Dave Briggs, MSMA
I was born on the 24 January, 1968 at Kings Mill hospital, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom. I was the first of two boys born to my parents. My childhood was a fairly happy one, although from as young as I can remember, I never really got on with Father. He was a very impatient man who continually criticized any effort I made to attempt anything, no matter how menial. Fortunately his work took away from home much of the time, so any contact with him was usually short. At such a young age, this attitude severely damaged my self-esteem and confidence to say the least. My school work suffered an unfavourable change of direction, and my general attitude towards authority was to be affected quite dramatically.
My martial arts training, which I began at the tender age of seven, gave me at least a little respite from his demeaning behaviour. It was my escape to a place that gave me a sense of belonging and personal gratification. Like many young, impressionable children, I looked up to my instructor, in total awe at his ability and the way he projected an almost ‘super-human’ image. I vividly remember day-dreaming about standing there, in front of my own class of students. I never thought I would ever actually achieve anything close to this stature, not a kid like me. As far as I was concerned I just didn’t have what it took to reach that stature.
Right from an early age I was always a bit of a loner and this didn’t help me when I entered the education system. During much of my school years I was the victim of intense bullying, by children, younger, as well as older than myself. It was a very harrowing time for me. Looking back on it now, I can appreciate how children can get to such severe depths of desperation and helplessness. Because of the negative influence my father had had on me, I had been literally forced into a victim status. As a result I hated school, English was the only subject I enjoyed, especially writing stories. I was often disruptive in class, frequently being disciplined by teachers for various infringements.
The bullying continued until the age of about fourteen. To say that I was miserable with such consistent behaviour would be an under-estimation. I was constantly playing truant from school and I had withdrawn into myself, avoiding contact with anyone outside my immediate family. I had finally reached a point where I felt that I could take no more. I literally exploded. I retaliated against many of my antagonists. In the space of a few short weeks I faced many of my adversaries – with brutal effects. I very nearly ended up being expelled from school for fracturing another boy’s skull. Ironically, the English teacher, who was aware of the bullying situation, spoke up for me and got me a reprieve. Having such a turbulent time during the last years of my schooling took a toll on my education. I finished school as a relative ‘under-achiever’ (oh how I wish I could get those days back).
After being the victim of bullying and torment for so long, I transformed into something I never thought I could be, a person with confidence. This dramatic turn-around very nearly sent me to the other extreme. I got to the stage where I wouldn’t take any kind of antagonist behaviour directed towards me. By the time I was eighteen I was fighting regularly, nearly every weekend. Fuelled by displaced anger, I became an aggressive and almost uncontrollable individual. The only thing that I adhered to, discipline-wise, was my martial arts training. Fortunately (for me) I un-knowingly managed to channel the majority of my aggression into my training. I firmly believe today that without the self-discipline and positive influence given to me by my involvement in the martial arts, I would have no doubt that my future would have been a dark one to say the least.
Throughout my teenage years I had numerous incidents involving the police, all aggression related episodes. It wasn’t until I was faced with the possibility of going to prison that I realised I had to take control of my life. It was at this point that I stopped drinking, which was also a definite contributing factor to my displacement of anger, and started to steer my life in a more positive direction (much to the pleasure of my loyal mother). I really began to focus on my martial arts. It was the first time in my life that I felt that I was actually accomplishing something worthwhile. This remarkable change of attitude was the beginning of a journey that has brought me much knowledge and life enhancing attributes.
My early martial arts training years was mainly traditional styles, Kung Fu and Karate mainly. I thoroughly enjoyed my training – it was my thing. I gave as much as I was able, at that age, to my training. I started with Kung Fu for a few years, until the instructor closed the club. From there, after trying a few places out, went to Karate. I trained in Karate until the age of seventeen, during which time I traveled around to other clubs within the association to train as often as possible. I also took part in several competitions and doing rather well, representing my club at regional and national level. From there I went to train in Chinese Boxing. I trained at every opportunity, whether as part of a class, or at home, it didn’t matter to me. Whilst training I began competing on the FSK fight circuit, attaining national top ten ranking. In 1986, when I had reached brown belt level I set up my own class. I had found my instructor’s motives and ethics were becoming un-favorable and made the decision to leave, establishing Mansfield Chinese Boxing Club. Things were a bit difficult at first, as my previous instructor didn’t take my break away well and tried to disrupt my classes regularly. I worked hard to build the classes, changing venues a couple of times before settling at the local youth centre. Once there, things began to build steadily over the next couple of years. It was around this time that I began competing again, full contact this time, having reasonable person success. Some of my students did very well too and we started to getting visitors from other club and martial arts styles to join in our competition training.
The next significant stage of this transformation was, in many ways, a real baptism of fire for my resilience and my belief in my martial arts training. In 1989 I immersed myself in the social playground of the pub and nightclub scene – I began working the on ‘the doors’. What brought about this dramatic step was not out of choice. Nor was it a means for me to test my skills in a truly real environment. If I’m honest, as I was rather reluctant to pursue this path, but, due to being placed on short working hours and having not long since taken the financial commitment of a mortgage, my decision was somewhat forced. My younger brother was already working for an agency and originally suggested that I join him. The money was reasonable and there were usually plenty of shifts available, he told me. So, with little other choice I took the plunge, promising myself that it was only until work picked up, a short term fix if you like. Little did I know at then that I would end up working one month short of 11 years, face countless physical encounters, endure
several freezing winters on a door, loose or miss hundreds of hours’ beauty sleep (which I now know that I could really afford to do) and learn first hand what happens when the police invite you to help with their enquiries.
Stepping into this profession was, as they say, a complete eye opener. I quickly realized that my martial arts training alone had not prepared me for dealing with the majority of confrontations I would be facing. I realized that the expectations of a martial artist held with regards to how a confrontation presented itself were nothing like how it really happened. No specific fight arena. No referee. No time limit. No point scoring. The approach was usually deceptive or flat out physically violent. No touching of gloves, or bowing to signify the start of proceedings. Dealing with the verbal aspect was a real learning curve. Dialogue was a major factor with most confrontations and I realized I needed to quickly get to grasps with this element. The first venue I worked at was a working men’s club in a small mining village about 8 miles out of Mansfield, called Ollerton. This little village already held a reputation for being a rough place, so my first night was adrenaline fuelled, to say the least. Fortunately that night went without any major incidents, but I still remember vividly how mentally exhausted I felt. My first lesson in how adrenaline can affect you, even for hours after its release. In those first few weeks I would be tested in a multitude of ways. Having already realized that I would have no choice than to stand my ground, or give it up for good, I adapted rather quickly and soon found my feet. Although knowing what I know now I may have dealt with a few things differently now, I managed things fairly well. I must have been doing things adequately, because within a short time I was being given extra shifts on the town’s flagship nightclub after I had finished at the working men’s club. This environment was different again, partly because of the venue layout, largely to do with the fact that many of the customers had already consumed a degree of alcohol prior to entering the club. Attached to the nightclub was a fun pub, owned by the club, which was located above the main area of the nightclub and accessed from the rear car park. This place was really popular and brought a lot of custom to the club by opening a rear entry point for people leaving the pub to access without having to go around the building. This was further affected by the cheap promotions that the management would offer to fill the place up. Once the pub was cleaned up it would be re-opened as an additional floor for the club. When full this place held around 1200 people. With a team of ten doorman, when the club was to capacity, things were often busy. I learnt a massive amount about behavior, body language and how people can surprise with the depths they can sink to in their treatment and violence to other people. After working at this venue for a few months I took an unexpected step up in responsibility. The guy who was the head doorman there walked out on New Years Eve after a disagreement with our boss. The first I knew about it was when I was told, “congratulations, you’re now the head doorman here”. Although a bit of a ‘in at the deep end’ feeling, as it was a huge responsibility, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as this really made me examine the way that situations had to be managed. I have always been a person that prefers to lead by example, as I have always done with my teaching, and I automatically did so when on the door. Whenever there was a situation, I would never expect anyone else to take the lead if I was there at the beginning. In the same context, I would never take over a situation that any of the other door staff were already dealing with.
During my time on the door I faced literally thousands of situations, varying from verbal arguments through to 1-on-1 match fights, from being threatened with somebody’s dad, through to having a mob turn up at my house in the early hours of the morning. The lessons I learnt whilst doing that job were priceless, although also costly. When dealing with the mindless and violent minority so much you can’t help but see the negative element of most things. The venues I worked at, especially during the early stages of working there, tended to be ‘busy and excitable’. Often it took for the security team to get a place straight and in order before things tendered to settle down. Sure, you still got problems, but usually not at the same level as when the security team started. Obviously, there are exception to this, which would depend on the location of the venue and the clientele that frequented the establishment. All major town and cities have places where the less desirable people tend to go and unless you mix in these circles, then you would avoid them like the plague. I’ve worked at a number of venues that have been problem areas and it does take time to ‘clean things up’. This is the time when the frequency of violent situations tended to be at their highest. It can be a very testing time, both physically and mentally. I spent just shy of eleven years working on the doors within the pub and night club scene and the combination of the intense reality aspects and my martial arts training really changed my perspective on things almost completely.
In October, 1991, I attained my senior level Black Belt, Chinese Boxing. The sense of achievement I got when I received this was like nothing I’d experienced previously. I now understood that the perseverance, dedication and focus I had applied had paid off. This realisation reinforced my focus and determination to work harder at making things successful.
During the early 90’s I was approached by a member of our local youth centre and after a series of meeting with various officials I became the registered self defense instructor for the Nottinghamshire Youth Services. For several years I frequently conducted numerous self protection programmes for them throughout the Nottinghamshire area. In addition to the work that I have done for them, I have also conducted programmes for under-privileged groups. Having already realized that teaching and competing, especially whilst holding down a day job, were a tall order, I decided to concentrate on becoming the best instructor I could be, whilst helping my students to reach their potential.
In 1993, after reading an advertisement in Martial Arts Illustrated, I travelled to Leeds to meet a gentleman by the name of Peter Consterdine, who had recently, with Geoff Thompson, formed the British Combat Association. After talking with Peter and witnessing him awesomely demonstrate some of his theories about self protection, I instantly knew that I had found a direction of training that was perfect for me. I joined up immediately. In October 1993 I became a registered member of the ‘Association and Register of Self Protection Instructors’, which is an internationally recognised listing of qualified and experienced instructors in the field of Self Defense.