kevin O Hagan arms crossed dressed in his martial arts outfit and black belt
23rd September 2016 The MALESTROM

Self defence Master Kevin O’Hagan speaks To the MALESTROM

Some of you may not be aware of Kevin O’Hagan, but The MALESTROM thinks it’s about time you were. Described as being ‘the best Combat JuJutsu man in the UK’, Kevin is a self defence expert who’s knowledge and skill mark him out as one of the leading combat specialists in Britain and possibly the world. A former MMA fighter who’s no holds barred approach to life and work has seen him inducted into Martial Arts Illustrated magazine’s hall of fame. The MALESTROM sat down with him recently to hear his story. 

The MALESTROM: To offer a little context to our readers, could you explain what you do, and the grades you have achieved in the Martial Arts?

Kevin O’Hagan: I have been training in Martial Arts for 40 years at present. I started training in 1975 and opened my first club in 1984 and I have run many well established classes in the Bristol area. I now co–own a gym with my son Jake. It’s called Impact Gym and it’s in Bristol. I have also been fortunate to have taught successfully on the UK and world seminar circuit for many years.

I hold the following grades and qualifications in Martial arts:

7th Dan black belt Masters Grade in Combat Ju Jutsu.

7th Dan Senior Self Protection instructor (BCA).

5th Dan black belt in Goshin Ryu/Goshin Kai Ju Jutsu.

1st Dan black belt in Japanese Ju Jutsu.

1st Dan black belt in Karate Jutsu.

British National Martial Arts Association award for ‘Contribution and Development of Martial Arts’ (BNMMA Hon)

Certified Conflict Management trainer. (BTEC Advanced Award, Ed excel)

NHS Certified Conflict Resolution trainer (NHS CFSMS)

Specialist advisor to accreditation panel for the first accredited awards for control and restraint, flashlight defence tactics, conflict management and personal safety. (Open College Network)

British National Martial Arts Association Millennium Award BNMMA Hon.

I’m also an Ex-Pro MMA fighter, and I was inducted into the M.A.I Hall of Fame for ‘Contribution to the Martial Arts’ 2012.

TM: So how did you first get into it?

KH: When I was young I was really influenced by the late great Bruce Lee. Up to that point I grew up with the image that it was only big men that could fight such as the likes of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Then I read a magazine of Lee and I was sold on Martial Arts. Being only 5ft 7ins I struggled with my confidence and self belief when it came to confrontation. Martial Arts became my saviour.

TM: Was it a tough upbringing?

KH: Yes… it was pretty tough I grew up in a multicultural neighbourhood. Back then there was no P.C and red tape bullshit… it was dog eat dog and you had to get on with it and learn to survive. There were no anti-bullying schemes and such like then. I had my share of ‘slaps’.

TM: What was growing up in the 1970’s like?  

KH: It was totally different to our ‘soft’ society today… there were no mobile phones, internet, Facebook, credit cards etc. You went outside to play and make your own entertainment. We climbed trees, played football, swam in streams and played conkers all without getting murdered or contracting some deadly disease… quite different to today.

TM: So street fighting was commonplace growing up?

KH: Yes it was… if you walked into the wrong neighbourhood you could be in trouble. Also as you got older some pubs and clubs were notorious for violence, so were the football terraces. I must stress I wasn’t a troublemaker but sometimes trouble just finds you in these places.

TM: How much time did you dedicate to training back then?

KH: Initially it started as a couple of times a week… remember in the early 70’s Martial Arts were not wide spread it was difficult to find a reputable club, especially in Bristol and the south west. In this day and age there are clubs everywhere and a whole spectrum of techniques and learning at the touch of your fingertips on You tube. As I fell in love with the arts I travelled far and wide in the UK to seek out the best instruction, by the 80’s I was training most days and going away on weekends to seminars and courses. My two main instructors back then lived in Southampton and Liverpool and I travelled there regularly to train under them.

TM: Which Bruce Lee film was it that I suppose we could say changed your life?

KH: It had to be Enter the Dragon. Unfortunately by the time I new about Bruce Lee he had recently died. I recall putting on my best overcoat and platform shoes to get in to my local cinema as a 14 year old boy to see the film which was 18 certificate rated. I sat mesmerised. It blew me away and I was sold.

TM: Who was your first teacher?

KH: It was a man called George Taylor. He taught a system of Kung Fu called Pak Mei (White Tiger). He lived in Birmingham and came down to Bristol on a Friday evening to take a class. I was 14 years old when I joined. I tell you he was a tough and uncompromising character.

TM: What’s the most important lesson they taught you?

KH: Without doubt discipline and mental toughness. It forged an iron will and fighting spirit never to give up but also to be a humble person. The fighting skills I learnt were great, but looking back it was the discipline that helped me in many other areas of my life.

TM: Of the various Martial Art forms – which do you consider to be most effective?

KH: All the Martial Arts have something to offer, but we mustn’t get combat sport and self defence mixed up. Some techniques spill into both arenas but sport is governed by rules and fair play, real combat isn’t. Martial Arts such as Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling and MMA all gave me exposure to full contact fighting, they are all formidable combat sports. Japanese jujutsu, Krav Maga, Military Combatives, Karate jutsu can all be very effective arts for self defence. At the end of the day it is down to the Instructor and how knowledgeable and also how realistic they are. Combat sports are controlled violence and street fighting is uncontrolled, you have to have a slightly different mindset. There are no referees, bells or whistles. If you have to break an arm, gouge an eye or bite an ear so be it.

TM: For the uninitiated what are your top tips for defending yourself in a violent encounter?

KH: Firstly I would say good awareness is the cornerstone of any self defence plan. If you can see trouble approaching, you can then evaluate it and decide what your course of action you will take. If you walk around in a daydream texting on your phone or have ear plugs in you won’t get a chance to evaluate anything. You will then be reacting to an attack and usually that is far too late. Running helps. Good de-escalation skills help and if all else fails learn to hit first and fucking hard. 85% of physical self defence skills will be based around a scenario of confrontation, the other 15% will be a surprise ambush attack. If you are squaring up to somebody that is a fight and it is not self defence. The main weak spots on any human being that are always going to be the most vulnerable are the throat, eyes, groin, knees and spine.

kevin-o-hagan performs a defence move on one of his students

TM: How do you go about removing the fear that many would associate with a threatening confrontation?

KH: This is a big subject… but basically you have to become de-sensitised by being exposed to a full contact scenario based training situation that simulates a street attack on a regular basis. Also a good understanding of the effects and affects of adrenalin are essential. This is an area I specialise in. Over the years I have exposed myself to many tough challenges and have learned how to deal with that crippling fear that can freeze you or make you capitulate. I have been in many situations where I was literally shitting myself. As Mike Tyson’s old trainer and mentor Cus D’Amato once said:

The difference between the hero and coward is that the hero has learnt how to deal with his fear where the coward hasn’t’.

That really sums it up.

TM: How do you avoid being a victim?

KH: That is back to good awareness and trying to do a risk assessment on all the actions you take, it doesn’t mean you have to become paranoid or wrap yourself in cotton wool, but you do have to take responsibility and ask yourself what are the possible consequences for my actions if I choose to do this e.g. wandering around at night intoxicated in a foreign country on your own, deciding to walk back to your hotel… that would be foolish.

TM: For those looking to get involved in Martial Arts – what’s a good starting point?

KH: Decide what you are looking for in the sport… Martial Arts for recreation or self defence. Do your research online and then visit a few clubs. Watch a class to see how it is structured and what the Instructor is like. Feel the vibe and then make your decision based on this or a friend’s recommendation.

TM: Finding the right teacher is key?

KH: Definitely! Find out his name and check out his credentials and background. If they have been teaching for years they are probably well established and genuine.

TM: Is age a barrier to starting some form of Martial Arts?

KH: Not necessarily. Once again if it is self defence based training there should be something out there for all ages.

TM: Many young people are seduced by shall we say the glamorous arts with flying kicks etc, but surely there’s more effective/realistic systems?

KH: You will always find this but with the explosion of MMA and Cage Fighting, it has exposed many of the myths and magic of Martial Arts techniques and I feel many youngsters will be more grounded in effective technique these days.

TM: Tell us a bit about your Combat system?

KH: If you mention the word jujutsu to people in this day and age most of them will reply… ‘Oh yeah that’s that ground grappling stuff you see in the UFC’. Now there is some truth to this statement and the Martial Art of Brazilian Jujutsu has certainly proven itself in that arena countless times over. But to ‘pigeon hole’ all jujutsu styles as ‘that ground grappling stuff’ is doing the art a grave injustice. Japanese jujutsu is a complete combat system of armed and unarmed techniques. It’s origins can be traced back some 2,500 years, it originally was the battlefield art of the fearsome Samurai warriors. Ground fighting was only a small part of this art, as going to the floor in real combat would have proved fatal. Japanese jujutsu in its true form was more concerned about taking their enemy to the ground and dispatching them with a blade or bare handed strikes. Trips and sweeps were prevalent, along with kicks to the knees, head butts and elbow strikes… joint breaking to disarm weapons was used along with chokes and strangles to dispatch the enemy. As I mentioned previously… rolling around on the ground was the last resort. My Combat jujutsu system is a hybrid of the ‘old school’ Samurai Jujutsu. It holds the core principle that 80% of technique is standing and 20% is on the ground. Most BJJ in this day and age now leans heavily towards sport, where pinning and position takes precedence over submission and finishing. I love all jujutsu styles but I try to keep adapting and moving with the times. I still like to keep a lineage back to how the techniques were originally trained and how they have adapted over the decades to blend in with ever changing times.

My latest DVD box set Samurai Soldier illustrates this principle in great detail. It covers all aspects of Japanese Combat Jujutsu. Throws, locks, chokes, takedowns, strikes, immobilisations, weapon disarms, use of the baton, hand stick and Yawara-bo plus much more.

If you want to learn more about the evolution of jujutsu from old to new and compliment your training then I highly recommend you check out this mighty 7 disc set. Also go to my site www.kevinohagan.com for more news and information.

kevin-o-hagan puts one of his students in an arm lock

TM: What impact has the huge success of MMA had on your world?

KH: Huge! It changed the face of Martial Arts forever… as I mentioned it blew away a lot of the myth and bullshit that surrounded Martial Arts. When I first got into it in the late 90’s and early 2000’s it was still very much Art v Art. It was a breeding ground for experiment to see whose system was the most effective. It was a tough learning curve… now we have what you could call the MMA athlete. He trains solely for MMA and many have no real background in any Martial arts. I was the first instructor to open a class in Bristol teaching what was to become known as MMA, back then we called it ‘Vale Tudo’ (no holds barred fighting). There were very few reputable MMA clubs around, now there are thousands. It has become huge and will continue to grow.

TM: Conor McGregor is a superstar and a must watch personality, but his mindset is fascinating, he has unwavering belief?

KH: Yes he does. I trained on more than a few occasions with his coach John Kavanagh back in the day when he was fighting (just shows how old I am). Conor is a big personality, but he is from a long line before him who also had that same belief he is ‘this year’s model’ just as Muhammad Ali was back in his boxing days. It’s all part of the fight game. Conor like all the greats can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

TM: What significance do you place on mindset?

KH: Everything really. Ninety per-cent of fighting is mental strength the rest is physical. When all things are equal the man with the stronger mental will to win will succeed. This is why I have set up the ‘Winning Minds’ programme to help coach individuals to ‘inner success’… the toughest men I ever knew weren’t the ones flexing their biceps, snarling and showing off their tattoos. They were quiet and pretty innocuous until it was time to go into action, then they turned into fucking monsters that could tear you a new arsehole and bend you in two and snap you in half like a twig. They could knock you out so hard when you woke up your clothes would have been out of fashion… beautiful violence poetry in motion. Never judge a book by it’s cover.

TM: What advice do you have for improving your mental strength?

KH: Obviously sign up to my ‘Winning Minds Programme’! (laughs). Mental strength comes through adversity… you don’t become mentally stronger by sitting in your comfort zone. You need to be doing things that frighten you and challenge you on a regular basis. I love the following saying… it just about sums it up perfectly.

“The iron ore feels itself needlessly tortured as it goes through the furnace. The tempered blade looks back and knows better” Japanese Proverb

TM: That’s a great quote. At The MALESTROM we are big believers in one’s ability to change the direction of your life and the power of the mind, have you studied much in terms of philosophy?

KH: I have studied and read a lot about sports psychology, NLP, and Eastern philosophy… I love positive and profound quotes.

TM: And your hero Bruce Lee was an avid reader of Eastern philosophical thought – have you looked into that much?

KH: Yes I have to a degree. The Eastern mindset and belief system is very different to a western one… I have been lucky to train directly under many great Japanese instructors and learnt a lot about bushido or the way of the warrior and how they live their lives. I have also been fortunate to visit and train in Japan.

TM: If he were alive today he’d be fascinated by the current fitness and nutrition world. In fact he’d probably be at the forefront?

KH: Yes I think MMA would have blown him away as it was the sort of thing he was preaching about way back in the 60’s… and obviously the advances in fitness and health would have certainly interested him.

TM: Have you spent time in Asia? If so could you expand on any interesting encounters, masters you have met?

KH: I have been to Japan. I trained and cornered MMA fighter James ‘The Colossus’ Thompson and took him as part of Team Colossus to fight in Pride fighting championships which back in the early 2000’s was the biggest MMA show on the planet. He was the first British man to fight MMA on this show. It was a very emotional moment and a great memory. I was so pleased to be part of it… walking out to a crowd well over 40,000 was an unforgettable experience. I have met many Japanese masters. There are many stories. Later this year I hope to have my autobiography published entitled ‘When We Were Warriors.’ It will document all my training and the people I have encountered. I am excited about this project.

TM: And anywhere else you trained, studied? 

KH: I have trained in the USA and also I guess the strangest place I have been invited to teach was Bermuda. It is an absolutely beautiful island and again it was in incredible experience.

TM: Do you place much value on meditation and yoga?

KH: I must admit these are areas I can, could improve in. They do have value but they are not my prime motivators.

TM: Who in your mind is the Master, the expert artist you have most respect for that’s alive today?

KH: There is not really one person. I guess at certain stages of your life certain people figured and influenced me. One of my early instructors who was also my best man John Bennett taught me a lot about life and particularly discipline and focus. Mickey Upham one of my early jujutsu instructors was a very gifted martial artist and showed me the foundation of Combat jujutsu and Pioneering Martial artist, author, play and film write Geoff Thompson gave me his time and his knowledge on how to get my writing started… and great advice on pressure testing technique and fear control.

TM: Who do you turn to for advice?

KH: God and my lovely wife of 34 years, Tina. The only two people I trust to give me the answers.

TM: What role does fitness play for you?

KH: It has been vitally important to me. I still train as often as I can and keep in pretty good shape, if I do say so myself for a man of 55 years old. My training has modified with age… I used to train like a beast twice a day 6 days a week especially when I was fighting in MMA. Now it is different. I do still train more for high intensity fitness which mirrors the mental and physical rigours of real combat. Running a marathon which is admirable by the way won’t guarantee you the fitness for 3 minutes of hand to hand combat.

TM: What’s the best way to improve your flexibility?

KH: Stretch every day. Something I am guilty of never doing. Ballistic stretching and static both have their benefits as do yoga and swimming… fortunately the nature of my martial arts system didn’t require me to drop into the box splits or execute a flying kick. The only time I would kick somebody in the head is when they are on the ground… and it was justified of course!

TM: What’s your training regime like these days?

KH: I teach jujutsu most days still. I train one heavy weight session for strength. One session will be hitting the bags or pads with body weight conditioning and one day swimming… they are all hard sessions and I find I just need more recovery time between them, especially my joints.

TM: How fit do you need to be in order to be able to defend yourself?

KH: I believe a certain level of fitness is desirable. If a violent situation goes on any longer than 3 to 5 seconds it becomes a fight and this puts massive strain on the heart and lungs… it will expose any of your weaknesses very quickly. If you train for combat your fitness should be based more around short explosive cardio work and strength work over for example running on a treadmill for an hour.

TM: In your teaching, what issue is the most common young people face these days?

KH: Top of the list is bullying. Back in my day bullying was normally of a physical nature where now it can also be done from text or online. Our soft society is helping breed victims rather than developing strong characters that will stand up for right and wrong.

TM: How important is balance in life?

KH: Very… and I think we all struggle with the work, family, rest, play ratio. I live a truly happy life you need a balance of all these things. I guess that is what life is ultimately about.

TM: Many young people who get involved, presumably initially they lack that balance?

KH: Yes they do. They have tremendous pressures on them in their schooling. Expectations can be high… lots of homework, so they find it difficult to pursue a hobby or pastime outside of this. Ultimately there pastime becomes fiddling with their phone or playing computer games. We need to keep getting children involved in fitness and exercise.

TM: What’s the best piece of advice you would offer to young men?

KH: Live your life by a good code of ethics… be a gentlemen. True warriors do not walk around spoiling for fights or getting into bad habits. They live their lives peacefully with respect but know they can also protect their loved ones and themselves if needed. Martial Arts and fitness certainly kept me on the straight and narrow and it gave me a purpose and focus in my life.

TM: Favourite Martial Arts Film?

KH: Funnily enough I am not a great lover of Martial Arts films. I have seen 100’s, but I always feel the best and most realistic fighting sciences are not in Martial Arts films. But if I was pushed. Enter the Dragon, Roadhouse and Nico were all ground breaking in their day. The original The Mechanic film with Charles Bronson had some great Martial Arts type fighting in it as did First Blood with Sylvester Stallone.

TM: Most inspiring piece of music you turn to?

KH: For training I still can’t think of a better piece of music to get the blood pumping than the original ‘Rocky’ film theme… never fails to give me a buzz.

TM: Must read book?

KH: If we are talking about Martial Arts publications? I have written a few half decent books (laughs). Watch My Back by Geoff Thompson and anything by Rory Miller.

TM: For those interested in your Combat System and
training, how can they get involved?

KH: They can visit my website kevinohagan.com and message me. Also they can go to impactgymbristol.com and take a look at the timetable. I am also available for seminars or private tuition.

  • Matthew

    Awesome – what a legend