Threats, Promises, Intimidation & Statements of Intent

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 28th Jan)

If a mugger presents you with two options, at knifepoint, to: a) hand over your wallet, or b) get cut, you can be sure of a few things. Firstly, they have had the foresight to purchase a knife, with the understanding that this equips them to give weight to their threat/demand and punish non-compliance and secondly they can be assured that their victim understands the benefits of complying i.e. not getting cut. If they deliver their demand in a confident and controlling manner, you can be sure that they understand the potential consequences of what they are doing and are likely to stick to the agreement they are presenting. If they are emotional, nervous and appear out of control the less likely they are to understand and conform to the terms they are using to negotiate with. A threat is basically a negotiation – you comply this happens, if you don’t this happens. The context is everything; the emotional state of the aggressor the determining factor.

I have lost count of the times, that a person I have thrown out of a club, pub or bar has promised to do something to me e.g. to come back with a weapon, with friends etc. Whilst I take all types of intimidation seriously, the ones where a person immediately tells me (or other people) of their intentions, scares me a lot less than the person who goes quietly and says nothing – but later indicates their desire to cause me harm. Delay, is a key factor in determining seriousness and intent.

When I consider these two things, context and delay, I get a good picture about a person’s intent. An emotional person who immediately makes threats or promises to hurt me, is far less of a threat than somebody who later becomes emotional and makes promises of causing harm and injury (without any alternatives e.g. if you do this or that you will avoid harm etc), especially if those promises are made privately and not publicly – though such private threats often become public before the aggressor means them to.

I have also lost count of the number of times somebody has told/promised me they would kill me – words spoken in a moment mean little to nothing – after escorting someone out of a bar or pub, moving them on from a particular location, recovering goods etc. When a threat is made in the moment e.g. you better buy me another drink or I’ll kill you, I know it contains little to no power – this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take it seriously, rather that I understand that the demand comes from a place where the person isn’t confident about achieving their goal via any other means – they feel the need to intimidate – and so make extreme demands and threats that are far beyond the alternative they are suggesting e.g. death versus a drink. Such individuals, who are motivated by fear, are often relieved and grateful, when you comply with their demands. Understanding when somebody “negotiates” from a position of weakness, should tell you a ton about being able to resolve a dispute peacefully. The person who starts with the most extreme threat, is like the person who starts the fight with a big swinging overhand right; it’s the best they’ve got, there’s nothing beyond it – they want that one thing to end the dispute.

The individual who starts with passive demands, “you should think about doing this”, that then transfers to active demands, “this is what you should do’, which then later evolve into actual threats, “if you don’t do this, this is what will happen” need to have such statements taken much more seriously, as they are the most likely to act. People who act in the heat of the moment aren’t thinking beyond the moment and if they can be made to consider the consequences of their potential actions will often end up dissuading themselves from acting. The person who builds to action over time has possibly/probably thought about these and considered them and come to a conclusion about how to avoid or mitigate them. At the same time they still have the underlying emotion of aggression, which they have continued to feed.

We refer to these situations as “Slow” and “Fast” Burn. The person who builds up with promises and threats of ever increasing intensity and degree is far more likely to act physically than the fast burning person even though the danger they pose seems more immediate – if a small amount of time and space can be created then de-escalation is definitely possible. The person who listens and ignores the alternatives to violence that are suggested and starts to increase their demands and promises is much more likely to act. 

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Why People Become Violent (Part 2)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 22nd Jan)

In last week’s Blog Post, I talked about some of the reasons why people become violent. When a person see’s or believes there is no alternative to achieving their “goal”, which in many cases is undefined, they will often turn to violence as a solution – the lack of a definable goal may in itself may lead them to become violent, as being not sure what it is they are looking to achieve, they use violence as a an insurance policy to make sure whatever goal it is, is covered e.g. a person who has a drink spilt over them in a bar, may not actually understand what assaulting the person responsible will achieve but they do know, certain things will be accomplished, such as punishing the person, re-asserting their social position/dominance etc. If they have found that violence has “worked” for them before, or seen examples of it working for us (such as growing up in a violent neighborhood etc) they are more likely to have violence as a solution on their list of possible responses to certain situations.

People will also become violent, not just when angry (when there is a perceived sense of justification to get physical) but also because of fear. Physiologically and emotionally anger and fear are basically the same thing – both involve becoming adrenalized with the preparation to act physically: either to run, attack or defend. The only thing that differs is a person’s interpretation of their state. If they are angry they see themselves as playing an “attacking” role, if afraid, a “defending” one. Even a cornered rabbit will attack it’s aggressor if it sees no way to disengage and escape, and nervous/fearful dogs are far more likely to snap and bite, than confident more reassured ones. Being fearful/afraid doesn’t lessen a person’s instinct to attack, rather it heightens it. If a person who is afraid sees no alternative to solving the situation except through violent means they will initiate the assault. It doesn’t matter whether a person is angry or afraid, a lack of alternative means to resolving a situation, will cause them to become violent.

Pain and discomfort also increase a person’s propensity to use violent means. Numerous studies have demonstrated this, including ones where it was found that on hot days, people with no air-conditioning in their cars, were far more likely to use their horn and shout at other drivers, than those who could control the temperature of their environment. Crowded clubs, bars and sports matches often involve people bumping and knocking into others. If someone has their foot stepped on in such a situation or finds themselves being elbowed in the ribs etc, their “bite-reflex” may well be triggered.

Dogs have a bite-reflex that can’t be untrained. If a dogs tail gets caught in a door it will snap out at whatever person or animal is nearest (it’s a preservation instinct). Dog Owner’s should train their pets, when puppies, what is acceptable “bite pressure” – I did this with my dog when he was young. The result is that when the dog’s jaw feel’s flesh it releases its grip, so even when its bite reflex is triggered as soon as it feels that it has a person’s arm or hand in its mouth it will release. Humans too have a “bite reflex”, where they lash out at whatever they believe is the cause of their pain and discomfort. If they haven’t been “trained” to seek alternative solutions and feel justified in the use of force, then there will be no brakes in place to stop them acting physically.

Creating space and time, not only gives you the time to prepare and plan for a potential assault, it also gives the person who is preparing or thinking about making an assault the chance to have that process interrupted either by your presentation of alternative solutions and/or by inherent braking mechanisms. There are of course those individuals who have no time or interest in finding alternative means for dealing with disputes and grievances and these should be dealt with in a fast pre-emptive manner.


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Why People Become Violent (Part 1)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 14th Jan)

Reasons for Violence

People become aggressive for a variety of reasons, sometimes simply because they don’t have any positive outlets for that aggression (such as sport, exercise or healthy argument/discussion) and so certain situations give them the excuse/outlet they are looking for, but more oftentimes due to a perceived lack (or loss) of status and esteem, where the person in question sees no alternative methods or ways but violence to rectify this. If an individual believes that they are not being recognized or acknowledged by others, to be seen as they see themselves they may feel forced to demonstrate their significance using violence.

If you knock a drink over somebody in a bar/pub, and this occurs in front of their friends, they will probably feel a myriad of emotions including: humiliation, shame, loss of status etc. If not given a way to subdue these feelings and save face in the situation they may feel/believe that the only way to rectify the way they see themselves being perceived  is to become aggressive and violent i.e. dominate the situation this way. In their mind there is no other alternative.

We are social creatures and social status is extremely important to us. How we are seen by others matters. It is difficult for somebody to back away from what could be perceived as social slight, whether it is real or not. If a person sees no alternatives to solving a problem i.e. regaining their position in the pecking order/social spectrum, other than by using violence they will become violent. If a person hasn’t developed other methods of resolutions, such as by discussion and negotiation etc and they are already “pent up” through having no natural releases for their “natural aggression” (and aggression is an innate part of our behavioral make up), they are more likely to gravitate towards using violence. Often we make the mistake of believing that people act after going through the same decision-making process as ourselves, and by seeing the situation as we see it. Both are false premises to work from.

The same situation can be viewed entirely differently by different players in it. The person who spills a drink over someone understands how the accident happened e.g. they moved to avoid someone and their elbow knocked against a glass on a table. The person who the drink has spilt over, realizes they are wet, their clothes stained and everyone is waiting to see how they act to this injustice. It matters little whether the event was seen as an accident, the audience is waiting to see how everything plays out. In a wolf pack, it matters little if a particular wolf curls up to sleep where another dog normally sleeps by accident etc, they have made a challenge that needs to be answered. Humans are no different – we rise to such challenges.

Whether a person chooses to become violent in such a situation is normally dependent on their belief in their ability to handle themselves in the situation – people become violent because they can. If the person knocking the drink over is 6ft 5 and weighs 320 lbs of pure muscle and the person who has had the drink spilt over them, weighs little more than a photocopy of themselves they are less likely to see physical violence as an option, than if the roles were reversed. Unless, that is, they have something that could equalize such physical inequalities such as a knife or gone. People become violent because they can.

When trying to diffuse potentially violent situations you need to do the following things:

  1. Allow the person to regain their social status
  2. Show them an alternative to physical violence
  3. Demonstrate that they don’t have the ability or means to become violent

This is the beauty of Krav Maga Yashir’s “De-escalation” or “Interview Stance”. Firstly it is non-confrontational. Although an action or behavior could be misinterpreted as challenging e.g. knocking a drink over someone, the body posture adopted immediately afterwards with the hands up in a non-confrontational  manner, demonstrates that this isn’t the case. De-escalation stance is the only stance that you will ever have time to adopt, as it is used in the pre-conflict phase of violence. If you are suddenly assaulted without warning there is no time to adopt any stance.

By creating distance and putting up a “non-confrontational guard” to protect you, you give a potentially violent person the time to question whether they are able to attack you. This moment of hesitation is what allows you the time to show/demonstrate alternatives to violence e.g. offer to buy another drink, pay for dry cleaning etc. Never deny responsibility as it is to reaffirm that what has actually happened is/was a deliberate challenge. Even if what has happened, hasn’t happened e.g. if someone makes the challenge “are you looking at me?” the correct answer is “yes”, qualified by a reason, such as, “I’m sorry I was just spacing out I had a hell of a day at work and I was just lost in my thoughts of whether I’d be fired or not.” You don’t deny the situation but you demonstrate you are anything but a threat. In fact you’re somebody that your aggressor should feel sorry for and if they do start to become aggressive you can always demonstrate your non-victim status by adding, “,which is why I’m in this foul mood and I feel like I’ve nothing else to lose, in fact I just want to kill somebody…” (I’m just kidding on this last part).

The key things in de-escalation spontaneously violent situations are not to deny what has happened, demonstrate and show alternatives to violence, to show you are not a threat whilst at the same time making the person understand that while you accept all of the above you, yourself are not a victim. All this should be done from your de-escalation/interview stance.     

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New Year\'s Resolutions

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 7th Jan)

I started my own business – teaching Krav Maga & Personal Training - because of fear. Many people don’t ever put a dream on the line and start a business because of fear. I know of people who want to quit their job and open a restaurant etc but are afraid to do so in case it fails. Their fear holds them back. I understand this: in any venture you undertake there is always the possibility of failure, as is the possibility of success. However, I have always found that the more things you are in charge of (the more things you take responsibility of – my fear was always having somebody else to be responsible for these things which is why I’ve never enjoyed working for someone else), the more your focus shifts to getting these things done, the less it concentrates on all the things that could go wrong. Taking charge of something immediately shifts your attention away from the obstacles to the goal that you want to achieve. This is the strength of New Year resolutions.

We all make New Year’s Resolutions, whether we admit them publicly or keep themselves to ourselves privately. The strength and power of these resolutions are that we rarely consider failure – the alternative to success. It always seems possible for us to achieve our goals however unrealistic they may be. This is the power of a New Year e.g. despite being sedentary for all of 2012 it seems feasible that we’ll be able to run 3 miles a day, every day, in 2013. This belief creates great power, both for success and for failure. If we don’t take charge we will fail.

For many people, joining a gym or starting a Krav Maga program etc is that first moment of taking charge – this is where they overcome their initial fear. We all know that physical activity “hurts” – we have all had to run, fall over and possibly get hit and we know what the consequences are. Engaging in a Krav Maga program means all of these things, amplified. We’re not stupid – we want to avoid them. There are always more reasons not to train than to train, whether you are a beginner or an old hand. I’m currently making  a big hit on my cardio performance, and there are always a million more reasons to not go to the gym than to go to it. However I want to achieve my goals and so I’m taking charge of them – I’m not giving myself the room or the reason to fail.

One of the most important ways to do this is to establish a routine. If I’m due to attend a training session every other day at a particular time – the more likely I am to do it. If I leave everything “fluid” and just have my mind open to the possibility of training I know it won’t happen – there are a million reasons why it won’t. If I take charge of it and say that I will (at a particular time and place etc), I have no reasons why it won’t. It really is this simple.

This same mental process works/goes hand in hand with dealing with violence. If you have a process/things to take charge off, it will prevent you going from both going into a state of shock/fear as well as questioning everything you have been trained to do e.g. put your hands up, talk to the person , control range etc. If you have something to do you have no excuse in not doing it. Life is always a choice. You can stand there hands down whilst somebody continues to scream and shout at you, you can sit on the couch and talk to yourself about how you need to get fit and lose weight etc, or you can take charge of yourself and give yourself actions (and activities) to complete. It is always better to be engaged in doing these things than simply thinking about them.

Starting my own business was never frightening and nerve racking because I was too busy engaged in doing it. This may seem simplistic however that was always the truth. I never thought about the alternatives but rather took control and became preoccupied with “doing” and “realizing”. One of the reasons I get such a kick about being in the U.S., is that I think this attitude is embodied in the culture. Baseball is the craziest game/idea on the planet. I watch kids continually miss the ball in practice – when learning, and even playing they miss more times than they hit, but they keep going – they are taking charge of what they are doing, so failure doesn’t enter into the process (they have one thing to concentrate on – hitting the ball). If only this attitude could be applied into the “adult” arena, then every New Year’s Resolution could be realized. Accepting the failures is part of taking charge, it’s part of the process. The hard session at the gym/studio, where it feels like you’re going to die, the technique you keep mucking up, it’s part of the process.

This is the year to take charge of your life, to concentrate on achieving something and becoming so focused on that, that failure never enters the equation. Become so focused on hitting the baseball that you forget the times you don’t and believe every opportunity represents a chance for you to do so – this is about taking charge. Whatever goal or aim you have for 2013, this is the way to achieve without letting fear get in the way.         


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