Evolution can be a controversial term, but for the most part it is simply undeniable. For example, look at how plants evolve, or how different animals adapt to changing environments.
Exercise theories, dance styles, and clothing have all evolved – martial arts should be no exception. However, in some traditional styles, instructors tend to hang onto the techniques designed to address the threats of 300 years ago. For everyday people, the threats of today are the more relevant and most immediate danger. This is the mission of Mastro Defence Systems (MDS).
On May 26, 2018, our staff attended an MDS seminar hosted by Brian Stanley of Stanley Combatives located in Owings Mills, Maryland. From the moment we arrived we were welcomed with genuine hospitality and courtesy. Students were excited and there was a real buzz in the air which we soon realized was anticipation of a dynamic seminar and an awesome group of instructors led by Mr. Fred Mastro.
MDS was introduced to America through Mr. Doug Marcaida (Marcaida Kali) and Mr. Brian Stanley (Stanley Combatives). Doug Approached Brian to host Fred Mastro and MDS for a seminar in the states. As a student of Marcaida Kali, Brian agreed without hesitation and organized the first MDS seminar around 2013.
Today, MDS has over 42 schools worldwide and is growing rapidly in the United States, while enjoying the support of numerous well-respected instructors from every major martial arts style on the planet. The effort is led by Fred’s right-hand man, Sebastien Vandenberghe who is the chief instructor for America along with Brian Stanley who is the Eastern United States MDS representative.
MDS is designed to help people survive, not fight. It was created by Fred Mastro after he spent years studying various martial arts and understanding what specific techniques work best for a given self-defense scenario.
Fred has a rich history of working with law enforcement, personal VIP protection services, Special Forces, and anti-terrorists groups all with the same guiding principle in mind.
He constantly refines and perfects long-standing self-defense principles into a thought process which matches a threat with the best response, regardless of what style it comes from.
In that way he respects all martial arts systems and highlights his belief that MDS should not be characterized as “real” self-defense, but rather a modern version of self-defense - a version that has evolved with the times.
What is MDS?
The best way to describe what MDS is may be to start by stating what it is not: It is not a martial art style; It is not a fighting system; It is not a finite collection of techniques. MDS is a compliment to every style or professional interested in defending themselves or protecting others. As described by its founder, “MDS is a hybrid that sits on top of every martial arts system”.
In studying many other types of martial arts and fighting systems, Fred Mastro encourages his students to pick and choose techniques from various styles according to what would work. MDS is not a filter for effectiveness; rather it is a strategy for selecting the correct tactic so that the defender can escape or survive – which is the only goal.
What is taught at MDS seminars is unbiased by design allowing students to choose from a number of methods that may work for them. There is no force-feeding because of tradition, guess work, or personal preference of the instructor.
Fred Mastro’s philosophy is to keep the instruction fluid and not limited to a specific set of techniques because finite programs often restrict growth. He believes it is important to constantly challenge what works so students can leverage new knowledge and tactics.
The primary objective of MDS is to survive the attack with minimal engagement and then flee to safety without creating legal jeopardy by being the aggressor or launching the first strike.
MDS has four levels of proficiency; instructor certification is tightly controlled by Fred Mastro and a few of his top students to ensure the curriculum does not get deluded or go awry.
Above all, MDS is guided by respect – respect among its members and respect for all other martial art styles and personal protection systems; for the founder, Fred Mastro, this is a non-negotiable.
The core of an MDS seminar is to demonstrate effectiveness without overcomplicating the technique. According to Fred Mastro, self-defense seminars can be very intimidating, so to lighten the mood he uses well placed humor throughout his delivery. He believes it is important to create an informal, more relaxed atmosphere so students are comfortable and open to learn new techniques or a twist on an old technique. It provides for a better learning environment where everyone takes home something of value to add to their arsenal.
While attending the seminar, the MDS warm-up stood out as very different. Instead of using rapid movements to increase heart rate or stretching to prevent muscle injury, participants engaged in contact drills that can only be described as forging exercises.
They were smashing forearms and calf/upper leg muscles – and they enjoyed it!
There was little reason to question why; it was apparent throughout the rest of the seminar that MDS believes in contact to add realism and to strengthen the body for use as a weapon when needed.
With respect to gender, women are not segregated in MDS training; instead they are treated on an equal footing with their male counterparts.
Again, this is by design. Why? Fred Mastro is quick to respond that “We should all train to survive (not fight) so we can go home to our family or protect those we love from harm”. The MDS position is to train hard and expose students to the dangers of the street so they are never surprised and always prepared for the violence and speed of a real attack.
The Right Technique for the Right Situation
Fred Mastro has studied numerous arts and continues to be a student even today because he believes the only way to ensure success is to train. He noted that it is critical to continue to add to your toolbox and refine your skills so when you need to call upon them, they will work. The first reaction for civilian self-defense in all cases should be to run; if running is not possible, then the next option is to utilize weapons of opportunity (possibly improvised weapons); however, in some cases empty hand techniques may be necessary. If the situation escalates to that point, then Fred advocates swift, decisive action that ends the altercation quickly with tactical precision.
The correct approach is to choose the right technique(s) to deal with the attack, nothing more, and nothing less. The wrong approach is to prolong the encounter by squaring off and fighting the attacker. Again, the idea is to escape or survive with minimal injury – keeping in mind there is no referee and there are no rules.
Economy of Motion
The old adage of “speed kills” applies to many things, but it is especially true in self-defense. Generally, whoever is fastest has a distinct advantage. For MDS, economy of motion is a bedrock principle that teaches speed can be enhanced by eliminating any wasted, unnecessary movement.
Fred Mastro is himself very fast, but his reaction is made even more effective because he targets every technique with precision; his movements are fluid and flow smoothly so his response time is compressed to a bare minimum.
This concept is an important component of every seminar! MDS applies maximum leverage to the essential point of attack (which is the area that will defeat the threat the fastest) to minimize the engagement, move fast, end the assault, and escape. Fred Mastro is adamant that the critical element to surviving any situation is to have a clear grasp of this strategy; however, to obtain this level of understanding, people should prepare or as he puts it, “Shut up and train”!
MDS is not revolutionary…it is evolutionary. Fred Mastro created a method of taking the best techniques from almost every system and employing them at precisely the right time against exactly the right attack. MDS is a family guided by respect with each member accepted as a brother or sister.
In Fred’s words, “If you try to fight someone, you are on your own. If someone attacks you, I will show up for free and go to jail for you.”
He wants his students to know that on the street, it is not a matter of being tough; it is a matter of being vicious. MDS is a unique concept that harnesses the collective knowledge of the last 300 years and reformulates it into a superior personal protection system.
In regards to Fred Mastro, there is no doubt, that while most of the legendary martial arts pioneers have passed into history, we are fortunate to have this one as part of our generation.