Learn how to fight with an Urban Self-Defence class
“Imagine a man is about to grab you and put you in a van,” says Coach Phil. “You have a family, a kid – you can’t let this happen. Now, it’s not about technique, it’s about mindset and accessing a mental state that allows you to really f***ing fight, because that’s how you’ll survive. It’s a mindset that you’re not used to… But I can teach you how to do it in 60 minutes.”
It’s a dark, grey afternoon and Coach Phil and I are sitting in his gritty studio in Berlin’s Bergmannkiez. Coach Phil looks very much like a coach – broad-shouldered, tall, well-built and powerful. He wears a brown fleece, tracksuit pants and trainers and has an army-inspired haircut. He’s slightly intimidating, until he starts speaking. His natural warmth and friendliness light up his face, and in a flash he’s about as intimidating as a teddy bear.
Today I’m taking part in my first-ever self-defence class. Phil’s studio is stark: there’s not much in it apart from some kick pads, a huge riot helmet, a couple of chairs, a mirror and some protective gear. We’re chatting about his background as a trainer before the class starts, and he’s describing how to access the survival instinct that lies within all of us.
Coach Phil runs Focus Flow, a series of classes available on Urban Sports Club that teach participants how to defend themselves in real-life situations. No one is better placed to teach self-defence than Coach Phil. At the age of 13, he was sent to a special school to train as one of Germany’s boxing champions. He won several championships in South Germany at a young age, claiming the title of Champion of Stuttgart.
In his early 20s, Phil left competitive boxing for education, but continued to practice martial arts throughout his life, always aiming to continue learning and growing as a trainer. “I want to give people the best so they feel more safe and secure in their lives and develop through self-protection and martial arts,” he says.
To do this, Phil meets professionals, attends seminars and works with master trainers to bring as much knowledge back to his clients as possible. And this knowledge and passion flows out of him, even when he’s saying things like: “Imagine your mum is being robbed by two drug addicts.”
Phil launches into quite a detailed description of a scenario in which my mother could be seriously injured. He gives me two options: either to defend her or to let her be terribly hurt. “This is how you’ll peel away that thin layer of society and access the correct mental state for self-defence,” Phil says. I turn to Liz, the photographer. “Intense isn’t it?” She nods in agreement.
“The survival instinct is something we lose in society and in conditioning,” Phil says. “We always smile and compromise, we try not to raise conflict. But part of our genetic survival instinct is to protect ourselves. We either run, fight or freeze. We’re over-conditioned to walk around problems and be polite. I’m trying to polish that diamond that lies within our instincts to make people less afraid of the monster that sits within us.”
Phil explains that although self-defence is about protecting yourself from enemies, it’s also a way for you to learn about yourself. “We learn to be rough, direct and uncompromising,” Phil says. “But that transcends daily life. You’ll gain an understanding of the conflict within yourself – you’ll develop and become a better human being.”
As we chat, people start filing into the room. Phil greets everybody by name – it’s clear from his relationship with his clients that he deeply cares about each of them.
“I’m not going to teach you something overly-complicated,” Phil says. “Nothing choreographed – because in a real-life situation you’ll be too full of adrenaline. You’re going to be afraid for your life. So we’ll start the class with you sitting down on the floor without using your hands.”
I wasn’t expecting this. But the five of us do as he says and lie on the concrete floor, then get up again, without using our hands. It’s challenging and it hurts to constantly bump against the floor. “I’m teaching you how to take impact,” Phil explains.
Today we’ll learn how to defend ourselves if somebody on the street tries to grab us. He demonstrates how to put our elbows up over our heads like we’re rhinos or buffalo, so our elbows hit the attacker in the throat or face. We partner up, taking turns attacking and being attacked, using the red pads to protect ourselves from the onslaught of elbows.
Phil shows us how to step forward towards the attacker so that the impact of our elbows is even stronger and he instructs us to make a loud grunting noise as we do so. “This will give you more power,” Phil says. I try my hardest to grunt aggressively but it comes out as more of a splutter. Phil stands beside me, doing a series of war cries, trying to get me to do the same, but I just sound like a goat in distress. Phil eventually gives up.
Then Coach Phil shows us how to knee our attacker really hard in the balls, then push them onto the floor and keep them there. It’s a real stress-buster, this exercise, and I particularly enjoy using everything Phil has taught me to throw him on the ground, hammer hit him round the head and hold him in a death grip.
“I take people to bright places,” Phil says afterwards. “I’m teaching them how to survive, not go out and beat people up.” I ask Phil why people come to his classes. He thinks for a moment. “It’s instinctive. People want to access that caveman state that lives in all of us. And if we can channel that in a controlled environment, it makes us feel good. It’s liberating – to just smash something in.”
It’s true. Why not try it for yourself sometime?
If you’d like to take on the world with Coach Phil, try out one of his incredible Urban Self-Defence classes.