward as a unit – not just one part. When you close the distance, you close the attacker down so they can’t do anything. At the top of the list is awareness,” says Martin. “You need to be aware of what’s going on around you. That’s the key to everything.”

The principle of awareness would have been set at the top of Martin’s list, courtesy of the British army’s hot water, onion and potato gag.

Martin has also implemented other elements of Kyusho, the art of targeting pressure points into the syllabus of Combat Karate in recent times.

“I became interested after my own experiments in the army,” he says. “It’s a Filipino martial art that focuses on striking vulnerable areas; nerve points, pressure points, where nerves cross a bone, or are on top of a bone surface.

“You want to strike in and down on an angle, in order to squash the nerve against the bone. I implement it in many scenarios, but it’s about getting the reaction I want and then restraining [the attacker].”

The effectiveness of kyusho has been the subject of some debate in recent times.

“I can only quote my experience,” says Martin. “There’s a lot of hype out there. It’s not the ‘be-all-and-end-all’. And it doesn’t always work on everybody. The nerves have to be activated,” he says.

“Like when someone has grabbed you. That’s like Christmas to me.”

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“The attacker is limited by using one hand, and when the central nervous system is fully activated, [the attacker] is much more vulnerable.”

Martin’s information comes with a caveat, however.

“You shouldn’t do any more than fifteen minutes of pressure-point training a week. The stresses relate to internal organs, and it can make you ill.”

While Martin’s attitude to martial arts is to embrace different styles and techniques, he is reticent to recommend cross-training to students – of any discipline.

“I’m determined not to let ego intrude, but I think it’s a distraction. A lot of students from other systems, they’ve said they become confused by the difference in training routines. I’ve found that students make mistakes in both organizations to the detriment of both their training and progression. That’s based on my experience.”

The eclectic nature of Combat Karate has also seen the inclusion of arnis on the syllabus. Martin finds that weapons training broadens a martial artist’s conditioning base significantly.

“I learned modern arnis, and it was a revelation,” says Martin. “The stick is a sword, or similar long-range weapon. If you get good at the stick, you’re extremely good at using a knife or other instrument. You then become superb with empty hands. That’s why I implemented sticks.”

Stick training also conditions a practitioner for the correct manner of striking.

“The body becomes totally limp through relaxation. You let the target point land on the target area by slapping it out with no power. You mustn’t activate the muscles so that you [remain] fast and powerful. It’s a relaxed energy; so different to tough striking arts like kick boxing.”

With such a broad mix of skills and techniques, it would be difficult to know where to start. The various aspects cohere around the principles discussed earlier, all of which are included in the one class.

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“Apart from sticks, I try to integrate everything. I’ve always tried to get away from boring repetition. Loads of good students are lost because they become bored. You want to avoid the quick fix, but integrate variety to keep them interested. Sticks are taught separately because they require a separate focus; the drills are more complicated and harder to learn.”

Weapons training is becoming an increasingly popular fixture amongst martial artists. When asked for his views on the subject, Martin is thoughtful.

“Everybody should consider exactly what the aim of their training is,” he concludes. “For self defence on the street, you can’t pull out a weapon. The body is a weapon and you must get used to empty hands. Weapons training makes you even more effective for empty hands.”

“I like stick fighting because it builds co-ordination,” Patricia says. “It adds an interesting element to training and improves co-ordination.”

While she enjoys it, arnis is much easier to appreciate than it is to employ. “It’s not easy! Looks it, but it’s not. Like everything in training.”

Surprisingly, weapons training is especially popular amongst older students.

“My students range from eight [years old] to fifty-eight,” says Martin. “The older students are especially excited [by arnis] because they find some of the flexibility actions difficult.”

Flexibility is a key aspect of conditioning for Martin. He continues to work on his flexibility twice a day, every day.

“First, for health reasons, especially as you get older. The major muscle groups that are first to tighten up are your hamstrings and lower back. In kicking styles [of martial arts] you’ve got to be flexible, or something’s going to go.

“Secondly, it speeds your actions because there’s less resistance on your muscles when you act. Third, you know you’re faster so you’re more confident and, lastly, it feels good!”

Karate is a style known for its impressive high kicks, and there is an element of convincing people through display.

“The ‘wow!’ factor convinces students. It’s what we’ve trained for.”

The breadth of Martin’s training, both in the military and afterwards, has given rise to a martial art which embodies the best elements of his experience. It creates confidence that Martin Day’s Combat Karate will continue to grow and develop with its founder at the helm.

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