Matty Evans: "I learn the rules and then I learn how to Break the rules."
By Jamie Clubb
"I consider Mathew Evans to be my chief instructor. He is like my own son and a full time teacher now; one of the very best in the country. He has taken grappling to a whole new level and spiritually he is way ahead of his years."
- Geoff Thompson
Matthew "Matty" Evans is the man Geoff Thompson chose as Chief Instructor of his Real Combat System, having endured some of the most grueling training methods seen in this country for a long time. He is featured on many of Geoff's Real Fighting series of videos, including the infamous "Animal Day." Matty has various qualifications in the martial arts, including a 4th dan in Geoff's system, a 1st Dan in Shotokan Karate and a lot of experience in various other combat arts, including a coaching certificate in Wrestling and a background in Western Boxing (under renowned coach Glen Smith) Muay Thai (under Kru Bob Spour) and Judo (with Olympic silver medallist, Neil Adams' dojo). Like Geoff Thompson, he also worked the doors in Coventry, regularly dealing with the reality of street violence and some of his confrontations with feared gangsters are documented in Geoff's books. Matty was also one of the early competitors in British Vale Tudo, winning the British championship twice. I sought Matty out in a bid to realise my dream of learning Geoff Thompson's system and got far more than I could ever have ever hoped. Matty has a unique style of teaching and he reflects the "formless" attitude to martial arts, which Geoff considers to be the true aspiration for all martial artists. Not content with just learning from the people Geoff brought to his pioneering classes, Matty has further researched into different ways to teach self-defence and grappling. He has even brought the man who tutored Geoff during his days on the door, the legendary John "Awesome" Anderson. Having cross-trained in martial arts for almost fifteen years, I am very proud to be one of Matty's students. This is the interview I conducted with him.
JC: Matty, when Martial Arts Illustrated last interviewed you your competition career was looking good and you had begun teaching Geoff Thompson's Real Combat System. Since then a lot has happened in your life including being given the title of Chief Instructor of the Real Combat System by its creator, Geoff Thompson. I know your private and public classes are busier than ever. Could you tell me the history of your own classes?
ME: I noticed that no-one in Coventry was teaching any no-gi grappling groundwork. So, me and Justin Gray started a class at the Capitol Gym. It was just submission grappling - no eye gouging involved.
JC: Was it just an informal class?
ME: We did put some posters about, but it began with just people who we had trained with before and grew from there. It's still going strong today. All the students at the club are really good. In fact, I need to do a new beginners class (laughs)
JC: How many times a week do you do it now?
ME: My time is mainly filled up with private lessons, but I do two public classes a week.
JC: Are you teaching full-time now?
ME: Yes, I have been doing the one-on-ones now for about three years. I really enjoy watching an individual's progression. I like watching how someone can change dramatically by making minor adjustments; for example, showing someone a different way to punch and seeing almost straight away a major improvement in their power and technique.
JC: Is your class just grappling or do you incorporate the Vale Tudo?
ME: It's just all grappling. We have an occasional informal class, where a group of us will get together and have a go at the MMA stuff, but my honest opinion about having a Vale Tudo class that the general public are invited to is that I would end up without many students. People think they want to mix it all up, but they don't really (laughs)
JC: What is the style of grappling you teach?
ME: Basically anything that works and has been tried and tested, regardless of style. I will also bring in techniques that might not work for me, but have been successful for others. Different shapes and body sizes come into play a bit. I do use restrictive training methods taken from the different styles such as Greco-Roman, Freestyle Wrestling and so on.
JC: By looking at your previous interview, I noticed that some of your personal background was touched upon. You grew up in a relatively tough Coventry neighbourhood, Willenhall. You said there was a lot you'd learnt from both the good and bad people who lived in that area, and they had inspired you to become a good person. Did your experiences of growing up there also influence any of your views on martial arts training and the way you teach self-defence?
ME: Growing up in that particular area I saw a lot of fights. I saw a few one-on-one fights, where people would be meeting up on the common to "get it on" and then I'd see lads walking down the street with one lad waiting around the corner ready to whack someone. Other times it would be like a pack of wolves with a group of lads putting the boots to someone. Then I realised if you up against more than one person and they're keen then you're in trouble - no matter how good you are.
JC: Like Geoff, you also worked as a doorman and some of your experiences are recounted in Geoff's books. Geoff said he worked the doors to overcome a certain insecurity and fear of confrontation. What urged you to do it?
ME: It was more of a money thing than anything else. I was helping a friend out who needed someone to work the doors with him. I agreed to do it for a couple of weeks, but you get lured into it. Two years later I was still on the same door. I think once you've been pulled into it and you've gone two weeks, where there hasn't been any trouble and you're getting paid a good wage, you think to yourself "this is easy." But all it takes is one fight and it can change your attitude completely.
JC: How would you describe memories of working the doors?
ME: I did get sucked into the culture of the work, but I think it was very different from the days when Geoff worked the doors.
JC: How do you mean different?
ME: Well, I think there was a lot more fighting in Geoff Thompson and John Anderson's day. We're talking the '80s and early '90s here, where violence in and outside nightclubs was very common. They were working nearly every day and there seemed to be fighting nearly every day.
JC: Geoff always seemed concerned that many strategies and methods changed, as environments changed. He pointed out that his strategies would change with time. Apart from the reduced volume of violence, what did you notice had altered in the fighting culture of your era?
ME: I don't think the strategies changed. I think it has always been about the pre-emptive strike, getting the first technique in and trying to get it finished. I think the biggest difference between doing the doors in Geoff's day and now was CCTV. They had the cameras when Geoff was working, but nowhere near like they have them now. You can't be hitting people now like they were hitting people over a decade ago.
JC: What prompted you to stop?
ME: I got sent to jail. When I came out I didn't want to work the doors again.
JC: Can you describe the incident that led to your imprisonment?
ME: We got charged for violent disorder, which had supposedly been caught on camera. I got put away for twelve months. We appealed, as this wasn't right. There might have been a bit of pushing and shoving - which was all that the footage contained - but I didn't actually hit anybody. When we appealed, we were let out because basically we were innocent. But that experience of going to jail was one of the best learning experiences of my life. It got me off the door for starters. Even though I knew I hadn't done anything to deserve what I went through, I didn't want the threat of going to jail again.
JC: You were involved in a time when Vale Tudo was making a name for itself on the martial arts scene. You enjoyed a lot of success, winning the British championship twice. How did you get involved?
ME: Geoff and Lee Hasdell were meeting up a lot. Lee Hasdell definitely pioneered it all in the UK. He was coming down to train with us and, having seen some of the Animal Day stuff, asked us whether we wanted to fight. We said "yes" and went over to Milton Keynes to fight. It was quite weird, as Justin (Grey) had to fight James Hickage who was about two stone heavier than him and a very good fighter as well. The lad I fought was a good stone heavier than me, but luckily experience paid off and I was able to win. It was early days
JC: Do you feel Mixed Martial Arts/Vale Tudo competition has changed since you were first involved?
ME: A little bit. I think the main differences in Vale Tudo can be determined by fighting in a ring or a cage. The environment changes everything.
JC: Many people appear to be rushing to Vale Tudo and Mixed Martial Arts for its realistic nature. You are a well-respected Vale Tudo teacher and some of it clearly inspires your self-defence training. However, you are quite clear about there being a huge difference between Vale Tudo and street-fighting. Could you explain what you see as the clear difference between the two?
ME: Although, I have no doubt that a good Vale Tudo fighter would do well in a street-fight, it is still very different. For a start a Vale Tudo fight is a one-on-one fight, where a referee tells you when to begin. Most fights start outside with someone getting whacked. A lot of it [self-defence] is about being streetwise. If you know the street, then you will be able to deal with the street. Using your voice is important, using your body language and understanding your opponent's body language are things that don't have a place in Vale Tudo, but are essential for street-fighting. If you can get that pre-emptive strike in, then that can finish a street-fight. Taking out such big weapons as gouging, biting and head-butting also alters things completely. There are no rules on the street.
JC: On the other side of the coin, you still do get so-called "traditionalists" who've come to your classes and are still in denial about the effectiveness of certain methods, don't you?
ME: I think this is something I struggle with my students who put a lot time into the "traditional" styles. There are some who tell me if they study Aikido for twenty years they'll be really effective outside. My argument is that if they study at the average Western Boxing or Muay Thai gym for only two years they'll have a decent chance in reality. I think there is a problem with some people who confuse studying something for the sake of the art or for reality. I think this has a lot to do with a teacher's responsibility too.
JC: There's not enough honesty?
ME: There's certainly not enough honesty. I don't believe it really matters which style you do [with regards to self-defence], so long as you've got a bit of street knowledge about you.
JC: Do you still get people, even when it's laid out in front of them, who can't grasp what will and won't work in real-life?
ME: Yes, I do from time to time. I feel sorry for them - but, to be honest, I find that a lot of traditional martial artists are often better at avoiding bad situations. So, in a way, it does have its own form of street-effectiveness.
JC: This brings us nicely onto the next question. Despite being part of the pressure-testing revolution that exposed a lot of the frailties and falsehoods about traditional martial arts training, you have a refreshing respect for all the arts. Can you explain to our readers how you use traditional concepts in your reality training?
ME: Restrictive training; for example, going on your knees to punch pads [comparable to doing techniques in kiza or seiza, the traditional Japanese kneeling postures in Aikido or Japanese Ju Jutsu] and using the weapons of the street such as broken bottles, to demonstrate the mechanics of how I uppercut [comparable to using traditional weapons in Kali or Aikido to demonstrate strikes, locks or throws].
JC: I feel you are going back to the core of the traditional arts, as opposed to the "safer" way these systems are often taught. For example, you use Vale Tudo drills, but at the same time you don't restrict your movements to the box step, commonly used by western and Thai boxers, but also teach stepping forward with your punches.
ME: Yes, "the blitzing" is definitely a technique found in the traditional arts. I remember walking forward with punches back when I did Shotokan Karate. You are seeing it now in the UFC. The traditional arts have definitely got a place in self-defence; it's just a question of pulling it out, finding it and being honest about what works for you.
JC: There is definitely a university feel about training here. You often use the motto "I learn the rules and then I break the rules." Could you elaborate on that?
ME: Yes, I love that idea. I see it all around me. It all comes down to a question of what works; what is effective. Even in the UFC a lot of the older fighting methods are becoming more recognisable. You even are beginning to see the old school "Dirty Boxing" coming back in.
JC: You are known for your grappling classes, but you've also started up a strike-based self-defence class with John "Awesome" Anderson, who was lionised in Geoff's books "Watch My Back", "Three Second Fighter" and "The Fence." Could you tell me a little bit more about why and how you got John involved?
ME: John was coming to my grappling class, and it felt quite weird. This was the John Anderson, someone who I had always looked up to, and here he was lined up in front me in my regular class. Last year there were a few nights when I couldn't teach and John covered for me. After that I noticed there was so much he had to offer. His street-stuff was fantastic. John is great at understanding body language. He knows when to hit someone.
JC: Ironically a lot of the stuff John has transferred to you does resemble a fair number of traditional concepts. The close quarter punching, for example, has more than a passing resemblance to Wing Chun.
ME: Yet he didn't learn any of it from a single martial arts class.
JC: Going back to reality/traditional argument. Do you feel the awareness training that John teaches, which was a part of a lot of traditional arts, has been lost in many contemporary schools?
ME: I think a lot of the etiquette training - which is important - has removed a lot of the grounds for a street-fighting frame of mind. Instead you are taught to be fair and courteous. That's fine, but when you are talking about the street you need to understand and to be able to use deception. It's a bit of a contradiction, as you are bowing before you go onto the mats and then, outside, you are saying "is that your dog?" before you whack someone. You are not really taught about intimidation either in most traditional schools of today, although at one time you were.
JC: We move onto a much more difficult subject now. Last year you experienced a dire tragedy. You had a death in the family and lost someone very close to you.
ME: Yes, I lost my brother, Lee. He was also my best friend and training partner as well. My brother always looked after me; he brought me up and he was always good to me. Normally big brothers don't let their little brothers hang around with them, but my brother did. He was always a natural fighter and became a phenomenal wrestler. We always trained together and he helped me when I was competing. I miss my brother and love him so much. It's hard some times because when I want to practice something he's not there to practice with. Lee was a naturally powerful person. His striking was very powerful. His groundwork was really good, but in particular his Greco-Roman Wrestling was outstanding. Hopefully I will be able to teach his son, Mason, to become a wrestler like his dad.
JC: I have heard a tremendous amount about his wrestling ability from all those who knew him, despite keeping a relatively low profile. Geoff [Thompson] speaks highly of his skills, as does Tony [Somers] and so do your students and pretty much anyone who grappled with him. But he was quite a paradoxical character, wasn't he? He was feared on the mats and a pacifist outside the gym; the archetypical "Gentle Warrior."
ME: It was very weird because you could have a wrestle with him and he would tie you up in knots, but he wasn't into any fighting outside. Although we were brought up with rough backgrounds, and there were times when we both had to fight, as Lee got older he got very much into his music and hated the violence. I think that's why he was more of a wrestler than a boxer. He didn't like hurting people. With the wrestling you could have a really good physical workout, but without really hurting anyone.
JC: So, we arrive at that inevitable stage in an interview where I ask what does the future hold for Matty Evans?
ME: My boxing coach, Glen Smith, has decided to open up a full-time gym, where I am going to have permanent room for my private lessons and regular class. I'd like to get on the seminar circuit more. I am doing a seminar with John Skillen soon.
JC: What do you see yourself teaching more: the Vale Tudo, the Grappling, the Striking or the Self-Defence?
ME: I'd like to think that I could offer advice in any of it. I think everyone should be thinking that way too. We [martial arts instructors] should all be helping each other out. With me it's all about getting people together. If we can get some more good Vale Tudo fighters out there, then that's great, but I am equally happy training someone for self-defence - even if it is just about avoidance. I think the self-defence is the most important. Vale Tudo is great and it's wonderful to see someone do well in competition, but self-defence can be about saving someone's life. However, I'd like to think that I could offer advice in most areas - including life-coaching.
JC: Matty Evans, thank you for your time.
ME: And thank you, Jamie
Matty Evans is available for private tuition, courses, seminars and public lessons. To contact him, please call 07899002091.
Clubb Chimera Martial Arts is very proud to announce that they will be holding a Matty Evans seminar in Warwickshire. Please call Jamie on 07973681732 for details or see their advert in this issue of Martial Arts Illustrated.
© Jamie Clubb / Matthew Evans 2005