(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 29th Nov)
Have you ever been attacked by a teenager, or group of teenagers, aged 15 and below? How did you, or would you, respond? When I was at university in the north of England, this was a relatively common occurrence that students, including myself, faced. Dealing with five to eight, aggressive twelve and/or thirteen year olds, may at first seem a laughable proposition, but numbers do count, and can do a lot to negate size and strength; as many students found out to their peril. One individual I knew of, was dragged to the ground, and had to endure a sustained stomping that saw him spend a couple of nights in the hospital (he guessed that the oldest member of the group was no more than 13). He was lucky that they weren’t armed, as dealing with multiple armed attackers when on the ground, regardless of their age, is not a good situation for any individual to be in, whether trained or untrained.
It is very easy to dismiss a child/young teen, as not being able to pose a threat to us. After all, we are older, bigger/stronger, more experienced, and occupy a higher place on the social order. Holding to these beliefs can cause us to judge a situation involving older kids and teens, as being a low threat situation, when it is actually the reverse; strength can be negated by numbers and/or weapons, and if you are dealing with an individual or group who don’t respect the social order and your age, you will be at a distinct disadvantage. The gangs of kids who used to attack students at my university, understood that they were attacking educated individuals who believed it was wrong to hit or use physical force against a minor – and who were probably in a state of denial, over kids attacking adults; they just didn’t believe such things happened. These beliefs caused them to underestimate the threat, hesitate, and not react, even when the assault began.
A threat, is a threat, is a threat, regardless of age; and where violence occurs, you should see problems rather than people. This is something that many people get confused about. I have had many, many conversations with women who attend our self-defense program, who have said that they couldn’t do this, that or the other to another person, such as biting, eye-gouging, etc. Their problem is that they are seeing their attacker/assailant as a person, not as a problem. This issue often gets compounded, when you start to introduce the idea that they are most likely to be sexually assaulted by a “friend” or someone they know. In such cases, their attacker is someone they don’t believe is capable of acting this way (like a kid attacking an adult) and is somebody who they have some form of relationship with, and who they may even have had close moments with, where they both opened up and talked about personal things and issues. It becomes very difficult in such situations to envisage using extreme violence against these individuals, however in that moment they are not the person you believed you knew, but a problem to be dealt with. Dangerous kids and teens are no different.
We often see children as being largely innocent and non-predatory. I would argue that children can be every bit as predatory as adults, and can develop these impulses very early on – adult predators are just a little more socially skilled. Many adult child molesters, start molesting as children (there have been cases of 6 year olds sexually abusing 4 years olds etc.). This may seem strange at first that a prepubescent child, as young as 6, can enjoy sexual gratification before they have really developed sexually, however even young babies can experience physical pleasure by touching their genitalia, they just don’t enjoy an emotional (sexual) pleasure from their actions. A young predatory child can get their emotional pleasure from the power and control they experience from forcing another child to perform physically pleasurable acts on them; acts they know are taboo (which in itself will elicit a certain type of pleasure). Children can and do molest and abuse others i.e. they can be predators. The gangs of kids that roamed the areas surrounding my university campus, enjoyed the power and control they had over their adult victims. They were predators who actively went out to hunt, because they enjoyed the emotional high that their acts of violence gave them.
In some ways, kids and teens can be more dangerous than adults. As we mature, we understand more about the potential consequences of our actions. We also understand that violence isn’t like the movies, and that a knife can kill, etc. Kids may not be fully aware of the physical damage and injuries that they are capable of. They may not consider that they are able to generate enough power to break a rib or a nose and/or understand what the potential consequences of doing so might be. I was attacked once by a group of said kids, one of whom was swinging a tree branch of considerable weight at my head. If it had connected, it would have resulted in a serious concussion, with any number of potential consequences (none of which the individual yielding the branch would have been aware of).
I am not saying that violent kids, don’t have reasons behind their actions and behaviors or that they are beyond redemption – I believe that social intervention and education can work – however in the moment you face a violent teen or kid, you cannot play the role of social worker, but instead need to deal with the problem you face and treat the threat/danger respectfully e.g. a young teenage mugger with a knife to your stomach demands the same respect as an adult mugger; and you may want to be aware that unlike their adult counter-part they are probably less experienced in such types of robberies, and may have more curiosity about what it’s like to actually cut or stab somebody, etc., as well as potentially wanting to gain what would be valuable bragging rights amongst his/her peers in doing so. From my own experiences of dealing with aggressive kids and teens, they emotionally crumble much quicker than adults, when they see a true display of aggression, and experience a shot of real pain – however you have to be mentally prepared and willing to do this. When violence erupts it is about problems, not people; the people part is dealt with afterwards.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 22nd Nov)
There’s a lot of well-intentioned self-defense instructors out there with seemingly great ideas, and innovative approaches to personal safety – one of these, that has recently got a lot of press and interest, is “High Heel Self-Defense” – teaching women how to fight when in heels. Firstly, if this gets more women to consider taking self-defense classes, because it makes the training seem more relevant to them, I may have my concerns about the content, but I have to recognize that such classes may have a benefit; especially if good predictive and preventative personal safety methods are taught alongside the physical techniques etc. In a world where women’s self-defense training is largely seen as irrelevant and ineffective, I can understand the need to put some “spin” on the subject, to capture the attention of an audience which is largely tired of, and uninterested in personal safety and self-defense. Part of the critique that I have seen for the approach comes from the feeling that those teaching, “High Heel Self Defense”, maybe reaching a section of the population that those teaching a more traditional approach, aren’t able to appeal to – and that seems unfair. High Heel Self-Defense maybe a great marketing tool that gets more women to train, however it may also present women’s self-defense training as gimmicky, laughable and something that overall is a waste of time; something which those of us who teach women’s self-defense fight against all the time.
Do I believe fighting in High Heels is a good idea? Not really (I think the arguments of fighting from an unstable base are pretty self-evident) – may there be situations where women are attacked when wearing heels, and are not able to kick them off? Of course. Unfortunately, the scenarios where women are likely to be attacked when wearing heels, are not the most common ones. This is perhaps my greatest criticism of the approach- that it draws attention away from the more likely and realistic scenarios women are likely to face – just as I have trouble with instructors who always teach women’s self-defense from the perspective of an aggressive stranger, approaching from distance etc. It may be what we imagine attacks on women to look like, but the statistics and reality, just don’t back it up. Yes, it’s easy and uncomplicated to teach, but when we look at reality, women are most likely to be sexually assaulted in their home or somebody else’s, by somebody they know - not by a stranger, approaching from distance – may they be wearing heels? Perhaps. Might a woman in heels, be approached by an aggressive mugger, panhandler etc? Absolutely, but in such situations, where a financial or material object is sought, compliance is normally the best survival option, rather than responding physically. My real concern is not the content, but the perception that High Heel Self Defense gives about the dangers that women actually face; it’s a message/throwback to the 1980’s and 1990’s when there were many archaic ideas about assaults on women. I’d hoped we’d moved on, however ideas such as High Heel Self-Defense seem to demonstrate that we haven’t; it’s even more disappointing that it is being promoted by a woman, in her mid-20s, who seems to have bought in to all the old and outdated ideas concerning women’s self-defense.
The reason women’s self-defense has become irrelevant, is because women know that what is taught in self-defense classes doesn’t marry up to the situations they’ve experienced or the situations they are likely to face e.g. overly persistent men who seem not to take no for an answer, or who become aggressive when their advances are rejected; male friends-of-friends, who turn up at their apartment unexpected; somebody at a party who makes inappropriate sexual remarks, etc. As long as we keep telling women that the scenarios they will face involve aggressive individuals approaching at distance, we will be seen to be largely irrelevant, and rightly so; and this will allow gimmicks such as High Heel Self-Defense to gain a foothold, and grab the attention of reporters and journalists; individuals who need to be educated by us in the industry – and we do have the chance to do this.
About a year ago, I was approached to do a 5-10-minute piece on women’s self-defense with a female presenter for her TV show. All of the conversations with the producer, beforehand, indicated it was to be a “fun” piece (unfortunately this is how women’s self-defense is often presented by the media). When they came to our school, and asked how we should start the piece, I suggested that I should simply attack the presenter, and we’d film her natural response, and then take it from there. I grabbed her from behind, at full speed and with aggression, and dragged her to the ground – was this reminiscent of the type of attack she’d most likely face? No, however it got across very quickly the idea of the speed and aggression that is present in an assault, and got everybody to focus on the subject matter a lot more seriously, from that moment on. There are some reporters and journalists who are lazy, and will continue to write fluff pieces on women’s self-defense, but there are also those who want to know and understand the truth, and we have an opportunity to educate them, and help them to educate the public. Media perceptions can change, but we need to actively change them – if we don’t we’ll be seeing other gimmicks along the lines of High Heel Self-Defense.
Before we reach out through the media, we need to make sure our own programs are in order; are we guilty of presenting an unrealistic impression of what assaults on women look like? Is what we teach relevant to women, or is it based more on what we’re comfortable teaching, and find easier to explain and talk about? Are we still presenting the idea that women are only attacked by strangers approaching them from the front or rear? If we aren’t dealing with realistic situations and scenarios and are simply presenting reality as being what we teach, we are really no different to High Heel Self-Defense; the only difference being we don’t train in heels, and that may actually be quite a small difference, when we look at the content of the program.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 16th Nov)
On Saturday night, I was teaching/talking about Krav Maga at the Jewish Alliance in Rhode Island. This was an interactive session/discussion, and I was asked what you should do if you find yourself as a member of a group, targeted in a mass/spree shooting such as that which happened in Paris the previous night, when terrorists went on the rampage. I also saw over the course of the day many self-defense schools on Facebook and social media urging people to start training in order to protect themselves from being the victim of similar incidents etc. Whenever there is an incident, such as that which happened in Paris, people ask the questions about what they should do, and self-defense schools and systems urge people to start training in order to protect themselves, however most schools and instructors don’t have the knowledge or the training to teach people what they should do in such situations, and don’t really cover these incidents as part of their regular training; and there are many legitimate reasons for this – even though these types of terrorist acts look to be on the rise, you are still more likely to be mugged/robbed than taken hostage, or find yourself part of a group that has been targeted in an active shooter situation etc. and whilst dealing with active shooter situations in theory are quite simple situations to deal with, the situational components “on the ground” can involve some complex decision making and threat/risk analysis, which doesn’t always lead to a successful outcome; something that is hard to sell to people who are looking for simple and straightforward answers and instructions e.g. understandably the group I was presenting to in Rhode Island, just wanted a plan of what to do that would keep them safe if they found themselves in such an incident regardless of the situational and environmental components, and in the time I had I could only give them a quick 5 minute response, which wasn’t able to do full justice to the subject. In saying this I do believe that reality based self-defense training can help you survive such incidents even if your training doesn’t directly touch upon terrorist and/or active shooter scenarios. I don’t believe that you need to practice long barrel weapon disarms in order to increase your survival chances; obviously if you are close enough to the shooter such knowledge is useful and beneficial (and it is something that I cover in my school), however in many instances this will not be the case as you will be too far away – and it would be wrong to think that this knowledge and practice alone would keep you safe or that it is the complete answer to dealing with active shooters.
Any reality based self-defense training should teach you how to raise your situational awareness and threat recognition skills; if you are a self-defense instructor you should not just tell your students to be more aware, you must teach them how to be more aware e.g. what are the signals that indicate a threat or danger etc. Any attacker, whether they are a terrorist, a mugger, or a sexual assailant will want to use the element of surprise i.e. they will want to deny you the time and distance to react and respond. Being able to notice a person’s actions and behaviors that indicate violence will help you respond sooner. If you are some distance away from the threat, recognizing how other people respond to danger and violence will help increase your survival chances, as you want your cues to the presence of danger to come from them, before the actual threat or danger reaches you. Understanding how other people will react will actually give you a clue as to the location of the threat; those nearest will usually react first.
Good situational awareness should also include an understanding of your environment, including where the exits and entrances are. It may seem that in an active shooter scenario the only danger is the shooter however there are secondary dangers that may be at play. If everyone stampedes for the main exit and you follow, you may be caught in the crush of people and never make it to the door out. It may be that you get slowly crushed to death because of the mass of people, or you don’t get to the exit before the shooter reaches you. In clubs and bars where the doors open inwards, it doesn’t take too many people pressing/surging forward to prevent the door from being opened. Good situational awareness should allow you to see, or consider other exit points, such as windows and other doors etc. None of this type of training is directly about active shooters, it is simply about good situational awareness that should be trained as part of any reality based self-defense system.
Good self-defense training should also stress the importance of threat recognition, and the importance of gathering enough information to make good decisions. In a crowded space where shots are fired, it is not always immediately obvious as to where the shot comes from. If you are close to a wall, you may believe that the echo you hear, is the loudest noise and start moving/running away from it towards the threat/danger. Before responding in such a way, you need to orientate yourself as to where the actual danger is so that you can move away from it rather than towards it. I unfortunately still see some reality based self-defense instructors teach people to react to a threat immediately rather than discern what is actually going on in the situation e.g. if somebody sticks a knife to your throat or a gun to your head they do so for a reason, if they wanted to shoot you they would have done so from a distance, if they wanted to stab or slash you they would have done so without showing you the knife and putting it against you etc. If you immediately respond by trying to disarm them, you may have not picked out their accomplice standing behind them who has another weapon pointed at you etc. By acting you may end up dead, when all your assailant wanted was your wallet. Good self-defense training should train you as to how to quickly assess the situation you are in, before responding/acting.
Perhaps the most important skill that good self-defense training can equip you with is decisiveness. Any attacker has already decided what they are going to do, putting you somewhere behind them on the curve. This means you have to quickly commit to a course of action in order to be effective. This is a skill that your self-defense training should equip you with; once you have discerned what and where the threat is you act with full commitment.
Self-defense training doesn’t have to directly cover every scenario that you may possibly face, because it can develop universal skills which are appropriate in any dangerous situation. We human beings are extremely creative and can develop solutions to situations as they happen as long as we have the base skills to do so. I am reminded of the firefighter who developed a technique called “back burning” after he was caught in an approaching fire on grassland that was moving faster than he could run. In the moment that he realized he couldn’t out run it, he recognized that be setting fire to the grass around him, it would deprive the oncoming fire of flammable material and he might be able to survive. His solution was successful, and is now taught as a technique to deal with that type of situation. He was able to creatively think in a situation he’d never faced before because of the education and experience he had dealing with others. Good self-defense training should give you the underlying skills to face situations you’ve not experienced or been trained in such as terrorist attacks involving active shooters. Even if an instructor doesn’t have the direct knowledge to teach you what to do in such situations, they can help you develop skills that will increase your survival chances if you ever find yourself involved in such an incident.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 9th Nov)
People often have blind spots concerning personal safety; they recognize a threat in one area, but are blind to the dangers of others. Sometimes the focus is on the obvious, and sometimes on the imagined or less likely. These blind spots may even occur where there is a wealth of information, and media attention – after all, bad things happen to other people, not to us.
Imagine that, for whatever reason, you had to move you and your family to a part of town that had a reputation for a high number of break-ins and burglaries. My guess is that one of your considerations in choosing an apartment or house would be how easy would it be for somebody to break into e.g. do the doors and windows look sturdy and substantial enough, do the lower floor windows have bars or grills on them to prevent easy access etc. You might even do some research into what types of properties tend to be targeted, so that you could cross these off your list, and look at other types of housing. Home security is something we take the most basic precautions over; there are few people who don’t look their front door when they leave their house, as we all accept the risk of burglary. If you have to move to a part of town where the risk of burglary increases, it is more than likely that you will invest in some stronger locks, deadbolts, etc.
The statistics estimate that around 15% of women in the US have been raped, at one time or another, with nearly 30% experiencing some type of attempted sexual assault. The statistics for women attending university are much higher with around 20 to 25%, reporting a rape or sexual assault. The truth is that young women attending university are much more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than those who are not, and yet few women, or parents, seek personal safety and/or self-defense training prior to attending school. It is not that young women or parents aren’t aware of the problems of sexual assaults on and off campus; the media has done a good job in drawing people’s attention to the problem, yet it still seems that on an individual level, a blind spot exists. Whilst we would do what we can to mitigate the risk of a break-in if we were to move into a high crime neighborhood, we do little to mitigate the risks of sexual assaults, when our daughters and other female family members move to an environment where there is an increased risk of them being raped or sexually assaulted. Our personal levels of “denial” surrounding campus sexual assaults are quite astounding.
There are other blind spots that we have around rape and sexual assaults. Most people now understand and accept that women are most likely to be raped by someone they know, in their home or somebody else’s. There are very few individuals who dissent from this. We recently did an online survey, that looked at people’s perceptions of rape and sexual assaults. There were three questions that when combined told an interesting story about how people interpret and apply statistics and knowledge about sexual assaults to themselves. One question we asked was, “Who are you are most likely to be raped and/or sexually assaulted by?” 88% of the 402 people who took the survey, responded correctly by answering, “someone they knew”. The survey also asked them where they were most likely to be raped or sexually assaulted; 68% responded correctly, stating that it was most likely to be in their home or somebody else’s. Later on, we asked about how their assailant was most likely to set up the assault. This time only 52% got the correct answer, responding that their assailant would use some form of dialogue to gain access to them, with 48% believing that they’d suddenly be attacked by assailants who concealed themselves somewhere and jumped out at them, etc. What’s interesting about this is that whilst there was a good understanding about who an assailant was likely to be, and where an assault was likely to take place, there was a disconnect about the nature of such attacks i.e. somebody you know who is in your home is not likely to conceal themselves and jump out on you; they simply don’t have to, as they already have access to you.
What this disconnect likely displays is how people perceive attacks occurring, in general, compared with how they see themselves being attacked e.g. yes, most people are likely to be attacked by someone they know, in their home or somebody else’s but that’s not really how I see it happening to me; I’m more likely to be attacked by someone jumping out from behind a bush late at night, as I walk home, etc. This means they have a blind spot; they believe that the statistics apply to others, not to them. The media goes a long way to propagating this idea - that women are most likely to be attacked by a stranger - as they report on the newsworthy rather than on the ordinary (and the ordinary, is the most likely and the most common). Women should be alert late at night, and avoid walking in places which are deserted and offer concealment opportunities for potential assailants, but they shouldn’t think that the statistics don’t apply to their situation e.g. they should have a strategy to deal with their partner’s best friend who turns up at their house unannounced, when they are obviously on their own, etc. The statistics of sexual assault and rape, are largely made up of victims who didn’t think it would happen to them, or who thought their situation was different to others. This doesn’t make them different to us, in fact it makes them exactly like us.
Sometimes even when the threat/danger is obvious, we still have a blind spot to it e.g. sexual assaults on college campuses. Part of our personal safety landscape should be made up of making a realistic risk assessment of our lifestyle and environment, and rather than try to convince ourselves that we are somehow an exception to the norm, recognizing that we are in fact very much like everyone else when it comes to being targeted for violence.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 1st Nov)
“Ignore them and they’ll just go away”, in both one of the best and worst pieces of advice I was given as a bullied kid. It was the best, in that nobody had any better advice or ideas, and the worst because it was completely ineffective. In dealing with conflict, taking the moral high ground, not acknowledging the threat and walking away is rarely an effective route to take. It is basically a form of denial to yourself, and a provocative response to somebody else’s anger and emotion. Sure, it looks good on paper, but disengagement of this nature, involving someone who wants to engage, escalates rather than deescalates the situation. A bully, or angry person requires a response and a recognition of their emotional state, and if you don’t give it e.g. you simply walk away, they are likely to become more aggressive and angry rather than less.
When a person becomes angry and aggressive, they feel justified to adopt this emotional state. It may be that something you have done has caused them to become angry, or in the case of the bully something you haven’t done, such as failing to acknowledge in some way the top dog position they feel they somehow deserve (bullies don’t suffer from low self-esteem, quite the opposite, but they are insecure and are frightened by those they see as questioning or challenging them – and failure to acknowledge them as the Alphas they believe they are will cause them to attack). Not only do such people feel justified in their anger, they invest in it, and they want some form of acknowledgment and return on it. Ignoring them, simply doesn’t work because of this.
There are two clips, which have been circulating around the internet recently, which clearly demonstrate this. The most recent is of a woman on Boylston Street in Boston, who films herself challenging a man who she believes has been filming her and other women without their knowledge/consent. For several minutes she follows him, demanding that he deletes the film of her, and challenging him to explain why he was taking footage and photographs of women etc. The man’s response is to walk away and ignore her; not acknowledging her presence or what she is saying. As the clock ticks on, she becomes more and more emotional, and more and more invested in her emotional state – her behavior and actions could even be viewed as constituting a case of harassment i.e. she may have been breaking the law herself. Whilst her original goal, may have been to get him to delete the film he took of her, this begins to get lost as she becomes more and more angry/emotional, and by the end of the encounter she is simply caught up in the complete “wrong” and injustice of the situation as she sees it e.g. he should receive some form of punishment, there should be some type of retribution, people shouldn’t be able to do things like this etc. Anger may start out being directed at one specific thing, but as it grows and gains it loses that specificity – especially if the original complaint/injustice is not quickly addressed. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with everything this woman was saying, however the footage demonstrates really well, how trying to ignore an emotional person only increases their anger etc.
The second clip is less recent, but involves an entitled college student, who turns up drunk at a university cafeteria, demanding to be served macaroni and cheese. The manager refuses him entry, confronts him and then tries to walk away and ignore him. By the time he tries to disengage and walk away, the drunk college student has invested too much into his emotional state, and is unable to walk away. A situation that should have been ended in the first few minutes, starts to stretch on, with the student becoming more and more emotional, and more and more frustrated at the manager’s lack of acknowledgement at his perceived injustice. It eventually ends with him physically assaulting the manager. Ignoring him, and hoping he’d go away, was not a productive or successful strategy. Believing that angry and aggressive people will simply give up, is an extremely dangerous path to go down. Sometimes a person’s anger may be understandable – as in the case of the woman who believed she was being filmed – and other times it can be clearly out of line, such as in the case of the drunk college student, however both individuals, whether rightly or wrongly, feel justified to act and behave in an aggressive manner, and over the course of the conflict have invested in their emotional state to such a degree, that they don’t know what will satisfy themselves. The specifics of the original dispute have become lost in the confrontation.
This is why it is important to try and end conflicts and disputes quickly, whilst there is still a specific issue that can be addressed. By trying to ignore this and walk away, with the hope that the person will give up, is more likely to increase their anger and emotional state than not. Angry people want recognition, and not giving it to them is dangerous. Recognition does not mean that they are “right” or that you “agree” with them, but rather that you are acknowledging their real or perceived injustice; ignoring them does not mean that they will go away.
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