: Profile And History
| I was born in the Bay Ridge section
of Brooklyn. When I was three years old my parents separated and I was placed
in an orphanage under the care of Catholic Nuns. When I was around eight,
I was sent to a home run by Christian Brothers, who taught me how to play
baseball and how to box. If we got into a fight, the Brothers made us put
on boxing gloves and settle it. At the age of fourteen, I was placed on
a farm in upstate New York. I ran away a few times and lived on other farms.
When I hit nineteen, I joined the Marine Corps and served for ten and a
half years. When I joined in 1934, the Marines were teaching hand-to-hand
combat, bayonet fighting and jiu-jitsu - all of which I absorbed. I trained
with other Marine and F.B.I. agents under Colonel Biddle. I also met a Sergeant
Kelly, who had been attached to the International Police in Shanghai, China
in the 30's. He was looking for someone to practice with and I had the qualifications.
This is how I came to learn a unique fighting method that no one else in
the U.S. teaches.
This method is based on Mongolian wrestling techniques intended to maim
or cripple. Combined with other methods that I studied through out the years,
these techniques form a complete system. My method combines boxing, jiu-jitsu,
karate, principles of Tai-Chi and Aikido, and dirty fighting. Keeping only
what is useful and practical for self defense, there is not a wasteful technique.
Over the years I have had many students with black belts in other martial
arts come to me; all were amazed at how little they knew about real self-defense,
despite years of training. They felt my method had rounded out their knowledge
of self-defense. Many black belts and other so-called experts in the martial
arts have been killed or injured in street fights because their skills didn't
work outside the dojo. I am convinced that anyone, even with no prior martial
arts training or experience, can learn to defend themselves in any ordinary
or life-and-death situation.
Yours in Self-Defense Charles Nelson;
Former Instructor, U.S. Marines
Training in hand
to hand Combatives at the
Charles Nelson School of Self-Defense
In Woodbridge, New Jersey, USA.
|I recently spent five days during mid-November
in New York City and the state of New Jersey, with the duel purpose of Christmas
shopping and more importantly for me training. More specifically training
with 6th Dan, and 30+ years in martial arts veteran, Bob Spiegel. Who is
now the sole representative of the Charles Nelson Self-defense System.
Ex-U.S Marine Corp hand-to-hand combat instructor Charlie Nelson now in
his eighties, taught his method of Self-defense in New York City for more
than fifty years. What he taught was made up of ju-jitsu, boxing, Mongolian
wrestling, and what Charlie called "dirty fighting". Charlie Nelson
is one of the only people alive today who's lineage traces all the way back
to the practice of authentic World War 2 Combatives. In the field of hand-2-hand
combat the man is legend. Bob Spiegel has trained intensely with Charlie
since 1987 right up until his retirement in early 1998. In December 2000
Charlie Nelson designated Mr. Spiegel exclusively as the successor to his
street proven system, in order to teach and spread his Self-Defense concepts
worldwide. Which I might add, he does admirably well. Bob is a superb instructor
and a gentleman. My instruction started with basic stances and footwork.
The stances are every day natural
positions much like our variations of the fence, and the footwork follows
the concept from Charlie's symbol of the Mongoose and Cobra. When the
cobra makes his linear strike, the mongoose will step off the attack line
and bite the snake on the back of the head, shaking it until it is dead.
This concept is put to use against any forward attack directed at your
person, an example is to step off the attack line and chop the attacking
limb with an edge of hand blow, follow this with a chop to the neck and
a swivel punch to the heart..
Then we looked at the basic strikes
of the Nelson System, these are made up of a core of basic blows including
sharp low kicks to the shins and knees, punches, chops and arm-bars. Next
we looked at restraining holds emphasising the important principle of
striking or distraction before restraint. This simple important factor
made the techniques extremely functional. We finished with a lot of situational
defence scenarios including unarmed knife and gun hold up defences. The
latter being very applicable bearing in mind America's gun culture and
is also likely to become a vital part of our own Self-Protection teaching
syllabus if the U.K firearm statistics are anything to go by.
This pretty much bought a conclusion
to my introduction to this basic street proven system. In summary I think
the Nelson System is very basic and functional with no wasted movements.
Just as any effective method of Self- Protection should be. It's all here,
effective strikes for pre-emption and excellent situational defence principles
and concepts offering a good back up support system, should you miss the
chance of avoiding the situation or ending it quickly by striking first.
All in all, I was very impressed and honoured to train with such an excellent
representative of the legendary U.S.M.C hand-to-hand combat instructor Charlie
Nelson. My objective is to learn the entire system to instructor status,
by continuing my training with Bob Spiegel and perhaps get the opportunity
to meet the great man himself who now lives in the state of Arkansas.
Anyone interested in finding out more or in looking at some pictorial history
of Charlie and his methods and some superb demonstration photos of Mr Spiegel
including one of him putting me in an extremely painful Japanese double
arm-bar, can check out his web-site.
My trip to Arkansas
USA to meet
Close Combat legend Mr Charles Nelson.
|I arrived at Little Rock airport after
nearly 14 hours of travelling. I was met by Bob Spiegel the successor and
now main instructor of the Charles Nelson Self-Defense System, which he
teaches from his headquarters in New Jersey. After training with Mr Spiegel
in NJ a few months earlier, I had already had my introduction to the street
The purpose of this visit was to meet
the great man himself on his 88th birthday and of course to further my
knowledge of the system by training with Bob and from some hands on advice
from Charlie himself. I arrived quite late in the evening so after a nice
meal I made my way to my hotel for a much needed good nights rest. We
hit the gym early the next morning for some Self-defense training Charlie
We started off with the straight arm-bar, the Japanese double arm-bar
and the reverse arm-bar. Each of these was applied via a distracting strike
with speed and grace. Then we looked at an attack sequence which can be
applied as a pre-emptive offensive or in response to a huge variety of
situations. Using the principle of the mongoose fighting the cobra, that
was used by Charlie as the symbol for his school of self-defense.
This makes use of an evasive side
step that takes you off of the attack line of an attempted grab or strike
from your opponent, as you chop down onto the radial nerve of his forearm
with an edge of hand blow then continue the attack with a chop to the
throat or neck, a sharp low side kick to the knee followed by a swivel
punch to the heart or sternum. This sequence is practiced on both left
and right sides as a continuous assault.
Here we see how the attacking sequence
can be applied to a variety of situations.
Side step off
the attack line, as you chop the attacking limb.
Follow up with
a chop to the neck and a swivel punch to the heart.
The same principle
can be applied to a weapon attack.
|Side step and chop against a straight
punch followed by a throat chop this time pulling your opponent onto the
attack leaving you with the option to follow up if needed.
|Here the same tools applied against
a two hands choke attempt. Trap one arm and swivel punch to the heart. Follow
up by chopping the arm as you turn your opponent into a quick takedown or
into a wall or similar obstacle.
|Here are some examples of the basic
arm-bars from the Nelson system each restraint is always preceded by a strike
or some kind of distraction.
The straight arm-bar.
The reverse arm-bar.
shows how to apply the Japanese double arm-bar.
|We followed this with another sequence
that started with a swivel punch to the heart and then using the same arm
you flow into an elbow strike followed by a chop again using the same arm.
From here you grab the shoulder and back of the arm for leverage as you
pull your opponent onto a vicious axe foot kick to the inside of the shin
using the inside edge of your boot. Finally you can attack the back of the
neck with a chop or the thoracic spine with a hammer fist blow.
We went on to apply the said tools
to a variety of situational scenarios dealing with punching attacks and
various grabs to the throat and clothing from the front and back, knife
defences and multiple assailant situations, each allowing you to bring
into play the fundamental arm-bars, punches, chops and crippling low kicks
that make up the foundation of the system. We finished up with a workout
in the weight training gym.
Here is the little
big man himself on his 88th birthday, Charlie Nelson.
Here is Charlie
Nelson demonstrating his famous straight arm-bar.
|Then it was back to the
hotel to freshen up before setting off to meet Charlie Nelson on his 88th
birthday in the presence of his family including Mrs Nelson, Charlie's son,
his lovely daughter Carol and her very funny husband, Buddy whose great
sense of humour had me laughing hard all weekend. We arrived at Charlie's
to find him in good spirits. I introduced myself and struck an instant rapport
with this great gentleman.
He told me stories about his time
in the US Marine Corp, about his experience in Guadal Canal and about
his time teaching in New York City. After leaving the Corp, Charlie worked
at a variety of jobs until he started teaching self-defense, eventually
settling at his school on 72nd Street, where he taught for nearly 5 decades.
In that time, Charlie taught many students and had many confrontational
experiences, most of which ended up with his would-be assailant quickly
floored. Or as in one case running as fast as they could after having
their radial nerve struck by one of Charlie's vicious chops, like in the
incident when some guy pulled a knife on him. Charlie talked about some
of his instructors in the Corp, such as Drexel, and Biddle who taught
bayonet and hand to hand combat, and Sergeant Kelly, who trained in Shanghai
with Dermot Pat O'Niell in Mongolian wrestling and WE Fairbain's Defendu
system. Charlie also talked about his interest in boxing and how one opponent
found out the potency of his left hook. Charlie then proceeded to give
me a hands-on lesson in how to perform an arm-bar and a Japanese double
wristlock, as well as how to lock the thumb from an over-zealous handshake
and various defences against grabs. Even though Charlie is now bound to
a wheelchair, he is still sharp of mind and can move with speed when he
We left Charlie to rest and went off
for a bite to eat in a traditional Arkansas restaurant which was in the
middle of nowhere, complete with an 'out-house' toilet. This place served
the biggest cheeseburgers that I have ever seen in my life. They are so
big that they have named them 'Hub Caps'. The next day I worked with Bob
Spiegel, putting together some sequence photographs illustrating the Nelson
system for Charlie's website and this article. We went back to see Charlie
for the last time on our visit. He told us that he had enjoyed his birthday
the day before and was in good spirits. May he enjoy many more! Bob and
his student Jim left for the airport that day for their return to New
Bob is a great instructor, a worthy
successor to continue the Nelson system. He comes across as a real gentleman,
but at the same time he has this strong tough-guy persona, that he earned
the hard way through twenty plus years of hard training in the martial
arts, frequently mixing it up both on the street and on the mat. I look
forward to my next visit to New Jersey, as I continue my education in
the Nelson Self-Defense system.
My final day was spent with Charlie's
daughter Carol and her husband Buddy, who are truly nice people. They
took me out and showed me all of the sights of Arkansas, everything from
the landmarks of Little Rock, to the shacks and the honky-tonk bars of
the good ol' boys. They fed me well and showed me great hospitality for
which I am truly grateful. All in all this was a great trip and I would
like to thank everyone who made it possible.
© Lee Morrison :
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