Training To Survive

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 31st Jan)

We have a tendency to believe that the best trained, the most sophisticated and those with the greatest understanding are the ones who are most likely survive disasters and high stress situations etc. Bullshit. On December 26th 2004 a Tsunami hit the Indian Ocean. One group the Jarawa tribe survived. Their greatest and most sophisticated tool/piece of equipment is the “Bow and Arrow”, however their ancient folklore contains advice on what to do, when the ocean retreats i.e. get to high ground. An ocean retreating is a tell-tale sign that a tsunami is about to occur. These primitive people survived in a situation where the educated and seemingly sophisticated failed (this is not a judgment on those who died, simply an observation): their culture was more in tune with the basics of survival than their modern western counterparts. Most people in the modern world rarely have to consider if they will have enough to eat, have somewhere to shelter etc. These survival concerns are taken for granted. For the Jarawa, they are an everyday concern.

Our training aims to put us back in touch with our survival side. In every technique practiced we should consider the potential outcomes if: the assailant had a knife, had friends to assist him and/or knew how to prevent us applying the technique. This is not just in order for us to claim that we are a reality based self-defense system; an assailant may not be armed, may not be part of a group etc. Rather it is to engage our mind and make us curious about the situation we are facing. Rather than standing on a beach looking out at a retreating sea in a transfixed state, we should be questioning the situation e.g. if the sea goes out what happens next? And come to the logical conclusion that it’s coming back at some point and then determine our response i.e. it’s probably not best for us to be there when it happens, simply because we don’t know exactly what will happen.

We may not always have the exact knowledge of what to do in a particular situation however if we are curious and ask ourselves questions we can up our survival chances greatly. If we assume that the aggressive individual coming towards us has a knife in his back pocket we will know that it is wise to keep some distance and watch his hands. If our eye is drawn to something or a movement that is out of the ordinary we should make a risk assessment of the situation. There are two possible outcomes of our risk assessment: high risk and unknown risk. Judging something as low risk puts us of our guard. If we are standing on the beach and the sea retreats we need to assess the situation from a risk perspective. We may not have the knowledge to understand what we are seeing and may only be able to categorize the situation as having “unknown” risk but that should be enough for us to try and determine the possible outcomes of the situation e.g. what will happen when the sea returns.

Developing this ability to assess situations from a risk perspective and being curious about our situation and environment is how we start to develop situational awareness (SA). Bring this thinking to your training; consider how a technique would fair when a knife or multiple assailants were present and what you could do to offset these additional problems – how you might alter a technique, your body position or what your next steps would/may need to be. This will take out a lot of the potential surprises that real life situations may involve and prevent you from standing transfixed as something you’ve never seen before or considered happens.


Share on Facebook

Training With Different Partners

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 30th Jan)

One of the first questions I’m often asked by beginners and new starters is if I teach private lessons – which I do. Everyone is looking for a fast track to success whilst at the same time wanting to ensure that the techniques they’re practicing are performed correctly etc; all admirable goals and desires. Many instructors will play on this and suggest that a private lesson with them is worth 10 regular public classes. Something which is nothing more than a sales pitch.

Don’t get me wrong, private lessons have their place e.g. if people can’t make regular class times, or want to work on specific areas that we don’t regularly cover in class, such as handcuffing or control and restraint techniques/procedures etc. However what they don’t do is improve performance in the same way that regular classes do.

The problem with private classes is that they don’t give a student the opportunity to train with a variety of people. In the UK I took private BJJ classes for around 3 years before my schedule allowed me to train in a regular public class. In those 3 years I’d got very good at rolling with my instructor; I knew his game perfectly and although not technically as good I could give him a good run for his money (or at least I thought I could) as there were few things he could surprise me with. When I started to train with different people I found that my game wasn’t working nearly as effectively as I thought it should. It took me another 18 months to broaden out and develop a “style” that had universal effectiveness.

The fact that we have a large span of body types and athletic types in class is only to everyone’s advantage e.g. we have people who are fast and have reach, physically strong and large students, small and powerful students etc. Each one of these groups brings their own skills and “style” to the mats. What works well against one group may have to be adapted and modified (or even thrown out) when working with somebody with a different level of athleticism, physique and body type.

We all have people we enjoy working with, people that we naturally gravitate to when it’s time to partner up. I don’t discourage this but I would encourage you to look at whose on the mats and who may be able to present you with a new problem to solve. Reality based self-defense involves adapting to the situation. It isn’t a sport where you’re placed in a weight category and may have prior knowledge of who you’re fighting. On the street you must learn to solve the problem you are facing as it happens, if you haven’t trained with a variety of people on the mats you may find your game-plan is ineffective and you don’t know how to change it.

Next time you hear “Change Partners”  look for a new and different problem to solve.


Share on Facebook

The Power Behind The Punch

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 24th Jan)

There are some within the martial arts fraternity who see Krav Maga as little more than a weapon disarming system with a few punches and kicks thrown in for good measure. Such individuals obviously think the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) don’t value unarmed hand-to-hand combat. For those who came with me to Israel in December 2010, you were trained by two of the top trainers for the Mossad, one of whom a year previously had beaten the UFC Champion Carlos Newton in an MMA Championship. This is not to say that this is proof that reality based self-defense training can be automatically translated to the ring or cage, rather that our training is as substantial and in depth as any martial art, be it Judo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do or MMA.  

There is a huge difference between something which is simple and something that is simplistic. A punch may seem to be a very simple mechanical action, and indeed it is, however to utilize every part of your body when delivering it is another matter – something far from simplistic. We pay as much attention to these mechanics as any traditional martial art. The Japanese/Okinawans turned straight, linear punching into an art form; they recognized that the large muscle groups had to work first, that the body must shift its weight to the forward leg and the hips and back muscles must engage whilst the shoulder stays down and the elbow rubs close to the body, with the fist turning at the last moment. We may not punch in exactly the same style as a Karateka however we practice and embody all the same concepts and principles in our training. Our “style” may be different but our execution and adherence to “the rules” is the same.

The same is true of kicking. If we want to deliver fast and powerful kicks we must adhere to the same principles and body mechanics of any other martial art. There are some things, which are common to all systems. Where we differ from other arts and systems is that we present everything from a reality perspective i.e. we talk about when in a reality based situation you would throw a particular kick or punch and how you could expect the person you’re dealing with to react and respond. Also our training is partner and pad based to give it a dynamic feel.

In the old days of martial arts training there was a view that the best way to improve in your training was to simply up the quantity of your training. To get better at punching you should just punch more. I remember this when I was training at Judo. There were two camps: the “old school” that said to improve you should just do more Judo and another that suggested adding running, weight training, co-ordination and reaction drills etc to supplement and advance your development. Adding supplementary training to martial arts training is not a revolutionary approach however there was a phase when it fell by the wayside only to be picked up again in recent years. Okinawan Karate (especially Goju-Ryu) has “Hojo Undo” a form of supplementary training that emphasizes the use of weights and resistance training (we have a set of Niri Gamae or lifting jars in the basement that I train with and recommend others to do the same).

We’ve recently added strength and conditioning training to our Krav Maga program. Why? Because training weights etc will start to develop the “Power” behind your punch. Repetition will also do this however it won’t fast track you in the same way that this “supplemental” training will (why traditional Karate practitioners will add resistance/weight training into their programs). A person who has practiced an art for 20 years, well may tell you that they didn’t get where they are today by lifting weights etc but you should remember that it took them 20 years to get there. By supplementing your training you can get there a great deal sooner. There is no substitute for hard-work but you should put your work in, in the areas where it will yield the greatest return.

Resistance training is nothing new in the martial arts and its benefits are universally recognized. If you want to improve your technique, power and ability whilst at the same time improving your health, come down to our strength & conditioning classes and supplement your existing training. Doing more of the same will get you so far, doing something complimentary and different will get you further.  


Share on Facebook

Today\'s Kettlebell Training

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 22nd Jan)

This is a very quick post to go over what we covered today with the Kettlebells. I’m a big fan of these for building strength. Not just in the muscles but also the tendons. They also help in developing co-ordination, stability and balance etc. These days they are also relatively inexpensive – unfortunately I had to get my first set custom made by a Blacksmith! – I’m not kidding. They were originally used by Russian “Strong Men” and wrestlers. I was introduced to them in the 90’s when I was a competitive Judoka (Judo player), cross-training in Sambo – a form of Russian Wrestling, which is a little more brutal and a little less subtle than the Japanese system. The Kettlebells share this lack of subtlety but are brutally effective at what they do.

It’s worth remembering what our goal is: not to bulk up or put on muscle but to develop functional strength i.e. the type of strength that is useful in getting a particular job of work done, be that throwing a punch or kick or lifting up an irregular object such as a bag of groceries. Functional strength is the strength that is needed for us to function in our daily lives. If Krav Maga is part of our daily life then we need to learn how to develop the strength necessary to make the techniques we practice work.

This Functional approach to training means we have to select compound as opposed to isolation exercises. A compound exercise is one which involves several muscle groups. When we throw a punch or lift something from the ground we are using our legs, hips, back, shoulders as well as our arms. This means we need to train all these muscles together rather than isolate each one and train it individually.

For example, when you throw a punch, the largest muscle groups work first: you push up from the floor using your legs, then engage the hips, pull back using the larger back muscles and then employ the shoulder followed by the triceps to extend the arm and punch. I like to compare this to the way that a multi-stage rocket works: the biggest boosters fire first, then the next largest, followed by the smallest. A punch should fire in the same way. This is why we chose the exercises we did. All employed the use of the legs, buttocks and back followed by the shoulders and then the arms. When we look later at the way we should structure our workouts this is the logic we will follow: biggest muscle groups to smallest.

The lifts we practiced were: the swing, the clean and press (two handed) and the one handed clean and press. All of these employed the calf muscles, the quads, hamstrings and glutes/buttocks along with the hips, lower and upper back, shoulders and triceps (back of the arms). The abdominals and core muscles were also used to stabilize the body as the exercise was performed. We were pretty much training the whole body to work as one unit, with each muscle group “learning” how to transition/flow work and effort between them.

This is what many people don’t realize about strength training. It’s not about simply building muscle but about educating muscles how to work/fire and combine together to do a piece of work. An Olympic Lifter wants to get stronger without simply putting on muscle that may move them up to the next weigh category – this means they are concerned with getting the most work out of their body as they can i.e. they are all about efficiency.

We studied three different types of training: straight sets, circuit training and “laddering”. If you use straight sets you choose one exercise, train it for a number of repetitions and for a number of sets. A circuit sees you take a number of exercises, train one set of each moving between them. A ladder is a great way to get a lot of work done, when you are not able to train many repetitions in a set e.g. if your maximum number of reps for a pull-ups is 8, rather than try and push out 8, in a ladder you would start with 1 repetition, then do 2, then do 3 etc by the time you do 8 reps, you will have actually done 36 reps (8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1).

This is maybe the best piece of advice I was ever given regarding strength training, “A muscle cannot recover until it returns to its natural length.” When you train, you shorten your muscles i.e. you contract them. Where you make your gains in strength training is after the workout, when your muscles start to recover. However you have to wait for them to return to their natural length. The quickest way to do this is to stretch. Although there is no scientific evidence or studies to suggest that stretching before a workout has any benefits there is a lot to say that stretching after a workout is extremely beneficial, whether it is weight training or Krav Maga etc.

 After a workout you need to consume both protein and calcium. Protein will help your muscles to recover and gain strength whilst calcium will help your nervous system to recover – both get “exhausted” from training. You can give your muscles time to recover and fail to do the same for your nervous system and still feel fatigued and unable to train. You should also take vitamin C, as your immune system will become depleted as well.

As a final thought, don’t think you’ve got away with it because you don’t hurt tomorrow (Sunday), Monday is the teller. DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) will hit you the day after (Monday). Keep stretching, taking your protein – especially before you go to bed, calcium and Vitamin C and I look forward to training everyone on Monday.


Share on Facebook

Strength & Conditioning Training

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 21st Jan)

There are three components of reality based self-defense: simple technique i.e. what you will actually be able to do in a real life altercation, aggressive mindset (the will to survive) and physical fitness. Nobody wants to be told that their fitness level is important to their survival however this is the truth. In almost all disasters and threats to a person’s existence etc it is the fit who survive. When I first started training in Krav Maga, this was something that was instilled in me: you can know everything you need to know and be able to perform kit perfectly in a controlled environment but when reality bites you better have the gas in the tanks to make what you know happen.

                There are weight classes in combat sports (boxing, wrestling, MMA) for a reason: the promoters want the fight to be as even as possible – so it lasts as long as possible. On the street such niceties don’t exist. A 230 lb guy can start (and is most likely to do so) on a 160 lb guy etc. In the real world weight classes don’t exist. Every advantage a person has is an unfairness to the other…

                You don’t have to be big to be strong you just have to be strong. Everyone in the school has seen Jose kick and punch. At 130 lb’s Jose certainly can’t argue that it is size that allows him to kick like a mule and/or have a punch like a sledgehammer: that’s down to good technique and strength. If you feel like you’d lose out to the bigger opponent then these are the two areas to concentrate on. Our regular classes develop technique but they’re unable to focus exclusively on strength & power development.

                Tomorrow we pick up the Kettlebells and start to address the strength and conditioning component of our training. Repetition is great for technique however we also need to develop the power behind the punch/kick. That’s what the Saturday, Monday, Tuesday classes are about.

These classes will not teach you how to punch and kick (that’s what classes are for)  from a technical perspective, they will however teach you how to do it with power…and that’s what counts.   

Share on Facebook

To Hand Over The Wallet Or To Act

(Gershon Ben Keren - Thu 19th Jan)

I had a great conversation (via email) with one of the higher belts, whom I both respect as an individual as well as valuing  his thoughts and thinking regarding self-defense and self-protection. It concerned the idea around handing over your wallet to a mugger/robber rather than immediately making a physical response, such as a disarm or an immediate “counter assault”. I realized as our conversation developed that there were things I hadn’t necessarily emphasized or things I’d not drawn enough attention to; things I now realize need to be spotlighted in order for us to have a coherent approach to handling these real life incidents, whatever the particular situation we’re dealing with.   

Firstly, handing over the wallet when asked is not a passive act. When confronted with an armed assailant (gun or knife), you will be surprised and freeze –never underestimate the effect of this. Having a covering line, which buys you time and confirms to the mugger that you are going to comply (whether you eventually do or not) is an essential strategy. At this stage you will probably be unaware if your assailant is alone or not or where your potential exits and escape routes are etc. All criminals from the moment they initiate the crime are time constrained; slowing down the assault gives you time to understand the situation however you need to do this without provoking your aggressor to act. Agreeing to hand over your wallet etc allows you a moment to try and understand and assess the situation.

When I talk about taking time to understand the situation etc, I am not talking about devoting thought process or conscious reasoning to assess and evaluate what is going on rather I am creating a “moment” for you to confirm what your “gut” is telling you. Your fear instinct will direct you as to what to do. If it says take the knife do it, if it says hand over the wallet do it. However both responses can be covered by handing over the wallet i.e. much easier to go for the knife when an assailant is focusing on the wallet than when they are focusing on the knife…If your instinct tells you that you need to physically control the knife, give yourself every chance by acquiescing to your muggers demand and giving them every impression that you are the perfect victim.

If they walk away: good. However you will know before they do this if you have to act i.e. You are not waiting for them to walk away before you start to act. A financial predator’s/mugger’s greatest fear is getting caught; they want to be moving away from you as soon as they are handed the wallet. if there is any hesitation or pause on their part you will need to fill that space by attacking. Again your fear instinct if you give it space (by going through the motion of handing over the wallet) will tell you when to act. You will know if they are intending to walk away before they walk away.

                In training drills we specify two different responses of the assailant. In a drill we will have a person pull a knife and make a threat e.g. they ask for a wallet at knife point. Sometimes when the “target” gives them the wallet they walk away other times they stay and attempt to cut them. These drills are not aimed at conditioning a response but to prevent you from going to take/control the knife at every opportunity  - in many situations that would be the worst thing to do – a third party could cut/attack you. Your “potential” response should always be to take/control the knife or gun but recognize that there are times when you shouldn’t. The “freeze” phase everyone goes through should be turned into an assessment phase. I am not waiting to see what happens when I hand over the wallet but looking to confirm my assailant’s response/intent and then have this trigger my action. This should be happening instinctually not consciously.

                If your gut tells you to grab the weapon do it; if it doesn’t don’t. My only concern is that you are able to understand the situation first. If you overcome the freeze phase of being accosted with the knife and are able to act immediately and take control of the situation/environment do it without running through any verbal script however if you need time to compose yourself and gather more information run the script.

Share on Facebook

What Is Reality Based Self Defense????

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 17th Jan)

The term reality based self-defense (RSBD) is probably one of the most over-used terms in the martial arts world. When it first came into use it was less of a badge of honor and more of a differentiating term that separated what Krav Maga instructors (like myself) were teaching from that of more traditional martial arts, such as Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do etc. It wasn’t used as a critique of these styles and systems or to try and suggest their techniques don’t work but to identify that our approach to handling/solving real world violence was very different to what these other systems were dealing with.

Rather than being technique lead “reality based” systems such as Krav Maga are governed by Situational components such as your state of preparedness, your location, your relationship with your aggressor etc and work on the basis of what you will do, rather than what you would like to do e.g. freezing under stress, flinching at movements etc. This is what is meant by “Reality”.

In this morning’s class we started to discuss the “assailant’s motive” and the decision making process that needs to be performed in order to apply/make an effective solution. We took the scenario of a knife threat and demonstrated two potential solutions: one where we used the assailant’s knife against them and another where we performed a control/armlock followed by a disarm. Both are effective techniques and I personally know someone who has performed the latter under duress in a real-life situation. However these different techniques are used to solve different problems/situations. In a traditional martial art setting or combat sport there is only ever one setting and really only ever one objective: it is a completely predictable and controlled environment – when I competed in Judo and Hisardut tournaments/competitions I always knew what my fellow competitor’s singular objective was.

When somebody pulls a knife on you they may or may not have a plan in mind: a sexual predator may want to abduct you and will use the knife to force your compliance, a mugger will use it to scare you into handing over your wallet, whilst a drunken person in a bar who you’ve bumped into may have no end game in site – they’ve reacted to the situation and haven’t thought about what it is they may want to achieve. In all these situations they may never even envisage having to use their weapon, the threat of use is enough.

Today we considered two threat types: abduction and mugging/robbery. In a mugging scenario the assailant wants your possessions whilst an abduction signifies that they want you. My possessions, I may choose to give up, myself never. The risk to my personal safety is much higher when somebody tries to move me from one location to another i.e. what they want to do to me can’t be performed in that particular place or time. This is why my response is much more immediate, dramatic and conclusive: I look to take them completely out of the game – it’s them or me.

Reality Based Self Defense considers these things: the reality of the situation not just the physical nature of the assault.


Share on Facebook

Going To Ground - Ground Survival

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 16th Jan)

In last week’s classes we looked at the process of a reality based fight/assault going to ground; of how a fight that ends up there starts from standing and then goes through a “transition phase”, where one person often remains standing whilst the other ends up on their back. This week we go a step/stage further and look at ground-fighting or as I prefer to term it from a reality perspective “Ground survival” i.e. survive this stage in order to get back up to your feet to continue the fight.

The means by which people end up on the ground actually split Judo into two styles: Kodokan Judo and Kosen Judo (sometimes referred to as Koshen). In Kodokan Judo – that which is now the Olympic sport etc  - a practitioner has to execute or at the least attempt a legitimate throw before they follow up their attack with groundwork. In Kosen/Koshen Judo, this isn’t the case; a person can literally drag their opponent to ground or “pull guard” from a standing position and then continue the fight on the ground. It will come as no surprise that the Gracie’s originally learnt their Ju-Jitsu as Kosen Judo. BJJ/Brazilian Ju-Jitsu/Gracie Ju-Jitsu is an evolution of this particular style of Judo (the Gracie’s learnt Judo from Maeda, and Helio Gracie himself was defeated by Kimura, a Kosen/Koshen Judo practitioner). There truly is nothing new under the sun! It was the Japanese who created the Omoplata, the Guard and the Half Guard etc; the Gracie’s simply built and added to this foundation creating what has become a sophisticated and highly technical system of ground-fighting. Something that should be commended and celebrated; too often the “art” side of the martial arts isn’t celebrated or trained enough.

It is the “art” which brings and develops the skills which in turn leads to the effectiveness of the techniques, which will work on the street. This is why we train Krav Maga, as an “art” - I challenge you to find a school that teaches reality based self-defense from the technical/detailed perspective that we do. There is a difference between simplicity and being simplistic etc. This week you will study groundwork from a reality based perspective and add in various perspectives that are often not considered e.g. a person pulls a knife or is aided by multiple attackers etc.

                Today we will start putting the ground-survival piece into the mix. We will look at what happens when a person does end up on the ground with you. Whilst not the norm it is certainly a situation you will want to be able to deal with. We will look at the various ground positions and discuss why/how they could result from a standing position. We will see why BJJ practitioners favor and view the Guard and why this became the dominant ground position in their system (a direct result of the rules of the Kosen/Koshen Judo system) and why Scarf Hold (Kes-a-gatamae) is the most common Judo “start” position. We will then tie all of this together and present the reality perspective and position. In short we will look at both the “art” and the “reality”, adding in knife and multiple assailants. I look forward to seeing you on the mats.

Share on Facebook

The Evolution of "The Street Fight" & Krav Maga

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 14th Jan)

Street Fights and real world violence are continually evolving. When I first worked in London (late 90’s), confronting an armed assailant was the exception rather than the norm. Ten years later that situation changed and it seemed that every one under the age of 25 was carrying a knife, and was more than ready to pull it if provoked or “disrespected”. Many security professionals who had been working the door successfully up until this point found that what they’d relied on to work for them in the past was failing to do the job now. If you don’t evolve with the times you soon find yourself on the receiving rather than the giving end of the relationship – I ended up having to change much of my approach to throwing; something that I’d been very successful with over my past experiences but that brought me much too close to any potential weapon/blade that may have figured into my assailant’s thought process (I still have a scar across my top and bottom lip to remind me of my mistakes regarding this).                              

 Those of you who have studied Krav Maga with me for over 12 months have probably seen subtle changes I have made to techniques based on my own experiences, my conversations with friends and security professionals (who are still in the thick of it), along with my continued training in Israel and with Israeli trained operatives who find themselves in the hottest and most intense crucible on the planet – it doesn’t really get any more real than in Israel. When I first visited in Israel in 1990, Krav Maga looked a certain way, today it looks significantly different. If you read a Krav Maga book from the 1980’s e.g. Col David Ben Asher’s 1984 look at Krav Maga, and compare it with David Kahn’s books and DVD’s you will see an art/style/system that is more basic, less evolved and much less relevant to our ideas of what violence today looks like.

I remember quite vividly the time I was told that it was necessary to pull the body back from a Knife Threat to the body before you moved the knife, because muggers in South Africa were starting to push the blade into a victim’s body rather than simply holding the knife in front of/or against them: a trend that started to be followed by predators in other countries. The lesson: get as many or as much experience(s) as you can and evolve your system as necessary. It is important to recognize that experience is limited in its range and scope, which is why it’s Important to make sure you’re part of something larger than yourself – one of the reasons I continue to go back to Israel to train, to consult with fellow professionals and friends who work and live dealing with violence.

This week we looked at going to ground from a street/reality perspective e.g. one where your attacker is unlikely to pull guard, attempt side-control or execute a Kimura but instead try to punch you as you fall and kick/stomp you when you’re down (things that  become more common in multiple attackers scenarios). However you have to remember that violence evolves – there’s a generation of Kids being brought up on the UFC and Cage Fighting. Are “Rear Naked Chokes” and fight where both parties start rolling on the floor going to start to become more common? Probably. I’ve always said to people, “when I want to see the type of violence I’ll be dealing with in the future I watch how 10 and 12 year olds fight and play.” Six years down the line, this is what you’ll be dealing with.

Has/Is Krav Maga evolving to deal with these new forms of violence? Absolutely. This is why we moved defenses against Rear Naked Chokes into the Yellow Belt Syllabus. If you’re not moving, you’re not fighting. I’m always thankful that I belong to a community who updates me, educates me and adds to my own experience(s) of what the face of real world violence REALLY looks like. This means I can change/alter what we do on the mats.

I hope to see you all tomorrow, when we continue to train with one goal in mind: reality.      

Share on Facebook

Being Realistic In What We Expect

(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 11th Jan)

I want to pick up on something we started to discuss at this morning’s 6AM class. We were looking at the scenario where somebody pushes/throws you to ground and then follows up with some form of attack be it a punch or kick. Often as martial artists we train our ability to transition from standup fighting to ground fighting whilst forgetting that the uneducated, alcohol infused street thug doesn’t view fighting from this clinical or trained perspective. They have one goal , which is to cause us the maximum amount of pain and punishment in the shortest possible time; they are not looking to take their time or set attacks up with feints or ring tactics, instead they are going “route 1”: straight for us with the largest, strongest and most committed attack they have. This is what we need to train for because this is reality.

                This “basic” approach to fighting is what has allowed me in my career as a real world operator in the security field to be successful in both defending myself and the “Principals”/Clients I have been charged with protecting. Any sophisticated assailant who has thought through their plan of action is an extremely scary proposition to deal with, the one who is pent up, driven by emotion and who believes that their “everything will be alright on the night plan” is sufficient is a much easier problem to deal with…once you learn to combat their desperation and extreme/out of control feelings i.e. their initial onslaught.

                I remember the first Close Protection i.e. Body-guarding, certification course I took. Everyone on the course (including myself) both over-thought and over-talked the solutions to the problems and situations we faced. Rather than viewing the situation from the perspective of the individual who was causing/initiating the “threat”, we started to ascribe our training to theirs, giving them “powers” well beyond their capabilities. We can easily do this to the person we have to face on the street, turning them into a Brock Lesner, a Randy Couture or Chuck Lidell, whilst failing to recognize that they are in fact an insecure, untrained, alcohol-confident Numpty who has failed to develop a plan beyond their first wild swing.

                At the same time neither their aggression, their ability to pull a weapon and/or involve third parties should be underestimated. Neither should we over-estimate our ability to deal and cope with the shock, surprise and pain that their assault may cause (Nobody will ask us “if we are ready” before the fight starts). However what we should not do is over-imagine their ability to deliver and execute complicated, professional or well thought throws plans, tactics and strategies of attack – they’d be fighting professionally if they were capable of this rather than engaging in bar room brawls.   

                Your average street assailant isn’t going to follow you to ground and attempt a Kimura; they’re going to push you, throw you to ground and try and stomp on your head. A bar room brawler isn’t going to set up their finely tuned hook punch with a jab, jab, cross combination; they’re going to swing widely and aggressively towards your head – and if you think you’re going to set them up in a similar and clinical fashion you’ve been watching the movies (anyone who tells me exactly what they did in a fight is a bullshitter, nobody remembers much beyond odd moments and weird thoughts -  I remember once wondering what my then girlfriend was cooking for dinner as I got pummelled by three guys) . Prepare to deal with reality…a drunk, aggressive and committed attacker who assaults you without thinking or a specific plan of attack. Deal with them and you deal with reality.

                Today we looked at how a person breaks from clinch, forces their opponent to the ground and follows them in with kicks and punches. It’s as simple and as real as it gets. If you think your greatest worry is someone passing your Guard, you need to take a serious rain check!


P.S. I’ll be training Guard Passes later this week in my Judo & BJJ training. Go figure :) ….  

Share on Facebook

Ground Survival

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 10th Jan)

When you start considering all the variables that are present in a street or reality fight together you have to significantly change your attitude to dojo/studio training. Multiple assailants (this can include passers-by who decide a “free” hit on the guys on the ground would improve their alcohol fuelled evening…), concrete – rather than soft mats - and the potential for the person(s) you are dealing with to be carrying a blade means you have to change your attitude and often techniques considerably. Whilst the UFC may claim it’s as real as it gets, it still can’t replicate many of the variables and environmental factors that are at play when reality bites. Don’t get me wrong a Double Leg Takedown, a la Octagon or Judo style will be extremely effective on the street, just don’t assume that if you’re on the receiving end of it you’ll be in a position to pull guard when your head hits the granite; as nothing hits harder than concrete. The “ebb and flow” of a fight on the street differs considerably to that practiced on the mats or in the ring. Where going to ground in the cage may see you “winning” the fight, on the street it seriously impedes your survival chances.

A trained Cage Fighter (like a Judoka) will see many submission opportunities when a person goes to ground, whereas a drunken douche bag will see little more than a head that resembles a soccer ball which requires the immediate attention of their size 10 boots. Hardly a sophisticated response to someone who has inadvertently adopted a prone position, but then who has the luxury of being assaulted by those that have an idea about what they are doing?

Training to escape from Mount, Side Control etc or perform a Guard Sweep is great (and we cover all of this in our training) however we should roll the story back somewhat when we want to talk about the realities of a fight – especially one that involves multiple assailants. Today we looked at kicks and stomps along with punches committed by a standing aggressor’s whilst you are on the ground (possibly from being the victim of a group assault). This is reality - perhaps the worst kind you could face - and you need to address these common attacks and assaults first before you attempt to perform a rolling Knee Bar, Ju-Ji-Gatamae or Omoplata etc.

Tomorrow I will go and take my BJJ class and then go and spend an hour on the mats practicing Judo. Does this sound inconsistent? I don’t believe so. I recognize the difference between studying an art that gives me “skills” and a “system” that directs those skills to the real world.

Share on Facebook

Reality Ground Fighting

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 9th Jan)

In the martial arts fraternity many myths and/or opinions get accepted with little or no scrutiny e.g. high kicks don’t work on the street – obviously nobody ever told legendary Liverpool bouncer Terry O’Neil that; a doorman who knocked out the majority of the people who challenged him with head kicks (bouncing is a REALLY hard game in the UK, that goes well and beyond checking ID). Perhaps the most common and most oft-repeated myth/opinion that is touted around in today’s self-defense world is that “95% of street fights end up on the ground.” Coming from a background in Psychology I am very interested as to how the particular study that drew this conclusion was conducted and very interested in the statistical analysis that resulted in such a high figure being produced: one that is statistically so high it might as well be 100%.
From personal experience I have seen many fights where one person ends up on the ground, whilst another remains standing (if I include multiple attacker scenarios the number rises considerably) but few where both parties end up rolling around in the dirt. Do not get me wrong, being able to survive on the ground against another party who has taken you there is extremely important and I don’t regret the large part of my training that saw me training in Ne-Waza (as it’s referred to in Judo) or the years I spent in London learning BJJ from Roger Gracie and his father Mauricio Gomez. This training developed and continues to develop for me the skills needed to survive and fight on the ground however I recognize that on the street – especially when a person is armed or there are multiple attackers present – my chances of pulling off a “Rolling Armbar” or a clinical Ju-Ji-Gatame are extremely unlikely however high my percentage in the dojo or studio may be. I still train them of course because the more skilled I am in pulling off these techniques the greater my movement skills on the ground, and as a consequence my ability to get back up to standing where I want to fight improves.
This week we will be looking at the section of the syllabus (for the various belt levels) at how to survive on the ground when our assailant(s) is still standing (in reality the most likely ground scenario we will face). This will cover soccer style kicks, stomp kicks, punches from standing aggressors as well as all of these scenarios from the perspective of multiple and armed assailants. We will of course continue to train knife defenses, punching and kicking etc but our “theme” this week is ground survival (just as it was headlock/clinch work last week).

The Ernest Shackelton (Arctic Explorer) quote, “A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground”, rather than being taken literally should serve to point out that when a fight changes you must be prepared to set yourself a new goal or “mark” rather than continue trying to pursue the old one. When a fight goes to ground, in a reality based situation, everything changes and your goals have to as well. We will drive this home over the course of the week.

For those of you who would like to do more work on their groundwork “skills” development and learn submissions, chokes, combinations and “flow” type training remember that Tuesday nights at 8pm have always been dedicated to this style/type of training. We also dedicate time to the throwing and takedown components of the system in this class (it is of course covered as part of our regular syllabus in our morning, lunchtime and evening classes).

Remember the next grading is in April…

Share on Facebook