Location & Crime

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 29th Jun)

When I teach self-protection/personal safety I do so from a situational perspective, identifying five situational components that define a situation. These are: location (where does the incident occur e.g. on the street, in a parking lot, in your home etc.), relationship e.g. is the assailant a stranger, an acquaintance, a family member etc. The assailant’s motive – do they want money, to sexually assault you? Etc. Your state of mind/level of preparedness and those third parties who are with you (friends, acquaintances, family members such as children etc.) Whenever I do scenario based training these are the factors/components I change e.g. the same “situation” or scenario but in a different location, or with an assailant who has a different motive etc.

The two variables/components that are most interconnected are location and relationship. If an assault is committed by a stranger, location is more important than the relationship the attacker has with the victim. In my time teaching self-defense I have seen many people over-estimate the importance of location e.g. when someone of a certain demographic and socio-economic class is abducted from their home and killed, everyone who shares similar traits such as age and gender, and who lives in the same area, automatically assumes that they are at a similar risk and it was simply by chance and luck that it wasn’t them who was abducted. This is not automatically the case; if the assailant and the victim had a prior relationship, then the locational component becomes less important; it is just the place where the assault “happens”. However where stranger violence occurs, location becomes a defining factor.

A location has certain attributes that make it a place of choice for violence to occur. It has to have, what are referred to as “Crime Attractors” e.g. what brings a violent criminal to a particular location. A mugger is going to be attracted to an area which has a good supply of “Cash Rich” victims (forget deserted alleyways etc. these places by definition are deserted and have no potential victims in them), such as ATM’s, Shopping Malls, Parking Lots etc. However there may well be locations that although attractive to certain criminals, have a number of “Crime Preventers”, which dissuade them from operating in these seemingly attractive locations. A certain shopping mall, may at first glance appear to be an area which supplies a good number of potential victims, however if it enjoys a good CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) system, then a mugger may decide that the risk of getting caught is too great and may choose to find another more suitable  location. As well as there being “Crime Preventers” there are also “Crime Promoters”.

Certain locations may have factors in them, which promote crime. An “attractive” area that has certain features will “score” higher on a predator’s radar than other attractive areas. One of the main things a criminal looks for is the numeracy of escape routes e.g. burglars are much more likely to break in to a corner house, which is located on two roads, than a house in a cul-de-sac where there is only one way in and out. Muggers work to a similar protocol, choosing locations with a variety of escape routes. Muggers will also look for areas, where people either have to slow down and/or stop – such as crossing points across a road. Basically, you are more at risk when you are stationary, than when you are moving. Areas which enjoy natural surveillance are also less likely to be crime hotspots than those which don’t; a car parked in a parking lot near the entrance, where there is a lot of traffic is less likely to be broken into, than one parked in a more remote spot – even if it is better lit.

Many of a city’s crime hotspots are located in its less affluent districts, and there are a variety of reasons. Most street crime such as muggings and robberies, are committed by those individuals looking for immediate cash, not credit cards, jewelry etc. These items need to be converted into cash and this requires both time, and access to a criminal network, something that most muggers lack – especially if they are committing robberies in order to support a drug habit. Poorer neighborhoods are likely to contain people with bad or no credit, who don’t use credit or debit cards, but do most of their transactions in cash. A mugger targeting such individuals may get more cash of a person who deals exclusively with this form of exchange, than a more affluent person who uses cash less frequently. If you are in a location where there are “Check Cashing” businesses, pawn shops and similar, you are in an area where people are more likely to use cash than credit cards, and this makes it a more attractive area to muggers than a more affluent district. If you couple this with the lack of “crime preventers” e.g. a more affluent area or town is more likely to be able to afford more and better policing/security, such places become more attractive to muggers etc.     

We don’t always have control over the places we find ourselves in e.g. we may live in an area that suffers from high crime rates, or work in one etc. We cannot always avoid being in areas that are attractive to certain criminals however when we understand those things which promote crime and those which prevent it, we may be able to adjust our behavior and the routes we chose to take when moving through such locations. We may take practical measures, such as timing the moment we get to intersections so as to be able to immediately cross because the traffic has stopped, than have to wait at the junction for an opportunity. These might not be steps we take in all locations but just in the ones we understand have a higher threat level.

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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 23rd Jun)

There are many people who believe that simply spending time in a gym, regardless of the amount and level of exercise they do, will get them fit. They come with little or no idea of what they are going to do for the hour they have allotted as their training time, and so spend most of it wandering aimlessly around. They then wonder after a few weeks, why they're not getting fitter, not losing weight etc. Their training lacks real intent. The same is often true of martial arts and self-defense training; students attend classes with the hope (not the goal) of getting better, but they lack intent - this is often the fault of the instructor who fails to explain to them why they are training, and how they must train. The student has shown the initiative to recognize they need and want the training, but they may not have formalized in their mind the exact reason(s) why - it is the job of the instructor to help them understand these reasons. 

  • In my time teaching martial arts and self-defense, I have come to recognize four levels of intent, concerning violence: 


  • It will never happen to me  

  • It might happen to me 

  • It could, it is likely to happen to me 

  • It will happen to me  

Despite all the evidence to the contrary there are still those people who believe they will never be the target or victim of violence. They are either id denial, or are paralyzed by their lack of faith in their abilities, even with training, to be able to deal with an aggressor. Sometimes they are caught between the jaws of both. When you talk to them about scenarios, they might face, they will tell you that their lifestyle precludes them from such violence, or that there is nothing anybody can do; everything is an impossible, worst case scenario. They trust in their good sense and judgment not realizing that every predator knows what good sense and judgment is, and how to use it against them. They are potentially easy prey. These people never walk through the doors of a self-defense or martial arts school. 

There are some who think it might happen to them; it's unlikely but there's a chance. These are the individuals who trust in tricks and techniques. They don't want to, or don't see the need to spend time developing the skills and attributes that will save them. Show them what to do, and somehow they will be able to do it. These are the individuals who know months in advance they are going to visit a hostile and dangerous country, and show up a week before they go, to learn what they must do. They do not take violence seriously. It might happen but they believe there is little chance of it. These individuals rarely stay long in a school - they are only one-step removed from denial. 

Those that acknowledge violence could happen to them, that in many ways they are equally at risk as everyone else, do not deny the possibility, but instead see and imagine the possibility, and they want to know what to do. These individuals already have a level of awareness and have a knowledge of what could happen to them, and have taken the decision to empower themselves. Intent though, lies on a spectrum, and they may at times fluctuate from training with the intent that it could happen to them, to an intent level where it might. Sometimes they are switched on to training sometimes they are switched off. There are times when their training is real to them, and times when it is imagined. We must train with an urgency and a zeal, that what we are learning could safe our life, or the lives of others. When I do medical training I take it seriously; I revise in my head basic CPR, as I don't want to be in the position that should someone need resuscitating I can't do it - my lack of knowledge, of seriousness when I learnt will have cost them their life. Likewise, I don't want to train against knife and gun etc. half-heartedly and without seriousness and energy because if I train this way, it could cost me my life - it is worth taking a moment to realize why we train: survival. 

The highest level of intent to train with is, it will happen to me. If we train each session with the belief that the moment we walk out of our school or dojo, we will be attacked, we will train with a new found dedication and zeal. We don't want to develop paranoia in our training but we want to train with the commitment of someone who believes that violence is inevitable, as if each attack and threat we practice against in training reflects a real-life situation we must deal with. As we leave the dojo/school we should change the direction of our intent away from the physical, and consciously adopt self-protection and personal safety protocols, until they become second nature. In doing this, not only will we up our skills and techniques but we will also get in touch with another side of ourselves; the one that understand what survival actually means. 

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Never Stop Learning

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 15th Jun)

Somebody once sent me a link to a forum post where I'd been mentioned. Though I like the idea of forums i.e. an arena in which to share knowledge and ideas, they unfortunately tend to be inhabited by opinionated individuals, who like to make unsubstantiated declarations about instructors, techniques and systems (that they've never experienced or practiced). The post I'd been informed about was actually fairly accurate and well measured, and contained a strange criticism; that I'd trained with a lot of different Israeli instructors and trainers. I guess the writer was making the argument, that I should have found one teacher/instructor and set myself on the course of learning all they had to offer, before looking at other approaches and systems. It's a fair comment, and a valid point. However I disagree with it.  

Many martial arts instructors try and preach the message, that they are the only person that their students should train with and listen to (don't reda books, don't watch DVD's, don't train with anyone else ever etc), and it comes not from a desire to see their students progress but from a fear of losing them to somebody else or opening up the possibility of their students questioning them about their approach, and the solutions they suggest/provide. Self-Defense is a creative process. I believe this wholeheartedly, and to be creative you need to be exposed to new ideas and ways of doing things. These will help you gain new perspectives on the things you already know, and allow you to see other ways to deal with situations/problems. There is nothing wrong in disagreeing with another instructors approach or techniques etc. however this should be the result of questioning and testing your own approach. 

I have trained with many different Israeli Martial Artists and Krav Maga Instructors, and am glad that I did so; some of my instructors encouraged me to do so. Every instructor had an approach that they emphasized, whether it was to disengage, control or finish the aggressor etc. and each one of these angles and perspectives allowed me to understand the benefits and risks of these different approaches. Although many would say that you should always do this, and were quite dogmatic about whatever it was they were instructing me to do, I was always able to caveat always to be restricted to certain types of scenarios, where certain situational components were at play. being exposed to different ideas, gave me the ability to be more flexible in determining effective solutions to problems. 

Experience by it's own nature, is restricted to that of the individual. One instructor can tell you about their experiences however that doesn't mean that by default they apply to you. If your instructor is a 220 lb phenomenal athlete, and you are not, you need to judge whether their experiences of violence are directly applicable to you, and/or what they teach you is appropriate for you. If you can place their experiences in a landscape of others, you will be better able to understand where and how what they're teaching is appropriate for you. As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and the same is true of dealing with violence - nobody has the monopoly on either experiences and/or ideas (forums should be one area, where these can be discussed in a non-partisan way). 

This is one of the reasons I continue to bring some of the world's best martial artists, self defense and security experts to conduct seminars at my school. Just as I went out and trained with a variety of instructors, I believe in giving the same opportunity to my students. This approach I believe helps them become individuals who have a better understanding of violence, and allows them to have a variety of appropriate solutions to a lot of different situations. Training with other instructors will only increase your perspectives on violence, and allow you to see the solutions you already know, in their correct contexts and introduce you to others you may never have though about. The one thing we all have in common, whether we teach martial arts and/or practice martial arts is that we never stop being students and learning.       

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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 8th Jun)

I sometimes feel that the self-defense message of “Don’t be a Victim”, gets interpreted as, “Be Assertive” i.e. stand up for yourself etc. The two are not necessarily synonymous. There are many ways you can avoid becoming a victim, with assertive action being only one solution/way – and not always an effective one. In many ways, it is up to the individual – not everyone else – to decide what constitutes being a victim e.g. is the person who hands over their wallet to a mugger as part of a predetermined plan, really a victim, if their action leads to their desired and planned outcome; they don’t get stabbed or shot? In such an instance they have exacted a plan which allowed them to control the situation, rather than be an idle player or a “victim” in it. Whilst there may be individuals who take up self-defense and the martial arts because they don’t want to have to hand over their wallet to an armed assailant, as they see such actions/compliance as making them a victim. They are confusing becoming a victim with a lack of assertiveness. Don’t get me wrong there are times to be assertive, however “standing up” to an armed assailant(s) by default isn’t the most effective solution to a mugging or robbery.

Being overly assertive is also a good way to draw attention to yourself, something that some schools of thought might promote as a means of demonstrating to any predatory individuals that you are not a victim/someone to be messed with. However, whatever the primary motivation an assailant has e.g. money, sex, valuables etc. there are many secondary motives wrapped up in violent assaults, including: anger, power and control. Putting yourself out there on a predators radar by acting/behaving overly assertive may encourage rather than discourage them from selecting you as a potential victim e.g. if a mugger, who has little or nothing to show for their life, identifies an individual who seems confident, assertive and full of themselves, they may target them so that they can enjoy a degree of power and control – normally lacking in their life - and work out some of the anger issues that they may have. Far better, not to be noticed at all, than be seen as either a “victim”, a “badass” or an “overly confident/assertive” individual. If you can’t be seen you can’t be targeted.

Nobody likes to be told what to do, and being overly assertive can lead you to do just this. By “standing up” for yourself, you may end up giving someone no alternative but to physically engage with you. We should remember that we are not always dealing with people who are either operating rationally, or working to the same reality we are. In my world chairs/seating in a bar/pub is determined on a first come, first served basis. For somebody who has been drinking in that bar for 20 years, seating may be allocated according to where they and the other regulars, always sit when they drink there. This could mean that I end up sitting in someone else’s chair, even if the pub is almost empty. If said person turns up and tells me I am sitting in their seat, I may determine that I need to be assertive with them, and explain my position. Unfortunately, what I must realize is that they’re not interested in hearing my side of the story, they just want to sit in the seat they’ve always sat in. Being assertive is not going to get me anywhere in this type of situation.

Assertiveness is often tied and wrapped up with ego e.g. nobody should be allowed to say things like that to you, act that way towards you etc. I agree that people shouldn’t be allowed to treat people a certain way, such as sticking a knife in your stomach and demanding your wallet. However if you find yourself in such a situation, and your first concern is to be right and assert yourself, my guess is you’ll get stabbed; not an effective solution. Assertiveness can work if it involves setting sensible and workable boundaries for low level type confrontations however it fails miserably when dealing with highly emotional individuals, those who don’t share our understanding of reality and when dealing with those who are working to a criminal plan.

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Dogs & Self Protection

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 1st Jun)

Dogs & Self Protection (Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 1st Jun)

If you own a dog, you have not only a loyal, personal friend but have also invested in one of the world’s most sophisticated security systems. After occupancy, a dog is the biggest deterrent to any would be burglar, and as an early warning alert system is second to none. One of the main reasons a dog is so effective at security is that it cares about you - unlike an alarm or other piece of technology - and because of this it will work and give 110% to keep you safe. However there are also many other reasons why dogs are so effective at ensuring our safety, and it is worth examining a few of these reasons/characteristics, so that we can adopt and emulate them. I have always been a believer in learning from the best, and there are few better at threat detection, recognition and response than dogs.

Forgetting a dog’s superior sense of smell and hearing, dogs have one major personality trait that we once had many, many generations ago but have since lost, and that is curiosity – thousands of years ago when we weren’t able to take security for granted (due to constant threats from wild animals and other humans) we were a much more curious species (modern and relatively safe living has robbed us of this). If a dog hears a sound, it wants to know what that sound is; it’s curious about it. Lacking reason, it doesn’t try and explain the sound away, but instead investigates the cause of the sound; and it’s not happy until it’s done so. Dogs are curious about their environment and don’t accept unknowns.

If I am walking down the street, and I hear footsteps behind me, I should be curious about them, and I should make a dynamic risk assessment concerning them - determining whether I am in a situation concerning a high risk (maybe multiple footsteps running heavily towards me), or one containing an unknown risk i.e. I have yet to determine the significance of the footsteps. There is no such thing as a low risk situation, as to think like this would cause us to drop our guard. Rather we should be like a dog and not accept the unknown(s) but try and ascertain what the meaning behind the footsteps is, and any potential harm to us they may signify.

Dogs never discount threats simply because the last time they picked up on the same thing or something similar it didn’t end up being a threat or danger. Many years ago, when I was walking my dog one night in the park, he stood still and looked off into the distance. Something had grabbed his attention. He stood and watched what was moving before him until he worked out what it was; a black bin liner blowing in the wind. Once he’d figured out the movement he’d been attracted to/was curious about, he decided there was nothing to be concerned about and stood down. However this didn’t stop him repeating the same process when we passed by the same spot a second time. The movement of the bag still arrested him, and forced his curiosity. We educate ourselves badly concerning our past experiences of potential danger. The more times we hear footsteps behind us, make no response, and nothing bad happens to us, the more convinced we become that not making a response is the correct thing to do. Dogs don’t do this, they’ll treat the same threat in the same way, over and over again, regardless of the end result, not because they’re stupid and unable to learn, but because they understand that one time out of a million the movement they’ve identified may indicate a real danger, and they don’t want to endure the consequences of this. It pays to be curious, even when you think you are familiar with a situation/experience.

When a dog decides to attack, it does so decisively, with no doubts in its mind. It doesn’t question itself about acting, rather it understands that this is the only effective option left to it, and so it must act on it with full commitment. Why do we fear being attacked by a dog? Because we know once it attacks it won’t stop, give up or be taken out of the fight. Unless they are mechanically unable to do so a dog will keep fighting. If a dog is conscious and can move it will carry on. Could you say the same for yourself, or would the potential pain, and emotional stress cause you to give up? Dogs are totally committed to their cause, and are fearless- they act without regard for their own safety when they go to defend their owners/pack members. How committed are you to defending yourself? You should be every bit as committed as an attacking dog.

My dog sleeps by my side and is ever vigilant. I acknowledge his vigilance and respond to it. If he gets spooked and wants to stand looking out of my window, growling, at 2 AM, I’ll acknowledge his concern, for the potential threat he’s identified and praise him for it – even though it is inconvenient at that time in the morning. If I stop doing this, he may stop responding to the noises and movements that he’d normally be curious about, and on one occasion the threat might actually be real. There may well be a time when you tell yourself that the footsteps behind you mean nothing that you are just imagining it, being stupid and paranoid, and that could be the time that the footsteps precede an assault. If you’ve detected a potential threat, you should get into the habit of investigating it, rather than denying or discounting it.

We can learn a lot from dogs. We can be more curious about our environment, we can keep responding to those things which grab our attention but result in no consequence, by continuing to recognize them as potential threats. We can also promise ourselves to be more committed, determined and decisive when we have to act. Don’t just rely on your dog, if you have one, but learn to be more like them.  


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