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 324 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 www.kravmagablog.com.
When it comes to dealing with violence, avoidance is always the best policy. When I teach corporate clients and other groups, this is perhaps 80% of what I teach; how to avoid being involved in a violent confrontation, and most of this comes down to planning and preparation. Too often, the focus of those who want to protect themselves is what to do in the moment, rather than how to avoid it. Sometimes, people will want to skip over and rush the avoidance piece, already imagining that they’ve failed to predict, detect and deter – or that somehow it didn’t work – and they’re having to deal with an aggressive incident, that was always inevitable; even though it probably wasn’t.
If you read the emergency procedures/safety card on an airplane, you increase your survival chances significantly – somewhere around 75% of those who survive air-traffic disasters, report having read this card. None of the information on it is new, if you’ve flown before, and this is why many people neglect to watch the safety video or demonstration; they’re already in a state of denial about being involved in a crash. It’s not necessarily that those individuals reading the card are expecting to crash, they’ve just considered that it’s a possibility. Planning and preparation, puts your mind in the right place. When your head is in this space, you might think twice about taking your shoes off, during take-off and landing (the times when a plane is at greatest risk of crashing), in case you need to exit, and you might practice unbuckling your seat a few times (one of the most common problems in an evacuation), etc. If you take the time to plan and prepare for avoiding violence, you are considering the possibility of it, which means you will be more open to identifying the warning signs and pre-violence indicators, rather than discounting them.
One thing I do to prepare, is having my wallet readily available – I carry a decoy wallet, and practice retrieving it from my pocket. Most muggers, unless they have secondary motives and goals, will want an incident over with as quickly as possible. The greater the time they spend engaged in their crime, the more likely it is that they will be spotted, identified, and potentially caught. You need to assist them in their resource-driven crime, by handing your wallet/cash to them as quickly as possible. I often hear strange ideas around when you should and shouldn’t hand over your wallet, such as the idea that if you have a large amount of money in your wallet, you shouldn’t, but if it’s a small amount you should, as if the money you have on you somehow enhances your ability to physically control and disable your assailant. The mugger, in their mind, is leaving with your wallet, whatever the amount of money in it – the variable is whether you get cut or shot in the process. Often, when I explain this advice, somebody will say, “but what if my wallet is at the bottom of my purse?”, or, “what if I don’t have any cash on me?” Both things are easily rectifiable: make sure your wallet is easily accessible, and make sure you are carrying some cash. Planning and preparation resolves both issues. The question is whether you believe it’s worth taking the small amount of time and effort to do this; just as it might be worth splitting up large amounts of cash about your person, if you are in a situation where you have to do this.
If you’ve ever been involved in a CP (Close Protection) detail, looking after somebody, you will have multiple safe places that you can take them to in the event of an emergency – a great deal of effort is put into avoiding such an incident, such as avoiding routes that might be easily compromised, and creating an unpredictable schedule, etc. - things that can be adopted, and built into anyone’s personal life. These safe places, might be another room in the hotel where you are staying, or another hotel in another part of town. These safe places, may also involve hospitals and police stations (understanding which ones are manned and unmanned), etc., and it is likely that a member of the team will have checked routes to and from these places, at different times of day – to account for traffic – before everyone has deployed. This allows you to not be put in a situation where you are having to run from danger, but one where you can instead, run to safety. If in the middle of the night, you believed that there was an intruder in your house, and you had to exit it, where would you go? If you had an argument with your partner and they hit you, and you needed to exit your house, where would you go? If you were being followed in your car, where would you go? Would you know the best route to get there e.g. one where you could keep moving, and wouldn’t have to stop at traffic lights? All of this may seem a bit paranoid, until it happens. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to have to think about these things, especially of your partner being abusive and violent towards you, but it can happen – they could lose their job, get depressed, start engaging in substance abuse – and the question is, do you have a plan?
Just as importantly, do you have a plan to avoid threats and dangers? If you’re out clubbing/drinking late at night, do you have a plan to get home? When I ask people this, they will often respond that they have Uber, or another ride-sharing app on their phone. Technology is not a plan. If you leave a club when it closes there will probably be a huge number of people using these apps, meaning that you may be waiting for a very long time, before you can get a ride. Often with ride-sharing services, the price goes up when demand is high – it maybe that you now can’t afford to use the service. All of this could probably have been avoided if you had left 20 minutes earlier, before the club closed. Maybe, because you hadn’t planned for the possibility of such delays with the ride-sharing service, you decide to take a chance, and use one of the unlicensed taxis that are lined up outside – just because you didn’t envisage an issue with using a ride-sharing service at a particular time, doesn’t mean that a sexual predator hasn’t thought about this, and how they could use it to their advantage; they will have done their planning and preparation.
Planning and preparation is the non-sexy part of self-protection and self-defense, which is why it is so often over-looked. It doesn’t involve weapons disarms, it doesn’t see you punish an assailant or put them on the floor. Its goal is the exact opposite of all this, and you don’t get to put your training to the test. It’s the mature, grown-up part of self-defense, that says you’re better not being there in the first place, and you know how to get out of there if you are.
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Glib phrases are not uncommon in the martial arts and self-defense. Some of these involve “absolute” statements, and proclamations, such as “high kicks don’t work on the street” or “95% of street-fights go the ground” etc. Neither one of these statements can be backed up, or statistics provided, to reinforce the argument. But it’s often easier and quicker to be glib, than to talk about the issues and problems with high kicks – whilst acknowledging that in some specific circumstances they may have their worth – or the importance of training to fight/survive on the ground, whilst at the same time acknowledging that most fights start from standing, etc. When I first started teaching, the internet didn’t exist, so these phrases and statements were restricted to in-person conversations, and articles in martial arts magazines, however with the proliferation of social-media, their usage has increased – and this is a shame because positive, productive conversations, discussions and debates could take place, instead of dismissive quips, and glib phrases. In this article, I want to look at some common phrases that are often used, and why it may be worth taking a look at when they may be relevant and when they add little, or detract from the debate.
“I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6.” In the right context, there is nothing wrong with this statement. In a conflict where your life is at risk, there really is no such thing as excessive force, however in many incidents of social violence, this isn’t the case, and force has to be metered. It’s why I advise those who carry firearms, to carry pepper-spray as well; there is the need to have less than lethal options, as well as lethal ones – if you look at the tools on an LEO’s belt, there’s usually a baton, OC-Spray, and possibly a Taser, as well as a firearm. That doesn’t necessarily mean reducing intensity, as extent can also be reduced e.g. you can hit somebody with all the force you can muster, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should keep hitting them, when you have a clear and obvious opportunity to disengage, it doesn’t mean you should keep stomping on their head, whilst they are lying unconscious on the ground, “just to be sure”. Use of force, and how it should be applied, is part of reality-based self-defense training. The legal ramifications for what we do are important; you may not be found guilty of criminal charges where the burden of proof is extremely high, and reasonable doubt is at play, but if the person and/or their family bring a civil suit against you, where your guilt may rely on a 49/51 split, you could find yourself settling for tens of thousands of dollars – if being carried by 6 wasn’t really a possibility in the confrontation, you’ll regret being tried by 12 (they are rarely the only two options). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not underestimating the potential risks and dangers in a violent confrontation, and this is why I always stress disengagement, but we do need to have an understanding of appropriate use of force – and how to setup and control situations so that we don’t have to use excessive force. This may reduce the black and whiteness of violence, to having some grey areas, but that is part of the challenge of understanding and being able to identify different forms of aggression and violence.
“I’d have done X, Y or Z….” These comments are often found accompanying some CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) footage, of a real-life incident, such as a mugging or similar, and are used to criticize an individual’s actions and behaviors – even if they are successful, (and by successful, I mean coming out uninjured, alive, etc). If you’ve never faced a gun, or been attacked by a knife, you don’t know what you would do, and even if you have, no two situations are the same, so it is impossible to say with surety what you would do. It is also worth noting that in CCTV clips, you may not be privy to all the information that the person being targeted has e.g. you may not know the relationship that the target has with their assailant(s), you may not know what is happening outside of the frame, and you probably have no idea of the events that led up to the incident, etc. There is a very real danger in trying to deal with violent situations with fixed and prescribed plans of action; they may simply not be appropriate in a particular scenario – no two muggings are the same, even if the weapon is held in the same position, by an assailant of the same build, etc. If they are treated as the same, then the approach to self-defense is technique-centric, rather than situational – and this puts you at risk. There are times when it is effective to acquiesce to a predator’s demands and times where it is not, being able to discern when to do something and when to do something differently is a key survival skill.
When I first started teaching martial arts and self-defense – nearly 30 years ago – you’d commonly hear martial artists say, “yes, but that would never work on the street.” Over the years, this has changed to a more categorical, “that’s a good way to get yourself killed.” Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some approaches that will get you killed, such as listening to the bang of a gun, and using that as a cue to step off-line; we don’t need to even debate that one, physics has the answer. However, when we move beyond the laws of physics (you’ll find it extremely difficult to throw somebody who is in an upright position – I won’t say you can’t, but it’ll take more effort than if you unbalance them first), everything comes down to context; when to do something, and when not to, and what options are available to you (and it’s never all the ones you had in your training environment). In one context, one thing may get you killed, in another it may be the only survival option available to you. I’ll sometimes hear self-defense instructors say you should never go to the ground – it’s a good rule of thumb, but it shouldn’t be an absolute one. If you are getting beaten unconscious by someone you know is superior at stand-up, and you have no disengagement option, maybe going to ground, and trying to control them there becomes your best survival option – or is going to ground a good way to get yourself killed, because they could pull a knife? Context is key, and if it is lost, we are reduced to being technique-centric players who can only operate in a vacuum or gym setting.
Of course, we can disagree with each other, and point out what we see as issues in an individual’s approach, etc., but the use of dismissive and glib comments does little to move a discussion forward or add to its content. Our experiences are useful, but so are our experiences, and we should respect those of others – even if they are different, and/or bring people to different conclusions. Rather than simply dismiss what we see with a comment of, “that would get you killed in the street” etc. if we want to add an opinion that moves the conversation forward, we should be prepared to take the time and effort to demonstrate the different ways we would solve a particular problem, and be ready to explain, and answer questions that may arise from this.
We’re all guilty of making glib and off-hand comments concerning self-defense and personal safety e.g. “personal safety is just common sense” – no it’s not, and this is why predatory individuals have the edge on us, because they know how our “common sense” tells us to act and behave etc. These phrases and statements give us a quick, short-hand way to express our opinions, however they don’t help us, or the people we direct them towards, or those who are listening, or give us anything to work with, and can even misguide e.g. someone who hears, “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6”, may be under the impression that they don’t need to consider use of force, which could be a very costly mistake, or if they take on board someone saying, “I’d have done X, Y or Z…” without any explanation of context, may try and replicate that solution, when it would be a bad idea to do so. In most cases, we need to leave the short-hand, and explain, the why’s, the what’s, and the when’s of violence.
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I’m a big believer in skills and attributes. I put them ahead of techniques. If you look at a boxer’s toolkit, it is comprised of four basic punches; and yet boxing takes a lifetime to master, because it involves developing the skills and attributes to make those four punches effective. One of the biggest issues I’ve found that boxers, traditional martial artists, MMA practitioners, etc., have with many of those who practice and teach reality-based self-defense, including Krav Maga, is that they lack any real fighting skills; and instead argue that aggression can be used as a substitute for these things. Whilst I believe aggression is a vital component in the mix of reality-based self-defense, it is not a replacement for having solid fighting skills and attributes. In this article, I will aim to demonstrate why one skill – control of range and distance – cannot be substituted, and needs to be developed, even if that means taking training time away from learning techniques.
If you’ve ever been attacked with a knife, there are several things that you’ll have wished for – apart from not being there in the first place. One of these will have been to have had adequate time to react and respond; something that most attackers will deny you. If an attacker has done their job properly, you’ll not initially see the knife, or you will only pick up on the movement of the weapon – not necessarily the weapon itself – at the very last moment. The chances of making a strong block are not good, and making a simultaneous attack will be almost impossible. To have a chance of making these defenses, you will first have had to accomplished two things: you must have been able to pick up on the pre-violence indicators that warn you that an attack is imminent, and you will have had to control range and distance, giving you the time to react and respond. It doesn’t matter what your level of aggression is, you can’t substitute it for these two skills. Threat identification, effective decision-making, and control of range are necessary attributes for dealing with a knife attack, as well as many other types of assaults.
A good control of range will also limit the effect of a stab that you fail to block – and no blocking system is perfect. A friend of mine who I used to train with in London, was a forensic scientist, who worked for the London Metropolitan Police Service. He told me that for most stab wounds to be fatal, they must cut to a depth of about 2 inches (despite the fact that he told me this over 10 years ago, I’m pretty sure it still holds true today) – obviously this is a statistical truth, and there are many variables at play e.g. if the knife cuts a major artery, etc., however, if we can limit the depth of a cut, we increase our survival chances significantly, and one way to do this is to be further away i.e. control the range. Another way to limit the depth of the cut is to blade your body, so that your torso is angled away from the knife i.e. if your attacker is holding the weapon in their right hand, you should stand with your right foot forward, and your left back, so that your body is slanted away from the knife. This may only give you a few more inches of distance, but it may be these that limit the effect of a stab wound if you are cut. By controlling range, and appropriately angling your body, you will limit the effects of a stab, if you fail to block the attack in time. Once again, if you fail to identify the pre-violence indicators that precede the attack, both of these things will be hard to do once the attack is under way (most knife attacks involve the attacker moving forward, as they stab, making range control very difficult once the attack has started).
Just as the effects of a stab can be limited by range control, so can the effects of a punch. If you are extremely close to an aggressor when they throw a punch, you may not have enough time to react and block it – action beats reaction. At close range, the punch will have driving force, as the attacker will be able to punch through the target; whereas with distance they’ll only be able to punch at it. You should aim to, but not expect to, block every punch, but a good control of range will mean that those which do reach you will be limited as to the amount of force they can deliver.
A good control of range also means that an attacker will have to commit their body to the attack i.e. they will need to move and shift their weight towards you, rather than just swing an arm out to cut, stab, punch, or grab you. Transference of weight, means that to attack or move again, they will need to re-transfer weight, first. This will interrupt the speed at which they can make attacks. Imagine that an attacker, to throw a punch, must take a large step forward in order to reach you. Their weight will now be fully loaded on to the front leg. To make another attack, they will have to unload some of this weight first, so that they are able to move. This “interruption” is one that you can take advantage of – either to disengage, to get yourself into a better position to attack, or to make an attack of your own, etc. The shift of weight to the front leg also means that the front leg becomes an effective target for low-kicks; there is no chance for your attacker to “ride” the kick – moving it to limit the effects of the impact – and so all of the force of the kick will be fully absorbed.
To be a comprehensive fighter you need aggression, however there are many fighting skills and attributes that it can’t replace or compensate for. In order to get many techniques to properly work, there need to be skills and attributes behind them. Our training shouldn’t just involve practicing techniques, and aggression drills, it should involve training methods that specifically target skills such as control of range, effective movement, physical co-ordination, balance, etc. For many new students who have not practiced sports and athletics, these are the areas where most of the work needs to be concentrated e.g. if a person is unable to stay balanced when they step under a person’s arm/armpit when practicing an escape from a rear strangle, working on movement and balance will see them progress faster, than simply training the technique over and over again. In our own training, we should identify where our weaknesses are, and put effort into developing the skills that will see us progress.
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If you were to employ somebody as a bodyguard to protect you, you’d have a lot of expectations about their experiences, qualifications, the level of their training, and the extent of that training. You wouldn’t hire somebody who had taken a few self-defense classes. Even if you weren’t aware of all the skills and abilities a CPO (Close Protection Operative) needs to possess in order to keep you safe, you would intrinsically know that they won’t have been acquired in a few hours, or could have been gained from a couple of classes. This is where people sometimes seem to have a strange disconnect concerning their own training requirements, when it comes to doing the same job that the CPO would be hired to do i.e. protecting themselves. If we are serious about our safety and security, we need to be able to fulfill all the requirements of a CPO – not necessarily to the same depth and degree, unless we were dealing with active and serious threats – in terms of identifying, predicting, avoiding, and dealing with danger, etc. That’s a serious undertaking, and something we shouldn’t expect to learn in just a few hours. However, many people expect that this is all the time they need to invest in order to keep themselves safe. Every year, about this time, my school is contacted by parents who have daughters, going off to college, travelling abroad, spending time in another country on an educational program, etc., who require self-defense training. The requests come, maybe a few weeks before they go away, and training time is limited; maybe one or two classes. The request is, that in this time they learn EVERYTHING they need to know to keep themselves safe, and physically protect themselves.
In this article, I want to try to realistically set expectations, about what you can hope to achieve when you have days and weeks to train, versus months, years, etc., and where your time and efforts are best invested. Many people believe that CPOs/Bodyguards are large, intimidating people who can push others out of the way, and physically dominate people. These types of individuals may be necessary in certain circumstances, however “real” CPOs are intelligent individuals who know how to spot danger and move away from it, rather than move towards it and engage with it because they can. If you’ve ever seen Kevin Costner in the film, “The Bodyguard”, in the real world he’d have lost his job/contract before the film even started.
If you only have a few days/weeks to invest in your training, your emphasis should not be on physical self-defense, it should be on preparation and planning, along with identification and avoidance. In a few classes, you are not going to develop the appropriate skills and attributes that will allow your techniques to work. Nobody would expect a tennis coach to prepare a teenager for the Wimbledon finals, in two classes; skills development takes time. That is not to say that some simple strategies (not necessarily techniques per-se, but ideas, such as gouging and ripping the face, not giving an attacker your back, etc.), coupled with aggression training, are not worthwhile, rather that the greater part of the time should be spent learning how to predict, identify, and avoid violence. If you are not going to have the time to learn how to fight, learn to avoid it – something which should be everybody’s goal, even if they possess fighting skills and abilities. You only have an hour to learn something? Learn to make risk assessments and how to be a hard target, rather than how to punch and kick. If you’d given yourself more time to invest in training, then the physical component could be expanded on, but with only 60 minutes, focus on educating yourself about how violent situations occur, develop and evolve, along with predicting and avoiding them. If you’re going to be a locale where OC/Pepper Spray is legal, consider educating yourself as to its use. From a CPO perspective, when tasked with keeping someone safe, planning, preparation and avoidance are the core/fundamental skills that define a good operative.
If you’ve got months, keep investing in this self-protection training, but add in some very simple physical self-defense strategies that will work when powered and fueled by adrenaline e.g. no technical strikes, such as straight punches, etc., but open palms, power slaps and hammer-fists, which you can use to create disengagement strategies. Your goal; to physically and psychologically stun your attacker before you disengage. With this little time your strikes and techniques can really only be powered by aggressive intent. Also, focus on the most likely types of attack you will deal with; there is no definitive list, but rather look at the threats and dangers you are likely to face, due to the geographical region you will be in, and your demographic e.g. if you are a woman travelling to the UK, to spend 3 months at an educational establishment, don’t waste your time learning gun disarms, etc. Also, have a realistic expectation of what techniques require technical proficiency, and won’t work based solely on aggression. It’s no good learning techniques that you’ll not have the skills to make work – and possibly find alternative, simpler solutions even if they aren’t the “best”, if you believe that there is a likelihood you will experience these types of threats, dangers, and attacks. If somebody tells you that they can get you ready to deal with every type of violence in a few classes, you are dealing with a salesman. Be realistic in your expectations. Dealing with a real-life violent altercation where somebody is aggressively and determinedly attacking you is more stressful than the Wimbledon finals, and a much harder situation to deal with.
If you have a few years to devote to training, you can start to look at developing fighting skills and attributes to underpin your techniques and aggression training – whilst aggression can help fill a void, where skills and attributes are absent it shouldn’t be looked on as a substitute. It should be understood that aggression plus skills/attributes beats aggression alone, and if there is enough time to develop these things then they should make up part of your training. It is one thing to throw a strike/punch with aggression, another with aggression and good form/technique. Ultimately, we should be looking to invest in learning to do what we do “correctly”, and with maximum efficiency. We should also be looking to develop and enhance our self-protection skills in parallel with these physical skills, as the more time we devote to training them, the sharper they will be, and the quicker we will be able to identify threats and respond to danger – either by avoiding it altogether, or by preparing ourselves to deal with it i.e. we are never caught by surprise. I would also add that to be truly comprehensive in your approach, you should have a good working knowledge of tactical first aid, and be able to treat yourself as well as others in the event of a medical emergency.
Time is a finite resource, and we need to determine how best we allocate it, however we have to recognize what is achievable in the period we are prepared to devote to self-defense/self-protection training – and have realistic expectations as to what can be achieved in that timescale. Sometimes we must neglect areas of training, to focus on those that will be most effective in keeping us safe, even if that means neglecting those areas we are “emotionally” drawn to e.g. we may feel that we “need” to know how to physically defend ourselves, even if we “know” that the amount of training we can dedicate to this will not be enough, and that our time would be better spent learning how to predict, prevent and avoid it. Just because we can visualize a physical attack, and can’t visualize avoiding an attack, doesn’t mean that we should place our emphasis on dealing with physical assaults, if we have only allotted a short time to train.
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