Location - Accepting Reality

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 28th Dec)

One of the five situational components is location – the place where the assault happens – and replicating location in the studio and dojo can be extremely difficult; as by nature the mat space or training area is relatively large and expansive, whereas in reality, most of the places where you will be assaulted or surrounded by obstacles, and barriers and by nature confined. The term “Street Fighting” is largely a misnomer, and certainly not a synonym for reality based self-defense, as the “street” is only one of many locations including, homes, bars, pubs etc. where real-life violence can occur – and in many instances the street is bordered by cars, shop fronts and litter bins, which restrict the actual space where an assault can occur. You can train every dimension of a fight, be it standup, grappling or ground, and yet until you restrict space and movement, you are not really replicating reality.

Groundwork is a great example of this. Many women’s self-defense programs will stress the importance of knowing how to defend and fight when taken to ground, however most of these programs are taught in a studio where there is at least 1000 sq ft of mats/ground to roll around on. Women are most likely to be sexually assaulted in their homes, or somebody else’s, where there is furniture etc. which dramatically reduces the space available to move in. If a woman is sitting on a couch or bed, next to a sexual assailant who pins her down, how effective is her ground game going to be? She will certainly be fighting with her back to the ground, but the “ground” is now a sofa, or a bed, or possibly the backseat of a car etc. Such surfaces will have an element of give in them e.g they arem't necessarily solid surfaces to push off from e.g. try bridging when pinned down on a soft mattress etc. Any reality based self-defense system should include a ground component, but it should also train “ground” fighting in confined spaces, as this is often the reality of the environment/location. If you believe you have a good ground game, take a moment to think how you would apply your skills and knowledge to being pinned down on the back seat of a car; take a moment to think of what techniques and components of your ground game you’d be able to perform and function with, in this environment e.g. most of your armbars would have to go. If you need more space than a coffin to get your ground game to work, you may need to spend some time reviewing it, in order to have an effective system of self-defense.

The same goes of your stand up game. You may be someone who excels at sparring, where you are given a relatively large and open space to work in, but when your back is pushed up against a wall, how well do you perform? Give me the room to engage my hips, and I can deliver strikes and punches with power, pin my hips to the wall, and all I’m left with is arm strength/power. Whoever decided to add the cage component to MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fights, understood something about reality i.e. that fighters must be able to fight when they are pressed/trapped against a wall, and not just when they are able to move freely. It is also important to know how to use the environment/location to your advantage – a wall, a steering wheel, a table etc. can all be used to inflict pain and trauma to your aggressor.

Experienced assailants are very skilled at taking space away from you, whether when on the ground, which includes beds, chairs, sofas etc. or when standing. However great a fighter you believe you to be in these dimensions, start to back yourself into corners, press yourself against walls etc. and train from there. Understand what will work in a confined space and understand what won’t. This is reality based self-defense.

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Car Services, Taxi\'s, Crimes & Assaults

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 21st Dec)

There have been several reports of alleged sexual assaults committed by drivers of the taxi service Uber. Whilst is would be easy to single out Uber, and other car sharing services as being single handedly guilty for providing sexual predators with an easy mechanism for gaining potential victims, many licensed drivers (as well as unlicensed) have raped, and assaulted their passengers. Others have been involved in setting up muggings, extortions and the like. This blog article looks at preventative measures we can take when hiring taxis and driver services etc. It is much better to avoid and prevent an incident, than have to deal with one. Fighting in a confined space, such as a car, where the driver has put on the central locking, or where they have driven you to a location where there are third parties – possibly armed – who can assist them, severely affects your survival chances.

When a car or taxi service picks you up, they know little or nothing about you; this may be different if you book them through a hotel you are staying at, where the staff (if they have criminal connections) have the current length of your stay to observe you, and inform any car service they are colluding with – which is why it is often better booking cars/taxis yourself when you stay in such establishments. This means that the driver has to assess who you are, and whether you are suitable victim material very quickly. Often it is enough just to put a few doubts in their mind, as to whether you actually are a victim or not. One of the easiest ways to do this is to show that you have a level of awareness regarding your journey. When I get a taxi to my house from either the airport or downtown, I know there are several routes that my driver can take – and different exits off the highway. I will either ask, or tell my driver which one they should use. They now know that if they deviate from this route, either to bump up the fare, or in order to commit another crime, I will be aware of this, and will not be completely surprised by their behaviors and actions. Because they know I will be aware of any deviations they may take they can expect that I would enact certain other security measures, such as texting fiends or calling 911, should I become suspicious. Predators want easy victims, not people who make life difficult for them. Question your driver about their route, and let them know you are familiar with the journey and route they should take.

If you are in an unfamiliar area, where you don’t know the route a driver should take, you can use google maps on your phone, to map out the route beforehand, so that you don’t appear unfamiliar with the environment you are in. You can also set the route, and follow it once you are in the car, if your driver makes a turn, that doesn’t make sense, you can question them on it.

Use your phone to photograph the registration plate of the car that picks you up – text or email this to a friend. You can inform the driver that you do this as standard practice. If you need to inform somebody that your driver is going off route, they have information about the vehicle that they can give to police. The police now know the car they are looking for – even if the car is stolen, the police now know what – rather than who – they are looking for, which is likely to lead to a quicker identification. If you can couple this by giving a friend, your location/street name (by using google maps to track your journey) at the point you become suspicious of your drivers activities, then the police will have a much easier time locating the vehicle you are in. An assailant is limited in the attacks they can make when driving – this is the time to try and assess the threat level, and start responding.

Many predators, especially sexual, will line up their victims; they will not be emotionally ready to attack the first person they come across, but will need time to work themselves up and fantasize about the assault. It is often the case that a sexual assailant will attack, when they feel that the clock is running against them. A driver will probably not assault their first passenger, as the driver is not yet ready/confident enough to initiate an attack – later on in the evening this may have changed. By 1 AM in the morning, they may feel the clock is running out and they have to act. They may also assume/recognize that somebody using a car service at this time of night may well have had too many to drink and will be tired – so their guard will be down (waking/sobering yourself up and appearing in control at this moment is a good way to demonstrate this is not the case). Scheduling your evening out to start earlier rather than later, so that it will therefore finish earlier, is a good way to reduce your risk of being assaulted. If you are one of the “earlier” passengers who feels that your driver is acting/behaving strange, and that their conversation unsettles you, it may be worth informing the car service of this. A sexual predator building themselves up for an actual assault, will often “dry run” the build up to the assault on other individuals, before they execute it for real.

 As to whether Uber and other similar car services are riskier than licensed cabs, it’s a difficult one to call. Uber don’t do face-to-face interviews so it is easier for a socially awkward, and non-confident predator to get “hired” – also the more steps and processes a criminal will have to go through the more likely they are to be deterred, if there is a simpler more anonymous route this is the one they are more likely to take. With a licensed taxi firm, there is usually a dispatcher/controller involved, and so the driver is subject to some form of monitoring, and may be required to interact with another person. Also the construction of the taxi, sees a barrier between you and the driver – this means for them to get to you they have to get out of the car, and open a passenger door – which means a potential escape route is provided. In a regular car, an assailant can climb from the front to the back, without having to open a door, and if they keep the central locking on (or have child locked the back door), then the only way out is by climbing into the front – there is a lot of merit, not just for this reason, to sitting in the front passenger seat where possible.

As with any predator, not appearing like a potential victim, is one of your best defenses. Appearing to be in control of yourself and your environment is a good way of convincing any potential assailant, that they are better looking for another victim because you’re not it.

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Knockout Strikes, Continued Assaults & Killing Grounds

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 14th Dec)

I have had several students of different self-defense systems and martial arts, as well as Krav Maga, walk through my doors and inform me that their old instructor had the power to end the fight with just one devastating blow – the most important thing to acknowledge here is that the instructor/teacher may never have said this, and it is the student’s interpretation and understanding which is being communicated. Once whilst I was away training in Israel, a prospective student who’d never met me came into my school, and informed the instructor who was standing in, that I was physically capable of wrestling bulls to the ground – photo’s on the internet obviously made me look a lot taller than I am, as I’m not sure I have the height to pat a bull on the head, let alone grab both of its horns…and that’s before we get into the issue of it running full speed into me. However I digress. This blog article is about the validity of one strike, finishing blows, and whether they exist in the real world.

My first observation on striking from a real world perspective, is that I’ve rarely seen one punch or strike connect in the right place and with enough force, to physically prevent the person hit from continuing. I’ve seen many people dazed and hurt, but few actual knockouts; and it is often difficult to tell whether it’s a true knockout, or someone claiming/pretending it is in the hope that their assailant will back away, or that somebody will intervene on their behalf – normally the door staff/security. That is not to say that knockouts don’t occur, but contrary to the number of Youtube posts, which display them, they are less common than you would think (the reason they get put on Youtube is because they are extrodinary, not because they represent the mundane and the ordinary). In my experience – and that is something which by its very nature is limited – most people back away from a fight, go fetal etc. because they’re not used to the pain or the stunning effect of a punch, rather than because they have been “shutdown” in any way.   

The Human Body is capable of enduring an unimaginable amount of pain, before it has to quit. From an emotional perspective however, it is happy to quit at the first opportunity it’s given. One of the reasons we’ve become the dominant species on the planet is that we avoid pain and effort wherever it is possible; we don’t like to put up with any form of discomfort, and look to find ways to avoid this at all cost. When a person who has never endured real pain before is hit/punched, they will often emotionally shutdown; they’ve had enough already. If they continue to receive pain, the idea of backing away and giving up on the confrontation will usually increase. Do not become too overconfident in your ability to manage and not react to pain, because you spar with 14 oz gloves on – getting punched bare knuckle is another type of experience – however the fact that you have been hit before will certainly put you in a better position to deal with it.

You may be lucky, and find the knockout blow that ends the fight, however it is unlikely, and whilst you should strike/punch as if blow is intended to end the fight, you should not be expecting one particular strike/punch to do so. Throwing multiple strikes in quick succession is much more likely to overwhelm an assailant, and force them to quit, than landing one singular blow in the right spot (if you get lucky great, if you don’t keep fighting). The more powerful each strike the more likely a person will emotionally crumble – so we are not talking about multiple ineffectual strikes, but ones delivered with enough power to the right targets.

One thing to bear in mind, is that if you keep assaulting a person, and they see no way of escape, or the assault ending, you may cause them to fight back with more vigor, determination and aggression – a cornered prey animal such as a rabbit, will fight with extreme aggression against better equipped predators if it believes that is its only option. Sun Tsu talks about this in his famous book, “The Art of War”, and warns generals about forcing their opponents, on to what he refers as, “Killing Ground” – this is ground where an army has no chance of either escape or surrender, and whose only option is to fight for survival. In such situations Sun Tsu warns that it will take five men, to take one of the enemy. He warns that if someone is cornered like this, they will take the greatest risks and be at their most dangerous. Geographically, Israel is positioned on a “Killing Ground”; surrounded by hostile neighbors whose political rhetoric and statements of aggression which leave little to the imagination, and with the sea on one of its sides, Israel really only one choice when threatened and attacked – and history has shown that it has taken more than five men, to every one when Israel has been at war. risky things often work in reality, because the other person isn’t expecting it – especially when they are in a dominant and seemingly controllable position e.g. you might not expect the person you are pounding on the floor, to bite your finger, when you put your hand on their face to steady yourself, or to pull a knife rather than protect their head from your punches etc.

We often talk about the dangers of going to ground in limiting our ability to escape and disengage, but it also limits that of our assailant, especially if we take a dominant control position. If we remind ourselves that punching somebody into unconsciousness is a difficult proposition, then we have simply put our attacker on to “Killing Ground”, where at some point he will come to the realization, that emotionally crumbling isn’t an option, and he has one choice but to fight back. This will be the same if he understands that your intention is to break a limb, or choke him out. Putting your assailant in a cul-de-sac, where he has only one choice, which is to fight for survival, may not be an effective strategy in many situations – giving them an out, and a means to disengage may be safer.

If you manage to knock somebody to the floor, or beat someone down so that they are visibly shaken, and clearly don’t want to continue the fight, giving both of you the option to disengage may be the more effective route to go. Being able to determine, when your attacker has had enough can be a difficult call to make, especially when adrenalized, and finding yourself tunnel-visioned with your eyes only focusing on your primary attacker (a good reason to scan). Attacking with unlimited ferocity, throwing multiple strikes – not expecting a singular knockout blow – and monitoring your assailant’s response(s), is perhaps your most effective way of dealing with many acts/incidents of aggression. There are times of course when you’re only goal should be to truly render your opponent physically, rather than just emotionally, incapable of continuing the fight but these situations tend to be specific, worst case scenarios, rather than the more common ones that your average person is likely to face. 

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Walking Away

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 7th Dec)

One of the most often asked questions I get, surrounding the self-defense techniques I teach is, “Is that legal?” I’m going to caveat my response(s) to this question by first saying I am neither a lawyer nor an LEO (Law Enforcement Officer); I would also state that an LEO’s situation is very different, both from a personal safety perspective and a legal one – I have a huge amount of sympathy for the police, when it comes to protecting themselves from harm and danger because the responsibilities and accountability they have surrounding this, is often much more complicated than that enjoyed by an ordinary citizen. When you, as an ordinary member of the public, find yourself threatened and in danger your situation is very different to that of a police officer or security operative. In most cases you have the option of walking away, and disengagement, something that somebody trying to enforce the law, or a set of rules and conduct (in a bar or club etc.) doesn’t have. It is this option of walking away, which does a lot to set the context of how you respond to a threat or assault – and when it comes to arguing/debating the rights or wrongs of your behavior and actions context is everything; from both a moral and legal perspective.

Walking away from a fight takes balls, big balls – it is rarely the coward’s way out; it is often easier to convince yourself to fight than it does to walk away. Walking away sucks – it really sucks. I still relive situations where I had the option to enact a physical solution, and didn’t; and could have probably justified and argued to myself that I was morally – and possibly legally – entitled to do so. In truth though I really wasn’t, as I had the option to disengage and walk away. In such situations violence is a choice, and when it becomes a choice, it’s hard to argue that right is on your side. When violence is forced upon you it’s another matter.

From a civilian perspective I am not a great believer in “use of force continuums”, the law may state that you should do enough to nullify the assault/attack that you face, but in truth measuring a response when you are facing an adrenalized, aggressor is extremely difficult; when the shit hits the fan, you rarely have time to measure just how much shit has actually hit it – without stretching the analogy, a fight is a shit show. This is why it is important to set the context of the fight beforehand e.g. if you present reasonable solutions and alternatives to an aggressor, and do so in a non-threatening manner, if they fail to listen and accept these solutions then you have the moral authority (and in most cases the legal authority) to do whatever you need to do to protect yourself. If you tried to walk away, either figuratively or literally, and were prevented from doing so, you have a right to deal with the situation physically; whether pre-emptively or responsively. There shouldn’t be a question in your head whether you should do so – your aggressor will not be asking such questions.

You must be honest with yourself, as to whether you have the option of walking away. The majority of incidents I have witnessed, certainly concerning male-on-male violence, have been simple matters of ego, where both parties just couldn’t let themselves not have the last word, or make sure the other person knew they weren’t going to back down etc. All matters of ego. When trying to judge what an appropriate level of force would be in such situations, it is a difficult one to debate, as both parties probably had countless opportunities during the encounter, to simply back away. Contrast this with an abduction scenario, where a person is being dragged into a car – in such a situation do they really have the situation to walk away?

I like using heuristics i.e. simple rules that can guide decision making. One simple one to use when deciding whether to use force (and how much) is, “Can I walk away?” If you can, do, if you can’t fight. As to how much force you should use – as much as is necessary to finish the fight in the shortest time. Don’t look to dissuade an assailant from continuing the fight, but rather look to finish them and prevent them from being able to continue their assault. Is what you are doing legal? In this moment who cares – that can be debated by an attorney; you didn’t have an option not to fight, and so you must now fight without taking chances, or having regard for your assailant – they made the choice. There is only one way to deal with violence and that is with extreme violence.  



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