Cell Phones

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 26th Aug)

There are few people today who don't have a cell phone - one of the reasons you should be suspicious if anyone ever asks you for the time - and yet often the way we use them, severely compromises our personal safety. Below are answers to some of the questions that I get asked at seminars and training events, concerning mobile phones, along with observations I have made regarding cell phone use. 

One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about being on the phone, is that they won't be targeted by predatory individuals, because the person on the other end of the line knows where they are, and so should they be assaulted can call the police, . In real life, violence happens extremely fast, and to believe that the person you are talking to, will be decisive enough to immediately hang up on you (in the event of an attack), phone 911, and then that the police will be able to get to your precise location before the assault is over, is extremely unlikely. A person on a phone is a distracted person, who is less likely to notice and/or question things and people that are out of place in their environment. Violent criminals know that their assaults take seconds, and that the best victim is an unaware one. Also, if your phone is an expensive one, you are advertising yourself to be someone who has things - even if it is just the phone - worth taking. 

A tactic I have heard some people say they employ, when they believe that somebody in their environment has targeted them, is to pretend they have just received a call, so that whoever has shown an interest in them will not be able to engage them in conversation, as they are already talking to somebody else. If we are honest, we probably don't really believe that muggers and rapists etc. are so polite that they won't confront us because we are on a phone call with somebody else; and if we are totally honest we should probably admit that this tactic, is akin to an ostrich putting its head in the sand i.e. if we just close our eyes the person will no longer be there. When we engage in such acts we give a clear signal to any predator that we are trying to avoid an interaction and a potential conflict with them at any cost i.e. we are behaving like a victim. We do not want to appear challenging to those individuals who have targeted us as potential victims, but neither do we want to confirm to them that we have matched their profile. 

One of the things I notice a lot in parking lots, is the way that many shoppers immediately after loading their car, sit in the driver's seat and check texts and messages before putting on their seat belt and/or starting their engine - my guess is that they haven't even bothered to put the central locking on. As I have written before parking lots are popular locations for a variety of criminals, and are not a good place to be hanging around in, especially with your head down looking at a screen. If there are potentially important messages to respond to these are best done in the store, rather than in your car. 

Mobile phones can enhance your safety e.g. if you have the phone number of a reputable and trusted 24 hour taxi cab company etc. however they can also be a distraction that takes our attention away from what is going on in our environment. Whilst it may be comforting to talk to a friend or a family member whilst you are in a potentially frightening situation, such as walking home late at night, they will be pretty ineffective in helping you, should you be attacked - relying on someone else to ensure your survival is also not a good mental state to be in. At the end of the day, no predatory individual will cross you off their victim selection list because you are on the phone, and this in itself is a good enough reason to avoid being on it, when your attention is required elsewhere.   

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Dating Advice

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 18th Aug)

As a 42 year old man, it is both strange and amusing to me, to be writing a blog article, giving dating advice, however after some of the conversations I had over the weekend during/after our women's self-defense class, I feel this is good a time as any to talk about dating from a personal safety perspective (especially as it coincides with our Annual Campus Safety Seminar, aimed at young women going off to university for the first time). 

There's much been written about dating safety, all of which we have to acknowledge, has been read by the predatory individuals who it's aimed at dealing with - this is always a problem when publicizing personal safety advice. Every sexual predator, knows that their date, will have arranged to meet in a well-lit place, and told somebody where they'll be and what time they will be leaving etc. These are all good precautions to take, however they shouldn't be looked on as conclusive - a date can always convince you to stay out later than you planned, and any predator is unlikely to attempt an assault so early on - they will take their time to assess a target's vulnerability level, and test how likely they are to acquiesce to any demands made of them without resisting. For the predator a date is simply an interview, where they check the suitability of the person they are interviewing. 

When going on a date for the first time, you are best choosing a weeknight. This gives you a good excuse not to drink too much, as you can always make the argument, that you have work or school tomorrow morning; something, which is harder to do if you go out on a Friday or Saturday night. It's also an opportunity to see if your date, tries to pressurize you into drinking heavily, or whether they respect your choice/decision - if somebody doesn't listen to you on this then it could be that they are pushing a particular agenda that isn't in your best interest. Going out on a weeknight, also gives you an easy opportunity to end the evening early, if either the date doesn't measure up, or if you develop concerns regarding their intentions and your safety. It's hard to make a case for going home early on a Friday, or Saturday, as it's obvious that you planned to have your evening free to go on the date e.g. who doesn't go out on a Friday or Saturday Night and not stay till last orders? 

Try and set the date to be an event you can easily walk away from. Arranging to meet for a meal, or to go to the movies etc. means that you have to really stay to the end. Meeting for a drink, or for coffee, means that you can allocate time to the date incrementally i.e. one drink at a time. If things aren't going well either socially or from a personal safety perspective, you aren't obligated to stay any longer than you want or have to. If things go well, you can always extend the time, though it would be wise to have an end time in your mind and stick to it, regardless of how well the date might seem to be going. 

Sort out in your head, what information you are comfortable with letting your date have access to and what information you don't want out there - telling someone where you work, may seem an easy and natural conversation piece however if you later decide you never want to see the person again, and they decide otherwise, then they know where to find you - and from there can find out other things about you, such as how you get to work etc. Setting the date to be naturally short, will take some of the pressure of you - if you go out for dinner, you may find that you end up talking more about yourself than you'd like just to fill up the conversation and avoid awkward silences. 

Always have a legitimate reason to leave. At the start of the date, tell the individual, something that you can use to get you out of there quickly. Informing them that your sister's children are ill, and you might have to go and help look after them if called, is a good type of excuse to use. It's one that its difficult for a person to argue with, especially when you put it out there at the start of the date. Any excuse which makes you responsible to somebody else will work. You can always add an apology to this if necessary. How your date responds will also give you an idea about who they are as an individual. If you've gone out on a weeknight, you should be able to end the date without feeling guilty for spoiling somebody's weekend etc. 

It goes without saying to use alternative communication methods, than your regular ones e.g. having a different phone number that you use/give to dates (and can afford to get rid of if necessary), is far more preferable than having to get rid of your mobile phone because you don't want this person to ever call you again. There are many services and apps that are free (such a Google Voice), that will give you a number you can use, and if necessary discard. The same too for email. 

At the end of the day, you should remember that the person you are meeting with is a stranger. Run with the definition of a stranger being someone who you don't have experience of their actions and behaviors, in a particular setting, and it'll be difficult for them - if they don't respect your personal safety - to get you to behave in a way that compromises it. Most people you will meet are not predators and don't want to harm you, however unfortunately we must continue to take safety precautions with everyone we meet, because there are those individuals out there who have the ability to cause us pain and harm.    

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Heuristics & Planning

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 12th Aug)

Aggressive and violent incidents are fast paced affairs (once you find yourself involved in one - through prediction and early identification, most can be avoided). When we find ourselves in such situations, our first response, after denial and disbelief, in to ask what should I do? One of the things that often separates us from predatory individuals (muggers, robbers, sexual assailants etc.)is that they have a plan, however loose, and we don't. One of the issues that many self-defense and martial arts practitioners have regarding real world violence, is that they confuse techniques with plan. Knowing how to perform a knife disarm, against a mugger, is not a plan, it is a technique; one moment along a timeline. A technique should not be confused with understanding how to handle a situation e.g. a plan would involve, what to do after the disarm, what to do if there is more than one person, what to do if the threat occurs in an enclosed place, such as a bank lobby or an elevator etc. knowing how to perform a weapon disarm is not a plan. 

If you talk to anyone involved in security or military operations, and ask them what the most important phase of the operation is, they will tell you planning. Yes, we all know that once a situation kicks off, a plan can go awry, and much of the success will be down to the individuals involved being able to adapt and improvise to the situation - however much of this involves the experience of implementing former plans in similar situations etc. Having plans that can be adapted to different situations should be in every person's personal safety and self-protection toolbox. 

To be effective a plan, needs to be simple and efficient, with few if any caveats. It also has to be fluid and adaptable. In violent situations, a plan, should be there to guide a response, rather than as a substitute for actual thinking; there will always be factors in the situations, which need to be taken into account e.g. in a certain situation we may normally plan to comply with an aggressor's demand, such as handing over our wallet to a mugger pointing a gun at our head (that would be our plan) however if our assailant is drugged up, shaking, and has their finger on the trigger, we may be better to alter/change the plan and attempt a disarm - before they inadvertently or deliberately pull the trigger. Our plans have to be fluid, and adaptable to pertinent to information, the situation provides us with. 

The way to build such plans is to use heuristics. A heuristic, is a rule of thumb, based on experience. A heuristic that could be used to deal with a mugging scenario could be, comply with the demand, and only attempt a physical solution, should they remain at the scene, after you have complied. This is a good rule of thumb to follow, and it is based on experience - US crime statistics show that physical injury occurs rarely after compliance, compared with those who either refuse to comply or fight back. However the statistics, don't say that physical injury never occurs, and so we must be flexible in our  application of the heuristic, and acknowledge that it is their to guide and speed up our decision making process rather than replace it. 

To create effective heuristics, we must build effective models of violence, that are based on a correct understanding of how violence occurs. If we believe that muggers will always stab, cut or shoot their victims whether they comply or not, our heuristic would probably be, as soon as someone threatens you with a knife or gun, attempt a physical solution. The statistics, show this is not the safest or most advisable strategy, and compliance in most cases would be a better first option. If are starting assumptions are incorrect, and our models poorly built, then are heuristics will be ineffective and we are likely to make poor decisions. 

In personal security and personal safety, planning is everything. We should equip ourselves with the facts, and build heuristics/rules of thumb that can guide our decision making.  

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Inflicting Damage on Others

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 2nd Aug)

Many people when they come to take “self-defense” classes, do so believing that they will be taught a few tricks and techniques that will allow them to disengage /escape from a violent altercation without them getting hurt, or having to hurt another individual(s). Few come with an understanding, that the only way to deal with violence is to become violent – even if this is only to create enough of a disturbance/disruption that will create for them the time and space to disengage. Many people when they practice striking in class, hitting and punching the pads with as much force as they can generate, don’t make a conscious connection that what they are training to do is hit another person full force, causing them pain, damage and possible injury. Striking drills using pads should not simply be a physical/athletic exercise but an emotional one as well, where the person training their punching/kicking etc. visualizes and considers the impact of their strikes on another human being.

The majority of us are not psychopaths and by default have a natural level of care and concern for others, even when they are being aggressive towards us. Unfortunately this reticence to inflict damage on another can put us at a serious disadvantage when we are dealing with someone whose heightened emotional state and/or predatory nature means that they don’t share this same reservation. Many people believe that because they have experience of throwing punches in sparring, they will not hesitate when put in a real-life situation; this is often not the case. Wearing a boxing glove, or other type of protective mitt, means that you have experience of throwing punches in a “safe” way, and may well hesitate when you realize that you are about to throw a punch with an ungloved fist that has the goal of causing as much pain and trauma to your aggressor as you can. In many instances people are more comfortable with taking a punch than throwing one.

Somewhere along the line, in our training, we must accept that what we are training to do is cause physical harm to others, whether it is by punching and kicking them as hard as we can, throwing them to the ground at full force/speed, or by breaking their limbs etc. None of these things are pleasant (or should be pleasant) to consider, and visualize e.g. close your eyes and think about throwing the most powerful rear-handed punch you could into somebody’s face – imagine how it would feel, what it would look like etc. For most untrained people, and for many trained, there will be some level of revulsion; just as there often is when considering forcibly pushing thumbs into a person’s eyes (as far as they can go). Visualize biting somebody’s nose and trying to rip it from their face. These are things that we may one day have to do in order to survive a situation, and we should in such incidents have little or no hesitation in doing them; biting, ripping and gouging should be things that we are morally comfortable doing.

In a fight there is not the room to be the “better” person than your attacker – trying to will seriously impede your survival chances. Holding back some power from a punch because you don’t want to cause serious physical trauma to another individual will limit you. This is not about talking big but about seriously considering your ability to become violent towards another person, and removing any self-imposed limits that you may have, regarding the use of violence.

Next time you throw punches against a pad-holder, understand what you are actually training to do; that this is not sport, a technical exercise etc. but the practice and education of how to cause maximum pain and trauma to an assailant. 

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