WR Mann (photos courtesy of Realfighting.com)
By George Demetriou
We had the opportunity to train
with and interview www.realfighter.com publisher, WR Mann. WR has had the unique opportunity to train
in numerous martial sports, martial arts and self-defense systems in several
countries from the time he was a child and continues to do so to this
day. WR has presented seminars in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan,
Hong Kong, Thailand,
WR's experience has allowed him to take what he has learned and strip it down to an effective method of self-protection. He has no loyalty to any one method or system. He has trained in, and still does train in, some of the best training facilities to be found, in both sport combat and reality based self-defense.
To say WR is opinionated is an understatement. WR, interestingly enough, does not make his living through teaching or training. WR heads a branding/design firm. Self-defense and martial arts is just something he truly enjoys. He feels it’s his responsibility to share his knowledge because “there’s so much junk out there.” WR is worldly and culturally experienced. We came to the conclusion that these factors would make for a good interview. We were not disappointed.
WR, give us a rundown of when you started your training, where you have trained and what styles/systems you have studied?
My first inspiration to study fighting was when I was about
5 years old. I saw a series of classic movies called Mr. Moto (from the
1930’s). The main character, played by Peter Lorrie, was about this mysterious
Japanese spy who used boxing and jujitsu against villains. It was sort of like
James Bond and Indiana Jones all in one. Afterwards, my grandfather would
always teach me several jujitsu techniques which we saw in the movie -- which I
promptly used against the local bullies. Around that time a relative enrolled me in the local “Turn
Verein” (a type of sports facility in Germany) which featured mainly
gymnastics but also offered wrestling, boxing, judo and fencing classes.
I did that for several years and when Bruce Lee became popular I abandoned
western disciplines completely (stupid me!) and sought out Asian martial
arts. Since my family traveled to Asia and the USA
What school or system did you
study at consistently, the longest?
I spent 15 years in judo, (on and off, whenever I wasn’t injured). I also spent many years in karate, probably 12 years all together, in Europe, Asia and the U.S--I really consider my time in karate a waste. It made me stiff and took me years to undo the damage.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to become a good fighter through karate, as in all of life, there are exceptions, but if you’re looking for a quick and efficient way to learn to protect yourself on the street (without all the superfluous baggage) karate is definitely the slow road up the mountain.
I practiced karate for about a third of my life, in Europe, Asia and America and never felt completely comfortable with the methods. It never provided me with an efficient and effective means to protect myself. You fight the way you train and I found that traditional karate left me stiff and reliant on techniques that weren’t as powerful as advertised. Once I turned to fight sports, my success rate climbed quickly and dramatically.
The most objectionable part of karate for me is the katas (forms). Think of it this way, if you want to learn to swim, would you practice the strokes while lying on a bench or in the water? Would you like to learn to play the piano on an imaginary keyboard or playing on a real one? Do you want to learn to defend yourself in a realistic scenario or in your imagination? Nothing beats real experience, or, experience as close to a potential attack as possible. Kata stresses perfect form-- it is a by-product of Asian culture. In the West we stress results. Which do you prefer?
Much of karate is practiced in static forms, in essence
contracting the muscles and ultimately teaching you to be tight and stiff, the
opposite of what is required in a fight situation. In addition they don’t
address real world attacks such as multiple opponents, ground attacks, clinch
attacks and realistic weapons attacks. Years ago, many people practicing karate
believed in the “one punch – one kill theory,” this has proven to be absolute
nonsense. When karate practitioners come to my seminars or classes, most of
them don’t even know how to get out of a simple hold!
I liked the Korean systems better than the Okinawan and Japanese
styles. In my teens I studied at Gogen Yamaguchi's and Mas Oyama's
schools briefly when I lived in Japan. During the 1990’s I worked for several corporations and they
sent me to Asia. I would often visit
famous kung-fu schools throughout China
I’ve been studying BJJ since 2000, at Renzo Gracie’s, more
for the street applications, not sport.
Which combat sports have you
Judo, kickboxing, fencing and arnis. I was never a
natural athlete and would get hurt often so I never pursued it that
What systems/styles do you find
to be the most effective?
For average street confrontations, reality based defense and combatives is effective, especially for beginners. However, not all combative schools are created equal. Some organizations are very WWII oriented and some of their students are beyond weird, wearing military camo 24/7 -- even if they were never in the military. Some of the WWII combative techniques are not practical or effective today. Much of their knife defense approach is extremely dated and will get you hurt.
The problem with combatives and reality-based defense is
that if you strike someone preemptively and he doesn’t go down straight away,
you’re in a fight, and many of these guys have no fight skills beyond the
initial attack. For that you need to have a background in fight sports (MMA or
one of the components of MMA). Just to be clear, MMA today is NOT a combination
of all fight techniques. There is no kung fu, karate, and aikido in there, MMA
today consists of different combinations of boxing, wrestling,
muaythai/kickboxing and BJJ. These are the styles and combinations that work
For a good foundation -- without any doubt, sport fighting
-- any of them, judo, muaythai, wrestling, BJJ, and boxing. Wrestling is
by far the best foundation. I always tell my students to practice a sport for
foundation. If you prefer striking then muaythai is the best (but it requires
much more work than boxing). For submissions, BJJ is tops, but remember you
have to adapt the sport for the street, I do that for my students.
The direction in MMA is great. I wish it was available when I was young.
There was too much mysticism within martial arts when I was a kid, and worse
yet, we all believed it! Bruce Lee was of course my inspiration, but
ironically many schools who praised him still kept teaching the traditional
How do you decide what concepts
and techniques you will adapt and which ones you’ll reject?
The basics of my “unarmed” program come directly from MMA,
that is, a combination of wrestling, BJJ, Muaythai and boxing (I add a little
judo and classical jujitsu). However I adapt all of these for the street, that
is, everything that’s illegal in the UFC is added.
It’s very fashionable to say, “I only use what works, and
throw out what doesn’t work” but the fact is, how would you know if you haven’t
practiced for years and haven’t been in actual fights? Students with
limited ability and training come to my class all the time and start quoting
the JKD maxim, “I throw away what doesn’t work”. That’s really funny especially
when you have no fight skills. You really need experience in the game.
What’s more important, mind set
or physical conditioning? Why?
In my opinion mindset wins every time, if nothing else, an
aggressive mindset can prove daunting to any attacker. Even criminals
have self-preservation instincts, and in many cases, if they perceive that the
engagement will get them hurt or even caught by authorities they may prefer to
select an easier victim. The news media often reports stories about females who
resisted attacks and escaped , whereas passive resistance always resulted in a
On the other hand, you shouldn’t think that having an
aggressive attitude while being obese will necessarily save you. If a street
encounter lasts more than a few seconds, it becomes a fight -- if you are in
bad shape that could ruin you!
Who do respect in the martial
arts/self defense community?
There are many, and I will undoubtedly miss a few, but here
are the ones I remember right now. Besides having great skills, all of
these individuals are great people too. In no particular order:
1) James Keating:
Master at Arms: Encyclopedic knowledge and the best application skills of the widest variety of weapons. In addition he understands survival skills better than many so-called experts.
2) Ray Floro:
Knife-to-knife fighting genius -- produced the most efficient and effective knife fighting style, derived primarily from Western fencing and Filipino arts. No one can touch him.
3) Mehdi Pouroskoui:
One of the best muaythai fighter's and coaches in the world. This Canadian has consistently beaten Thailand's best fighter's at their own game, and is continually invited to fight in Thailand.
4) Kelly McCann:
Embodies the best principles, concepts and attitude of combatives for the 21st Century.
5) John Danaher:
Best unarmed fighting coach for the ring or the street -- period. Advanced fighters will benefit the most.
6) Avi Nardia:
Best handgun disarms I have encountered, fast efficient and practical.
7) Renzo Gracie:
Great fighter, great coach, great person, has a tireless spirit, just keeps on going.
8) Jon Bluming:
One of the pioneers of judo and karate in Europe. Was one of the first people to introduce MMA in the first rudimentary forms.
9) Bill Kipp:
Best Bullet-man (Adrenaline Force) trainer. He probably has logged more time in the Bullet-Man suit than all other trainer's combined.
10) Jimmy Fusaro:
Best boxing/kickboxing trainer in New York. Mixes practical boxing/kickboxing with a great workout.
11) Jim Wagner:
Arguably the foremost catalyst of the Reality-Based movement. His program includes
many topics not addressed by most instructors. Criminal and Terrorist Survival are
12) Moni Aizik
The Terminator. He teaches his brand of Commando Krav Maga. If you want to learn how
to defend yourself from a wild biker gang, seek him out.
There will probably be more people in the future...
What styles or systems are doing
a disservice to the martial art/self-defense community and why?
Well, let’s focus in on street-defense, theatrical styles
such as kung-fu and some Russian styles don’t prepare you for real world street
violence. The old adage, “you fight the way you train” is actually true. A good
analogy would be training in stage fencing. While it looks great on stage and
in the movies, it provides no effective skills in a real encounter; it can
actually get you hurt.
Describe 5 principles or
concepts that you subscribe to and teach regarding self-defense?
1. Practice as much as you can, everyday, or a minimum of twice a week
2. Add a fight sport, this will teach you distance, timing, speed & power
3. Never play your attacker’s game
4. Always be prepared, be aware, have a plan and a backup
5. Expect the worst to happen anytime, anywhere
If you had to make the choice to
study at one school or with one style, for the purpose of self defense, which
would it be and why?
In general, for self-defense on the street, it would have to
include weapons, it would be a reality-based system or combatives. They
introduce weapons and unarmed defense, however, many combative schools only
teach kill, kill, kill! Not every fight is lethal and inflicting serious
injuries on someone that bumped into you is not appropriate and could land you
in jail. Jujitsu is good but they don’t deal with weapons in a realistic
way. Choosing a good reality-defense program is quite difficult nowadays
because everyone says they’re teaching it.
If you had an unlimited supply
of money to build and equip a training facility what would it look like and
what would it be equipped with?
A 25,000 sq. foot space main building offering sport
fighting, MMA training and reality-based training in the same facility with a running
track around the perimeter, a second building housing a gym and strong-man
setup and an indoor Olympic pool in a third building. In addition I would
add a shooting range.
What common training
apparatus/method is a complete waste and why?
Useless training apparatus & training methods:
1) Makiwara training (science has shown this is the best road to arthritis)
2) Speed bag training (does absolutely nothing to help your punching ability)
3) Kata (forms) Useless, useless, useless, good for armchair fighters
4) Tiger balm (psychological affect only, makes your outer dermis feel warm, never penetrates into your muscles)
Which culture, country or
continent produces the best “real” fighters and why? Which country has
the best Muaythai style fighters?
There’s no method for judging self-defense according to this criteria, we’ll have to examine fighting sports. Since there have been champions in every category from every corner of the globe we need to examine where a majority of these fighters have come from. This is a quick cursory review, subject to change:
Boxing: USA, Mexico
Kickboxing/muay thai: Thailand, Holland, France
MMA: USA, Brazil
Why do you suppose muaythai in the U.S.
Well for one thing, there’s no payoff. In Europe,
many fight sports are subsidized through sponsorships. For example, Mercedes
Benz, Philips, Red Bull and many other large company’s sponsor judo and
muaythai players and events. In the United States, muaythai practitioners
support themselves, there’s no incentive, if you get hurt you can’t work and
perhaps lose your job, and health insurance is too expensive for up and coming
fighters. Another point is the attitude.
What do you think about the development of MMA vs. martial
MMA is the breath of fresh air that we all needed. For years, martial artists were exaggerating about their arts, making ridiculous claims about their power and effectiveness, and what happened? They all got beat up in the octagon. Since MMA came on the scene, all these pretenders have come up with excuses about why they don’t fight in the ring. For unarmed fighting, one on one -- MMA requires real skills and real conditioning. The proof is in the ring.
Contrary to what the un-informed (or politically correct) media says about MMA, it is not an amalgam of traditional martial arts (kung fu and karate) and fight sports, it consists primarily of four sport styles: wrestling, boxing, BJJ and muaythai, in various configurations – that’s basically it. These are not arts, these are all sports.
Although MMA has rules, take these rules away and you have
the most formidable street fighting style available (for unarmed situations).
The disadvantage is that it takes years of practice to become skilled.
What’s your take on sambo, systema, aikido, tai- chi and
Well, sambo is really judo, it was renamed in the early part of the 20th Century. The founders were Vasili Oshchepkov (who studied under Kano) and Viktor Spiridonov. Spiridonov developed a more aikido like soft style. Russian politics required a Russian name.
Sambo (Sombo) is basically a sloppier version of judo with rules that differ somewhat. However, that’s not to say that Russians are bad grapplers, their wrestlers are among the world’s best.
Systema seems to be geared more for the tai-chi/aikido granola, save the whales type of crowd. Systema is most probably a derivative of Spiridonov’s influence-- esoteric and slow movements and lots of theory but against an MMA or muaythai fighter, they don’t have a chance.
Regarding aikido, there are some good movements there but the problem is lack of realistic sparring (no attacks, only defense) and the time factor -- it takes so long to gain a functional proficiency. If someone was interested in learning aikido, I would suggest taking up boxing as a supplement, especially for the short term.
Amazingly, Tai-chi and its cousins Hsing-I and Pa-kua teach
a lot of interesting elements, including how to generate power. The techniques
are all within the form. It’s just too bad that there aren’t many people who
know how to turn it into a functional system. Nowadays it’s mainly the
touchy-feely, save the Dolphin’s crowd that practices it. Wing Chun is more popular in Europe than here nowadays. Out of the dozens of kung fu styles it is the most
practical, but against a good sports fighter, there’s no challenge. Look at the
stance and you’ll see what I mean. You
can easily see its disadvantage. If you examine the physics of the movements,
you can see there’s no clinch defense and against a grappler -- just say
goodnight. Bruce Lee abandoned Wing Chun for a reason!
You didn't mention Krav Maga, which seems
to be gaining in popularity, and you have some exposure to it, care to comment?
That’s a complicated story, and I’m sure many people will be angry with me regarding this. Krav maga is the most contentious of all styles. There must be dozens of styles and sub-styles. No one likes each other, no one gets along, each group claims to be the original. I don’t get involved in the politics at all. I know some of the instructors, and individually they are nice people. Perhaps the conflict extends from Israeli culture, which in my view translates to “I am right, I am right, I am right, and you are wrong, and get lost now!”
Krav maga, in my opinion, has hit its peak already. MMA, BJJ and muaythai are gaining more popularity due to the expansion of the UFC.
Krav maga is basically a striking style. It’s a big improvement, in my opinion, to traditional arts such as karate and kung fu for self-defense. As I have observed it throughout the years. There seems to be some karate/kickboxing in it, boxing, some basic situational self-defense, gun disarms and knife defense. It really depends on the individual instructor’s background. Recently some of the styles have added some BJJ and Filipino martial arts (but many schools don’t admit that they have added these styles and call these additions original to krav maga).
Some of the instructors I know are very good, but I have never been impressed by any of their intermediate or advanced student’s. The gun disarms are basically good, although I have found Avi Nardia’s (Kapap) style gun disarms to be the best. One thing I can comment on is that none of the krav maga styles have a thorough understanding of knife defenses or knife fighting, and that seems puzzling to me.
I think as a basic self-defense style for civilians it’s good, what’s lacking for intermediate student’s are: fighting from the clinch, comprehensive ground-fighting and knife-work. They also don’t teach restraining their attacker’s -- not all fighting is to the death, sometimes you can’t smash someone’s face in; don’t you want to avoid jail?
What’s the difference between Kapap and Krav Maga?
The best person to ask this question is Avi Nardia, that’s his organization.
Note: These comments are based on two important elements: what works well for street defense and how can an individual achieve a skill set within a reasonable length of time?
You’ve been exposed to knife
based martial arts/fighting on several continents and you are most influenced
by Keating and Floro. What do they offer that the others don’t?
Well in many dimensions they are above and beyond the rest for several reasons. #1) I would say they are reality-based, that is, practical and effective methods to survive and win an edged weapons attack, versus many of the traditional or pure Filipino and Indonesian styles that feature more theatrical movements. #2) many knife systems go toe-to-toe assuming they will inflict more damage and will be able to walk away; Floro and Keating realize that even an accidental stab can put you down. They teach you to protect your self. #3) They both feature intelligent and realistic sparring over the macho sparring we often see. Correct distance over close-up exchanges.
What do you bring to Reality
Based Training that may be missing from other programs?
1) The problem with many self-defense and RBD programs is teaching this stuff in a few days? When did you ever learn and retain an important skill in a few days? I guess there’s a market for that; most people want everything instantly. It doesn’t take years to learn to survive on the street, but I don’t believe you can learn it in only a few days either. It takes several months to be able to deal with basic defense, and then it must be maintained.
2) I believe I teach a much more practical and effective
self-defense knife component than most of what’s out there. Most
Filipino-based weapons systems are based on stick-fighting. Unfortunately the
belief that good stick work translates to good knife work is erroneous. There’s
no realistic knife-on-body counters in many Filipino systems, but I offer it.
3) I try to frame the scenarios around events that have actually occurred to people. I review real attacks that have been reported through the media and set up scenarios that are very similar in nature. Many attacks fall into only a few categories, it’s not that you have to deal with hundreds of variations.
Thanks for your time WR!
WR Mann is head of www.realfighting.com and teaches reality-based seminars globally.