Extreme Violence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 29th Sep)

For many people the legal consequences of their behaviors and actions when dealing with a violent situation are the most important consideration(s). It is understandable that having worked all your life to achieve a certain level of success there will be a natural fear that if you behave and act in a certain way when assaulted you could stand to lose all you’ve achieved – either by being prosecuted for excessive force, or by being sued by your aggressor for personal injury etc. These thoughts often cause us to back away from violence, when we should pre-emptively act to avoid it, and cause us to hesitate from acting “violently” and “aggressively” when in reality these are the only solutions available to us.

Many people look to the Police & Law Enforcement Officers for advice on how to deal with violence and aggression i.e. how to operate within the law (the better person to ask would actually be an attorney who knows how to present the actions and behaviors of the individual, within the framework of the legal process). Unfortunately LEO’s – Law Enforcement Officers – have a skewed perspective on dealing with violence as they have a different end-game, objective when confronting violence i.e. they have to apprehend the person behaving aggressively, and they have a support network behind them e.g. weapons and other officers – all things that are necessary to accomplish their goals and the tasks that have been assigned to them. This is very different to the situation(s) that civilians find themselves in. When a civilian is being threatened, they are not wearing a badge or uniform and cannot call on anyone else to help them – usually they don’t have a weapon either.

When you are confronted by a violent individual who clearly means you harm, you will rarely know the extent of the damage and injury they want to cause you (and they may not know this either). Also in the course of the conflict this can shift; an aggressor initiating a fight, will believe they have the capability to finish it quickly, and with little or no harm to themselves. However if in the course of the fight they begin to question their ability to do so (because you are fighting back, defending yourself and causing them pain) they will have to increase their level of violence to accomplish it. This causes a gradual raising on the ante which is why it’s a much better strategy to meet violence with “extreme” violence, as this allows you to end the conflict quickly and decisively. The longer a fight goes on the more desperate an aggressor will get and the more likely they are to resort to extreme measures.

Unfortunately we often don’t consider “extreme” violence or we question its use because the “rules” of society suggests that it has no place as a civilized response to any form of aggression – as “nice” people we want to do just enough to deal with our attacker in order to defend ourselves. The real issue though is that the aggressor has already thrown out the rules of society, and is not behaving in a civilized fashion. They are not simply looking to defend themselves but to attack another person. Although it may be noble to claim the moral high ground, your aggressor has no respect for this, and you must instead claim the moral authority to act and to do what is necessary to deal with the situation – which is to meet it with extreme violence and assume the role of attacker within it. 

There may well be legalconsequences to your actions, but these should not be considered within the conflict/fight - this is the time to do what is necessary - and this is where having a pre-conflict method and strategy that an attorney can frame within a legal contextis imperative. If your method, involves avoidance, de-escalation and other preventative measures that can be referred back to in court, then your actions can be legally justified much more easily. You don't need a working knowlege of the legal system to work effectively in real-life situations, just a system that tries to avoid and prevent violence from occurring. 

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Disruption Before Execution

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 22nd Sep)

Often when we train, we look to find ways to make our strikes, faster, more powerful, more technically efficient and effective etc. and don’t take the time to see how our striking and techniques could be made more effective by putting our opponent/aggressor in such a disadvantageous position that almost any strike regardless of the power level would be effective. When practicing striking we often neglect something which is an essential part of our grappling training i.e. disrupting and setting up. When practicing throwing we never simply “throw”, we create movement and take balance before we execute a technique however when practicing striking we often neglect to set up our strikes and rather rely on what we believe to be our power, strength and speed. This is where working pads and bags can be detrimental to our training; we can end up believing we have such a good punch and kick that we simply have to execute it and it will be effective, regardless of what our opponent is doing or can do.

In a real life encounter, relying solely on your capabilities, without first taking out your aggressor’s ability to be effective (and/or respond to any attack you make), is to underestimate their competency and overestimate your own. You may believe you have the greatest, strongest, most powerful punch in the world however if you assume that your assailant isn’t competent enough to deal with it and counter it, you are making a grave mistake. It is no good throwing “good” punches against an aggressor, who is in a good position to deal with them, you must first disrupt them in some way. If you want to land effective punches in the street, it may be necessary to start with a “soft” strike such as an eye strike, in order to cause a negative response in your opponent; force them to blink pull their head back etc. (in the Krav Maga Yashir system we refer to this idea as “Soft Strikes into Hard Strikes). In sparring, you may throw a jab out to force your opponent to block and move to the right, so that you can set up a turning back kick - in both situations you need to be prepared for the fact that the person you are dealing with doesn’t react/respond in the way that you want; not everybody’s response will adhere to the most common and likely ones.     

Positioning your aggressor/opponent so that your attack will be effective must come before, or as part of your attack. Your aim should be to position your attacker so that: 1. Their weight is rooted/planted and they must undergo some form of weight distribution and movement before they can make an adequate defense or force them to move so that their weight is shifting (basically they should never be in a “neutral” position where they are stable and potentially mobile), 2. They are in a position where their stability is compromised (they can be well balanced without being stable) and 3. They will be mentally and emotionally unprepared for your attack/assault. These should be principles that although obvious in grappling should also be adopted when striking.

Attacking a prepared opponent is a dangerous thing. I see this in sparring all the time e.g. a person is in a strong fighting stance, in front of another person, “waiting” for an attack, and their partner obliges. Their partner is then confused why their very, fast, powerful and strong round kick fails to yield the same results it did on the pad. When someone is “waiting” there is no element of surprise. In a sparring contest somebody has to attack, and if a person isn’t attacking they’re expecting the other person to. Rather than attacking a “waiting” person you must force them to engage in a movement, an activity, a behavior which causes them to have focus on that, rather than on the expected attack/assault. In sparring it could be moving, so they have to move, on the street it could be talking/conversation to mask a pre-emptive strike or a weapon disarm.

The central principle of throwing, which require a disruption to setup an attack is one that should be adopted into striking as well.   

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Screaming & Shouting

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 15th Sep)

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had a more than a few questions about shouting, screaming and making noise when you’re assaulted. They normally come from “untrained” individuals who are looking for simple and direct, non-physical solutions to violence which will work in all situations – unfortunately there are no simple, catch all solutions that will work against all types of physical assault.

There’s a huge difference between a barking dog and a growling one. Barking will normally precede growling, as it is used a call for other members of the pack to come to its assistance; if no other pack members come then a dog will start to growl, basically saying that it understands that it is on its own and has to deal with the situation alone and by itself. Not all noise is the same. When somebody screams in surprise, they are making both an involuntary call for help, and attempting to create a “startle” reflex in the person that surprised them – one of the first fear responses we develop is flinching at loud noises (this is the reason that new born babies used to be swaddled – so that if they were sleeping and heard a loud noise their flinch response would be restricted and they’d fall back to sleep quickly, or not really wake at all). The reason that we learn to react to loud noises so early on, is that our auditory senses can pick up dangers that we’re not able to see yet i.e. dangers that are hidden or further away. When somebody screams at someone they will flinch, freeze for a moment; so involuntary screaming acts as a call for help and as a way of creating a small window of opportunity, where an assailant hesitates.

In certain situations, making a call for help by screaming, will not be in your best interest; if you start screaming when a mugger demands your wallet whilst in a crowded place they may feel obliged to stop you alerting everyone to their presence – the criminals greatest fear is getting caught. A much better survival strategy would be to hand over your wallet/money and not draw attention to the crime that is being committed. If you believe that the mugger intends to cause you harm then screaming/shouting as you make a physical defense has a place; as a call for help it only reinforces your “victim” status, showing you want others to come to your assistance and gives the mugger a new problem to deal with – one they will probably solve with a physical solution.

Should you scream, shout, “Kiai” as you make a physical defense? It all depends on you as an individual. Some people will not be able to shout, speak or make any noise when attacked. Under high stress and emotion certain abilities and functions shut down; one of these is the ability to speak. When we become highly emotional we lose some of our verbal skills. If you have ever got into a heated argument you may have found that you, or the person you are talking to starts to mix up the order of the words, mispronounces things or stutters and is unable to form actual words. As we move towards fight or flight mode our bodies recognize that the time for talking and debating is over and the need to respond physically is approaching – as part of this process it shuts down certain of our normal processes, such as speaking and hearing, and clears bandwidth for the emotional responses we will need when engaging in a physical confrontation. This means that for some people making noise and shouting will not be a response that they can make – they will fight in silence. Trained individuals who practice tying noise to their movements will respond differently however this doesn’t make them “right” and the person who makes no noise “wrong”, they are simply two different ways of responding.

As with all dangerous situations there is not one way to respond, the situation determines the solution e.g. if you are being mugged at knife point in a crowded shopping mall, it is better to hand over your money than create a scene, if somebody is trying to bundle you in to a car and abduct you then it is a good idea to make a scene. Whether that involves screaming and shouting will depend on who you are, how you react to things naturally, and your level of stress and emotion (you fear response). Everybody responds differently, and there is no right or wrong when it comes to making noise.

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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 8th Sep)

Often when I’m doing seminars, I’ll be approached by people who will tell me that not only have they been mugged, assaulted or abducted (usually attempted abductions) but that this has happened to them on multiple occasions; some will actually refer to themselves as having a “mark on their back”, which makes them stand out. In this blog post I want to look at why re-victimization occurs.

For a predator to assault you, they must first engage in three actions: target selection, surveillance and synchronization of movement - surveillance may occur during synchronization of movement, and continue during a verbal interview that may precede the assault. Basically what this means, is that an assailant must identify you, possibly picking you out from other potential victims, and in some form approach you (tracking you from behind, intercepting you etc.). Whilst all this is occurring they will be looking for cues that you are someone who will capitulate to their demands, and/or not fight back. These will largely be non-verbal cues, but they may also study how you interact with others in your environment to see the degree with which you avoid possible confrontations with people e.g. do you move out of the way for other people even when it’s your “right of way” etc.

People who have been assaulted before have a tendency to project more of these “cues” than they would have done before an assault. Some of this is quite natural e.g. if somebody assaulted you because you bumped into them when not looking where you were going, you will naturally be more jumpy when in a crowd and do more to avoid other people’s movement than you might have done before. Having been the victim of an assault, you will see the opportunities for people to assault you a little more readily than someone who has never been the targeted before. Our fear system is very quickly educated, and having been assaulted before it may trigger a little faster than it necessarily should i.e. it will see potential warning signals, earlier than before, even if those warning signals could lead to non-aggressive behaviors and actions. Your responses to these may stand out to a predator scanning for potential victims.

Trauma will also affect the way you behave and act. There are many definitions of what trauma is but the one I’ve found most practical for the purposes of understanding violence is that of being exposed to a highly emotional and stressful situation over which you had no, or perceived you had no control. If you were picked “randomly” – assume you were in the wrong place at the wrong time – off the street, abducted, beaten and possibly sexually abused by a group of armed assailants you will have experienced an incident that was extremely emotionally stressful, and one in which you had no control over. One of the first emotions you will experience after the event is shame – that this happened to you. As social creatures we do not want to admit to others we were unable to control what happened to us; we are ashamed. However clear cut it was that the incident was not your fault and however evident it was that there was nothing you could do you will feel judged. Shame is perhaps the worst emotion for us to experience and for our mental health we will do whatever mental acrobatics we have to do to avoid experiencing it – this is where we start to play with the issue of control.

Rather than experiencing shame we would rather have our guilt be personal and not social, therefore we start to blame ourselves for being assaulted. By blaming ourselves we start to take back some control of what has happened to us e.g. it was something we did or a way we behaved that makes us responsible for the assault we experienced. We may even extend, develop and expand this so that we see the assault as being our fault – we may also come to the conclusion that we deserved to be assaulted. Adopting these beliefs will affect us emotionally, and cause us to act and behave in ways that we wouldn’t before the assault. We may conduct ourselves in a more subservient and compliant manner allowing people to treat us badly without calling them on it. We may hold ourselves differently and give off a sense of non-confidence in our movement patterns.

All of these things may mean that we appear far more quickly than we did before on a predator’s radar. This is why the issue of control in an assault, even if it involves compliance is so important. If as a survival strategy you hand over your wallet to a mugger, you will suffer less trauma because you exerted control over the situation, than if you did because you didn’t know what to do or felt you hadn’t a choice. Self-defense and reality based training needs to consider the post-conflict phase of violence as well as the conflict phase and design its solutions to take these into account. 

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Situational Awareness

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 1st Sep)

Often we use our worst fears to create and develop our worst case scenarios; and once we have developed these we fixate on them and start to imagine and believe that these are the most likely situations that we will find ourselves in; we trade reality for the best that our imaginations can conjure up. In my time teaching self-defense, I have witnessed the bogeymen that people create and believe they are most “likely to face”, which have ranged from the mentally ill to members of various different ethnic minorities – as well involving some of the most bizarre locations including deserted alleyways (why would you be there?), to lift/elevator shafts that don’t work and abandoned parking lots – why would you park in one? When it comes to “fear” people will create for themselves a bewildering array of potential scenarios that bear no relation to the truth or reality. We tend to fear the most extreme, and in doing so ignore the most likely dangers and threats that we will have to face.

When we talk about Situational Awareness, we are actually considering two types of “Awareness”: subconscious/passive and conscious/active. Our Passive/Subconscious Situational Awareness is managed by our fear system – which is operating all the time. Our fear system, which runs in the background, will pick up movements and sounds that could indicate danger and alert us to these potential threats. This all happens subconsciously. Our Active/Conscious Situational Awareness is something that we do; things that we consciously look or listen for, when we start to survey - carry out surveillance on - our environment.

When we actively scan our environment for potential threats, we are first looking for actions and behaviors that indicate danger – we are not looking for people. The first thing to check is movement i.e. has anyone synchronized their movement to ours e.g. is someone following us, approaching us, trying to intercept us etc. If somebody has synchronized their movement to yours this is a key pre-violence indicator and demonstrates that a criminal/aggressor has already gone through the target selection and victim surveillance stages that also precede a physical assault or crime. If there is no obvious synchronization of movement, you should start to look at who lacks legitimacy in the environment: who doesn’t look to have a legitimate reason to be there e.g. there are “natural” places where people arrange to meet friends and will wait, such as street corners, park benches, and then unnatural places such as ATM’s and points in the middle of a street etc. People who are waiting for somebody will look for whoever they’re meeting in a natural way, they won’t try and disguise this whereas a predator will. A predator will wait in the most advantageous position to select and survey potential victims – if a person is waiting in a position that offers good surveillance of the environment you need to be questioning their motives.

Lastly you should look to exclude people who are unlikely to be a threat e.g. people with children, old people etc. Be sensible in your exclusions; delivery men walking around in an city/urban setting are much more common than in a suburban one, where they should always be close to their van etc. Being able to exclude people will allow you a greater amount of time to focus on those you can’t exclude. It is a better process to exclude people than to simply look for potentially dangerous people whose actions and behaviors haven’t yet revealed them. A situation may have no harmful intent within it e.g. no one tying their movement to yours or others, nobody conducting surveillance etc. However if you go through the process of excluding people you will start to identify those who represent a higher risk to you, even if the likelihood of them acting against you is limited.

We should approach every situation without prejudice and incorrect models of violence. We should educate our fear system, not by resorting to imagining worst case scenarios but be taking evidence from the situations we find ourselves in.  


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