Sink, Swim or Float?

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 24th May)

Most of us, including myself, have never been involved in an accident at sea; however I’m fairly sure what I’d do if I was, or at least if land was in sight: I’d swim. I’m a pretty good/strong swimmer, and I’ve swam all my life. However in most disasters at sea, trying to swim to land, or swim at all would be the worst thing I could do. The issue is that 95% of my swimming experiences have been in swimming pools, where the temperature is regulated, there are no currents, and land is always a predictable distance away i.e. I can calculate the energy required to make it to the side. Even though I have what seems an obvious survival skill, when in water, it is not always the most appropriate solution for every situation I find myself in. If I’m in a boat 4 miles from shore, that goes down – especially at night – the chances that I’d be able to make sense of the coast line (it’s not just getting to land, it has to be a piece of land I can actually get on to) is low, the chances that I’d get lucky with the currents is low, and the chances I’d exhaust myself and get hypothermia are high. Having a skill, strategy, or method that has been demonstrated in one environment doesn’t mean it’s an effective solution for every situation. My much better survival strategy in such a disaster is to grab something that floats, and hang on to it conserving my energy. A person who doesn’t know how to swim, may adopt this strategy much quicker than I would.

Young children are often better at surviving wilderness situations than adults. Adults have an understanding that there is a world beyond the horizon; that there is something to get to farther than they can see. Young children don’t; their world ends at the horizon. This means that they don’t madly run forward hoping to get to something they can’t yet see, meaning they conserve vital energy. They also tend to eat when they’re hungry, drink when they’re thirsty and sleep when they’re tired, all sensible things to do that adults often forget in their hurry, not to solve the immediate problem (hunger, thirst or tiredness) but to solve the greater problem; getting to whatever destination they’re heading to.

I see people in training follow the same path, especially when performing weapon disarms. The first/immediate issue when dealing with a threat by an armed assailant (as opposed to an attack, where they have already demonstrated their intent to use the weapon), is to give the assailant every reason not to use the weapon, to let them feel they are in control of the situation, and whatever demands they have of you – even if you have no intention of acquiescing to them – will be met. A person who shows you a weapon, deliberately letting you see it, either has an alternative option in mind to using it, or is not yet in the emotional place to do so. Putting your hands up and demonstrating that they are in “control” of the situation is an obvious way to do this; in almost all situations barring an assassination attempt. It is also a good way to prepare to disarm. Somebody who is untrained may not see disarming as an option and so acquiesce to the assailant’s demands, if this involves handing over a laptop or wallet etc. this is probably their best survival option. Someone who know how to disarm may unfortunately consider the disarm before they consider acquiescence – they are the individual who tries to swim to shore before considering other “safer” and more “realistic” options (are their times to disarm? Absolutely, but every time?).

The person who rushes the disarm before trying to make themselves safe, is like the person lost in the woods who is rushing the situation before meeting their immediate needs. Putting the hands up and slowing the situation down, so that you are more likely to succeed, rather than rushing ahead is a much better way to go. Are there times to perform “immediate” disarms? Of course there are, just as there are times to swim to shore, rather than simply look to float, however just because we can perform a disarm doesn’t mean we should – the situation determines the solution, and we should have a realistic understanding of the situations and environments we find ourselves in rather than simply believing and trusting in a skill we have to work in all situations.     

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Worst Case Scenarios

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 18th May)

There are many people who don’t believe that self-defense training is effective, worthwhile or productive. I am sometimes asked when I demonstrate/teach techniques, if they would really work e.g. “I know it would work against my training partner, but what if I’m facing a 320 pound, psychopath, who’s impervious to pain?” It’s a good point; in that scenario there are more things that won’t work than will – it also stresses the importance of threat identification, prediction and avoidance, so you never find yourself in such a situation. The problem with this worst case scenario thinking is that it leads us to be fatalistic in our approach to self-defense and personal safety, as well as disempowering us rather than empowering us to believe we are able to control the outcome of the various scenarios we may have to face. When somebody makes the point about the 320 pound behemoth and whether a particular technique will work or not, I usually ask them to look around the training area and pick out which individuals in the class match their imagined foe in regards to stature and size – a class of 20 practitioners will largely represent the cross-section of physical attributes, such as height, weight and size, that exist in the real world. Yes, there are individuals in the world who are abnormally large and strong, yet the criminally violent community is not made up of a larger than average share of these individuals (what distinguishes them from the rest of society is not their size but their propensity for violence). Believing that we will always be facing large and pain resistant individuals is a false proposition – we still need to know how to deal with them but they are not our most likely assailant.

We can easily talk ourselves out of the need to learn weapon disarms, because who could successfully disarm a gang of assailants who are pointing multiple firearms at us. I agree. It is hard enough to disarm one person, let alone two or three. Yet what is the likelihood that you will ever find yourself in such a situation, and does this invalidate learning to deal with the more likely scenario of facing a lone mugger/abductor/criminal with a firearm? It is all too easy to create scenarios in which it is impossible to succeed, and thereby conclude that learning to deal with any situation is a waste of time. Unfortunately we have a tendency to fixate on the dramatic, however unlikely, and come to the conclusion that there is nothing we could do when forced to deal with it – it is then an easy step to take to convince ourselves that all training is pointless . If an organized gang on trained criminals were to break into my house, getting past every security piece I have, and were then able to tie and handcuff me to a chair and give me a prolonged beating, you’d have every right to ask me, “so what would you do now?” you’d also have every right to question my solution, as being potentially unrealistic and ineffective – and in such a scenario you’d probably be right. But how likely is it that such a gang would target me, how likely is it that every security process, procedure and device I had in place was so easily bypassed, and why do I have to end up tied to a chair? Yes it’s a worst case scenario, but if I fixate on it, I will either conclude that all security is a waste of time, or waste a lot of effort and time designing preventative measures to a situation that is unlikely to happen – as well as wasting resources (time, effort and potentially money) that could have been applied to those situations that are much more likely and common.

It is all too easy to say a technique won’t work because of this and that and a whole line of “what ifs”. All techniques can be made to fail e.g. a punch won’t work if a person is too far away etc. We need to stop imagining the worst and looking at the most likely and probable, and then discerning if those are situations that we believe are possible to deal with. We can worry about facing the giant, who is impervious to pain, and physical punishment, or we can accept that most people will react to an eye being poked, a finger being bent etc. You have the choice to fixate on the worst case, or the opportunity to accept the most likely case etc. If you don’t believe you can have a physical solution to your worst case, then you should look at putting preventative measures in place to ensure you avoid facing it in the first place - this is why self-protection and personal safety training should not be ignored. At the very least understand you have the ability to control the situations you face and the various potential outcomes available e.g. there are few defenses that work better than not being there in the first place.

One of the strange/weird psychological tricks we play on ourselves is to imagine a worst case scenario, realize/understand that we have no solution to it (or that any solution we may have is far-fetched or unrealistic), and then at the same time rationalize that it is unlikely to happen to us i.e. we combine our worst case scenario with the denial of it. This is a crippling combination, which causes us to respond to the “feeling” of a worst case scenario, by denying its likelihood and probability. This is one of the most common ways in which we talk ourselves out of taking self-defense training e.g. to believe we could do nothing if someone assaults us (a worst case scenario), yet at the same time making the assumption that no one will assault us (denial) is the quickest way to adopt a victim’s mentality. Comprehensive self-defense training should include making risk assessments of our lives and life styles and understanding where we are at risk, and what we can do to mitigate these risks, whilst preparing ourselves for the most likely scenarios we will face e.g. it might be fun and informative to train gun disarms whilst on our knees as we are about to be executed however if you are a middle class, suburban housewife is this where a large part of your training and effort should go? Bringing worst case scenarios into our training, and practicing techniques that are relatively difficult to accomplish, will cause more people to question the point of their training than empower them in it         

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What To Do After Disarming A Firearm

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 11th May)

For many instructors and students weapon disarming, is seen as the pinnacle of self-defense training, yet it is often practiced without any real understanding of the various factors which are at play in a violent situation where a weapon is involved. In the self-defense world we often operate from the mistaken belief that once we have disarmed an assailant of their primary weapon, they cease to be an aggressor anymore, and/or respect our position of being the weapon holder and themselves the target/victim – a position/role we obviously didn’t adopt when we were the one with the weapon pointed at us; it could be a major misjudgment to believe that an assailant won’t try and retrieve his/her weapon. Where firearm disarms are concerned, we seem to naturally assume that the person we have just disarmed, will naturally be subservient and comply with our requests/demands after the disarm – this is often coupled with a mistaken belief that just because we are in possession of a firearm we are naturally in the superior/dominant position. Dominance only exists where another accepts it, and not everyone will accept that because you hold a firearm you are in a dominant position.

I often see self-defense instructors “tap and rack” a firearm after performing a disarm - although I used to teach this, I believe it is a dangerous and incorrect protocol to follow. Living and working in the UK, I learnt to accept that although firearms are prevalent, ammunition is not. Not every gun that is used in a criminal act is loaded. The UK enacted a firearm ban in the late 1980’s, that saw many guns being deactivated, which later in the 1990’s and 2000’s saw them being reactivated and brought back into circulation. However because there was no legal firearm’s trade in the UK etc. ammunition was and is in short supply. Many guns that were and are used in crime, are not loaded, or in certain cases loaded with the wrong caliber ammunition. In the UK disarming a weapon and believing/trusting it could be used as a ballistic weapon would be a dangerous position to take. What this goes to illustrate is that even in countries where owning a firearm is legal there is no guarantee that it is loaded, even when it is pointed at you – if you are relying on its ability to protect you as a firearm, once you have disarmed an assailant, you may be pointing it at the one person who knows what its true capabilities are. If an assailant has a secondary weapon such as a knife, they may well pull it and attack you, whilst you stand there repeatedly pulling the trigger of an unloaded weapon.

Most Krav Maga disarms involve grabbing the barrel of the weapon. In most cases if the firearm in question is a semi-automatic, holding the barrel, when an assailant pulls the trigger will prevent the slide from moving, and in turn prevent the bullet’s casing from being ejected and so jamming the weapon. This jam will have to be cleared in order to make the weapon operational. Trying to clear a jammed weapon under stress and duress is a difficult operation for an individual, especially one who is relatively untrained, to perform. Just because an assailant has been disarmed of their weapon doesn’t mean they cease to be an attacker. The time and distance to clear a potential weapon jam is huge if you are dealing with someone who is extremely aggressive and committed to causing you harm.

When you do disarm someone of a firearm, you equip yourself with a heavy solid striking object which is capable of delivering extreme concussive force, whether it is loaded or jammed. Repeatedly hitting someone with this object will put them out of commission – this is the first thing you should do when disarming them of such a weapon; use it to turn off their lights, don’t use it in a capacity where it could turn out to fail or let you down e.g. it’s unloaded or jammed. Just because you are proficient at using a firearm, don’t presume somebody else’s weapon is operational – if you do carry your own weapon, de-cock the assailant’s, discard it, and pull your own.       

Most of us will have few moral restrictions in striking someone with their own weapon to knock them out however we might hesitate and shy away from shooting someone, even if we believed that was their intention towards us. Using another person’s firearm to deliver concussive force, means we don’t rely on the weapon or the individuals fear at us having the weapon. To be honest, even if you shoot someone center of mass, they may still keep on coming (this is not as uncommon as you may think, especially if highly motivated, aggressive and adrenalized - Ibragim Todashev, one of those suspected of being involved in the 2014 Boston Marathon Bombing quickly recovered from being shot several times by an FBI agent to launch a second attack), and if they are armed with a knife they may still be able to stab and kill you before they succumb to their own injuries. If you use the firearm to concussively knock them out, you need never have to experience the level, force or degree of their intent. Disarm somebody of a firearm, use it to knock them out and the fight can be finished there. If you truly believe in your marksmanship under pressure, shooting for the hip may mechanically disable a person and prevent them from moving towards you – a tactic used against suicide bombers who are intending to blow themselves up.

For most of the situations we are likely to find ourselves in time and distance will be restricted, and our environment may not afford us the luxury of an easy disengagement where we can either get to our own weapon or use our assailant’s as a firearm (even if it is loaded and isn’t jammed, and is a make/model we are familiar with). Having a default response of using a firearm as an impact weapon, when at close range – this can be extended to your own weapon, and doesn’t have to only be restricted to firearms you have disarmed – is a much simpler, more reliable, and effective use of the weapon than trusting it as a firearm.


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Personal Safety/Personal Responsibility

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 4th May)

It always amazes me the looks I sometimes get when I say that personal safety, is a personal responsibility. There are some individuals who make the argument, that they have a right to be safe, a right not to be assaulted/attacked and so their own safety should not be their responsibility, and that predatory individuals should take the responsibility for not attacking them etc. To an extent I agree. Every individual should have the right to go about their business without having to worry about their safety, however this has never been a realistic proposition, and at the end of the day, personal safety has to be ensured by the individual, and not by anyone else, including society and those that enforce society's rule of law. Humans, 10 000 years ago would not have wasted their time arguing that they have a right not to be attacked by wild animals, or others humans, and would have put their efforts into ensuring that they never put themselves into a position where such attacks or assaults should occur, rather than wasting their time arguing about the injustices of having to consider their own safety from wild animals and aggressive humans. Just because modern society has afforded us with an environment where being assaulted is not a regular occurrence , doesn't mean we shouldn't consider all our actions and behaviors with regard to our own safety. 

In Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, personal safety, is on the level above: breathing, eating and sleeping, and below friendship etc. Safety, is the next need above basic existence/functioning and the one below that of social functioning. It is strange that we never question our need for food and social interaction, yet regularly neglect a basic need such as safety, which sits between the two of them. It also seems strange to me, that many individuals pass the meeting of this need on to others e.g. society, whereas they wouldn't expect for society to be responsible for feeding them and finding them friends etc. things they would see as being their own responsibility. If you have ever been assaulted, and had to dealt with the emotional and physical consequences of being attacked, you will soon realize the intimacy of violence, and realize that society - whatever that is - has little or no concern for your personal safety, and the only person who really cares about it is you. Violence is never fair, and having to take account of your own safety, in regards to the things that you do, may not seem fair, but it is reality. Haim Zut, one of Imi Lichtenfelds, first Krav Maga students, often says, if you are attacked once in twenty years, you will have wished you had been training for twenty years. Forget all the big talk in the martial arts and self-defense communities, even when you successfully physically defend yourself, you will not be joyful and exuberant, rather you will be depressed and disappointed that you will have been called upon to act this way.   

I have found that people who argue against or resent the idea, that personal safety is a personal responsibility have an unrealistic view regarding third parties who will intervene on their behalf. If you are expecting  others to come to your rescue if assaulted, you are in for a rude awakening. At a recent corporate seminar I gave, I was asked if it was better to yell fire than help, if you are being assaulted, as more bystanders and third parties are likely to engage if they believe there is a fire than if someone needs help. The martial arts community propagates a lot of unsubstantiated myths and old wives tales e.g. the majority of fights go to the ground, high kicks don't work on the street, if mugged throw your wallet on the ground away from you etc. In my book, make a statement, prove it, show me the empirical research that backs up a statement, such as the majority of street fights go to the ground. The Just Yell Fire argument comes from 17th Century London, and has no modern day equivalent. London in the 17th Century, was made up of close together houses, where fire could quickly spread from one house to another, and from street to street. The idea was that if you were being attacked, yelling/screaming fire would alert a homeowner to the fact that they could lose their home to a fire if they didn't take some practical measure e.g. going out on the street and helping to put it out. If a person has a vested interested in getting involved they may well do so. In today's society, where houses and buildings are not so closely linked, yelling fire may not provoke the same response. Relying on others for your personal safety may not be a good strategy. 

Considering your personal safety, is an inconvenience, and it may prevent you from engaging in actions, practices and behaviors that you may want to do e.g. going to a house party in a bad part of town may seem fun, but it may raise certain personal safety questions. However believing that your own safety should be handed over to someone else is a very dangerous step to take. As inconvenient as it is, we should consider everything we do in regards to our own safety.     

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