Testing Your Models of Violence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 21st Jul)

We all have ideas concerning violence. What it looks like, where it happens and who instigates it etc. Some of these ideas are based on personal experiences, some on anecdotes, others on media reports and others on simple gut feelings etc. When we fuse these ideas together we create what are called “Models of Violence”, which we try and use to help us predict, identify and avoid violence. For us to be effective in our self-protection and personal safety efforts we need to test these models against six criteria: objectivity, thoroughness, accuracy, timeliness, usability and relevance.

We should try and avoid distortion and bias in our self-defense and personal safety training. If someone has invested 3 years Krav Maga training on how to deal with two handed, front chokes, it will be difficult for them to accept that this isn’t what the majority of violent situations looks like. If we have created training environments and patterns that don’t reflect reality, but rather our personal preferences for training then we are not being objective. If we have convinced ourselves that sparring is an accurate reflection of what actually happens in a violent altercation then we have a distorted view of what real-life violence actually looks like. When we build our models we must be objective, and not try and build them to unfounded, preconceived ideas of what we would like to believe violence looks like. Many people pick up on personal safety tips, and subconsciously build their models around these e.g. if you are being mugged, throw your wallet on the ground away from you – this immediately suggests, that you will be mugged when there are no other people around. Because this safety tips, seems to make sense, and we want it to be able to work, we imagine the scenarios where it will work and make real-life violence conform to this notion. This is not being objective.

Thoroughness. Any information we use to base our ideas of what violence needs to be thorough. This is where the media can seriously distort our idea of what violence looks like. If we are presented with, or only pick up on half a media report of a violent incident, our understanding is not thorough. One of the situational components that often gets lost in media reports is the relationship that a victim has with their attacker(s). The media gets its most “news” out of a violent event that appears random e.g. a random abduction. The truth is that many victims of violence do actually know their assailant, yet this is often not reported on because it is an unknown factor at the time of the initial report. Only understanding half a story does not give us a thorough understanding of violence. If the reports are also inaccurate due to a reporter’s lack of objectivity or lack of awareness of all the facts then our models will be flawed.

Sometimes the most inaccurate information we receive is from people who have experienced violence, and either recall events incorrectly because of the stress of the situation, or re-write how an incident occurred to either absolve themselves of blame, to help them cope emotionally, or to make themselves out to be the hero of the hour. I have heard many accounts of violence where people involved are able to recall the exact number of strikes they threw, their assailant’s reaction to each one etc. In a highly stressful and emotional encounter, many details are lost and the whole event presented us might not actually be accurate.

Information can become outdated. The situations that our parents tried to protect ourselves from when we were children may not be applicable now. We were all probably told as children not to get into cars with strangers, with our parents trying to protect ourselves from the stranger who would be driving round, asking kids if they wanted to get in and come and see some puppies etc. This is probably not the type of situation we have to face as an adult, and if we believe that this situation is what, “not getting into a car with a stranger”, looks like, we will not recognize the situations as an adult that we might be faced with. Before 9/11 there was a fairly standard pattern for hijacking a plane e.g. hijackers force the plane to land and make their demands; after 9/11 we cannot be so sure that this is the model a hijack team will work to.

Our information must be usable. It is interesting to know why an individual develops violent tendencies and/or why they chose mugging people instead of burglary etc. but is this information usable? Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. It is interesting to know that serial killers usually have a history of bedwetting, killing animals and starting fires but these facts don’t help anyone when they are dealing with such an individual. In fact such information can cause overload and noise. However understanding why a burglar chooses that crime, instead of mugging tells you a lot about their general lack of propensity for violence. We must separate what is simply “interesting” from what is “usable” when building our models to get rid of unwanted noise.

Relevance is key. We must be able to apply what is relevant to a situation. This is linked in with usability. Irrelevant information will simply cloud our judgment and slow down our decision making abilities. Not everything is relevant in a situation. In a mugging scenario, there is only one question we really need to ask; if after we hand over the wallet or purse is the assailant likely to still stab or shoot us? The information we require is that which enables us to answer the question. If it can’t help us answer that it is irrelevant.

Whatever your understanding of violence test your ideas and beliefs of what violence looks like against these criteria, and see if they hold up. If not start re-examining and rebuilding your models. 

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Risk Assessments

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 14th Jul)

At times we can be so security focused that we ignore and/or forget to consider, the other threats and dangers that affect our lives. In certain instances, we can choose to implement actions based on improving our safety from certain threats such as violence, that compromise our safety from more prevalent and likely dangers e.g. putting a myriad of security locks on our doors and windows to prevent break-ins and home invasions is all well and good, however if these precautions slow down our ability to exit our home in the event of a fire, or even an assault by someone we have willingly  let in to our house, they have done little to ensure our complete and total safety - if we are able to protect ourselves from violent individuals but die in a house-fire what was the point? 

If all of our risk-assessments are based on worst case scenarios, rather than on the most likely, we will probably implement solutions that affect our overall safety. Many operatives in high risk situations will not wear the seat belt in their car- speed of exit and debussing trumps the need for safety from collisions involving other drivers etc. However in a civilian context, we are much more likely to be involved in a crash than we are to have to deal with a car-jacking or hostage/abduction scenario. It may feel glamorous and sexy, not to wear a seat belt, in order to be able to deal with violent criminals however if you are more likely to be involved in a vehicular collision, your choice is a bad one. 

It is all well and good to have windows and doors that prevent easy access to your home or workplace, however if they are difficult to open from the inside and restrict your ability to exit in the event of an emergency, you may be doing yourself a disservice. You may feel safer in a hotel room, when staying in a third world country, that is many floors above street level - which could make it more difficult for somebody to break-in to your room etc. however if the local fire department (if there is one) doesn't possess ladders that can reach your floor, in the event of a fire, you may end up finding yourself cut-off.    

I recently had a conversation with a friend who asked me which train carriage I took when taking public transport. Part of their argument involved being able to exit the station quickly in the event of certain emergencies - therefore they sat in either the front or end carriage. Whilst there was an element of logic to what they were saying, and in the context of the threats and dangers they perceived it made sense however the end carriages normally act as a crumple zone in the event of a crash or derailment.  

When making risk-assessments, we should look at all risks and dangers including the most likely and the most devastating. If I know that a gang of muggers who board a train carriage are unlikely to harm me if I comply with their demands, and yet an end carriage is likely to be a metal coffin for me, I should assess my risk not just on likelihood but also on outcome and the level of control I have within such situations. I can never mitigate all risks, but I can normally protect myself from the most likely, and the most likely with the worst potential outcomes. When we look at personal safety, we should consider all threats and dangers, not just those involving violence. 

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Situational Visualization

(My Name - Mon 7th Jul)

I have written about the importance of visualization as a training tool before, and how to practice it e.g. first viewing yourself as a third party, and then visualizing the situation through your eyes etc. To re-cap, I believe visualization is a key training tool for a number of reasons. Firstly because it’s a great way to practice what you do in the dojo/studio, when you’re not there; most people can dedicate 2-3 hours training a week, and by practicing visualization of their techniques for say a combined 15 minutes a day, they can add an extra hour or two to their training, whilst keeping everything they learn to the forefront of their mind. Secondly, visualization allows you to take your training out of the dojo and into the real world – etc the world where violence actually occurs.

As much as we can replicate aggression, emotional state and the stress of real world violence in the dojo we have to recognize the limitations of our training as well. Firstly, we know that we are in a training environment – there may be moments we forget this, and that is the aim – and we know we have the option to stop if necessary, and that there is a level of safety that is adhered to e.g. we know the ultimate outcome of the situations we are placed in. Secondly, we know our assailants; this can also sometimes heighten the stress, if we are dealing with someone who lacks control and is somewhat erratic in their movement however we enjoy a level of predictability because of this. Because of this there is a level of familiarity to our training. Visualization can knock this on its head.

When I visualize situations, I try and stick to familiar locations e.g. those that I find myself in frequently. There is a level of routine in my life that sees me go certain places; sometimes in my car, sometimes on public transport and sometimes on foot. These are the environments that I use, as these are the ones I am most likely to be assaulted in. Visualizing with these locations also helps me up my awareness levels, and tunes my state of mind in to the possibility of being attacked, when I am in them. When I visualize a potential attack, I try and keep it as realistic as possible e.g. when I’m at the supermarket, I don’t visualize myself doing long-barrel weapon disarms (in a home invasion scenario maybe) but rather dealing with muggers, Car-Jackers etc. who may be armed with knives, short-barreled weapons etc. or unarmed. I also visualize myself in the clothes I’ll be wearing e.g. not full battle-dress, but shorts and sandals or sneakers (footwear is key in what you can and can’t do).

I also change the motive behind the attacks and threats, even if I don’t have the aggressors in my head verbalize the exact reason why they may be abducting me etc. The reason I do this, is because I don’t want to limit myself to the types of violence I may have to deal with. If somebody demands your wallet, their motive is clear, if your assailant(s) want to move you from one location to another it could be for a number of reasons, ranging from sexual assault to some form of punishment beating etc. Adding motive into your visualization practice, will not only help you identify the most likely types of threats and attacks you will face but will also allow you to consider the unexpected as well.

Rather than just imagine the attack, I will visualize the entire build-up to the assault, from the way a person(s) selected me, to the way them move with me and approach me. I do this both from the viewpoint of bystander and from how I would see and experience it first-hand. I will first practice/visualize the attack and my response (including how I managed the post-conflict phase), and then I will consider ways I could have used the environment, how I could have possibly resolved the conflict etc. without a physical solution. All of this helps heighten my awareness when in such situations and dictates how I should act and behave when in them to prevent and avoid violence.

In every situation I visualize I am successful, so I plan the process before I visualize it. This practice/method should not involve you making it up as you go along, but rather thinking of a scenario, building the steps and then playing them out. It is sometimes worth doing this as a paper and pen exercise, as you will start to get a better appreciation of how violence actually occurs e.g. if you are visualizing a baseball bat attack and defense, you have to have found a way for your attacker to have a baseball bat in their hand; where did they get it from. This allows you to understand how and where different types of assault take place and gives you a context for assaults. By thinking of scenarios and working them out in your mind, you will be in a better state of mind should you find yourself in them, and more situationally aware and able to avoid and prevent them in the first place.  

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