Sun Tzu & Death Ground

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 29th Aug)

When dealing with armed muggers I teach people to first hand over the wallet. I do this for a number of reasons, but mainly, because in the mugger’s mind, they always see themselves leaving with the wallet – the variable being whether the victim is shot/stabbed or left unharmed (if they have acquiesced). Most people accept this approach, but now and again, some will kick back against it, arguing that they would be the person who would just act – almost without thinking – and try to disarm/control the weapon, and do what was necessary to prevent their assailant from taking their valuables. This article isn’t just about why you should hand over your possessions, but about those who possess a genuine warrior mindset versus those who don’t, and about how a person who trains a couple of times a week, can develop a realistic strategy for dealing with situations, that they can employ when being threatened/attacked.  

Most people haven’t dealt with real-world violence, that’s just the simple truth (and this includes some self-defense/Krav Maga instructors – which isn’t always an issue if they appreciate what violence actually looks like). There is a huge difference between the “idea” of violence and the “reality” of violence; though many don’t understand this. Most people don’t understand the shock and awe of physical violence, of confronting someone who not only has a knife, but has a clear intention of using it. Most people have never felt what it is like to have a firearm pressed against their body. The corresponding emotions/feelings that occur in such incidents aren’t indignation and a sense of unfairness, but an immediate understanding, that you are dealing with someone, who is lacking certain moral and social inhibitions, and has a singular, clear intent to cause you serious harm without a second thought. In such situations you aren’t dealing with another “you” – you are dealing with a wild animal. If you were to encounter a wild dog that was snarling/spitting and moving towards you, you would think of every option but confrontation. To think differently when dealing with an armed assailant, who would leave, if you handed over your wallet, makes little sense. The language that the wild dog understands, and the language that the mugger understands are both foreign to most individuals. The only reason to act, when you have an option of avoiding physical engagement, is down to ego; there is no ego involved when you are confronted by a different species. Danger is danger, regardless of its source.

I believe in training, and training realistically, however it would be wrong to say that the training environment can ever represent reality 100% - the simple fact that you know it is a “training” environment with boundaries and rules etc. is very hard to eliminate. Training can prepare you and equip you, with the skills necessary to deal with real-life situations, however there is always a gap, and this should be appreciated. Nobody, however many years they have under their belt, should want to “bring it on”, or believe that, given the choice, avoidance and de-escalation, shouldn’t be attempted. Acquiescing to a demand, when the odds are stacked so far against you (and any armed scenario falls into this category), is the sensible option, both for you and your family. I was once pitching a training package to a company, on the day that a pensioner had been stabbed to death for refusing to hand over his wallet and mobile phone to two muggers. The person I was talking to, pointed to a newspaper headline, that declared that the dead man had died a hero, and tried to make the argument, that society needed more people like him i.e. those that would stand up for themselves, etc. The man was dead, he was a father and a grandfather, who left behind those who loved him – and I would guess, those who wished he hadn’t been so stubborn and had just given his assailants what they wanted. The effects of confronting an assailant may not just be borne by you, and to forget this in the moment because you get carried away by ego, may not be your most effective option. I don’t believe that this man knew/understood who he was dealing with, and that his assailants were prepared to do to him what they did – judging assailants by our own standards is extremely dangerous.  

Accepting the limitations of our training is important, and we should understand how we can make our training effective when the time comes for it. I do believe that it is possible to become that “warrior” in the moment; the one who will fight to the end, with full commitment. However, I believe that we must set the conditions for this. If after handing over the wallet, your attacker(s) remain(s), you are now standing on what Sun Tzu refers to as “Death Ground”, and when you are standing here, you have only one choice, and that is to fight. When the mugger doesn’t leave, they are no longer adhering to the “muggers” script, and so you have only one choice. When there is only one choice, you have to take it. On the Normandy landings, when 150 000 allied troops stepped from the relative safety of the landing craft, into a hail of machine gun fire they were on “Death Ground”. They had only one choice, which was to keep moving forward, and to engage with the enemy. Eisenhower and the other generals who planned the invasion, knew that if the only option to survive was to engage, then that’s what their soldiers would do – they didn’t have a choice. Sun Tzu talked about putting a mountain range, a river or a lake behind an army, so retreat wasn’t an option. When you hand the wallet over, you are doing the same; you can’t go back, only your assailant can. If they don’t retreat, you will find yourself on “Death Ground”.

When we fight, we have to force ourselves to fight; training twice a week, doesn’t make you a warrior. By putting yourself on “Death Ground” through the decisions you make, you are firstly avoiding unnecessary violence and secondly, making sure that if you have to fight, it’s down to survival and not ego. When this is the case, there are no doubts, no hesitation, just the complete and absolute need for extreme violence. Many of the troops who landed on the beaches in 1944, were untested, but when put on “Death Ground”, they overcame impossible odds, and committed greats acts of heroism (things they may not have thought they were capable of before). If you don’t have a firsthand experience of violence and are untested, your best chance of surviving a real-life encounter, is when your enemy doesn’t give you a choice – in that moment you can do everything necessary, and be that warrior.    

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The Usefulness Of Judo & Krav Maga

(My Name - Tue 23rd Aug)

There are some who paint a very simple story, concerning the evolution of Krav Maga, tying everything to one single lineage, without acknowledging the others who have played and continue to play their part in the evolution of the approach; to be fair to all those who have had a hand in guiding and influencing the development of the IDF’s fighting systems, it is more accurate to talk about Krav Maga as a common approach, that has borne certain distinct systems, or “types” of Krav Maga, rather than as a distinct or singular system. In the early development of the IDF’s fighting systems or “Krav Maga”, Judo was an integral part, along with traditional Ju-Jitsu, and there are instructors both within and outside of the IDF, who still teach and incorporate a lot of Judo/Ju-Jitsu, into their “Krav Maga”. This is something I continue to do, with the Krav Maga I teach. This is not for traditional reasons, or to pay homage, etc., but because Judo is an extremely efficient and effective system of self-defense, that can be used with devastating consequences. Unfortunately, the use of Judo as a self-defense system has fallen out of favor, and it is now commonly practiced as a sport – BJJ/Brazilian Ju-Jitsu is following a similar path – with Randori (the competitive practice), becoming the focus rather than as a tool/means of developing real-world fighting abilities. 


Being able to throw and takedown an assailant is an extremely important skill to have. A large part of the Krav Maga approach is to deliver as much concussive force to an assailant as is necessary to cause them to either emotionally and/or physically crumble; to take the fight out of them. One of the ways you can deliver an extreme amount of concussive force is to throw somebody on the ground, or against another hard surface. This creates full body trauma, and also puts your assailant in an extremely disadvantaged position, giving you attacking opportunities, as well as possibly the time and distance to disengage to safety. It is also an important skill, for dealing with much larger opponents, where you might not be able to generate sufficient striking force, to have a devastating effect on them; the old adage about the bigger they are, the harder they fall, is certainly true. In saying all of this, it is important to know when to throw, how to throw, and also when not to throw. To understand all of this, we need to understand the three components of a throw, and how these relate to real-life altercations.


The first thing that needs to happen when throwing somebody is their balance needs to be broken (Kuzushi), without this, you will have to throw the person, rather than having them throw themselves – the aim of a good throw. The second phase is the “fitting in” (Tsukuri), or getting yourself into a good throwing position, with the last phase being the actual execution (or Kake) of the throw.For balance to be broken, the head must be past the shoulders, and the shoulders past the hips – this is why it is impossible to throw somebody who is striking with good form, or who is delivering tight strikes that doesn’t see them overreach. Also, when a strike has recoil (and we should assume that all punches are recoiled, rather than left out there) any forward movement that could possibly have been exploited, is being re-centered. This doesn’t mean you can’t use throws against someone who is moving/barreling forward, and throwing punches as they come in. If there is forward momentum, with bodyweight being committed, this movement can be used to break their balance; especially if you move back with them, forcing them to extend their reach in order to hit you. This is very, very different, however, to trying to throw off a punch, itself.


The rookie mistake in throwing people is to confusion of the balance break and fitting in phases i.e. I will often see people move towards their opponent, rather than pulling their opponent into them, whilst releasing the pressure of the initial pull, which had caused the Kuzushi e.g. you will see the person pulled forward, and their balance taken, only for the person attempting the throw, to release the pressure as they try to “fit in” to execute it. For the throw to be effective, the balance needs to continue to be taken, as the thrower, gets into position – if the person being thrown can recover, so that their head remains over their shoulders, and their shoulders over their hips, the throw will have effectively been lost.


Many people will dismiss the usefulness of Judo, because it is practiced in a GI (the traditional white jacket and pants), and oftentimes – especially during the summer months - people who may assault you won’t be wearing a coat or jacket. I have successfully thrown people using their t-shirt. The best place to grab to accomplish this, is the material over the shoulders; when you pull the clothing this way, you put stress on the material under the armpits and across the back, which is in fact quite strong; or at least strong enough to move/pull the person towards you, and break their balance. There are also ways to throw without the use of clothing e.g. an arm around the waist or head of an assailant can often be substituted for a grip on the clothing, etc.      


When fights close distance, you will want to be able to exploit both the movement of the attacker, and their close proximity. Judo teaches you to do this. I remember a class at Dennis Hanover’s Israeli Martial Arts Center in Herzliya, Israel, when I first trained with his students. I was totally overwhelmed by their striking, and was finding it difficult to keep up. Fortunately, there came a stage in the fighting where we were allowed to throw, and this became my default way of dealing with the onslaughts that I faced. After the class, in a very understated way, Dennis said to me that knowing Judo is extremely useful when the pressure is really on i.e. when you’re unable to control range and distance, and when your attacker is right on top of you, etc. From my personal perspective, that sounded like every fight I’d ever been involved in.

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The Men Should Just Stop Raping Women Argument

(Gershon Ben Keren - Thu 18th Aug)

I was recently alerted to an article that had been published by Runner’s World on their online magazine, concerning the sexual assault/murders of three female runners that occurred between July 31st and August 7th. Although the article raised some good points about male culture and female harassment etc., it also embodied a very common and prevalent view, that because the rapist is to blame for their assault, it is up to men to stop committing sexual assaults, rather than for women to have to learn and take the effort to protect themselves from such predators. At first glance, this may seem like a fair and reasonable argument, however it is one that many rapists have used to cultivate a certain attitude and culture around sexual assaults, making it look like their behaviors stem from a culture, rather than a pathology. It seems that there is the idea, that rape exists on a spectrum, along with sexual harrassment and other anti-social attitudes towards women, and that these lesser offences can develop into sexual assaults. Whilst these attitudes and behaviors need to be addressed, rape and sexual assault are specific crimes, with their own motivations, and emotions and need to be addressed as such, rather than as part of a general issue of male attitudes towards women.

If I was able to get every rapist and sexual assailant into a room, and explain why nonconsensual sex, was morally reprehensible, and damaging to both the individual and society at large, etc., I would be unlikely to change anyone’s future actions and behavior (these individuals are emotionally driven and will offend, knowing that society judges what they do as wrong, and regardless of the legal consequences they may face). If I was able to get all the other men in the world into a room, and explain why unwanted persistence, public sexual commentary on a woman’s appearance, etc. was wrong, I may (if my arguments were good) convince a large section of my audience to change the way they interact with women. Yes, there is a cultural issue, around the way that many men perceive women, and it should be addressed, however many sexual assailants use this culture as an excuse/reason for why they commit their assaults. Brock Turner’s Father, in his letter to the Judge, excusing his son’s rape, due to the college drinking culture is a good example of this. It wouldn’t have mattered if Brock Turner, had received all the information, moral guidance and education in the world as to why it is wrong to force an unconscious woman to have sex, he would still have done it. What Brock Turner’s father couldn’t accept was that his son is a sexual predator (not was, is), and to excuse/rationalize his behavior, he blamed the culture/environment that his son was part of. When the argument is made, that the reason that sexual assaults occur, is due to the current boorish, obnoxious male culture that is so prevalent, we are inadvertently buying into, and promoting Brock Turner and his father’s arguments.

Do I believe that many male attitudes towards women need to change? Absolutely, and one of the reasons I would love to see the change, is so that women are given an easier chance to spot predatory individuals who plan to assault them. If an individual, who isn’t a rapist, understood that his unwanted persistence, and inability to recognize when a woman was saying “no” (not in a sexual context, but in a social one), mirrors the actions and behaviors of a sexual predator, grooming a potential victim, then they may start to realize that they are behaving in a way that legitimizes the rapist’s method/process; and that makes it difficult for women to differentiate between men who are simply annoying and disrespectful, and those that mean them actual physical harm.

When we accept that a rapist, misread their victim’s signals, or “thought” that they were engaging in consensual sex, etc., we are buying into the myth, that rape is caused by the current disrespectful male culture, that sees women as being obliged to act and behave in a certain way towards men. Rape is borne out of masturbatory fantasy, it is not spontaneous; men don’t suddenly find themselves raping women, they plan it – the current culture might make it more socially acceptable amongst some groups, however there is little evidence out there to suggest that men become rapists, due to a prevalent “social culture”. From what we understand, the origins of such dark fantasies start in childhood, and are more specific to the individual’s personal environment and upbringing than a general one. The university senior, who commits a sexual assault, started fantasizing about this many, many years before. Whilst the current culture expressed by many male students towards their female counterparts is both disgusting and wrong, and may make rape/sexual assaults more “acceptable”, the seeds of this evil were sown much earlier. When we blame the culture, we risk taking some of the responsibility away from the perpetrator, and this often allows them to go unpunished for their crimes.

Where the culture certainly needs to change is in our judiciary, who time and time again when sentencing, buy in to the myth, that sexual predators don’t really need punishment, but instead an education into the rights and wrongs of their actions. Whenever the argument is made that men should simply stop raping women, and that this would solve the problem of sexual assault, the Judge is given an option of education over punishment – if the assailant can “learn” from their experience, they won’t rape again. All rapists learn from their legal experience(s) is to plan their assaults with more care. Harsher sentencing, would send a strong message to the men who don’t rape (as well as result in a “fairer” experience for the victim; possibly offering some form of closure), as to how society views sexual assault, and those who don’t respect a woman’s right to say “no”, in all contexts, including unwanted attention, persistent harassment, etc. There is little evidence that harsher sentences would deter such emotionally driven criminals, however it may start to educate other men to the importance of a woman’s rights. 

It is attractive and tempting to think that by changing men’s attitudes and the current male culture that we will be able to re-educate would-be rapists, and lessen the number of assaults, however this is wishful thinking, only providing us with the illusion that we can solve a problem we really don’t understand i.e. why some men rape, and others don’t. It’s not that many men don’t need to change their attitudes towards women, however there is a big difference between a misogynist and a rapist, and whilst education can go a long way in changing attitudes, it has proved highly ineffective in changing the attitudes and behaviors of sexual predators; hence the high recidivism rates of this particular population. Education may change the way other men view the actions of sexual predators, but it is unlikely to prevent those who have these motivations and fantasies from acting upon them.

It is time that a large section of male culture changed its attitude towards women, but it is also time that the realities of rape are accepted - education has, and does prove largely ineffective at both deterring and preventing would-be rapists. This means that the most effective, preventative measures are learning how to predict, identify, and avoid predatory behavior, before it manifests itself in an assault. This may mean that for our safety, we need to adopt safety measures and precautions that alter and change our lifestyle, however these are the immediate and practical steps we can take in order to avoid becoming the victim of a sexual assault. We should stop giving rapists the excuse of “male culture” to hide behind, and shine the light on them, as individuals.

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Predators & Socially Awkward Situations

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 15th Aug)

Predatory individuals are the masters of creating and exploiting socially awkward situations; situations where we’re not sure what our response(s) should be. The sexual assailant who turns up at his best friend’s house, when he knows his friend is not home but his partner is, will take advantage of the fact that it would be impolite for her not to let him in – even when she may be suspicious of his intent and motive for turning up without any prior warning. The overly friendly person in the bar, who inserts himself into a conversation, will understand that most people in such a setting will not want to appear confrontational or unsettled, and this will allow him to either get his kicks from the uncomfortable situation, or perhaps start to implement some scam that he’s been rehearsing. These predators understand that society has rules and conventions that suggest how we should act and behave and that, in all likelihood, when put in a socially awkward situation, we will follow. These rules stipulate that if somebody we know comes to our door, we should let them in; if somebody is friendly to us, we should be friendly back, etc. The predators who aim to assault us know that there are social scripts that we all default to – if somebody says hello to us, it’s polite for us to say hello back, and rude (possibly confrontational) for us not to – and that when caught off guard, we will probably follow these behavioral guidelines, even though we may be uncomfortable doing so.

Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by somebody they know, in their home or somebody else’s. It is frightening to me, the number of times women have told me about a male “friend” who has turned up at their house, dorm room, etc. unannounced, with some request that would involve them being let into the woman’s home – I mainly hear about the refusals, however I know that these are actually the minority, and that in most cases they will let the individual in, because it would be rude and perhaps socially unacceptable not to. If the male friend in question is part of a social group that you belong to, you may fear getting the reputation as somebody who is paranoid, suspicious, and unwelcoming, both to this person and perhaps to other members of the group; you may fear the judgment of the group for refusing to let him in – especially if this person is popular and well liked (and most sexual predators are). Predatory individuals understand this all too well, and are happy to use our fears, doubts and insecurities against us. A predator will have to “sell” you a story to gain access to you, and if they’re selling, you shouldn’t be buying.

We tend to imagine that violence is clear-cut, that everyone’s roles are clearly defined, and that the attacker’s intent is always visible, clear, and on display. This is often the case with spontaneous violence, e.g. if you spill a drink over somebody and they become aggressive, cut somebody off in traffic who decides to follow you, etc. However, if a predator needs to get close to you, before they enact their plan, they will need to be more surreptitious in the way they gain access to you, and this normally means putting you in a situation where you may want to refuse whatever request, behavior or action they’re engaging in, but aren’t sure of a polite or socially acceptable way to do so. This is where you need to have the confidence and the assurance not to play the “game”, to side step it, and not follow convention.

One of my students had an experience in a bar where an “over-friendly” individual came over to the group he was with, and started to try and engage members in conversation e.g. “How’s everybody doing? Is everybody having a good time? Are you having a good time?” etc. As he was doing this he was ruffling people’s hair, slapping them on the back, etc. It was an uncomfortable situation. The individual wasn’t behaving aggressively, although the intent was thinly veiled. It may be that his motive was simply to enjoy the “power” he had over everyone in the situation, that he enjoyed making people uncomfortable, and the inevitable confrontation, when somebody eventually asked him to leave, stop touching them, etc. - after all, he’d be justified to feel indignant when he was just being friendly, etc. In his game, the rules were simple: the group would either have to put up with his behavior, or ask him to leave – and it would be wrong for them to ask him to leave, because he was just being friendly, and it would be wrong to be rude/impolite to somebody behaving this way, etc. I used to see a lot of this behavior when I worked in bars and clubs; sometimes it would be an individual who would start up an overly friendly conversation with a girl/woman in order to make her partner/boyfriend, appear unreasonable, jealous, paranoid and rude, etc. It’s a game, where the predator sets the rules, and if you play the game, you lose – that’s the only outcome. My student didn’t play the game; when the individual started to ruffle his hair, he causally grabbed his hand and started to squeeze the thumb, removing the hand from his head, as he did this he smiled and said, “we’re all having a great time”. This wasn’t how the game was meant to go, and the individual in question walked away. When you take control off a socially awkward situation, it becomes awkward for the other party, because they are now playing by your rules (which they don’t understand).

We all have a choice - if you ever feel an individual has created an awkward social situation, to get you to comply with a demand or act in a certain way, you don’t have to play their game. If an individual has created a situation where you can either let him in to your house or refuse him entry, choose a third way e.g. tell him you were just leaving to go out. Predators will frame a situation in such a way as to make you believe you only have a limited number of options; options that they control and have responses for. Go off script, create another option. Personal Safety and Self-Protection, is not a set of rules, or “do’s and don’ts” but a creative process. Be confident and be creative in the solutions that you choose.

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Runners Safety

(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 10th Aug)

Between July 30th and August 7th, three women have been sexually assaulted and murdered, in three separate states, and whilst all of the victims share a seemingly similar demographic (professional women aged between 27 and 31), there seems to be little else to link/associate these murders (the modus operandi of the killer in each case was different), other than the fact that they were all jogging at the time when they were assaulted. Whilst there is a remote possibility that all of the victims share a common killer, it is more likely that this isn’t the case – it may be that two of the murders were copycat ones, or that the motives are specific to each case and the timing is coincidental. However, what the three incidents do demonstrate are the threats and vulnerabilities that exist when running alone. In this article, I will look at the various steps and precautions that can be taken, when jogging/running alone, and how these can be used to upset a predatory individual’s plan(s).

The first thing to understand about violent crimes such as sexual assault (and murder), is that it is a premeditated assault, that has a level of planning and preparation to it, which will follow a certain process, dependent on two situational components: location and relationship. When a violent crime is committed by a stranger, the location where it happens is the driving factor; when it is committed by somebody you know, or who knows you, the location becomes less important, and the relationship you have with your assailant becomes more important. In a “stranger crime”, the attacker chooses a location first and then selects a victim, when the attacker is somebody you know, they will select the victim first, and then the location. One of the commonalities in the three sexual assaults/murders that are in the news of late, is that all of the victims were keen users of social media, and it is likely as runners, shared posts and information about this pass-time. It may be that they wrote about routes, paths and trails they ran on, sharing this information with “friends” on social media. It is believed in the case of Ally Brueger, the 31-year old, who was shot in Michigan while running, that she knew her killer. If she’d shared details of her runs on social media, her killer may well have been able to work out her “location” on that particular day, and simply waited for her. The information we share about ourselves publicly can be used against us, by those who mean us harm; checking in at locations on Facebook, publishing trail routes, announcing that we have just got back from a particular run, and publishing the times of that run, all provide information about where we have been, and where we might be, at particular times.

Predatory individuals like predictable individuals, and unfortunately, people like to be predictable. Most criminals, after selecting a victim and a location (or a location and then a victim), carry out some form of surveillance. In one of our free women’s self-defense classes, we once had a teenage girl, who had been the target of an attempted sexual assault whilst out running – fortunately a passer-by had heard her screams and came to her assistance. She had run the same route at the same time, every Saturday afternoon, and her movements had come to the attention of a sexual predator who was looking for potential victims. When he was caught by the police, he admitted that he’d watched her run that route for about 4 weeks before making his assault. This had given him ample time to plan and prepare for the actual assault. Simply changing the days and the times when you run a particular route, so you don’t fall into a regular pattern, can limit the surveillance a predatory individual can conduct on you, and make you an unattractive victim. Sexual assailants fantasize and mentally rehearse their assaults, so by reducing the number of times they potentially see you, and get to feed that fantasy, the more remote it can become (compared to someone they are able to frequently observe). If your movements are unpredictable, it will be difficult for them to plan and rehearse their assault.

You should also understand that certain things you do to “increase” your safety, may not actually do so. Much is talked about in the running community of not running with headphones/earbuds. Whilst I agree with this advice, it should be noted that if you’re simply not wearing headphones, you won’t automatically become safer. In one sense, it doesn’t matter if you run through a dangerous neighborhood with your earbuds in or not, you are still exposing yourself to the same dangers and threats. If you don’t look around yourself when you run, it’s unlikely you’ll notice somebody who may be conducting surveillance on you, whether you’re listening to music or not. Not wearing headphones should be part of your overall awareness, not just a token gesture to it. If you run along a route where there are plenty of places for somebody to conceal themselves, headphones on or not, it is unlikely you will spot somebody synchronizing their movement to yours, and positioning themselves for an assault. For this reason, you may want to change your running routes according to the seasons; in winter, when the trees don’t have leaves on them, you might have clear sight lines of anybody else who is in the environment, whilst in spring and summer, these sight-lines may be obscured. Choose your routes based on visibility – make sure other people can see you along your route (if you run along a busy road, there are plenty of eyes on you, and less of a risk of being assaulted, etc. -you can also find less “toxic” routes to run along that enjoy good natural surveillance), and make sure you can see other people.

For an attacker (whether a stranger or somebody familiar to you) to cause you harm, they must synchronize their movement to yours e.g. follow you, wait for you, intercept you, etc. For this to happen, they need to know where you will be at a particular time and/or have a way to disguise their movement. By changing your routes and times, by selecting routes with good visibility, and by taking the time to look around you as you run, you will reduce a predator’s opportunity to do these things. Don’t think that just because you take your headphones off you have become safer - without taking active steps to increase your safety, you won’t have. Whilst it would be easy to become paranoid due to the way the media is reporting on these sexual assaults/murders, we should remember that by taking a few simple steps we can greatly reduce the risk of appearing on a predator’s radar.

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Decision Trees

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 8th Aug)

A lot of people have an, “It’ll be alright on the night”, approach to personal safety and self-defense, believing that when put under pressure, they’ll rise to the occasion and develop on the spot, an effective plan/strategy for dealing with the situation. They may convince themselves that this is in fact how they work best, and it’s only when they’re in the worst position possible that they are truly creative e.g. that they’ll come up with a clever phrase or line, which will diffuse and de-escalate an aggressive confrontation, which is about to get physical. Unfortunately, where violence is concerned this is the opposite; people fall apart, rather than getting it together. Making effective decisions when under stress and duress is extremely difficult, and this is why it’s important to have pre-built decision trees that we can use to guide and direct us.

The first question I always ask, and that sits at the top of my decision tree is, “Is this a premeditated act of aggression or a spontaneous one?” Premeditated acts of violence, are those that predatory individuals plan and prepare for, whilst spontaneous ones are those that occur because of something you have done, or are perceived to have done – the person has become aggressive as a result of your actions/behaviors. An example of a premeditated act of aggression would be a mugging/robbery, where a mugger acquires a weapon, chooses a location and selects a victim etc. In this example there are two planned steps that precede victim selection, and indicate premeditation. If you spill a drink over somebody, or cut them off in traffic, and as a result they become aggressive towards you, you are dealing with a spontaneous act of violence. The big difference, from a practical perspective, is that premeditated acts of violence have goals attached to them, whereas spontaneous acts don’t e.g. a mugger will know what they want out of a situation, whereas a person who has had a drink spilt over them won’t.

In premeditated acts of aggression, where there are goals and outcomes defined/expected, you have a choice: you can acquiesce, or you can fight. If you refuse to hand over your wallet to an armed robber, you should be prepared to fight, if you don’t willingly leave a location with an abductor you should expect your aggressor to use physical violence in order to gain acquiescence. If you consider these two examples, you can see that the predatory individuals want two different things; the mugger wants your resources, your abductor wants you – this then forms the next level of the decision tree, “Does your aggressor want your resources, or do they want you?” If it’s your resources, you should acquiesce e.g. a mugger is leaving the location with your wallet, the variable is whether you get cut or shot, etc. If however, the predator wants you, or to do something to you – such as sexually assault you – you should fight. It is worth pointing out that these directions are meant as heuristics (rules of thumb) to guide you, rather than as absolutes. At the end of the day, it is the situation that determines the solution e.g. if five armed assailants with AK-47’s invade your home, and attempt to take you hostage for ransom, it may be better to acquiesce in that moment than to fight, etc.

Below this level of the decision tree, exists another: after acquiescing to your assailant’s demands, do they stay or go? A mugger, once they have your possessions, should be looking to exit the location as quickly as possible. If they don’t go, they have stopped following the “script” that a mugger should be working to, and should no longer be considered as a predator who is after your resources, but as one who is looking to do something to you. This means that it is time to fight. Fortunately, in most cases, after handing over your wallet and/or possessions, a mugger will leave. Their only reason to stay would be if they had a secondary motive, such as sexually assaulting you, or stabbing/shooting you, as part of a gang blooding, etc.

If it’s not a premeditated incident, but a spontaneous one, then your aggressor is highly unlikely to have any goals; they are aggressive and potentially violent because they feel they are justified to be so, and because they are unable to see/perceive any non-violent alternatives. It is not the purpose of this blog article to detail the de-escalation process and how this works (if you search for “de-escalation” you will find articles on this), however it largely involves asking the person open-ended questions that will cause them to come up with satisfactory solutions to the situation. One of the reasons that the process involves asking questions, is to ascertain how emotional the person is, and if they are still able to use reason to assess their situation. If they’re not able to process your questions, then de-escalation will not be possible. The next level in the decision tree, if the situation is a spontaneous one is, “Are they able to coherently respond to your question(s)?” If they are then de-escalation is likely to work, and should be attempted, if not, then there is one final step left which may avert a physical confrontation.

There are two fear emotions we are born with: fast movement, and loud noise. Both stimulate our flinch and startle reflexes, and can cause an emotional reset. If you have spilt a drink over a person, and have been unsuccessful in trying to communicate to them, flicking your fingers quickly towards their eyes (not making contact), and shouting, “Stay Back!”, as you move away from them, may force an emotional reset in them, waking them up from their aggressive fog. Even if it doesn’t, they now have to make a conscious decision to approach/move towards you – which at least gives you more time to act and respond with your own pre-emptive attack. If they make a movement towards you after you’ve done this, they are, from a legal perspective, committing an assault.

 Having a simple hierarchical decision tree, whose splits/divisions are based on the other person’s actions and responses, helps us to act decisively, rather than get caught in a deliberation loop. There may well be other ways to respond, that would be applicable in very specific situations e.g. somebody might be able to use humor to de-escalate a situation, etc. However, it is good to have a universal decision tree that can be used in all situations to initially guide us, and discover the “exceptions” as we work through it. Being able to think quickly and efficiently under stress and duress, requires a level of pre-planning and decision trees help us do this.     

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Humility, Respect & Martial Arts Cults

(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 3rd Aug)

I grew up practicing martial arts; traditional martial arts, where there was a great emphasis on the values of humility and respect. If you practiced martial arts as a child, you probably had a similar experience: you were not just there to learn physical skills and techniques, but to develop character. To become somebody who was honest, who had integrity, someone who knew what was right and what was wrong, and was prepared to stand up for what they believed in, etc. Not only would these things make you a better person, but they would also help to develop a fighting spirit. As a child, I believed in these things, and as an adult I still do. Whilst I still practice traditional Karate and Judo, my time and emphasis is on reality based self-defense, and Krav Maga in particular – where these values, rarely get mentioned. There is a lot of emphasis on aggression training, but not on the development of the person, and it is this development, which leads to the foundation upon which aggression, not anger, can be built. If you truly respect yourself, you will fight with all of your being, when called upon to do so. If you lack this self-worth, then all you’ll be able to respond with is anger. Anger and aggression, may appear similar, however one is built on character, whilst the other comes from a lack of it.

I was recently interviewed for a podcast, where the conversation led to myself and the interviewer (a martial artist) discussing why “values” aren’t taught in adult classes. With Krav Maga, in particular, many students (and instructors) didn’t train martial arts as children, and so didn’t get this “education”, and yet we don’t teach or promote the importance of these values to them. We are so caught up in being relevant, and teaching techniques, that we spend little time on the values, which build character, and true fighting spirit/aggression – the desire to fight and defend yourself when attacked. Sometimes, when I’m teaching women’s self-defense, and I talk about sticking thumbs in eyes, biting, ripping and gouging, someone will say to me, that they don’t believe they would be able to do that to somebody if they were attacked. I will often ask them if they have children, and if they do, would they be prepared to do these things to somebody if their child was attacked. Usually they will say that they would. So what’s the difference? It’s that they see the worth/value of their child as greater than their own. It is no good simply repeating the message, that they need to be more aggressive, etc. as repetition rarely acts as clarification. Rather, their own self-worth, needs to be developed and fostered, so that they truly value and respect themselves. On this, aggression can be built.

A lack of humility and respect is dangerous in other regards. Without humility, you will not be open to learning, and without respect you won’t value yourself or anybody else, and so not recognize those who could teach/educate you – and there are a lot of people out there who you can learn something from. All my life I have cross-trained, and sought out those who could educate and develop me. Don’t get me wrong, I have an ego – I have to in order to write this blog, and to teach. When I stand up on the mats and teach, I am making a statement, that says I believe in what I am teaching, and that I’m right to teach this (every instructor has to have this belief and confidence to be effective, regardless of the style/system that they teach). However, in making that statement, I am not saying everybody else is wrong (that would make me a cult leader, not a teacher). My ego knows its boundaries, and it is that humility I learnt through the martial arts, which allows me to recognize and be open to other people’s teaching and experiences, and see the value in them. Do I agree, with everything somebody else teaches? Probably not, which is why I teach what I teach, but can I see the value in what they are doing? In most cases, yes. Of course, there are people who teach poorly, whose techniques may be questionable, etc., and there are those who may wish to include me in this population, and they are entitled to do so. However, my starting point is always one of openness, with a desire to learn, not one of judgment.

Without this openness, which is an expression of humility, I would be a cult leader/member of a system, that respects no other system or individual teacher. If I told my students that mine is the only way, that everything else that is out there is inferior, and not worth looking at, that I am right and everybody else is wrong, etc. I’d be fostering a “sheep” mentality, where instead I should be equipping them to evaluate what others are teaching, so that they can take these lessons and apply them to their own education. When students move away from Boston (where my school is located), relocating to other regions and countries, I hope that they can evaluate what others schools teach, and have respect for them. When they watch clips on YouTube and social media, they can be open and take something away from that experience. I don’t want them to view self-defense and martial arts from the perspective of, “that’s not what we do, so it’s wrong”. To get a full experience of the extensive and diverse world of martial arts, and benefit from it, there must be humility and respect, and the ability to try to see value and worth in what others do.

I can teach “Krav Maga” to an Aikidoka (practitioner of Aikido), and show them how their Aikido can be incorporated into Krav Maga. I can show a traditional Karateka, the similarities between Krav Maga and Karate, and how one can benefit the other, etc. I can see the value in these systems, and the value in Krav Maga. Likewise, I can see the benefits in the approaches that different Krav Maga systems teach and emphasize, however a lot of that is down to my experiences as a child growing up in the martial arts, where humility and respect are strongly emphasized. For many adults who come to Krav Maga without this background, it is our responsibility as instructors to help develop and foster these values, as without them we will create close-minded, divisive cult members, who will not be able to learn from anyone else but their own instructor. Maybe as an instructor that is a frightening proposition, and maybe along the journey, we will lose certain students, but more importantly, we will keep those and attract those who appreciate this positive message.


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Home Invasion (Part 2)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 1st Aug)

In last week’s blog, I discussed the profile and motivations of criminals who commit home invasions. In this blog article, I will look at the different methods that they use to gain entry to properties and access to victims, along with preventative steps that can be taken in order to deny them both.

Unlike a burglary, where signs of occupancy act as a deterrence, for a home invasion to be successful, the homeowners need to be in the property, at the same time as the criminal(s). This means that a criminal has to gain an understanding of when people are at home (and when they are not). One easy indicator of this, is cars parked on a driveway. Using only the most basic surveillance, a criminal can gain a pretty reliable picture of a person’s movements from watching when cars are parked, and when they are absent, from a driveway. It is always a good security measure, if possible, to always park cars out of sight, in a garage – unfortunately, many people tend to use their garage as a storage facility, rather than a place to park their car(s).

Once a criminal has ascertained that you are present, either in or on your property, there are four basic ways that they can get into your home, these are:

1. Push-Ins

2. Break-Ins & Ambush

3. Con

4. Blitz

A “Push-In”, is as the name suggests, simply involves pushing a person into the house, as they open the door. This could be done as they open the door as a response to someone ringing the doorbell, etc., or it could be done by “following” them in as they open the door to enter their home. One of the most significant deterrents, in all crime, is natural surveillance e.g. the more people who are likely to see the crime being committed, the less likely a criminal is to engage in it. Unfortunately, many people will use the back door of their house to enter their property, rather than the front. This may be because the back door is closer to where they park the car, than the front e.g. the garage or the driveway where they park is at the back of the property and/or because the back door, accesses the kitchen and it is quicker and more convenient, to bring groceries in this way, etc. The security issue, in using entrances at the back of the property, is that they are less likely to enjoy the same level of natural surveillance, as those at the front – which normally face a street or road, where there is both vehicular and foot traffic, etc. In most cases, it is also much harder for people to hide, and obscure themselves from view, at the front of your property, if their plan is to wait for you to return home and then execute a push-in.

A common time for push-ins, is early evening, when people are in their homes watching TV. If your doorbell rings, etc. when you are watching TV, your attention will be divided, and you will probably not be paying as much attention to your personal safety, as you normally would – criminals who commit home invasions, will sometimes watch through a window to see if and how many people are watching TV; especially if it is a family- in this case, the threat of violence towards the children can be used, to force compliance, etc. Opening a door, without first checking who may be on the other side, both when you open the door to somebody who has rung the bell, etc., as well as when you go to leave your property, is always a risk. Installing a spyhole, and fitting a security chain across your door, are two simple ways to mitigate and manage this risk. Unfortunately, most doors and door frames don’t allow security chains to be screwed in deeply enough, to stop a determined attacker from breaking through. To reinforce the chain, you can position a door wedge, under the door, when you open it – these two things combined should be enough to stop, or at least slow down, an attacker. Keeping a can of pepper spray by your door, that you can use against somebody who is trying to gain access to your property in this way, will also add depth to your security measures.

Another way that a criminal(s) may commit a home invasion, is to break-in to your property and wait for you to return. Many people, when they look at home security, forget about windows and doors that don’t directly give access to their property, such as basement and garage doors; if it is easy for a criminal to break-in to these parts of your property, that adjoin your house, they will be able to take as much time as they need to break into the main building, as they will be unseen, sheltered from view by the basement/garage. It may be that they can use any tools you store in these places to assist them in this, though in many cases this will be unnecessary, as adjoining doors to these areas are often left open. One major weakness to property security in the US, during the Summer Months, comes from Air Conditioning Units, that are placed in house and apartment windows. These can readily be pushed in, allowing easy access for any criminal. For around five dollars, you can purchase an AC window lock, which secures the unit to the window, and will prevent this method of entry.

You should also take seriously small breaches to your home security, which may be committed by criminals who are “testing” your property, in preparation for a home invasion (or burglary). A stone/rock thrown through a window, may be an act of petty vandalism, or it could be a test to see if you have a burglar alarm, and if you use it. The unscrewing and loosening, of a security light, may come about through natural wear and tear, or it could be a test to see if you notice that it’s not working, and take the effort to remedy it i.e. is security something you take seriously, or something that is just there for show?

A criminal committing a home invasion may favor conning themselves inside, by pretending to be a workman from a utility company, etc. Such uniforms are easy to acquire, and a laminated photo ID, can be created quite easily, and with little effort. What is harder to acquire is a liveried truck or van, from the company they are claiming to represent. If one is not outside, when you open the door to them – with the security chain on, and your door wedge positioned – it may be worth calling the company to check that the visit is genuine.

A “Blitz” style invasion, involves the criminals simply smashing your door down to gain access to you. It’s a crude but effective method, against most external doors, which aren’t really designed or installed to be able to withstand a lot of force. If you consider that the police and security services, can quickly break a front door in with a few strikes from a hand-held ram, you should be able to appreciate that most doors are really only designed to block access, rather than fully prevent it – I have worked both in collections, and evictions, where I’ve had to kick doors down, and it doesn’t take a lot. Once again, there are relatively inexpensive ways to strengthen a door, such as installing a larger, reinforced strike plate (cost: about $10). If you look at a typical mortise door-lock, you will see a metal plate that surrounds the hole on the door jamb/frame, which the bolt slides into – this is meant to reinforce the doorframe, so that if pushed the bolt doesn’t simply tear through the wood of the frame. Unfortunately, it is normally held in place by two screws, and so when the door is pushed hard it gets ripped out. By installing a larger strike plate, that is held in place by multiple screws, this vulnerability is reduced/mitigated. Installing deadbolts will also add resistance, and if you want to spend a bit of money, a company called “Door Devil”, make attachments that address all of the weaknesses of a standard door.

Home Invasions are not the most common crimes, however they are on the increase, and excessive force and violence is common place, meaning the risk of serious injury is present. They are commonly rehearsed, and more often than not involve multiple assailants. In all cases of violent crime, it is better to prevent yourself from being targeted, through good security processes and procedures, than have to deal with an assault itself – however much you rate your physical skills and prowess, either empty-handed, or with a firearm (never underestimate the moral, psychological, emotional and legal consequences of having to shoot somebody, even if you are “right” to do so). Preventing criminals from accessing you in your home, should be an area of personal safety you take seriously.

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