Jay Cooper Interview
Many of you will know Jay (The Hound) for his forthright views on Martial Arts and in particular self defence, but what about the man behind the persona? What lead him into martial arts, the police force and a lifelong interest in self defence?
Jay recently took time out to answer some of those questions.
Jay: I always had an interest in martial arts from the media side of things, although ironically it wasn’t Bruce Lee directly so much as it was Shang Chi (Master of Kung Fu) and Iron Fist that were my first exposure. After that the old ZX Spectrum games of Way of the Exploding Fist, Renegade etc. fanned the interest further. It wasn’t until I was attacked by 3 yobs that I actually started training though. That’s what made an interest into an obsession.
Simon: Tell us about your first class and instructor, also how long you stuck with the first style.
Jay: It was a local karate club, Shorai Karate Hyde (later became Dento Kai) under Sensei Lee Coffey. I started around 88/89 and stayed until purple belts about 2 years later. I actually got knocked out in sparring and it really shook me and made me retreat into myself for a while….and for a time I nearly gave up MA.
Simon: Something kept you going, so what was the first progression?
Jay: Actually it was my dad. I had been so intense about my martial arts, you know the posters, mags, books, videos, gear etc…that it was a jolt when I stopped. My room was fitted with a heavy bag and makiwara and they were untouched for a time. I took my certs down too. That was when my dad stepped in and said, “Jay whether you carry on or not you earned those so put ’em back up.” Three weeks later I started hitting the bag again and then trained on my own until a year or so later when I went to university and started Ju Jitsu and Kickboxing at the Hull Uni club.
Simon: Back then there would have been some big names on the Kickboxing scene. Alfie Lewis springs to mind. Did you ever cross swords with these guys?
Jay: Yes, although I only met Alfie once when I was a yellow belt at a comp’ and he scared the hell out of me! We are actually friends now, albeit via social media. The head instructor of Shorai at the time was Joe Tierney, who was a little dynamo on the mats and I saw him more than the others. For every belt I took he was my examiner. Back then with no internet it was VHS tapes and magazines, so my early influences were Joe, Alfie, Kev Brewerton, Chris Boughey and the like. I also had a massive Bruce Lee obsession at this time too, so anyone even slightly associated with him was a God in my eyes! In addition to Bruce Lee I looked up the celluloid stars like Chuck Norris, Sho Kosugi et al and I was a MASSIVE fan of JCVD.
Simon: At this point in the interview I asked Jay about his move to Kent, but as you’ll see that would be leaving a massive gap in Jay’s story.
Jay: Well before I moved to Kent I stayed on in Hull. In fact that whole city has a lot to answer for!! A new martial arts supply shop – Oriental Sports – opened up there and being the rejuvenated, obsessive interest in all things martial I started hanging out there a lot and actually got a job working there part time. I got to know one of the owners, Alun Hopkins very well, and although it later transpired he was a pathological liar with no actual qualifications, it was through him that I was introduced to the British Combat Association, Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson. I suppose I should be thankful for him for that, but I still consider him a **** (this is an interview with Hannibal) and it was him that first showed my how much BS is prevalent in what people claim and it is why I am so down on frauds and flakes these days – I got burned. At the time Alun had a club and I – for want of a better word – mutinied and took it off him. I challenged him outright for the rights to the club and the students and he simply wouldn’t face me and just left me with the dojo. Through Geoff and Peter I managed to get accredited with a local clubs. Looking at it now it’s hilarious the training I did there. Nice group of guys, but couldn’t fight sleep and I quickly looked at this as expedient for me rather than a long term stay. They were useful to me for my grade and rank progress at the time, and I was useful to them because I could actually fight. Geoff encouraged me to cross train as much as possible, so it was looking at getting as much skill as I could in all ranges…very haphazard compared to now, but it was quite revolutionary at the time. Back to the club in Hull, which was now called “Freestyle Combat”, my Assistant Instructor was a guy called Mel Leathley. He is still teaching there I believe actually. Tough little son of a gun! Had a full contact career in amateur boxing and kickboxing before sticking with Ju Jitsu. He fought Mike Zikic on the same fight show I grabbed Michael Bispings bollocks…as they were their final match Mel and I can say we lost to the best! UFC had just happened and we used to get together and use pirated UK versions of the “Gracie Tapes” on each other…this included several full contact bareknuckle fights in the park which was 10/10 for bravery and 1/10 for common sense Around this time I was getting training tapes from a local JKD enthusiast and one day I popped one into the VCR and it was then that I saw “Paul Vunak – Bruce Lee’s Straight Blast”. That was the day it all changed.
Simon: So tell us about your move to Kent and your move to join the Police Force.
Jay: Hull was a great place martial arts wise for me. I met and trained with Marc McFann and Justo Dieguez (Keysi) there, and became friends with Andy Norman of Defense lab fame. For some reason Mel and he didn’t like each other…weird that….anyway, at that time I was seeing a young lass down in Kent and so with no other career options beyond occasional door work I decided applying to Kent Police would be a smart move. Ironically my brother had just moved there to go to college at Maidstone (where Simon now lives). Doubly ironically the girl I was seeing lived in Orpington which is more London than Kent. Triply ironic we split up, but by that point I thought “bugger it” and went anyway! In Kent I went through Ashford DTC where I was nicknamed “Tackleberry” and showed that pressure points are a REALLY bad idea for subject control tactics…especially when they don’t actually work on you. I ended up being stationed at Tonbridge, and it was here I met my wife (who was my Sgt when I started) but also where Lee Banda had just opened up his full time training centre ICE.
Lee was a well known name in the JKD and Kali circles in the UK, and we actually hit it off famously. It was here I also trained in BJJ for the first time “officially” under direction of Chen Moraes. The gym also housed Lee Rusha – the thieving little git who was part of the biggest robbery in UK history. Anyway, training with Lee was always fun. he was a very good Kali practitioner and had really solid JKD and kickboxing. He had very good boxing skills too and was my first “real” JKD teacher. Whilst here I actually took part in the first UK BJJ open Chen organised. I lost on points, but still… Anyway Kent Police had it’s fair share of fun and frolics for me – that MIGHT be for another time on many of them – but it gave me a lot of validation about my training so far.
JKD was an art that just “clicked” with me. There was the obvious Bruce Lee connection, but more than that it spoke to me – especially the Vunak interpretation I had first seen on grainy VHS. Of course there was – and still is – the misconception then that the arts was about eclecticism, or finding the best bits and slapping them together, but even then I knew that wasn’t the case and it was about searching for a personal truth through the “common thread in ALL systems”.
After 4 years working in Kent I was married and pretty settled, but my wife left the police to go to uni as a mature student. She had the opportunity to go the US as an exchange program and naturally we decided to do it. It was a small little town called Champaign-Urbana we were going to and I was a bit gutted as the martial arts scene seemed quite small. I then noticed Paul Vunak had a rep out there. I reached out and made contact and arranged to train when I got out there. That man was the simply incredible Jack Mcvicker.
Simon: I left Lee about just before he opened ICE. He wanted me to be an instructor there, but I had a growing family and one of the kids was seriously ill at just one year old. I made the decision to leave and become a family man. We would have missed each other by only a few months.
Jay: Amazing how that works isn’t it? So many coincidences that for better or worse push us towards the correct path.
Simon: How did you end up actually training with, then becoming an instructor under Vunak?
Jay: Well training with Jack – who is STILL one of the best in the world, and who has BJJ that is off the charts scary – gave me exposure to the “real” PFS stuff…and I loved it. It was Jack who gave me the name “Hannibal” actually, because I was always hitting kina mutai moves out of the RAT (Rapid Assault Tactics) whereas most of his students didn’t even know what that was! I became very good friends with Kyle Watson at this time too – UFC TUF alumni, and a posse of us would regularly drive an hour to a bar/barn that was connected to Jens Pulver and that can charitably be described as a “craphole” . We would engage in Toughman MMA events and avoid the ensuing bar brawls after. Good times!
Anyway, training with Jack gave me the push to pursue getting to Vunak, so I signed up on his website and put myself on the mail list…then life just carried on as I returned to the UK. We actually ended up moving back to Manchester for my wife to do her MBA. I sought out a JKD club and it was here I met and trained with Steve Crutchley, Mahender Patel and Matt Clempner on occasion. Steve is a sambo and JKD demon and Mahender took gold a couple of years ago in the UK championships. Matt is basically a wall with a moustache and bloody scary! Mahender is still a close friend to this day.
Working for GMP I got into a LOT of scrapes….they are DEFINITELY for another time…but my missus and I both knew we were destined to leave the UK as we had got the bug. US was out – borders slammed shut post 9-11 – and so we looked north to Canada. Long story short I eventually ended up in Calgary and guest instructed at a local dojo. Then out of the blue I received an email offering a new opportunity to train under Vunak in the “Descendants of the Masters” program – this was in 2010 and I was told to contact Tom Cruse for more details. Tom was busy and so my file was referred to the other Exec training Officer – Sifu Harinder Singh Sabharwal….that small coincidence became SO important later!
Anyway, my previous experience was enough to grant me “Apprentice Instructor” status instantly. The next was Phase 1, so I prepared to go to the “Bash on the Beach” in 2011 to test for it.
As it happens I was promoted to Full Instructor there! There were rumors of a celebration, but I have exceptionally fuzzy and strange memories of that evening.
Vu was – and still is – one HELL of a practitioner and fighter and is an amazing instructor when he is “on”. I was always speaking to him and asking advice and he was open and honest in giving that advice.
In person he is fast – VERY fast – and has at times a real sense of fun and joy. I was a bit star struck around him to be honest, but there was always a shadow…and it eventually became a storm.
Simon. The storm that surrounded Vunak can be found by those willing to search for it, so no need to deal with that here, but after your split what lead you to forming your own style, HAVOC?
Jay. HAVOC was actually there before I was ever officially PFS. I was teaching PFS JKD – and CLEARLY teaching it at that – but was not yet certified so did not feel right in doing so. There were also several other things I was teaching that were not in PFS so I named what I taught HAVOC. The term “HAVOC” is an acronym, as well as a paradigm. As an acronym it stands for “Hostile Aggressive Violent Offender Combatives” – which represent the three types of confrontation one may encounter. It also refers to the very nature of combat itself, which is fast, chaotic and very unpredictable.
When I WAS certified as a JKD teacher, I had so much additional experience and material it seemed silly to let it drift. After being “Calgary PFS” until I left that organisation, I decided to make it clear that this was MY reading of JKD…so HAVOC JKD was born.
Jay. Sijo Lee gave a great quote during a TV interview with Pierre Berton (a great interview and well worth seeking out on You Tube btw)
“Knowledge in martial arts actually means self-knowledge. A martial artist has to take responsibility for himself and accept the consequences of his own doing. The understanding of JKD is through personal feeling from movement to movement in the mirror of the relationship and not through a process of isolation. To be is to be related. To isolate is death. To me, ultimately, martial arts means honestly expressing yourself. Now, it is very difficult to do. It has always been very easy for me to put on a show and be cocky, and be flooded with a cocky feeling and feel pretty cool and all that. I can make all kinds of phoney things. Blinded by it. Or I can show some really fancy movement. But to experience oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly, now that, my friend, is very hard to do.
In the martial arts, possibly more than any other endeavour, artifice abounds. People hide behind tradition, rank, lineage to justify why they do something a certain way. People sometimes go even further and accumulate as many meaningless belts, certificates and accolades as they can find. Then – most inexplicably – there are even those who just flat out lie about what they have achieved. Frank Dux, Ashida Kim, Thomas Daw, Koga Yang, Mike Mundt….it’s a non-stop cascade of bull.
All of these affectations are essentially meaningless. What counts is not external validation or others giving you a bit of paper. Titles, lineage and even friends in the martial arts are absolutely empty if you lack the physical and emotional dimension and the associated skillset that MUST be fit for the described purpose.
Anyone can print off a qualification…hell you can even buy the damn things online….but they are not something you can use to hide behind when you look in the mirror. To be honest with yourself means to accept your strengths AND weaknesses. If you need a title to make you feel better then something is amiss inside. If you need to claim a belt to feel vindicated then what a hollow existence that must be
If you lie about it and sell others on the same lie then you are simply worthless.
When I left PFS to go with Singh in the JKDAA I spoke with my good friend JB from Baltimore Zen centre JKD….we both told Singh the same thing; If we have to start over as white belt rookies in rank we don’t care – we want to fulfil our potential
I always use the analogy of the boxer. You don’t get a black belt in boxing…you either are a boxer or you are not. That’s one reason I don’t have belts in HAVOC JKD – it’s because it is an ongoing process of development. Even the instructor grades are simply acknowledging the fact you can share what you know. My journey to Senior Instructor took over 15 years in JKD and another 12 in other arts prior to that……the rank structure is time consuming for a reason; you have to be able to “walk the talk”
Nothing comes easily in martial arts, and if it does it is literally not worth the paper it is printed on. Choose courage, not artifice…choose truth and honesty with yourself, and always remember that at any level you are still just an “experienced beginner”
Simon. So we move forward to you opening your own dojo in Calgary and the business partnership with Sarah-Jade.
Jay. Well I started teaching out of a local dojo here in Calgary. One of my colleagues at work was the brother in law of the owner and their Ju Jitsu coach had suffered some family tragedy and was out of action for a while so they were getting in a series of “guest instructors”.
I put on a session covering PFS RAT and some base level grappling that was so well received they offered me a quasi-permanent gig teaching there.
It was a big dojo that focused on point sparring, kata and the like. Like so many dojos in the world they said they did self-defence, but really didn’t and I found a receptive audience for the Gospel according to Hannibal.
One of the senior black belts there, Sarah-Jade (aka “The Morrigan”) became one of my students. She left due to professional differences and set up her own dojo called “Esteem Martial Arts” focusing on solid, traditional karate as she liked to teach it.
Whilst there she continued to take private lessons from me in Ju Jitsu and when I left the other school (for one reason and another) I started teaching out of my garage in a “home dojo” style arrangement and she would finish her class and then jump into her car and drive to train with me – she was a very dedicated learner!
We nicknamed it “The Forge” and it was an intense place to train – Lots of fun actually! But I quickly outgrew capacity and so it seemed to make sense to merge the two schools and so Esteem and HAVOC came together. It was only a year before we had outgrown THAT location too, so in June 2016 we moved to our current premises. It’s 2000 sq ft and in addition to our regular classes has played host to Sifu Singh, Coach Harry Smith, Professor James Hundon, GM Darren Tibon, Professor Gary Dill and Sensei John Titchen. We really want it to be a “centre of excellence” for martial arts in Calgary.
Simon. At this point I asked Jay a few question to bring things up to date.
You are looking to grow HAVOC as a brand and have already appointed your first overseas director.
How will you maintain your high standards and make sure your instructors do the same?
We’ve been critical on MAP regarding distance learning, so what’s different in your approach?
Jay. I have gathered quite a few certs over the years
Canadian Director – JKDAA
Law Enforcement Training Officer – JKDAA
Full Instructor JKD – JKDAA
Coach Level 1 – JKDAA
Military JKD/SpecOps Kali Level 5.0 – JKDAA
Instructor of the Year 2015 – JKDAA
Senior Instructor JKD – PFS
3rd Dan Ju Jitsu (Gendai)
2nd Dan Ashiita kai Martial Arts
2nd Dan Freestyle
2nd Dan Budo
1st Dan Karate (Shotokan)
1st Dan ROSS
Certified Self-Protection Instructor
I was also a Police Use of Force Review Officer, Tazer trainer, Subject Control Tactics Instructor and am classified as an Expert Witness with regards to Use of Force in the UK, Canada and the US. It’s kind of funny how some of those came about actually; the US and UK Expert designation is by virtue of my training background, experience in Law Enforcement and JKDAA role as Training Advisor.
The UK always has me listed as an expert on drunkenness and intoxication, although EVERY cop instantly has that qualification the minute they join….
In Canada I was being cross examined by a smug prosecution lawyer about a client of his I had gone “hands on” with….he listed my qualifications and said “So, I think it’s fair to say you are something of an EXPERT on fighting tactics wouldn’t you agree?”. I immediately did because what smarty pants hadn’t realised was that entering as an expert without a rebuttal expert means HE cannot question my opinion.
He was annihilated and the scribe later told me, “that was one of the most through, clear and clinching testimonies I have ever heard and it was hilarious watching his face!!”
Since then I have been used in court cases and internal hearings as a subject matter expert in many hearings and cases. I always preface my opinion to the lawyer asking that regardless of what the evidence says – for or against their client – they will get my opinion honestly and independently. This is especially relevant when giving testimony in Police Disciplinary maters, but it is important to me to maintain my integrity above anything else.
In regard to the distance learning you cannot learn from books and videos ALONE – important bit there. But let’s be honest, we all do! I have a MASSIVE collection of both and refer to the frequently to polish or refine something. As long as you know your backside from your elbow then they provide fantastic supplementation and refinement to your existing training routine.
You cannot take it from scratch, but no one at that level would be eligible to test for Instructor under me anyway.
The Instructor Testing under me has 4 Ranks –
The first level is obviously Apprentice, and is VERY roughly equivalent to a brown belt.
Back in the day, an Apprenticeship was a system of training a new generation of practitioners in a structured competency within a basic set of skills. To be successful, the individual must have perseverance, ambition, and initiative. Like a college education, the successful completion of an apprenticeship term does not come easily, but is the result of hard work on the part of the apprentice.
When someone has met a certain level in their abilities they can test to be an Apprentice. This used to be roughly 24 hours of intense one-on-one training over a weekend with me, and if successful an individual is qualified as an Apprentice Instructor under me and is registered with HAVOC JKD as such.
This does not mean that these individuals are qualified Jeet Kune Do authorities! It simply means that the individual has my blessing to teach what they know.
Throughout this process of personal growth I am there to assist with any difficulties or questions that arise with regards to techniques, syllabus and teaching. By the process of teaching Jeet Kune Do Concepts, any student is accelerating their personal growth tenfold.
One thing that separates HAVOC from the majority of other styles and systems is that a grade obtained is not assumed to last…you must qualify on an annual basis in order to maintain your rank. This is for various reasons, including changes to the syllabus, but is primarily to ensure that the quality of my Instructors remains high. Skill is lost quickly unless it is maintained and developed and training in HAVOC JKD is a journey, not a destination.
However in recent years the weekend course was getting close to nearly 30 hrs and was physically exhausting for candidates. I had to come up with a better way of doing it so I looked at various industry options and decided that online supported learning would be one of the most practical. Believe it or not the Open University was an influence on this, but so was my own teacher Sifu Harinder Singh.
When you think about it, most testing in MA is done at a distance – are told what to do, you demonstrate and you pass or fail. Whether the examiner is in the room or watching on camera is not really relevant since they simply observe. This was one of the “aha” moments I had.
It is a year long teaching and training process with a final 2hr test at the end of that period. The entire syllabus is placed online and this is the core reference material. This is then supported by a weekly lesson highlighting a specific aspect of the syllabus and this lesson is then given a “homework” assignment for each individual. they will then shoot a short 3 minute or so video showing their progress and in return get a video critique from myself – they then either repeat the assignment (in the event they cannot perform well) or get a new one the week after. After 52 weeks they have the core syllabus, the expanded lessons, the video feedback lessons and accompanying written materials and handouts. The expectation is that you will train with a partner or within a group to polish, and indeed many of the techniques cannot simply be done in the air anyway.
This is not “distance learning” per se, as no candidates can train and test without fundamentals. Instead it represents a way for me to ensure those who seek to represent get the “latest cutting edge” stuff.
Simon. Jay then asks me a question, as I’m one of the instructors that will have to re-examine in order to maintain my rank.
Jay. You have seen my instructional video material too – you tell me if that is clear enough to learn from
Simon. We have already exchanged some videos and from my point of view your instructional material is top notch.
When I’ve posted a video you’ve noticed the smallest detail and made changes to the smallest of detail.
I understand how to break down a technique and hopefully that’s clear from the replies I’ve given to other’s videos on MAP and indeed my own instructional posts.
The online system wouldn’t work f this wasn’t the case.
Simon. Jay, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
Jay. You know sometimes in life you have to stop, take pause and look at where you are to see exactly how far you have come
Here we have a scared and skinny, pasty kid from Manchester (who once quit karate because he was knocked out) all grown up and being interviewed on one of the worlds biggest Martial Arts sites.
I spend my martial arts training in the company of the BEST martial artists on the face of the planet – Sifu Harinder Singh of the JKDAA, Grandmaster Darren Tibon of Angels Disciples, Professor James Hundon of UMAA, Harry Smith of Bulldog Catch, John Titchen of DART……It’s humbling and a little awe inspiring to be around such men, but to actually be classed as their friend and brother.
Mind = Blown
Martial Arts has been such a massive part of helping me overcome my fears, my doubts and my demons and my journey is not even close to being over. I guess when you are facing the right way all you have to do is keep moving forward!
When I attend seminars, or when I get to hang out with men of this standard I learn SO much from them, but I am often told that they learn from me too. This is not to brag, but more to say that if the BEST can learn from someone else then you certainly can!
The phrase “I have always wanted to..” should never have “but” attached as a qualifier. If you want to do something you will find a way; if not you will find an excuse. So many people put off starting their journey in martial arts with the usual excuses – “too old”, “too unfit”, “too busy” – in fact there are as many reasons as arts, and every single one of them is absolute hogwash! Get out there and do it!
Then you too can be the “grinning eedjit” stood next to the worlds best!
I cannot end without thanking all my students that put up with me – especially “the Morrigan” who frankly takes more physical abuse in a month than most take in a year! The War Dogs are a fantastic crew and always keep me grounded and motivated – I feed off their energy.
Simon. I’d like to close this article with a few words from some of Jay’s students, friends and instructors.
Ken Willis. I have been doing martial arts for over 30 plus years and have met many martial arts instructors over that time. I believe Jay Cooper is one of the best I have ever trained with. While his training sessions are demanding, they are also fun and engaging. Jay enthusiastically shares his vast martial arts knowledge.
Also, from his law enforcement experience, Jay knows what will work on the street as well as the legal ramifications.
Jay has created a club of like-minded individuals with a passion for martial arts. I would highly recommend training with Jay Cooper.
JB Jaeger. Jay Cooper has a level of understanding of the actuality of street combat that is unparalleled in the reality based community. His name deserves to be far better known.
I would take his advice over many of the so called luminaries in that field, and one conversation or training session with him will convince you of the same.
Grand Master Darren Tibon. Jay Cooper , The man with a heart of gold who will utilize his abundance of martial knowledge keeping it real for those who seek out The Way.
Dr John Titchen. Well apart from his opinion on Batman V Superman being wrong,
Jay is the person to go to in order to get the questions you didn’t know you needed to ask of your training.