Krav Maga And Conflict Resolution

(Gershon Ben Keren - Thu 28th Apr)

This week I conducted a training session on conflict resolution and de-escalation. A large part of long-term conflict resolution is to try and get all of the parties involved to engage in cooperative rather than competitive practices, so that win-win resolutions (as opposed to win-lose outcomes) can be achieved. As I was presenting, and leading the training, it struck me how much “conflict” exists within the martial arts/self-defense community, and from my personal experience the Krav Maga community; everything is about competition, and negatively interdependent goals e.g. we’re the only instructor(s), association doing it right come train with us etc. as opposed to what should be a positively interdependent goal of trying to make our students as safe, and as competent in dealing with conflict, as possible. I have lost track of the number of times a Krav Maga instructor or association has used the term “only” to describe what they do, failing to acknowledge what other instructors both in the Krav Maga community, and in the larger self-defense community may be doing as well – or doing in a different way. Don’t get me wrong, my goal is not to see every Krav Maga/Self-Defense Instructor, standing on a hillside, hand in hand, singing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing”, but rather for individuals to educate themselves to the different approaches, and seek out the value, of what other instructors are doing/teaching.

I’ve always liked the adage that I first heard Avi Nardia use, which is, “Always a student, sometimes a teacher” i.e. you never stop learning. If you are an instructor really want to learn, so that you can best serve your students, you have to expose yourself to new and different ideas, not just from within your own community, but from the larger self-defense and martial arts community as well. I have learnt great principles and concepts from practitioners of Aikido, Kick-Boxing (yep, Kick-Boxing), Karate, traditional Ju-Jitsu, which I’ve been able to apply to my Krav Maga training – ideas, which I’ve not heard expressed within the Krav Maga community, but which have enhanced the way that I’ve taught and instructed. This is not the same as “watering down” what I teach, or creating a “new” hybrid version of Krav Maga etc. but realizing that different arts and systems have value in what they do. I never fail to take something away when I have a conversation with a boxer; I’ve never changed my stance to that of a boxer’s but I’ve adopted many of the ideas from boxing about real power generation when punching, just as I have from studying and practicing Karate. Do I believe I have to cross-train in Boxing and Karate, not necessarily (and I don’t believe my students have to), but I do believe there are great benefits to understanding how these systems work and how their “ideas” can be brought into my own teaching and training. If this means I am somehow not being true to historical/traditional Krav Maga, quite frankly I don’t care; I don’t have the luxury of practicing an “art” from another time – I’ll stay true to the principles but I want to enhance the execution.

I don’t believe that you necessarily have to have a wealth of firsthand experiences of violence to be a good instructor; but some experience will help you gain a realistic perspective. I don’t practice Krav Maga knife defenses because they are part of a syllabus, I practice them because they have worked for me, and the method/approach is a logical one I appreciate and understand. This however doesn’t by default invalidate the solutions that other instructors teach and use. I remember, once demonstrating a technique in a forum type setting, where another Krav Maga instructor from another style told me categorically that what I was teaching wouldn’t work (as instructors we’ve all had those conversations). What I was teaching was something I’d applied when working door, a few months previous. This was a great example of competitive rather than cooperative conflict resolution. If instead, he’d said something along the lines of, “I can see what you’re trying to do there but I have an issue with this particular point, can you explain how you deal with that”, we could have had a discussion/dialogue about the problem we were trying to solve (a knife threat to the side of the throat), where we could have both learnt something – even if that was both of us confirming our own positions – and improved our understanding.

When you actually deal with real-life violence, you care little for the name of the system where the solution to an attack comes from, you simply care that it works. I have dealt with assailants with knives, enough to understand that I have a lot of improvements to make, and that I’m not in a position to sit back and tell myself that I’ve got this area of my training sorted. When I invite guest instructors to my school, and they ask me if I’ve got any specific things I want them to teach, I’ll always say knife. Last year, we had Ran Steinberg from Dennis Hisardut, come and teach a seminar on knife, this year he’s coming back, and he’s teaching another seminar on knife (along with others) – when we talked about this he informed me that he’s made some changes/adaptations to some of the techniques he taught last time i.e. he’s someone who is constantly developing/improving, and that means searching and trying new things, ideas and approaches etc. If you deal with real-life violence, you don’t care if it’s called Krav Maga or anything else, you just want it to work, and in the most effective way possible – if something from another system, or instructor enhances your understanding of what you need to do, you shouldn’t ignore it because it comes from somewhere else e.g. my understanding of 360 blocking has been enhanced by my Karate training; my block doesn’t look any different to any other Krav Maga 360 block, but it contains a lot more power and force due to my understanding of Karate. If it’s that extra force/power which adds to my survival, I don’t really care where it comes from.

One of the best analogies I heard about the evolving nature of Krav Maga, came from Roy Elghanyan (another instructor I had come out and do a seminar at my school), who said, “Imi Lichtenfeld (the founder of the Krav Maga methodology), invented the car, but we don’t drive the same cars now that we did in the 1940’s (when Krav Maga was first developed).” Nowadays we drive cars with fuel injection, that have 16/24 valves, that have ABS, cruise control etc. It’s still a car, it’s still an internal combustion engine, it’s still a barking system etc. Nothing has fundamentally changed, but each of these things has been improved. Krav Maga to stay relevant, to become even more efficient, even more effective needs to change and move forward – it still needs to stay true to the principles, if it’s to remain as Krav Maga. It can only move forward with cooperation and the exchange of ideas, both from instructors within the community, and from those in the larger/broader self-defense community.               

Share on Facebook

Jargon And Terminology

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 24th Apr)

Jigaro Kano, the founder/developer of Judo, had a Master’s in Education i.e. he had an academic background in teaching, and an understanding of how people learn etc. Kano, was the initiator of the colored belt system for grading (that most martial arts have adopted), and organized his syllabus, in a logical and ordered fashion. He understood that students need structure and direction in their learning, and organized his teaching and instruction to provide this. For me, as a Judoka, one of the most important and useful things he did was to name his techniques/throws in a literal and descriptive fashion – in fact the teaching points of the throws are contained in the names e.g. the throw called Harai-Goshi, meaning “Sweeping Hip”, instructs you to sweep the “Hip” when you execute the throw; however many people don’t do this, and sweep the leg – I’ll hazard a guess, that Kano, understood this common mistake, and put a reminder/rectification in the name, so that practitioners would remember what the key component of the throw actually is. I believe that as an educator, Kano understood that jargon, fancy names and terms etc. can get in the way of learning, and can actually misdirect a student so that they execute a technique incorrectly.

There is a huge danger in renaming things, as an emphasis can be lost and a misdirection can occur. This can be clearly seen, in the variant of Tai-O-Toshi (“Body Drop Throw”), that is taught in Sambo (a form of Russian Wrestling), as “Front Trip”. A “traditional” Tai-O-Toshi, as opposed to that often seen in competition, involves no leg on leg contact, between the thrower (Tori) and the person being thrown (Uke); the power comes from the person executing the throw, dropping (and turning) their body at speed, in order to take their opponent’s balance and throw them. In Sambo, the “Front Trip” throw, which is executed almost identically to Tai-O-Toshi, sees one of the thrower’s legs placed against the shin of the person being thrown, in order to “trip” them as they drop their weight and pull them forward/round. Despite looking almost identical, these are two very different throws, with the different names, changing the emphasis on the key working of the throws; one is powered by a downwards shift in weight, which pulls a person over, with the other relying on an almost opposite idea, which is to block a person’s movement by tripping them.

Descriptive terms, which explain the concepts and ideas behind a technique or principle make more sense than abstract terms and jargon, however the world of self-protection and security, loves to come up with abstract terms and terminology that need to be translated, before they can be understood. I see this a lot in the way that numbers are used, when people talk about level 1, stage 2 etc. Numbers in and of themselves don’t convey any understanding, meaning or message. They are useful in suggesting an idea of progression, but that is all. Telling someone that they need to act and behave in a “Stage 3” situation, means that they have to translate “Stage 3” into some form of descriptive term/definition, and then do the same for “Stage 1” and “Stage 2”, before they can orientate themselves, understand where they are in their landscape, and start to formulate a plan of action. If “Stage 3”, was given a title/name that described the stage/phase, such as “Pre-Conflict”, a person can easily understand by the name/title that this is the stage preceding the actual conflict, and the next phase stage, is not “Stage 4”, but the conflict/fight itself – there is no wasted time in having to translate a number into a descriptor, and having to reference that number in relation to others etc.

Jargon and terminology, is a great way, to put barriers up to learning, and create a language that only those who have taken the time to educate themselves to it can use and understand, however it doesn’t help when a situation needs to be understood quickly, and acting decisively is key. Even if you are fluent in a second language, it is still a second language, and to understand what someone is saying a translation process needs to occur. If you are an English person who speaks French, standing in a compound, with a French soldier, who instructs you in French that there is incoming fire, you will still need to translate that; depending on your fluency it might be almost instantaneous, but in most cases there will be some form of delay – the length of time that it takes you to make the translation could have disastrous consequences for you. If your self-protection language has too much jargon, and is too abstract, you may be slowing down a person’s ability to understand what is going on around them, and what they should do. It will also be impossible for a person to understand that “language” subconsciously, as it will always need to be consciously translated.

The names, terms and phrases we use, when talking about personal safety concepts and ideas, should be as descriptive as possible, and contain as much information and ideas as is possible in a simple name or term. It should be remembered that it is the idea/concept that we want to communicate and the name/term we give it should reflect that – we should also not get too concerned if people can’t remember the name or term as long as they understand what it is referring to. Our goal should not be to create a “new” language but to impart knowledge and understanding.      

Share on Facebook


(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 17th Apr)

One of the most important skills to have when dealing with potentially violent individuals is decisiveness; being prepared, ready and willing to act, when assaulted – I’m using the legal definition of assault here, not the common usage one i.e. if somebody, who has yet to make physical contact with you, puts themselves in a position where they could cause you harm, and at the same time causes you to fear for your safety, it’s assault etc. Once you understand, and recognize this, you should be prepared to respond physically, either pre-emptively before the person goes to punch, grab you (battery) etc. or as a response to their attack. There are many warning signs, both verbal and physical that can alert you to the fact that somebody is getting ready to act physically against you.

A lot of people in the martial arts community will talk about how people telegraph their striking, explaining telegraphing as unnecessary or exaggerated movements that precede a punch or kick etc. However, telegraphing is more about a person’s entire movement and body tension, before they make the strike e.g. if somebody is bobbing around and shifting their weight when sparring, you know that they are preparing to make an attack; this is telegraphing. If in a Judo contest a person, is pushing and pulling their opponent back and forth, you know that they are setting up/telegraphing their attack (you don’t necessarily know what specific attack). If a Judoka is relaxed, and then suddenly explodes into a throw, or a Karetaka with no tension in their body suddenly darts forward, with a punch, neither individual has telegraphed their attack – there was no overall preceding movement(s) that showed their intent. So when we talk about identifying whether somebody is about to throw a punch in a real-life conflict, we shouldn’t get caught up trying to identify, each movement that precedes the punch, but rather look at their overall movement and energy, and try and see if they’re setting up the setup to the punch, rather than just focusing on the punch setup. An example of this, is somebody who keeps advances towards you shouting, and then backs away, only to advance again etc. This is somebody setting up the setup. They’re not yet physically and emotionally ready to punch you, and they’re getting themselves into a place where they’re ready to do so. This overall body movement is telegraphing their intent. It is much easier to act at this time, than wait to identify the specific attack they’re going to use.

There are “necessary” movements that have to occur, for a punch to have power, and one of these is that body weight has to be transferred forward – a lot of martial arts and combat sports striking training involves minimizing large movements that are needed to do this and chaining/coupling smaller less identifiable movements together to achieve, a faster and more powerful overall movement. Most untrained individuals lack the knowledge, the skill and the ability to do this, and so have to rely on relatively large shifts of weight in order to deliver a solid strike. This normally involves transferring weight on to the back foot first, in order to bring weight forward into the punch. One way to do this is to take a step back, or to turn away, almost as if the person is leaving/walking away – which is a fairly good way to get the person they are confronting to relax and drop their guard, thinking that the interaction has ended etc. The person who keeps advancing and retreating is also doing the same thing, as backing away from you can be used to mask this weight shift. Any movement that loads weight onto an aggressor’s back leg, should be considered as a setup for a strike.

Both the setup of the setup, and the setup itself, would be good occasions to act preemptively. The setup to the setup, in a court of law, could easily be argued and framed as an assault, and the setup itself could demonstrate the “battery” component of “Assault and Battery” e.g. the movement showed that they were preparing to make physical contact with you. It is worth understanding that the law gives you the right to act preemptively, as you want to eradicate all possible doubts in your mind about making the first strike, in order to be decisive.

Your initial preemptive strike doesn’t have to be a power strike i.e. you don’t have to end the fight with your first strike etc. Unfortunately, under stress and duress, many trained people forget their training and panic, using the same methods of power generation, that untrained individuals employ e.g. stepping back, swinging/pulling their punching arm back etc. In essence telegraphing their strike. This is why it is sometimes better to make an initial strike that doesn’t require power, but can be used to disrupt an attacker’s movement and setup a subsequent power strike, such as slamming your palm and fingers into your attacker’s face in a quasi-palm/eye strike, followed by a power strike etc. At some stage in the game, preferably early on you need to be delivering, hard powerful strikes – eye, throat and groin strikes are all good setups, but should not be relied upon to stop a committed aggressor. My personal belief is that when you close your hand into a fist, you should be striking with maximum concussive force. This is something that is often low on the priority list of many reality based self-defense instructors, who teach that punching just using the arms and shoulders, rather than adding movement from the back, hips and legs etc. is enough to stop an assailant. In almost every instance it will not be enough, regardless of the numeracy of the strikes. Ten fast punches lacking complete power, do not somehow equal one punch thrown with full power.  

There are also verbal cues, that may be part of the setup of the setup. In most violent assaults, there is usually some thought of verbal exchange that precedes a physical attack. If a person who is ranting aggressively at me suddenly goes silent, I can be pretty sure that what will follow is the setting up and the launching of the attack. If they start to garble and jumble up their words, I can be pretty sure of the same. If they keep repeating a phrase, threat or injustice over and over again, getting louder and faster etc. I shouldn’t be surprised if they then get physical. Telegraphing in real-life situations also involves dialogue, or lack of it.

By understanding how people telegraph their attacks, you can respond preemptively, or faster, than if you’re waiting for and trying to identify the specific attack itself. This means you don’t have to have speed, just the illusion of it, because you are able to move/respond earlier than if you were simply relying on your athletic ability alone.   

Share on Facebook

The Illusion Of Speed

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 11th Apr)

Getting old sucks. I look back at what I used to be able to do 20-25 years ago, and sigh – when my knees were good my throws were twice as explosive, and my striking faster, and more powerful etc. However, despite aging, my reaction and response times have improved, even though I know I’m not as physically quick as I once was. I had cause to explain this during a private lesson on Sunday, and I believe that explaining why you can get better with age, despite your physical attributes deteriorating, can help someone with all their “faculties intact” improve their fighting ability greatly.

As I entered my forties I began to realize I wasn’t as fast as I used to be; when somebody raised the pads for me to strike in a reaction drill, I didn’t get to the target as quickly as I used to. However, if I sparred with somebody or did randori (“Judo sparring”) I was just as quick – my natural response times were slowing down, but my actual response times weren’t i.e. in a drill I was slower but in an actual situation I wasn’t. This meant something was making up the difference/shortfall; I didn’t have real speed but I looked as if I did.

When you are young and you first learn how to block a punch, you see the strike coming in, and you block it. After you’ve seen enough punches come in (and probably connect, if you are of a certain generation), you start to understand the movements, which preempt the punch e.g. the dip of the shoulders, the pull back of the fist etc. and these start to stimulate/initiate your response; you don’t wait for the punch to be thrown, you react to the setup. As you become more experienced, you learn that a shift in weight, precedes the dip of the shoulder/the arm being pulled back etc. With a lot more experience, you start to recognize, how people set up these movements till you understand that a turn of the head signals an attack etc. After a while your response to an attack isn’t based on the attack itself but on the setup; you don’t have to be physically fast, your threat recognition skills identify the danger before it even exists.

Let’s say that martial arts training doubles/educates your physical reaction time. Now you react 0.2 Ms as opposed to 0.4 Ms. What advantage does this actually give you? In a real life encounter practically nothing. If somebody is slashing at you with a knife, throwing a punch etc. your “improved” reaction time will benefit you little; it won’t change your reaction time enough to make an adequate or proper response. To be effective martial arts and self-defense training, can’t aim to train an improvement in your physical response time, it has to train your threat recognition skills so that you identify danger at the earliest opportunity. This is why, that as you get older, as your physical skills diminish, you can still react to danger better than you were able to when in your twenties – even though that was a time when athleticism, and reaction time, was in your favor.

I learnt most of my door-craft of a guy who was in his fifties – when I first started working door with him, I was an arrogant 18-year old, who thought my prowess in the dojo, meant something in the real world. I believed my speed and power were what made me. I soon realized it was decisiveness, and the quick recognition of the way a situation was heading that made the difference. I believe that one of the great failings of reality based self-defense, is its emphasis on techniques, and the practice/mastery of them, instead of focusing on situations and the way they develop so that individuals learn to respond at the first sign of a threat, rather than learn what to do once the threat has been enacted; it is easier to stop a punch before it has been thrown than deal with it afterwards. There is a famous Mike Tyson quote where he states, “Everybody has a plan until they are punched in the face.” I couldn’t agree with him more; knowing the signs that signal a punch means that you can react before it’s been thrown etc.

In the next blog I will identify the warning signs that signify that someone is about to attack you and prescribe ways that you can deal with this. Don’t worry if your reaction times are slow, or slowing down, we will look at ways in which you can create the “illusion” of speed by responding to a physical pre-violence indicator rather than having to react to an attack itself etc. You don’t have to be athletically fast to deal with an attack, you just have to recognize it and be decisive before it’s begun.  



Share on Facebook

Repeat Victimization

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 4th Apr)

A study using British crime survey statistics from 1992 (Pease & Farrell), came up with a fairly frightening statistic: 4% of people experience about 40% of all crimes. The conclusion(s) from the study, was that many victims of crime, had been previously targeted within a 12-month period i.e. there was repeat victimization of those who’d been sexually assaulted, the victims of car theft and burglary, and been domestically abused etc. The statistics would seem to suggest that being the victim of crime, increased the chances/likelihood that you’d be targeted in the future. The old saying that lightening doesn’t strike twice, doesn’t seem to apply where violence and crime are concerned, in fact it is more appropriate to say that lightening does strike twice, sometimes three times and more etc. In this blog article, I’m going to take a look at some of the reasons why victims of crime/violence are repeatedly targeted.

The first thing I would like to make clear is that I’m not a proponent of victim blaming; the person to blame for a crime is the criminal. In saying that, I do believe in “victim facilitation”, that there are things an individual can do, that puts them at risk, or aids a criminal in their activities e.g. if you leave your house in the morning without locking your doors and/or windows, if a burglar is looking for houses on your street to break into, then by giving them easy access to your property you have helped/facilitated them. You are not to blame, but at the very least you haven’t made it difficult for them. There are certain less obvious actions and behaviors that people engage in (both consciously and unconsciously), which help facilitate crime.    

Sometimes a person’s response to a crime, sets them up to be the victim of further crimes. If your house is burgled, you are more likely to be broken into again within the next 12 months, than a home that has not had a break-in. A burglar knows that at some point you will need to replace your stolen goods, either because your insurance will pay out for you to do so, or you will gradually/organically start to replace items such as your TV, computer, and other electronic goods etc. What might have been a 5 years old flat screen TV, will in all likelihood be replaced by the latest model etc. making your house an extremely attractive target – in fact more attractive than it was previously. It is also worth noting that many individuals believe that when they are broken into that is them done (they’ve become a statistic and it’s somebody else’s turn next), and they neglect to put in place any new/improved security measures e.g. they don’t invest in a burglar alarm, new locks etc. It is also true that initially new security habits/procedures may be put into place, such as an increased vigilance around locking doors/windows etc. however old habits die hard, and after a period of time where nothing has happened, people start to resort to their old habits and security standards slip. Burglars and other predatory individuals understand this, and know that given a period of time, previous victims (although currently vigilant) will soon default to their old behaviors.

When people are assaulted there is a reason, and it is rarely down to just being in the wrong place, at the wrong time etc. When you look at assaults in detail, you usually see there are many “potential” victims who are also in the wrong place at the wrong time, and who aren’t targeted. Either their behaviors and actions don’t put them on a predator’s radar, or there are more “attractive” victims in the environment, who demand the predator’s attention. Unfortunately, when a person is a victim of violent crime their attention goes towards upping their ability to handle a confrontation, rather than finding ways to avoid being targeted in the first place e.g. many people’s response to being assaulted, is to start carrying pepper spray, rather than to study and amend/adjust the actions and behaviors, which attracted the attention of their assailant in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, taking a precaution such as starting to carry pepper spray etc. is a great first step, and admirable etc. however it does little to harden you as a target – unless you change/adapt the actions and behaviors that put you on your assailant’s radar, you are likely to be on somebody else’s.

Sometimes the trauma of an event, changes a person’s outlook, and they begin to see victimization as inevitable, and future violence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is especially true with children who are sexually abused, and go on to see further abuse by different, and new, predators as inevitable (and deserved). Trauma occurs when individuals are subjected to a highly stressful incident in which they had little or no control e.g. a small child who is sexually abused by an adult – in such a situation the child would have little or no control over the incident, and would have had to acquiesce to the socially, emotionally and physically superior abilities of their predator. Humans, are social creatures, who become ashamed when they are not able to control the situations they find themselves in – children are no different. Adult victims of sexual assault are ashamed of what happened to them, even though they know they are not to blame. One way of coping with shame, is to transfer it to guilt (private shame), however to do this, you need to come up with a reason/explanation as to why you were targeted, and this means blaming yourself e.g. it was something you did, said or the way you behaved, that caused you to become a victim; this gives you back control of the incident. In your mind you are now to blame for being targeted. In certain instances, this may cause you to act MORE like a victim than before, something predatory individuals are extremely adept at picking up on.

If you have been the victim of a crime or act of violence, don’t look to blame yourself, look for ways of lowering your profile and hardening yourself as a target. Don’t explain away what happened to you, your house or your car as random, but look to understand why that target was selected, and what you can do to change that in the future; because statistically – and none of us can escape the stats – you’re more likely to be targeted again.    

Share on Facebook