Lee Morrison: All about the street

Written by Chelsea Attard
Morrison recently made his way Down Under to share his skills and insights with some Aussies hungry for further street-style education, Chelsea Attard spoke to Morrison about his life and the survival method he’s spent it developing.
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'Get your mind right!' - The mantra of Lee Morrison.

Lee Morrison began training in Wado-ryu karate as an 11-year-old boy and has since practised Shotokan, Kyokushin, Western boxing and muay Thai, along with Chinese, Indonesian and Filipino arts — yet he doesn’t consider himself a martial artist.

“I’m all about the street,” he says. “This is the arena I know and teach.”

And this was the arena to which Morrison introduced various Aussies when the Brit visited Australia for the first time in September 2012, teaching seminars in his Urban Combatives system at gyms in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

When at home, Morrison only teaches students privately and in a weekly group ‘garage’ class, as well as at events run for security, police and corporate groups.

The main concepts behind his teachings are being pre-emptive, training for impact and learning all you can about the body’s adrenal response. “Urban Combatives is not about art or sport, it’s about self-preservation. I am simply a practitioner of this,” says Morrison.

While the influence of Morrison’s years spent training in various fighting arts is evident, Urban Combatives is largely the product of his real experiences from being bullied as a youngster right through to working the doors at dodgy pubs and clubs.

After experiencing bullying at school, Morrison learnt as a young man that “people only treat you the way you let them”; however, this realisation didn’t spell the end to his schoolyard scraps.

“This led to fighting back tooth and nail one day and realising I could actually stand up [for myself],” he recalls. “Unfortunately, I started to become a bit of a hot-head and was fighting at school all the time, so a relative suggested I channel my energy into something else.”

With Bruce Lee posters adorning the walls of many a child’s room at the time, and a traditional Japanese karate school nearby, the answer was clear.
Morrison began training with the late Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki, a world-renowned master of Wado-ryu, but only lasted about a year before another fight got him thinking about what other styles might have to offer.

“An altercation that I had in the street showed me that the touch control or semi-contact that was emphasised in the styles of karate that I was practising did not translate well to the street. Here I realised quickly I needed to be hitting hard and going for the knockout.”

Morrison says this is what led him to begin training in Shotokan, Kyokushin and eventually Western boxing and muay Thai. Shotokan proved to be more in line with what he was looking for at the time and Morrison trained in the style for six years, but his search for his best-fit fighting art continued. The search brought him into contact with Kyokushinkai masters Steve Arneil and Frankie Collins, as well as Thai boxing coach Arjan Sanga.

These martial artists have undoubtedly played a significant role in Morrison’s early development as a fighter and their influences remain evident in his teaching style today, but his strongest influences, he says, come from “people who have tested their systems under the pressure of reality — be this in ‘live’ situations, dynamic simulation and scenario training, or a combination of both”. These include the truly old-school, such as famous 1920s Shanghai policemen and close-quarter combat pioneers Fairbairn and Sykes, and US WWII CQC legend Charles Nelson, to modern leaders of the reality-based training movement such as his countryman and friend Geoff Thompson, who got much of his knowledge the same way as Morrison: through working among the violent as a bouncer.

While in Australia, Morrison taught a seminar for Jim Armstrong and his students at RAW Combatives in Melbourne. Armstrong, the local Senshido representative and an instructor with extensive experience himself, says Morrison’s wealth of experience with various martial arts was immediately obvious. “Lee has studied many martial arts over the years and you can see the attributes and concepts he’s gained from them, which is what helps make his combatives so effective,” Armstrong says.

Morrison says he learned a lot through the pub brawls and street fights during his former incarnation as a “misguided young male”, but much more since his rebirth as a doorman in the early ’90s — a career that lasted 14 years. “To say that this had been the most effective part of my combat-efficiency education so far would be an understatement,” he says.

That next, and most important, stage in Morrison’s development began he was just 21 years old, and he had to learn fast to survive. “My learning curve, at least in terms of what I have found to work for me in a ‘live’ situation, only really kicked in when I started to work on the doors.”
Training up to this point, says Morrison, had given him “small pieces of the puzzle”.

He says everything he has trained in has offered him something — an attribute, a skill set, a mentality or simply a way of thinking — but his experiences dealing with pub and club violence taught him exactly what was missing for him, and from the martial methods he was learning.
 “The doors were a way to further my learning and quickly helped me to formulate conclusions similar to those of others gathered through similar experience,” he says.

Morrison worked the doors every week from Thursday through to Sunday at what he describes as “some really shitty venues”. He describes the experience as like being in a laboratory, which allowed him to test what he’d learnt and find out what worked, and what could land you in hospital.
 “I learned many things from the guys I worked with, and those that I fought — and I’m talking untrained guys whose only experience came from the street, backed up with shitloads of attitude”.

For the young martial artist it was a frustrating time, as he had to discover that some skills he’d trained so hard to master we’re effectively useless to him in a real fight. With more experience, though, Morrison found it became easier to spot very quickly what would be useful to him in his line of work, and which martial arts instructors would be able to help him. “I can listen or watch and see the ‘dry-land swimmers’ from a mile away now,” he says.

During his time working on the doors, Morrison also gained a newfound enthusiasm for heaving heavy weights. As a 23-year-old, he threw himself into strength training in an attempt to increase his size and power. Weight-training became a significant part of Morrison’s regime for several years and eventually led him into competitive lifting.

After working some 14 years as a doorman, Morrison was forced to throw away a lot of knowledge he’d acquired, but in return took away a wealth of new information that could only come from working in a high-pressure environment. He remembers two lessons in particular that really hit home. “The first and foremost conclusion [I reached] was psychological,” he says. “Pre-fight perspective is everything; you’ve got to get your head right. The second thing, in a physical sense, was hit hard and be first — impact with attitude.”

While the harsh realities of violence that Morrison had experienced up to this point were a significant factor behind his move away from the traditional martial arts, he didn’t stop seeking instruction altogether.

“Some time later I joined the BCA [British Combat Association] after actually seeking out Geoff Thompson after reading some of his books. Here at last I’d found someone on the same page as me, so I went to train with him and Peter Consterdine [BCA co-founder],” he says.

Training with some of the biggest names in self-protection, the theories Morrison had formed through dealing with daily violence were only reinforced. “Geoff and Peter confirmed for me what I was finding out for myself about emotional control and being first [to strike],” he says. “Both had a great influence on me, particularly Geoff, who became a close friend and helped me so much with my career.”

It was through Thompson that Morrison got his introduction to Western combatives and got to meet and train under the influence of the late Peter Robbins of Combative Oriental Defendu Arts (CODA). From there, he became an instructor under Dennis Martin within his CQB Services, then went onto study with a variety of experts in Europe and the US.

In 1999, after 22 years of putting martial arts from all over the world to the test, Morrison sat down and formed the curriculum he now calls Urban Combatives.
The beginning was humble, with Morrison describing the club as initially being “a place to train, test and develop for a bunch of like-minded people”. However, as interest grew, he saw the need to formulate a compressed and teachable curriculum.

Now, a broad spectrum of students come to Urban Combatives, trained and untrained, men and women, to take part in the full-on scenario style training that is commonplace in the classes. The hallmark of this is ‘non-compliance’ — the opposite of the training seen in many dojos, where students often comply with their drill partner’s attempts to effect a technique. In Urban Combatives, resistance is the most effective training tool there is.

“We like to employ a fair bit of simulation and scenario training with emotional attachment; this is very important,” Morrison explains. “If you want to know how you will operate under similar duress then you have to simulate it under the best, most realistic and non-compliant conditions you can create.”

A roadblock to more martial arts instructors implementing this methodology, aside from it being a much harder sell than ‘family friendly karate’, might be an imagined potential for insurance claims — and when asked what injuries he’s suffered along the way, Morrison jokes: “How long have you got?”

However, he admits most have actually been a result of impactive training, strength training and general overuse of muscles. While there have been a few knockouts and broken bones in his classes — and a lot of ibuprofen consumed afterward — he says injuries aren’t common in his training.
“Combatives training should hurt, but it should not injure. If you get injured, you can’t train!” he says.  

Morrison has since returned to the UK, with a few international stops along the way to spread his Urban Combatives philosophies and skill sets still a little further. Having loved his first visit to Australia, the word on the street is that he could be back Down Under before we know it.

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