Fear As Context

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 15th Jan)

Fear As Context

Fear is an emotion (not a feeling), and it provides us with the context for understanding what is happening in our environment. Recognizing this is key to understanding how Situational Awareness works in real-life situations. Awareness isn’t by default a conscious process; it can’t be. Consciously, we can only focus on one thing at a time – our brain in this mode can’t multi-task - and this is the very opposite of “awareness”, which requires us to be able to keep track of the many different things that may be happening in our environment. Our subconscious processes work faster than our conscious ones, so even when we think we have “consciously” recognized/picked up on a warning sign, our subconscious processes have beaten us to it – they process the information quicker than we can process it rationally, because they don’t rely on having all of the information before they move into action e.g. if you are walking through the woods and you step on something that moves (hidden beneath leaves etc.), you will probably involuntarily jump back because your subconscious fear system will take over and move you to safety; just in case what you stepped on was a snake or a piece of unstable ground that would have caused you to fall, etc. It won’t wait to identify what the precise danger/threat is (to have complete information), and may even react to something that isn’t harmful e.g. a broken branch you stepped on. What your fear system has done is given you a context, in which to understand your situation: leaving you to now rationally make sense of that situation.

When I teach people about “warning signs” that indicate somebody is planning to assault you, there is often a confusion, that I am suggesting that these are things people should be actively looking out for and trying to identify and pick up on. In certain situations, it may be the case that you do need to actively up your awareness, such as when you are walking in a bad part of town late at night (something you shouldn’t plan to do, but may be unavoidable; you may live there, for example), but for the most part we shouldn’t be walking around in a heightened state of awareness, as this will distract us from the things that we need to do on an everyday basis. We should allow our fear system to do this for us.

If I take two warning signs that can indicate the possibility of danger, such as “Target Glancing” and “Scanning”, it can be found that people will do these things for none nefarious reasons, as well as nefarious ones.

Target Glancing, involves somebody, repeatedly glancing at their target (this can be things/resources as well as people – a pickpocket looking to take a purse or wallet will not stare at it, as this would possibly draw attention to their intention, but will check it with a glance, and then looking away, repeating this process till they are ready to take it), often from different positions. Scanning, involves a person repeatedly looking around them, to check their environment – when it is done by a criminal, it may be to check for the presence of law-enforcement/security, if there are CCTV cameras around and where the blind spots may be, and to make sure their escape routes after committing the crime are clear and accessible etc. There are however a multitude of honest reasons why somebody may scan and target glance. A father out shopping with his child will scan to keep sight of them. If a person thinks they recognize somebody, but is not sure, they will probably keep glancing at them. None of these things in such a context, indicate harmful intent, however if your fear system, changes your emotional state, by adrenalizing you, these behaviors and actions, should be identified for what they are: warning signs. Your fear, has given them a context in which they should be understood. Your conscious recognition of these warning signs, haven’t alerted you to danger, they are helping you identify – and confirm - what the danger is. Fear is the context, that changes an otherwise innocent behavior, into a warning signal.

One of the ideas/concepts that I teach is the Dynamic Risk Assessment (DRA). When you are alerted to the presence of danger, within your environment, you need to make an assessment of it, and this assessment is based on the warning signals that you can pick up on – if you pick up on any, it is a “High Risk” situation, if you can’t pick up on any, it is an “Unknown Risk” situation (your fear system picked up on something, so if you can’t recognize/identify it, it remains an unknown stimuli, which you must continue to search for and investigate). There is no such thing as a “Low Risk” situation; if risk exists, it should in these situations always be categorized as “High”, that way it is never denied or discounted. If you hear loud bangs, in an office building you work in, and become adrenalized, they must be interpreted in your “new” emotional state, in the context of fear i.e. as gun shots. Unfortunately, in many active shooter/killer contexts, these warning sounds are not interpreted within the context of fear, and are explained away as somebody letting off fire-crackers, etc. If your fear system adrenalizes you, and you pick up on somebody’s footsteps behind you, they must be interpreted from your new emotional context; as a warning sign that should be investigated and evaluated, rather than as something that should simply be explained away.           

In the 1880’s, the psychologist William James, changed the way we understand fear. It used to be thought, that we saw a threat, became afraid, and then responded to it, or as in James’ analogy we’d, “see a bear, fear it and run”. James came to the conclusion, that this wasn’t the correct order of events, and that in fact we’d, “see a bear and run”, and as/because we were running we’d consequently fear the bear. Or, to put it another way, we’d understand our situation i.e. our emotional state (fear) gave us the context to understand what was happening to us. In the case of a wild bear, the danger is evident, when dealing with human predators the warning signs of a threat may be more subtle, however many of these warning signs can easily be explained away e.g. the person we identify to be walking behind/gaining on us is simply in a hurry or is trying to catch up with us because we have dropped/left something etc. Without the context of fear, this is the correct way to interpret such things, but when in a state of fear, they should be treated as warning signals – even if there is a chance that our subconscious processes have alerted us using incomplete information. We don’t have to be always actively looking for danger, but when our fear system is triggered, everything should be interpreted within this context.  

Share on Facebook

Finding Your Way

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 8th Jan)

Finding Your Way

I’ve been practicing martial arts since I was 8 years old, and for as long as I can remember I have been interested and fascinated by them. My philosophy, even as a reality-based self-defense practitioner and instructor, remains a largely “martial arts” one: that we each have our own individual journey and way, and that nobody has the right to dictate to you that their way, has to be yours e.g. if you want to cross-train your Krav Maga with Karate, BJJ, Muay Thai, Judo, etc. that is your way, and nobody can tell you that you are wrong to do so. If you are with one Krav Maga organization, and want to train with an instructor from another, this is your way, and nobody can tell you that you shouldn’t. At the same time, if you want to only train with your instructor, and your organization, that is fine as well. Nobody can tell you that your way/journey is wrong. We are all different, and have different needs that we must meet. I have had students who wanted to compete in combat sports, because they had to know, that they were able to do so, and would be capable of being successful in that environment – I never tried to talk them out of this, nor would I confirm that it was necessary for them to do this as part of their self-defense training; they get to decide what is right for them. When you stand, facing a committed aggressor, in a real-life confrontation, who is looking to take you apart, the fewer doubts you have about your skills, abilities and competencies the better, and if competing/cross-training helps you remove some questions you have about this, who can criticize?

I don’t see it as a short-falling in the system/method/approach I teach, nor my abilities as an instructor, when someone leaves my school, rather I see it as part of that person’s journey, and whilst I may be able to explain to them from a technical perspective why the system I teach doesn’t require such cross-training/competing, I recognize that from their personal perspective it does. This idea of training being a journey, has largely been lost in the reality-based self-defense community, with some instructors arguing that their way/system is the only way, and anyone who follows a different path to them is at worst doomed, or at best wasting their time. Unfortunately, this system over individual approach, is detrimental to both a student’s progression and their ability to deal with real-life situations. When a student is confronted with a real-life situation, it is them, not the system, that is put on the line, and it is them, not the system, that will have to live with the consequences of their actions, regardless of whether they are successful in defending themselves and surviving the incident. Hopefully, their training has prepared them, and the techniques they know will improve their chances of dealing with the confrontation appropriately, but ultimately it is them, who will have to act.

I was once attacked by two people, one of whom had a knife, and attempted to shank me. Instead of making a 360 Block, I ended up grabbing the arm, blocking with my thumbs (not something I teach or recommend). It was something that I did in the moment – and there are times, due to the various components/factors in a situation, that the “wrong” thing will work, however this doesn’t mean it should be adopted as a universal solution. My background is in Judo, so I’m used to grabbing at things, and I have a pretty good grip. In that moment it was my “way” that saved me, not the system of Krav Maga that I’d learnt. Had I not had those years on the mat and those skills as a Judoka, maybe I wouldn’t have stopped the knife. If I hadn’t those experiences, maybe I would have made a 360-block. At the end of the day, nobody knows and nobody can say, but what is indisputable is that I – not a system - stopped the knife. When I explained what had happened to me to the head instructor of the Krav Maga association I was with at the time, to try and gain a better understanding of the way in which I’d reacted, I was told all the reasons why what I had done was wrong, and what I should have done instead (something I was already aware of as an instructor in that system). The attitude was that, the system was more important than what had occurred, and that in some way I’d disrespected the system by implementing a “different” solution to the one it taught and advocated. For the record, I still teach the solution that I was taught as an instructor in this Krav Maga system, and not to grab the knife arm with two hands, but it was clear to me that all of us training in the association were meant to only be cookie cutter replicas, of the “ideal” practitioner that the association aspired to. It is this rigidity that is dangerous for the individual, who must be allowed when necessary to respond as fits the situation, in that moment, rather than trying to fit the system to it.

The real danger in the promotion of the system over the individual, is that students can come to believe that simply turning up and practicing whatever system it is, is enough; in the same way that people believe that it is enough to turn up at the gym, move about the weight machines for 45 minutes, in order for them to get stronger and more powerful. The system, over the individual, approach means that those performing a gun disarm put their faith in the system and not their own abilities, something that will do them little good when dealing with a real-life scenario. When a student steps out onto the mats to train, it is their attitude, their work-rate, their effort and commitment which will yield the rewards; there are no medals or prizes for simply turning up, or selecting the most battle-tested, proven and effective system, known to man; it is the individual’s practice and application that will get it to work when crunch time arrives. I’ll put my money on a traditional Karateka, who trains with blood, sweat and tears and who has never trained a gun disarm before in their life to deal with such an armed assailant, than a Krav Maga practitioner (who knows an effective solution), from a legitimate system, who approaches their training from the perspective of, “it’s enough to just turn up”. Krav Maga should not be simply a system, it should be part of an individual’s journey; something that they make their “way”. It is something for them to adopt and personalize, not merely replicate.

This is the student’s responsibility, not the instructor’s. Sometimes as instructors we must lose a student, because they find their “way”, which doesn’t involve us – often from my experience they come back, not because they were “wrong” to leave, but because it was, what they needed to do at that time, and now that time has passed – sometimes, we must accept that they want to “extend” their training, by training in another system, or with another instructor, etc. It might be that the training they engage in, is unnecessary, or even undertaken mistakenly, but if it adds to their journey – as all experiences should – then it has served a purpose that is beyond our judgment. 


Share on Facebook

Roles and Relationships in Multiple Assailant Scenarios

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 2nd Jan)

Roles and Relationships in Multiple Assailant Scenarios

Often when we look at the issues, problems, and complexities of multiple assailant scenarios, we look at such incidents from our own perspective, rather than from that of the group that we are facing. This is both natural, and understandable. However, if we can understand the dynamics of the group, the relationships between its members, and the different roles they may play/adopt, we may be able to enhance and improve our tactical responses to such scenarios. Whilst our physical tactics, might tell us to operate in one way, our “social tactics” may suggest a better and more effective way. It is important when looking at fighting concepts and principles for dealing with multiple attackers - such as lining attackers up, moving to the group’s flanks, etc. - that we don’t just blindly apply them, but fit them into the context of the situation we are dealing with; sometimes we can find that doing the “right” thing, is in fact wrong, because of the situational components present in the conflict. Every situation is different, and principles should guide our responses rather than define them. In real-life situations, many principles are heuristics (rules of thumb), rather than hard-and-fast rules.

Just as with one-on-one situations, the first question you must ask yourself, is whether this is a premeditated conflict, or one that has occurred spontaneously i.e. did the group plan the incident, or did they become involved organically, because of something you said or did, to one of its members e.g. such as knocking into one of them, inadvertently looking at them for too long, etc.? There is a big difference between a group, that is actively working together, and who has planned and orchestrated their interaction with you, and a group that forms around one of its members after an injustice, real or perceived, has been committed against them. In a premeditated multiple assailant confrontation, group members have likely been assigned roles, and are working to some form of script. In a spontaneous incident, members are working individually and to their own agendas/understanding of the situation. If the group has a collective experience of violence, informal roles may be adopted by members, based on past events e.g. the group may know who the fighters and aggressors are amongst them, who will do the talking and who will stay quiet, etc.

In a truly spontaneous situation, it should be the “wronged” party who will do the majority of the talking - if another member of the group takes up their cause, and they step back, there is the strong possibility that the group has been in this type of situation before and are working to an informal script (or even a ritual if this type of incident has occurred repeatedly), which sees one member adopt the role of the primary assailant. In a premeditated situation, the person doing the majority of the talking may not be the primary aggressor, and instead be a decoy who is there to draw your attention away from them, as they position and ready themselves to initiate the attack – that will see the rest of the group follow. In a few situations, such pre-conflict phases may be less defined, and you may find yourself having to physically defend yourself from an angry mob/gang who attacks you with little/no warning, however these types of assault are not the norm, and in most incidents any physical attack will be preceded by some form of dialogue. Being able to differentiate between someone playing the role of the “trigger”, and the primary assailant, is key to surviving such multiple attacker scenarios.

It is generally advisable to try to “target” the primary assailant, as they are the one who will want to be involved in the actual “conflict” phase of the fight, with other members being more reluctant to get involved. Trying to nullify this individual first, is often the best strategy, even if they may be in a position that would compromise a “physical strategy”, such as remaining in a central position, where you wouldn’t be able to line up other attackers behind them, and/or move/position yourself on the flanks of the groups. Just as Russian Snipers in Stalingrad during WWII, were taught to take out German Officers, because it would reduce the leadership capabilities of the German Army and offensive, taking out the primary assailant in a group will do much the same thing with the group. Not every member of the group has the same role or capabilities, and removing the primary assailant deprives the group of its most important asset.  

It is unlikely that every member of a group is committed to violence, in the same way, and at the same level, as each other – this doesn’t mean that they aren’t still capable of extreme forms of violence (in the murder of Jamie Bulger, although both Venables and Thompson committed atrocious and despicable acts, it was Thompson who appeared as the accomplice rather than the driving force i.e. although both were able to commit torturous acts, it was Venables that displayed more of the appetite to do so – the torture and murder of Jamie Bulger by two ten years-old boys, should act as a reminder that children can commit extremely heinous criminal acts, and whose creativity and need to examine and explore the boundaries of human pain and suffering, can rival that of an adult) but that they may be reluctant to act, unless somebody else initiates the attack. I have seen, on several occasions, members of groups hang back, unwilling to get involved, until the individual being targeted is unable to fight back, and at that point they become some of the most enthusiastic participants – social diffusion reduces their individual responsibilities/culpabilities and frees them to act in a more extreme form than they would if they were on their own. If the primary assailant can quickly be shown to be vulnerable, susceptible to pain, and their abilities called into question, such individuals may find themselves less committed to the assault. By pre-emptively biting the nose, ripping the eyes from a primary assailant’s face, a strong message of deterrence can be shown/demonstrated to others in the group.   

These individuals have a relationship with the primary aggressor, and whilst their role may be to support them during an assault, it is certainly not to replace them as the major attacker. Groups have hierarchies, and individuals adopt roles within those hierarchies. Most violent acts by groups, should reinforce, not question or challenge, those roles, or positions – unless there are those in the hierarchy who want to challenge those above them, etc. - something which is more prevalent in premeditated incidents of violence than in spontaneous ones.  

It would be dangerous to fall into the trap of believing that all participants in a group, engaged in a violent act, have the same motivations, the same levels of aggression/commitment, and want the same outcomes. Assailants are not toy soldiers, that you can position, lay out, and treat as equals. To do so is reducing each attacker to merely be person1, person2, person3, etc., when in truth person2 and person3 may have no desire to be involved in the fight. When a Field Marshall lays out his battle plan against an enemy, it is not just their regiments’ numbers and resources that are considered, but also their reputation, commitment, and resolve, etc. Our approach to dealing with multiple assailant situations should be the same; that we recognize each individual in the group for who they are, and devise our strategy for dealing with them accordingly. 

Share on Facebook