10 Principles of Fighting - Principle 5

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 30th Jun)

Principle 5 – “Switch between attacking high and low targets. Don’t focus on or become blind to just one target”

Our system looks at using soft strikes (gouges, finger strikes, open hand strikes) to soft and vulnerable targets (eyes, throat and groin) as a means of overwhelming and “short circuiting” a person in order to open them up. This creates the opportunities that allow us to follow up with hard strikes, such as punches, elbows and knees as a means of finishing/ending the fight. The reason we initially attack this way, is that soft strikes require little accurate body positioning, unlike a punch which to be effective needs to have both the hips and shoulders engaged/lined up e.g. a poorly executed eye strike will provoke more of a response than a poorly thrown punch. Once the person has been psychologically overwhelmed by repeated strikes, gouges, slaps and rips, the “time” can be taken to deliver the hard strikes which will effectively put them out of commission (knees, elbows, head-butts and the like).

The idea of repetitive “soft” striking to vulnerable targets is not to cause maximum damage but to cause the maximum disruption to the aggressor’s attack, bypassing both their flinch/blink response and their pain management system(s). Just as we use the body’s natural flinch reflex for our 360 Blocking system, so we have to be aware that an untrained person will also naturally flinch and raise their arms up to protect themselves when we are attacking them, and this can be an issue. By throwing soft strikes that don’t require the body to engage fully, and use just the arms, our attacks can be that much faster and have the potential to beat the flinch and blink reflex. We call these strikes “Quarter Beat” as opposed to the metronomic and overlapping rhythms that we use to deliver our harder more powerful strikes.

The aim is to throw as many strikes in the shortest possible time into your aggressor’s soft and vulnerable areas (eyes, throat and groin) not just focusing on one but alternating between them. If a person has brought their hands up, by reflex, to protect an area you’re attacking, you need to move to another. As soon as you’ve attacked the eyes, move to the throat and then to the groin; working high and low. A repetitive strike to one area will allow a person to recognize and realize what they need to defend but by changing targets and heights this opportunity is denied them. If you are continually reigning strikes to the head a person will simply cover up their head – we see this all the time in wall and line drills – whilst if you keep changing the height of the targets you hone in on, you will soon see the hands drop, giving you the head.

The idea is to psychologically overwhelm your assailant. Most fights end with a person giving up/giving in, normally not through injury but rather due to becoming emotionally overwhelmed. One of the quickest ways to do that is to cause a variety of different pains and sensations to the person, in a variety of different bodily areas/targets.

The TV and Video footage of Dennis Hanover, working up and down the body with his “soft” quarter beat strikes never really captures the amazing speed of his hands, nor what it looks and feels like from the victim/target’s perspective. The first time I met him – as well as pulling a gun on me in a restaurant – he lightly attacked me and his hands beat my blink reflex: he had landed two or three strikes to my eyes and nose before I even registered what he was doing. Had each of those strikes actually “hit” I would have been completely disorientated. Whilst we were doing our young women’s course I demonstrated on Griffin, without telling him what I was doing, next time you see him ask him what his response and feelings were at the time.
Our methodology is to use soft strikes to soft targets to set up hard strikes to soft targets. These targets are primarily the eyes, throat and groin. Vary your use of them.

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10 Principles of Fighting - Principle 4

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 24th Jun)

Principle 4 - Change from “prey” to “predator” in the shortest possible time – defense and attack should be as close together as possible or attacks should be pre-emptive.

There are three components of and reality based self defense system: simple instinctual techniques, physical fitness and an aggressive mindset. When your heart rate hits 180 BPM (Beats per Minute) due to the effects of adrenaline, your ability to perform complex techniques disappear, and when your adrenaline wears off, whatever superhuman powers it gave you will got to; all you’re left with is your current fitness level and your aggressive mindset.

I don’t believe in the term “self-defense”, it suggests that’s what’s required of you in a violent confrontation is to do “just enough” in order to stop your assailant assaulting you. If you want to put boundaries around what you’re prepared to do to the other person then you are putting yourself at a serious disadvantage. If they want to pummel and kick you into oblivion and all you want to do is protect yourself and nothing more, I promise you that the outcome of the fight will see you unconscious: your predator(s) will not restrict themselves in what they do to you, even if you will to them.

Forget the movies, forget your skills and put your technical ability aside for one moment. If you have ever seen the absolute rage and violence of someone who has lost all rational thought and at that moment in time simply wants to make sure you cease to exist, you will quickly dispense with the idea that in a state of Zen Calmness you can dispatch them forthwith and teach them a lesson they’ll never forget. If you can survive the situation, get out alive, with minimal injuries you have done more than succeed. Violence is a messy and dirty affair both physically and emotionally and if you cannot bring the same level of emotional and physical commitment to the game, that your assailant does, your chances of success are close to zero…or…you’re hoping you get lucky.

You’re emotional state doesn’t have to be one of out of control rage like your assailant but it does have to outstrip them in terms of depth, determination and belief. A physical assault/threat is a challenge to the very core and essence of the person that is you. Although I care little for the respect of those that don’t know me, I still take seriously the disrespect that an aggressive person shows to me; that they believe they have the right to communicate with me (or anyone) on such an uneven footing – don’t tell me it’s just “trash talk”, it’s ignorant entitlement at a volume that nobody should be expected to tolerate (and when you won’t get out of your car to talk to me, or walk away when challenged about it, I’m surprised you can keep upright without your backbone).

At the first sign of aggression and violence, you should be prepared to act preemptively – this doesn’t mean you should, just that you should be prepared to. Making the switch that says you’re prepared to be the one to hit/strike first signifies you have moved away from a prey mentality. Even a cornered rabbit with no escape opportunity will attack first if necessary. If your head is concerned with the legal implications of such a course of action, clear it, your assailant isn’t encumbered with such thoughts. If you fear for your safety you have every right to strike first: you don’t have to wait for a person who is holding a gun to your head to pull the trigger before you act. As long as everything you did up until that point was following a course of disengagement/de-escalation and avoidance you should have no concerns about the implications of your actions – they are to be worked out after the assault.

In my experience both as a participant and observer of violence 8 out of 10 fights are “won” by the person throwing the first punch/strike; that person should be you. If you fail to do this, the first strike your assailant throws should be there only one, as you move from defense to attack in the shortest possible time. You end fights by being the predator not the prey.    

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10 principles of Fighting - Principle 3

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 18th Jun)

Principle 3 – “Lay down as much continuous firepower in the shortest possible time i.e. “assault” the attacker. Don’t allow gaps/spaces between your strikes and attacks as this gives the opportunity for your attacker...”

Sparring is something that two people do as a pair together; a fight is something that two people do to each other and an assault is something that one person does to another. Sparring as invaluable a training aid as it is, is a poor reflection and replication of an actual street fight. In a sparring match both individuals get the opportunity to both attack and defend as well as counter and evade etc. This teaches and allows the practice of valuable fighting skills but doesn’t resemble a street fight or any other example of real life violence. Reality will see one person assault another with no intention of giving them an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do. This normally involves an aggressor launching a committed strike, probably combined with a push to cause maximum surprise etc, and then following it up with a barrage of other strikes in a continuous fashion.

This is why Krav Maga teaches pre-emptive action and failing this, making sure that attacks follow defense in the shortest possible time-frame. Some organizations will talk about simultaneous defense and attack - I think what is actually meant by this often misleads and/or the instructor doesn’t understand the concept fully and ends up teaching/practicing strikes which don’t fully engage the hips and shoulders; this is why I talk about attack following defense as quickly as is possible to deliver powerful, effective and meaningful strikes. Not letting an assailant get into a rhythm is essential if you are to have any chance of replying with your own assault. Your defense and attack, should be aimed at disrupting your assailant, which is why it is preferable to strike soft and vulnerable targets – which we talked about in the previous two posts.

Krav Maga teaches the idea of “Retzef/Retzev” – Retzef/Retzev, means “continuous” in Hebrew – which involves laying down your strikes and kicks, one after the other with no breaks, almost as if each attack you make is made with the frequency of bullets from an automatic weapon. Striking this way, means you must understand the way that the turn of your hips in your strikes, sets up the next strike etc. It should also influence the rhythm of your attacks i.e. there should be little space between them. Whilst striking in a metronomic fashion will allow each individual strike to be thrown with full power it will also means that gaps appear in your striking. If you can strike using half and quarter beats, throwing second strikes before recoiling the first etc, you will be able to get past a person’s flinch/startle reflex and overwhelm them with your assault.

Your attacks have to get past a person’s flinch reflex, or their natural reactions may impede your assault. Just as with we use the flinch reflex as the starting point for the 360 block, so untrained people will flinch and raise their hands to guard their head and face when attacked. Using a combination of high and low attacks can allow you to get the hands lowered and raised automatically. By throwing leg and groin kicks you will cause a person to drop their hands – even trained people who know that they should block leg kicks with their legs will often drop their hands in sparring situations when attacked low – which can set up your head shots. Closing the distance will allow you to get into a position where you can throw “fast hands”. Open palm strikes, as opposed to fists, can be used to obscure a person’s vision and create a mask behind which you can throw other strikes in a non-metronomic rhythm.

Closing distance and denying time and space are tactics the untrained fighter does automatically and they are good principles for us to follow – especially if we apply “scientific” ideas to them. Preventing and limiting your assailant’s attacking opportunities, means you can concentrate on attack not defense and no fight ever goes in the favor of the person who adopts the defensive mindset and attitude.


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10 Principles of Fighting - Principle 2

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 10th Jun)

Principle 2: “The nearest weapon should attack the nearest softest target (eyes, throat or groin). Use attacks, which bypass an attackers “pain management” system e.g. bite, slap, eye rake etc. Use strikes, which give you the most “bang for your buck” and are the easiest to pull off.”

The nearest weapon attacks the nearest softest target is an artillery principle that a gunner’s (artillery) officer once told me over a pint. I think this is both an obvious military principle and one that makes perfect sense from a self-defense/Krav Maga perspective. Imi Lichtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga, talked about the need when facing multiple assailants (which he had to do when facing Anti-Semitic, fascist street gangs in his native Bratislava in the 1930’s) to strike and hit sensitive targets such as the groin, throat and knees to quickly debilitate and put somebody out of action. When dealing with multiple opponents, you don’t have either the space or time to try and employ a game-plan or strategy you just need to get each assailant out of the picture and way ASAP.

I can never emphasize or stress enough the difference between ring sports/cage martial arts. When you read about boxers, cage fighters etc they will talk about how they prepared for a particular fight – I was just reading Randy Couture’s book on Wrestling for Fighting/MMA and he talks about the game-plan and the way he trained before facing particular fighters (some great pointers demonstrated and brought out). In a real life fight you don’t know your opponent; you just need to dispatch them as quickly as possible before the next one appears, you really don’t have time to adopt a ring strategy etc. Using soft targets to quickly disrupt an attacker becomes essential.

For me the most obvious “soft” targets are the throat, eyes and groin, with secondary targets being the IT band/Quadriceps and nose. I am not a great believer in pressure points etc – I have been in too many confrontations that have turned into a shit show where there was no time to aim for some magical spot etc that made somebody collapse and then die on a rainy day in July (pardon my skepticism – I think the body is an amazing organism, but I really don’t believe some people’s – martial arts instructors - claims about their ability to control its functions and…destiny).

N.B. It is worth noting that just because we practice a lot of striking on the pads with a closed fist, it doesn’t mean those strikes are limited to closed fist striking; your hand can be shaped into any “tool” you require e.g. cradle strikes, eye pokes, thumb gouges etc.

The throat and groin are fantastic targets as they face forward and can’t easily be hidden, unlike the eyes, where a person can turn their head away to escape an attack – and are also the first bodily parts to first detect any assault and are equipped with a “blink” reflex to protect them.

It must be remembered that the groin being a sensitive area has certain reflex actions when it “perceives” a threat. Any upwards and forwards motion towards the lower/mid-section will see the hips pull back to protect these vulnerable areas. Any strike to the groin will have to beat this reflex action. This is where hand strikes are often more effective than kicks and knees (which are slower moving). In reality based situations the opportunity to knee/kick the groin may be denied both by the proximity of the assailant as well as the clothes the target/victim is wearing. All attackers will deny time and distance; something they do to both cause surprise and protect/defend themselves. If an assailant is close and you are wearing tight jeans, jeans with a low hanging crotch, pushed against a wall, in a pencil line skirt etc, the groin becomes an unavailable target for the legs/knees, but is still available to the faster and more adaptable hands. The great thing about groin strikes, is that even if they don’t cause a great deal of pain, the body will naturally pull the hips back to protect this vulnerable area. If the hips aren’t engaged there will be no power in a person strikes.

The throat is particularly vulnerable due to its lack of mobility – however much you turn your head it will still sticks forward to a greater extent. Instead of using a lead hand punch I’ll often substitute it for some form of throat strike e.g. a cradle strike. A poorly executed strike to a soft area will yield more than a badly executed punch/fist to the chin or the face etc.

Eyes are great, without them you can’t see. I’m not sure of the need to explain anything further…If you can hit them quickly do: little force is needed to effect a response. Rather than using rigid fingers, that may get stubbed if they hit the cheek bone or the forehead etc (which is a distinct possibility in the rough and tumble of a street-fight), flicking, brushing and gouging are much safer ways to attack the eyes. Thumbs are also extremely useful and fit quite nicely into the eye socket.

The nose and quadriceps are less obvious “soft targets” but part of what attracts my attention to them is not just the fact that they are great targets but the tools that can be used to affect them are large and significant. In the case of the Quads, they are a large muscle group/target that only needs to be hit with a single concentrated force for there to be a significant result. When I consider the nearest weapon to the Quads I am naturally drawn to shin kicks: the shin bone is long, with a single ridge. The shin connecting to the Quads if thrown with commitment will have a result, either as a sweep (if thrown early) or by deadening the leg if weight is loaded upon it, of making sure that person’s leg is out of action.

Hit the nose hard (which breaks easily) and you will cause the eyes to water etc. Taking away your assailants ability to see is an obvious and relatively low cost tactic. The nose, like the throat, is an obvious and relatively large target: aim for the center of the face and you’ll get there. Even without breaking the nose, minimum force is required to elicit the eyes to water… 

The Quads are a large muscle group which can quickly stop working when hit correctly. The IT band runs the length of the leg (on the outside – basically it mirrors the side seam of trousers or jeans, giving you a good target to aim for) of and is a muscle which spends much of its time “tight” – there is very little give in it. If you’ve ever tried to stretch it out using a foam roller at the gym, you will know how tender it is. A strong strike using the shin to the upper leg will certainly get you a result. The pain may not be as acute as a strike to the eyes or groin however if it freezes the leg, even just for a moment, it will give you an “in” to follow up with Retzef (continuous strikes).

 This is the key to striking soft targets, not to look for them as “finishing” moves but to see them as a way to initially disrupt an attacker and set your-self up for a continued barrage of strikes and kicks. If a groin strike etc has the effect of finishing then all well and good however just creating time and space is a net positive (and essential if dealing with multiple attackers).

 It is important to attack in such a way that the attacker’s pain management system is bypassed. An adrenalized attacker can gear themselves up to accept and take punches, especially if this is what they are expecting to deal with. The most painful thing in the world, is not an eye strike, or groin slap but a Thomas the Tank Engine model, stepped on at 1:30 in the morning, when you’ve just got out of bed. Why? Because the pain is unexpected and unanticipated. This is why strikes need to be mixed, pokes, gouges as well as punches. Putting all of these strikes, which elicit different types of pain, mean that you increase your chances of having an effect against an adrenalized assailant(s). Soft targets and strikes need to be mixed up into your Retzef, so not only do you overwhelm your assailant with strikes, you overwhelm their pain management system as well.

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10 Principles Of Fighting

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 4th Jun)

Along time ago, I wrote down a back of a cigarette packet list of “principles” on fighting that I worked out in a coffee shop one morning after a training session. I came across them again in an email I sent to a friend. I might re-word or emphasize things a bit differently but this is how they originally stood:

1. Disrupt then damage, then destroy or disengage. Disruption can be as simple as attacking an assailants balance.

2. The nearest weapon should attack the nearest softest target (eyes, throat or groin). Use attacks, which bypass an attackers “pain management” system e.g. bite, slap, eye rake etc. Use strikes, which give you the most “bang for your buck” and are the easiest to pull off.

3. Lay down as much continuous firepower in the shortest possible time i.e. “assault” the attacker. Don’t allow gaps/spaces between your strikes and attacks as this gives the opportunity for your attacker to fight back.

4. Change from “prey” to “predator” in the shortest possible time – defense and attack should be as close together as possible or attacks should be pre-emptive.

5. Switch between attacking high and low targets. Don’t focus on or become blind to just one target.

6. All techniques should utilize maximum body weight. This involves striking with forward movement.

7. Keep your head over your hips (don’t lean forward and don’t overextend) and your hips facing your attacker/target.

8. “Scan” to check your environment (don’t give in to tunnel vision) and to “de-stress”; always assume there are third parties in the environment who can comes to assist your assailants aid.

9. Avoid staying in the “transition zone” either be close to your attacker or far away from them.

10. Move around your assailant, changing the angle of your attacks. Avoid being in a position where your assailants hips are facing/square to you (this is where they are strong). By changing the angle of an attackers assault you force them to “reset” their attacks creating time and space for yourself.

I thought I’d take the next few blog posts to work through the list, explaining my ideas at the time and how these might have developed and changed due to different training/real-life experiences….

Principle 1 – Disrupt, Damage, Destroy, Disengage

The first person to act within a violent situation is the assailant (if you choose to pre-emptively attack, this will be you). Whoever acts first has the advantage i.e. the other person is obviously forced to react. There are two ways to force a disruption of their attack: 1) before they make it and 2) by responding to it.
It is possible to disrupt an assault before it is even made. This is one of the aims of using a de-escalation/interview stance. By bringing the hands up to guard the body and limit any attacks that can be made directly from the front (Jabs, crosses, overhand rights etc), an assailant is forced to make circular strikes, such as large swinging haymakers etc. By controlling range and forcing an assailant to move and commit their weight, in a particular direction, when making an assault is also a disruption of their attack. This is one of the skills that starts to develop during: sparring, randori and “free fighting”. Learning how to position yourself in order to disrupt an attack before it’s made is something that is essential when sparring…otherwise you get hit with the full power of the strike and at the same time are unable to counter and/or launch your own assault. Simply moving will often be enough to disrupt an assault.

It is possible to cause disruption in response to an assault, attack or threat. Simply taking a person’s balance will cause their desire to be stable to over-ride any other natural responses they may have. We have seen this in the knife threat controls we are studying this semester; how by taking balance we override a person’s natural grab reflex. It is this disruption, which allows us to control the arm and then perform a successful disarm. Pain is another way in which an attack can be disrupted e.g. this is the basis of the simultaneous block and punch which is a defining Krav Maga movement.

Disruption is essential in order to stop an attack getting into a rythmn. 99 % of assailants will attack with what they believe is their most successful technique – on the street this may be an overhand right, or a giant haymaker. Often these techniques are simple enough to deal with…on their own. However, once several haymakers are strung together they become another proposition and the swinging arms become like the blades in a food processor. Disrupting the first attack becomes an important objective in light of this,

A fight is a fight the time for walking away and being the nice guy has evaporated. I always tell people to forget the individual and see the assailant (something which is especially true in sexual assaults where the rapist is known by their victim). Your job is not to explain to your assailant why they shouldn’t be attacking you but to stop them. This requires inflicting serious pain. People may not like the idea of this however it is necessary. Assailant’s stop assaulting because of the pain inflicted upon them either because it discourages them or because it mechanically stops them: you break someone’s arm and they’re unable to hit you, you throw an elbow into their face and they want to give up etc.

Somebody once asked me if when I gouge somebody’s eyes, that I do it “just enough”. I never do anything “just enough”, I do what I do, till it stops the other person doing what they’re doing to me. Then I continue doing it till I’m sure they’re not able to do it again. This is what I mean by destroy. I want to reach this point as quickly as possible. There are never any benefits to continuing a street fight longer than necessary. It is safer for you to work this way, and in fact means you punish the person you are dealing with less i.e. hit them with everything you’ve got in a condensed time frame is less likely to impart serious and permanent injury than a lesser level of violence meted out over a longer time-span.

At some point you have to disengage. It’s why standing and lying around applying joint-locks and chokes in a controlled manner can eat up your disengagement time. This is where combat sports that train in a controlled manner such as Judo, BJJ and MMA etc. can cultivate the wrong mindset for the street. At some point the fight has to be over i.e. the person assaulting you has taken themselves out of the fight, either through physical injury or lack of desire. If you can safely disengage before this, do. No points are given for staying at the scene of a fight, only for surviving it.

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