Terrorism & Personal Safety - The Next Steps

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 29th Apr)

Most of us rarely think about our personal safety; muggings, abductions, and sexual assaults happen to other people, not to us. We trust in our common sense to keep us safe, believing that we would never behave or act in a way that would put us – or anyone who may be with us e.g. friends, children etc - at risk. This is the way that most people think before they themselves become the victim of a violent assault. Sometimes afterwards they console themselves with the thought, that even with the correct information and training, there would have been nothing that they could have done to prevent the attack/assault from happening - and in certain cases I’ll even agree that they may be right, however I would argue far more strongly that with the correct training and appropriate knowledge, there may well have been things that they could have and should have done, that could have prevented, lessened or dealt with the assault.

Don’t get me wrong, nobody is ever to blame for being the victim of a vicious assault, however at the same time it should be understood that personal safety is the sole responsibility (and in the domain) of the individual, and whilst we may argue all we want that the police and other law enforcement agencies have been tasked with enforcing the laws of our society, it is unlikely that those who look to attack us and cause us harm will wait for these individuals to be in attendance before they decide to assault us. I have every right to expect that other drivers who I share the road with will drive safely and in accordance with the laws, however I’ve driven long enough to know that this isn’t something I can rely upon, and that I better have good insurance coverage. That we should have to think about our personal safety, and possibly alter some of our behaviors and action, in order to stay safe may seem an inconvenience however this is the world we live in, and we have to be realistic about our understanding of it.

The Human Body is an interesting organism, it will inherently fight to survive, when challenged. If a person attempts to choke or strangle you, your hands will automatically rise to attack the attack, clawing away at your aggressor’s arms, hands etc (in Krav Maga we use these natural responses as a basis for our defense). However for most people it is only at this critical moment that they think about survival, neglecting to consider everything that could have been done before this moment to avoid reaching this point. Survival is a mindset, and one that should continually look to develop.

One of the things that impressed me greatly about those that were physically unaffected by the terrorist attack on Boston, two weeks ago, was the universal desire to help and be of assistance to those that were hurt and injured. Nobody can be blamed for not having the necessary skills, knowledge and equipment with them to help those who were suffering. Whilst the desire to help whilst still being at risk is a noble thing, in the world we may now be living in, such skills and knowledge could well be a requirement of everyday life. I am never one to spread hysteria and panic however the dangers we potentially face could mean that knowing how to apply a tourniquet is a more relevant skill to have than it was before. There are many other skills and pieces of knowledge that may be more appropriate for us to learn and develop because there are many more likely threats to our safety than acts of terrorism however events such as the attacks at the Boston Marathon serve to remind us that we are not as safe as we often think we are, and that there are times when we cannot avoid being the target of violence.

My guess is that in the light of the Boston Bombings more guns will be sold than ever, and whilst I am all for firearms being included in anyone’s personal self-defense strategy, I believe there are far more valuable survival skills for an individual to have, including first aid skills, and the preventative skills that self-protection training affords – not everybody has the time to devote to learning self-defense and fighting skills, however everybody can spare a few hours to think about avoidance and preventative measures i.e. how to avoid being caught on a predators radar, how to identify the Pre-Violence Indicators that can alert us to danger etc.

Would these have stopped anybody from becoming a victim of the terrorist bombings in Boston? Probably not, however it would have meant that there were more people able to assist and help, and less people who were mugged, raped and assaulted that day (despite the media coverage, at least one woman in Boston was raped that day, and another individual was forced to hand over a wallet or phone at knife-point – other crimes don’t stop because of Terrorism).            

The world we live in is becoming statistically safer, however the risk of becoming the victim of a serious or deadly assault is increasing. In two weeks time on the 12th, we are offering a two hour seminar aimed at addressing the safety needs of the Boston Public. This is a donate what you can seminar with 100% of the money donated going to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund (helping to support those who will always be there for those in need). Donate what you can and empower yourself!

Register using the link below:





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Boston Marathon, Terrorism & The Future

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 20th Apr)

It’s been one hell of a week in Boston. We had the terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday (both Patriots Day and Tax Return day), leading to high speed pursuits, a locking down of large parts of the Greater Boston Area, and the eventual death of one of the brothers believed to be responsible for the atrocity and the capture of the second (I write this early on the morning of Saturday 20th, so I’m writing from what the media have reported on to date).

Despite the desire of many for the execution of the captured terrorist, I am glad that we live in a State which doesn’t have the death penalty, as I would hate for this individual to become a martyr and used as an inspiration around the world to recruit more people to commit such atrocities. The recruitment of suicide bombers by Hamas, in the Gaza strip, is largely based on the romanticism of martyrdom – the US would be doing Itself, Israel, the UK and other countries that have been targeted by such fanatics a great favor by denying the enemies of western democracies a martyr that they can rally around. A scared and wounded kid in a boat, who is captured, tried and justly sentenced with multiple life sentences in some high security prison is not an inspiring story to sell the kids in Gaza City and elsewhere – no romance. If I was a family member or close friend to a victim of the bombing, my emotions may justifiably lead me elsewhere but from a purely non-involved/emotional standpoint I am glad he was taken alive, and for the record I have lost close friends to acts of terrorism.

I’m also glad he was taken alive so that we can all better understand the nature of the potential threat we face. We are yet to find out if the motive was financial (give us $5 million or we’ll bomb the next major sporting event on U.S. soil), political (to draw attention to the situation in Chechyna – both terrorists were Chechian and it would be useful to know if there was a sponsoring body or group from that country) or religious (some form of “punishment” to the west for their presence on the Arabian Peninsula). I always want to know if the threat we faced is over, or is going to continue. When the terrorist attack/bombing occurred no one or group claimed responsibility – this could have been because they under-estimated the effect of what they did, and as first timers panicked, or were planning to execute some more terrorist acts before they did etc. Hopefully, we’ll now learn more about the potential threats and dangers we face, and if there is a new enemy to be concerned about. This might even improve our knowledge at a higher political level if we discover they were financed by Iran, Syria, Suadi Arabia etc.

I would like to congratulate the FBI on the way they re-constructed the “story” of what occurred on Monday (this was an amazing piece of surveillance work), when the bombing took place, through the use of video footage that members of the public provided however I have to ask the question, why does a modern city like Boston not have CCTV (Close Circuit TV Cameras), whose footage could be analyzed immediately, without having to rely on the time delay of the public submitting their un-coordinated footage – this is not a criticism of either the FBI or citizens of Boston who provided images etc however the lack of “official” footage shows that the City may need to put some measures in place to ensure that: a) any future potential threats may be identified on camera before they occur (something that would have been difficult given the apparent nature of Monday’s attacks but may help identify other potential terrorist acts before they occur), and/or b) there is adequate official evidence to work on before sifting through the thousands of hours of public images etc, speeding up the identification process. People always argue the case for civil liberties etc where CCTV is concerned however after a week that Boston has gone through is there really an argument?

There are also lessons that Boston could learn from other cities. Paris in the 1990’s removed all of its public metal trash/litter bins and replaced them with frames on which clear trash bags were hung. Many other European cities that were also subject to continued terrorist bombing campaigns at the time e.g. London, replaced all of their metal trash/litter bins. This removed a potential hiding place for any device as there would be some degree of visibility, as well as lessening the blast impact of any bomb that would be placed.

It is easy to fall into the idea that the capture of Terrorist No 2 is a great victory (and for the security services, and members of the public who played a part etc it is and everybody should be commended for it) however there are still 3 people dead, and hundreds injured and it is these people and their friends and family that need our support. Terrorism will fail, not because our agencies and military will stop every event from ever occurring but because we as individuals care enough about our own, to make sure that we don’t let it happen again (we stay vigilant, change our personal safety habits, accept the inconveniences that extra security may cause us etc) and that if another event does occur we’ll show the resolve, dignity and honor that sets us apart from those who commit such acts. Also we should all remember that the State Trooper or Policeman you celebrate now as capturing a terrorist is the same guy who may in the future write you a ticket for speeding: heroes are still heroes and have a job to do.  

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Mobile Phones & Personal Safety

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 15th Apr)

Whenever I conduct a seminar or training session on personal security and self-defense, there are always some common questions that people ask and/or some common pieces of “advice” that people have been given concerning their own safety – I was teaching a group last night where one of these came up; whether you are safer talking on your mobile phone, when in a potentially dangerous situation, or not.

Firstly, the definition of risky and dangerous situations needs to be examined. Normally when people ask this question they cite the situation as being on their own, late at night, on a deserted street etc. This location in and of itself does not make it dangerous. We tend to think that we are safest in crowds and most at risk on our own, however the majority of muggings take place in crowded shopping malls and train stations etc, where there is an abundance of potential targets – this is not to say that you won’t be the victim of a mugging on a lonely street, however you are certainly not at any more risk, and statistically at less.

When we are on our own, it is brought home to us that there is nobody who can come to our assistance and aid. That we are wholly responsible for dealing with any threat or danger that we face, and it is often this that causes us to reach for our phone and to call someone; so that we’re not alone, and to have somebody who we can share the responsibility for our own safety with. The fact however is that we are alone and that we alone have the responsibility for our own safety. Unless the person you are talking to is trained, and understands how violent situations erupt, develop and evolve they are unlikely to have any good or solid advice for you to follow and however graphically you describe your environment are not going to have a better understanding of it than you who are there. Violent assaults and muggings happen quickly, so quickly that you are unlikely to have the time to act on any advice given to you anyway.

Handing over or sharing responsibility for your personal safety is a dangerous path to go down, even with someone who has your best interest at heart. It is something that many predators (sexual and financial) try to do in order to get you to trust them and hand control of a situation over to them e.g. to talk their way into your house, to get you to have a drink with them in a bar etc. It is far better to assume responsibility for your own safety in all situations and with all people.

The real danger though from talking on the phone is that you get taken out of your reality. People who talk on their phone whilst driving are far less aware of what is going on than those who are talking to a passenger in their car who may be sitting next to them. This is because when it is you and a passenger you share the same reality. If you are having a conversation and suddenly a car pulls out in front of you, your passenger reacts as well, maybe by stopping talking, making a sharp intake of breath, or even telling you to look out etc. However if you are on the phone, the person carries on the conversation as normal, without any reaction or change in their tone, speed or delivery. Rather than helping alert you to danger as a passenger would, they reinforce the idea that nothing is wrong.

This is one of the reasons why it feels comforting to talk to someone on the phone when you are feeling scared or fearful: you are brought into their world where it is safe, where there is no danger etc. You are to some degree transported to another reality. The obvious danger to this is that just like the driver talking on the phone, you are distracted to what is going on in your environment, and whatever danger or harmful intent may exist in your situation, the person on the phone will not see or be able to react or respond to, they will carry on talking as if everything is ok, when in reality it may not. It may be comforting to hear their voice and be transported into their world, and even have someone know where you are, however in the 5-10 seconds it takes for an assault to take place, the person at the other end of the phone will not have time to do anything; even if they get past, shouting “are you alright” etc as the assault takes place.

If you want the comfort of somebody knowing where you are, call them when you leave, tell them where you’re going and how long it should take you to get there. Tell them what to do in case you don’t call them when you get there at a certain time i.e. take responsibility for your safety but lose the phone. Any potential assailant will know that it distracts you from what is going on around you and that the person at the other end will not have time to do anything in the time it will take them to mug or assault you. Your reality is the one you face; accept is and deal with it – don’t try and enter into somebody else’s by calling them.

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Saving Face - Conversations About Date Rape

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 8th Apr)

People become aggressive and violent for a variety of reasons. One is to save face, either to themselves or to others. It is sometimes possible to talk someone away from violent actions but the route you take may not leave the person room to save face, which leaves them feeling compelled to continue justifying their behavior(s), which in turn can cause them to start to become emotional and aggressive again. Finding a way to let a person preserve their dignity, and give them a face saving way out is an important part of conflict resolution. To not do this, means that you are effectively still posturing in a situation that you want to end and remove yourself from – and that’s not going to happen if the person you’re dealing with isn’t given an exit strategy that preserves their dignity and self-image. Nobody wants to feel that they’ve lost, as they then may see their only alternative to this as becoming violent.

The reason I’m writing this blog piece is because today I was presented with a potential situation/scenario that raised a lot of questions regarding egos, emotions and face-saving. It concerned a potential date/acquaintance rape situation, where a girl whose been dating the Captain of the Football Team or similar, ends up in a situation where he becomes sexually excited and isn’t listening to and/or accepting that she isn’t interested – it hasn’t yet turned to physical coercion but that’s the dangerous next step. If it does then it is a potential sexual assault or rape and there are no two ways about it however we’re considering a situation where the balance could tip either way and there is still an opportunity to prevent an assault from happening. I don’t wish to consider the moral questions here but to look at what can practically be done to avoid a worst case scenario.

The first thing that must happen is for the emotion in the situation to be addressed, you can never negotiate or reason with a highly emotional person, especially one who feels entitled to act in such a way. In this situation the entitlement may come from the fact that the guy has been on a string of dates, has “put in his time”, and feels that he deserves some physical reward etc. This is his reality and the one on which his belief system is based. Trying to argue that a couple of dates doesn’t automatically result in or lead to sex, may be a difficult argument to make and win against someone who thinks this way, especially when they are emotional and aroused.

If you attempt to avoid the issue and not confront it, there is a danger that the person will become frustrated and assault you anyway, so you need to address the situation in a way that causes the person to start thinking and having to reason (when we use our reasoning brain we become less emotional) and also gives a person an opportunity to save face. Ask him if he likes or minds having sex with women who are having their period - although this wouldn't be a deterrent to the most committed sexual predator, it is a tactic that has been used successfully in the past. It’s a good way to dampen emotion, as well as giving him a face saving way out. You can also state that you don’t like it and that it wouldn’t be a good experience for either of you; making him appear as the good guy in the situation. Sometimes you have to give up being right and not make the case that a person is wrong to behave and act in a certain way so as to be effective (put your ego aside and let your aggressor's stay intact). Don’t promise anything in the future i.e. to sleep with them in a few days etc; merely state that great as the evening was all you can think about now, beyond the cramps, is to get a goodnight’s sleep. The bigger issue concerning his issues of ego and entitlement etc can be dealt with in the morning in a safer environment. 

When I worked door, I was always sure to allow people to leave because they wanted to, not because I wanted them out. If a person has a face saving opportunity that they can use to justify to themselves and others they are often likely to take it. For those occasions when they are committed to their cause, regardless of the alternatives presented to them there is Krav Maga.  

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