Beyond Technique

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 25th Sep)

The Correct Way To Study Techniques

One of my old instructors used to say, “Techniques can fail, concepts can’t.” I have found, especially in the Krav Maga world, that people get hung up about techniques e.g. they want to know the best and most effective technique to escape a side headlock, the appropriate technique to deal with a knife to the side of the throat etc, and whilst I admire this search for knowledge my concern is that people are really only gaining an encyclopedia of techniques that they hope they will be able to reference when having to deal with a real-life violent situation. They are becoming what I term “Dinner Party” Martial Artists. This is a term I coined after becoming tired and bored of untrained people at social gatherings and the like asking me how I would deal with somebody who has put me in a Full Nelson, A Rear Naked Choke or other hold, without considering or discussing how I’d come to find myself in such a situation, or what I might have to do after escaping it. They were simply looking to learn (or know) a technique to deal with that particular attack/threat without looking to gain an actual understanding about the nature of violence, and what is and isn’t possible when actually dealing with it.

Techniques are the blueprints; they represent the perfect plans of how to deal with a particular assault or threat. If the threat/attack contains certain variations then the Blueprint might not be a completely accurate reflection of what to do. However it will always contain the fundamental and core ideas which will be able to be used in some form or variation to deal with the attack. A rear strangle where the assailant is intending to take you to the ground is a somewhat different attack to one where an assailant is simply pulling you backwards. People on the street will attack you in ways that are not always found when practicing with other students in a studio or similar training environment; you may not always find yourself on the even and stable terrain that allows you to perform certain “choreographed” techniques in your dojo or school, and you may find yourself executing a particular part of a technique too late due to being surprised or caught off guard.

If you learn techniques simply to be able to perform them in an A followed by B, followed by C, followed by D fashion you will basically be learning a dance routine rather than equipping yourself with survival skills. If you can understand the concepts, principles and ideas that a particular technique contains you will be able to adapt your responses if the attack doesn’t follow the path you have prepared or trained for. Adaptability, along with evolution, is the foundation of survival. Being able to make changes in real time to what you have learnt in the studio, or out of a book, is a key self-defense skill. Believing you know what to do, is very different from being able to do it, and very different to being able to do it in a variety of terrains and against a variety of different attackers, both in size, attitude and the different ways they will all execute “the same” assault.

Techniques should be looked on as containing photographic sequences, or snapshots of different parts of a defense, which are taken at various moments of a response to a certain type of attack e.g. defense against a rear strangle, a side headlock , a guillotine choke etc. Each snapshot should demonstrate and contain an idea which is pertinent to surviving that (and other) assaults. If you can train these ideas and concepts, as well as and as part of the practice of the technique itself you are on the road to building an adaptable skill set which will allow you to not only effectively deal with the assaults you have seen before and practiced defending against but those you’ve never seen or experienced before. Adaptability leads to creativity. One of the most gratifying things as an instructor is to have a student come over and show me a “new” technique/solution they have “created” after responding to something their partner did after going off script. The technique they were practicing in one sense failed but because they continued working to concepts they succeeded.

Practicing Krav Maga as an art is essential, as this where the ideas and the skills that are manifestations of those ideas/concepts are built and developed e.g. proper movement, power striking etc. Krav Maga should also be practiced as a self-defense system: training that which can be achieved when a person is placed under duress and having to deal with real-life scenarios, as well as situational and environmental components. Both of these types of training largely focus on the practice and development of technique however Krav Maga should also be practiced from a creative perspective where these physical techniques are removed and a person is left with only the ideas, concepts and principles to work with – this is how the survival instinct that makes any technique work is trained.

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Edged Weapons

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 24th Sep)

Edged Weapons

You will meet few security professionals and real world operators, who wouldn’t rather face an armed assailant with a gun than one equipped with a knife or blade. A gun is a unidirectional weapon that although packing more potential killing power than a knife is only functional /operational when pointed in one direction; if you can move yourself and/or the weapon offline the threat is dealt with. A knife, on the other hand, can be worked in many different directions and planes making it hard to escape and move away from. Also a gun is a blunt and regular object that can be grabbed, whereas a knife is sharp, edged and irregular and largely impossible to get hold off (there are ways and methods to grab a knife safely however it is not in the scope of this book to discuss or demonstrate them). Add to this that a knife never runs out of ammunition or jams, or requires any specialist training and you begin to understand that a person armed with a knife, and who has serious and harmful intent towards you, is a very, very dangerous proposition. This is not someone who needs to pull a trigger, from distance, but someone who is prepared to get up close and personal with you. Mentally, psychologically and emotionally they are prepared to feel, see, smell and experience the effects of their work and not simply observe things from a distance – something the luxury of a firearm would afford them.

Forget any martial arts demonstrations you may have seen, which involves a choreographed routine where an “assailant” makes large and committed movements, which see the attacking arm/knife hand being left out in mid-air for the instructor to grab. In reality attackers tend to make small, fast, erratic and frenzied movements, which always involve recoil. Anybody can create a reality that will make their system look effective however the true test of a system is when its reality is taken from and reflects the real world. If you spend a lot of time practicing defenses against straight stabs and thrusts you are not making the best use of your time, in reality most people tend to “shank” the knife forward and upward in an arc when making their attacks, or slashing in tight movements (which always see them recoiling the knife). Committed straights stabs/thrusts and the like are taught to and mainly used by military personnel. Although we may like to think that military systems represent the most effective and cutting edge self-defense systems around, they may not always share a reality with that of the street and the real world violence that is committed against and by civilians.

Give me the space, and even terrain of 2000 sq ft of mat space in a studio or dojo and I can create the room in which to do almost any technique I choose. Scale down this space to that of a pub/club bathroom, dim the lights and make sure the floors are coated with various liquids and fluids and the environment within which I have to work becomes increasingly limited. Alter the attack to come from the rear and when I’m least expecting it and what I’m able to make work for me is severely limited. I may have the advantage of objects I can use for my own defense, such as fire extinguishers (use them as impact weapons, don’t try and spray your aggressor with dry powder etc), waste bins and similar but the restriction of space and an unstable surface on which to stand are severe handicaps.

Whilst it is important to initially learn and develop your techniques in a controlled environment e.g. even flooring and with space to move etc, you should also practice what you have learnt in confined spaces where both time and space are limited. Also you should quickly introduce the idea/concept of 2nd and 3rd phase attacks. 

One of the core concepts of Krav Maga is, “Hand Defense, Body Defense” i.e. it is not good enough to just block an attack you need to move the target (your body) as well. There are several reasons for this. Firstly your block may not be 100 % effective, your hands may not be fast enough to get to the strike/stab/slash or the attack is too strong for you to stop. By coupling your hand defense with a body movement that moves you out of the way/offline you may be able to make an effective defense. In Krav Maga we refer to an evasive body movement that utilizes a hand defense as a 200% defense i.e. if your body movement avoids the attack it is 100% effective, if your hand/blocking defense is 100% effective then when you add both together you get a 200% defense. Looking at this from another perspective or angle you can also afford to have a margin of error in both your defenses and still have a defense that is 100% effective.

                In a knife fight you are likely to get cut. How you get cut, where you get cut will largely dictate the outcome of the fight. A stab to the center of your mass that penetrates 2 inches is far more significant than one that grazes or cuts your peripheries to a lesser depth. Simple body movements that assist your blocks can be the deciding factor as to whether a stab or slash is fatal. I am not advocating that you should operate under the assumption that you will be cut, rather I am emphasizing the important and essential part that body movements play when dealing with edged weapons; you should block everything and move away from everything.

Disarming Versus Evasion

                The street is not the same controlled environment of the Studio or Dojo. This is often forgotten where knife disarming is concerned. In truth there is only one time when you should disarm a person of a knife: when you are going to use it against them and/or one of the third parties that is with them. In a high stress situation where your life is at risk – and every time a bladed weapon is concerned you should assume this is the case – you will do whatever is necessary to survive it: if you take a knife off someone, in your emotional/survival state, you will use it against them. In a calm and non-emotional state you may believe that you would never do this i.e. use a person’s weapon against them. Do not be fooled into thinking you can deal with life threatening violence with a Zen Mindset, that sees you disarm an assailant and then disengage; this is not the human condition – once in the moment where you’re  equipped with the means to finish them, you will. If you train to disarm and take the knife in every instance, you should also understand that you should be prepared to deal with the moral and legal consequences of using it.

                The issue is, that once you have disarmed somebody you have in no way taken away their potential to cause you harm; you have their knife but you have done nothing to stop them hurting you either as an unarmed assailant or with another weapon they may have about them. All you have done is to equip yourself with a weapon that can potentially cause them harm – and one that in all likelihood you will use. The simplest strategy is to do what you need to do to exit the situation. If this isn’t an option you need to put your attacker out of commission, either by disarming and then using their own weapon against them, or by using their own weapon against them whilst they are still holding/attached to it, or by controlling them and/or their movement and finish them by launching destructive strikes, limb incapacitations/breaks and the like.

                In the majority of cases your first choice should be to exit the situation if you have the opportunity – there are few occasions where this wouldn’t be the case, such as when there are third parties within the environment that you feel the need/desire to protect. Assuming that this isn’t the case your primary objective is to get as far away from your assailant as possible and/or put some obstacle between you and your aggressor. Parked cars make excellent barriers between yourself and an attacker, as long as they are alone; as long as you keep moving and don’t give up your assailant will soon move from their adrenalized state to a less emotional one and if you have the ability to call the police on a mobile phone whilst you have the car between you, they will soon realize that time is against them. Reality requires you to survive a situation not demonstrate your ability to perform technique. A fight is about controlling the environment you are in, not what you are able to do or demonstrate against another person.           

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The Disadvantage of Time

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 17th Sep)

I’ll let you into a secret (like most secrets there are none, so there shouldn’t be any surprises I - n telling you this...): nothing in the world of professional security and safety is designed for you and your use, everything is designed, articulated and for the benefit of the security and safety professional, not the person who is actually caught up in the middle of it. You are expected to behave and act according to a script that someone else has written for you. Every safety system is based on the premise that people behave rationally and sensibly under stress – the problem is that when given time they do.

                The behavior of people aboard the Titanic, as it went down, is legendary. The lines for the life boats were orderly and “Women and Children” went first. From a “disaster” perspective everybody behaved as they should: orderly and without panic, with social conventions and values being applied. Given space and time we behave as would be expected. We can cope with the stress and resolve ourselves to our reality of our situations. The Titanic is not the only disaster where the professionals got it wrong e.g. not enough lifeboats.

In the World Trade Center it was estimated that evacuating people would clear a floor in 30 seconds, in the real word they did it in 60. Their response time was based on how they should behave not on how they actually would. Often the emergency plans we’re supposed to follow are based on the practices of the emergency services (trained professionals) rather than the ordinary people who suddenly find themselves in such a situation. The greatest number of first responders in the Twin Towers on 9/11 were not professional medics etc but ordinary individuals who had little more to offer than common sense. You don’t need to be a “hero” in such situations to have an effect you simply need to be the person who believes they can make a difference.

One of the things that security (and “disaster”) professionals are beginning to realize is the importance that time plays in allowing people to bypass and deal with the stress of a situation. In a high stress situation where time is restricted, such as in an air crash, people fall into two camps, those that act and those that don’t. Those who wait for instruction don’t make it, those who don’t wait but simply act do. You survive a plane crash by making it to an exit ASAP, with your shoes on – don’t wear sandals or flip-flops next time you fly (or take your shoes off) they won’t offer much protection against burning aviation fuel. Don’t wait for others to tell you what to do just act.

Often violent confrontations lie somewhere between the obvious and immediate danger of a plane crash and the slow sinking of a passenger ship i.e. the Titanic. Just enough time to think, but not enough to think completely – and rationally. There is also the issue of violence being a social thing: what if you’ve got it wrong that if the aggression isn’t real; that you’ve misinterpreted the situation. People in plane crashes and on slow sinking ships still experience denial but they have different timeframes within which to get over it: the danger of a plane crash is obvious, whilst the situation of a slow sinking ship is one that is continually reinforced and reminded to the passengers. The majority of violent situations lack the obvious and immediate danger of a plane crash, due to the period of dialogue and verbal exchange that precedes the majority of them however they are much faster moving than ships that take 45 minutes plus to sink.

Having a period of time to think, allows for both denial and doubt; you may get over the denial phase and accept the reality of the situation but then enter into a stage where you start to question your ability to deal with it. This may be reinforced by your aggressor’s behavior, which is the very point of their posturing. As soon as you question your ability to handle a situation you have to act (preferably you should have done so beforehand), as once one doubt exists others will follow. You have no time to formulate an alternative solution – if you are questioning your ability to physically resolve an incident then you have already acknowledged the danger within it. You do not want to have to win an internal battle with yourself and then deal with an external threat to your safety.

In training, start to develop the habit of doing and not thinking; of acting on first instinct; creating time for yourself to overthink what you are doing is not something you want to be educating yourself to do. 

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Guns, Knives & Videotape

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 9th Sep)

The debate around 2nd Amendment rights, although politically important has led many people to neglect the use and carry of other available weapons that in certain situation may be more relevant and applicable than a firearm e.g. there are occasions when non-lethal weapons such as batons and CS Sprays etc may be more suitable for dealing with an aggressor than a handgun or similar. Not every self-defense situation requires the use of lethal force and having alternative solutions means that an individual doesn’t have to pull their piece when either the law or the level of risk within the situation doesn’t justify it. Just because a handgun can deal with the most extreme of threats doesn’t mean it should be used to deal with all threats.

Taking a firearms course and buying a gun, in and of itself, doesn’t demonstrate much thought and consideration concerning your self-protection needs. Anyone who carries any weapon needs to understand the situations and scenarios when they would draw and then potentially use that weapon – to my way of thinking, as soon as you draw a weapon you need to be prepared to use it; I would actually go further and say that drawing a weapon signals your intent to use it and the situation must de-escalate quickly and significantly for said weapon not to be used. This is also how I view other people’s mindsets and intent when pulling weapons out against me (in spontaneously violent situations) i.e. they are intending to use them. If during a verbal discussion or argument somebody pulls a knife on me, I’m going to work off the basis that they intend to cut me as that would be the only reason why I’d be drawing mine. I would never draw a weapon either for “show” or in the “hope” that it would dissuade someone from acting/behaving in a certain way.

If I’m carrying a firearm and draw it, I’m doing so with the intent to use it i.e. the situation determined it as the solution; if I don’t have to, all well and good. That’s a bonus.

Carrying a knife is not a less than lethal option. A knife is an offensive not a defensive weapon. It may lack the potential collateral damage that a firearm can have however a knife is certainly not a defensive weapon. I would actually argue that a 9 mm has more defensive capabilities and options than a 2.5 inch blade: 1. the level of intimidation is greater which means it may dissuade a person from aggressive and violent behavior, 2. It can be used whilst you are backing off/away whilst a knife requires movement towards an aggressor to be effective and 3. A handgun can be used to take away a person’s movement whilst at distance ( a shot to the knee or hip joint – a tactic used against suicide bombers in the middle east), whereas a blade needs to be applied up close, personal and directly at the assailant. At the end of the day it is as easy and as likely to kill a person when using a knife as it is when using a firearm.

I am no attorney however my cod legal knowledge tells me that it will be a hard job to argue the case for carrying and using a knife, even if the length of the blade conforms to your state’s laws. I have a 2.49 inch blade, which is legal for me to carry in Boston that can kill you with the same level of skill and ease as a 4 inch knife that would be illegal in the same city. The blade length may give me “carry” rights but to a Jury in a court of law, a knife is simply a knife. It matters little if I cut someone with a 2 inch knife as a 5 inch knife, a knife is a knife and it only has one purpose. Being legal doesn’t translate to having the right to use. The situation determines the solution and to 99% of the population and legal world a knife is a knife.

The police don’t use knives and there are reasons beyond the risk of blood on the uniform for this. If a policeman pulls a lethal weapon they want to be sure (as well as justified) of the effect. The consequences of a bullet are far more predictable than that of a knife. But they also have two other non-lethal weapons at their disposal: a Baton and CS Spray. Even though batons are illegal to carry in Massachusetts, if you were to use one you’d have a great point of reference to explain that you were using it in a less than lethal capacity i.e. that’s how the police use them. With a baton you can create and maintain distance, which clearly identifies you as a person wanting to avoid conflict. You can make this case regardless of the number of hits and strikes you may land on your assailant – a hard argument to make if the injuries are wounds and cuts that are dispensed by a bladed weapon.

A knife requires close contact to be effective - a baton doesn’t, neither does CS Spray. These are weapons that can be deployed at distance, meaning that you can be moving away from an assailant as you deploy them, whereas a knife can’t. These are true defensive weapons. There are times you need offensive capabilities, whilst at distance, these require a firearm. However to have defensive capabilities at depth you need to be able to employ both lethal and less than lethal solutions appropriately. Above all you need situational awareness and effective decision making skills to ensure you can deploy your solutions effectively.

Not all violence is the same. There are those aggressors that simply need to be kept at bay whilst you escape/disengage etc and those who need to be finished. Have a knife, carry a baton, own a variety of firearms etc, just make sure you are able to handle all manner of situations.  





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Armed Assaults

(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 5th Sep)

A boxing ring, a cage or even the mats of a dojo offer the perfect environment for two different fighters to compare their fighting skills and abilities. Real life violence however doesn’t concern itself with the idea or concept of finding out who is the best fighter, instead it is about what one person is prepared to and able to do to another. The best ring or cage fighter is as vulnerable (and unprepared) as the next man if an armed assailant starts shanking them in the legs and buttocks whilst they stand, relieving themselves in front of a bar/pub urinal. Real life violence doesn’t occur on a level playing field where each party involved starts with even chances, rather it involves a level of inequality where one person(s) understands how to play the advantages of their situation and make the other party enjoy the disadvantages of it e.g. make an attack/assault when their target is preoccupied and their movement restricted etc, which makes a pub or bar’s bathroom an ideal environment in which to launch an assault.

Being able to use the landscape and environment to your advantage is a key survival skill. I often re-tell the story of chasing someone through a parking lot, only to have them turn on me with a knife. Never underestimate a person who has given up on any thoughts of escape whilst at the same time realizing they have a knife. In a heartbeat the situation changed from one where I was viewed as the predator to one where I suddenly became the prey. The advantage of being in a parking lot is that there are a lot of cars, which make fantastic barriers/obstacles. The disadvantage of a knife is that a person has to be close to you to use it and the width and length of any family saloon is enough to prevent this happening. I lose count of the number of circuits I did of that car but it was enough time to cause my assailant to lose his heightened state of aggression and return to a more rational state where he wanted to talk – still holding the knife of course.

What can be looked on as something that restricts your movement can also be seen as an obstacle to someone else’s. We are often so intent on looking for clear lines of disengagement that we fail to see those objects that hinder our escape/movement as things which could be used to create time and distance for us. The furniture in my house may prevent me from having the room to execute the perfect roundhouse kick but as a barrier between me and a potential aggressor my sofa/couch is able to offer a fair degree of protection.

Your environment is not restricted to objects, people can form barriers too. If you know how to move through a crowd quicker than any aggressor, your exit from any situation – in a crowded space – can be faster than your assailants. Even though a crowd will slow you down, it can be used to slow down any (potential) assailant(s) more. Whilst you may be trying to perfect the perfect escape from a rear naked choke, you may be overlooking the possibility/fact that knowing how to move through a crowd quickly could be a more valuable life skill.

Don’t get bogged down in becoming a studio/dojo warrior. The world needs these people to keep teaching and developing skills etc but it doesn’t need them to argue that the studio is the “street” and vice versa. Next time you walk a street, think how you would use what you see to deal with any potential aggressor – don’t look for discarded clothing etc, rather consider what you could use to give yourself an advantage against a blade.      


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