Muggers & Mugging

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 27th Feb)

The transactional nature of certain violent crimes, such as muggings, street robberies and car-jackings, etc., may at first glance lead us to believe that these are relatively simple events i.e. somebody wants something we have and uses force to deprive us of it. However, if we view these and other similar crimes is such a simplistic way, we may in fact misunderstand an incident we are involved in, and engage in dangerous decision-making. Although not all of the information available to us, when we are targeted by a violent criminal(s), is weighted evenly, it is worth taking the time to try to understand some of the lessor factors and components behind such crimes, so that we are better able to deal with them if we find ourselves involved in such incidents.

It is worth noting that criminals choose the activities they engage in – they rarely find themselves committing crimes without engaging in some thought process, beforehand. There is a reason why a mugger chooses robbery, and a burglar engages in break-ins, etc. In some cases, it could be that a peer in their neighborhood introduces them to a particular type of crime, such as having them play a role in a mugging e.g. be a lookout, a decoy, etc., and as they gain more experience, start initiating crimes of their own. However, even in such cases where they are exposed to one form of criminal activity, it is likely that they will compare others, to see if they would be better suited to something else, such as burglary or auto-theft, and their decision-making process gives us a clue as to their personality, which in turn can help us understand a little about the individuals we may have to deal with.

A mugger doesn’t get much out of each incident, due to the fact that most people don’t carry a lot of cash – unless of course they are targeting individuals in districts where there are check-cashing shops, etc., or in neighborhoods where individuals are likely to favor cash over credit/debit cards e.g. low income areas, where individuals have bad credit ratings and are unable to get cards, or are charged at such high rates of interest that they prefer to deal in cash – in such instances a mugger may, every now and again, enjoy a large payout. A burglar, who breaks-in to a property, ultimately gets a greater financial reward, however it takes time to turn the goods they have stolen into cash. Muggers generally don’t want to have to take the time or the effort, to see a profit from their crime, they want their reward immediately. They may also not be “plugged into” a criminal fraternity, where they would have access to a fence who could facilitate such transactions, and/or they may not want to engage in negotiations that could see them get conned out of the true value of the goods they’ve procured. When we start to understand these things, we can start to build a “common profile” of a mugger that helps us to understand who we are dealing with, e.g. they’re unable to delay gratification (they need/want the rewards of their crime immediately), they aren’t deemed significant by other criminals, and they want the full reward of their crimes, without negotiating with others, etc. Basically, they are insecure, volatile individuals, who want what they want, now.

In any violent crime, there are always secondary motivators. Three common ones that are present in all violent crime are: anger, power, and control. If we understand that muggers are generally on the lower social strata of both society at large, as well as the criminal underworld, we can recognize that such individuals have little power and control over their own lives, and will have a certain level of resentment and anger to those they target. Crime affords them the opportunity to dispense anger, as well as enjoy a sense of power as they exert control over their victims. Muggers will talk about targeting people who they believe think a lot of themselves, Black South African car-jackers have talked about selecting white drivers who put the central locking on when they see a black person, and of enjoying the power/control they had when making a rich white driver acquiesce to their demands, etc. When we understand that a mugging, wherever it takes place, involves these three variables, it becomes clear that our best bet of surviving such altercations is to acquiesce to a mugger’s demands – and to follow them to the letter e.g. if we are asked for our wallet, we should not to throw it away from us onto the floor, etc. As hard as it may be on our egos, our safest route out of the incident involves us letting our aggressor have a degree of power and control over us. This is not to say we should comply with a demand that targets us, rather than our resources. If a mugger goes off-script i.e. they stop behaving like a mugger (only wanting our possessions), then we should offer resistance e.g. once we have handed over what they asked for, if they don’t exit the situation but remain, we will need to enact a physical solution.

All criminals enjoy a sense of entitlement. Muggers, Burglars and Car-Jackers are able to easily justify their criminal activities. In a rational moment, they may acknowledge the immorality of what they do, however they will soon be able to excuse their behaviors and actions, so as to commit their next crime; their conscience is fluid and temporary. If you believe that in a mugging incident, you are dealing with a person who has a conscience, think again – if you don’t hand over your wallet, expect to be cut, shot, etc. In the mugger’s mind, it will be your fault for not complying, and you – not them - will be paying the cost for not handing over your wallet, IPhone or laptop, etc. - which they will then take from you. Whatever happens, in their mind, they are leaving the scene with whatever they came for.

Although muggings are usually over in a matter of seconds, it is worth understanding how the person you are dealing with got to this place in their life; the thought processes they went through, and the decisions they came to. If you were desperate for cash, and had to engage in a criminal activity, which one would you choose? Would you be a mugger, a burglar, a shoplifter? Think about those things that would deter you from engaging in certain crimes – could you justify robbing a bank or stealing from a shop, because no individual directly loses out, whereas robbing an individual deprives them of resources, etc? A mugger, to a greater or lesser extent, will have engaged in these same thought processes, and decided that robbing people with a weapon suits them best. Think about this for a moment. The typical burglar hopes that they’re not disturbed, that they won’t have to confront somebody, and that they won’t have to cause harm to someone; a mugger knows that their crime involves confrontation and the possibility of causing serious harm – they’ve reconciled that. This is why compliance to a demand for your resources is favored, as you don’t want to engage in a power struggle with someone who is prepared and comfortable with using this level of violence.  

The good news is that most criminals are lazy individuals who don’t want to put much effort into anything, including their crimes, and this means we don’t have to do much to avoid encountering them; we just have to do more than those around us. If we do end up interacting with them, we should be well aware of the personality type and profile of the person we are dealing with, and behave in an appropriate manner.        

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Pain Management Systems

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 20th Feb)

People have pain management systems; they get switched on, when somebody is preparing to fight. If you’ve ever stepped into a ring to compete, or put on a pair of gloves to spar, you will have begun to make some mental shifts, preparing for the potential pain you may experience. The same thing happens in real-life confrontations, and it is important to know how to bypass an aggressor’s pain management system and shut it down, especially if you are dealing with a highly-adrenalized assailant, who will be naturally pain resistant, due to their heightened emotional state. 

Social violence is largely ritualistic, and aggressors use these “rituals” to get themselves worked up to the point where they are both ready to make a physical assault, and physically prepared to deal with any pain they may have to experience. Most people have witnessed these rituals, where aggressors shout at each other, make threats, back away inviting their opponent to attack, take their tops off, etc. These are tools that are used to intimidate the person they are dealing with, and at the same time get themselves emotionally prepared and ready for the fight. This is perhaps the best time to deal with an aggressor’s pain management system; before it is fully switched on. Interrupting the ritual, and not letting them get to a state where they are ready and prepared to fight, puts you way ahead on the curve, and forces them to play a game of catch up. Unfortunately, in most violent altercations, we allow these situations to play out, hoping that our aggressor will calm down, or decide to walk away e.g. we let them make their threats, shout at us, run through their rituals, etc., without making a physical response; or worse, we get caught up in the argument and return their abuse, allowing them to feed off our emotional state, whilst losing the opportunity to shut them down. Pre-emptively striking an aggressor, who is not yet ready to make their attack – and if they haven’t made it yet, they’re not ready – is the best way to prevent them from having the chance to turn their pain management systems on.

Not all pain is the same, and some types can be managed better than others. I remember sparring on a beach. It was bare knuckle (no shots to the head) and both myself and my partner were going great guns at each other. I then stood on a broken bit of shell, and the pain was crazy – it dug right into my heel, and I couldn’t escape it. I had switched my pain management system on to deal with a certain type of pain – hard blows to the body and limbs – but when a different type of pain was introduced, all of my focus shifted to that. Certain types of unexpected pain can bypass our pain management systems and unsettle us. This is why it is good to change our methods of striking, to cause different types of pain to our assailant e.g. mixing up eye strikes, and throat strikes, with punches and hammer-fists, etc. If we just deliver concussive blows then an attacker can get used to managing these, and in a very short time, they may cease to be effective. By ramming a thumb in the eye during such a striking sequence, focus will shift to managing this new pain, resetting their system, and allowing our concussive blows to once again have an effect.

In most fights, assailants are head hunters; both parties are looking to deliver the “elusive” knock-out blow – something that is extremely hard to do in a real-life confrontation, unless you set it up preemptively. However, there are times when it is useful to mix these up with body shots. Body shots can be just as painful as head-shots, and also have the added benefit of being able to tire out an aggressor e.g. repeated shots to the stomach and solar plexus, will interrupt an assailant’s breathing pattern, making it difficult for them to concentrate on anything other than getting breath, and regulating their breathing pattern. Most people will hold their breath when they physically engage with someone, and so be out of breath from the get-go. By using body shots in the initial phases of a fight, you can make sure that they never recover from this oxygen debt, and are always in a process of catching up with their breathing. In this exhausted state, an assailant will be unlikely to keep their pain management systems switched on. Switching between head and body shots, will also cause your attacker to have to manage different types of pain.

Changing targets will also interrupt a person’s pain management systems, by giving them the sensation that their whole body is being assaulted. If an attack is made to the head, then the legs, then the neck, then the body, etc., in quick succession, the assailant will be overwhelmed. The type of pain delivered to these targets, can even be the same e.g. blunt trauma strikes such as roundhouse kicks to the legs, forearm strikes to the neck etc. If the targets are struck with different types of pain, however, then the effect of working on multiple targets will be multiplied.

Obviously there are times when an attacker’s pain management systems can’t be overcome; you may meet the battle-hardened, adrenalized person who is too stupid, or doesn’t care about registering pain, however these individuals are fewer than we think. Drugs and alcohol can also enhance an assailant’s ability to manage pain. In these situations, you will need to mechanically shut down your assailant, either by destroying their limbs so they can no longer function e.g. breaking a leg or arm, etc., or by choking them out. One of the problems with applying joint locks as a means of destroying the limbs, is that it is often more common to cause a temporary dislocation, rather than a break e.g. you pop the elbow dislocating it, but it then returns back into place, etc. A pain resistant attacker may be able to fight through this pain, and continue to use their arm. This is why I prefer chokes as a means to dealing with highly adrenalized, pain resistant attackers, as once secured, there really is only one result. As a general starting point, causing pain fast, and in a way that bypasses an attacker’s pain management systems is the way to go.

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Methods of Attack

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 13th Feb)

Attacks and assaults occur along a timeline, with warning signs and pre-violence indicators, that precede the physical phase of the assault. There is sometimes a tendency within the self-defense world, to simply teach that a punch is a punch, a grab is a grab, a push is a push, etc., without looking at the context within which these assaults are made e.g. there is a big difference between dealing with a grab, following an assailant having tried to disguise their motives, win your trust and putting you at ease, and one where a visibly aggressive person verbally confronts and threatens you before trying to take hold of you. We may use the same technique to deal with both attacks, however contextually the two situations are very, very different. For us to be effective, in both preventing and dealing with different types of violent situations, we must recognize that there are different “methods” of attack, and these should be incorporated into our training.

There are four general methods of attack, that most assaults will fall into. These are:

1. Blitzing

2. Ambush

3. Grooming

4. Burning (Fast/Slow)


Blitz style attacks, are the ones that we don’t see coming e.g. somebody grabs you from behind and starts shanking a knife into your buttocks and lower back/legs (do you train for this?), or grabs you from behind in a rear strangle, pulling you to the ground, or cold cocks you from the side, etc. They are the attacks that come out of nowhere, and take us completely by surprise. Although it’s true that such attacks do occur- and the media does like to report on them- they are not that common when compared to other methods of attack. These are the types of attack that hit us emotionally. One question I get a lot when teaching people who haven’t trained before is, “but what do you do when you’re grabbed from behind?” There tends to be a view amongst the general public that most assailants attack their victims from behind, without giving any warning, etc. Although this may seem at first glance a logical way for predators to attack their victims, in most cases it doesn’t serve their ultimate motive(s) e.g. it is easier to “convince” a person to get into a car, than to drag them into it, kicking and screaming. Blitz attacks are conducted by predatory individuals who have planned their assaults.

In an ambush, a predator uses some form of request or interaction, to allow them to put you at ease, whilst at the same time synchronizing their movement to yours, and closing the distance between you. They may ask you for directions, the time (a strange request when most people have a mobile phone these days), or for money, etc. Their goal is to arrest your movement, and put you off guard, so that they, or an accomplice, can make an attack. Such ambushes play on our desire to be seen as polite and social, and not appear rude to people. This is something a lot of predatory individuals will use against us, creating socially awkward situations, that direct us to acquiesce and comply with their demands. I have no problem if I’m perceived as being rude or not; if someone wants to interact with me when I’m in public, and my polite but firm refusal is taken as rudeness, I’m comfortable with that. There may be times I interact. If you’re a family with kids, and I’ve been able to observe you for a period of time, etc., I may engage with you, but as a rule of thumb, no; I’ll keep moving.

A more sophisticated type of ambush is known as grooming. When somebody grooms you, they are looking to get you to hand over control of the situation to them. They are not just looking to disarm you and get you to lower your guard, they’re looking for you to be passive, and for them to guide and control your decisions. When I do corporate training, I often start the session by asking if anyone would ever get into a car with a stranger (I clarify that this doesn’t include Taxi and Uber drivers, etc.). Most people believe that they never would. The problem is that when they think of scenarios involving getting into a stranger’s car, they are imagining somebody pulling up alongside them and asking for them to get in – when we were kids that’s the type of scenario/situation that our parents warned us against i.e. a man in a car or van pulling up, whilst we played in our front yard or at the park, and asking us if we wanted to go for a ride, see some puppies, etc. Predators who prey on adult victims, know that trying this method would be unsuccessful, and so are more subtle/sophisticated about getting their victims to come with them in their cars.

When I was studying for my Master’s, I became involved in a case study that had seen 27 victims raped/sexually assaulted by a single predator (this is an extremely high number, because most sexual assaults aren’t reported). The assailant used the same method each time, to get his victims to get “willingly” into his car. His MO (Modus Operandi) was to date women online – this was in the very early days of internet dating, demonstrating that predators are very quick to adopt new methods by which to gain access to potential victims. He’d organize dates, suggesting they should go for a meal, but allowing his victims to choose the location and times of where they’d meet, giving them the illusion of control – the first step in the grooming process. He understood that when people go on dates, they are hoping that everything will go well, and that the person they’re out with want to see them again (this is the same for both men and women) i.e. he understood what people want from a date. Towards the end of the meal, he’d say something along the lines of, “this has been great, I haven’t enjoyed myself this much in such a long time. It would be a shame to end things now. I know a great bar across town, why don’t we finish the evening up there?” Even before the first date was over, he was offering a “second” date – something that most people on a successful date are already looking for – predatory individuals are very good at recognizing what we want to get out of a situation, and will play to this. He’d also been extremely flattering, by saying that he’d enjoyed his date’s company – we all like to be flattered, especially in a dating setting, and feel more at ease with people who think something of us i.e. our guard drops. In 27 instances, we know that his victims agreed to go with him (in truth the number is probably much higher). Once he and his date were in the parking lot, he’d say, “tell you what, it’s not the easiest place to find, why don’t we just take my car. We can talk on the way and I can drop you back here afterwards. I’ll be the designated driver.” His victims/targets had a choice: they could go on the early “second” date, but it would mean getting into a car with a man they’d met only an hour or so earlier. Twenty-seven women took that chance, even though they understood the risks – in interviews all expressed personal safety concerns about getting in the car. If his victims hesitated, he’d directly shut down their concerns by stating them, “What? You think I’m going to attack you?” etc. By voicing the objection on behalf of the victim, he’d present their concern as an insult, which had offended him. His victims were too polite, and wanting to get back on the good side of a man they liked and wanted to see again, accepted the ride.

Predatory individuals, especially rapists, are socially skilled players, who know how to create socially awkward situations to direct our actions and behaviors. They’ll get us to want what they want, and voice our concerns for us. Every objection we have, every conversational escape route we have, they’ll shut the door on it, until we’re left with one option; to appear rude, voice our objections, and walk away. This can be extremely difficult, especially if a large part of us wants what the other person wants, whatever that is. Pedophiles know how to package what they are offering in a way that is attractive to a child (not all choose to do this), giving gifts, attention, and praise as a reward or incentive to engage in their abusive activities. They are very quick to find out what their victims want, and then provide it, in return for taking part in their activities. They know how to explain away their victim’s objections, and questions, and use their victim’s confusion to get them to doubt themselves e.g. they can create a physically pleasurable sensation for a child, that at the same time is emotionally and psychologically painful, and direct their victim to believe that the correct understanding of what they are experiencing is good and enjoyable, etc. We often think that ourselves and our children are too smart and savvy to fall for a predator’s grooming process, however such individuals live their lives 24x7, creating ways to exploit our confidences and safety rules. When we compare this with the amount of time we spend trying to understand these persons and their methods, we are a long way behind on the curve. I’m not surprised so many women got in the car, with a man they’d only known for an hour or so; they were dealing with an extremely skilled predator, who knew how to play his victims.

In “Slow” and “Fast” Burn situations, you are dealing with an individual who has become aggressive due to actions and behaviors on your part – whether real or perceived e.g. somebody believes you spilt a drink over them, cut them off in a queue or a line of traffic, etc. These are spontaneous acts of aggression, where something you have done, has lit the person’s fuse. Sometimes it’s a short fuse, sometimes a long one. If it’s a relatively long one, you may be able to deescalate the situation, and work with your aggressor to find an alternative to violence. If your aggressor has a short fuse, it will burn quicker, and there may not be the time for talking.

These different methods of attack, should be incorporated into our training. We should set up training scenarios, where there are ambushes, as well as burn situations where de-escalation could be a solution, etc. We should set up situations where a training partner tries to “groom” us and get us to do something that may at first not seem to compromise our safety, but sets them up to push for something else that does. This is the reality of violence, and our training should reflect it. Next time you teach or practice a gun disarm, imagine the context in which such an incident would occur – were you ambushed, groomed, or did something you do cause the person to become aggressive, etc? Add visualization to this, when you’re outside of the training environment, and your mindset will start to become attuned to the realities of violence. 

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Proactive Vs Reactive Blocking

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 6th Feb)

There is a huge difference between proactive blocking and reactive blocking. Many people believe that any block is a reaction/response to an attack, however this isn’t – and shouldn’t – be the case. Every block should be seen as an attack, that creates an opportunity, and something that is proactive, rather that reactive. There are of course times when we may be taken completely by surprise, however these should be exceptional circumstances, rather than the norm. Most social violence happens face-to-face, with an abundance of warning signs that allow us to recognize when an aggressor is getting ready to initiate a physical attack; if we can recognize these signals, a block can be used proactively to increase our survival chances, rather than reactively, as a response and catch-up to an attack. To use a block this way, we must first be able to identify when somebody is preparing to throw a punch, stab us etc. We want to be responding to an attack, in the moments before it has been made. Unfortunately, much Krav Maga training, is done from the perspective of being 100% caught off-guard or surprised, and blocking as seen as something reactive/responsive rather than as something proactive.

Just because we have a level of preparedness doesn’t mean that our natural reflexes and responses aren’t important or shouldn’t form the basis of our blocking system i.e. even though I may be “prepared” for a potential attack, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to override my body’s natural reflex/response to the movement of the attack; even if I am mentally prepared that an aggressor is going to punch at me, when they swing/throw their strike/punch in, my flinch reflex will be stimulated, and rather than fight against this impulse I should work with it (this is the basis of Krav Maga’s 360 blocking system). However, if I am prepared for a potential attack, I can start my body defense, as soon as I am aware that my assailant has started punching, and my hand defense can be added to it e.g. moving forward, or to the side, depending on the system of Krav Maga you practice, etc. If you are caught by complete surprise, your body movement will have to be added to your hand defense; your flinch/startle reflex will be triggered first, and then your body will move as a response to this.

A clear indication that someone is about to punch you, and with which hand, is the way that they shift and load their weight, before they make the punch; most skilled boxers and ring/cage fighters try to disguise their setups, however in real-life scenarios, the ways that people do this aren’t subtle, and are relatively easy to identify and pick up on. When somebody wants to generate power in a punch, they will shift and load their weight on to their back leg, in preparation for transferring their weight forward as they make their strike/punch. If somebody who is in your face, arguing, and making threats, takes a step back, there is more than a good chance that they are loading their bodyweight in preparation for striking with the same hand. At this point, you may not know if they are going to be swinging their arm in a circular fashion, or delivering their punch straight at you (few “straight” punches in real-life, even when delivered by trained people, are as straight as those you experience in a training environment; when adrenalized, even a trained person will fight the body’s natural urge to swing and make circular strikes – this is how we naturally generate more power). However, if you hold your hands up – in a placating, non-aggressive manner – in front of you, you will make it difficult for an aggressor to make effective straight strikes; your hands will be in a position to block anything coming directly at you. With your hands in front of you, your assailant will be forced/directed into making circular strikes, therefore when you see them shift their weight back, you will know which hand will be making the punch, as well as the nature of the attack.

Perhaps the clearest signal that somebody gives that they are about to make an attack, during a verbal confrontation, is when they glance/look away. If they go silent when they do this, you can be fairly sure that their next action will be to make some form of physical assault. If they combine this with stepping back to load their weight, they are almost giving you a guarantee that they are going to be punching you. This action of turning the head away, is normally preceded by staring/focusing on your face in a concentrated fashion (this can be a subtle cue to pick up on but it is usually there). This short process contains the following component; when an attacker goes silent during a verbal confrontation, they have emotionally shifted into full fight or flight mode – the time for talking is over. When they focus on your face, they are mentally marking their target (when they turn away, you should change position so that the “target” is no longer where they are expecting it to be). Turning their head away from you, achieves several things. Primarily, it is done to make you think that the confrontation is over i.e. they no longer want to engage/interact with you, etc. This is done to get you to lower your guard. An attacker may also do this to scan their environment and check for the presence of security, witnesses who might be observing the altercation, etc. They may combine this act of looking away, with shifting their weight back, or even taking a step back. Usually, there is a pause, a moment of silence, and then the punch comes swinging in.

On a related note, I once witnessed a knife attack, where the assailant approached their target/victim with their head turned away, and their knife in their rear hand (hidden by their bladed body). They walked up, with their body almost side-on to their victim, who saw them coming and tried to verbally engage with them. All of the victim’s effort went into trying to get the attention of the assailant, and engage/communicate with him, which was fairly fruitless because they couldn’t make eye-contact with him. When somebody isn’t looking at you, they don’t want to communicate with you, and the question then has to be, why are they moving towards me if they don’t want to communicate with me? The attacker almost made contact with their shoulder, with their victim still asking him questions and trying to make eye-contact with him – they were then grabbed behind the neck, and repeatedly shanked. When people look away from you, when they should be communicating with you, prepare yourself for violence.

When we understand that most social violence, is preceded by a verbal confrontation or verbal ambush, and that we can identify the signals that show an attack is being setup, we can prepare ourselves to better deal with it, either by making a pre-emptive attack, or a proactive block (obviously if disengagement, de-escalation are options we should attempt these first, or in parallel with our physical preparations). The advantage of proactive blocking, is that you can set ourselves up to attack much earlier than if you are blocking reactively e.g. trying to simultaneously block, move, and strike effectively, when you are truly reacting to an attack is next to impossible – it may be something you do in the training environment, however it is worth pointing out that the moment you enter a training environment, you are switched on, and true, real surprise is hard to replicate. In most instances where you are blocking reactively, your instinct is defensive, not offensive. If you can prepare yourself by understanding/predicting the pre-violence indicators that identify somebody is about to hit you, every movement you make can be an offensive one.       

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