British Krav Maga Training Director, Paul Grey, talks Instructing with Swindon and North Bristol Instructor, Will Bayley
Krav Maga Swindon is run by British Krav Maga’s very own Will Bayley. Will recently celebrated his 5th anniversary as a full time Krav Maga Instructor so we thought we’d interview him about his experiences.
If you’ve ever wondered what life is like as a full time Martial Arts or Krav Maga Instructor, now’s the time to find out…
How did you originally get started in the Martial Arts Will?
I was an average 15 year old. Picked up a pretty nasty assault from a group of lads and it rattled me badly. At the end of the day you have to come to a decision – face the fear or let it eat away your liberties. I faced mine at a boxing gym. I’d go there and stand at the edge of the room and refuse to participate. “I’m watching” I said every time the instructor would come in. He was a good man and he let me do that for some months. Until he didn’t. One day this older fighter came up and started lacing gloves onto my hands (no Velcro gloves back then). I was literally shaking. They walked me over to the makeshift ring and I remember feeling like the world was coming down around my ears. I took a single punch and landed on the boards. After that, the fear was still there but the edge had gone from it. The worst had happened and I was still there, still alive. I was hooked. I trained in various classes focussed on self-defence. Tried boxing, Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, and then Ninjutsu. The fear, of course, never went away, but it did get put into a box. Managed. Controlled.
How did you come to find Krav Maga ?
I came to realise over time that while the study of the arts I had practiced had benefitted me in many ways – heritage, history, intellectual interest, fitness, flexibility etc – they were not really preparing me for real-world self-defence. I was outside a night club this one night in my twenties and I saw this fight spill out onto the pavement as a group of blokes were ejected from the club. It quickly emerged that one guy was the victim and the group had been attacking him. The door supers had thrown the lot out, not wanting to discriminate. The victim in this case took an obvious stance – Karate I believe – and I thought wow this guy is going to hand out some justice. But one of the men attacked him with full force and fury, just running at him and flailing with poor but highly aggressive punches. Most missed. The guy in the stance didn’t even raise a block and was knocked to the floor where he was stamped viciously. I couldn’t understand it at the time. Why would someone with training do nothing while attacked? Of course, it was his failure to manage stress, fear, adrenaline. All the technique in the world is useless if you are not on top of your fear.
This experience jarred me a bit. I stopped training for a few months. I analysed all the things I knew about movement and combat and realised that I had no real idea if the things I knew would actually work if I was that man stood there in the midst of so many enemies. But I wasn’t going to give up. I did my research, beginning to look into reality based self-defence. Of course, if you do that, you can only end up in one place. There is nothing in the world like Krav Maga. It is the only thing I found that could actually prove its calibre because it was – is – used by the very people sworn to protect us, law enforcement, military etc. Police and army tend to be very much evidence based. If stuff doesn’t work, it’s ditched and changed. And still, 500 law enforcement and military units worldwide have Krav as their go to CQC solution.
What are your most vivid memories from the Krav Maga Instructor course, every ‘survivor’ of BKMA training has at least one stand out moment?
Phase 1 was a blur. 15 minutes into the first day I caught a beast of a hook that cut up the inside of my mouth. Over a sink bleeding, stuffing blue hand drying paper up my nose and across my lips to stop them from bleeding. But the real standout moments came at the hands of the military and former military guys on the course. I’d never had much contact with the military at that point, save for cadets in school. When things got real tough they were there, pulling you up, standing beside you, telling you to go on, that you could go on, that we were in it together. And we were. I learnt that. I learnt that, in the toughest moments, we can achieve great things as team where alone we would have fallen. I took it to heart and was able to offer support back, because everyone has their weak moments in a course that tough. It was a life lesson. I’ll never forget it.
Couple of years later I was on a Close Protection course with another BKMA instructor, who shall remain nameless. Somehow the topic of phase one crept up and one of us said, mate, did it stress you out for ages afterward? We both laughed, relieved I guess that it wasn’t just us that found the process so tough that we’ll never look at a squash court (where the final assessment took place) in the same way again. Even driving into Weston Super Mare nowadays gives me a little buzz as I remember what those days felt like. No one wants to admit it, but secretly everyone finds it brutal tough. Big shout out to that instructor by the way – It was genuinely good to hear that I wasn’t the only one!
Did you gain any personal insights from the pressurised training on that course, getting punched in the face has a tendency to make people reflect on their training?
Less than a month later I had to walk into a situation where a man was hitting a woman. There were two men present at the scene, both very much intoxicated, and one of them had decided to take whatever ills he had out on the victim, who was also drunk and very much not capable of self defence. As I was walking into that situation something occurred to me. There was a surety that had never been there before. Not a surety that I was going to win – that never really happens – but a surety that I was – if necessary – going to fight to get the outcome I wanted. And here’s the thing. I didn’t fight. Didn’t need to. I reached out, stopped the threat, and pushed the guy over. He was drunk, fell over easily. The other guy took a single step towards me and I shouted “Get back!” then “Stay on the floor” to the guy on the floor. And they did. Exactly what they were told. I analysed that situation since and I believe that most socially violent people – the bullies of our world – don’t actually want to fight. They want dominance. Easy, threat free dominance. If you are genuinely prepared to close with them and use force, often you don’t need to. You put them to a decision. They may still believe they can win, but they know by your bearing that it will likely cost them in pain, or loss of liberty to get that result. That’s a certainty most can’t handle, so they capitulate.
Before the Krav Maga Instructor course, I would still have engaged, but I would likely have had to fight. My surety wouldn’t have been there and the men would have seen the absence, as all bullies are often able to do. The best outcome I could have hoped for was to come out on top, and risk legal or civil issues for my use of force, and potential escalation and comeback down the line. Ending it with verbals was a massive win, a win only possible because of my capacity to use force. What the Army says is right – Train hard, fight easy. Train hard enough and you don’t even need to fight. And what Imi, founder of Krav Maga, said is also true and apt: “[Krav Maga] so that one may walk in peace.” Finally, motto of the Britsh Krav Maga Association: “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” – If you wish for peace, prepare for war.
You became successful very quickly, what do you think you did that helped you go full time so quickly?
There’s two sides to this story. One is about approach. I thought back to my two decades of training and picked out the good aspects of my instructors and also the bad. My approach attempts to be more like the former and less like the latter. I believe in trusting the intelligence of my students and so my teaching style is to explain the details and thinking behind all our techniques and tactics. As a student I like to understand why we’re doing something, not just do it with blind faith. I have found that people relate to that and value the intellectual component of training.
I’ve also worked very hard on the people aspect, ensuring that we have a warm and welcoming group. My Krav Instructor, Paul Grey, likes to say that assholes kill clubs. Get one and you can survive, but more than one and, like dandelions, suddenly your club is filled with assholes and all the good people have left. It’s true. But the opposite is also true. Proactively get rid of the rare people who come with ego and attitude, and you create a warm and welcoming environment. I believe in involving experienced students in helping coach the inexperienced, and my members take to that well, creating a great learning environment. It’s simply a nice place to be. There are warm welcomes and hard training, just what you want from a self-defence class. Teaching both Krav Maga Swindon and North Bristol is a real pleasure for me. I look forward to catching up with my students – many of which have become good friends over the years – and seeing them develop their skills. Nothing beats the moment when you look at someone and think, wow, he or she looks like a Kravist!
The other side to it is the impeccable support I’ve been given by my association. British Krav Maga are a rare gem in today’s business world – a truly ethical, lifestyle company. There’s nobody at the top whose goal is money money money. It’s lifestyle Krav from the top to the bottom and we have a brand now that is truly respected and I’m very proud to put my name beside it.
I often think that a good Krav Maga Instructor is like a duck on water, smooth and relaxed on top but swimming like mad under the water. I am sure my own students think I teach 3x a week and have the rest of the week off (laughs), how have you found the work load running a school.
Oh the truth of that. To a student who trains twice a week, I have the best job in the world. It seems I work 180 minutes a week. What they’re not seeing are the other 17 hours of professional instruction I deliver in the average week – 1000 hours a year teaching. My work doesn’t only extend to two civilian classes; I teach private classes every week for celebrities and also for the British Army. Neither do they see the lesson planning, a complex task that has to take into account every last student’s needs, from the rank beginner all the way to the veteran prepping for a P5. And for my work with the military, designing a combatives programme for a Battalion of men, such as with the Royal Gurkha Rifles, is a time-consuming job. Delivering it even more so.
Then of course there is the commitment to personal excellence. At least 2 hours a day of training just for me, to keep me at a level where I can teach professionally. Both fitness and skills development. Continued Professional Development is essential to a professional. Because that’s what we are. My experience with martial arts is that most instructors have a day job and teach a couple hours a week. I teach 20 hours a week, do around 10 hours of Krav for myself, and around 5 hours planning lessons and considering the development outcomes from my students. Oh, and there’s the driving aspect. It’s a lot of miles. But I’m my own boss and I get to do something every day that I not only love, but that empowers people, including vulnerable people, to stand up for themselves, to walk free, in peace, and in control of the fear that I felt so acutely when I was 15 years old. That does truly make it the best job in the world.
What do you think makes a successful Krav Maga Instructor?
Well that’s a simple one for me. And it isn’t being good at Krav. There are great Kravists that would make poor instructors. No, it’s about one thing.
You have to care. Lao Tzu said “the purpose of a great teacher is not to educate a student but to lead a student to the threshold of their own minds.”
In my words, doing the job right means empowering people to take control of their own self defence. It means that when I walk out there in front of people it very much is not about me. I exist only as an example of movement and tactics that they can draw on to create their own solutions to real world threats. Too many martial arts instructors are focussed on me me me, but it isn’t me that will have to fight if my students ever get into trouble. I think to be successful you have to genuinely care about the development of your students. You have to constantly self-analyse and find better ways to include everyone and deliver learning outcomes to a great variety of people. You have to communicate to a high level. And you have to have an eye for detail, to spot the little things that make a difference between walking away and getting hurt. Lastly, you need to be creative. A good instructor can create hundreds of drills in their head in a moment to fit the needs of the people in front of them. That’s the fun part!
What has been the highlight of your career as a professional Krav Maga Instructor?
Brunei. Definitely Brunei.
Being flown to Brunei to train the Gurkhas is something special isn’t it. Can you tell us more about that and the training?
The Commanding Officer of 1RGR – The Royal Gurkha Rifles – trained with me in Swindon for a couple of years, and still does when he is in country. He came to me with a desire that 1RGR be given Krav Maga to add to their already incredible skillset. But all the talk in the world couldn’t prepare me for a moment I had on the plane.
It was a long old flight. 18 hours, with a long change in Dubai. As I came into land in Brueni, over the South China Sea, it suddenly hit me where I was and what I was there to do. The Army of my country had put me on that plane so that I could deliver training to its men. I’m not going to lie, I still get imposter syndrome sometimes. But I’ve delivered 5000 hours or so of training in the last 5 years, sometimes to some very high level or very famous people. It only takes a couple of minutes of teaching and you realise that yes, you do belong there, you’re the right person for that job, and you get the job done.
The first time I ever heard of the Gurkhas, I was learning to fly paragliders on the Welsh hills and we saw a group of men in army fatigues and carrying heavy burgens beasting it up a hillside so steep you wouldn’t have gotten a Landy up there. I asked my friend, who were they. He laughed and said, Gurkhas, mate. To stand in front of the PTIs of that hallowed Regiment was a daunting honour. And they lived up to it. I have never worked with people so fit and capable. Normally, with civilians my job as an instructor is not just to teach technique but to ingrain a fighting mentality, an aggression, a willingness to close with an enemy and deal the damage necessary to stop them. It’s always the hard part. But with the soldiers of 1RGR, this wasn’t necessary. They were, of course, utterly indomitable. Two centuries of warfare, tradition, honour, sacrifice and loyalty had already done that work. All I had to do was offer a new skillset, one that they learned with amazing speed and skill.
The men and women of our Armed Forces, just like those in service in the Intelligence, Prison, Police, Fire and Ambulance services, stand on an ever-narrowing line between an often-unsuspecting British populace and a whole world of troubles. To play even a tiny, nigh insignificant part in that is an honour that will stay with me forever.
We’ve talked about the highlights, have there been any funny moments, things that you’d only experience in this industry?
There’s a bloopers reel, but only instructors get to see it. You’re there standing with a kick shield while your Assistant Instructor drives a knee into you. You forget to pop the hips back. You take impact where you don’t want impact. You have to get the words out and finish the drill before the pain kicks in. It’s not an ego thing, it’s because you know that you need to inspire, motivate, not collapse in a heap because you messed up and got clipped. Times like that are funny, in hindsight.
We share a passion for research and evidence based training. How do you think research should shape the Krav Maga Programmes we offer and the way we deliver Krav Maga Training?
As anyone working in the Police service will tell you, the best strategies for handling violence and violent people are evidence based. If you ask a police officer why offenders are cuffed in the back, rather than in the front, it’s because of a statistical history of violent outbursts, particularly in the backs of cars, with people cuffed in front. You ask a door supervisor – one with real experience – why he’s standing just so or why he takes a particular line with a would-be attacker, and he’ll cite evidence – years of experience of the real world.
But in the martial arts world, very few instructors have any real experience of violence, outside of the choreographed, sanitised, matted arenas they train in. It has always amazed me that so many people in this industry purport to teach a solution to a problem without studying the problem. It’s almost unthinkable. Research is vital to our understanding of violence. Understanding is vital to our ability to design, and to teach, solutions to that violence.
Like they say, you must bend your self defence or Krav Maga training to fit the reality you find, not try the ridiculous and attempt to bend reality to fit our training. Think King Cnut sitting on his beach ordering the tide to do one. Didn’t work for him, won’t work for you.
British Krav Maga are believers in research based curricula. And so am I. With help from some bright minds at Bristol University, I have recently carried out a deep academic study into the dynamics of violence and the adrenal stress response for exactly that reason. As instructors we must know the reality, preferably first hand, so that the tools we give our students are machined to do the job. Otherwise we are training people to lose.
What do you think that somebody considering Krav Maga for the first time should look for in a Krav Maga Instructor
Do they take the time to ask you what you want to get out of training? Do they take the time to settle you into your first lesson? Do they have a provable background and links to a credible organisation? The industry is a minefield, because it is totally unregulated. Someone can watch a Youtube video and then call themselves an instructor and there’s nothing anyone can do. Beginners should try classes out, taking time to talk with the instructor. Don’t be afraid to try several different classes. If someone is good, the fact will be obvious. There will be a good number of students, people who have done the research before you and decided to stay with that instructor. There will be students there that move very well. There will be a good atmosphere. You’ll be asked lots of questions about your training history or lack of it and your goals. And going forward, you’ll see progress. A good instructor will take pride in your learning and this fact too will be obvious.
Most of all, look for someone without ego. The class should be all about learning. It should be about the development of the students, not a celebration of the Instructor’s skills.
Also, with the rise of pseudo instructors who know that Krav Maga is supposed to be tough, we see classes where it’s all about physical exercise and not about technique. Sure, a Krav class should be tough exercise – sometimes 1600 kcal – but that exercise should come in the form of skills training, combatives, striking, as well as calisthenics, not just an hour of burpees and sprints.
What should a new student starting out at Krav Maga Swindon expect on their first lesson?
I can’t speak for every class, but at Krav Maga Swindon we will take time to talk to the beginner before training, and then pair the beginner up with a more experience student who will help them through the first lesson, picking up skills in a non-pressured, positive, supportive environment. This one on one attention is vital in the beginning to ensure you get a smooth introduction to the tough world of Krav Maga. We want you to succeed and we have the experience to get you there.
What do you think Krav Maga offers the complete beginner?
Frankly it’s life changing. I’ve had people with weight issues drop many stones in weight in their first year, giving them a new lease of life. I’ve had victims of crime come in in pretty poor mental and emotional states and manage to work their way towards re-empowerment, if not catharsis. And for everyone else, it offers a deep insight into that which terrifies all of us. It is true what they say, knowledge dispels fear. Doesn’t really get rid of it, but it does put it in its box.
Occasionally, what we teach is lifesaving. Particularly for violence professionals. I get a message every month or so from some former or current student saying that they used this or that technique and tactic to deal with a real-world threat. What we do works. If it didn’t, why would I have been on that flight to Brunei?
And what about the more experienced martial artist who is coming to try Krav Maga?
I had ten years when I first picked up Krav. For some, it’s a hard and bitter pill, to realise that what you’ve learnt doesn’t necessarily translate to real world self-defence. Looking back, I still love Ninjutsu. That time wasn’t wasted. I took away excellent movement skills that have made me a much better Kravist. And control and restraint skills that have proven useful later in life, dealing with violence professionally. People coming from truly combative systems such as boxing, Muay Thai, or anything that involves contact, will find that many of their skills translate directly and they pick up Krav very quickly. We’re not about getting rid of what you’ve learned. We’re about helping you put what you know with what we have to teach and helping you apply that to the arena of the real.
And finally, what does the future hold for Will Bayley and Krav Maga Swindon, where do you see yourself in another 5 years?
Personally, I never stop learning. And I can’t see a time I’ll ever stop teaching because teaching is without doubt the best way to learn anything to the highest level. I am excited to continue my work with the Gurkhas, and with other elements of our Armed Forces. I am trying to put together a free course to benefit local Paramedic services, who are all too often the victim of outrageous attacks on their person. And I am writing a book about violence, based on my experience and research, which will be published in 2018.
Krav Maga Swindon continues to go from strength to strength. We’ve expanded from our original 2 sessions a week to delivering 4 a week now, including our new adrenalised and contact sessions, which aim to desensitise experienced students to the stresses involved in interpersonal conflict and teach them effective conflict resolution skills, both verbal and physical. Our priority for 2018 is to expand our coaching staff with more Assistant Instructors, to make our service delivery even better.
It’s been a great 5 years. Hard to see how the next 5 will be better, but I’ve no doubt they will.