Gershon Ben Keren started writing his self-defense and personal safety blog in 2012, since then he has published weekly (and sometimes more frequently), 342 articles on self-protection, crime prevention, target-hardening, and other areas of personal safety. Below are the last 5 articles of the blog. If you would like to read more, please visit his blog site by clicking here.


(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 20th Nov)

Crime, including violent crime, relies upon opportunity. Sometimes a criminal creates, orchestrates, or takes advantage of an opportunity, and sometimes our actions and behaviors can facilitate an opportunity e.g. we leave a window open, that a burglar uses to break in to our house, etc. There is a theory concerning crime and opportunity called Routine Activity Theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979). Its basic premise is that, where a predatory crime occurs, an offender, and a likely target come together in a time and place without the presence of a capable guardian. The idea of a “capable guardian”, is specific to the context of the crime that is taking place. If the violent interaction was to take place in a pub/bar, a “capable guardian” that could prevent the incident from occurring, might be the large number of friends that you have with you, versus the lone offender, or the presence of door security personnel, etc. Although the theory doesn’t elaborate on it, the capable guardian, is judged or viewed to be capable based on the offender’s perceptions; the lone offender in the pub/bar, might not believe that your friends are “capable” of preventing an act of violence (a crime) against you, so in the context of the theory, if that were the case, they wouldn’t count as the “capable guardian”. What the theory really stresses though, is the idea of relationship, that there is a relationship between the offender and the victim, a relationship between the offender and the location, and a relationship between the victim and the location. In short, violence is about relationships.

One of the most over-looked areas of reality-based self-defense and self-protection is the relationship between the offender and the victim. Most women, when asked, understand that (statistically) they are most likely to be raped/sexually assaulted by someone they know, in their home or somebody else’s i.e. they will have a pre-defined relationship with their assailant, and both the offender and the victim will have a pre-defined relationship with the location. It is the “relationship” between the offender and the victim, which is key in such assaults, as it is this that the predatory individual uses to create the opportunity. However, often the “opportunities” that are taught in women’s self-defense classes don’t reflect this, with the attacker being presented as a stranger, who ambushes his victim, in an unfamiliar or irregular (based on the victim’s routine) location, such as a park, late at night. Neglecting to teach women how to manage the “relationship”, they have with a friend or acquaintance, who has adopted the role of a predator, in that situation (time and place), would be neglecting to address the most common types of sexual violence, that women are likely to face. Rather than focusing on physical solutions for dealing with predators who jump out from behind trees and ambush their victims, we should be directing our attention towards teaching social and verbal strategies, to deflect and disengage from the more likely situations, where a partner’s best friend, or a work acquaintance, turns up at the front door (place), at an unexpected time (time), with a story/reason why they need to be let in. Such predators work on our inability to manage our relationships with them in socially awkward situations and if we fail to address the “relationship” aspect of such violent assaults, we are not going to be effective in preventing these common attack scenarios.     

We also know that women are more likely to be physically assaulted by their partners than by a stranger. How do we address these situations and scenarios? Or are they simply too complex for us to provide solutions for? What are the potential consequences for a victim who fights back, but doesn’t leave their partner (relationship), or their home (location), because they may have children, or not have the financial resources to do so? I’m not suggesting that we become councilors and mental health professionals, but as those involved in reality-based self-defense, we need to teach to reality. It may be that we limit ourselves to teaching the predictive elements of potentially abusive relationships, so that those who may be at risk can understand the situation they are in, and have the opportunity to exit and disengage from the relationship before all parties have become too invested in it.

Violent offenders, even if they don’t know their victim, have a relationship with the locations they use. They will probably have a degree of familiarity with the location, understanding its life-cycle e.g. when it’s busy, and when it’s not. The rapist who targets his best friend’s partner, at her home, will know or find out the times when she will be alone. Certain criminals will choose locations near to where they live, others may choose locations some distance away, and may even leave their car in another location, so that it isn’t tied to, or associated with the crime scene e.g. a sexual assailant, whose MO (modus operandi), is to target lone women, in areas which are sparsely populated, may park their car some way away, so that they are not linked to that area at the time(s) when they commit their assault(s). In such instances, locations have relationships with locations; where the car is parked, although far away, will be located on a route which is both discrete (for instance there may be a lack of CCTV, which may in this context act as a Capable Guardian), and easily accessible. Both the crime scene location and the location where the car is parked, will be linked by a “channel”.

The location may also actively “draw” both the offender and the victim. In June of 2015, there was an attempted abduction of a 15-year old girl, at a retail outlet in New Hampshire (I wrote about this at the time in a blog article called “Real Life Predator Process”). The media expressed surprise that the assault occurred at 4:15 pm when the outlet was relatively busy. The offender knew that there would likely be   a large number of teenage girls at the mall, shopping after school was out. He knew that this location, would draw a certain population, as well as when this demographic was likely to be there. He understood the relationship that his potential victims had with this location, and this created opportunities for him. If his particular victim demographic was middle-aged women, he may have chosen a different time of day to visit the retail outlet, possibly choosing an earlier time in the day, when their children may have been more likely to be at school, giving them the opportunity to shop. If his demographic was women in their late teens and early twenties he may have chosen an entirely different location, and time, such as a city center, when the pubs and bars were closing. Predators go where their chosen prey are, and they have a good understanding of the relationship their victims have with certain locations.

From a predictive perspective, we should examine the relationships we have with certain locations, and understand the relationships that an offender might have with them, and at what times these may be. If we then find ourselves in this location, at this time, with someone – even if we have a prior relationship with them – we should at the very least be wary of their motive. Understanding the relationships we have with people, in certain locations, will allow us to understand the opportunities we may present for offenders, and we should develop tactics and strategies for dealing with them when this happens.

Share on Facebook

Cognitive Biases

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 13th Nov)

Cognitive Biases are rules of thumb that we use to make quick decisions. In many ways, they can help us e.g. we know to hand over the wallet to a mugger, as 99% of the time, this is the quickest way to get them to leave us. Like all rules of thumb, or heuristics, they are there to guide and direct us, rather than to offer absolute solutions – situations determine solutions, rather than rules and preconceived notions of what we should and shouldn’t do; 1% of mugging incidents, will require a different resolution than handing over the wallet, so we also need to have a plan/tactic, for when the mugger doesn’t leave. Unfortunately, there are times when these cognitive biases lead us astray and misdirect us, and we should be aware of this, so that we don’t build or work with incorrect “models of violence”. A model of violence, is an understanding/replica of how we believe a certain type of violence will play out e.g. if we believe that the most likely rape/sexual assault scenario that we will face involves a stranger and a remote location, then we have built and constructed an incorrect/unlikely model of violence concerning this type of assault, as these types of assaults are more likely to occur in our home or somebody else’s, and involve somebody we know, etc.

One type of cognitive bias we use is “anchoring”. An anchor, is an experience, rule, or piece of knowledge that we adopted early on, find ourselves referring to on a regular basis, and continue to compare new information against. One of the first pieces of safety advice that we were probably given as children, was not to get into cars with strangers, etc. Our parents/guardians, would have painted a picture, and/or described a situation, in which we would be playing in our front yard, and a stranger in a car (or possibly the infamous white van), would pull up, and ask us if we wanted to go and see some puppies, etc. As children, this may have been a likely approach for a predatory individual who doesn’t know us to use to get us into their car, but as adults it is a highly unlikely one. A predatory stranger is much more likely to use other methods, to get us into their car e.g. they may crash into our car, in a remote location and offer to give us a ride to the nearest town, etc. Unfortunately, our anchor, may cause us to not recognize what is happening, because the situation we are in doesn’t reflect the model it was built around. Whilst the anchor of not getting into a car with strangers, was constructed around an adult predator targeting a child, it doesn’t reflect the methods that such predators would use when targeting adult victims.

Anchoring biases are often supported by confirmation biases e.g. we may have been educated early on, that one of the biggest threats to our safety comes from the mentally ill. Using this as our anchor, we may focus on information that confirms this viewpoint, and ignore the larger body of information and evidence that disproves this, or sets it in the appropriate context. For someone who believes that the mentally ill are dangerous, the fact that the killer involved in the recent Texas active shooter incident had been diagnosed with a mental illness, will confirm their viewpoint, and may lead them to conclude that this is the primary motivation and reason behind all active shooter/killer incidents, even though when looking at past incidents, anger and isolation issues, appear to be more common driving forces. We all have confirmation biases. It’s one of the reasons why we watch certain news channels, and read certain news sources – we want our views and ideas to be confirmed. The danger is that when we apply this to personal safety, we may find ourselves building incorrect models of violence, that put us in danger when we try to apply them.   

Often, when trying to understand something, we will settle on the first alternative/option that makes sense to us, and not investigate any further. If we are told that the best way to de-escalate a confrontation is to talk calmly and apologize for whatever indiscretion we’ve committed, or if dealing with a mugger, to throw our wallet away from us and them so they leave us and go to the wallet, etc., we are likely to accept these rules, and not consider that these solutions may in fact increase the danger we are in. Our natural desire to settle on the first solution we are presented with often leads to tunnel vision and incremental thinking, where we are only able to move in one direction, rather than operate laterally, recognizing that different solutions may be more effective, and not lead us into danger. Although settling on the first solution someone tells us, may quickly give us a tactic and strategy to adopt, it doesn’t mean we’ll be equipped with the right one.

Another cognitive bias that we use, is that when facing a certain situation, it is likely that we will try to compare it to another similar one we’ve seen, in order to replicate and copy the solution that we used to deal with it. Certain training methods can reinforce this. If, when you practice gun and knife disarms, you simply practice the technique, without putting a context around it, it is likely that your solution to every situation you are involved in where a gun is involved will be to perform a disarm, etc., even when a mugger demands your wallet, and the incident can likely be ended without violence, by handing it over. This simple heuristic of acquiescing to a predator’s demand, can also get us into trouble, if they are demanding that we move from our primary location to another; as this is something we shouldn’t agree to, and would be an appropriate time to perform a disarm, etc. Understanding that not every situation where a person threatens us with a weapon is the same, will help us avoid replicating inappropriate tactics.

Studies have shown that vivid information, and personal accounts, affect our thinking and understanding to a greater extent than statistics and studies. An individual’s personal recollection of an experience will color our thinking far more than the results of a study, that contains the experiences of many individuals, but is presented as a set of numbers, or displayed in a chart, rather than as an anecdote/story, etc. This also means that we are more likely to be influenced by a dramatic movie scene, that is fictional, than by less graphic depictions of violence that are reality-based. It is far easier for us to imagine and fixate on a sexual assault committed by a stranger, late at night in a deserted location, than by a work colleague in our home or theirs – even though statistically this is much more likely.

Whilst cognitive biases are rules of thumb, that can help us quickly reach decisions, we need to know their potential adverse effects as well, so that we don’t build incorrect models of violence that can misdirect our understanding of how to effectively act and behave in dangerous situations.

Share on Facebook

Hammer-fists and Forearm Strikes

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 5th Nov)

The larger the striking surface, and the larger the target area, the less likely you are to miss with a strike. This is one of the reasons, I like using roundhouse kicks – shin to ankle as a striking surface, against, almost every area of the entire leg – hammer-fists, and forearm strikes offer a similar advantage. In real-life situations where you are operating under high stress and duress, target size becomes extremely important; if you start to suffer from tunnel-vision as part of your adrenal response, it is likely that objects in front of you will start to shrink e.g. the head will start to appear as a smaller target. This is one of the reasons why it is worth considering how you use protective headgear (which will make the head a larger target) and gloves (which will make the striking surface larger) when you train under stress; this is not to say that both types of training equipment don’t have their place, just that we need to be judicious when we use them. In a manner of speaking, the forearm, and the hammer-fist are the upper body combatives equivalent of the roundhouse strike, and probably deserve a loftier position, in our arsenal of striking tools.

The hammer-fist is perhaps one of the most versatile striking tools we have. Because we are striking with the bottom of the fist, the number of directions we can angle the strike from (such as downwards, inwards, and outwards, etc.) means that it is multi-directional tool, unlike straight strikes - which also have their place. Another advantage that the hammer-fist has over straight punches, that connect using the knuckles, is that there is considerably less chance of damaging the hand when throwing the strike. As long as the fist is tensed when connecting with the target, the adipose tissue at the bottom of the hand, will protect the relatively delicate bones of the hand from injury. One of the benefits this has, is that the strike can be thrown at full speed, and with full force, without having to worry about injury to yourself. I have seen people pull back on delivering full-force punches because they have doubts about their ability to do so without injuring themselves. Although, with the appropriate training this can be rectified, if a person is caught in a situation, at a time when they doubt their ability to throw punches without injuring themselves – or can’t take the risk of damaging their hand, because their “primary” weapon is a sidearm – the hammer-fist is a good alternative, even when a straight punch may be the more appropriate/relevant tool.   

I often talk about the forearm strike and the hammer-fist, as the same strike, when attacking a target such as the neck i.e. when I use them, I often use them together, with the only variable being which part of the arm/fist makes contact – at longer range, it is likely to be the bottom of the fist, at shorter range, the forearm itself. The neck is a good target because it doesn’t move in the same way that the head does (and can’t ride a strike in the same way either), and is located at/towards the centerline of the body, something which becomes more relevant if your vision is adversely affected by the stress and duress of the situation. A hammer-fist/forearm strike, swung inwards and downwards at the neck, has a better chance of landing, with force, than a straight punch to the face (though of course such strikes to this target do have their place). If the force lands with sufficient body-weight behind it i.e. not just the weight of the arm, the effect is normally to “crumple” the person, and send the body into a temporary state of shock – making it a good way to open them up to further successive strikes. In a fight (where we aren’t dealing with an armed assailant) 90-100% of what we should be doing is delivering concussive force, and hammer-fist and forearm strikes, are an important tool in assisting us in doing this.

From my own experience, I have often found it much quicker to move into space vacated by an assailant, using hammer-fists, than with straight punches. A downwards hammer-fist, with the rear-hand directed towards the face, can be delivered with full force, whilst taking a fairly large step forward - the same cannot be said of a straight forward/lead punch, where the step forward has to be somewhat smaller, with the comparable amount of force generated being less. This is not to say that such strikes don’t have their place, just that if you need to move into someone at speed, throwing repetitive powerful strikes to force – or chase - them back, then moving rapidly forward throwing forward/downwards hammer-fists is probably your best option. Also, it won’t be necessary to change your attack if they start to duck and cover, and you begin to jam up, as you will simply start connecting with your forearm to the back of the neck, rather than the bottom of your fist to their face. This gives you a fairly simple strategy for dealing with an assailant, that doesn’t rely on a large number of technical tools.

I have never been an instructor who believes that aggression is a replacement for skills and techniques. I don’t believe that a poorly executed strike, becomes a good strike, just because the person making it is aggressive. In my time working security, I have been hit by angry and aggressive people who lacked the ability to generate power, and have an effect; their aggressiveness did not translate into force. In saying that, a good strike thrown with aggression, will generally have more power to it, than one thrown without. Certain strikes lend themselves to aggression, and I believe hammer-fists are one of them. Although every bit as technical as a straight punch, less of the technical points need to be present to generate the same amount of force, as with a straight punch. As movements start to shrink when we become adrenalized, the larger body movement involved in delivering a good hammer-fist, shrinks less than the hip and back turn involved in straight striking. It is also often easier to concentrate and focus on the single forward movement of a downwards hammer-fist, than the multiple chained movements that make up a good, powerful straight punch.

It may seem from this article that I am not a fan of straight striking/punching, however this is not the case; at my school we probably spend more time training these types of strikes/punches, than any other, because they are extremely technical strikes, with many, many teaching points to them. However, when I look back at my own time in security, hammer-fists were probably the strikes I had the greatest effect with, especially when having to move forward at speed, into an attacker; they were also the ones that connected the most, and were the hardest to block and dodge. Developing an effective and powerful set of hammer-fists should be a goal of anyone practicing reality-based self-defense.

Share on Facebook

Drills and Skills

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 30th Oct)

When people first start training, they are often in a rush to learn, and collect the techniques that they believe they will need, to survive a real-life altercation. They want to know what to do if somebody catches them in a guillotine, a head-lock or similar. Often, these escapes are seen as the essence of what self-defense is, rather than being recognized as an “interruption” in the fight, which should be avoided. Your first task, when engaged in most violent confrontations, will be to deliver as much repetitive, concussive force as you can. If your assailant catches you in a guillotine as you do this, then this is an interruption to that process, one which must be dealt with, before you can carry on with the task of continuously striking them. Escaping such holds and controls, is an “inconvenience” that you have to deal with in order to continue your fight. The idea is therefore not to get caught with these things in the first place, and it is your fighting skills, rather than techniques that enable you to do this. It will also be your fighting skills which will get your techniques, such as the guillotine release, to work. Unfortunately, skill development is often looked on as something that MMA practitioners, or martial artists work on, and that those practicing reality-based self-defense systems can bypass by using aggression.

Skills are developed through drills – and it is worth noting that drills are not scenarios. There are two basic types of drills in Krav Maga training: open and closed. A closed drill is one where the outcome of the drill is defined, and an open drill is one where there is no pre-defined outcome, and those participants involved in the drill create the outcome based on their actions and responses to each other. An example of a closed drill, would be one in which a pad holder with a focus mitt, starts out of range, and then moves into range, with somebody striking the pad when this happens. The goal of the drill being to train threat recognition, reaction/response time, range appreciation and power generation, amongst other things. The drill could be “opened” up to have more outcomes, so that the person striking the pad trains their decision-making abilities as well. Before all this happens though, the person involved in the striking portion of the drill, needs to have the appropriate striking skills, and this may be best trained with a non-moving partner, whose role it is to simply hold the focus mitts whilst they strike, so they develop the body mechanics, to punch/strike with power.

At some point, the student will need to take the skills they have learnt in these closed drills, and apply them in open drills, where there are no pre-defined outcomes. A good example of an open drill is sparring. There are rules and restrictions, as far as what can and can’t be done, and there is a format that participants adhere to, but when somebody is responding to a punch or other attack, they don’t have to do so in a pre-defined way; they are “open” to responding how they want to, and the person they are sparring with, doesn’t know beforehand what that might be. I have met a lot of people in the reality-based self-defense world, who don’t believe in sparring, because it doesn’t replicate what a real fight looks like. This is, once again, to confuse drilling with scenarios. Sparring doesn’t replicate real-life violence in a number of ways: it’s consensual, both participants know when the “fight” will start, they know when it will stop e.g. how long the round is, and what will end it, etc. But sparring, as an open drill, also develops a lot of fighting skills, such as an appreciation of range, how to effectively move relative to someone else’s movement, how/when to recognize that someone is vulnerable to a particular type of attack, etc. Sparring doesn’t reflect a real-life fight – it’s not intended to – but it’s a great way to develop fighting skills, which can be applied to scenarios.

In scenario training, we bring the “reality” element into our training. There are story-lines and motivations, that different participants in the scenario have. Time and distance are commodities that are in short supply, and some of the skills developed through open and closed drills can be applied, such as controlling range, where to position yourself and stand so that you can make an effective defense and counter-attack if necessary (not all scenarios may have a physical outcome to them), etc. This is where a partner doesn’t comply to the rules and format of a drill, but works according to the script that they have been given as part of the scenario e.g. a drunk in a bar who has had their drink spilt over them, and isn’t going to respond to any attempts at de-escalation, etc. Drills too, can have elements of “non-compliance” e.g. working against a pad-holder who doesn’t allow you to control range, and keeps closing you down, etc., but they are still drills, intended to build skills. It is in scenarios, where all of these skills may be tested in a way that reflects reality.

In creating effective scenarios, an appreciation of what real-life violence looks like, and how people actually respond in these situations, needs to be replicated. Not everybody will back off, after you disarm them of a weapon, not all people will move back, as you deliver continuous strikes and punches, there are those people who will fight back after you’ve applied an armbar, etc. All of these responses need to be trained for. Things that might be successful in a drill, such as applying an armbar when drilling groundwork, may not end a scenario – a participant may “tap out”, but the scenario restarted, recognizing that they are still able to fight on.

Self-Defense/Fighting is not just about techniques, it is also about skills development, and this means using drills to develop these things. A drill might train a skill that is just one precise piece of the overall Jigsaw, or it might train many skills at once, but in either case it’s not a scenario, and shouldn’t be confused as such. If you’ve ever worked a heavy bag, you are drilling a set of skills. The swinging motion of the bag doesn’t accurately reflect an individual’s movement – the bottom swings more than the top – but it is still a great tool for drilling movement skills, power generation, against a moving target/object, etc. To be effective in our training, we need to drill and train skills, learn to apply those skills in dynamic and open settings, and then transfer them to realistic scenarios.

Share on Facebook