(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 26th Dec)
In last week’s article, I looked at some of the reasons why people are reluctant to act, when they are presented with a threat or danger. This reluctance, is very different to “freezing”, which is largely an emotional response, rather than a psychological one. Reluctance, is much more akin to the denial and discounting of the danger, and the deliberation involved in reaching a decision, as to how to deal with the threat, than the physical inability to respond i.e. freezing. This is not to say that the two won’t occur in tandem, just that the methods to overcome a reluctance to act, are somewhat different to those used to move out of the freeze state – though they will assist in this, where there is a physical component to them.
The first step in overcoming a reluctance to act, is to be honest with yourself, and what you can expect of yourself – your training, however realistic, will only go so far in preparing you; this is not a criticism of anybody’s training methods, just that the reality of a committed attacker coming at you with a knife, etc. can’t be fully replicated in a gym or studio setting, unless a real knife is used, and the attacker is given the remit to do everything that they can to repeatedly stab you, until you can’t fight back anymore, etc. shock knives and other training tools are great, and extend the reach and reality, of the training environment, however you will still know that you’re going home at the end of the session (and this underlying knowledge and assumption will influence your response and reaction to the danger). Don’t be blasé, about what you believe you would do in a particular situation, and how you would react, as this may mean that you won’t recognize your reluctance to act, when facing someone who is dedicated to causing you serious harm/injury. None of us are perfect, and none of us will react/respond perfectly in every situation. However “good” we believe ourselves to be, we must recognize this, so that we can overcome this “reluctance” if we experience it.
Often, we must “force” ourselves to act. I wrote in the last article about our natural/in-built reluctance to do anything to change a situation in which we are not yet experiencing pain, and in which the consequence of acting could result in pain e.g. if you are facing an aggressor who is spitting, screaming, and shouting threats as they move towards you, you “know” that your survival chances will likely increase if you act pre-emptively. The problem is that, this could cause your attacker to respond by attempting to inflict pain on you; ironically, what they are intending to do to you anyway. One way to overcome this natural reluctance, is to have processes and procedures that you run through, which force you to act. One that I adopt when dealing with verbally aggressive individuals, is to step back and raise my hands (adopting a De-escalation Stance), and ask a pre-set, open-ended question. If my assailant steps towards me, I attack. I have a pre-built opening combination, and after that, the situation, my attacker’s responses/movements, etc. will dictate my striking patterns. I only ever prepare for the first few moments of the conflict phase, and after that it is the “training” that takes over. My initial response/decision to act though, is based on my attacker’s response: their movement/step towards me - it is this, which forces me to act. I have several of these simple scripts that I work to, and they help me overcome any hesitation and doubts that I may have about responding physically.
The “when” of responding, is as important as the “how”, although this often gets neglected in training e.g. if you are going to attempt to disarm somebody of a knife or gun, when do you do it? Do you always attempt to control the weapon as soon as you see it? Do you wait until the person makes a request (such as for you to move, hand over your wallet, etc.), and make a judgment to act based on this? It is worth remembering that situations determine solutions, and not the other way around. There may be times that you should look to control a weapon immediately – when you believe that it is going to be used straight away, in some assassination attempt – but there may also be times that you may not see, or be aware of, the weapon, until you hear an assailant’s demands, etc. If you are not looking to spoil the draw, have a response that sets off a chain of events. Putting your hands up, when a weapon is aimed at your head, etc. is a good physical response, if mental processes are attached to it, and it’s not simply a “passive” response to the threat. Have a pre-built decision tree, that dictates if/when you will attempt to control/disarm them off their weapon e.g. if they demand that you move, if they remain after you’ve handed over your resources, etc. – these pre-built responses/decisions, will help you overcome any natural reluctance, you may have to act. Be aware that you will only be able to hold a couple of thoughts in your head, under the stress and duress of the situation. Attempting to think about too many things that you have to do will keep you in a state of indecision, and hesitation. Just as I only think about the initial strike I’ll make when acting pre-emptively, I do a similar thing when dealing with weapon threats. I will have a “mantra” that I recite, such as “Move the weapon, move the body”, that I repeat in my mind – two simple things, which will give me a hand-defense and a body-defense (basic Krav Maga principles). When I act, this should get me past the most crucial stage of the defense, and allow me an opportunity for my training to take over.
I also use the syllables in sentences I may say, as points to force me to act. If I’m dealing with an armed mugger who has taken my wallet and/or other resources, I may say to them, “Is there anything else you want?” As soon as a question is started e.g. “Is there…” an individual will start to mentally fill in the rest of the sentence, before it’s been said (this is the same phenomena as reading ahead in a book, where we start to process sentences before we have fully read them). This will distract them from whatever task they were planning next, which may involve using the weapon against me. However, my intention is not to complete the sentence, but force myself to start my solution/technique, on the third syllable (“Is there any…”). This is like counting, 1,2,3 before jumping out of a plane, or off a platform when doing a bungee jump, etc. When we have to overcome a fear, forcing ourselves to act on a particular count, helps us overcome our reluctance. Having a sentence/statement/question that you make to an aggressor, with a syllable, such as the third (1,2,3), that you use to force yourself to act is a great aid to decisiveness; one of the most important self-protection and self-defense skills we can have.
Just as we train – or should train – to overcome the freeze response, so we should also train to overcome our reluctance(s) to act. Just as we can talk ourselves out of acting, we should be able to self-talk ourselves into responding. Creating and having scripts and processes that we use to do so, is an important part of our training. Visualization is also a key tool to helping us overcome our reluctance to act, and this is something I have written about extensively (you can use the search functions on the Krav Maga Blog page, to find articles about this). Whilst physical techniques need to be practiced, these are only one part of any solution to violence, and we need to have everything in place that will allow them to work, if we are to be successful in dealing with real-life violence.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 18th Dec)
There is a huge difference between “freezing” in the face of a threat or danger, and being “reluctant” to act; yet we often make the mistake of confusing these two very different things as being one and the same. When somebody truly freezes, they are experiencing an emotional response to danger, however once this passes (and this often happens before they are physically attacked – as most assaults happen face-to-face and are preceded by dialogue), an individual is still left with their cognitive process intact, and so has the ability to act. Unfortunately, many people will still fail to do anything, even when their abilities to physically respond to a threat return, and it is often this reluctance to engage that creates the inaction that leads to a person failing to deal with the danger they face. Even a seemingly trained and prepared individual, may fail to respond because of a reluctance to act, rather than because of freezing, and in this article I want to examine some of the reasons, why people don’t respond to an assault/attack, in a way that their training suggests that they would.
In many ways, the better your training, and the greater your preparation, the more pressure you have on yourself to perform well. A black belt in any martial art, has an expectation on them, to be able to easily deal with any untrained individual i.e. they supposedly possess the knowledge, the skills, the fitness and the techniques, that make them a superior adversary to the aggressor(s) who they are facing etc. However, most people training in martial arts and self-defense (and I include myself in this), have a dirty little secret; that they fear real-life violence (as they should), and understand that it is their training alone, which gives them the edge against an experienced and committed aggressor. I never ask anyone to be honest with me concerning this, I only ask that they be honest with themselves. The issue is that a person’s training is an “external” thing; it is something that they have applied to their lives – it is not something that is intrinsic to who they are, and this means it is something that they must have faith in, and develop a trust in themselves to apply – the goal of the martial arts being that over time this starts to transform who they are, however it is far from an overnight process. If this is lacking in any way, shape or form, an individual will be reluctant to put their trust in it. It doesn’t matter how authentic, proven or “battle-tested” it is, when it comes time for a person to enact a solution for themselves, it is down to them to make it work. I still remember the first punch I threw, as a professional, and 99.9% of the power came from a hope and a prayer that it would do what I knew it was capable of doing in the training environment. I had to drown out every doubt I had, with the belief that it would accomplish the goal of significantly stunning, and slowing down, the person I was facing. It was a pre-emptive strike, and I was reluctant to throw it, because I wasn’t sure that I could trust it to work. As an instructor, I spend a lot of time, developing student’s convictions in their skills and abilities to be successful, whilst at the same time giving them realistic expectations as to their assailant’s responses.
Many people are reluctant to act, because they believe a better opportunity may come along; that “now” is not the right time. I believe that what separates the effective martial artist/self-defense practitioner from the ineffective one, are not superior skills and techniques, but decisiveness. It doesn’t matter how good you are, how effective your techniques are, etc., if you are not decisive and are too reluctant to act, your aggressor/assailant will never see these. Successful fighters, in real-world situations, are not often the most skilled and able, but the individuals who are committed to acting first. If you are continually waiting for a better opportunity, the other person is likely to overtake you. When I first competed as a Judoka, I was always reluctant to attack, telling/convincing myself that there would always be a better opportunity, that now was not the right time, etc. Most of my initial fights were lost on penalties for being too defensive and not aggressive enough. After a while I realized that nobody would give me that perfect opportunity, and/or that if it was presented I’d usually miss it. The perfect moment, is the one you create, not the one you wait for, and often you create it by moving events forward, rather than by waiting for things to align. If you need to take a knife away from your throat, because you believe somebody is going to cut you, you’ve got to do it – and often force yourself to do it – rather than wait to see if the perfect, or a better moment come along; they won’t.
Unfortunately, reluctance is built into our DNA – if something is not causing us pain now, we are hard-wired that it is better to do nothing than risk changing that, even if/when we know we are likely to experience pain in the future. If somebody is pressing a knife into your neck, and demanding that you move with them, you know that you shouldn’t i.e. they obviously need to move you somewhere else, because they can’t do to you what they want in their current location (which means dealing with the threat/danger there is probably your best survival chance/opportunity). However, in that moment, you are not experiencing pain. You are aware of the future possibility of pain, but in that moment, you are not being hurt. Your survival instinct will tell you to do nothing to change that. Action means the risk of that changing, inaction means preserving the status quo, and so you will be reluctant to act. Many times, this will be excused, or explained away, as freezing, but it is not: it’s a reluctance to act and deal with the danger. As those practicing and preparing for reality, we need to be aware of the difference, and train not just to overcome a potential “freeze” response but also a “reluctance” to act.
Social media, has provided many examples of this reluctance. Most of us will have seen footage of law-enforcement officers not drawing their weapons, even when the situation was obviously one where they were entitled to do so. In some cases, these individuals emotionally froze, but in most they were too reluctant to escalate their level of force, and these are trained individuals (the reason I am using them as an example). Some, may be reluctant because they know the potential legal consequences of drawing their weapons, some may be reluctant to act in this way due to moral concerns etc. There are a whole host of reasons, however in many cases it is a reluctance to act that holds them back, rather than their “freeze” response. These are trained individuals, who deal with violence on a near daily basis, and yet they can fall foul of this indecisiveness, and we should be aware that we can too. Rather than blaming inaction solely on freezing, we should consider the reasons why we may be reluctant to act, and train to overcome them. We’ll take a look at some of the ways we can do this, in the next blog article.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 12th Dec)
We have already lost a lot of our survival skills, due to our modern lifestyles. We are no longer as aware or curious about our environments, as we once were, and we generally spend less and less time thinking about and considering our personal safety. Modernization has meant that our lives our generally safer than they have ever been – compare living in a city today, with a century ago, etc. Some of these changes are good i.e. the chances of being murdered and killed, are a lot less than they were a thousand years ago, and some of these changes aren’t so good, such as the adoption of bad personal safety habits e.g. walking whilst texting, being on the phone when we should be looking around, etc.
We have also become more than happy to pass off personal safety responsibilities, to technology. In the past year, I have seen more personal safety gadgets and applications, that promise “touch-of-a-button” solutions to situations, than ever before. These gadgets and apps, all promise one thing; that they will deal with a dangerous situation for you, and this is an extremely attractive message. The promise is that you will no longer have to make risk assessments, concerning the situations you put yourself in, and if it does appear that you may be in danger, the app/gadget will resolve the situation for you in a non-confrontational manner. Some of these gadgets seek to assure you that you will no longer need to learn how to set boundaries, learn to be assertive, or navigate socially awkward situations, as the app/gadget will make these skills redundant. However, technology in and of itself is not a solution, and to work it needs to be implemented in a realistic, natural and effective manner. The underlying message of these apps/gadgets is fundamentally flawed; they still rely on human behavior and action to make them work.
Many of these gadgets are aimed at women, and promise to reduce/eradicate rapes and sexual assaults, and yet don’t address the most common situations, where such attacks take place. Women, are statistically most likely to be raped by someone they know in their home or somebody else’s, and yet most of these gadgets, are marketed around the idea that women are most at risk from strangers in public spaces, such as bars and clubs. Often, these gadgets are disguised as pieces of jewelry with a hidden distress button, that when pressed alerts friends in a network, that a person is in danger, and informs them of their location via GPS. The idea is that a woman who is being harassed/pressured, or feels threatened, can discretely press a button on a bracelet, and her friends will rush to her assistance. This would work if her friends were a) in the vicinity, and b) took the alert seriously, however there is a rich supply of studies that show people have a tendency to deny and discount danger when they are alerted to it.
Imagine that a friend of yours phones you because they are walking on their own, late at night, and they feel nervous/scared. They haven’t identified anyone in their environment, or any actual threat, but it’s late, and they tell you that they would feel better talking to someone. Suddenly, you hear a scuffle, and the phone goes dead, what do you do? Do you give them 5 minutes to see if they phone you back? Do you try and call them back? And what do you do if you don’t get an answer? Do you call the police, risking the potential embarrassment of being wrong and “wasting” their time? Most people will discount the danger and deliberate for a period of time before doing anything – and most will do nothing, convincing themselves that the most likely explanation is that the person’s phone went dead, etc. If that person’s entire safety/survival strategy rested on somebody else’s actions, they are in trouble. If you receive an alert, and the GPS shows that the person is at home, and you’re either at work, or its late at night, are you going to assume the person is in danger, or that the alert is a “false” one? Or perhaps that somebody else in the network of friends will respond to it, so you don’t? What if your friend does phone the police, or the device contacts law enforcement directly? What are the response times for the area you’re in, and how much information do the police have on where to find you? The briefest sexual assault on record took place in under seven seconds, between two stops on a New York subway. The woman who was assaulted wasn’t able to react until it was over, due to the shock of the attack. An assault may be over before the police are able to locate and get to you. Any personal safety solution that relies on the actions of others is fundamentally flawed.
I have also heard about apps/gadgets – usually disguised as jewelry -that will send a “fake” text message, or phone call to your mobile, so that you can exit an awkward, inconvenient and/or dangerous interaction, by making an excuse that you have to take it. This non-confrontational approach to exiting a potentially dangerous situation, is very appealing, but has many potential flaws. If you are in your home (and will you be wearing your bracelet/jewelry in your house?), with somebody who is making you feel uneasy, and you press the alert button, which sends the call to your phone, what are you going to make up/tell them, that will be a believable reason for getting them to leave? If they ask questions or press you on it, is your story going to stand up? If they have harmful intent towards you, are they likely to respect what you are saying/asking them to do? If you are going to end up having to be assertive, to back up a made-up phone call, wouldn’t it have been better to be assertive in the first place, asking the person to leave – or explaining that you have to leave – because of a legitimate reason. When we write the script for predatory individuals and believe that they will always behave/respond in a certain way, we will find ourselves in trouble when they don’t. Several years ago, a woman was raped in the North End of Boston. She realized she was being followed, and pretended to be on her phone, believing that the man who followed her would respect the social convention, of not interrupting a person who was on the phone. He didn’t. Someone who didn’t have predatory, harmful intent towards her, may have respected that convention, however such individuals are not the people we need to protect ourselves against.
The best way to see how these apps and gadgets may be used is to role-play with them in a variety of likely and realistic scenarios. Not testing them to see when/where they work, but testing them to fail e.g. have somebody become incensed that you take a call when talking to them, or refuse to leave when your friends turn up to assist you etc. Change the location from a bar/public space you your house or room. Have somebody question the legitimacy of your call. Understand as well, that at some point the “professional” predators will be aware of these gadgets and apps, and be ready to challenge them, as well as find ways to circumvent them. When it comes down to it, these apps and gadgets are not solutions, and certainly not a replacement for self-protection knowledge and understanding. Hoping that an individual will respond in the way that the app or gadgets believes they will, is no self-defense strategy.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 5th Dec)
The elderly are a naturally vulnerable group; with age there comes a deterioration in physical abilities. Strength and movement start to decline, and because of this, the ability to physically defend yourself when attacked is reduced. It would be nice to think that through training we can delay these things – and to a certain extent we can – but for those of us with elderly parents and relatives, who have never trained, this isn’t an option (my parents are in their 80’s – and have never done any martial arts or self-defense training). There are those who would suggest firearms training, to help “level the playing field”, but this may not be appropriate, due to diminished mental faculties – a firearm in the home of somebody suffering from some degree of dementia may be more of a liability than an asset – and physical concerns, such as vision problems, tremors, etc, also come into play. Firearms ownership also isn’t legal in every country or locale. This means that in order to keep our elderly relatives safe, the focus (as it should be with all self-defense training), should be on prevention and target-hardening, to avoid victimization.
It is worth understanding some of the particular types of crime that target the elderly. Drug addicts, know that the bathroom cabinets of many elderly people, contain prescriptions for opioids – including Fentanyl - and other powerful pain killers. In many cases, there may be the remnants of courses of these drugs, that were over-prescribed, and never used. This makes the homes of the elderly an attractive target for criminals in pursuit of these drugs. It also makes the elderly vulnerable when they pick up/fill their prescription, and they should take the same precautions when in the pharmacy, as they would when getting cash from an ATM/cash machine i.e. being aware of who is around them, who seems interested in them, etc. If it is possible for them to use a delivery service for their prescriptions, this would be preferable to picking them up, in person. I would also advise that they not use ATM’s for cash withdrawals, but instead use the counter service at the bank, as there will be security cameras, and other people present (crime preventers), which are likely to deter most opportunistic predators.
As we get older, our memory does start to deteriorate – the degree to which it does will vary from person to person – and we will be more likely to forget to lock a door, or close a window, than we would have, when younger. One way to help mitigate this vulnerability, is not to rely on memory, but instead use checklists as reminders. If you have an elderly relative, you may want to help them create a checklist of windows and doors, etc. that they need to make certain are secured, before they go out, and/or when they return home. This list can be pinned to the front door, and it can also be used last thing at night, before they go to bed. The list can also include things such as checking that electrical items are turned off at the socket, etc. As long as the individual sticks to the list, and goes through it each time they leave the house (or go to bed), they will know that they will have limited these opportunities for criminals to exploit.
The elderly are often targeted as victims of fraudulent marketing campaigns, whether by phone or door-to-door. Unfortunately, many seniors, who would once have recognized a con with ease, are no longer so confident of their world as they once were, and may be susceptible to misinformation, especially if the consequences of not going along with the plan are presented in dire and extreme ways e.g. if you don’t switch over your electricity provider, you’ll be cut-off within 7 days, or if you don’t sign these forms, your pension will be frozen, and you’ll not be able to make a new claim for 30 days, etc. One role that you can play in the life of an elderly relative, is to be the person that they direct any cold-caller, or telemarketer to, with your role being presented as the final/actual decision maker. It is also worth reminding them that no legitimate organization is going to require an on the spot decision about anything, and that they will have the time to talk things over with yourself, and that you will be able to talk things over with whomever it is that has contacted them about services, etc. When a con-artist, has to involve another party, they are likely to back away, as there are unfortunately far easier victims to exploit.
If you are able to, get a security chain fitted to your relative’s front door, so that they never have to fully open it to someone. If a criminal has targeted an elderly relative’s home, because they believe that there are valuables/drugs inside, but there are no accessible windows and doors that would facilitate a break-in, they may attempt a simple home-invasion, via a “push in” e.g. when the door is opened they barge in, knocking whoever opened it out of the way. For many doors and frames, it will be difficult to screw the security chain unit, deep enough, for it to have much integrity on its own, and so it is worth backing this system up with a rubber door stop, that can be pushed under the door as it is opened. The two together should be enough to stop the door being pushed in – if not, standing on the door stop can strengthen it further. A high-pitched alarm, with a pull string release, can be placed by the door, and set off if/when somebody tries to get past the chain and door-stop. This is likely to make a would-be intruder question the potential costs of trying to continue the break-in i.e. there are probably easier properties to target.
Security and personal safety are, at their core, largely about procedures and protocols, and as somebody gets older and their natural abilities start to diminish – so that they can’t see or hear as well as they once did, aren’t as strong/agile as they once were – these protocols become all the more important. Telling an elderly relative to simply be more aware, may be something that they forget to do, or are unable to do, etc. Having lists, that they follow to the letter, will hopefully ensure that from a basic personal safety perspective they are becoming a harder target than those around them. With unlimited funding and resourcing there are many things that can be done to make an elderly relative’s life/home more secure – such as installing surveillance cameras in their property, so that you can check if doors/windows have been left open etc. – however, this isn’t always possible or practical. Setting our elderly relatives up with simple manual processes and procedures requires little or no investment, and can in fact have a great effect on their overall safety.
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