Responding To Media Reports of Violence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 27th Jul)

Whenever there is an extreme and violent incident, which the media picks upon and runs with, such as the abduction and murder of Amy Lord, members of the public who haven’t considered issues of personal safety before start to wonder what they can do to make themselves safe and avoid becoming the victim of the same or a similar crime - it is worth noting that there are many incidents of extreme violence, which aren’t reported on, and people aren’t made aware of. It is natural to focus on the specifics of a particular case and look to avoid becoming the victim of that same crime however from a personal safety issue this is not the best approach to take.

One of the major dangers in looking at and targeting in on, the specifics of a particular crime, is that as new facts and details about the case emerge people can start to see the incident as less relevant to themselves as they might have initially done. If it was first reported that a person was abducted from the street, and then later discovered that they were abducted from their home, different questions start to be asked of how the crime/assault/abduction occurred e.g. how did the assailant get into their house/home, was the attacker somebody they knew, somebody who lived in the house with them etc. People can often then start to lose sympathy for the victim and start to make certain judgments about them, such as that they were wrong, or even to blame, for letting their attacker into their home, and that this is something that they would never do. This is when the incident starts to lose relevance for them – when it was an abduction from the street they could see themselves as being the target of such a crime, however if it is an abduction from the home they can no longer imagine or see themselves as being the target/victim of such a crime. As a result their guard drops and their level of personal safety is reduced – which is especially dangerous if the person/people they are trying to protect themselves against is still at large.

Everyone likes to believe that they are good judges of character and can identify danger and dangerous individuals. The truth is that we are often dealing with skilled social predators who know how to disarm us and get us to break the rules, we know we should keep and follow. If you ever have the feeling that you are making an exception for somebody, or compromising a “rule” that you use to keep you safe, then you should think again and consider why you are making this exception and compromise. Telling yourself that “it will be all right” is a form of denial.

Another reason why it is dangerous to focus on the specifics of a particular incident is that a criminal’s modus operandi can change, especially if the incident reported on marks the beginning of a person’s violent crime spree. Criminals educate themselves and learn from their mistakes. If they see certain facts, or pieces of evidence reported on, that could expose and identify them, they will try and eliminate these from future crimes. If your focus is to just look at the specifics of one incident, and try and change your lifestyle, behaviors and actions in response to them, you may find that the criminal changes certain elements and behaves differently in future crimes/assaults; becoming more sophisticated and subtle in the way they operate. What you are looking for to identify the criminal etc. is no longer present.   

It should also be understood that abductions and murders are rare, when compared to muggings, sexual assaults and other violent crimes; it is the fact that such horrific crimes are uncommon, which causes us to take notice of them. Your goal should not just to be to avoid the extremes of violence but violence in all its forms. If you try and adopt general safety habits that protect you from all types of violence, you will be protecting yourself from abductions and the risk of murder as well. Once the perpetrator of this terrible crime/murder is caught and brought to justice, many people will sigh with relief and go about their daily life as before with little or no regard for their personal safety. If the abduction and murder of Amy Lord has caused you to consider your own safety, do something positive and life changing about it. Look to address issues of safety throughout your entire life and don’t simply focus on one particular threat or danger.

If you are a woman in Boston or Massachusetts who is concerned about your own safety and wants to empower yourself, our school runs a free women’s self-defense and personal safety program every Saturday at 10:00 AM. We’ve been doing this for three years now, and have trained hundreds of women in self-defense and personal safety. You can read more about our program by going to   

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Dealing With Anger

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 21st Jul)

We’ve all done stupid things in the heat of the moment e.g. said things, made threats, acted overly aggressively towards others. When the heat subsides, we normally recognize our stupidity, maybe sometimes try and justify it to ourselves, but on the whole recognize it as something we’d do well, or be sensible not to repeat. In self-defense and self-protection we often train from the perspective of being the calm victim/target who has to deal with an angry and aggressive assailant, forgetting that we too can become angry and aggressive, and that we too can behave in the role of the aggressor; and we might not be dealing with someone who is able or wants to de-escalate the situation or back away. Recognizing the warning signs that indicate when we are becoming overly emotional and aggressive is as important for personal safety as understanding when those we are dealing with are becoming emotional. There are many “war stories” I’ve heard from people, looking to portray themselves as the target and victim in an incident when it is very clear that their anger and emotion was actually responsible for escalating a situation they may have been able to walk away from. It is easy to see other people’s anger and aggression and harder to see our own.

Some people can’t let go of these events, and build up a stockpile of injustices against them that they use to fuel the anger they experience at later injustices; this blog piece is not intended to address such issues but to look at how to recognize your own aggressive behaviors and actions in the heat of the moment.

Anger needs to be fed, and we feed it in several ways. If we can recognize the way we add to it, we can intervene and stop the process – this is important if we are going to have to engage in a physical confrontation, as although we want to have an aggressive mindset we don’t want to be clouded by emotion (this will reduce our fighting ability to little more than being able to swing wild haymakers at our assailant(s)). Repetition and expressions of disbelief are perhaps the two most common ways of feeding anger. Anger often stems from a self-perceived sense of injustice e.g. somebody cut you off whilst driving etc. and repeating the injustice to yourself is a way of convincing yourself of your right to act and confront the person who has committed this “crime” against you, without letting any other arguments against acting have any head space or room to develop; what are you actually going to do/say if you follow the person who cut you off? Are you really going to get out of your car, or are you just going to follow them around to intimidate them – which would be an interruption to your day and a complete waste of time? Constantly repeating the injustice will feed and reinforce your right to act without letting any other “rational” arguments take the stage. If you take a moment to see if you are constantly repeating the injustice to yourself, you should understand that you are starting to lose control.

If your repetition contains expressions of disbelief e.g. “I can’t believe that…[fill in your own injustice]”, understand that you are self-convincing yourself of your right to act and intervene. A right that may exist in your world, where the perpetrator of the crime has transgressed one of your laws, and behaved in a way that is unacceptable in your world – which is why you can’t believe it i.e. you would never act in such a way. Of course you probably have and will do again e.g. we’ve all cut people off at intersections, junctions and on the highway however when we’ve done it there were good reasons, the person was driving fast enough, wasn’t acting decisively etc. Often the expressions of disbelief that we make when angry are actually the behaviors and actions that we are most guilty off e.g. the drivers who get the angriest when cut off are usually the ones who commit these acts the most. Anger thrives on entitlement, and if someone holds the view that it is alright for them to act and behave in a certain way but not for others they will be the ones that have the greatest knee-jerk reactions to perceived injustices. If we constantly repeat a disbelief about a person’s actions and behaviors we are on the path to losing control.

Understand your own body language. This is usually more important than understanding everybody else’s. If you can understand your different emotional states e.g. when you’re afraid, when you’re angry, when your stressed etc. you have a chance to control your emotions. Many times when we are placed in a situation and have to deal with it, we are so caught up in how to act, what to say and what to do we fail to recognize our level of emotion. If you take a moment to feel if your eyes are narrowing and your lips – and all the muscles around the jaw - are tightening then you are becoming angry (it can actually be very hard to untighten the jaw muscles and relax them, however if you can do this it will go a long way to relaxing you and moving you back to a position of emotional control). I’m not a huge advocate of teaching people how to interpret other people’s body language because people tend to identify people according to the emotional state they are in, and until they can return to a “neutral” state, which is difficult during an aggressive verbal confrontation etc., they will tend to identify people as angry if they are angry etc.

The quickest way to bring yourself back under control? Tactical breathing: breathe in for a count of two, hold for a count of two, breathe out for a count of two etc. (you can change two for four, for six etc.) This is by far the simplest and most proven way to bring yourself back under control. If you find yourself expressing disbelief, repeating the injustice and clenching your jaw muscles/tightening your lips, it’s time to get yourself back under control and start evaluating what the most effective response to your situation is; most times it’s to do nothing and get on with your day/life.      

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Presenting Real Life Violence To Children

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 13th Jul)

The world can be a scary place; seemingly “random” acts of violence which are difficult to predict do occur. Last week In Melrose – a city in the Greater Boston Area - a female jogger reported being the victim of an attempted abduction, when a van pulled up and two men tried to drag her inside. Whilst we may find it difficult to understand what has happened, children who are exposed to such a big local story as this will find it even harder to place such an event/incident in to context; and parents may be at a loss to help them understand the seriousness of the event whilst at the same time not wanting to cause such alarm that their children become completely scared of the world they live in. As the parent of a seven year old, I have had to explain (in the last year) school shootings and acts of terrorism to my son, without wanting to scar or traumatize him. I believe we have a responsibility to educate our children as to the world they live in, whilst at the same time not denying them a certain innocence that they are entitled to and is necessary for their healthy social growth.

One of the greatest dis-services we can do to our children, is to take away their ability to be a decision-maker where their own personal safety is concerned. Sometimes we do this inadvertently. I have always been very aware never to tell my son when I drop him off at school, to do what his teacher says, but rather to be good instead. Too often we tell our children to do what another adult tells them to do unconditionally, without considering that they may come across those adults who haven’t got their best interests at heart. I am don’t want to undermine the authority of those who are placed in positions of responsibility where children are concerned but neither do I want to empower those who may be inclined to abuse that authority and responsibility. I would always want my kid to speak up against what he believed to be wrong and not blindly follow the commands of another adult because I’ve told him to do what that person says.

I’ve also been very aware not to confuse political correctness and social acceptability with victim conditioning. I have spent many an hour watching children’s social activities, where kids play alongside each other or together and become engaged in territorial battles over toys and games etc. All too often I have seen one child go and grab a toy off another (my son has played both roles in such incidents),  and the parent of the child who was originally playing with the toy telling them that they must “share” with the child who was/is attempting to take the toy by force. Sharing to me has never meant giving in. If a child wants to play with the toy another is using they should be conditioned to ask not to take, and the child playing with the toy should only be expected to share what they have if they are asked to, otherwise they should hold on to and protect what they have. I’m all for sharing, I’m not for capitulation.

Children, especially where violence is concerned, understand a lot more about the world than we believe. By the age of three they are well versed in many basic survival skills and are able to recognize and predict aggressive behavior. When we hide the truth and tell them that the world is a safe place and that they have nothing to fear, they don’t really believe us, and we end up putting certain doubts in their heads about how safe they actually are. We cannot restrict their exposure to events in the world son new about the Boston Marathon Bombings, but we can be honest with them about what has happened without exposing them to details which would allow their imaginations to run wild. My son’s understanding of the Middle East conflict (possibly the most complex violent situation on the planet) is restricted to the view that there are countries and people who don’t like Israel and commit violent acts against it, such as killing people. He’s seen aggression and violence in the schoolyard, he understands how this microcosm replicates the real and larger world.

In small communities an abduction attempt is going to be heard by everyone very quickly, including children. Being able to explain honestly and simply that these people meant to harm this woman, whilst explaining how rare such attacks are, is far more beneficial than denying what happened, concocting another story or being alarmist. Fear is learnt, and our responses to aggression and violence are soon picked up on; presenting things honestly, simply and correctly – without being overly protective – is the most beneficial way to go.

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Choking Under Pressure

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 7th Jul)

Most adults haven’t been in a street fight – this is a good thing – and although they may train in a reality based self-defense system, such as Krav Maga, worry and wonder if they were called upon to use their training whether it would work for them. This is one of the reasons I believe in Krav Maga (that which was developed and trained in Israel, and used by the IDF); that it is continually tested in a variety of real life situations by a diverse set of individuals of differing body types and athletic ability, somebody like you has had to use it to defend themselves. Training in a system that has had a large body of people use it successfully over a long period of time, is a good reason to be confident that what you are learning is effective. Even so, people who have trained for a long period of time, may still question their ability to perform at the time when it really counts; the training environment is very different to reality however much you bring reality on to the mats.

The most frequent question I hear on the subject of being able to perform in reality, is from women both in regular class, and in our free women’s self-defense program, who often ask “but would this technique work against a man who is a lot bigger and stronger than me?” This question holds a great truth about choking under pressure. The person asking it has usually been able to perform the technique against a compliant or semi-compliant partner, so they’ve enjoyed a level of success, but rather than simply enjoy that success they start to question it – which is natural – as they look to progress what they’ve just learnt from the training environment to reality. The answer to their question of whether they could perform the technique in a real-life situation at this moment in time, is probably no; they’ve just learnt the technique so their ability to perform it correctly an effectively is limited to the situation in which they have just trained it in. Rather than question their ability though, they question the technique, and use it to express a doubt not just about themselves as an individual, or the technique but about the point of learning self-defense. Their question is really saying, “I’m not sure women are able to defend themselves against men.” When people are reminded of the reasons why they shouldn’t be successful, they usually aren’t: they choke. It doesn’t matter if they’ve enjoyed great success in the past, once they are reminded of the reason or the stereotype that says they should fail they will under-perform.

There have been countless studies of this in Academia, where students who are at prestigious universities, where they achieved their place by merit alone are reminded before an exam (part of the study), that they either come from a low social strata, belong to an ethnic minority, or are a woman etc. significantly under-perform in the exam compared to their previous results and successes. If you are reminded why you should fail you will. It’s as simple as that. We refer to these things as “Peripheral Doubts”, those negative thoughts, which hang around the edges of your focus on the task that you are being asked to perform. “Self Stereotyping”, is one of these peripheral doubts e.g. as a smaller woman I will be unable to defend myself against a larger male, as someone aged 35 who has never been involved in a fight I won’t be able to defend myself against an experienced street-fighter.

We can always create the giants and the monsters that we will fail against and we can always set up impossible situations for ourselves to face; and talk ourselves out of our ability to perform in them. When we do find ourselves facing our worst nightmares, they may not really be our worst nightmare; as aggressive and angry as the person before us seems, doesn’t mean he has ever been in a fight, or one that lasted more than 5 seconds. There is no such thing as a fair fight, and if someone tries to engage you in one, then they have made sure that the odds are stacked in their favor. That doesn’t have to be your reality. If you are a 120 LB woman having to deal with a 250 LB sexual predator, you don’t have to beat them like you would in a ring fight, you only have to prevent them from doing what they want to do – if you set yourself the objective of beating them to a bloody pulp, rather than finding a way to cause enough pain for them to hesitate or allow you to break away (and this happens more than it gets reported on) you have a much more achievable goal. There are no rules on the street, and this is usually said to differentiate ring and combat sports from reality based self-defense in order to demonstrate that you should learn to defend yourself against knives and multiple assailants as well as just singular, unarmed combatants. However it should also show you, that you aren’t obliged to “win” or to even fight, that there are multiple ways to survive the situation. Man has dominated this planet, and learnt how to deal with animals who are stronger, faster and bigger, and who are armed with claws, teeth and better natural weapons simply not by following their rules of engagement and choosing his own. Our imagination is both our greatest weapon and our biggest weakness.

We choke when we see the task as being too great and our ability to little. We forget that we can define our own outcomes and goal e.g. we don’t have to deal with the 250 LB giant on his terms, we don’t have to fight his fight (as Kelly McCann, always says, “The only fair fight is the one you lose”), we can choose our own goals and outcomes. We can come up with more reasons to fail, than we can to succeed – this will always be the case – and if we focus on these then we will fail. Our training comes direct from Israel, we bring the best in the world to our school, and our training methods are proven to work. Have confidence in what you do, and remember your successes in training rather than your failures – as it will have been your lack of doubt at those moments which allowed you to succeed.  

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