Perceptions of Violence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 29th Oct)

Throughout our lives we receive an education in violence, whether from situations we’ve experienced first-hand or from secondhand accounts concerning friends, acquaintances and friends of friends, news reports and other media sources (such as TV shows and Movies). From these we build “models of violence”. These models are templates that we use both subconsciously and consciously to compare what we see before us, to what we believe, or what our models believe violence looks like.  These models help us predict and evaluate whether certain situations (deserted alleyways, lonely streets etc) and/or people (those wearing hooded tops, having tattoo’s etc) pose a risk or threat to our personal safety. Oftentimes our models have been built on assumptions that are incorrect and seriously flawed e.g. that rapes occur by strangers as we walk home late at night, that assaults don’t happen in crowded places or are carried out by people we know, that muggings are restricted to deserted or isolated places etc. If we examine ourselves we will find that we have a lot of beliefs and ideas concerning violence that may seem to make sense to us but in fact aren’t based or founded in reality.

A good example of this is the assumption many people make about muggings and street robberies. Most people believe that muggers target lone individuals in quiet areas and that they are safe in crowded places. This assumption is incorrect and is founded on one principle that creates and influences their model. If we believe that a mugger doesn’t want to get caught it may seem obvious that they’ll choose deserted areas in which to work however if we also add in the idea that muggers want a good source of people to rob, deserted areas don’t seem such a likely location. A mugger, a financial predator, is much more likely to hand around a crowded transit station or busy mall on a Saturday Afternoon where there is a rich supply of people (prey), who are likely to be carrying money. Most muggers are skilled enough at their trade to rob individuals without either other people in the crowd realizing what is going on or in the knowledge that those who do see the crime will be unlikely and unwilling to get involved.

If our models are based on incorrect  assumptions and principles e.g. muggers don’t want people to see what they’re doing so they choose isolated and deserted locations for their robberies, we can prevent ourselves from acknowledging that there is such a risk to our personal safety when we are in crowded and busy locations.

If our models are based on certain stereotypes we can also prevent ourselves from identifying the real risks to our personal safety e.g. if we associate the teenagers in hooded tops who hang around at the end of a street with violence we may fail to identify the good looking and smartly dressed man talking to us at the bar as a sexual predator – despite all the warning signals (Pre Violence Indicators) he is giving off. Sexual predators/rapists are usually skilled social players who dress well, are often good looking and more often than not are extremely charming, which is why they’re able to be successful at what they do – getting women to trust them and forget basic personal safety principles e.g. don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know etc. Basically they don’t fit our idea of what a rapist is. If our “model  of violence” concerning rape is that it is based on the assumption that the rapists motivation is sex, then we may be trying to identify unattractive and physically ugly men who we think would have a difficult/impossible time getting a woman to sleep with them. Rape however is primarily about “control” and not about “sex”, therefore men who are married, who have consenting partners and an active sex-life can also be rapists; and in fact make up the largest group of rapists. If we can understand the true motivation(s) behind the violence e.g. control instead of sex, we are much more likely to build solid models of violence, which will help us make accurate predictions or at the least stop us making inaccurate ones that may divert our attention away from more realistic threats.

We have an inbuilt “fear system” that is designed to keep us safe – it moves us away from danger, often before we realize it and will hold us back (or at the least cause us to hesitate) from approaching situations which it deems dangerous. This system starts being educated during childhood and never stops learning and evolving e.g. if we hear a news report saying that there is a gang in our neighborhood who are distinguished by items of red clothing, when we see someone of a particular age wearing red our fear system will be triggered. This is an important concept to understand: our fear system is capable of being educated and we need to make sure we teach it the right things to be afraid of and not the wrong things. By creating effective and realistic models we can teach/educate our fear system to identify real threats and dangers and not be triggered by irrelevant or unreal ones. There is little point in us avoiding things and situations where there is no chance of harm just because we have built a certain model that identifies something as a risk. Many people have a fear of the mentally ill and although there are times when certain psychological disorders can result in violent behavior (normally when a person isn’t taking their medication) this is the exception rather than the norm, and yet many people have built models which suggest the mentally ill offer them a real and definite threat.

Unfortunately when building and educating our models we have a tendency to focus on the extreme and the spectacular rather than the mundane. If we watch a movie or TV show about vampires and zombies, we may well go to bed scared imagining every noise we hear to be one of the undead breaking into our bedroom, if the media starts to report  on a series of seemingly random abductions and rapes of women by a long distance truck driver, we will start to look suspiciously at every truck and lorry that passes us by – at least while the memory stays with us (and this is an important thing to understand about our fear system…it can learn to forget as well). The problem is that such abductions are rare, and vampire and zombie attacks non-existent. The case of the truck driver scares us because of its supposed random nature: we feel we have no control over whether we’d be targeted or not. This lack of control results in us being more anxious and causes our fear system to take extra note of the idea that truck drivers represent a high risk. We’re scared of vampires and zombies for the same reason i.e. our inability to control their behavior or whether we’d be a target for them.

On the whole the people who wish to cause us harm operate in the realm of the mundane and the ordinary; they don’t do spectacular things: they are the dates who at first seem nice but then won’t take no for an answer, the stranger who helps carry our shopping to the car but then doesn’t seem able to leave us alone, the fellow male student who insists on helping us with a study project but then seems to expect, and even insist that we should go out for a drink with them after a study night etc. This is not to say that every person who engages in such behaviors is less than well-meaning and genuine however these are the “unspectacular” openings and opportunities that the majority of predators use. Being randomly abducted from the street is very rare indeed however these are the situations/scenarios that seem to scare us more and the ones we are more alert to. Our models of violence have a tendency to forget the ordinary and more common dangers and focus on the more spectacular and less likely dangers.

Often our models don’t even reflect our lifestyle(s). Many women when asked about their greatest fear of violence, will talk about being sexually assaulted and/or raped – which is totally understandable. When asked to imagine the scenario or situation where it is likely to happen, they will often talk about one that appeals to their greatest “fears” but doesn’t really reflect their particular lifestyle. It may be that their greatest fear is being raped whilst their live-in boyfriend, partner or spouse is away on business, leisure or out of town etc, whilst they are home alone. When questioned as to how many times a year their partner is actually not with them, the number may be as low as 2 or 3 times. The fear doesn’t reflect the probability i.e. why would a person be more likely to be assaulted on these particular days of the year rather than others? If an individual had been conducting surveillance on the house for the past year, with the aim of commiting an assault, maybe but the profile of such a dedicated individual would suggest they’d have given a few hints and clues along the way beforehand. The fear despite being felt as “real” is “unrealistic” – it is unlikely to happen and when dissected into its component parts doesn’t make any real sense. Women often believe that they are at most risk walking home late at night however this requires them, by chance, to be unlucky enough for them to encounter a predator when it is more likely they are at risk in a large(r) social settings (groups, parties, bars, at people’s homes etc)  where such predators are more prevalent. Predators hang out where their prey hangs out. Sexual assaults are rarely random or occur by chance: they are usually committed by someone their victim knows in their home, the home of the rapist or somebody else’s house.

Our models of violence need to be based on two things: 1. Reality and 2. Lifestyle. If you expect to be assaulted by a stranger in a deserted alley etc, you need to consider how often you frequent such places (lifestyle) and the likelihood of a sexual predator being in this location at a particular time (Reality). When the likelihood of both occurring at the same time the threat is not high and probably doesn’t demonstrate the highest risk that exists to your personal safety e.g. your boyfriends overly attentive or seemingly hostile best friend may well be a much likelier candidate to consider when evaluating your personal safety. If you consider that you may spend most of your free/social time partying or in group functions it is much more likely that you will encounter a predatory individual in these situations; someone you know, who knows you. As opposed to a stranger in a location you rarely (if ever) frequent.

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The Dynamic Risk Assessment

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 21st Oct)


Human beings have a very simple way of coping with high stress situations; we deny them. Rather than accepting the reality of our situation, we tend to ignore our predicament, denying that we are in any danger at all. Our instincts may tell us to run or get out of a place but we will immediately look for and accept any reason that will allow us to stay put; however tenuous, ridiculous or patently dangerous it may actually be. 

A statistic that should be in everybody’s head is 6:36. 6 minutes and 36 seconds, is the average length of time that it took for people to start evacuating the second twin tower after it was hit by the second plane on 9/11. Imagine sitting at your desk, aware that the unthinkable has just happened - a plane has hit the tower next to you. Now imagine that you here an explosion many floors above you and then you feel the building you’re in start to shudder and groan. Now set your watch alarm for 6 minutes and 36 seconds and wait. This is the average length of time that people working in that second tower waited before leaving their desk in search of a fire escape. This is the denial phase and it has a gravitational pull that is strong enough to keep people in a state of inertia regardless of the information and awareness that they have concerning their situation e.g. friends and relatives watching the events, from the outside, on the ground were phoning and emailing those within the second tower, keeping them up to date with what was going on.

The reason we go into a state of denial so quickly and firmly, is because the human brain is extremely adept at building scripts that automate many of the “tasks” that we fulfill on an everyday basis. If you’ve ever gotten into your car to go to work, and after 15 minutes find yourself there without any real recollection of the journey, it’s because you’ve completed that familiar task on your automatic pilot; you’ve slowed down, braked, accelerated, changed lanes etc. without ever being consciously aware of your environment. A person going to work in the Twin Towers on 9/11, wasn’t expecting a plane to crash into their office space; it wasn’t in their script. Their script or model involved, grabbing a coffee, getting in an elevator, sitting at a desk, attending a meeting etc. The only “disasters” they’d been led to expect that could possibly happen (and maybe trained for) was the risk of fire – and how many people in offices assume that each time they hear an alarm, that it’s a drill and not the real thing? Getting people to take the unexpected seriously is a difficult thing.

If you’ve ever had that feeling that says something’s wrong e.g. you had a bad feeling about a person, thought you were being followed or didn’t like the feeling of a place etc, your first response was probably to deny your feelings and tell yourself to stop being stupid and imagining things. If you weren’t able to immediately identify the cause of your unease, you probably discounted what your initial reaction to your situation and continued doing whatever you were in the process of doing i.e. you went back to following your script. I’m sure that nobody in the Towers that day could have completely ignored the impact of a 747 plane that took out four floors and would eventually bring the tower down. The noise of the crash and the shuddering of the Tower’s support structure would have sent an immediate signal that all was not well. However because nothing bad happened in the immediate aftermath, it was possible to deny/ignore what had just happened and go back to working from the familiar and comfortable script, that we were following before. It is much easier to believe nobody is following us than have to deal with the consequences if somebody is. The most important state for us to be in is one of immediate safety and if our script confirms this we’ll readily accept it and maybe even go to great lengths to match and mold our reality in order to fit it.   

Having scripts that allow us to repeat common tasks, without having to think, enable us to complete them quickly and efficiently without us requiring any real mental bandwidth. Things fall apart when the real world ends up not matching the script. So strong are these scripts and models that we often choose to believe them instead of what is actually in front of our eyes.  It was this holding on to inappropriate scripts on 9/11 that kept people sitting at their desks for an average of 6 minutes 36 seconds before they made their way to an exit or fire escape. Some people took longer, some people never moved.  There were of course those people who reacted and responded instantaneously, these people are the ones who are equipped with what we refer to as a “survival mindset”.

Survivors, survive because they exhibit a curiosity about their surroundings and environment. It is this curiosity which allows them to break out of their scripts/models and accept the reality of the situation they’re facing. Survivors don’t deny or discount the various possibilities and causes of danger however improbable and remote they may seem. They will take in every bit of available information concerning their environment and re-work and re-write their scripts and models accordingly. They will also be prepared to go against what may seem to be better judgment if their gut and instinct tells them otherwise.

When I talk to people who have been assaulted one of the most common statements I hear is, “I just couldn’t believe this would be happening to me.” If a person’s entire modus operandi is to work to a script then the unimaginable has no place. If you believe that you won’t be mugged in a crowded shopping mall, bus or train station etc, when it does happen to you, your response will be one of disbelief and denial. This is one of the biggest causes of denial in violent situations: a person having built themselves an incorrect “model of violence” e.g. crowded places are the domain of pick pockets and surreptitious criminals not of muggers and sexual predators. A woman may believe that she is safe from being raped on a populated subway carriage but the truth is such assaults have taken place – and unfortunately will continue to do so. A rapist can carry out an assault in less than 10 seconds, using the cover that bystanders afford along with the victim’s sense of disbelief/denial to commit their attack with little fear of being discovered or caught. If your model of violence states that muggers and rapists only operate in deserted places then you are reinforcing your ability to deny these assaults happening in any other scenarios.

Experience can often work to reinforce and validate an inappropriate script or model. For every subway ride you’ve taken where you haven’t been raped or mugged you’ll reinforce your perception that these threats and dangers are not something that need to concern you when in such a situation. Experience can have the effect of reducing your ability to be curious about your environment and stop you from questioning events, behaviors and actions that may occur within it. Familiarity breeds contempt and the result is a false sense of security. As soon as you stop thinking and questioning your environment you run the risk of becoming a victim. Just because something hasn’t happened ten thousand times doesn’t mean it won’t – the Twin Towers didn’t experience an attack by air for over 50 years however the unthinkable/unimaginable still happened. You may have walked along a street a thousand times, drunk in a bar five hundred times, all without incident. However you’re continued safe experience of these things means you’re more likely to deny the possibility of violence occurring in the future than had you had to deal with aggressive behavior in these places in the past. Experience can often be translated as, everything you previously got away with without any consequence.

Our natural optimism concerning our belief that assaults happen to others and not to us, reinforces our scripts that disallow for the possibility of violence to interrupt their smooth running. When this is coupled with the fact that we over-estimate our ability to deal with aggression and violence when it does occur e.g. our “it will be alright on the night” approach to handling such situations, we find we have no pre-built scripts to deal with violent behavior that contradicts our normal models/scripts. If we were to have built some type of “emergency model” to handle these situations we could use such scripts to replace the ones we normally use to lead our life by. These pre-built models are a key part in both increasing our situational awareness i.e. we are able to identify and acknowledge behaviors that represent a threat, and allow us a path to follow as a solution to them.

 Denial is a natural response to violence. It is easy to discount and deny the possibility of danger; after all bad things happen to other people not us. Our scripts and models disallow us the opportunity to accept the presence of danger and our experience(s) confirm these – if it’s never happened to us before then it is hard for us to believe it when it does happen. I am sure that the persons, who evacuated the Twin Towers in the first instance, did so after initially “denying” the situation they might be facing. Many people when first confronted with extreme aggression will actually laugh assuming that the other person must be joking or playing a prank. I remember as a child the very first time I was bullied, I simply didn’t believe that other children could or would want to behave this way or in fact that anyone would socially interact in this manner (an incorrect model of violence). I wasn’t sheltered as a child I’d just not experienced behaviors such as exclusion, extreme ridicule or physical violence before and they ran contrary to every script I had. Because I couldn’t imagine such things happening, I had difficulty accepting them when they did and because of this I initially kept denying that I was a victim of bullying; even when I experienced this, again and again. Many of our scripts and models are learnt/created early in our lives and we must learn to adapt and change them as we get older, wiser and more informed.

Your initial reaction to violence will always be denial however much training you receive. We humans are continually optimistic creatures and we believe that what has kept us safe in the past will continue to do so in the future.  When we understand that violence rarely adheres to both our models and experience, we are able to set ourselves up for the next stage of the process we go through: deliberation.  


                                The individuals in the World Trade Center who eventually passed through their denial phase and accepted that something was very wrong were faced with many choices e.g. should they wait for instruction on what to do, should they evacuate the building, should they try and find a supervisor/manager who may have more information etc. In such high stress situations many people get caught in a loop, comparing and evaluating the best option available to them. They will weigh up the pros and cons; eventually they seem to reach a decision, only to repeat the process over again. People do the same when dealing with potentially violent situations.

Imagine you are being followed and you notice/hear the footsteps of somebody walking behind you. You might initially discount or deny that this person is following you but as they start to match your pace, slowing down and speeding up when you do, it becomes evident that you have to accept that you are being followed. Your next step is to work out what you should do. You consider turning around and confronting the person, next you decide it may be best to run or possibly walk up to one of the houses your passing and pretend you’re visiting someone. As these thoughts race through your mind you realize the person behind you is getting closer and you start to think about what their motive could be, if they’ve got a knife etc. You start to run through your options again, with an added sense of urgency and feeling the pressure of your situation. You are stuck in the “Deliberation Loop”, trying rapidly to find a solution without ever fully reaching one. It is a classic example of overthinking.

The problem is that just as we have models and scripts that allow us to automate tasks, so we have ways/models of thinking that help us function in our everyday world. We are blessed with a rational brain that allows us to collect information, compare different pieces of it and eventually reach conclusions. When people make a choice about a car they are going to buy, they will consider things such as: reliability cost of parts/maintenance, fuel efficiency etc. When selecting a university or educational establishment: price, reputation, location, length of the course etc. will all be taken account and a comparison of different schools and universities based upon these factors will be reached. This is called “Rationalistic Decision Making” (RDM). It’s a method of evaluation that we use to make and justify our decisions 99.9% of the time. It’s a fantastic way of processing complex data and making informed decisions based upon it. It has one drawback: it takes time. Unfortunately violent situations have a habit of developing rapidly and time is one of the components of a situation that any assailant/attacker will try and eliminate.

    The individuals in the World Trade Center on 9/11 were working against the clock – it took people an average of one minute to clear each floor. If you were an average person who took six minutes to gather your senses and leave your desk, you’d have been six floors higher than you would have been had you managed to start moving the moment you heard the initial explosion/felt the building rock. Without being over-dramatic those 6 minutes for many people were the difference between life and death. There also would have been individuals who “revised” their evacuation plans along the way. The majority of people don’t have strong models and scripts of what to do in the event of an emergency. There would have been individuals who had never completed a fire drill, or ever taken note of where the nearest fire escape was. If a person went looking for an escape route or fire escape and couldn’t initially find one, they may well have ditched their escape plan in favor of another possible solution they’d considered; waiting for a Fire-Marshall or supervisor to tell them what to do i.e. they were still deliberating after they’d appeared to reach a decision. There is always new information that becomes available as things develop and this needs to be both considered and used to revise a plan. However at the very beginning the initial plan needs to be acted upon with complete conviction. 

The problem we have in our rational thinking model is that we are looking to find the best solution to a situation. The problem is that the “best” solution requires a comparison of all possible options to take place in order for a thorough evaluation to take place and this takes time. It is much quicker to simply search for an “effective” solution; something that will work/solve the problem and not care too much if it is the best one available. If you believe someone is following you and running would prevent you from being assaulted you should run. It should not be compared against the other possible options it should just be acted upon. If you are in an argument that is only going one way and walking away will not be effective, nor will continuing the argument or backing down, then your only real choice is to make a pre-emptive strike – with full conviction. This mode of thinking is referred to as Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM). It is a fast way of reaching decisions because it only asks a person to make one comparison of a potential solution (is it effective), rather than comparing each possible solution with each other.

It is easy for us to overthink, we have brains that allow us to do this – it’s why we are able to be creative; we can imagine what is not yet there. This is a dangerous mode to operate in as it allows our minds to create new problems that don’t exist. In high stress, emotional situations where time is of the essence we need to find effective solutions quickly and not worry if better ones may be available to us.

Reaching Decisions, Acting & Choosing the Right Time to Act

                Once we have “chosen” a particular solution, we have to act on it. This is often the hardest part of the continuum. Our perceived inability to act may well cause us to revisit and reconsider the other options that we thought about before initially deciding on one plan of action. We may also try and look for other potential solutions, especially if we start to over-consider the potential consequences of what we first decided upon. This way of thinking puts us squarely back into the “Deliberation Loop” and moves us further away from action, which should be the goal of our threat recognition and decision process.

                Our fear instinct often prevents us from acting upon any decision that is made when in a high stress situation. If you are involved in an incident where an aggressive individual is screaming and shouting obscenities at you, despite being fully aware that at any moment he may start to physically assault you, and that your best plan would be to either run away or attack him first, your fear emotion may well hold you in check. In any potentially dangerous situation, even where the level of risk to our safety may be small, our fear emotion will often prevent us from acting.

Anyone who has bungee jumped or parachuted will tell of the inertia that is experienced when you stand on a platform waiting to jump into open air. Our conscious mind knows that both of these activities are relatively low-risk however our emotional self knows otherwise. Our emotional self knows that whilst you don’t act you are not experiencing pain or danger and this is good. Let’s now take the parachute example and say that the plane is about to crash, you’ve got over your denial, deliberation and that your only chance of safety is to make the parachute jump; there will still be hesitation. In the moment when you are waiting to make jour jump you are safe, you are not experiencing pain or trauma and your emotional mind will assure you that this is a good state to be in, and whatever you choose to do will take you out of this state. Your emotional side doesn’t understand the future, it only understands the now. It doesn’t know what you will feel and experience in the future, that your only chance of safety is to jump. It just knows that at this very moment you are safe.             

                This fear inertia is what holds you back from acting when dealing with an individual(s) where it is obvious that physical violence is the only outcome. As you stand there waiting for the inevitable punch, push or grab, your fear emotion will tell you that at this moment you are not experiencing any pain or discomfort and that you shouldn’t do anything to risk this state of affairs – whatever action you take, whether it’s running away or making a pre-emptive assault carries a degree of risk to it, and this is an unknown. What your body does know is that whilst not acting nothing bad or painful is happening to you.

                When you overthink the consequences of a decision, your natural hesitation to act is reinforced. I see this all the time when I watch sparring (which is great training for fighting but barely resembles a street-fight itself). Often I will see two individuals, at distance, looking for openings. One will start a kick or an attack only to see their opponent respond and pull back etc – for more experienced individuals, these responses can indicate how they should initiate their next attack. However most people start to imagine what will happen if their attack is unsuccessful. They have seen/realized that their opponent is going to respond in some way to what they were planning to do and they now start to imagine all the ways in which they might respond. Weighed down with all the imagined consequences of their action they end up doing nothing. Our fear response may hold us back from initially acting but it is these imagined consequences that reinforces it.   

                In Combat Sports, such as Boxing and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), the pre-fight build up to a contest is a great example of an individual attempting to get their opponent to consider the consequences of certain actions. A Boxer who repeatedly tells the media that the person he is fighting will not be able to get past his lead punch without walking on to his straight right, is attempting to get his opponent to hesitate and consider the consequences of trying to do so when in the ring. In a street-fight when an aggressor keeps telling you what they’re going to do to you, they are attempting to intimidate you into not acting. When a person tells you their plan for you, they are trying to reinforce your own fear instincts desire for inaction. You can choose to believe what they are telling you or not. You can also choose to believe your own imagination’s conclusions and scenarios concerning the consequences of acting as well. Or better still you can simply act on your decision.

                Too many individuals in hostage and abduction scenarios miss their best opportunity to act because they believe the optimum time for action is always in the future; never now. They are yielding to the fear system’s belief that because pain is not being experienced at that moment it would be unwise to act and risk the perceived safety of the present when the consequence of any action may be pain. With few exceptions the time to act in an abduction or hostage situation, where you are the target, is immediately. That a person needs to move you from one location to another (in an abduction scenario), means that your best chance of escape and survival is in the one you are in. In a hostage type incident, an assailant(s) most disorganized and unprepared moment is the very first instance of the assault – you don’t need to be a celebrity or politician to be taken hostage, it may happen because you are a bystander in a drug-store/bank hold-up when the police arrive etc.  

                Being able to reach a decision and act upon it quickly is a mark of a mind that’s intent and goal is survival. Once a situation is understood action without hesitation is required. 

Avoiding the Denial, Deliberation and Decision Loop

Visual Assessment

I don’t know much about American Football (coming from the UK I grew up with “Soccer”) however I do know one thing about the sport and that is the Quarterback – the person who throws the ball forward to his teammates in the hope of scoring a touchdown – has to make some very quick decisions whilst under immense stress and pressure; he has the opposing team attempting to take him out of the game before he makes the throw.

He needs in one glance to be able to assess the state of the field in front of him and assess which players are in the best position, all whilst waiting for some 250 LB giant to bear down on him and prevent him from throwing the ball. He certainly doesn’t have time to weigh up the pros and cons of each potential decision rather he must look, decide and then act. His visual assessment immediately determines his decision, in the same way that many emergency personnel immediately seem to know what to do when they turn up at a fire, a train wreck etc. One look at the situation will tell them what “type” of fire it is and what they must do to combat it – as the fire develops they may take in the new information available to them and adjust their plan but in the initial instant they know, just like the Quarterback, what they must do.

A computer has beaten a human at chess: IBM’s “Big Blue” beat Gary Kasparov, a Chess Grandmaster. However no computer program has ever been written that can beat a person at either Backgammon or the Japanese game of “Go” (a game where players attempt to change two sided disks to their color by trapping a line of their opponent’s disks between theirs). Chess differs from these two games, in that it is possible to make predictions and comparisons based on different plays. “Big Blue” beat Kasparov by comparing all the potential outcomes of a particular play and evaluating it against all the other ones available to it. Kasparov said he was only able to do this for one or two moves ahead and that he normally had a gut feel for a play based on the way that the board looked i.e. he’d seen the pieces laid out in an identical or similar way before. In Backgammon and Go, there are no “set outcomes” as such; every decision has to be based on the way the board “looks”, where the pieces lie etc. In Backgammon/Go the layout of the pieces do not result in any predictable outcomes; any computer attempting to run comparisons of plays would end up getting caught in an infinite loop – each year a large cash prize is offered to any programmer who can write a program that will defeat a top Go player.

When doing crowd surveillance, a security professional is presented with the task of identifying any potential assailant that may be in a crowd of possibly tens of thousands. It would be impossible to assess and compare every individual’s behavior and actions to ascertain if they represent a potential threat or danger, whether to others around them, such as at a sports event, or to a particular individual, such as a politician at a rally or similar. Any identification of such individuals must be done by looking at the crowd as a whole, in a similar way to a Quarterback who looks at the field in front of him and let’s his eyes be drawn to a particular player who is in the “best” position. The Quarterback knows what a “Best Position” looks like because it’s stored in his memory from previous experiences. He probably couldn’t even explain why one player is better positioned than another rather he just knows what looks right.

A Security Professional may never have seen an assassination attempt first-hand before – he will probably have been shown footage of previous assassinations as part of his training however these will have been caught on film from a cameraman’s perspective. Despite lacking a firsthand visual memory of such a thing, he’ll know from experience what a peaceful crowd attending a political rally etc will look like, and what behaviors people in such crowds engage in e.g. flag waving, clapping, smiling etc, he’ll also be aware of how people in such crowds move; whether the majority stand and wait, how those wanting to get a better look move through the crowd etc, etc. Whilst he scans his eyes over the whole scene, he will wait for his eyes to be drawn to the person whose movement, actions or behaviors are out of place and don’t adhere to the “normal” picture of a healthy crowd.

Just as a Backgammon, Go player or Quarterback can take in the importance of what they see in an instant and make a decision based upon it, so can the security professional. He though works from what seems out of place as opposed to what looks good and in place. Most of us have had that experience of walking in to a bar or pub and feeling that something was wrong; something that we couldn’t actually identify or put our finger upon. This is our fear system alerting us to the presence of danger by identifying that what we see before us doesn’t marry up to all our previous positive experiences of bars or pubs. This comparison of images is a bit like trying to do a “spot the difference” puzzle, where we can see that the two pictures/photos we’re meant to compare are not the same but we’re not immediately able to identify the five actual differences etc.

Our fear system works like a “behind the scenes” security professional, comparing situations with previous ones. If everything looks the same as a positive experience, then no alert is given. If it matches a negative experience an alert is given - likewise if it doesn’t match a positive one. Once this alert is given we must make a dynamic risk assessment.

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Self Protection: Gaining Defense In Depth

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 15th Oct)

No safety system can offer full and comprehensive protection unless it works in conjunction with others. A passenger jet has many different safety systems that work together, monitor each other and offer backup should any of them for whatever reason fail. A pilot also has human/manual processes and procedures that they can follow should an emergency occur. If you look at any ancient castle or fort you will again see that many different systems and structures were designed and put in place, to work together in a collective and collaborative fashion e.g. there may be a moat/ditch, a set of walls, a Keep etc. Julius Caeser (the legendary Roman Emperor and General) during the Gallic Wars once besieged the Gallic hill fort of Alesia, surrounding the hill upon which it was built with an 18 km wall (approximately 4 meters in height). The wall itself was preceded by two ditches; the one which was nearest the wall was flooded and filled with water from the surrounding rivers. These two ditches although constituting separate and individual defenses worked together: they were spaced so that Gallic Cavalry riders would be able to clear one but not the other. In front of these were placed pits, mantraps and covered holes with fire hardened, sharpened spikes at the bottom etc. Julius Caeser, who is one of the all time great military tacticians, understood the need to have multi-part defenses that were constructed in depth.

Individual self-defense is no different. Physical techniques, such as: escapes from holds, blocks and punches etc should not be our only defense but make up the very last line in a circular, series of protective measures. Caesar’s aim was to prevent any of the opposing Gallic army ever reaching his wall as he knew that alone it was not sufficient to deal with the numerically superior force he was facing. We should have a similar aim: to put in place the necessary strategies and defensive tactics that will mean we’ll never have to engage in a physical face-to-face confrontation. Physically violent situations are always to be avoided as they may potentially involve: 1) more than one attacker, 2) an attacker(s) who is armed and 3) an assailant who is physically stronger, faster and better trained than you are. These are three assumptions that should always be made when dealing with an aggressive individual(s).

Caeser was not naive, he knew his wall would eventually be reached – just as we know we might one day have to use our physical techniques and skills - and so constructed his siege works to create two things: time and distance. By increasing these he was able to give himself a better chance to respond effectively and decisively, with the limited resources he had (all resources are limited). With distance he had time to recognize the nature of an assault and where it was being directed before he had to engage it, this limited the damage and effect of any attack. With time on his side he could gather more information, increase the choices available to him and make better/more informed decisions. The two things that any street assailant will do involve denying you time and distance: they don’t want a fight, they want a victim e.g. they will shank you with a knife when you’re not looking, they will ask you for the time and then hit you whilst you’re looking at your watch, they will push you and then punch you as they ask a question etc. This is reality. In most martial arts and combat sports (MMA, Cage Fighting, UFC, Boxing etc) opponents start at some distance from each other and wait for the referee to tell them to start. Having the luxury to wait and the time to get your mind in gear is something that nobody on the street will give you. Just think, if you can create an extra two inches of distance between yourself and an aggressor before they attack you might stop their initial (knife) stab from being a fatal one; plus you will have given yourself more time to respond to the one that inevitably follows. Even an “uneducated” and inexperienced fighter/attacker knows that they’re not to give you a chance. Increasing time and distance increases your survival chances.  

Your lines of defense should be arranged in the following order: 1) Firstly you should attempt to deny potential predators and aggressors the opportunity to select you as a victim – this would mean not going into a bar/pub that has the reputation for violence, not running/jogging alone late at night, 2) secondly you should present and conduct yourself in such a manner that you will not appear on their radar should they get such an opportunity e.g. walking and scanning, moving with purpose, 3) your next line of defense involves being able to detect the presence of harmful intent within a situation (situational awareness – SA), this normally involves you being able to pick up an aggressor’s movement as they synchronize it to yours, 4) after this you should look to be able to de-escalate the situation or disengage from it 5) with the final and last line of defense being that of physical action. In short:

  1. Deny Opportunity
  2. Reduce/Eliminate Victim Visibility
  3. Be Aware
  4. Be Able to De-escalate and/or Disengage
  5. Be Able to Physically Defend Yourself

Personal Security & Protection is about being able to avoid appearing on a predator’s radar, it is about not behaving/acting in a conspicuous manner – next time you wear your Tapout T-shirt in a crowded bar and start talking “big” with your friends, understand how you have both created opportunity – by being in the bar where alcohol is present – as well as increasing your visibility i.e. MMA T-Shirt, loud talking etc. Sometimes it is not possible to avoid creating opportunities or being put in certain situations e.g. you live in a part of town that is notoriously violent (or your friends do), you are invited for a social night out in a bar or club that you wouldn’t normally frequent etc. However by altering your behavior and actions you will be able to reduce and possibly eliminate certain risks e.g. don’t start talking loudly about how you favor the Yankees this year in a Boston bar or wear your Glasgow Rangers shirt to a pub in Parkhead. Being aware of who is “interested” in you in such situations is also key as is having the confidence to leave/disengage from a situation you deem may become potentially violent, in spite of the social pressures that may be put on you to stay i.e. having a survival personality.

Violence occurs along a Timeline and if you can avoid being on it all the better i.e. deny opportunity and eliminate visibility. In certain situations this is unavoidable and a good awareness and understanding of your environment (Situational Awareness) will help you create the time and distance you need to either prepare yourself for the physical conflict that may occur or allow you the space to de-escalate and/or disengage. This is what Self Protection is all about: avoidance of conflict.

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The Right Balance of Training

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 8th Oct)


Japanese martial arts, such as Karate break their training down into different components e.g. Kihon – the practice of the basic, Randori – free practice, Hojo Undo – Supplemental Training (Weights, Resistance Work, Makiwara Practice etc), Shiai – competition/free fighting. They recognize that for a person to improve and develop they must train and practice in many different ways. I was training two kids on Saturday who had hand-eye co-ordination issues, so we had to do specific drills to start to improve that before we were able to really work on the form of blocking and striking. We all have areas of weakness and deficiency and we all need to look at the types of training we do in order to address them. If is it simply a case of getting gassed out in a stress test the area of development is easy to spot. If it’s constantly jamming up with other people when doing drills such as stepping on toes it’s a control of range issue.

Training is not a competitive thing it exists to make you competitive. This is easy to forget when taking part in drills and light sparring. The idea is to practice and hone skills. It’s one reason we do a lot of lower intensity work that tries to develop effective movement. Does everything we do replicate and train all the components of a real street fight? Absolutely not, however people dismiss the value of different systems and arts because they miss the point on this. Why are Judoka’s such good grapplers, Tae Kwon Do practitioners such good kickers, BJJ stylists so good on the ground? Simply because these arts create an environment that promotes the development of these particular skills. When we drill we do this in exactly the same way. Sometimes we isolate everything to train ground, sometimes we isolate everything to exclude knife. On the street I will bite, rip, gouge and tear but if I brought this into grappling training on the mats no techniques would ever be learnt and no skills developed, plus nobody would ever want to train with me or they would train with me in an apprehensive manner. Neither of which would help me develop.

There is the need to train in situations where time and distance don’t exist, where a person’s heart is pumping and the adrenaline is flowing. There are times to move away from the comfort of the mats and change the environment e.g. this was the point of Saturdays outdoor Fall training and the beach training we put on over summer. There’s the time to mix all of this together. This is what I would refer to as “Shiai” in the Japanese Martial Arts; the time when the idea of playing/randori to develop skills is put aside and those skills are put to the test. This should still be controlled and safe but the situations that are set up are not there so much to train as to test. It is then through this testing that weaknesses can be detected and everybody can return to the mats to drill and play and further develop the skills they need.

Some people are able to see what they need to develop through day-to-day training (and/or understand that they don’t yet possess the skills to test), others require themselves to be tested in more extreme ways or may believe that they possess the necessary skills and ability to be tested, or in Japanese terms to compete. There are many ways to test yourself e.g. a few years back I went and competed in the Dennis Hisardut Championship in Israel – a bare knuckle, knockdown style of event. Not reality but a very emotional and stressful situation e.g. I’d never competed under their rules, I hadn’t competed in any championship for years and was in a foreign country trying to understand commands in Hebrew. There are many ways to introduce the components of reality into a situation without it having to replicate reality.

If people are interested in high stress CQB style training please contact me and I will try to arrange a session on the calendar before the end of the year. It will be hard, it will be painful and you will be taken out of your comfort zone,  


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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 1st Oct)

Dealing with aggressive and violent people is a frightening prospect. Not so much from a technical perspective but from an emotional one. As I always stress, 99% of assailants on the street will assault you with their best attack – the one they hope will end the fight there and then – and not plan or be prepared beyond that. This is why a push followed by a large swinging right is one of the most common types of assault. A street fight is rarely a highly physical technical affair, which is why we concentrate so much on basic movement, balance and stability. However from an emotional standpoint, to be able to perform such basic things under such a high level of stress requires an extreme emotional technical proficiency.  

Habituation is the process of decreasing a particular behavior due to increased exposure to a particular stimulus. Tolerance to alcohol or narcotics is a good example of this. The first time you had a pint of beer (in the UK that would be when you were about 13) it probably went straight to your head and you felt the full effect of the drink. If you remember the first time you stepped out on to the mats, you were probably jumpy, flat-footed and in a partial state of panic. Overtime as you were exposed again and again to somebody moving around you and trying to make contact with you, the stress you felt in this situation was reduced. Sometimes when you are partnered with somebody new who is wild and uncontrolled in the drills you begin to experience that same feeling, as you have become comfortable with dealing with controlled and calm individuals. This is the time, not to panic and lash out, but practice managing your emotions and allowing your movement skills to perform for them under this “new” stress level.

It is always interesting to watch stress tests at gradings and see peoples technical abilities slow down and decrease as well as confusing different threats and attacks and performing inappropriate and wrong defenses to them. It is not just fatigue, which decreases our ability to perform but our heightened emotional state. The fact that we train EVERYTHING and EVERY technique with movement may seem to be a frustrating way to learn and it may seem simpler to start training new things statically first however introducing a new technique without any form of stressor is unrealistic – introducing movement at the outset may slow down initial “mastery” of the technique however it gives not only a realistic representation of the attack it is designed to deal with but also puts an emotional stress component into the mix – one you should eventually overcome.

When I grade/test I am not only looking for clean techniques, which demonstrate the teaching points I am also looking for the mental state and stress level of the person performing it. Too often I see frustration and the rushing through of something, which is a clear indicator of succumbing to stress and emotion. In your practice you must repeat, repeat and repeat again the practice of a technique so the threat recognition and remembrance of it is there. It is a testament to our system, that people almost always perform the first part of the technique well but fall down after their initial response and reaction as they try and think and/or workout what to do. Keep training with movement and you will learn to think and adapt with movement.

Grading should not be a time to simply look back on what you may have achieved but to take stock of where you fell down and what you need to build on and develop. We grade again for Yellow and Orange belts in December. 

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