It was nearing 5 a.m., and I hadn’t slept a wink all night. I was so ecstatic I could barely sit still, but, at the same time, my body craved sleep. I was stuck somewhere between the gutter and the stars, lost in my own personal limbo of excitement and exhaustion. Who could sleep at a time like this, I wondered? In 10 minutes I would be talking to one of my heroes, and, I must say, I was more than a little nervous.
When it came time to make the call I took a deep breath, dialed the dozen or so digits, and then waited. After a few rings he picked up – I was talking to Geoff Thompson, and for the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to be star struck.
A quick primer: For nine years Thompson worked the doors at some of the nastiest nightclubs in Britain (think Patrick Swayze in Road House and you’ll get the idea). As a sixth Dan black belt in Japanese karate, and a first Dan in judo, Thompson was as well trained as any to handle the drunken scum that wandered in and out of these joints, though his easy going nature and rather unimposing stature sometimes betrayed that very fact. He was a David in a world full of Goliath’s, but soon enough he had earned himself a legendary reputation as someone not to be messed with.
There was more to the man than just a knockout punch, however. Having grown tired of the ugliness he was surrounded by, Thompson took to writing. Eventually his memoirs were published, and soon after that he said good-bye to the door forever. Now, living quietly with his wife Sharon in Coventry, England, Thompson has written over 20 books (all of which are available at this web site, www.geoffthompson.com) and has become renowned throughout the world as an expert on martial arts and self-defence. He has also written a stage play, One Sock, and a film script based on his life that has recently gone into production in London.
“I’ve now renounced violence,” Thompson said during our telephone interview. “I don’t get involved in fighting, I’ve now gone into the internal arts. I want to develop myself as a spiritual person.”
In his autobiography, the cult classic Watch My Back, Thompson describes the horrifying realities of violence, walking the reader through all 300 of his bloody confrontations, often with sobering and vivid detail.
“People have this false impression [of street violence] because of the celluloid depictions,” said Thompson. “I tell people how it really is. Real fighting is messy, it’s scruffy and it’s ugly. You will be scared; you’ll want to runaway, you won’t want to be there.”
During his time on the door, Thompson learned that his skills in the martial arts were next to useless in such an unforgiving environment. Street fights are fast and furious, lasting only a handful of seconds. Like a Wild West shootout, you were either quick, or you were dead.
“95 per cent of what is taught in martial arts doesn’t work in a real-life situation,” he said. “Most [martial artists] haven’t built any sort of cerebral physique, they’re not emotionally ready for that level of conflict.”
Along with his nightly duties on the door, Thompson also operated a karate school. To help better prepare his students for the brutality of the streets, real-life elements were incorporated into their lessons, an approach that lead to the development of his notorious full contact, no holds barred Animal Day training sessions.
“My experience is based upon thousands and thousands of encounters, and hundreds of hours on the mats under extreme pressure where it was either knockout or submission,” Thompson explained. “You have to put your skills under this kind of pressure in order to test them properly. If what you’re teaching doesn’t work in a controlled arena, then it has no chance of working outside, where situations are so explosive, and so violent and fast.”
As would be expected with such an unconventional approach, Thompson’s theories and ideas about self-defence proved rather controversial, the Animal Day sessions especially.
“My students understood why we were doing this, but everyone else thought we were just a bunch of animals; they thought we were crazy,” he said. “An MP tried to ban me because he said what I was teaching was gratuitous. I was barred from teaching in a local city as well.”
Being surrounded by nastiness nearly 24 hours a day, its no wonder Thompson started to harbour some misgivings about the man that he felt he was becoming. As he related in Watch My Back, even his mother noticed the change in his personality. He had become hard and brooding; he had “lost his fun”. It was time for a change, and, after one last harrowing encounter with an old nemesis; Thompson finally hung up the old tuxedo, settling into his new life as a writer.
When he first took the job, Thompson was terrified of confrontation. In fact, that was his main reason for working the door to begin with. After all, to find your way out of hell, you must first throw yourself completely into it. Thompson’s quest for inner peace may not have followed the most traveled path, but his destination was reached nonetheless.
“I don’t want my epitaph to read, ‘Geoff Thompson had a great right cross’,” he said. “I want people to remember me as a gentle, loving and giving person.”
And with that, our conversation came to a close. But not before I asked Geoff if there’s anything that you, the readers of this fine publication, can do to better protect yourself on these mean city streets.
“Yeah,” he said. “Learn to hit fuckin’ hard.”