Weapons Vs Targets

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 29th Mar)

One of the most often asked questions when I am teaching striking is, “what are you aiming for?” Sometimes the question is aimed at trying to understand if a specific point is being targeted, such as when punching to the face; should you look to hit the nose, the chin etc. and sometimes it is more general e.g. upper torso, lower torso etc. As a martial artist, I like to think and believe, that I don’t just make attacks, but rather I target specific areas etc. However as somebody who teaches reality based self-defense, I have to acknowledge that aiming for and striking specific targets, is largely impossible, unless they represent specific body parts.

Krav Maga, often gets mistaken, for a system that is defined and based largely on groin strikes. From my own experience the groin can be a difficult target to get e.g. people tend to pull their hips back whenever a strike is made to this region, clothing such as pants with a low crotch can end up protecting the groin, and people rarely stand or move with their legs far enough apart for the target to be exposed etc. I remember the days when women’s self-defense, largely comprised of making knee strikes to the groin, ignoring the fact that the target was well protected and hard to find, and that such an attack couldn’t be made if the footwear (such as shoes with heels), and clothing (tight skirts and jeans) didn’t facilitate such movements. Overly focusing on a significant target can see our game-plan fall apart, when the situation doesn’t allow us access to it.

In real life situations, large striking surfaces, and large target areas, make for the biggest bang for your buck attacks e.g. Roundhouse kicks which use the shin, against an assailant’s upper or lower legs will rarely miss. The same is true of forearm strikes to the neck. Neither of these strikes needs to be 100% accurate, and both will largely be effective regardless of the way an attacker moves or responds. As a general approach, determining the weapons you will use, will be more effective than deciding upon the targets you will attack – once the weapons have been chosen the targets naturally define themselves.

In terms of delivering both powerful and concussive strikes, utilizing elbow, knee and head strikes, is likely to yield the greatest results; an elbow strike, a knee strike or a head-butt is likely to be a more effective fight finisher, than a punch, kick or eye strike etc. This means from a fight strategy point of view it is best to move to a range where such strikes can be thrown, than attempting to throw finely tuned/precision strikes against specific targets. Choosing weapons, and moving to the correct range to use them is your most effective strategy – an elbow or knee strike to either the head or body, will yield a result regardless of the target that was first selected. After choosing weapons, you must move to the range where they are best deployed – moving forward and at your assailant will mean that your weapons such as elbows and knees, will largely be decided for you.

When I look back to real life encounters I’ve been in and experienced, I honestly can’t remember aiming for specific targets such as the temple, chin or nose, I just remember hitting the “oval” object which was located above the neck. Just as you are trained to aim for center of mass when shooting, when striking I always followed the same idea – if you aim for center, the chances of missing decrease. If you punch to the center of the face, chances are you won’t miss either.

If you are training for reality, forget pressure points and target areas, and instead look to move to the range(s) where your tools/weapons, can employ the most damage regardless of the specific targets offered them. Basically this means getting in close when assaulted. Using strikes which are effective at multiple ranges, to get there, such as hammer-fists, and forearm strikes, which will allow you to connect with something, whether it is the fist or the forearm, as you close the distance. Once in range, your weapons will be decided for you, and as a consequence your targets.

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Treating Each Step towards Disaster as Normal

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 23rd Mar)

I rarely write about violence within relationships, and relationship abuse, as it is an emotive subject for many people. However on Saturday in our free women’s class, we had a group of girls come from one of the High Schools, in Boston, and it reminded me of the fact that violence towards young women, by boyfriends and partners, is becoming looked on as something which is more and more normal and something which should be expected by young women involved in dating and/or intimate relationships.

Violence and abuse within relationships can be categorized into 5 different types:

  1. Psychological
  2. Emotional
  3. Physical
  4. Sexual
  5. Financial

Psychological abuse, involves threats, both implicit and explicit, which may be made in direct or indirect ways. Sometimes the threats will start off being delivered in a jokey and humorous fashion, as if they’re not real, with the abuser eventually making good on them. They may even make the accusation that their partner/girlfriend never takes what they say seriously. Psychological abuse is designed to make the person be afraid of their partner/boyfriend.

Emotional abuse, plays on a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. Abusers will use lines like, “you’re so lucky to have me, nobody else would love somebody as fat or as ugly as you.” By chipping away at their partner’s self-esteem, their partner begins to feel that they are lucky to with the abuser, and that this may be the only time/way they will ever be in a relationship. Abusers may also use threats against themselves to emotionally victimize their partner/girlfriend e.g. “if you ever leave me, I’ll kill myself.” Statements like this make abused partners feel responsible for their abuser, and starts to get them to change their actions and behaviors so that they start doing everything in their partner’s best interest. Emotional abuse is designed to make the person being victimized feel that they are both lucky to be in a relationship with their abuser, and that they are solely responsible for the success and happiness of the relationship. Emotional abuse can also involve criticizing the way that a partner/girlfriend dresses e.g. “you look like a whore wearing that dress/skirt.”

Many women who are being physically abused, often don’t recognize that this is what is happening to them. If a partner/boyfriend, blocks your way to keep you in a room, it’s a form of physical abuse – it may not leave a bruise or a scar, but it is physical abuse. Partners who constantly snatch things, knock/spill things over their partner, restrict and block their partners movements are engaging in physical abuse. Often this type of physical abuse, precedes (and can be used as a predictor) for the violent abuse that does leave the person whose been victimized, hurt and injured.

Sexual abuse, can be as simple an act, as a partner refusing to recognize their partner’s sexual choices (and freedom), by not wearing a condom. It can also include pressurizing their partner, to engage in sexual acts they are uncomfortable with, and sending naked selfies etc. By the using emotional abuse that chips away at their partner’s self-esteem, it may be that their partner/girlfriend feels that going along with such demands is the only way that they will be able to stay in the relationship. An abuser may also make threats such as, “if you won’t do this for me, I’ll find someone who will.”

Financial abuse, can be as basic as forcing the partner to pay for dates and meals, and borrowing money that the abuser will never give back. It can also involve criticizing the spending choices that an individual makes, such as the amount spend on a pair of shoes etc. The abusers goal is to initially control their partner’s spending choices, and eventually their money directly. Women, regardless of the commitment level they have to the relationship, should remain financially independent from their partner – this means if they want to leave a relationship they have the choice to do so. Many women in abusive relationships find it almost impossible to leave their partner because they have no means of financially supporting themselves – this is especially true if they have children that they would have to support.

Few cases of abuse, start with the abuser revealing themselves for who they are. In fact most abusers start relationships appearing to be the perfect partner, being overly generous to the point of embarrassment and talking seriously and with conviction about their long term plans for the relationship. Gradually they will isolate their partner, from their friends and family, arguing that they and the relationship, should meet all of their partner’s needs. Through emotional abuse, they may force their partner to change the way they dress and look e.g. “you’re not wearing that, you look like a hooker.” They may start to put pressure on them to engage in sexual acts/practices, that they are not comfortable with – this is more about exerting control over their partner, than about sexual gratification. Abuse most often happens, step by step, with the victim treating each step as normal, as they edge ever closer to disaster.

Individuals in abusive relationships, are continually revising their base-lines of what a normal relationship looks like, and this is why it is difficult for those in abusive relationships, to recognize that they are. Each step along the path to abuse, has caused them to revise what they thought was normal, and so they never really get an idea of how far from normal they’ve come. Abuse should be recognized and identified for what it is. It can be difficult for an individual to admit to themselves that they are in an abusive relationship, especially when they have feelings towards their partner, but recognizing abuse and calling it for what it is, at the earliest opportunity, is the most effective way to deal with it. 

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The Post Conflict Phase of Violence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 15th Mar)

As optimistic individuals we often expect or believe our lives will follow the “happy path”, the route where everything goes to plan, and as expected. We also bring this optimism to our self-defense and martial arts training; that we will be successful in every conflict we have to engage in – after all we don’t train to fail. However reality, often doesn’t follow the happy path, exactly, if at all. If it did we wouldn’t need to think or care about self-defense in the first place. The reason we train and practice, is because we understand that despite all our personal safety and self-protection planning, bad things can still happen to us, and we need to be prepared to deal with them. We should also understand that, a fight/conflict, might not go in our favor, and that we might be shot, stabbed, concussed or severely injured as we fight to defend ourselves (and possibly others). If you haven’t given much thought to what happens after the fight, in the post-conflict phase of combat, you need to start seriously thinking about this e.g. how would you cope both physically and emotionally.

I believe everybody, involved in reality based self-defense should know how to decock a firearm and make it safe. I think it is a personal choice, whether to learn how to use a firearm tactically for self-defense purposes however if you are practicing a system that teaches gun disarming, you should at least know how not to become a danger to those around you, after you have successfully disarmed, and dealt with an assailant. The gun can be used as a blunt, impact tool to deliver concussive force, and does not by default have to be used as a firearm, but making it safe after the incident, so that you or anybody else in your environment isn’t endangered by it should be a skill you possess. This should be done before you walk into a police station with it – it is rarely safe to stay at the scene of an assault and wait for a police officer to come to you and relieve you of the weapon.

Perhaps one of the most important post-conflict skills you require is that of first-aid; without being over-dramatic this really could be the difference between life and death for you or someone else who was involved in the conflict. To believe that you will enter a fight where a weapon is involved, and not come out with some form of injury is naive at best. Your intention should not to get shot, stabbed or hit with a weapon, but it is not always possible to stay on the “happy path”, especially against an adrenalized and committed attacker, who wants to cause you serious harm. Being able to identify different injuries, their severity and their consequences, is a key survival and self-defense skill. Self-treating injuries without the correct information, can make them worse. This training should go beyond basic Red Cross type first aid and CPR, which you should have by default – imagine not taking the time to do a 4 hour CPR course and losing a friend or family member to a heart attack or similar, where you could have saved them. There are courses out there, which teach you how to deal with knife wounds and gun shots along with the other types of injuries you may experience, and if you are serious about your self-defense training, you should look into such courses and training (talk to your instructor about putting an event on at your school).

You should also start to think about how you will respond emotionally after an assault – if you have taken a serious beating in the process, it may take you some time to get over this both psychologically and emotionally (especially if your assailant was somebody you knew and trusted, such as someone who was a friend or family member – this does happen). Trauma occurs, when we are placed in high stress/emotional situations which we feel we are unable to exert any control or influence over. As social creatures, this causes us to feel ashamed and embarrassed. This is especially true if we feel and believe we should have been able to control events, due to our training. In some instances we look for reasons as to why the incident occurred, and self-blame, so that we can lessen our feelings of shame by transferring them into guilt (guilt is a form of personal/private shame, which is more tolerable to us than public shame). If we can find a reason as to why something we did, caused us to be assaulted, we gain back some control of the incident. This process is prevalent in many sexual assaults, where the victim (both adult and child) blames themselves for what happened e.g. it was because of what they were wearing, the way their actions and behaviors gave off certain signals to their attackers/abusers etc. By doing this a victim may adopt a view that they somehow deserved the assault, and that it is somehow their destiny to be assaulted again. In doing this they can adopt a victim profile that attracts predatory individuals and so self-fulfill their prophecy.

If you are somebody who only looks down the “happy path” and believes you will always be successful in a real-life conflict, you are in a state of denial, that may be as strong as that of someone who believes they’ll never be assaulted at all – and you both might get lucky. Far better to prepare yourself, and accept that you may have to deal, psychologically, emotionally and physically with a different post-conflict situation.

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Not Limiting Yourself By The Obvious

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 8th Mar)

Sometimes we prevent ourselves from being effective because we are blinded by the obvious. Last week, I conducted a short seminar on offensive knife fighting, teaching a simple combative approach to using a knife – my belief is that if you are able to disarm someone of a weapon you should know how to use it/or at the least make it safe. If you decide, and are able, to take a knife away from someone, you should have some idea – even at just a basic level - about how to use it; a weapon in your hand which you are uncomfortable using, or don’t know how to use, is a hindrance rather than an enabler. A key decider in any conflict is decisiveness, and unfamiliarity with a technique or a weapon will cause hesitation rather than action.

It is easy to look on a knife, as simply comprising of a blade which you can cut and stab with, and whilst this is the primary strength of such a weapon, it is not limited to these actions – there is also, the hilt and the handle which can be used to inflict, pain, damage and control upon an assailant; the butt of the handle can be used as a solid, impact weapon, to deliver concussive force to an attacker – however if we only see the knife as a cutting, slashing and stabbing tool, we become blinded by the obvious strengths of the weapon and miss out on the other ways it can be used. In reality based conflicts the knife is a close range tool/weapon, but in very close ranges the length of the blade may actually become a hindrance, and the weapon may be more effective if forceful strikes, with the base of the handle are made, which can set up cuts and stabs (the primary manner in which a knife should be used).

Here is a clip from the seminar demonstrating its use in this way: click here to view

It would be easy to dismiss the effectiveness of using the knife in such a manner, however if you study the evolution of trench knives, during the first world war, where combat in confined spaces was a prevalent feature, you will see that simple knives, started to have hand guards, and “knuckle dusters” fitted/added to them, so that the knife wasn’t restricted to being just a cutting tool, but modified and enhanced in order to be an effective impact weapon as well – it may be quicker to incapacitate an assailant with concussive force, than by stabbing/cutting them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and in close combat, a weapon needs to take on all the forms, in which it can to be used – a knife can’t just be an edged weapon, it needs to be an impact tool as well; the same goes for side-arms – there are situations where a pistol or revolver is better used as an impact weapon than a ballistic one. Unfortunately, if you only train your firearm in one dimension, you may fail to develop the creativity that is needed to employ it in others e.g. if you only practices shooting with your sidearm, that is the only way that you will use it (you will become like the early UFC fighters who never believed they’d be taken to ground, and so need to know how to fight in this different dimension).

If you only ever use a knife as an edged weapon, or a gun as a firearm, you will not view what you have in your hand as a tool that can possibly be utilized in other more effective ways. It is sometimes worth looking back at history, and seeing the ways different fighting implements were developed and evolved, and seeing whether the situations they were employed in are relevant to the ones we are likely to face. If combatants in the trenches, realized the need to evolve their edged weapons to be able to be used as impact weapons as well, when engaging in close combat, we should maybe take a look at their experiences/situations and judge if they are relevant to us; the most effective way to use a knife in a trench probably corresponds very well to the way a knife should be used when you are in similar confined spaces, such as bathroom stalls or pushed up against a wall etc. Using the butt of the knife, starts to become effective, as does using a firearm as an impact weapon etc.

Rather than limiting your thinking to the obvious, you should think and consider the complete properties of what you have in your hand, and not limit your thinking to its obvious use. Look back in history, and see how others, changed a weapons obvious and natural use, so as to make it effective in real-life situations e.g. the trench knife with its adapted guard so it could be used as an impact weapon, was born out of necessity. We can learn from such experiences. Adapt and open up your thinking beyond the contexts in which you train, so you can envisage multiple ways in which you can use the various techniques you train in.           

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Color Codes & The Timeline of Violence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 1st Mar)

Violence is a process; in most instances, an assailant has to, determine a motive, become emotionally ready to make an assault, and position themselves physically to do so. This process can off course take place in seconds, but it is a process nonetheless, and it takes place in time. How we experience and recognize this process also happens a long a timeline, and how quickly we recognize a potential threat depends upon our level(s) of situational awareness.

The late Jeff Cooper, created a color code system of “Situational Awareness” that has long been taught to police officers, civilian and military personnel as well as civilians. His system identifies four main categories/levels of alertness (it is worth noting that this was originally developed in relation to firearms usage). The first code he identifies is code white, where an individual is completely switched off and unaware – most times we are naturally in code white is when we are either asleep, or so engrossed in a particular activity, that we have switched off almost all of our senses, so that any change in our environment will go undetected e.g. if you walk with headphones on, or talking on your mobile phone, your focus will be switched from what is going on in your surroundings, to what you are listening to, or whom you are in conversation with. In Code Yellow, you are not anticipating a threat, but aware that it is possible for one to present itself, regardless of the environment you are in – even in the relative safety of your own home you should be in code Yellow e.g. you are able to pick up on any strange noises that might occur. In code Orange you have identified a potential threat, not necessarily a real one, but something that could possibly signify harmful intent towards you – something worse investigating. In Code Red, you know the threat is real and has to be dealt with.  

Firstly, it is worth noting, that most of us are not police officers or security personnel, and so are by default in different situations to these individuals and engage with our environment differently e.g. we are not actively looking out for criminal behavior etc. but simply going about our daily business. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a level of awareness about what is going on in our environment but that is more on the subconscious level, than on the conscious – that is we should be aware enough to identify other people’s emotional shifts and movements, but this comes more from our fear system, identifying these threats and dangers for us, and then alerting us by means of adrenalizing us, than from us actively enquiring about them, and thus identifying them. As civilians, we naturally slip into Code White, from time to time e.g. if you are working on something as part of your job, which requires your full concentration, you will be default slip into a code white state – however your workplace is probably generally a safe place, and there is little risk when this happens. When you leave work however it would be advisable, to free up some of your mental bandwidth, so that you can properly interact with your environment i.e. move to code Yellow.

Maybe as you pass somebody, they start to follow you, and your fear system identifies the person’s movement synchronizing to yours, as being a potential threat. To alert you to the possible danger, it adrenalizes you, shifting your emotional state. Before this you were in one what we refer to on the “Timeline of Violence” as being in a Non-Conflict state (there was nothing in your landscape that indicated a threat or danger), however you have moved along the timeline, into the Conflict-Aware stage; you have also shifted from Code Yellow to Code Orange – there is something worth you actively investigating i.e. what are the intentions of the person behind you? In this phase and at this stage you don’t know if the person’s movement directly relates to you; it could be simply coincidence that they choose to start walking as you passed them. As you make your dynamic risk assessment, you should determine whether their behaviors and actions represent a high risk, or an unknown risk (as you are in Code Orange, it would be wrong to assume their actions as being “low” risk – that will only serve for you to lower your guard at a time when you should be actively determining what their intentions are).

You may decide to alter your direction, crossing the road, and re-crossing it, or possibly taking a detour, such as turning right on to a street, turning left, and then turning right again to bring you back out on to your original street (a detour nobody would make unless they were following you). As you do this the person behind you aggressively shouts after you, “Stop! I need to talk to you!” at this point their movement and their behavior, indicates that they have harmful intent towards you, and you enter the Pre-Conflict phase. The Pre-Conflict Phase differs from the Conflict Aware Phase, in that you now know the threat/danger you were aware of is definitely directed at you. You have also moved from Code Orange to Code Red – your mental shift should be that the person is not a potential threat, but a potential target. It maybe that you are able to de-escalate or disengage from the situation, without physical action, however you are now actively prepared, and planning to move to the Conflict phase on the Timeline.   

Jeff Cooper’s color code system is great way to understand how we mentally move gears both up and down (we should know when not to be in heightened emotional states, as well as when we should), depending on the environments we are in, and the behaviors and actions of those within them. When we place them on the Timeline of Violence, they tell us how we should be thinking and what we should be doing in terms of threat identification and decision making.

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