Jay Cooper, 43, is a Calgary police officer and, in off hours, the head instructor of HAVOC JKD, a self defense school that focuses on protecting yourself through the principles of Bruce Lee’s martial art philosophy: Jeet Kune Do (JKD).
I am originally from the United Kingdom. I’ve always had an interest in martial arts through watching movies. But it wasn’t until I had an incident from three bullies where I was beat up on the way home from school, at that point that I didn’t want to have that happen to me again and luck would have it, I discovered a martial arts school across from my house. It was there that I learned Shukokai karate. I was 13 or 14 years old at the time.
Afterwards, I went to the University of Hull in England. I started taking more martial arts such as Ju-Jitsu and Kickboxing. I started hanging out with more like-minded, martial arts people as I had this thirst to learn more martial arts.
Then the very first UFC happened. I was impressed over Royce Gracie and tried to get his instructional tapes to learn more from him. Since then I’ve just been finding the best people to learn from.
“It (self defence) is never like in the movies. There is blood, there is teeth missing, saliva, there’s just all sorts of nastiness that goes along with it” — Jay Cooper
I got into policing by accident. I didn’t think it would be a job I would have the temperament for. I was 22 and I had a part-time job as a park ranger. I was good at interacting with people and dealing with situations and that spring-boarded me to look at different career options, and policing seem to be a natural progression. I was in the force at Royal Tunbridge Wells, and then detective at Greater Manchester before coming to Canada in 2006.
I first learned of JKD from watching Paul Vunak’s The Straight Blast. That video, was a big turning point for me. I started learning Jeet Kune Do from that video long before I did it.
Back around August of 2001 in the US, I started training under Jack McVicker, who was one of Vunak’s representatives in Illinois. It was around that time that I wanted to become an instructor and I attempted to apply for Progressive Fighting Systems (PFS) under Paul. I couldn’t for geography reasons at the time, so I signed up for their mailing list.
By the time I was in Calgary, I was teaching the dojo when I got this email: “Attention martial artists we are relaunching our instructors program, please contact [Thomas Cruse],” who was Vunak’s right hand man at the time. So I replied back and said “Let’s do it.” Since then I was transfered to train under Sifu Singh and learned more JKD.
It (self defence) is never like in the movies. There is blood, there is teeth missing, saliva, there’s just all sorts of nastiness that goes along with it. All of these things kind of conditioned me in my experience within the police service.
Eventually Cooper broke out of PFS and created HAVOC which was essentially his learning of JKD tempered by his experiences.
I started HAVOC in 2014 having left 5 Elements Martial Arts, where I was teaching out of as a guest for about four years or so. HAVOC and Esteem Martial Arts as a business started two years ago, where we have just recently moved into our current location about 12 months ago.
It is important to have choice. You don’t need to engage in fights, you are aware of what that is, and how nasty it is, to that end you don’t need to do that anymore. You have to have that self-esteem that allows you to move forward, and you’re ready to unleash havoc when you choose to do so. But that is the difference is choice.
I love teaching. Just sharing with people is a joy. It is where I find myself and whenever I get stressed, when something is bugging me, as soon as I hit the class, I’m in the moment.
Self defense is not a game. It’s nasty and it’s ugly, so what we want you to do is prepare you for that situation, and that’s what we want to give a taste for. We want to help people become the best version of themselves, that they can be, via the medium of combat.
As told to Richie Nguyen. This interview has been edited and condensed.
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