It\'ll never happen to me

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 24th Feb)

By nature we’re all optimists. If you tell people that the average life expectancy is 87, and then ask them how long they’ll think they live, they’ll normally give you an answer of 93, 95 etc. The statistics never apply to us, just to everyone else. Millions of people play the lottery. Why? Because somebody has to win. The odds and the chances don’t matter; somebody has to win and that somebody could be me. When it comes to violence however, we don’t think/believe it could be us, we’re always sure it will be somebody else: good things happen to us, bad things happen to everyone else. We might win the lottery, but the statistically more likely chance of us being selected as a victim doesn’t apply to us, that’s for everyone else.   

The only people who expect to be assaulted, are those who have a history of being assaulted: those who have had the myth that it won’t happen to them be proved incorrect. It is a sad truth that people only perceive their vulnerability and accept the possibility of being targeted once it has happened. As a child who was bullied for a number of years, I was never in any doubt that I could experience violence at any moment, and that truth has never left me – I’m not the terrified individual who believes being a victim is inevitable, that changed when I was 12 years old, but I understand that I can be targeted as a victim, and that there are individuals out there who may want to cause me harm. My own experiences also tell me how life-defining being the victim of violence can be, and that I don’t want to re-experience those feelings and emotions again.

I am optimistic that I will not be the victim of violence again; not because I now understand how to physically defend myself but because I understand the profile and the methods of predatory individuals and how to identify violence before it occurs. When people ask me if I’ve ever had to use the skills I’ve learnt I can honestly say that I use them every day – not that I have to physically defend myself on a daily basis but that I put preventative measures in place that keep me safe, even if this is just waiting a moment before I exit my car to make sure I have a 360 degree view of my environment. I do this every time I get out of my car despite the fact I have never been assaulted getting in to or out of a vehicle. I recognize that experience can also be a limiting factor as well as an enabling one. Just because you’ve never been assaulted doesn’t mean you can’t/won’t be.

We all come up with self-congratulatory solutions to violence that we believe will keep ourselves safe, but are not based on anything concrete or real i.e. if I behave in a certain way a person will ignore me/pass me by. Most of the time these “assumptions” are based on the ways we would act and behave if we were playing the role of the predator e.g. we would not target someone on a cell phone (they’re talking to someone who knows where they are), we would not try and snatch a handbag from someone who had it slung across their body, as it would be difficult for us to take/snatch the bag (a sturdy knife that could be used to cut the strap and the victim would quickly solve that problem), if someone we were mugging threw their wallet on the floor we'd leave them to goand get it etc. These are all issues/problems that we as law-abiding don’t know how to overcome however they’re not ones that predatory individuals care about.

We may believe we live safe lives and have safe habits, however there are individuals out there who care little for how we think or what we believe. We can all be targeted as potential victims and we should accept that, assume responsibility for changing it, and recognize that just as we could win the lottery so we could become the victim of a violent crime.

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Would You Ever Get Into A Car With A Stranger?

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 16th Feb)

We all follow rules that we believe will keep us safe, however these rules are built with certain scenarios in mind. When predatory individuals, change these scenarios and situations our rules fall by the wayside, as we never imagined them being applicable to the exact or particular situation we face. We all believe that it is a bad idea to get into a strangers car, and might even state that we never would, however many people who have held to this rule have (and will), sometimes with no dire consequence, and other times with very devastating ones. 

When we create a rule, we frame it i.e. we have a particular scenario/situation in mind. When we create a rule such as, never get into a stranger's car, we do so, with a situation in mind where we're walking on the sidewalk/pavement and a car pulls up, and a stranger asks/demands that we get in. Of course we wouldn't do this, however we may quite willingly get in to a stranger's car, if we’re with a friend and someone they know pulls up and asks us if we want a ride. We will willingly get into a stranger's car if someone we trust says it is ok for us to do so - rarely do we question other people's judgments concerning our safety, and yet many times it would be wise for us to do so. Just because someone else knows this stranger doesn't mean they're not a stranger to us. 

Predator's are very skilled at getting us to believe that our rules don't apply to them. A predator on an internet/blind date that is going well, may suggest to the person that they're dining with that after the meal they continue the date at a bar they know. Once in the parking lot they may suggest that it makes more sense to take one car, and that they'll act as designated driver - a nice touch that shows them to be safe and responsible. They may even add, Don't worry nothing's going to happen, an unsolicited promise, that they know their Date will be too polite to question. Is a person that you've met a few hours before, still a stranger? I'd argue yes, I know a predator would have you believe otherwise. 

One Rapist's MO (Modus Operandi), was to rear-end lone female drivers in remote settings. They knew this was a sure way to get someone to stop and exit their vehicle; our inbuilt and default behavior when engaged in a car accident is to get out and inspect the damage - something that could be practically done later and in a more populated location, however that isn't how we're programmed to act. Once out of their car, obviously visibly and emotionally shaken he would offer for them to sit in the passenger seat of his car to have a drink of water and fill out the necessary paperwork - what happened next is unfortunately too predictable and obviousI'm sure  all of this particular sexual predator's victims would have sworn blind that they'd never have got in to a stranger's car. However I also believe that they all envisaged their rule applying to a very different situation than the one they found themselves in. This is not to blame anyone but to demonstrate that rules are ineffectual in keeping us safe. 

At a seminar I conducted today, one female attendee, mentioned how many women's magazines publish a list of safety tips after there has been an assault or attack on women that has grabbed the media's attention (these are never the assaults that happen every day to women in their own homes by the people they know - these complicated stories never make the front pages, although they are the most common and alarming). Just as the people who wish to avoid being victims devour these lists, so do the predators who want to understand how they can circumvent these rules in order to gain access to new victims.          

If we want to stay safe we have to stop taking the easy route and believing that our common sense will prevail. It won't. Every hard and fast rule we believe we will stick too, we'll break, and every predator will learn how overcome. Only by learning how predatory individuals operate and work will we be able identify their processes and step away from them. Next time you tell yourself, I'd never let a stranger into my house, think of the situations and occasions you would, and then tell yourself rules simply don't work to keep you safe.  

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The False Safety of Crowds

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 10th Feb)

Most of us feel our safest when we are in crowds, and our most at risk when alone. The nightmare scenarios we all fear, usually involve us being followed or approached at night, in a deserted location, when nobody else is around. We often work to the assumption that predatory and other individuals wouldn't threaten and assault us when others are there because there would be witnesses to the offense - unfortunately predators and highly emotional/angry individuals don't have the legal consequences at the forefront of their mind. Having done door security for a number of years I've seen plenty of attacks that have been made when other people have been present, and I have also seen many individuals feel socially pressured to initiate an assault because other people were present.  

It always amazes me the number of people who engage in trash talking as a way of life: saying what they will or should do to certain groups of people, without directly engaging with them etc. Maturing to the point where you don't express your anger through threats and intimidation is a big part of self-protection and personal safety. If somebody keeps saying what they want to do, somebody will eventually call them on it. The playground/schoolyard can always be extended to adult situations and it is wise to leave all options of conflict resolution open rather than painitng yourself into a corner where your peers accept and anticipate one.  

In crowds we can actually lower our own awareness. As a social creature, human beings, will rely on others to spot danger for them. The more eyes there are to look out for danger, the less individual responsibility we feel to look out for it ourselves and as a result we switch off. If we also work with Models of Violence that suggest that violence doesn't occur in crowded places, we may enter a situation or place with our awareness levels turned down to zero. Muggings and street robberies occur in crowded shopping malls, busy parking lots and transit stops, all the time. Financial predators go where the prey is; they want a rich selection of their particular prey i.e. people with money, and busy crowded places give them this. We need to be equally aware when in a crowd as when on our own. 

Most of us are aware of the Bystander Effect, yet we don't believe that it would happen to us. The Bystander Effect was first picked up on in 1968, when two psychologists, Darley and Latane, who were interested in why neighbors didn't fully intervene to prevent the murder of Kitty Genovese (the Bystander Effect is also referred to as Genovese Syndrome), who was repeatedly stabbed to death in plain sight of a number of people. Through a series of laboratory experiments, where the two social psychologists, replicated crisis situations where crowds were present, they found that the greater the number of people present the less likely anyone was to act on behalf of the victim. One of the reasons for this is a diffusion of responsibility - where each bystander convinces themselves that it is the responsibility of the others to intervene and act, or they believe the others have already acted in some way. It would be naïve and dangerous to believe that anyone would step in and help us if we were in trouble - unless perhaps they were friends or people who know us. Darley and Latane's study indicated that the more information bystanders had about a victim, the more likely they were to intervene. 

Being in a crowd, or being surrounded by people does not increase your survival opportunities/potential. Recognizing how it may detract does. Next time you are in a crowded place understand that you are still at risk and that you must act accordingly. 



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Multi-Dimensional Training

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 2nd Feb)

The Dojo/Studio can never fully replicate real-life violence, and neither should it, however to comprehensively train yourself to handle and survive a real-life encounter, you must train all the aspects, components and dimensions that are present in a violent incident – and these aren’t just the physical ones; these include: threat recognition and identification (these are not the same thing – we can be alerted and recognize a threat, before we identify what it actually is), control of the adrenal response, effective decision making along with pain management and the appropriate physical responses. It is impossible to develop all of these skills through one method of training. Just as we have different pieces of equipment to build our physical skills, such as focus mitts for speed, kick shields for power etc. so we need different training methods to help build our skillsets in these different dimensions.

Real life violence, rarely just happens, there are predictable steps that have to occur before somebody assaults you e.g. such as them synchronizing their movement to you, this – and others - should be replicated in your training. If you simply train techniques and movements “dry”, without setting the context of the assault beforehand, you will be training something that is largely restricted to the dojo/studio, and will lack effectiveness out in the real world. If you are training weapon controls and disarms, part of your training should be to recognize the movements that a person is required to make in order to draw, and make operational, their weapon. It is necessary if training techniques to spoil knife draws to train against both fixed and folding blades – a folding knife takes longer to deploy than a fixed one. It is also necessary to train such techniques within the “midst” of the conflict, not just at the beginning. The fact that when a person goes to draw a weapon, you have no idea of what type of weapon you will be dealing with, reinforces the fact that weapon defenses should be interchangeable and work regardless of the type of weapon it is: gun, knife, baton etc.

Adrenal control is a key element of reality based training. Repetitively subjecting yourself to situations where you associate the adrenaline in a negative way, will not enhance your ability to cope when adrenalized. Sparring is a great tool, for developing certain types of threat recognition and identification, however if someone is in constant “survival” mode during a sparring match and is terrified during the experience, all of that will be lost. Not only will a person not receive any benefit from this type of training, they will also associate being adrenalized in a negative way. The Amygdala, the part of the brain, that stores all our past experiences of threats and dangers, and is also the first area to be activated when new threats and dangers are perceived. If its past remembrances are all negative, and ended in disaster, then when a new threat is recognized it can result in an emotional response that is not in line with the actual threat – the Amygdala can basically hijack our emotional response sending us into panic or shock, meaning that we’re unable to respond effectively. Adrenal training must be done in a responsible and effective manner, teaching people to manage fear and be successful in doing so.

Pain Management is an important part of training, however if training to manage pain is associated solely with fear then this type of training will be detrimental to a person’s overall survival. There are those who suck pain up and those who back away and crumble because of it; through conditioning the brain can learn how to block certain types of pain out, and work through them – this is a key skill in a fight because the possibility of blocking every strike or punch is unlikely; something will hit. Being able to continue and work despite this is essential.

I have always placed skills above techniques when dealing with real-world violence. There are many martial artists who are great athletes, who can replicate what they have been shown within the environment in which they learnt it, but to be able to translate it into different emotional and environmental settings requires additional training that many neglect. Realistic self-defense training has to train all dimensions and components of a fight, not just the physical ones.

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