Gershon Ben Keren's Blog

Self Defense & Personal Safety Blog

Gershon Ben Keren started writing his blog in 2012, updating it weekly (and sometimes more frequently depending on events in the news, questions raised in classes, points brought up in seminars etc). Since then he has written 316 articles about personal safety, self-defense. These have included articles on sexual assault, home security, street robberies, improvised weapons, school and adult bullying, situational awareness, CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) etc. There are few areas of aggression, violence and personal safety, that he hasn't covered or touched upon.

The last four blog articles, that have been published, are displayed below. If you would like to visit the main blog site to read other articles, you can click on any of the months listed in the right hand side bar, or click here to go to

The Pertinent Negative

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 21st May)

I was recently writing a piece on narcissism and paranoia, and how these two disorders can play a part in abusive relationships e.g. narcissists are control freaks, and individuals suffering from paranoia, see the world as being very black and white with no grey areas, meaning they will try to interpret – and connect - other people’s actions and behaviors in a very black and white way, etc. As I went through the symptoms and signs of these personality types (it’s a good few years since I studied them to any depths), I was reminded that in any diagnosis of a disorder, it’s as important to recognize what isn’t there, as what is. The absence of certain conditions/symptoms, is as crucial in terming/diagnosing a personality disorder, as those conditions that are present e.g. for somebody to be classified as a narcissist, five or more things must be present out of a list of the following character traits: has grandiose ideas about themselves, requires continual and excessive admiration and attention, feels/believes they are entitled, exploits others, lacks empathy, fantasizes about success and power, believes they are unique, is envious of others and behaves in an arrogant and aloof fashion. We may know someone who has one or even four of these traits, but without a fifth, we wouldn’t be able to “technically”/”correctly”, identify them of being a narcissist. We would refer to this absence of a fifth condition, as being a “Pertinent Negative”. The value of these Pertinent Negatives is that they stop us jumping to conclusions about things, which would result in an incorrect diagnosis, and a misunderstanding about what is actually happening. Pertinent Negatives, also come in to play when we look at Situational Awareness, and assessing threats/dangers.

During a corporate seminar, I was asked by a female participant/attendee, about a particular situation that she often found herself in. On the opposite side of the road from the front door to her house, across a relatively busy road, two older men would regularly shout inappropriate suggestions and remarks to her as she left or came back home – these guys hung out, on the corner of a street. Her question was an extremely reasonable one: should she fear for her safety? I asked her a few questions, about how long this had been going on? Since she’d moved in a few years ago. Had anything that had been said escalated over that time? No, it was pretty much the same remarks and comments, each time, etc. I also asked her if they’d ever tried to cross the road to make contact with her, to which she replied that they never had made any movement that suggested that they were going to cross the road. This lack of movement was the Pertinent Negative. If they had wanted to cause her physical harm, they would have had to cross the road – and until they did that, as uneasy/threatened as she felt, she was not at any physical risk; we talked about being prepared, and what to do if they did, including the use of pepper spray, and other strategies, etc., however until they engaged in that synchronization of movement, and tried to get close to her, she wasn’t in any physical danger.

When I used to work door, and had to refuse people entry, I’d often receive a lot of verbal abuse, which was normally delivered from a certain distance. In assessing that there was no immediate risk/danger, the Pertinent Negative was the fact that those hurling the abuse kept back, at distance, and out of range, etc. Sometimes, they would work themselves up, and then move in to close the distance, but until they did, there was no imminent danger. The Pertinent Negative of an aggressor putting themselves in a position where they could cause you harm, means that legally they are not committing an assault, they are simply engaging in threatening behavior. Once they move into a position where they could cause you harm (and you have reason to fear for your safety, e.g. they are telling you what they are going to do to you), then they are guilty of assault.

It is not just the absence of movement or position, that can act as a Pertinent Negative. It is sometimes the absence of things in our environment, which give us the warning that we are in danger. Take a scenario, where a utility worker knocks on your door, and tells you that there is a crucial issue with one of your services – maybe they tell you that a gas leak has been detected, and traced to your house, and unless they see to it right away, your entire street is at risk (nothing like putting the burden of responsibility on you for everyone else’s welfare and continued existence). Despite the worker having the appropriate ID, and uniform, etc., you feel that something isn’t right, however you can’t quite put your finger on it. As you start to tell yourself you’re being stupid and imagining things, you realize that this workman who is to do this vital work (and will need tools to do it), doesn’t have a van/truck with them. You suddenly realize that this is what is missing from the situation. It is easy enough for a determined predator to get hold of a discarded utility uniform, and fashion a realistic ID, etc., but much harder for them to get hold of a company truck/van. It’s the absence of this which is the Pertinent Negative, and that alerts you to danger.

When I talk about effective Situational Awareness (SA) versus Hyper-Vigilance (which people often mistake situational awareness for), I often liken it to the way in which a gazelle, can graze within 20 feet of a sleeping lion; it’s natural predator. It can do this in a relaxed state, because there is an absence of any hunting activity or behavior – an extremely Pertinent Negative. Often we are told that good situational awareness involves looking out for and identifying certain things, but it also involves understanding what should be present in a dangerous situation, and isn’t.

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More Of The Same

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 14th May)

When I was a kid, there was a bully at my school. There were actually quite a few, but this kid was the loner, who all the other bullies looked up to, feared, and respected. Unlike most of the other bullies, he didn’t seem to have an agenda or any specific kids he picked on. He targeted anybody and everybody. Nobody was safe from Jamie - I forget his last name; something that isn’t that relevant when you’re 6 or 7 years old. I do remember a group of us, meeting to discuss tactics, strategies, and techniques for taking him down, and sending a message that the bullying would have to stop. We decided on a really simple plan: somebody would punch him in the stomach, and when he bent over, knee him in the face, and kick him in the groin. It was a great plan, if it worked. If it didn’t work, it was a terrible plan, and that’s why nobody volunteered to be the one who implemented it. This article is about the failure of techniques, tactics and strategies, and what to do when our plans don’t work.

Firstly, there might have been ways we could have gotten our plan to deal with Jamie to work, or at least improve our chances of success. If we had been able to adopt the right mindset, and develop the necessary skills and attributes, such as learning to punch hard and fast, our chances of success would have gone up. To put it another way, without the correct mindset and the necessary skills/attributes, failure would be virtually guaranteed. However, it is worth noting that even with these things present, nothing would be certain, as there are always variables at play which can cause a strategy or technique to fail, regardless of whether it is sound or not.

All techniques can fail, all techniques have inherent problems and issues with them. Many reality-based self-defense instructors deny this truth to their students, and present techniques as perfect solutions to problems, not being subject to any issues and potential problems. I have heard instructors say, concerning knife attacks, that you block and keep punching until you shut your aggressor down, etc. It’s a great strategy if it works i.e. if your punches are effective. If your punches aren’t effective, it’s a terrible strategy. Mindset, and the necessary skills/attributes, will improve your success rate, but they won’t guarantee a particular outcome. Your attacker may be pain resistant/tolerant, due to drugs, alcohol, or adrenaline, or they may have a similar mindset, and set of skills/attributes to yourself e.g. they know how to ride your punches, and know how to cover up and continue attacking, etc. The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. Investing more effort into something that isn’t working is not an acceptable solution to a real-world self-defense problem, we must be ready and able to move on, and attempt different things; this is why we need a broad base of solutions – this doesn’t mean that we don’t practice in depth, rather that we don’t put all our eggs in one basket.

Different techniques tend to solve one or two parts of a problem well, and neglect or attempt to mitigate others, and it is when these come in to play that we may need to be flexible and change our approach and/or do things in a different order. We may need to control and then strike, rather than strike and then control, or vice versa. We must also recognize that one approach, can result in multiple outcomes. For example, if you punch somebody they may not move back, but instead cover up, or immediately come back with a punch of their own, etc. Attackers, don’t necessarily try to retain their weapons in the way our techniques anticipate they will; a good technique will take retention, and the most common modes of retention into account (or they should), but there will be times when an attacker responds in a manner that the technique isn’t primarily suited for. There are no 100% techniques, tactics or strategies; all rely on certain assumptions and expectations. Techniques do the best they can, but none are perfect. I would suggest that any individual or association that fails to acknowledge this about what they teach, either lacks real world experience, or is expecting its members to blindly follow what they put forward without ever questioning what they’re learning.

Most self-defense instructors hate the “what if?” questions when they demonstrate a technique. In many cases, an experienced instructor has heard them, and answered them, a million times before, and responds in a tired fashion, as if the student should have been there to hear their response on any of those previous occasions. But “what if” questions are extremely valuable, because they often illustrate the natural “gaps” that techniques have e.g. what if, when your controlling the knife hand/arm, and punching your attacker in the face, the punches aren’t effective, and they start using their free hand? A common response might be, “well, if you’re punching them hard enough, they won’t be thinking about their free hand.”  This is an answer I’d largely agree with, however “what if?”, your punches aren’t having an effect. I would make the argument that in most cases they will, but there will be times they won’t. If that is the case, what would you do? This may not be something that should be immediately focused on and demonstrated, however at the same time it shouldn’t be dismissed. A good instructor should be able to answer the question, without insisting that the answer is, more of the same.

There are obviously preferred solutions and tactics, etc. but to be prepared for reality, we may need to broaden these so that we can handle the “exceptions”, that are present in many real-life scenarios. Simply insisting that more of the same is the answer to a dynamic, and changing situation, is a simple message, but too simplistic for reality.

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Reality Based Ground Fighting

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 8th May)

I grew up on the mats, practicing Judo. The school I initially trained with placed a great deal of emphasis on Ne-waza/Ground techniques; this was back in the day when competitive Judo allowed you much more time on the clock when a fight went to the ground – now judges are much more eager to get people back to the feet if it looks like a submission or pin isn’t going to be found. When I found out about BJJ (Brazilian Ju-Jitsu), I started training in that. In short, I’ve grown up with, fighting on the ground and love this type of training and sports combat. However, I also teach reality based self-defense and recognize that ground-fighting/ground-survival in real-life confrontations, is very different to the training I’ve done on the mats. In this article, I want to look at some of the differences and common misconceptions, concerning sport-based ground fighting, and its application to real-life ground fighting.

Some techniques that work well for submissions on the mat, don’t necessarily have the same effect in real-life; chokes and strangulations work well, but arm-bars aren’t always that effective (which is a shame because when I competed, Juji-Gatamae – cross body armbar – was one of my favorite submission moves). The problem with armlocks that attack the elbow, is that after the hyper-extension of the arm is applied, and the elbow is popped, the joint will almost always reset itself, and the arm will still function (the angles and pressure needed to actually make a "break" are almost impossible to accomplish in a real-life enccounter). The person having the armbar applied to them, will be in extreme pain, however adrenaline (drugs and alcohol) can nullify this and give them an opportunity to fight through it. Also, there are times when the pain is only felt momentarily – with the major part of it being experienced the next day etc. I have seen students have their arm popped when incorrectly breaking their fall i.e. sticking their hand out to slow their descent etc. and still feel that they are able to continue with class. It is worth recognizing that something which works in a training or competitive context, doesn’t automatically translate to real-life.

In real-life situations, the ground isn’t always going to be flat. If a fight you're involved in goes to ground, you may find that you’re not on a flat surface e.g. you could find yourself being pushed/driven down onto a flight of stairs, or pinned on a sofa or set of chairs, etc. The surface may not even offer you much support –bridging someone who has pinned you down, when you are on a bed with a soft mattress, isn’t going to be as easy as when you have a solid surface to push off from. I am not saying that training on a flat surface, doesn’t help give you the skills and abilities to deal with these situations, rather that our expectations of what a ground fight looks like, shouldn’t be restricted to the environments in which we train. Understanding that we may not be fighting on the same level, solid surface that we practice on, will help deal with some of the shock and surprise we may have, when we find that the escapes and techniques that worked so well in class don’t work as well in reality; and so we have to adapt and modify them in the moment to take account of our new terrain. Recognizing beforehand that we may have to do this will better prepare us for reality.

One common restriction that many real-life incidents impose on us, is a lack of space. On an uncluttered mat area, there is the possibility to do many different types of techniques, that would be impossible to pull off in the back of a car, in between the seats of a bus, in a corridor, etc. When a fight goes to the ground, you may find your movement impeded by both objects and people – there may not be the room for people to move away, giving you and your assailant space to move. If you have an extensive catalog of ground techniques that you like to use on the mats, you may want to select a few that don’t require much room/space to execute, and have these as your “self-defense” go-to’s and/or make some modifications to others so that you’ll be able to get them to work in confined spaces, or when your movement in a certain direction is impeded, such as if you and your assailant are on the ground against a wall, etc.

If you get pushed to the ground, knocked over, etc., and your assailant remains standing, don’t expect them to follow you to ground – chances are they’d rather stomp and kick you, than come searching for a submission. This means training yourself to be able to deal with someone who is standing and working combatively, rather than against another grappler, who is looking for a way to enter, and get past your legs, etc., in order to pin/hold you; a trained grappler’s mindset is very different to that of your average street thug/hooligan. It is also worth noting, that many techniques which aim to sweep the legs of a standing aggressor, such as a leg lasso may not be successful in an environment where there are objects that the person standing can hang on to (tables, chairs, other people, etc.), to steady themselves and remain balanced – you may get “lucky” and find that you are fighting in space, but you should have other techniques and methods of dealing with a standing attacker, that don’t rely on you having space around you both.

I sometimes hear people say that Krav Maga is MMA for reality, or something similar. It is not. This is not about the different techniques, or even the fact that in combat sports such as MMA there are no weapons or multiple attackers, etc. It is because the environments within which combat sports are fought, whether a ring or a cage, are so different to those where real-life incidents take place. The contexts are so different, the environments so different, etc. This is not to say that grappling on the ground and rolling don’t have their place. They do. They’re excellent tools for building skills and attributes, which will help you deal with a real-life confrontation that goes to the ground. But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing that this type of training mirrors reality, and we should have a ground game that works in confined spaces, on uneven and unfamiliar terrain, and that doesn’t rely on our aggressor having a grappling mindset, etc.    

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Emotional Intelligence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 2nd May)

Emotional intelligence encompasses many things. It involves the ability to recognize your own emotional state, along with those of others e.g. to be able to verbalize to yourself, your's and other people’s emotion – using the vocabulary of “feelings” is one way that we do this. It also involves using this information to guide our thinking, our actions, and our behaviors e.g. “I am feeling scared, so I should look for whatever or whoever it is in the environment that has triggered my fear system.” Part of our self-protection training should involve educating our emotional systems, and improving our emotional intelligence. This will both speed up our responses to threats and danger, and prevent us from having emotional disconnects, that stop us from listening to what our fear system is telling us e.g. denying or discounting why we have become adrenalized; not believing there is a legitimate and real reason for our emotional state changing.

Anyone who has worked in the security industry or the military in active/live situations for a period of time, will tell you how their senses have been sharpened, perhaps to the degree where they have a sixth sense about telling when things are wrong, or are about to kick off. Basically, their experiences have educated their emotional systems, so they are more “intelligent,” or finely tuned. In some cases, their fear system may become over-educated to the point where emotional responses occur in incidents that shouldn’t trigger an emotional shift. This also occurs in people who have phobias, such as a fear of snakes, where anything that looks remotely like a snake, gets identified as a snake e.g. a person sees a piece of rope, an electrical cable, a piece of hosing - something that resembles a snake - and their fear system immediately identifies it as such and adrenalizes them. The same may happen to martial arts instructors who jump, flinch or start to respond violently to any movement or physical contact, even when it doesn’t contain any harmful intent – I have lost count of the stories told to me by individuals who “nearly” applied the death touch to someone who bumped into them in a bar, or who tapped them on the shoulder in a non-threatening manner, etc. This is nothing to be proud of. Being emotionally able to recognize and respond to danger, also involves being able to discern when danger isn’t present, and when a person’s actions and behaviors aren’t threatening or nefarious. This is all part of emotional intelligence.

One of the skills we need to develop is the ability to guide our emotional responses in the moment, and this involves developing a synopsis of our self-protection information, so that our emotional systems can quickly look up, understand, and make an appropriate response, and/or guide our conscious thought processes so that we make a better-informed response. One myth that often gets talked about in this process is that of time slowing down. It doesn’t. Our recollection and memories, of us trying to make sense of our thought process in this moment, has us believing that more time passed than actually did, however our thought process didn’t actually speed up – which would cause us to feel that time was slowing down, and everything was happening in slow motion e.g. your life doesn’t actually flash before your eyes in that moment of danger, it is your memory of how you felt at the time which remembers this happening; and our memories of what and how things happened is extremely unreliable – and lawyers or police officers who have had to work with witnesses will tell you this.

To improve our emotional intelligence, we need to create “anchors”, for our emotional systems to hold on to, these are brief synopsizes and sum-ups of more complex and involved self-protection/personal safety concepts. For example, when we look at the geography of crime, and consider factors such as crime attractors, crime preventers and crime promoters, we can develop a fairly rich and in-depth picture of the types of locations various criminals frequent and target e.g. a good supply of potential victims, a high number of potential escape routes, and areas within such environments where there is a lack of natural surveillance, etc. We can also look at how our awareness changes in different locations; that we’re naturally more aware when we are on our own, and less aware when we are in crowded places (we naturally lower our own awareness, trusting that those around us will help us to identify and pick up on danger – unfortunately, they’re relying on us to do the same for them). This is all interesting from an academic perspective, and allows us to look at different locations analytically. There are, however, too many variables and ideas contained, to be useful in improving our emotional intelligence – here we need to come up with very simple statements and instructions e.g. criminals are active in crowded locations, so we need to raise our awareness when in these places. Actively accepting this, gives permission for our fear system to actively alert us, if it picks up on a threat or danger, otherwise it may believe that such an “alert” would be filtered out or discounted, and may therefore ignore making us aware of the possible presence of danger. It is okay to have complex models that explain how violence works, but for practical purposes, and for the education and use of our emotional intelligence, they need to be boiled down to simple, actionable statements – we can go into the whole psychology of why the best survival option is to hand over the wallet to a mugger, but in the heat of the moment, all our fear system needs is the response i.e. to hand it over when asked.

In raising our emotional intelligence we also need to acknowledge its messages when we receive them. Most of us have had the experience when walking of feeling that someone is behind us, following us. Most of us will then go into a state of denial, convincing ourselves that we are imagining it, or discounting the footsteps, coming up with a list of other, more plausible reasons as to why it might appear that we’re not being followed, etc. The reality is that our fear system identified movement that is associated with being followed, so that we can investigate it, determining if the movement does actually contain harmful intent. Instead of taking this information/warning seriously, and making an appropriate investigation concerning it, our default response is to throw it away, and hope that the potential danger isn’t real. This is a terrible way to train emotional intelligence; in fact, all we are doing is instructing our fear system that its alerts are wrong and unnecessary. It doesn’t matter if in 999/1000 cases, the movement is benign, our fear system has identified the intent it could contain, and we should make the effort to investigate it e.g. change our movement pattern – direction, speed, etc. – and see if it’s matched/mirrored.  

Our emotional intelligence increases with our education of reality – through experience as well as understanding – and our acceptance of its value and worth. It needs to have simple responses and rules to follow, because to work fast, it can’t work in a complex manner; and the advantage that it has over our conscious intelligence is the ability to react and respond quickly.  


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