Martial Arts & The Movies

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 25th Jan)

This week, I had the pleasure of training a group of UK Journalists who had come over to Boston in order to promote the release of the film, “The Equalizer” – for those who don’t know, or haven’t seen the movie, its set in Boston. As part of their trip, which involved going to various set locations etc. we provided them with some Krav Maga training, demonstrating how real-life violence differs from cinematic violence, as well as some of the similarities. In this blog article I will lay out some of the points we discussed and covered in these sessions.

Firstly the point of a movie is to entertain, and when looking at any fight scene, this has to be remembered above all else. In an action movie, such as the Equalizer, the fight scenes will be a relatively large part of the film, meaning that the fights will have to last for several minutes, rather than seconds. In real-life confrontations, fights can typically be counted in seconds rather than minutes – something which also makes real-life violence very different to combat sports, such as MMA, where for entertainment purposes, fighters are matched by weight etc. and rules set to allow the possibility of the fight continuing for a decent length of time. Movies and Combat Sports are forms of entertainment and if the fights only lasted a few seconds, like they tend to in reality, nobody would be interested in watching them for very long.

When we consider that the purpose of a film, is to entertain, we must accept that real-life may have to be adapted to fit the camera work. A good example of this are shots where a person is standing holding their gun close to their face – this type of shot was first done in the 1930’s as a way of getting the actor’s face and the fact that they had a weapon in a close-up shot. Even an untrained individual wouldn’t hold a gun like this, however it works well cinematically. This often means that in movies, techniques such as disarms are miniaturized, with a lot of the real-life larger movements that are necessary to make a technique work, so that everything remains in the one frame. What this can result in, is that real-life effective techniques make their way on to set, but are then altered, by removing their larger movements so that the camera doesn’t have to keep moving, to keep up with what is going on.

In a fight scene, you want to see techniques; this means adequate space and distance must be kept between those fighting. I can’t think of an action movie, where I’ve seen two individuals end up crashing into each other, wrapped in a clinch, where their hands can’t be seen. In a choreographed fight scene, the fight needs to be kept “clean” to a certain extent, where punches and kicks can be seen to be thrown etc. I remember talking to a Cable TV Sports Director, who had come to cover the UK Judo Nationals, for his channel. They filmed for two days of the tournament, and at the end I asked him if he had enough footage to do an hour show or something similar. He told me he had at max 15 minutes worth of footage, maybe less; all they’d been trying to capture, were the big spectacular throws, none of the smaller trips and sweeps etc. If it wasn’t a clean throw, they weren’t interested – they were in the business of entertainment, they didn’t want to show the scrappy, unclear moments, which are a large part of a Judo match, and it is the same with the movies. The actual scuffles, and clinches of real-life fights don’t have a place in action films, they’re just too messy, and unclear for an audience to make sense of.

There are areas of the movies that we could learn from as practitioners of reality based self-defense systems. Two areas in which we would do well to replicate the movies in, is the use of the environment and improvised weapons. In many action movies, it is not uncommon to see people being thrown into walls, having their heads hit off tables etc. For those of us who don’t do some form of scenario based training, and limit ourselves to the mats, we may become blind to the opportunities that the environment allows. Your fist is a much weaker striking surface to a wall, or the hood of your car, and it makes more sense to use these to cause impact if they are available in your environment. If you have to fight, you should look to arm yourself; lose any idea of a noble and equal fight where you and another adversary fight it out on even terms – the movies have it right in this regard, your attacker will always have the advantage, and the odds will be against you. Arming yourself should be one of your goals, whether it is before or during the fight. Understanding how to improvise weapons is a real-life combat skill you should learn to acquire.

Enjoy an action movie for what it is, and don’t get caught up questioning techniques etc. They are there to entertain – and much of what you will see, comes from the real-world, it’s just been adapted and modified so it is clear and understandable within the frame of a shot. At the same time take away some of the ideas, such as use of the environment, improvised weapons and the use of dialogue - don’t copy movie lines and apply them to real-life scenarios, but understand that most physical confrontations are preceded by some form of interview or verbal altercation. Every experience can be an education for us, if we accept it for what it is.    

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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 18th Jan)

Criminals choose their particular crimes for a variety of reasons e.g. a mugger needs quick cash and isn’t afraid of confrontation, the pickpocket also needs quick cash but wants to avoid any confrontation, shoplifters usually steal to order and have the promise of cash and believe there is less of a chance of getting caught or being confronted that pick pocketing or mugging etc. Mugging, pick-pocketing and shop lifting are generally low-level crimes committed by people looking to make quick but relatively small sums of money, that probably goes towards supporting a drug habit. Burglars are regarded somewhat higher on the criminal pecking order, and will look to gain more financially than the previously listed predators, however they will have to know somebody who can fence the goods for them, be prepared to haggle over the price they receive for their stolen goods and possibly wait for a time after the burglary to receive cash for their products – this might mean that they need to be able to store them for a period of time e.g. till they can set up the meeting with their fence and/or ensure they get the right price for the items that have been stolen. This tells you something about the character of the average burglar e.g. they are organized, tapped into the criminal network, are generally non-confrontational, and are able to delay gratification (unlike a mugger, committing street robberies to support a drug habit, who needs money immediately).

Most burglars select their targets on a more casual basis than other predators, in that rather than actively looking to select homes, they tend to notice things that draw their attention, as they go about their day-to-day business. A burglar will be very well aware, of your movements, even when you are not. They will notice things such as the times of day, when your driveway is free of any cars – a good indication that nobody is home; occupancy being the most common deterrent for burglars, with dogs coming in as a close second – even if you don’t have a dog, putting a water bowl out on your front porch may act as an adequate deterrent. Most burglaries happen during the day, when the homeowners are out at work, creating the appearance of occupancy is a good way to get a burglar to move on to the next property on their list (most burglars will line up 3 or 4 different houses, and move on from their first choice if the conditions don’t look favorable). Simple things which give an appearance of occupancy can be TV’s and radios playing in different rooms of the house – if you come home late (a fact known by the absence of a car on your driveway), using timers to switch on lights can give the illusion of somebody being home.

Every window and door is a potential entry point for a criminal, and if those entry points are obscured by hedging and or fencing, so that they are not in anybody’s potential sight lines then a burglar will be able to gain access through them unseen – a car on your driveway, may also prevent neighbors and passers-by from observing somebody trying to break into your home. If you can try and get all the access points to your home visible to others then you will go a long way to avoiding being targeted. Be aware that access points that don’t lead directly into your house, such as basement and garage doors, are also access points – if somebody can get into your basement then they will be unobserved as they attempt to get into your actual house (this might be made easier if you don’t look the doors adjoining your basement and/or garage etc.)

Do not think that burglars are simply attracted to well-kept and well maintained properties, they will also target properties that look run down, and are shabby, with peeling paintwork, and overgrown and cluttered yards – one reason for this is that they may assume that somebody who has let their house get into such a state has little sense of self-worth and respect, and will therefore be an easier person to deal with if they disturb them as they go about their business.

Another thing to be aware of, is that if you are burgled you may likely be burgled again, several weeks later. A burglar will know that you will replace the goods they stole – with similar or better – and will know roughly how long the insurance company will take to pay out. Many people will not improve their security in the interim and find themselves burgled again. If your house has been targeted once, assume it will be again, and do something to improve its security weaknesses. Your house doesn’t have to be a fortress it just needs to be a harder target than next door.


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Terrorist Attacks, Workplace Violence & Evacuation Strategies

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 11th Jan)

I was asked a question at a book signing last night, “Could anybody in the Charlie Hebdo Offices have done anything against the terrorists, who went on a rampage shooting?” For those who are unaware, Islamic Extremists, murdered 12 workers at the satirical publications office in Paris, in “revenge” for publishing unflattering depictions of the prophet Muhammad. Without turning this blog into an article on terrorism and Islamic extremism, I would urge a note of caution to those people who suggest that if the news agencies and magazines etc. would stop publishing articles that extremists find offensive, such attacks would stop; ISIL/ISIS in the middle east, has been killing innocents who have done nothing overtly offensive towards them, other than existing e.g. they tried to wipe out the Yazidi community, simply because they were offensive to their world view, rather than because of anything they had actually done. You don’t have to do anything to enrage Islamic Extremists, and put yourself at risk, you just have to be a member of a group whose existence they deem as unacceptable i.e. non Islamic Extremists. Neville Chamberlain, declared that he had secured “peace in our time”, when he negotiated and gave in to Hitler’s demands, yet he was dealing with an individual who had a particular world view that he was working to, and such acquiescence was seen as capitulation and weakness – and at the end of the day irrelevant to the goals that Hitler was working to. Not publishing cartoons and articles that extremists will take offense at, will not stop them from being extremists, or from targeting other groups of innocents whose existence they take offense at.

The first thing to note about acts of terrorism, is that they are almost impossible to exactly predict. A worker going into the Charlie Hebdo offices that day, had no ability to predict that, a terrorist attack would occur that day, just as anyone going to work in the twin towers on 9/11, was able to predict that two planes would crash into their workplace. Violence that is directed towards groups, rather than individuals, is largely unpredictable – the only people who might have any knowledge concerning the timing of such an attack are the security forces, and in most cases they have a rough idea of the time period rather than any exact information.

In November 2011 the offices at Charlie Hebdo were firebombed, the day after it named the Prophet Muhammad its editor-in-chief, in a satirical gesture. The attack was fairly unsophisticated – a single Molotov Cocktail/petrol bomb, that was thrown through the window – though extremely destructive. This may have well convinced those who worked on the paper that their greatest threat was from disgruntled individuals working alone, rather than from actual terrorist groups. No one was hurt in the incident, and this may have given people the impression that such an attack represented the worst that could have happened to them, rather than imagining something more serious. At the very least it should have identified to those working there that they had appeared on somebody or some group’s radar. It is human nature to move on and forget rather than dwell on what might have happened. It is easy to quickly discount and dismiss the out of the ordinary events and occurrences in our own lives, such as the garage door that has obviously been tried, the strange interaction with somebody who called at our house etc. without recognizing that our house is being targeted for a burglary – maybe not in the next few weeks, but somebody has identified it as a potential target (and if one person has, others may have done so as well).

You increase your survival options drastically if you accept that you are at risk in your workplace. The 9/11 inquiry demonstrated that those individuals who had practiced evacuating their offices in the event of a fire i.e. had practiced fire drills, were more likely to have left their desks, and started making their way to the ground, than those who had yet to take part in such a drill. Knowing when and how to evacuate the building you work in, regardless of the nature of the threat you face, will mean that you will be more decisive, act quicker, and stand a better chance of getting out of a dangerous environment than if you’ve never practiced or worked through such an evacuation. Whatever environment you are in, whether it is your workplace, a shopping mall, or transit station you frequent, understand the different routes you could take to exit it. Try and have multiple routes available to you. Disengagement at the first opportunity may be what saves you; accepting that your workplace can be an “at risk” environment (even if it has no history of fire, terrorism and violence etc.) is a positive step to take. It is better to trust in evacuation than firepower, as the guy with the bigger gun usually wins – dealing with offensive automatic firepower from a long barreled weapon, whilst using a handgun defensively, does not put you at good odds; knowing how to take cover, hide your exit route and escape, is much more likely to be a successful option.

Are you at risk in your workplace? Yes. It may be more likely from fire rather than from a terrorist attack, or a disgruntled worker who has “gone postal”, but the risk remains. Disengagement rather than engagement is a far better strategy to take, and is a solution to more than just one type of threat/danger. Were such options available to the workers in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, that I don’t know (and in truth under high stress and duress would anybody be expected to follow such a course of action? Probably not) however one thing we can do in our own environments is to plan methods and ways to exit our buildings, so in the event of an assault or similar we have a plan to get out.      

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Dirty Fighting - Eye Gouges, Biting and Spitting

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 4th Jan)

There are no such thing, as a dirty fight. The fact that another individual has forced you to have to engage in a physical confrontation, is a dirty thing, which gives you carte blanche, to deal with them in any way that ensures your survival – every target is game e.g. eyes, throat, groin, hair etc. and every tool or weapon is acceptable, whether it’s the bottle you’ve picked off the floor, or your teeth. The more destructive you are, the better; your job is to convince the person you are dealing with that they’re unable to do to you whatever it was they wanted to do e.g. rape, sexually assault you or punch you to unconsciousness. I was once questioned in class, as to whether when I put my thumbs in another person’s eyes, I push just “enough” to cause them to release their hold/grip of me. In a real-life confrontation, judging what is just enough isn’t feasible (many people get confused with the legal ins and outs of this – at the end of the day what happens in reality is very different to what gets debated at leisure in a court of law), you have to work to the limit/extreme – spitting, eye gouging and biting are all efficient and effective tools to use, and you need to have them in your arsenal.

I used to occasionally teach (on behalf of another instructor) a group of Polish doormen, who were a very tough set of guys, who had good solid martial arts backgrounds, and were also gym nuts who weighed in at around 250 lbs of solid muscle. In one session, one of them grabbed me in a bear hug, and just held me. His grip was so tight that I couldn’t even move my hands to strike his groin – if you are a practitioner who believes that is always possible to reach the groin, eyes or other vulnerable spot etc. whilst this is more often or not the case, it is not always (also if the crotch of the jeans is hanging low, striking the groin isn’t always effective). My only attacking option, was to bite him; as soon as my teeth closed on his chest, his grip released. Most people’s default response to being bitten is to try and pull away. In terms of creating space, biting is one of the fastest ways to achieve this end. It also sends a clear message to your attacker(s) of where your head is and what you are prepared to do – and if it is more low down and dirty, than what they were prepared to do, or what they thought the fight would look like, you’ve just scored a great psychological blow.

In the dojo or training environment, we often train not to be “that guy”; our goal is not to cause pain with every grab and touch we make – if we are training many repetitions of the technique we don’t want to injure our training partner (and this is a good thing – if every time we practice a technique our partner gets hurt, they will start altering the way they “attack”, in order to protect themselves, and their attack will soon be unrealistic). However in reality, every time we touch somebody we should be causing them pain; we should be that guy who drags the elbow across our face when we’re on the ground, we should be the person who throws in the liver shots when we’re in the clinch, we should be grabbing and ripping flesh, and raking the eyes at every opportunity. We should look at how we can make our studio techniques dirtier and rougher; in training when I bridge somebody from mount, I push there ribcage, on the street I garb their love handles, and try to rip their flesh from them as I bridge etc. My escape from this position, is not just an escape it’s an opportunity to cause pain.

You should also look to train when somebody is causing you pain and discomfort (not every session – but it should be part of your training). If you don’t practice gun disarming, when somebody is striking you with the gun as they make their threat, jabbing it into your forehead, you may find yourself being unable to perform your standard disarms if this occurs in a real-life situation. Just as you should think about, your “dirty” fighting options, you should be prepared to deal with an aggressor who’s handling the situation in the same way.

As you train such “dirty fighting” techniques, don’t become solely reliant on them – there will always be a pain resistant assailant who simply doesn’t care – you still need to develop solid fighting skills, abilities, and attributes that will enable you to deal with those attackers who don’t respond to your thumbs in their eyes etc. The Krav Maga and Reality Based Self Defense community is full of instructors and students who believe groin strikes are a silver bullet, they are generally effective, but there are times when they aren’t; if the only solution you have to escape a hold or control is based on pain, then recognize you might find yourself in a situation, where your technique/solution is not effective. If you already have an effective solution and add pain to it, then you have a much better chance of success.       

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