Reaching Decisions, Acting & Choosing the Right Time to Act

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 30th Apr)

Once we have “chosen” a particular solution, we have to act on it. This is often the hardest part of the continuum. Our perceived inability to act may well cause us to revisit and reconsider the other options that we thought about before initially deciding on one plan of action. We may also try and look for other potential solutions, especially if we start to over-consider the potential consequences of what we first decided upon. This way of thinking puts us squarely back into the “Deliberation Loop” and moves us further away from action, which should be the goal of our threat recognition and decision process.

Our fear instinct often prevents us from acting upon any decision that is made when in a high stress situation. If you are involved in an incident where an aggressive individual is screaming and shouting obscenities at you, despite being fully aware that at any moment he may start to physically assault you, and that your best plan would be to either run away or attack him first, your fear emotion may well hold you in check. In any potentially dangerous situation, even where the level of risk to our safety may be small, our fear emotion will often prevent us from acting.

Anyone who has bungee jumped or parachuted will tell of the inertia that is experienced when you stand on a platform waiting to jump into open air. Our conscious mind knows that both of these activities are relatively low-risk however our emotional self knows otherwise. Our emotional self knows that whilst you don’t act you are not experiencing pain or danger and this is good. Let’s now take the parachute example and say that the plane is about to crash, you’ve got over your denial, deliberation and that your only chance of safety is to make the parachute jump; there will still be hesitation. In the moment when you are waiting to make jour jump you are safe, you are not experiencing pain or trauma and your emotional mind will assure you that this is a good state to be in, and whatever you choose to do will take you out of this state. Your emotional side doesn’t understand the future, it only understands the now. It doesn’t know what you will feel and experience in the future, that your only chance of safety is to jump. It just knows that at this very moment you are safe.

This fear inertia is what holds you back from acting when dealing with an individual(s) where it is obvious that physical violence is the only outcome. As you stand there waiting for the inevitable punch, push or grab, your fear emotion will tell you that at this moment you are not experiencing any pain or discomfort and that you shouldn’t do anything to risk this state of affairs – whatever action you take, whether it’s running away or making a pre-emptive assault carries a degree of risk to it, and this is an unknown. What your body does know is that whilst not acting nothing bad or painful is happening to you.

When you overthink the consequences of a decision, your natural hesitation to act is reinforced. I see this all the time when I watch sparring (which is great training for fighting but barely resembles a street-fight itself). Often I will see two individuals, at distance, looking for openings. One will start a kick or an attack only to see their opponent respond and pull back etc – for more experienced individuals, these responses can indicate how they should initiate their next attack. However most people start to imagine what will happen if their attack is unsuccessful. They have seen/realized that their opponent is going to respond in some way to what they were planning to do and they now start to imagine all the ways in which they might respond. Weighed down with all the imagined consequences of their action they end up doing nothing. Our fear response may hold us back from initially acting but it is these imagined consequences that reinforces it.

In Combat Sports, such as Boxing and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), the pre-fight build up to a contest is a great example of an individual attempting to get their opponent to consider the consequences of certain actions. A Boxer who repeatedly tells the media that the person he is fighting will not be able to get past his lead punch without walking on to his straight right, is attempting to get his opponent to hesitate and consider the consequences of trying to do so when in the ring. In a street-fight when an aggressor keeps telling you what they’re going to do to you, they are attempting to intimidate you into not acting. When a person tells you their plan for you, they are trying to reinforce your own fear instincts desire for inaction. You can choose to believe what they are telling you or not. You can also choose to believe your own imagination’s conclusions and scenarios concerning the consequences of acting as well. Or better still you can simply act on your decision.

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Denial, Deliberation, Decision Loop - Deliberation

(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 25th Apr)

The individuals in the World Trade Center who eventually passed through their denial phase and accepted that something was very wrong were faced with many choices e.g. should they wait for instruction on what to do, should they evacuate the building, should they try and find a supervisor/manager who may have more information etc. In such high stress situations many people get caught in a loop, comparing and evaluating the best option available to them. They will weigh up the pros and cons; eventually they seem to reach a decision, only to repeat the process over again. People do the same when dealing with potentially violent situations.

Imagine you are being followed and you notice/hear the footsteps of somebody walking behind you. You might initially discount or deny that this person is following you but as they start to match your pace, slowing down and speeding up when you do, it becomes evident that you have to accept that you are being followed. Your next step is to work out what you should do. You consider turning around and confronting the person, next you decide it may be best to run or possibly walk up to one of the houses your passing and pretend you’re visiting someone. As these thoughts race through your mind you realize the person behind you is getting closer and you start to think about what their motive could be, if they’ve got a knife etc. You start to run through your options again, with an added sense of urgency and feeling the pressure of your situation. You are stuck in the “Deliberation Loop”, trying rapidly to find a solution without ever fully reaching one. It is a classic example of overthinking.

The problem is that just as we have models and scripts that allow us to automate tasks, so we have ways/models of thinking that help us function in our everyday world. We are blessed with a rational brain that allows us to collect information, compare different pieces of it and eventually reach conclusions. When people make a choice about a car they are going to buy, they will consider things such as: reliability cost of parts/maintenance, fuel efficiency etc. When selecting a university or educational establishment: price, reputation, location, length of the course etc. will all be taken account and a comparison of different schools and universities based upon these factors will be reached. This is called “Rationalistic Decision Making” (RDM). It’s a method of evaluation that we use to make and justify our decisions 99.9% of the time. It’s a fantastic way of processing complex data and making informed decisions based upon it. It has one drawback: it takes time. Unfortunately violent situations have a habit of developing rapidly and time is one of the components of a situation that any assailant/attacker will try and eliminate.
The individuals in the World Trade Center on 9/11 were working against the clock – it took people an average of one minute to clear each floor. If you were an average person who took six minutes to gather your senses and leave your desk, you’d have been six floors higher than you would have been had you managed to start moving the moment you heard the initial explosion/felt the building rock. Without being over-dramatic those 6 minutes for many people were the difference between life and death. There also would have been individuals who “revised” their evacuation plans along the way. The majority of people don’t have strong models and scripts of what to do in the event of an emergency. There would have been individuals who had never completed a fire drill, or ever taken note of where the nearest fire escape was. If a person went looking for an escape route or fire escape and couldn’t initially find one, they may well have ditched their escape plan in favor of another possible solution they’d considered; waiting for a Fire-Marshall or supervisor to tell them what to do i.e. they were still deliberating after they’d appeared to reach a decision. There is always new information that becomes available as things develop and this needs to be both considered and used to revise a plan. However at the very beginning the initial plan needs to be acted upon with complete conviction.

The problem we have in our rational thinking model is that we are looking to find the best solution to a situation. The problem is that the “best” solution requires a comparison of all possible options to take place in order for a thorough evaluation to take place and this takes time. It is much quicker to simply search for an “effective” solution; something that will work/solve the problem and not care too much if it is the best one available. If you believe someone is following you and running would prevent you from being assaulted you should run. It should not be compared against the other possible options it should just be acted upon. If you are in an argument that is only going one way and walking away will not be effective, nor will continuing the argument or backing down, then your only real choice is to make a pre-emptive strike – with full conviction. This mode of thinking is referred to as Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM). It is a fast way of reaching decisions because it only asks a person to make one comparison of a potential solution (is it effective), rather than comparing each possible solution with each other.

It is easy for us to overthink, we have brains that allow us to do this – it’s why we are able to be creative; we can imagine what is not yet there. This is a dangerous mode to operate in as it allows our minds to create new problems that don’t exist. In high stress, emotional situations where time is of the essence we need to find effective solutions quickly and not worry if better ones may be available to us.

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The Dynamic Risk Assessment – The Denial, Deliberation & Decision Loop

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 23rd Apr)


Human beings have a very simple way of coping with high stress situations; we deny them. Rather than accepting the reality of our situation, we tend to ignore our predicament, denying that we are in any danger at all. Our instincts may tell us to run or get out of a place but we will immediately look for and accept any reason that will allow us to stay put; however tenuous, ridiculous or patently dangerous it may actually be.

A statistic that should be in everybody’s head is 6:36. 6 minutes and 36 seconds, is the average length of time that it took for people to start evacuating the second twin tower after it was hit by the second plane on 9/11. Imagine sitting at your desk, aware that the unthinkable has just happened - a plane has hit the tower next to you. Now imagine that you here an explosion many floors above you and then you feel the building you’re in start to shudder and groan. Now set your watch alarm for 6 minutes and 36 seconds and wait. This is the average length of time that people working in that second tower waited before leaving their desk in search of a fire escape. This is the denial phase and it has a gravitational pull that is strong enough to keep people in a state of inertia regardless of the information and awareness that they have concerning their situation e.g. friends and relatives watching the events, from the outside, on the ground were phoning and emailing those within the second tower, keeping them up to date with what was going on.

The reason we go into a state of denial so quickly and firmly, is because the human brain is extremely adept at building scripts that automate many of the “tasks” that we fulfill on an everyday basis. If you’ve ever gotten into your car to go to work, and after 15 minutes find yourself there without any real recollection of the journey, it’s because you’ve completed that familiar task on your automatic pilot; you’ve slowed down, braked, accelerated, changed lanes etc. without ever being consciously aware of your environment. A person going to work in the Twin Towers on 9/11, wasn’t expecting a plane to crash into their office space; it wasn’t in their script. Their script or model involved, grabbing a coffee, getting in an elevator, sitting at a desk, attending a meeting etc. The only “disasters” they’d been led to expect that could possibly happen (and maybe trained for) was the risk of fire – and how many people in offices assume every time they hear an alarm, that it’s a drill not the real thing? Another manifestation of denial.

Having scripts that allow us to repeat common tasks, without thinking, enable us to complete them quickly and efficiently. Things fall apart when the real world ends up not matching the script. So strong are these scripts and models that we often choose to believe them instead of what is actually in front of our eyes. It was this holding on to inappropriate scripts on 9/11 that kept people sitting at their desks for an average of 6 minutes 36 seconds before they made their way to an exit or fire escape. Some people took longer, some people never moved. There were of course those people who reacted and responded instantaneously, these people are the ones who are equipped with what we refer to as a “survival mindset”.

Survivors, survive because they exhibit a curiosity about their surroundings and environment. It is this curiosity that allows them to break out of their scripts and models and accept the reality of the situation they find themselves in. Survivors don’t deny or discount the various possibilities and causes of danger however improbable and remote they may seem. They will take in every bit of available information concerning their environment and re-work their scripts and models accordingly.

When I talk to people who have been assaulted one of the most common statements I hear is, “I just couldn’t believe this would be happening to me.” If a person’s entire modus operandi is to work to a script then the unimaginable has no place. If you believe that you won’t be mugged in a crowded shopping mall, bus or train station etc, when it does happen to you, your response will be one of disbelief and denial. This is one of the biggest causes of denial in violent situations: a person having built themselves an incorrect “model of violence” e.g. crowded places are the domain of pick pockets and surreptitious criminals not of muggers and sexual predators. A woman may believe that she is safe from being raped on a populated subway carriage but the truth is such assaults have taken place – and unfortunately will continue to do so. A rapist can carry out an assault in less than 10 seconds, using the cover that bystanders afford along with the victim’s sense of disbelief/denial to commit their attack with little fear of being discovered or caught. If your model of violence states that muggers and rapists only operate in deserted places then you are reinforcing your ability to deny these assaults happening in any other scenarios.

Experience can often work to reinforce and validate an inappropriate script or model. For every subway ride you’ve taken where you haven’t been raped or mugged you’ll reinforce your perception that these threats and dangers are not something that need to concern you when in such a situation. Experience can have the effect of reducing your ability to be curious about your environment and stop you from questioning events, behaviors and actions that may occur within it. Familiarity breeds contempt and the result is a false sense of security. As soon as you stop thinking and questioning you become a victim. Just because something hasn’t happened ten thousand times doesn’t mean it won’t – the Twin Towers didn’t experience an attack by air for over 50 years however the unthinkable/unimaginable happened. You may have walked along a street a thousand times, drunk in a bar five hundred times, all without incident. However you’re continued safe experience of these things means you’re more likely to deny the possibility of violence occurring than had you had to deal with aggressive behavior in these places on every other occasion. Experience can often be translated as, everything you got away with in the past, without consequence.

Denial is a natural response to violence. It is easy to discount and deny the possibility of danger; after all bad things happen to other people not us. Our scripts and models disallow us the opportunity to accept the presence of danger and our experience(s) confirm these. I am sure that the persons, who evacuated the Twin Towers in the first instance, did so after initially “denying” the situation they might be facing. Many people when first confronted with extreme aggression will laugh assuming that the other person must be joking or playing a prank. I remember as a child the first time I was bullied, I simply didn’t believe that children could behave this way or anyone would socially interact in this manner (an incorrect model of violence). I wasn’t sheltered as a child I’d just not experienced behaviors such as exclusion, extreme ridicule or physical violence before. Because I couldn’t imagine them, I couldn’t accept them and because of this I kept denying them even when I experienced them, again and again. Many of our scripts and models are learnt/created early in our lives and we must learn to adapt and change them as we get older, wiser and more informed.

Your initial reaction to violence will always be denial however much training you receive. We humans are continually optimistic creatures and we believe that what has kept us safe in the past will continue to do so in the future. When we understand that violence often doesn’t adhere to both our models and experience, we are able to set ourselves up for the next stage we go through: deliberation.

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Improvised Weapons (Security Overseas Part 2.5)

(Gershon ben Keren - Mon 16th Apr)

One of the “comments” I got from one of my last posts was about the use of improvised weapons i.e. if you're overseas and can't carry a firearm, CS Spray etc what could you carry or use as alterntives. This is a subject that I feel many self-defense instructors take lightly or misinterpret and at the worst case point people towards “legal carry” weapons that actually disempower them.

A true “improvised” weapon can only exist once. The moment something you find in your environment is spontaneously used as a weapon it loses its improvised quality. The moment you realize an umbrella, pen or chair can be used as a tool for self-defense purposes, the next time you are in a similar situation you will be looking to find one of these items. I remember having the realization that a car radio antennae – the old telescopic ones from the 1980’s/90’s - would make a great flexible weapon. In that initial instance it was an improvised weapon. Every time after that when I was in a parking lot I was either subconsciously or consciously searching for cars with that type of radio antennae – technology is great but there is no car like a MK 2 Ford Cortina for defensively minded radio aerial design!

Time is great for progress but the ban on smoking in public places deprived many of us the chance/possibility to use those big glass ash trays as “improvised” blunt impact weapons. In one sense the smoking ban saves lives on the other hand…

The value of a true improvised weapon is that it demonstrates that a person is aware of and understands their environment. The irony being that if they truly understand their environment they shouldn’t need a weapon in the first place – obviously there are exceptions to this.

When people talk about the use of improvised weapons they are usually talking about how common household objects etc, could be used in an offensive/defensive manner. By definition you can’t create a list of improvised weapons, you can only teach people how to identify objects that can be used in this way. This is a skill, a mindset and one you have to develop. Learning how to fight with a chair is learning how to use a chair in much the same way as you use a “traditional” weapon such as a stick, a knife, or a gun – admittedly this isn’t the primary purpose of a chair but many “conventional” weapons have started out this way e.g. the PR-24 side-handle (fixed length and telescopic) baton is an interpretation of the Okinawan Tonfa, which in turn was the handle of a rice mill turned to militaristic purposes.
The skill/mindset of “discovering” items in your environment that could be used as weapons lies in understanding your environment. A colleague of mine who used to work in security in Russia tells of how there would be a meeting of individuals, in a bar/club, where everybody was searched for weapons – any being found were confiscated. Knowing that there would always be condom machines in the toilets, whoever was hired for protection would go down and by a pack and put a bunch of coins in one to make a flexible schlock. One person had the thought and the rest were taught and followed.

Many people see improvised weapon’s as a quick fix or even a starting point of self-defense, I see it as the pinnacle. If you can understand how to make a tool out of things found in your environment then you have an exceptional mind – you are going back to the basic instincts and ideas that first enabled man to discover fire, create the wheel etc. Improvised weapons are the height of invention – and necessity is the mother of invention. If in a moment you can create a “tool” whilst under emotional pressure, as far as I’m concerned you are at your most human.

Being curious about our environment is what allowed us to become the dominant species. Improvised weapons smack of this curiosity. If you can walk into a bar, pub, club or restaurant and identify 5 things that could double as a weapon then you are thinking like our forefathers. If you don’t have this mindset then teaching you how to fight with a chair, a pen or a flashlight is a waste of time. The person who instinctively smashes a fire extinguisher over somebody’s head or breaks a pool cue in two is thinking in the right vein as opposed to the person who starts unstrapping their belt because they were taught in a seminar that this was a good idea. There are no short cuts when it comes to self-defense and personal protection; it’s a way of thinking.

I could run seminars on fighting with a chair, using a flashlight etc, they’d be worth zero. If you’re not attuned to your environment you will never realize the harmful intent that is in it. If you carry a firearm and don’t have the time and room to pull it, why do you think you’d have the time to identify another weapon and improvise its use? If you want to carry a “legal” weapon that’s another matter, but understand what “legal” means. Also understand, that if it’s legal it’s probably been “compromised” in some way that makes it ineffective or it requires a lot of skill to make it work in a real-life situation. Don’t fool yourself that these “legal” tools are as effective as a knife, a TASER, CS Spray etc, they’re not, which is why they’re legal carry. I would rather have a hand free to scrape, gouge and rip than tie one or two hands up in a “weapon” that promises much and delivers little. A tool is only a tool if it empowers you. Don’t be fooled.

The martial arts industry has created many legal carry tools, some gimmicky e.g. baseball hats with lead shot in them, other more tactical and with genuine thought behind them, such as the Monkey Fist (a take on the Japanese Kusarifundo), the Kubotan Key Chain (an interpretation of the Japanese Yawara) or the now popoular stoppers - basically plastic one finger, knuckle dusters. From a traditional perspective these tools were taught as part of a martial arts system that viewed weapons training as an art, not like us in the West who see these things as quick fixes and equalizers - a Yawara is a very technical weapon that is used to apply painful wrist locks, controls and restraints etc but what business does a civilian on the street have for doing this type of action? When you look at the purpose of a tool, such as the Kubotan that is based on it and look at the goal of what you are trying to achieve, it may become obvious that the two might not marry up. If you're simplt looking to use the tool as an impact weapon, a bottle, pen, magazine or other hand held item will do the trick and may be more readily available.

This is one of the dangers of weapon training in general i.e. you become fixated on the weapon and mold your purpose around it. This is true of conventional, modified and improvised weapon. An improvised weapon should be drawn from the environment to solve the problem at hand - a broken pool cue might make a great weapon in one environment and be lousy in another - the situation determines the solution.

Being able to identify and use objects in your environment is a skill to develop, and one that can be done before the proverbial hit shits the fan. When you enter a room take a sweeping glance and identify objects that could be used as weapons and barriers etc as well as where the exits are. This is a great situational awareness excercise and will hopefully start to rase your awareness of the environments you occupy. It is this awareness that will save you, not the telephone directory in the corner....


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Security Overseas - Part 2

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 14th Apr)

This post follows the last and is looking at personal security when travelling abroad – both posts stem from a question a student at my school asked, concerning altenrative self-defense products to CS Spray that could be carried legally by a female friend who was travelling in Europe (in many European countries CS Spray is illegal).

Rather than concentrate on alternative weapons to CS Spray, I’m choosing to look at the direct security measures that a person traveling can take to avoid them having to deal with a physical conflict in the first place. As a side note to this, I want to talk briefly about the way “defensive weapons” are viewed from a legal perspective in certain European countries.

In the UK most of the definitions concerning what constitutes an offensive weapon comes from the intent of the person carrying it e.g. if I am carrying a golf club, garden spade or the like with the intent of using them as a weapon either for offensive or defensive purposes then these items will be classified as offensive weapons. There are also more explicit laws concerning folding knives whose blade’s lock etc. But it is worth noting that anything can be potentially categorized as an offensive weapon based upon the intent of the person carrying it. Not being a legal mind, I would also speculate, that if you are involved in a violent incident in the US and you are carrying a weapon that is effectively legal, your intent in carrying and using it would be called into question by any prosecuting attorney. I say this because people often put forward arguments for carrying canes, walking sticks and Kubotan Key Chains (a short stick based on the Japanese Yawara that was popular in the 1980’s) as being “legally” eligible as weapons. The fact that a Kubotan key chain serves no other purpose than as a weapon makes it illegal in the UK and in other countries such as in the US it may cause a prosecutor to raise the question as to why a person was carrying it – often by making a substitution, like a Maglite torch, these arguments and questions become moot; especially when travelling it can be argued that a person could be staying in a hotel, boarding house etc where there were shared bathrooms and it would be needed as an aid at night.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to primarily talk about certain measures that can be taken when travelling. One of the main areas of concern I always had when travelling was how to secure my hotel room once in it. The fact that hotel rooms accessed by old fashioned keys always meant that there would be duplicates around, allowing people to access my room. From a female perspective this could be at night with the purpose of a predatory individual attempting to commit a rape/sexual assault.

It should always be remembered that any criminal’s greatest fear (apart from terrorists) is getting caught. Simply making yourself a hard target is often enough to direct a predator’s attention elsewhere. Often all that is needed to deter someone with harmful intent is to put an unexpected obstacle in a person’s way. Carrying a doorstop in your luggage, and placing it under your hotel door room at night may be all that it takes to slow down and deter a would-be predator. Certain companies make security doorstops which are fitted with a motion activated alarm. There is a link below, which illustrates one of these products (this shouldn’t be taken as my endorsement of this particular brand – read the reviews of different makes/models of this type of device and make your own selection).

Another useful device that can be fitted into a handbag/purse is this temporary lock called an AddaLock. It works on most doors and is pretty effective; I’ve used this product before. It may be used in bathrooms which don’t have a lock, both in people’s homes and in hotel or restaurant rooms etc. It could also be used in a situation where you need to improvise a “safe room” in somebody else’s house whilst you call the police. This is another simple security measure: making sure your mobile phone works in the country you are in and that you know the number for the police or guarda etc. Don’t assume it’s 911 everywhere.
The temporary locks details can be seen by clicking on the link below:

In the next post I’ll look at measures such as securing travel documents etc. See everyone on the mats tomorrow.

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Security Overseas

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 8th Apr)

It’s awhile since anyone has asked me to write on Travel/Overseas Security but I had a request to do so this week. The question was more about what concealed or legal carry weapons should somebody (in this case a female) take, when travelling especially in European countries where OC Spray – which I’m a big fan of – are illegal and/or there is a risk of causing an alert when passing through airport security etc.

Firstly, any weapon carried should be seen as the last line of defense and not the first. Unfortunately, many people become lazy about this and put their complete dependence on the weapon itself, not realizing that if the other previous lines of defense are compromised it may not be possible to gain enough time to deploy any weapon you may be carrying. Any assailant will attempt to deny you time and distance to act and so if you are going to lower your SA (Situational Awareness), simply because you have a weapon that will give you the upper hand, you may not identify the threat earlier enough to act and use it.

I always teach on my women’s self-defense course, where we teach the use of OC Spray, that the fact that you are thinking about drawing the spray is the most useful part about it. When we first recognize a threat we enter a “Denial, Deliberation & Denial” loop, thinking about drawing a weapon can help us move out of the denial stage i.e. if you have your hand on the spray or another weapon you can’t deny the danger you are in. Accepting the presence of a threat and overcoming denial is the first step in being able to deal with any threat of danger.

This post and the next will concentrate on dealing with personal safety when abroad, either when with work or during a holiday/leisure time.

Personal safety (and fighting for that matter) is about controlling your environment. The first thing to understand when you are in a foreign country is that you don’t understand your environment and as a consequence you will be an obvious stranger. However much you may have read about a particular culture etc, you are not part of it. You will probably stand out, simply by the way you dress, or by simple behaviors, such as not smoking (smoking being the norm in certain countries etc). The more you try to “fit in” the more obvious you are likely to become. The goal of personal security is not to draw attention to yourself:  to be low profile. Trying to fit in, in a culture you are unaware of, puts a spotlight immediately on you.

At the same time you must also be able to put the doubt in somebody’s mind that you are unaware of your environment. A seasoned traveler is much less of a target than a newbie. Standing in the airport looking at your “Rough Guide to Thailand” or other guidebook, just after you’ve landed, is going to draw attention to you even before you have left the relative safety of the terminal. Ensuring that you know your transport route from the airport to your hotel  beforehand and moving purposefully towards the necessary bus-stop or taxi pickup will more than likely allow you to pass through the airport under the radar of any would be predator.

Knowing the route that a Taxi is likely to take from the airport to your hotel or destination will a) allow you to give off the image of somebody who has been in the city/country before and b) ensure that you won’t be over-charged. Don’t be afraid to ask generic questions, such as “why are we going this way?” etc, if the route isn’t one that seemed obvious from your previous research. Simple questions like this may be enough to put in a person’s head that you are aware of the surroundings you are in. Be aware that in most countries taxi drivers and those in the leisure industry are normally amongst the low waged and simple criminal activities such as over-charging may be ways to supplement income, up to more heinous acts such as muggings etc. A taxi driver may well be involved in a staged mugging at a traffic light etc, telling you to hand over your wallet and do what his accomplices want, whilst at the same time pretending to be a victim himself. If the route a driver chooses to take is not an obvious one, you need to question his reason for taking it.

In many countries hotel staff will offer to book your transport such as taxis, bus/train tickets etc for you. At first glance this may seem convenient however in countries such as Vietnam and Thailand these services are charged for. Also you have alerted a member of the hotel staff to where you are going and at what time. Having a predictable movement pattern allows would be predators the chance to synchronize their movements to yours. Convenient as some services are, from a personal security perspective they may not be worth it.

Never make the default assumption that the “locals” are friendly and nice because that is in their nature. The dollar in your pocket is what everyone in the tourist trade is after. Some people have more integrity than others however all are trying to make a living in a low paid industry. You shouldn’t be paranoid or suspicious of everyone you meet but you should be aware. Having prior information about your environment is the key to this. There is no need to become over-read and an expert but knowing simple things such as the transport route’s the relative proximity of bus and train stations along with the times when such services do and don’t run is one way to help you get about safely.

In the next post, I will talk about making sure your hotel/hostel room etc is safe and how to increase your security when in it. All of this may seem a touch extreme however I give it as general advice taken from courses I have run for FTSE 100 & NASDAQ companies in the past, who sent their executives into hostile environments. Take from these posts what you will….

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When To \"Defend\" Yourself

(Gershon Ben Keren - Thu 5th Apr)

The shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, a few months ago
has raised many issues about the rights a person has to defend themselves
against both real and perceived threats to their safety – I am staying out of
the debate as to whether the shooting was justified but will use it to
illustrate certain points that might help us avoid adopting the roles of both
Martin (the victim) and George Zimmerman (the shooter).

Many people who carry weapons, despite being technically
proficient in their use, have never really considered the decision making
process that they would have to go through before actually pulling and using
it, whether it be gun, knife, stick etc. Most people hold to an innate belief
that they will “just know”, when it’s the right time; and although this may be
true in certain cases, there will also be those times when a situation could be
interpreted incorrectly – when considering the use of lethal force, relying on
an “it’ll be alright on the night approach” is one hell of a gamble.

I have also seen many unarmed fights start because an
individual hasn’t considered the times and situations when they would get
physical. I am certainly not suggesting that a person should over analyze a
situation – in reality there is not time – but instead work off “triggers” that
indicate an aggressor’s emotional state, and/or think/work through potential
scenario’s both mentally and if possible physically using role play to discover
possible disengagement and conflict resolution options that may be an
alternative to physical force e.g. if you’ve been sitting in a bar for a while
and somebody comes over and says that you are sitting in their seat/chair, what
are their potential motives/reasons? What are your possible solutions? Etc. Are
you prepared and comfortable in making a principled stand, that you’re prepared
to back up with force, over a chair?

Pulling a gun on somebody is an extreme response and signals
an intent to use lethal force, making a pre-emptive unarmed strike on somebody
is also an extreme response. In both instances the process that brings you to
the conclusion that such actions are effective solutions to the situation,
should be considered and thought about before you find yourself in the middle
of such an incident, running in real time.

There are people who don’t understand the role of having a
de-escalation stance and learning to fight and defend yourself from such a
posture. If at the first instance of trouble you adopt a fighting stance you
are immediately giving a person, even if they are the initial aggressor, the
right to defend themselves. If they are carrying a weapon, your action may be
the “trigger” that causes them to draw it. What started as a verbal dispute
over a chair etc, could now have escalated into a gun/knife threat/fight
scenario simply because of the adoption of an aggressive stance.

Such an escalating situation as the one above may seem
extreme or ludicrous however only George Zimmerman, if we work from an innocent
till proven guilty position, can say what it was that Trayvon Martin did which
triggered him to not only pull his weapon but use it. It may be he
misinterpreted an action, behavior, movement and genuinely believed that any
one of these represented a real and immediate threat to his safety. It could be
that his motives were more sinister…but these are for others to investigate,
debate and discuss.

The decision of when a situation deserves a physical
response (be it armed or unarmed) is one that needs to be considered
beforehand. Adopting an aggressive posture/stance or behaving in an aggressive
manner towards someone carry’s a risk, and this has to be accepted. It doesn’t
matter if this is done in response to someone else’s aggression. In a country
where it is a legal right for somebody to carry a sidearm, that risk is always
going to be a high stakes one.

Don’t get me wrong, when it is time to act you should do so,
unwaveringly and with full commitment and absolute force however you should
make sure that it is your decision to act and that you have considered all the
consequences (something you need to do beforehand – this process itself will
eliminate many peripheral doubts that may be present in a violent situation). Be
aware that your behavior can cause someone else to act aggressively, become
physical even if in your mind you wouldn’t expect it to illicit such a response.
Frightened people do extreme things and it is not always obvious that they are
acting from fear.

I am not advocating subservience to all aggressor’s simply
behaving in a way that allows you to stay fully in control of your environment
i.e. manage both your behaviors and the ones of the individual(s) you are
dealing with. Controlling the environment is the essence of self-defense.

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Gershon Ben Keren

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