Joining The Dots - Spoiling Weapon Draws

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 29th Dec)

A fight can have many dimensions to it e.g. a standup fist fight can go to ground, or in the middle of a clinch or grappling phase a knife can get pulled etc. Whilst there is a purpose to teaching ground fighting/survival as being something that starts and remains on the ground, just as there are good reasons to teach standup fighting without grappling and groundwork, at some point the transitions between these dimensions need to be taught. One of the most important transitions to train in reality based self-defense is when a weapon is introduced to the fight; as this demonstrates a development/evolution in an assailant’s harmful intent towards you, as well as increasing the risk of serious injuries/death.

Unless you are involved in a gang-fight, where all participants start with their weapons drawn, or are subjected to some form of ambush where an assailant has identified you as a target, and approached you with their weapon in hand, an aggressor will have to draw and deploy their weapon e.g. if you are involved in an aggressive altercation in a bar, your aggressor will have to pull their knife/gun from wherever they are carrying it. If you are involved in a seemingly “unarmed” fight – and you should never assume that this is the case – where your assailant hasn’t had time to pull their weapon, you must understand that if they are carrying one, they will probably attempt to draw it during the unarmed phase of the conflict. One question you need to ask yourself about your training is, do you train to deal with weapons being pulled at the start of the conflict or during it? Or, do you train all your weapon disarms and controls from the perspective that the weapon has already been drawn and positioned?   

If you are teaching self-defense from a reality based perspective, you need to train, according to the various “story lines” that violence follows e.g. if you train a knife control/disarm to the threat of having a knife at your throat, you must look at the preceding steps, which needed to take place before the knife was placed there; the person needed to synchronize their movement to yours, draw their weapon, and then place it against your throat etc. Could any of these preceding steps been prevented? Could you have prevented the person moving to a position where they were able to make the threat? Could you have spoilt the “draw” and controlled/disarmed the weapon before it was placed at your throat? It is not realistic to simply train a disarm/control at the very last part of the process, instead we should be looking to interrupt the process at the earliest opportunity and if possible put preventative measures in place that would stop the process from starting in the first place.

The gap between what schools teach as reality based self-defense, and what security companies teach to those entering the security field professionally is often a night and day difference. The amount of time dedicated, in close protection training, to spoiling the draw and preventing a potential assailant from deploying their weapon is far more than almost any reality based self-defense school will spend teaching this skill. Rather most schools, will teach their students how to deal with the worst case scenario – of the weapon being “live” – rather than looking at how such a situation could be prevented.

Teaching self-defense in clinically divided dimensions doesn’t reflect reality. In real life situations dimensions merge; arguments become fights, unarmed fights become armed fights, armed and unarmed fights go to the ground etc. One of Imi Lichtenfeld’s core concepts of Krav Maga was be prepared for anything, and yet often Krav Maga training doesn’t reflect this, instead it neatly packages each dimension (knife, gun, ground, grappling etc.) into its individual training session/part and doesn’t look at the transitions between them. In this way the student is given a false idea as to what a real-life violent altercation looks like, and doesn’t get to train in the dynamic fashion that is necessary if they are to be prepared to survive in reality.

Next time you train a defense against a knife or gun threat, consider what could have been done to prevent yourself from finding yourself in such a situation. Is it realistic to assume the person simply walked up to you and placed the weapon where they did? Would they have had to engage you in conversation first in order to get close to you, and then pulled the weapon etc? This is understanding your training from the perspective of reality, rather than just simply learning a technique to deal with the worst case scenario.  

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Training With Heroes

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 23rd Dec)

Over the years of teaching, I’ve had students tell me of their real-life altercations, and how they used what they learnt in class to survive an assault; some are made up (or so it would seem), some are exaggerated and others are the real deal. I normally discount accounts that contain too many details e.g. I threw a left elbow, then a right knee, and I noticed that his weight was on the left leg, so I swept it etc. as recalling exactly what happened, to the minutest detail is an extraordinary feat, after having been involved in such and emotional and high stress situation. I also harbor suspicions when somebody appears to be the invincible hero in a setting, blocking every punch, dispatching every assailant with ease etc. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen however it is extremely unlikely that a person in a fight doesn’t get hit, doesn’t get cut, unless they’re the person who started the fight. The accounts I listen to and take notice of, are the ones that have lessons I can learn from, the ones that are told with an element of surprise; that what they did worked, and that they were ultimately successful – a voice that conveys that the person wasn’t possibly expecting to succeed tells me that the person dealing with the assault, is an ordinary person who recognized the extreme danger they were in, and the odds that were stacked against them – and that they overcame them. One of my students survived a knife attack last week, and the incident contains a few important lessons we can all learn from.

The line in his account which stands out to me was, “when I saw the knife coming towards me, I knew I had to make a decision, I could either wait for it or I could act.” I paraphrase but the key element in the line was making the decision to act. The first thing to understand is that how we recall an event is very different to what happens in the event. The drawing of a knife, and the shanking of it are extremely fast movements that are somewhat faster than our conscious decision making process, where we have to first come through denial  (this isn’t happening to me), deliberation (what should I do), decision (I should do this particular course of action) and then act. The student involved had made the decision to act over a year ago, when he decided to start training. It wouldn’t have mattered in one sense if it was Krav Maga, Karate or another martial art/self-defense system, this student decided he wasn’t going to be a victim, and he was going to do something to ensure that: the decision to act if assaulted was made over a year before he faced this armed assailant.

When somebody comes to our school to train for the first time, they have my utmost respect. To think about the possible consequences of an assault and wanting to be able to handle and survive it, demonstrates that this person understands the world around them, that they are in touch with reality, and they accept that reality: they aren’t in denial. I understand when people don’t commit to training. Training requires commitment and effort, and sometimes it is easier to go back to denial. Sometimes people see the odds against them as so overwhelming – knives move to fast, it would be impossible to block one, let alone control one (this is why it is good to share the accounts of those who have been successful – it allows us to lose our doubts and have confidence in what we are taught). Those who continue and commit to training, are an elite group; they are the people who understand reality, accept their place in it, the odds that they have to overcome, and despite all of this believe that they can do it.

Next time you are on the mats training, look at the person you are partnered with and understand why they are there, and at the same time commit to the reasons that first made you want to train. When you stand in line at the start of class, look around you and understand that the person in front, to the back or side of you could have survived an armed assault, or go on to survive one. Understand that this person could be you. 

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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 16th Dec)

The Importance of “Secrets”

On Saturday I taught Module 1 of the SEPS Women’s Self Defense Program, which focused on rape and sexual assaults. Although it wasn’t my intention to talk about the ways that Sexual Predators, keep their victims from telling people what has happened to them, the discussion section of the module resulted in me explaining some of the methods that they use. I used the example of a victim being raped by the best friend of their partner/boyfriend in their own home – statistically, women are most likely to be assaulted by people they know, in their own home, or the home of someone else (rapes by strangers that happen in remote places are much rarer). I explained that the rapist, only has to cause the victim to delay in reporting the assault, to ensure that it’s never revealed – if an assailant says for example, “I’ve known your boyfriend for 15 years, you’ve only known him for 2, who do you think he’ll believe if you tell him about this?” the question is usually enough to get the victim to question whether their partner will believe that there was a level of consent involved, and force them to question telling their boyfriend/partner what happened. The longer the delay in saying anything, the less likely they’ll be believed e.g. why didn’t they something immediately, if this was actually what happened? The idea of keeping things secret is something that all sexual assailants are keen to promote, whether they target adults or children.

Pedophiles understand the power that secrets hold for children. In a child’s world, information is normally the only thing they can exert control over, especially if they are operating in an adult’s world. I remember, as a child, that knowing something somebody else didn’t held great power for me e.g. if I knew what a particular birthday present that my sister was about to get was, and she didn’t then that knowledge and power was intoxicating to me. Pedophiles know how to exploit this. They “allow” children to enter their adult world, and share their secrets with them. The perceived power that these children have, encourages them to keep (and “enjoy”) these secrets. It may seem “perverse” to suggest that children enjoy the power of these secrets however the pedophile has to provide certain benefits along with the abuse, or the child would never go along with it. Pedophiles understand this; they have to give something to their victims, otherwise they would simply tell, and secrets are one way to do this – along with attention, bribes, gifts and the like. Continued abuse, is rarely maintained on fear alone (something which often separates it from one off instances of sexual abuse).

If we are to protect our children from those who prey on them, we need to educate them as to what are “positive” secrets and those that are not. I have been guilty of involving my seven year old son in “secrets”, not those that involve harm but that benefit others, however I also recognize that I do this to give him a sense of power and control, and to share/reinforce a bond between us. As I do this I have to also recognize how a predatory individual would use these same methods to make sure that he would keep quiet about a sexual abuse, committed against him. I know my child and I know he’s not stupid, and pedophiles know he’s not stupid either – intelligence is always something that can be manipulated, and sexual predators understand the importance of a good argument, and “sensible reasoning” –they will do this to their victim, as well as the parents of the victim.

There are no good secrets where children are concerned. We are in a season of present giving and having wrapped presents – where we disguise and hide the contents of the gift. ”Sharing” this knowledge, of you knowing what the present is or what you are getting for someone, may seem innocent, however when you do it you are reinforcing one of the tools that the pedophile uses. This may seem extreme, but when a trusted individual uses or replicates a method used by a sexual predator, a child may be left in a confused state about what is right and what is wrong. I despise that I have to give up certain innocent behaviors and actions that I would like to perform/display to my son however I also view his safety as my primary concern and so I don’t involve him in “secrets”, and from knowing how Pedophiles work, involving my child in secrets is something I am happy to give up.    


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Disrupt, Damage, Destroy, Disengage

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 8th Dec)

Physical violence never just happens. However for many people the early stages of a conflict, when it is still in its verbal – Pre-Conflict – stage, are taken up with trying to assess the situation: trying to understand the reasons why the conflict occurred in the first place, trying to overcome denial (that this is really happening to us) and often wondering why nobody witnessing the incident is intervening on our behalf etc. These are all things worth considering but not in this exact instance. In the first stages of a potentially violent altercation there are practical things to do, which may help deter an assailant from making an assault or at the very least improve your chances of surviving it. It is worth stressing again that your job is never to simply beat the person(s) you are dealing with to a bloody pulp but to prevent them doing what they want to do to you – if the only way to do this is to beat them into unconsciousness then this is what you must do; fortunately this is rarely the case.

The first step in dealing with a verbally aggressive assailant is to deny them an opportunity to attack you – just because they are in front of you doesn’t mean they are able to assault you. The easiest way to do this is to confront them with a problem that they have to think about overcoming. If you can force them to think, then you have started to reduce some of the emotion in the situation, and therefore the likelihood of them attacking you. By raising your hands up in front of you, with your palms facing your assailant, you will be putting a protective barrier between you and them, without escalating the situation (closed fists would do this). By taking a step back, your assailant will have to move before they assault you – a good pre-violence indicator. If you step slightly to the side, they will have to turn if they want to attack you. If they have to find a way to get round your protective barrier, take a step forward and turn before they can launch an attack, these are three things they need to think about doing. If they then try and do these things you have at least gained some time and space in which to implement the next step in the process.

People often panic and want everything to happen and be over at once. They want to be able to do one thing which will finish the fight – this is rarely possible and can only happen if you have a good fight finisher that you can deploy before or at the very moment the conflict starts, such as a TASER, stun gun or a very accurate and powerful, well timed strike. In most instances your best bet is to try and disrupt your assailant (you have done this to a certain extent by your movement and relative body positioning described in the previous paragraph). As the person turns and moves towards you, throw out an eye strike, a groin slap or something similar; a quick strike to a soft target that doesn’t require you to be in a great position or that relies on you generating any power. This strike won’t finish the fight but it will give you the opportunity to set yourself up for power strikes that potentially will.

After disrupting your assailant’s attack/movement with your soft strikes, you need to enter the damage phase. This involves inflicting enough pain on your attacker that they can’t function or cope and want to remove themselves from the fight. This is where you need to attack with full emotion and commitment and convince your attacker that this is not a fight they want to engage in. If your assailant continues, then you will need to move from damage to destroy mode. This is where you need to somehow physically incapacitate them; either by breaking limbs, choking the person out (especially if they are pain resistant due to drugs or alcohol), or knocking them out – something which is very, very hard to do.

At some point you will need to disengage. You should disengage at any point where you can create safely create/put distance between you and your attacker. The earlier you can disengage from a conflict the better, as this will reduce the risk of injury to yourself.            

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Warning Signs

(My Name - Sun 1st Dec)

Most physically violent encounters are preceded by an aggressor posturing. Most of us have seen, or encountered this, where the person juts their chin forward, shouts obscenities, makes threats, and spreads their arms wide. Posturing is a clear indication that someone is considering physically harming us, however in and of itself it doesn’t indicate that a person is ready to make an assault. Posturing serves two basic purposes: one, to intimidate the target, and cause them to either back away or become too scared to be able to respond to any physical attack (literally freezing the person into inaction), and two, to get the assailant to an emotional place/level where they are prepared and ready to make their assault. Posturing can contain signals that the person engaging in this behavior doesn’t want to fight as well as signals, that the “talking” phase is over and they’re about to launch their assault.

The problem with a lot of the physiological “warning signs” that indicate a person is about to assault you is that they are too subtle to pick up on, especially in many of the situations that you are likely to encounter violence. I have read and been at seminars where instructors have talked about changes in face color, jaw clenching, chin jutting etc. and whilst all of these things are definitely indicators and do indicate that a person is getting ready to attack, they are almost impossible to pick up on, especially if a person is intoxicated and when you are in bad light e.g. clubs, pubs, bars etc- the places you are likely to run into people who are more prone to violence and engage in posturing behavior.  

In my experience, it is much easier to notice the changes in the way a person verbally communicates, rather than the way they physically do. My very first de-escalation technique is to ask open ended questions concerning the situation, and listen and judge the responses to them. If the person can talk and communicate at this level, I can normally be pretty safe in assuming that their posturing behavior is largely about resolving the conflict, rather than escalating it. This doesn’t mean I drop my guard rather, that I recognize there is a good chance of walking away without a fight. My trouble comes when the person can’t communicate well, and engages in some of the following activities: silence, staccato answers, jumbling up the word order of a sentence and/or repetitive looping.

Communicating verbally requires our brains to be working with the capacity to reason still intact, as we become more emotional, we become less reasonable and less able to verbally communicate. Silence is a very good indicator that a person is left with two options: fight or flight. I have seen and experienced both responses from silent people. I have seen people become silent to a question and walk away and I’ve seen others launch a punch. I’ve also seen/experienced people turn to walk away in order to set up a punch i.e. they use the movement to blade their body and set their feet to strike.

When people are reduced to staccato answers they do so because they are unable to form full sentences. This is one of the reasons I always ask open-ended questions; so that they are unable to simply answer yes or no. I need a person to have to try and formulate sentences in order to judge where they are emotionally. The other reason I ask open ended questions is so that the person can have input into the resolution of the conflict – this way they don’t see me as someone posturing to them. If they jumble up the order of the words when answering me, I take this as a definite warning sign.

The “Repetitive Loop” is something that people do to justify their anger, and work themselves up into an emotional frenzy. When somebody keeps repeating an accusation or injustice over and over again e.g. “you spilt my drink”, “are you looking at me?” etc. they are not interested in resolution, they are simply looking to justify to themselves – and possibly those around them – that they are entitled to right this real or perceived wrong physically.

There is a time for talking and a time for action and both need to be understood. Real world self defense should teach both.

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