George and Mandy Johnston founded and run the Total Combat Academy. Not only do this extraordinary couple offer a great and important teaching programme for self-defence, but they are now expanding their skills and knowledge into the world of action movies. Both Mandy and George have experience in various martial arts including Jeet Kune Do, Kali, Silat, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu amongst others. They have been involved in Keysi Fighting Method for about 7 years and remain the only academy in Scotland to teach this incredible martial art.
Paul: Hi guys. I just want to start by saying thanks so much for giving your time to do this interview.
George: Thank you, you’re most welcome!
Mandy: It’s a pleasure!
Paul: I have to say how much admiration I have for anyone who dedicates so much of their time and energy into learning something to such a high standard, be it martial arts or not. Could you share with us what got you both interested in martial arts?
George: Bruce Lee. Yes it’s a cliche but when I first saw him in Enter the Dragon, he was the most amazing being I’d ever seen.
Mandy: Again, it’s Bruce Lee because he was so different for the time. He wasn’t the blue eyed blonde American that you could never be. He was small, Chinese and perfection.
Paul: Was it your mutual love of martial arts that crossed your paths?
George: Ha ha yes! I always spent a lot of time in training and couldn’t imagine being with someone that wasn’t into it as much as me. We used to both go to a martial arts academy in Glasgow.
Mandy: It’s the same for me, I was training all the time and it’s great when your partner is as passionate about something as you.
Paul: Has there been anyone in particular, or any experience in your lives, that inspired and motivated you both to follow the paths that you’ve chosen?
George: For me it’s students who really inspire because they start off with very little and in a few months you see them changing into a confident and challenged person. It’s very rewarding to watch them grow in their journey.
Mandy: I always have liked doing extreme sports and activities. Martial arts can be pretty extreme and sometimes it’s not for the faint hearted. Plus any activity which is male dominated tends to make me work even harder to be really good at.
Paul: What gave you both the desire to form your own training academy?
George: We love martial arts so why not do something you love. Teaching is a pleasure because you see students develop into really good martial artists. You also form some great friendships with people.
Mandy: We also wanted to bring a different kind of atmosphere to an academy. Any other places where we trained before, it can be very intimidating for a new person. So we make the academy a fun and relaxing experience. Even in class, a bit of a laugh goes on, it just helps people train better.
Paul: You both have studied extensively in various martial arts. What is it that interested you about the Keysi Fighting Method, that made you choose to offer training in this relatively unknown style rather than one of the more commonly know styles?
George: Because it was an unknown style and we wanted to try something completely different.
Mandy: I had heard about it and something just clicked for me. It was so natural and things made perfect sense.
Paul: Do you offer training to a wide age range? How do you tailor your programme to suit say elderly or younger students?
George: I’ll let Mandy answer that!
Mandy: We offer training to people over 16 just now. I used to do kids classes but I just don’t have the time due to having my own baby. We can tailor the programme to suit all levels. Our classes are relaxed and students are encouraged to push themselves but at their own pace.
Paul: With any sport or any physical activity, there is always the risk of injury. What precautions do you take to prevent or at least limit any potential injury to your students?
George: Again with new students, we take it easy to begin with and if a student feels they want more then they are able to use protective gear and go all out.
Mandy: Injuries do happen but not as often as you might think. Everyone loves showing their bruises off don’t they!!
Paul: Martial arts training is not simply about the development of the body, but also that of the mind. What is your philosophy on the study and use of martial arts and how do you work this into the training you give?
George: Martial arts is more about using your mind than the physical aspect. The way you think can sometimes prevent situations from arising. It doesn’t matter what belt you are, if you haven’t trained your mind to handle a situation the consequences might not be so good.
Mandy: You train your body and your mind to take a hit. Physically, you might take it in the class but if it happens for real it might be too big a shock for the mind. And that needs to be trained more.
Paul: I want to ask you some things about your ventures into screen fighting training and action films. Who or what got you started in this?
George: We’ve always been interested in action fighting but only recently started taking things further. We started a screenfighting class for guys in our academy who might be interested and they took to it really well. We were working on fight choreography for a project which never happened.
Mandy: It’s something new and different for us. You always see other people doing it so we thought we’d give it a shot and we loved it!!
What difference is there between your training programme for screen fighting and for regular martial arts training?
George: With regular training everything is tighter and faster. In a streetfight you want to finish it as quickly as possible. For the screen you need to make it more theatrical and exciting. So the training needs to include breakfalls, falling over objects, into objects or people.
Mandy: In screenfighting you need to exaggerate movements and make them wider. The guys taking the punches and kicks need to be able to sell them to an audience.
Paul: What film projects are you involved in at the moment? Can you tell us a bit about them?
George: We are currently involved in an independent movie project called Furor.
Mandy: We’re very excited to be working with Zara Phythian, Vic Marke, Rob Ho and Rob Comrie on what promises to be a very interesting and dark movie.
Paul: These sound like pretty exciting times for you. Was it always in your mind to someday explore the world of action films?
George: Yes!!!! As I said before I got into martial arts because of Bruce Lee movies. It was him that started it all!! Didn’t everyone want to be Bruce Lee? ha ha.
Mandy: We’ve always been big into action movies so to work in them is a total dream come true. I love the combination of horror and martial arts! I would love to play a blood crazed serial killer, ha ha.
Paul: If you could choose to work with any of today’s stars in the action movie world, who would it be and why?
George: Matt Damon because for someone who doesn’t do martial arts he is really convincing and looks like he could pull any move off. In the Bourne movies, his fight scenes were great and were done at quite close quarters.
Mandy: I’ve always been a fan of Arnold Schwartzenegger from his bodybuilding days to now. He’s an inspiring guy who has achieved (almost) everything he has set out to do. There’s one last movie left in him yet!
Paul: What are your plans and hopes for the future?
George: Well we opened a new academy in February so we aim to make that a success. I would like to take my fight choreography career further as I really enjoy it. I like to see fight scenes coming together from just a idea in my head. It’s really rewarding to see the performers acting out the moves.
Mandy: The academy is a big focus but I also would like to be more involved in fight choreography and performance. I have started getting into acting in a big way and aim to get into drama school next year.
Paul: Guys, thanks again for doing this interview. The very best of luck with all your ventures.
George: No thank you Paul for the interview.
Mandy: Thanks Paul, it was a pleasure!
Total Combat Academy Homepage.
By Paul Reeves