Adrenaline (Part 1)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 24th Feb)

Feelings are not the same as emotions. An emotional response is physiological, involving physical changes to the body’s natural state, such as a release of adrenaline (a cocktail of hormones) into the bloodstream. A feeling is the conscious interpretation of this state. Adrenaline will be released into our system, when our “fear” system identifies a threat that it believes requires a fight or flight response. Our interpretation of the threat, determines whether we become afraid or aggressive/angry.

It is worth noting that our fear system can be educated, in fact many fears are learnt e.g. nobody has an inherent fear of snakes this is something we are taught and learn. Our fear system can also become over-educated, such as in phobias, where a person with a fear of snakes begins to identify things that resemble the shape and movements of snakes, as snakes – such as electrical cables, pieces of rope etc. The media and news reports also serve to educate us e.g. if there is a report about teenagers in hooded tops being responsible for assaults in a particular neighborhood, our fear system may trigger an adrenal release whenever we see such a group (even if none of their other actions or behaviors are potentially aggressive or violent). Having a realistic understanding of your environment and the potential threats within it is essential if you are to respond effectively to real threats and not react to things which contain no harmful intent.

Whenever I teach seminars or courses to people who have never trained before one of the first tasks I have to do, is to explain to them what violence against their particular demographic actually looks like. This is especially true when teaching women whose primary concern is learning to defend themselves against a random assailant who attacks them without warning on a street or deserted place. Whilst such attacks do occur, they are not the most common ones. Assaults against women are mainly committed by people they know in their homes or in somebody else’s. Having an awareness of this, means that you are able to respond much quicker if you are attacked in such a location; if you aren’t aware that a friend or acquaintance can assault you in your home you will be slow to identify what is happening to you as you first have to get over the initial state of denial, that this can’t be happening to you.

I remember being taken off-guard when an ex-business colleague sent a mutual acquaintance to threaten to assault me, at my place of work: 1. I didn’t perceive the person as a threat and, 2. I didn’t expect the threat of violence at my place of work. My “model” of violence didn’t include this situation as one to be careful of/in despite the fact that there were several pre-violence indicators I should have picked up on e.g. their general tone, the fact that they wanted to speak to me alone etc. When we discount the possibility of violence in a certain situation/location, we can be slow to respond, and not even realize that we are or were in danger. Even though are fear system may have been triggered and we are working in an adrenal state, our mental state is one of confusion, rather than even recognizing whether we are afraid or angry.

Acceptance of the possibility of violence will help us recognize when we are adrenalized and accept the fact rather than keeping us in a state of denial and confusion. In the next blog post we will talk about the different ways in which adrenaline is released into our system, its effects and the ways in which we can manage it.

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Ritualistic Violence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 18th Feb)

There are predators (those who create violent situations), there are ordinary people who get caught up in the aggression, emotion and violence of a situation and then there are those who are simply habitually violent i.e. given the chance or excuse they’ll become violent. It doesn’t matter what their motivations are e.g. if they are addicted to the adrenaline high of violence, or use it as a means to establish their position of social dominance in a group or if they simply need to assert and convince themselves of who they believe they are; the toughest/hardest guy on the planet, the person who won’t be “disrespected” etc, given a reason they will become violent.

Individuals who force violence on others do so in a ritualistic manner. Everyone but the psychopath needs an excuse to become violent. Most of these excuses are fabricated e.g. “you’re sitting in my chair” “Who are you looking at?” “Are you looking at my girlfriend?” Oftentimes the person making these threats is going through the process of convincing themselves that their reason(s) for becoming violent are justified. Many people fall into the trap of denying what they’ve just been accused of, which is to basically call out the aggressor as a liar. Tempting as it is to argue the point and deny that you were looking at somebody’s girlfriend, even if you never so much as glanced in her direction, doing so will reinforce your aggressor’s right to assault you whereas admitting it can disarm them. One of the first rules of de-escalation is to avoid denying your aggressor’s right to become emotional. It is much better to acknowledge that they are right and then present a non-contentious reason why e.g. apologize and explain that you have new contact lenses which mean that you’re squinting/looking at everyone.

Even before the question/accusation happens, eye-contact is usually made – unless your assailant simply wants to blindside you, for looking “gay”, dressing in a certain way etc in which case they may just attack you from the rear or the side, without any warning/question or eye-contact (in their mind there will still have to be a justification for their assault however tenuous it may be). One of the things I was always on the lookout for when I worked security in pubs and clubs were the individuals who “postured” and “scanned”, these were invariably the troublemakers who would end up starting a fight. These are the individuals who normally avoid the conversation of the group they are with and stare out into the distance, looking for someone who engages with them for too long. Never second-glance people, either hold a gaze and accept the consequences, or look away without looking back (both are signals of confidence but the latter doesn’t carry any challenge with it).

After eye-contact and the question, there is usually a re-affirmation of the question accompanied with an open ended threat, such as, “…so what are you going to do about it?” You can be sure that whatever answer you give it will not be satisfactory. This is your aggressor trying to work themselves up into a higher emotional state whilst at the same time attempting to be the “good guy”, the guy who gives you an option to avoid the inevitable violence and punishment they deserve. At this point trying to reconcile the situation by peaceful means would be extremely naïve this is the time for pre-emptive action. You should either strike to set up a finish or strike to disengage. Be aware that in a social setting such as a bar or club there is the likelihood of third parties coming to your aggressor’s assistance, so staying tied up with them may not be the best option.

As in all violent situations there are pre-violence indicators that are present e.g. eye-contact, the question etc, that should alert you to danger before it occurs however once an aggressor goes about confirming their actions it’s difficult to continue de-escalating and physical action is most likely required.        

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Beyond Survival - Learning To Let Go

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 9th Feb)

I am always surprised at the way many instructors only present one outcome to dealing with violence: success. I understand the need to present a positive message etc however when this occurs at the expense of acknowledging reality I find this difficult to swallow. If you are in a knife fight, you are likely to be cut, if you deal with a gun threat you may be shot and there are few occurrences of violence that don’t see you get punched, kicked etc – especially if multiple assailants are involved. These are all the immediate potential “physical” consequences that need to be considered and dealt with in the post-conflict phase of violence (appropriate first aid training is a must for the serious martial artist), whilst not forgetting the longer term emotional effects that need to be considered; if you think you will not be affected by these you are an idiot or less than human – violence effects everyone emotionally.

I relive many of the violent situations I’ve had to deal with on a regular basis. I’m not claiming to be a victim of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but someone who often considers the significant events of my life and what they mean; I do this in order that I don’t relive them but am able to let them go e.g. I don’t want to be the guy in the bar who continually talks about the time that this or that happened to them, or about what this person did to me etc. I don’t want my person to be defined by such events.

I often meet people who acquiesced to a mugger’s demands and handed over their wallet, and have spent their life wondering if this was the right thing to do, and if having done this makes them less than a “man” or the person they like to see themselves as. The Hebrew Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes has the proverb, “better to be a living dog than a dead lion” (I learnt that one the hard way, and continue to), and everyone who has handed over a wallet etc in order to survive to should take heed of this. There are times for the “noble” gesture but these are fewer than we like to think. The reason that people when they acquiesce to such demands feel the shame and guilt afterwards is because they never prepared themselves to do this (they always saw themselves acting differently), and so were unable to control the situation. If you can consider the possibility of not fighting, you may be able to control the situation so that you don’t have to. If you can’t consider or don’t plan for an alternative you will only ever have one option and therefore always have one consequence if that doesn’t work out for you.

 Trauma is caused by having to deal with a high stress situation in which you have no effective control over i.e. you have no choices, you have to act a certain way e.g. children who have been sexually assaulted were subjected to a highly emotion experience/situation, which they were unable to take control of or exert influence over and so experience trauma. If you handed over your wallet at knife point because that was your only choice – you weren’t equipped with any self-defense skills or knowledge – then you will experience a certain level of trauma however much you rationalize that it was the right thing to do (and it was).

Too many people who have been the targets and/or victims of violence are unable to let go because they never prepared for the possibility of it or had only one outcome in their mind. Being able to move on, and let the incident go, is the mark of somebody who is in control, and was always in control – those that have to relive an event in order to re-experience it, and possibly change the outcome are those that are without control.

My belief is that everybody can learn to understand and accept the decisions they took and have closure on such events however it takes a process to do so. It is much easier to understand the potential outcomes of violence and accept all of them – then you are able to put them behind you and move on with your life.  

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Lessons From Close Protection Training

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 3rd Feb)

There is much that is misunderstood about Close/Executive Protection (Bodyguards) e.g. it is a far more involved job than standing in front of a car, with your arms behind your back, whilst wearing a pair of sunglasses. The principles and concepts that are used in Close Protection, whilst protecting third parties, translate well to personal/self-protection and can be used to help increase awareness and improve a person’s ability to predict, anticipate and avoid violence. In this week’s blog, I want to just illustrate and describe a few of the general ideas, which cross over well from this professional field into the personal one (and reinforce some of the ideas that we talked about in yesterday’s class).

Firstly, Close Protection is about avoiding confrontation. The person whose safety you are responsible for doesn’t want to be involved in an aggressive or violent incident. They have a life to lead, a job to do, and don’t want to be side-tracked from it. This is why the majority of high-level CP Operatives aren’t easily identifiable individuals e.g. they want to be invisible, not noticeable – don’t be confused by the large-built tanks who escort celebrities from limos to movie premieres, etc. - these “visible deterrents” perform a very narrow and distinct role in security terms. Flying under the radar is the desire of every principle, except when they have to perform obvious public duties. Many people look to the Martial Arts or Self-Defense to teach them how to handle confrontations, rather than avoid them – but although being able to handle oneself physically in a violent situation is a large part of the picture, it is not the end goal. If you’re the loud guy in the Tap-Out tee shirt in the bar, you are not flying under the radar.

Planning and preparation are a large piece of any Close Protection gig, and probably make up the largest part of any detail. Identifying potential threats/risks beforehand, and planning how to avoid and mitigate them really is the most important part of the job. Individuals who “suddenly” find themselves in a dodgy part of town late at night have not planned their evening well. Walking into an unknown bar is another good example. Because we rarely see or experience violence, our plans don’t often involve considerations of personal safety, when in reality these should be our first and most important thoughts.

Constantly referring back to the plan is also extremely important. It was interesting to note when we did yesterday’s drills where we trained with eyes closed, how few people checked that they were in arm’s length of the principle (the person they were protecting), though this was an essential piece of the plan, if they were able to pull the person away quickly at the first sign of danger. Simply being able to touch the person lightly, would be an easy check to see if they could be reached, however few people did this. Checking in with the plan and updating it if necessary e.g. moving closer, is as important as the plan itself.  

I am not going to talk much about situational awareness (SA) in this blog, as I have written extensively about it in past blogs. Rather, I would just restate that it is important to let your eyes be drawn to the things and movements that are out of place. Many people will give the example of somebody wearing a heavy coat in hot weather, however this is not something you look for, as there are a million things that can be possibly out of place or unusual. The person wearing a coat in hot weather is something you rationally make sense of after you have noticed that the person is out of place, not something that you work out and then identify. Looking at the complete picture and letting your eyes pick out the things that don’t fit in, like you do when you look at a “spot the difference” picture, is more to the point of how situational awareness works. Many of the drills we do in class are designed to improve this skill.

Identification, Prediction and Avoidance are the key skills of the Close Protection Operative and should be the skills that every individual looks to develop, rather than just their physical self-defense and martial arts skills.    


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