School Shootings (Part 2)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 27th Jan)

In last week’s blog piece, I talked about the broad differences between school shootings in urban settings and those in suburban, and rural ones i.e. urban shootings usually involve one individual targeting another, whereas suburban/rural shootings usually involve two or more shooters who target fellow students and teachers in a seemingly random and indiscriminate manner. The main difference between the two is that in one a particular individual is targeted and in the other the school as an institution is targeted. This means the Pre-Violence Indicators (PVI’s) are very different, and different predictive methods need to be employed in order to identify such shootings (and shooters) before they occur.

The profile of the shooters is very different between those that bring a gun to school to shoot a specific individual, and those that organize a rampage type shooting. Rampage shooters, tend not to appear on the school’s radar as students who are perpetually in trouble, or have major discipline issues. Rampage shooters tend to largely behave themselves as far as normal school rules go – they tend to be talkers rather than actors. In Urban settings, the shooters either are the known protagonists of violence, or the constant/perpetual victims of these protagonists (if it is a shooting between rival gang members then obvious PVI’s – Pre-Violence Indicators – exist).

A Gun is a great equalizer, as it can be fired at a distance where the individual shooting it can remain safe from their target. If used at close range it is a natural intimidator, which few people would attempt to disarm someone of – especially if they don’t believe the person would actually use it (Denial i.e. “This Can’t Be Happening To Me”, is the first response we have when exposed to danger, when we finally come out of this state we are often frozen by fear, and paralyzed to act). School Shootings whether they are aimed to dispatch one particular victim or many, are committed by individuals who want to equalize things. Shootings are committed by individuals who want some form of revenge e.g. for years of bullying, for not being given the social status and recognition that they feel they deserve. In Urban shootings that target a particular individual, there will largely be a single event that triggers their decision to bring a gun to school – normally the next day; in Rampage shootings the plan is normally hatched over a period of time, when an offhand suggestion starts to be considered as a serious option.

People become violent, when they feel they have run out of other options. If a student has been barred from all of the school’s social groups, and feels that they have not been noticed or recognized for who they are bringing a gun to school is a very effective way of gaining attention – and revenge. Unfortunately, most teachers, don’t have the expectation that a student will resort to such violent means, as a school shooting, and so dismiss many of the indications that might suggest a person is heading down this route. This is not to blame any teacher for “missing” the signs because unless you are considering and looking at what the signs may be pointing towards they will not be significant. Many school shooters, expressed their desire to take revenge, and elevate themselves to prominent positions in the school’s social hierarchy through creative writing projects they were given. Just because a student writes a violent essay doesn’t mean they will become a shooter, however if they are lacking a social support structure within the school, and tend to bond with similar individuals whose writing also starts to reflect such thinking and desire, then a teacher should probably take a step back and look at where things might be heading.

High School Teachers are in a very tough position to identify individuals who are deeply troubled yet aren’t really troublesome to be identified through the schools normal disciplinary procedures. Teachers who only see a student for a particular subject will only get a small picture and idea of where a student’s mind is at, and unless there is formal and/or informal communication between teachers, and the dots joined up a complete picture will not be gained.

Most shooters, whether targeting individuals or the school have in their past (or present) suffered some form of bullying. Bullying should not be restricted to merely physical actions, because making up stories about a person, spreading false rumors etc. are also forms of bullying – and ones that unfortunately we often take less seriously. Teachers and students need to play a part in adopting a zero-tolerance approach to these activities, rather than simply telling a victim to smile and ignore their antagonists. Whilst a bulled student may be smiling, they can be burning with rage inside, both at those giving them the ineffectual advice (the teachers representing the school) and at the person(s) doing the bullying.

Creating a safe environment should be the number one priority of any institution, however this often gets overlooked if the events that go on don’t stop the institution as an institution functioning. If a school is able to educate its students then it will see itself as meeting its over-arching goal. Institutions can often get so lost in their primary goal(s) that they fail to recognize potential problems however unlikely, they fail to consider what could happen and so miss the signals. Understanding the potential for violence, however extreme, needs to be considered.     

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School Shootings (Part 1)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 19th Jan)

When we hear the phrase, “school shooting”, our minds nearly always call up “Rampage” incidents such as Columbine etc. where one or more teenagers/children, armed with an assortment of firearms engage in a shooting spree, against fellow students and teachers. There are however other incidents of school shootings, where an individual, brings a firearm to school, with an individual, and specific target in mind i.e. a particular student or teacher. These two different types of school shooting tend to occur in very different social settings, and have very different motivators. This blog article is the first of two pieces looking at school shootings. In this piece I want to look at the different social conditions that surround these two very different types of violence, and next week I want to look at the pre-violence indicators (PVI’s), that can help us to predict such events.

There are big differences between “Rampage” shootings, and “Assassination” type shootings. Assassination style shootings target an individual, Rampage shootings target a group i.e. members of the school. Where an individual is targeted for assassination, the school is really just a common location, which the individuals involved (victim and aggressor) share and interact in. In Rampage shootings the school as an institution is important and significant – this is often true of workplace rampage shootings as well; the company as an institution is targeted, not just the individuals who belong to it.

Understanding that the school as an institution is targeted in Rampage shootings helps to explain why this type of violence tends to occur in rural and suburban communities, rather than in urban ones. In rural/suburban communities the school plays a very significant role in the community, and in some senses tends to define it e.g. the town/community supports the school football and sports team, as a local team, uses the schools facilities for social and community events etc. In urban, city settings there is more overlap between communities and various schools; there are more schools closer together, meaning that children and adults may interact across and between schools e.g. an after-school club/program may contain children from many different schools, not just the one, and children may belong to sports teams and engage in other activities that have little or nothing to do with a particular school. In Urban settings the school tends not to represent a child’s entire social landscape, and/or define their place and role within the community.

A rural community and school can be extremely “Claustrophobic” for certain teenagers and children. If a child/teenager is a star of the school football/sports team than they will be known and enjoy celebrity status throughout that community – everybody will know them. Conversely if a child is seen as a troublemaker or an outcast in a school setting, everybody in the community will know them and define them as this in every other setting. In urban settings, a child can enjoy and have many different roles. At school they may be seen as disruptive, whereas at their after school program they may be seen as productive and attentive; on their sports team they may also enjoy a different relationship with adults in positions of authority as well as their peers, to that which they experience in the school setting. In rural communities a child/teenager who is labelled, carries that label with them in every activity they engage in – the same is not so true in urban settings, where a child can have many labels as well as the opportunity to “reinvent” themselves in different activities/settings.

Another thing which tends to separate Rampage shootings from Assassination style shootings is the length of time spent planning the event. Assassination shootings tend to be more spontaneous in nature, with only a short period of time between making the decision to shoot someone and the actual attempt e.g. there is an argument with a teacher one day, and the next day the student brings in a gun to shoot them. With Rampage shootings, planning the event is an integral part of the process; a primary motivation of many rampage shootings is the shooters demonstrating they are significant and important individuals that the school/community never took the time/effort to recognize as such. In planning a Rampage shooting those involved, get to spend time “enjoying” the justice they are about to inflict, and the fact that nobody knows what they are up to. This is all part of the process of a Rampage shooting. It also marks out another significant difference between Rampage and Assassination type school shootings. Assassination shootings are normally committed by a lone individual, Rampage shootings, though not exclusively, are committed by two or more individuals. Talking about, justifying and planning the event is an extremely significant and important part of the act – this is also one of the things which can sometimes allow us to predict beforehand that a rampage shooting is about to take place; especially if those involved start to lay down heavy hints and disguised threats to their prospective victims.

In next week’s article, I will attempt to enlarge on such predictors (Pre-Violence Indicators), and talk about what the school, the community, the parents and the students should actively look out for and the actions and behaviors they should take seriously in order to help predict the possibility and likelihood of having these different types of violence occur in their schools.         

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Training Partners

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 13th Jan)

The New Year always brings an “interesting” group of students to the school. There are those that have no previous martial arts experience, and then those who believe they have something to show and demonstrate to the people they train with. I continue to train in the martial arts, and my attitude has (and always will be), one where I just want to genuinely learn – I recognize that different systems take a different approach to self-defense and fighting, and that this approach can be valid even if it differs from my own. I have trained with enough organizations/associations in Israel to understand that there is more than one way to skin a cat etc. Different units, have different goals/objectives and train differently to achieve different aims; what makes “Krav Maga”, Krav Maga is that the concepts and principles that the approaches share are common and consistent. The other thing, which is a defining feature in Israel (and in modern military training), is that everyone trains to succeed. It is easy to cause a training partner to fail i.e. you know what they are about to do, and so can easily thwart and prevent them from achieving their objective. Unfortunately, this doesn’t give anyone a lesson in reality, just a lesson in how to deal with a person who knows what you are about to do. If violence/fighting was so predictable nobody would ever overcome anybody.

Whenever I witness people who don’t get it, deliberately obstructing another person’s training opportunity I am always glad that I have had a traditional martial arts upbringing. Judo, relies on a person being taken out of balance – if this doesn’t happen, Judo doesn’t work; it is as simple as that. When you practice Judo, you allow your partner to take you off balance; it isn’t a competition, you recognize that you have to aid/assist your partner in order for them to practice their technique - and succeed. When you spar, you resist and prevent them but in training you give them the “assistance”, that would be naturally provided in a dynamic setting. There is a time to test the effectiveness of what you have learnt, and a time to practice and master that which you are learning. 

It is very easy to detect the individuals who only have a “head” knowledge of violence because they don’t understand the dynamism of movement that is prevalent and a defining feature of real life violence. When they practice they deny it, and refuse to acquiesce to it, and will not allow their training partner to experience it. All fights involve movement, and when movement is added, certain things are possible, and certain things aren't e.g. if I am throwing you, you are not in a position to hit me, as you are out of balance etc. There is a reason that humility is a foundation stone of the martial arts – it exists to allow an open and realistic training experience, between practitioners who have to admit that training is not a complete reflection of real-life, and that real-life can never be truly replicated in training.

When/as you train with someone, whether new or experienced, understand that part of your job is to play a “role”. If you are training a throw or takedown, you will have to act and behave in the way that someone attacking another, where such a technique/defense would be appropriate, would behave, by committing their weight and momentum to the attack etc. It is easy, but unrealistic, to throw punches where the body’s weight doesn’t move forward, just as it is easy to stiffen the arm of a hand holding a gun or a knife – all unrealistic responses, but ones that any person can make if they want to prevent somebody from enjoying a training experience.

We can’t prevent people behaving as idiots,even if in their world they believe they are adding to everybody's actual expereience (anyone who steps on to the mats, should be open to learning), however well “supposedly” trained they are in other systems. However we can make sure that we don’t emulate them in our own training. All Krav Maga systems talk about “Open” and “Closed” drills and we should make sure that our behaviors, actions and responses in training are appropriate to each. In a Closed drill there is a defined outcome and both partners should work to achive that, in an open drill there is no defined outcome and so there is much more of an anything goes approach to this style of training. There are times to let your partner achieve and times times to make them work to get a result – make sure you have the maturity and the training to recognize and understand both.          

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Multiple Assailants

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 5th Jan)

One of the first assumptions I used to make when working door security, was that the longer an aggressive or violent incident went on the more likely I was to be dealing with more than one aggressors or attackers. Most people visit pubs and clubs as part of a group, and so the chances are that when you have to deal with one individual, you end up having to deal with the group; you also have the added issue of the person you are dealing with having to act in a way that is consistent with how he/she believes the group think they should – I have dealt with people who were quite reasonable till their friends arrived on the scene and they felt they had a duty to perform to their new audience. In most situations if there were enough people working the door, you would attempt to separate the individual from the group so you could talk to them in a more private manner and allow them to follow their own initiative rather than having them feel the pressure of having to play a role, or act in a way that pleased the group. Being able to de-escalate a situation involving potential multiple assailants is preferable to having to deal with them physically – in any fight you should accept the possibility of getting hit as no blocking system is perfect, in ones involving more than one attacker you should expect to get hit.

At the earliest stages of an altercation you should attempt to line your assailants up; that is you should put one attacker between you and the other(s), so you only have to deal with one person. If you are still in the pre-conflict phase, where the confrontation is a verbally aggressive one and nothing physical has happened, the person you are dealing with will have their back to their friends. This prevents them getting any “feedback” from the group, as to how they should act, and can give them a feeling of isolation; that they are on their own. Some people are comfortable being in this position, at the head of the group, most are not. If the person you are dealing with seems confident at the front, then you are probably dealing with the group’s natural leader. If the person appears unsure and hesitant then they are not. Being able to identify who will be the “active” participants in a fight is key to surviving multiple attacker scenarios; there will always be some individuals in the group who don’t want to fight, and these individuals should be placed lower on the list of people you may have to deal with.

If you believe a physical conflict is inevitable act pre-emptively; it is far better to reduce the number of assailants early and send a clear message that you are more prepared, and more ready to fight than the group. This may aid in lowering the number of “active” participants, as those who may have been on the fringes of getting involved may back away when they see a clear demonstration of violence, and realize that they too could get hurt. If you can get yourself something to use as a weapon do so. Showing your level of intent is key in dealing with groups. People rarely get taken out of fights due to injury and the inability to fight, the majority take themselves away from the fight because they are emotionally unprepared for it e.g. the pain they receive is so unexpected they back away. If you can demonstrate to the group that if members get involve they will get hurt, you will have a large number who will not be keen to get involved. Biting somebody’s nose and holding on will give a good demonstration to the group about where your mind is at, and a good deterrent to them getting involved.

There are always some people who will get involved. In most instances these are the ones who you should concentrate your efforts on, and preferably one at a time (this is where the skill of lining attackers up comes in). The longer a fight continues the more likely you are to tire and become overwhelmed, and the more likely it is that those who were on the periphery of getting involved feel compelled to join in. The quicker you can dispatch the key players, the less likely this is to happen. Because you don’t have a lot of time to deal with each assailant, strikes should be concentrated to vulnerable areas, such as the groin and eyes where a poor strike can have maximum impact, or to using tools such as knees and elbows, which are most likely to deliver maximum pain and damage. Your most basic “catch all” goal should be to take out one assailant at a time, starting with the most active – the one who wants to get involved the most. You will have to fight this person anyway, so it is best to deal with them first if you can (this may not be possible due to your relative body positioning with the rest of the group but this should be your basic strategy). In any fight, to survive, you have to become the attacker, and whilst you have to defend, you must demonstrate to the group that it is you attacking them not the other way round.

A fight is a dynamic thing, and should always involve movement. In multiple assailant scenarios, you should be constantly moving and fighting, lining up assailants, taking each one out in turn (rather than simply sharing your violence equally between them), and looking to use the environment to your advantage. Training to deal with multiple assailants should be a skill introduced from day one, and more importantly one which is taught in Kids and Teens self-defense classes, as these individuals are more susceptible to group aggression and violence, in the form of gangs and bullying.        

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