Using Items As Intended

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 31st May)

We often open ourselves up to the risk of property theft, by extending or changing the use, of things that belong to us. To give an example of this, I recently had to rationalize the use of a bag that I use to transport my laptop in; the bags original use was simply to house my laptop, but over the course of many months, it started to fulfil the role of a storage container, housing many valuable items, which would have been difficult for me to replace, had the bag been stolen. Also, because the bag had started to become heavier due to all these items – which I rarely, if ever used on a daily basis – I had started to leave the bag in my car whereas before I would take it with me etc. Although it is easy to give yourself a break from staying safe, and personal safety, because the last time you did or didn’t do something nothing happened e.g. my car wasn’t broken in to, it is worth noting that criminals operate on a 24x7 basis, and don’t take a moment off from their activities. If anyone had broken in to my car to steal my bag they would have ended up with a lot more than just my laptop – some of which would have been a nightmare for me, from an identity theft perspective. My laptop case had changed from a means of transportation to one of storage.  

A good example of the constant observational activities and the change of use of something, concerns burglars and garages. A garage that is attached or next to a residential house, is designed to a house a car; although it can be used to store garden furniture, kids toys, and boxes of old books etc. this is not what it was designed for. By filling your garage with boxes and the like, you will be unable to park your car in it. This may not seem much of an issue, if the climate is good, and/or you have a gated driveway etc. however having to park your car on your driveway, let’s people know both when you are at home, and when you are out. Signs of occupancy are the biggest deterrent to burglars, who want to break in to your house when nobody is around. If a burglar notes the times when your car is and isn’t in the driveway, they will know when your house is vacant. If your car is hidden/parked in your garage and is never sitting out on display, or drawing attention by its absence then no signals regarding when your house may be vacant or not are transmitted. Changing the use of your garage to a storage facility, can create a vulnerability that a threat can exploit.

Cars themselves can unintentionally become storage facilities, with valuable items, such as laptops etc. being left in them overnight, rather than being moved into a more secure location such as your house – this may be especially true if you are returning home late at night, have additional bags to carry in, and/or have to manage small children etc. Work laptops often get left in cars overnight on evenings when it’s apparent they’re not going to be used i.e. what’s the point of taking a laptop into your house, only for you to return it to the car, unused, in the morning. The problem is that cars are not secure in the same way that your house is, and are much easier to break into. Cars, can often become storage facilities if they are used to transport equipment as part of your job e.g. film, music equipment etc. can be both expensive and bulky, and up getting stored in a car between jobs rather than being emptied out at the end of the day. The hassle of moving equipment between your car, your house, and your place of work, may seem a hassle you don’t need, especially early in the morning and late at night, but it’s an effort that is worth taking, when you consider the time and cost of replacing equipment, as well as a potential rise in insurance premiums.

A friend of mine at University, at the end of a semester, decided that he would pack his car in the evening with everything he had, in order to avoid having to do this in the early morning, when he was planning to leave. As a time saving measure, this made a lot of sense, however as we were living in the North East of England, which has some of the highest rates of car crime in Europe, it was perhaps not the safest thing to do. Needless to say his car was broken into overnight, and every electrical good he owned along with his CD collection – which although monetarily may have been worth a lot was from my own musical preference and perspective, worthless – were stolen. The time he took in calling the police, and making a statement lost him all the time he’d hoped to gain from packing the car the evening before. A packed car, means that items are on display, whether you want them to be or not, and indicates that there well might be valuable things that are out of site. As it was a university town, I’m sure many criminals were aware of students packing up their cars at the end of term, and possibly leaving them unattended either overnight or for an extended period of time. Just as there are criminals who watch our driveways in order to keep track of our movements, there are those that know the lifecycles of the towns, and districts in which they operate.

From a personal safety perspective bags and cars should be used to transport items, not to store them. It is worth taking time to clear them out on a regular basis, as well as to take an inventory of them, so that if they do get stolen, you know what is lost. Many people could not tell you the actual active credit/debit cards they have in their wallet/purse, making it difficult for them to report what is stolen should they be robbed/mugged. Garages, should be used as garages, and also made secure, especially if they adjoin a house, where there is the possibility of entry through the garage. Using things as they are intended is good from a personal safety/self-protection perspective.   

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Being A Hero By Disengaging

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 22nd May)

A few weeks ago there was an incident in a restaurant in Taunton, Massachusetts, where an assailant went on a stabbing spree, killing one person and injuring several more. The incident, has caused several of my students to question what they should do in such a situation, and even if there is anything they could do if faced with a highly emotional individual stabbing and slashing everyone they come into contact with – it is worth noting that the attacker was in a highly erratic and frenzied state, and their attacks were delivered with full force, and complete commitment; the attacker was looking to kill, not to maim or injure.

The first thing to understand about your reactions, and responses in such situations, is that being attacked as part of a group, is very different to being targeted/assaulted as an individual. Unfortunately, much self-defense training, neglects to cover this particular area, solely focusing on scenarios and situations where an assailant looks to focus all of their intent upon one individual. Most schools will train one-on-one, many-on-one (multiple assailants), but not train one-on-many. A simple drill to check how students might respond in such a scenario, would be to have one student in a class, suddenly start running around, randomly stabbing other students - with a training knife - as they practice drills, techniques, listen to instruction etc. or are otherwise engaged. Some students will stand around confused, some will stand back, others will try to engage individually with the assailant, and some may try and shout ideas and commands to others to get them to assist in controlling the “attacker”. These are the common responses of “trained” individuals, who practice self-defense and the martial arts, and they are all valid responses, however other effective and valid responses are often not considered, because the message that gets promoted in most schools, is that because students have skills and techniques they should always look to get involved. Too often, other ways in which a person can be effective in such a situation aren’t looked at or promoted.

Firstly, you have to be honest with yourself: just because you may be more skilled, than anyone else in the environment, at dealing with an armed assailant, it doesn’t mean that this should be your first thought. If you are in a group that is being attacked, you may save more lives including your own, if you organize an evacuation of the location. Many people in the group will be caught either in a freeze state, where they are paralyzed by fear, or in a state of denial, failing to recognize that they are in imminent danger. You may not be able to save the person who is currently being attacked, but you may be able to save many more, by waking them up to the threat they are facing, and directing them how and where to exit. I’m not saying this will always be the case/situation, but when you are considering your options, you may come to realize that despite having more skills than others in your group, you don’t have enough skills to successfully disable and incapacitate the attacker. You may want to instruct one of the individuals whose exit, you organize to alert the police/security, so that somebody with the necessary skills and attributes to deal with such a situation is made aware of it – don’t trust anyone’s common sense, that they will naturally do this; people in a state of shock need to be told what to do, otherwise they’ll simply assume someone else has already taken responsibility for this.

If you have medical skills, your greatest effect in such a situation may be to administer first aid to those who are wounded and have managed to get out, until the paramedics turn up. The unsung heroes of any battlefield are the medics; the guys who save lives. If you know how to treat and stabilize someone suffering from stab wounds, and reduce blood loss, till the emergency services turn up, you may well save a life. It’s a hard choice between possibly preventing lives being taken (engaging with the attacker), and saving lives – dealing with the effects of their attacks – however it may be one that you have to make at some point, and do so in an honest and realistic way; where are you going to be most effective. There are many more ways to be the “hero” than by being the guy who stopped the assailant. In an active shooter situation – even if you are carrying a firearm – your greatest service, could be dragging those who have been shot and wounded to safety, rather than trying to engage with the shooter. Going into a situation, with only one thought in your mind i.e. engaging with the threat, may see you miss opportunities where you could actually be more effective. It may be hard to “walk away”, when your entire self-defense/martial arts career has been focused on engaging, however disengaging from the assault in order to save lives may be the greatest part/role you can play.

The best way to get students to understand the different options that may be available to them in a situation, and to help them find their own answers as to what they should do in certain situations, is to set up scenario-based training. Create situations, and give people different roles to play, different motives etc. Put people in scenarios and make them think. Let them take decisions and then question them, not because their choice(s) was wrong, but so that they can think of other different ways they may have handled a situation. Let them develop a broad range of options to dealing with violent situations and foster/nurture their creativity when dealing with danger. Engagement may be one of several options available to an individual, and it should be recognized that self-defense/martial arts training by its nature naturally trains people to go down this route. This is why we need to engage in training that looks to develop other ways in which we can/may respond.




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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 15th May)

One component of situational awareness is recognizing abnormal actions and behaviors that individual(s) within an environment may engage in. To understand the abnormal - what is out of place, or an exception – you must first be able to recognize what is normal; this means establishing baselines. At the moment, as I’m writing this, my view overlooks a parking lot, and I have a “baseline” for what are normal activities to take place in a parking lot e.g. people moving to and from cars, loading the trunk up with shopping, fastening children into car seats etc. These are normal actions and behaviors for people to engage in when in this setting, and having established this baseline, I'm able to identify what are unusual activities e.g. groups of people standing around, individuals loitering, people running etc. All of these things may be legitimate activities with easy explanations; a person could be running because it is raining and they’ve forgotten their coat, a group may form if friends agreed to meet in the parking lot before going to a restaurant etc. Having this baseline, allows me to recognize abnormalities, and investigate them. At this stage I would try and make a dynamic risk assessment of the situation, in order to ascertain whether any of the individual’s actions/behavior contain a threat, that could exploit one of my vulnerabilities (or any of the “assets” I am trying to protect, such as my kid, who happens to be with me).

One of the issues we may have with establishing baselines, is when we find ourselves in unfamiliar environments. In such situations, we may find ourselves focusing on perceived “threats” that are actually harmless, and failing to identify potential dangers because we don’t actually know what a particular threat looks like. If we can establish baselines, we can avoid this happening. The first danger we must avoid in understanding our “new” environment, is to accept that another baseline we have may be inappropriate to use e.g. if you are a teacher in a middle school, and try to apply a baseline appropriate to a schoolyard setting, to a rough part of an inner city district, you may find yourself ignoring or discounting certain actions and behaviors that could signal danger; the warning signs for conflict in one setting, don’t necessarily equate to another. Another danger with inappropriate baselines can be seen with travel security, where people visiting a tourist destination see all friendly approaches by locals as being genuine – the baseline has been created from expectations, rather than from reality. Part of travel security is learning and educating yourself as to the different methods criminals in a particular location use, so you can establish an accurate baseline as to what is normal behavior and what is abnormal e.g. is it normal for a taxi you are in to pick up other travelers on route – may be a normal activity in a certain part of Africa, but may signal the setup for an “Express Kidnapping” in South America etc. What is normal in one setting may not be normal in another, and it is only by establishing baselines that we can spot these abnormalities.

Baselines, are flexible, and can change over time. Fifteen, to twenty years ago, asking somebody for the time could be categorized as a normal behavior i.e. not everybody wore a watch. Today, few people don’t have a mobile phone, and access to the time, making such a request questionable. Of course there are legitimate reasons why somebody might not have access to the time; they are one of the few people on the planet without one, they may have inadvertently left it in the car, the battery may have died etc. however these are exceptions, that require an explanation, and so deviate from the baseline, where most people have a mobile phone and therefore access to the time. If you have to come up with a reason or explanation for somebody’s actions or behaviors – why are they doing that? Why would they be asking me that? Etc. – then you know that their activities are not consistent with your baseline.

An action or behavior that deviates from the baseline, can also be something that someone is not doing rather than something they are. One of the things that marked the two Boston Marathon Bombers out on the CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) footage, was the fact that the two bombers had no interest in the race. Whilst everyone else in the crowd were looking at the runners, the Tsarnaev brothers were faced in the opposite direction. The baseline for any sporting event is that the crowds focus should be on the athletes, anyone not doing so is acting in an abnormal fashion. If you are involved in a physical confrontation, and you see somebody moving towards you, they are not doing what most people will do, which is move away from a fight (at least to a distance where they can watch without the danger of inadvertently getting involved); maybe it is security personnel coming to break up the fight, maybe it’s a friend coming to assist you, but it could also be a second assailant coming to assist the first. In such a fast paced, dynamic situation such as this you will have to make an effective decision on what to do, rather than evaluate all options, till you get the best.

It is not possible for us to experience all the environments that we may find ourselves in e.g. it is good advice to not walk down a dark alley, but it is not always feasible not to. It is great advice, to not be in a bad part of town late at night, however a wrong turn, roadworks, the need to pick up a friend etc. may mean that this is unavoidable. Although you may not be able to have a baseline based on firsthand experience, if you understand the common processes that criminals use, you should be able to create one e.g. if you understand the different types of synchronization of movement, you will be able to ascertain if a person’s general movement contains harmful intent etc. We will never have perfect and complete information of a situation, but we should be able to recognize the essential components.


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Heavy Bag Workouts

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 8th May)

There’s a lot of different ways to use a heavy bag for training, however I know that many people have difficulty, using the bag and training, as if it were a “sparring” partner. Often bag workouts lack this component, and the bag simply becomes a target for unloading punches and kicks on, almost as if it is just an extra-large kick shield that doesn’t require the use of a partner to hold it. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be used this way, rather that there are other ways in which it can be used, and these are worth exploring. Each bit of kit that you use has its own “role” and purpose e.g. focus mitts/Hook’n’Jab pads aren’t primarily designed as an aid for developing power (though they can be used for this) and are better used as a tool for upping/increasing hand speed, targeting etc. For me the heavy bag is best used a tool for dynamically working range, timing, footwork, movement and power etc. Basically, the bag is a sparring partner, that doesn’t hit back, and can put up with a prolonged beating. If you simply stand, facing the bag and throw punches and kicks at it, with the singular goal of increasing the power of your strikes, you are only using about 10% of the bag’s potential. If you start to look on the bag as a sparring partner, you’ll start to eat into that other 90%.

The first thing to look at when you use the heavy bag this way, is your range and distance from the bag. One of the biggest mistakes I see in bag work, is that people start of too close to it, and yet hit when they are too far away. When you spar with an opponent you start outside of their reach, at a distance/range where they can’t reach you, and then cross into that range when you want to attack. This should be the same when you use the bag. Your first/leading strike may be one that isn’t designed as a power shot, but rather as a range-finder, or a disrupting strike that provides cover as you move in – this is ok to do on the bag, not every strike you fire has to be a power shot i.e. it’s alright that not every shot you fire is delivered at full blast. When you do move in though, you will be looking to strike with power, and this is normally when people end up throwing their shots, too far away from the bag. When you throw a power shot, when your fist first makes contact with the bag, there should be about a 45-degree bend at the elbow; this will allow you to drive into and through the target – which is what you should be doing with every punch you throw.

On a self-defense note, if you close your fist, you are creating a striking object that should be used to deliver maximum force (normally concussive force), whether it’s a punch or a hammer-fist etc. If you’re not throwing such a strike with full force, use a different strike, such as an eye-strike, a cradle-palm etc. Have the “rule” that when you clench your fist, it’s to strike with all the force your body can possibly generate. There are times when you won’t be able to or won’t want to strike with all the power you can, such as getting a hand quickly into an assailant’s face to disrupt their attack etc. however when you close your fist and punch there should be no holding back, and all of the body – not just the shoulders and arms – should be used.

Once you have moved into range, with the bag, work on combinations, and move. Imagine the bag as a sparring partner; you wouldn’t just throw one strike, and neither would you probably just stay in front of them as you punched/kicked – this could be because they move in reaction/response to your attack, or because you want to change angles on them, so that they are put under more pressure. This movement should be replicated in your bag workout i.e. add in lateral movement around the bag, whilst you are in striking range. If you haven’t yet developed this in sparring, work on it using the bag, and then bring it into your sparring game-plan. If you have developed a habit on the bag, of simply moving in and out on a straight line, it is likely that this will become a pattern in your sparring. It may also be worth training this lateral movement whilst you work, before you first move in e.g. before you cross into range, move to your left or right first, and then move in with your initial strike – this will start training you to not just move directly forward against a sparring partner, but initiate your attack at an angle.

A good habit to get into when working the bag is not to exit on the same line you entered, and also to work on the speed of your footwork, as you move away out of range. Too often I’ll see somebody work a combination on the bag, and then stop, as if their combination floored their opponent every time. There are times when you will/may have to back away from somebody, not just in sparring but in real-life. If you are dealing with multiple assailants, you may need to back off from somebody your assaulting to deal with somebody else etc. Getting out of the habit of always backing out the same way you went in, is a good one to break.

The heavy bag is a great bit of kit, but it is something more than just a receptor for unleashing single punches and kicks on, rather it should have some time spent with it being used as a silent partner, to help you develop movement skills, entry and exit skills, movement when in contact with your opponent/assailant etc. There is much to be learnt and gained from moving around the bag, when outside of what an attacker’s range would be, such as moving in a way that would cause an assailant to move and plant their weight in a certain way etc. In your next bag workout, be creative, and have a plan of what you want to achieve from it.   

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Are Two Handed Choke Defenses Relevant?

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 2nd May)

Many people who come to a Krav Maga class for the first time, have little or no experience of what real-life violence actually looks like; their last actual reference point may be a schoolyard fight they were in or witnessed. This, coupled with some CCTV clips from the news, and “realistic” TV and movie fights, could represent the whole of their understanding of violence. When someone takes part in what is billed as a reality-based self-defense class, they are effectively being told by the instructor that the attacks they are learning to defend themselves against are the ones they are most likely to face i.e. they are being taught to deal with real-life violence. This is one of the reasons, amongst others, that I stopped teaching defenses against two-handed choke attacks (one where an assailant grabs your throat with two hands and squeezes your neck in order to choke you), early on in my school’s syllabus – one of the hardest parts in defending yourself against a two-handed choke attack in the real world, is getting someone to attack you like this…that is unless you are Bart Simpson and you’ve just done something really annoying to your dad. Don’t get me wrong, two-handed choke attacks do occur, however they are not as common as other attacks (such as being pushed and punched etc.) and tend to occur in very specific situations. In short, they don’t really represent what real-life violence looks like, and yet many Krav Maga instructors present these attacks, as something that a new student is likely to have to deal with – this just isn’t the case.

This is one of the dangers when instructors have to follow a syllabus, without questioning whether what’s being taught actually reflects reality – unfortunately, in some cases instructors don’t have any experience or knowledge of what real-life violence looks like, and so blindly believe that what they’ve been told to teach/instruct reflects reality. If a Krav Maga instructor truly believes, or wants to argue, that two-handed chokes are common place, I would suggest that they spend a few years working door or bar security, and tally up the number of times that they see such an attack. From my own personal experience, working the door, and from conversations with other security professionals, who have firsthand experiences of both witnessing and dealing with violence, two-handed chokes of this nature are extremely, extremely rare. When I’ve had this conversation with some other Krav Maga instructors, they’ve told me that they use the choke attack to demonstrate certain Krav Maga principles e.g. different responses to life threatening and non-life threatening attacks etc. While this is a fair point, there are other attacks, that can be used to demonstrate the same points and principles, which are much more common; and so it would be better to teach a new student how to deal those. First impressions stay with people and are hard to undo, so instructors should consider whether it is appropriate to give new students the impression that most violent altercations involve two-handed chokes.

On more than one occasion, other Krav Maga students and instructors have accused me of not staying true to “historic” Krav Maga. I’m quite happy to admit that I don’t care a lot about “history” and “traditions”, when it comes to teaching people how to survive real-life violent confrontations. Krav Maga has never been an academic pursuit to me, it’s always been a practical one (something that it has to be if you work in the security industry). Don’t get me wrong, the fundamental principles, concepts and ideas that Imi Lichtenfeld, the creator of Krav Maga, laid down, are good, solid, realistic fighting principles, however I don’t accept that a no-longer common attack (that may have been prevalent in the Middle East in the 1940’s), such as a two-handed choke, should be taught as one of the first things that a new Krav Maga student learns. My personal belief is that the first things a student learns, should be the most realistic and practical, and these can be altered depending on the country, culture and group that is being taught e.g. when I had my school in London, I spent much more time teaching new students defenses against knife attacks, than I do currently at my school in Boston, simply because knife attacks were/are a daily occurrence in London.

The number of variations in techniques taught concerning two-handed chokes is also of concern - e.g. chokes from the side, the rear, with a push, with a pull etc. This to me demonstrates the danger of the “what if?” approach to martial arts, and the need to answer such questions, even if the “what if” has no place in reality. I understand that an instructor likes/needs to have answers to student’s questions e.g. let’s say an instructor demonstrates a front choke defense, and a student asks “what would you do if the choke came from behind” etc. however it would be more productive to state that such attacks don’t really happen, and move on, than feel the need to demonstrate a solution, to an almost non-existent problem; I say “almost”, because I don’t want to say it “never” happens.

I do teach defenses against two-handed chokes, however I try to teach them in the scenarios and situations where they sometimes occur, such as on the ground (such as in a sexual assault where an assailant has the dual goal of preventing their victim from screaming, as well as subduing them etc.) or against a wall etc. I also acknowledge that certain populations may be more susceptible to such an attack e.g. a Law Enforcement Officer in Massachusetts, told me that officers are sometimes attacked like this when they are dealing with someone who is resisting an arrest etc. but doesn’t want to actually “hit” them. I’m not arguing that defenses to such attacks shouldn’t be taught, just that they should be taught in context, and not as one of the first techniques a new student learns.

When new students come to train, we have a responsibility to present them with a picture of what real-life violence looks like. Unfortunately, most students don’t question what an instructor says or does. They believe them to be the expert and the authority, and that’s that. If an instructor starts by teaching two-handed choke defenses they’ll believe that this is what violence looks like – unless the instructor explains the context of such attacks and/or the reasons behind teaching such techniques/defenses early on etc. As Krav Maga instructors, our students will assume that the reality we teach will be the reality they face, and introducing two-handed chokes as one of the first techniques they learn, presents them with an unrealistic picture of violence.              

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