Use of Force

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 28th Feb)


Just because somebody believes something should be the case, or that something makes sense to them, doesn’t mean that it is. I recently received a critical review of my book, “Krav Maga: Real World Solutions to Real World Violence”, where the reviewer, claimed that my response(s) to dealing with an assailant armed with a blade were both disproportionate, illegal, and a violation of the human rights of the attacker under European Law. I’m quite sure that the writer of the review would like to see me brought to The Hague to answer for my “war” crimes, of “excessive” use of force. This week, I was also asked my opinion on an incident of “road rage” that one of the attendees of our women’s self-defense class was involved in and the use of force that she would have been permitted to use should the situation have escalated into a physical confrontation. In this article I want to look at what is and isn’t a disproportionate use of force in two very different type of situation.

If a mugger, armed with a knife, demands your wallet, my advice is to hand it over to them. This is the most effective way to ensure that you won’t be cut or stabbed. However, what do you do if the mugger doesn’t go, once you’ve handed your valuables over to them? At this stage, they are not behaving as a mugger, and you are in a situation where the likelihood of them using the knife against you has increased significantly – for your own safety you should assume that they are going to stab you. In such a scenario, I present a solution, where you use the knife against your attacker whilst they are still holding it. According to the reviewer of the book, this violates the attacker’s human rights, is a disproportionate response, and is fact illegal (under European Law). I would argue that they are wrong on every one of those points. Firstly, under UK law (the European Law I am most familiar with), use of force is a subjective, not objective thing i.e. you can’t categorically say that a particular “technique” or response is illegal; it depends on the individual interpretation of the situation, and what they believed was happening to them etc. If a person believes that someone is intending to stab, and potentially kill them, and it is “reasonable” for them to do so, then their use of force should be appropriate to the danger they believe themselves to be facing. I would argue that it is “reasonable” to assume that a mugger who doesn’t leave after you’ve acquiesced to their demand(s) is preparing to use their weapon against you i.e. use potentially lethal force, and because of this you have the right to defend yourself accordingly, such as stabbing them with their own knife. This is not a disproportionate use of force in fact it is a directly proportionate use of force – you are doing to them exactly what they are planning to do to you. Do you have an obligation to them, to disarm and not harm them? No. Your only responsibility is to yourself and your own survival, and the law provides for you to do what is necessary as you see fit in that situation. It also recognizes that under the stress and duress of violence, that a person defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his defensive action” (Lord Morris – Palmer v R 1971) i.e. you are not expected to measure your response “exactly” and “precisely”. The law is in fact very forgiving around this. It is also worth remembering that you did not consent to be mugged, or have to deal with an armed assailant this is something they forced on you, and is in fact a violation of your Human Rights. You are convicted for what you say, not what you do, and if you can explain why you took the course of action you did, and why it was reasonable to do so, then your use of force will be justified.

In the road rage incident, a driver believed the woman, had hit his car, and followed her – something she was aware of. Instead of driving to a police station (always worth knowing on your routes where the nearest one is), she decided to carry on with her day i.e. she ignored the threat. When she stopped the other driver got out of his car, and started to bang on hers with his hands. The simple solution, would be to stay locked in the car, call 911, and wait for the Police to turn up. However, she decided to get out of her car, armed with her pepper spray and confront him – her goal to stop him banging her car. Instead of disengaging from the situation she was engaging with it. If her concern was potential damage to her car, she could have filmed the other driver as he hit her car, taken note of the registration of his vehicle and let her insurance company deal with it. Trying to confront and engage with someone in such an emotional state is unlikely to yield any positive results. This may seem strange advice from someone who is advocating using an assailant’s knife against them; why such a, seemingly extreme solution in one situation and a totally non-confrontational response in another? The difference is choice and the options available. The female driver had many options that didn’t involve confrontation available to her, the person facing an armed robber, who has already handed over their possessions doesn’t. It is as simple as that, and when we look at use of force, the option to not have to use force has to be considered.



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Air Rage

(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 24th Feb)


Last week I got to witness an incident of air rage. It was during an overnight flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, and was a great example of two individuals who became so invested in their anger, and their justification(s) to be angry, that they were unable to consider alternatives that could have resolved the situation – it was also a great example of a lack of training in de-escalation and conflict resolution, on the part of the flight attendants and airline staff; something that is quite disturbing considering the potential danger(s) that an irate passenger can cause at 30 000 ft.

Soon after take-off, a man in the row in front (of a passenger sitting on my right), reclined his seat back fully, so that the person to my right was now sitting in a more restricted space. Rather than simply accepting that, annoying as it is, a person is entitled to recline their seat as far back as it would go, the woman next to me, decided to make a point of it. Knowing that she didn’t have the right to tell him that he couldn’t do this, she made an implied threat about what may happen if he continued to push his seat back into this position i.e. because of her very long legs, it would be likely that if he reclined to fast he may feel her knees in his back (causing both him and her pain), and so it would be better if he notified her of when he intended to move his seat back. Difficult people will often try and add steps and stages, creating processes that you have to adhere to, in order for you not to offend them. The goal of this is to dissuade you from even considering acting and behaving in a certain way because it’s not worth the hassle of doing so e.g. if the passenger in front of her had agreed to her request that he tell her every time he moved his seat, he may get to the point where he feels embarrassed to keep telling her he needs to recline his seat, and so stop from doing it. Many difficult people have found that they can exploit other people’s natural politeness, and it was obvious that this is what she was trying to do. Unfortunately for her she was dealing with someone who didn’t feel the need to be polite, and who informed her that this was her problem not his, and she would have to deal with it.

Difficult people have an extremely hard time when people call them out. In that precise moment when the passenger in front of her told her that this was her issue not his, she realized she had lost control of having any influence over the situation and would need to take a different course of action if she would be able to exert any power and control over her environment. It is likely that she’d had previous successes with her “long leg” argument, and that out of politeness people had stopped reclining their seats back etc. It may be that this was the first experience she’d had of someone directly telling her that they weren’t going to do what she requested. Rather than accepting the situation she invested in the apparent injustice of it, and decided to follow a path of escalation; one that she hoped would gather supporters to her cause e.g. other passengers and airline crew. To do this, every time the seat in front of her moved, she’d bring her knees up into it, and make a loud exclamation about how her knees had been hit, on one occasion alerting everyone to the fact that the passenger in front of her had drawn blood. If the cabin staff had decided not to intervene at that stage, I think her injuries would have escalated further and further until they invoked a “heart attack” or some other event that would have been impossible to ignore. Once she had the attention of a stewardess (a higher authority) who could arbitrate in the situation, she tried to make two points to get everybody on her side: she was polite and her request was reasonable. Difficult people often justify their unreasonable requests and demands by presenting them in a polite way i.e. it doesn’t matter what you ask of somebody, as long as you ask them politely they’re obliged to acquiesce to your demands; it would be impolite not to do so. In her book politeness was a synonym for reason.

The stewardess explained to her that the person in front was entitled to recline his seat back fully. Although this was her actual issue, she argued it wasn’t and that she’d only asked him to inform her – because of her long legs – whenever he reclined his seat. She also informed anyone listening that she did this same flight 10 times a year, and so she knew what to expect on a long haul flight etc. The implication being, that the passenger in front wasn’t as seasoned a traveler as her, and so may not understand the “unwritten” rules and conventions of flying e.g. although the seats do recline fully, it’s accepted practice not to do this etc. Of course the passenger in front continued to adjust his seat, reclining it etc. which eventually resulted her in an act of frustration slamming the back of it with both hands and shouting obscenities at the man in front. Was the passenger entitled to keep adjusting and reclining his seat? Absolutely. Was he pushing his agenda and entitlement to do so? Absolutely. Both parties had invested too much into the conflict to back down. After another incident of chair slamming and obscenities the passenger in front demanded that the lady behind him be re-seated (something that was the only practical solution to the situation that had now developed).     

However, to accept being reseated, in her eyes meant that she had lost this extremely territorial conflict. The dispute had developed into one where she wouldn’t let him have the space his reclined chair took, even if it meant she got a better seat; The 4 inches of space his seat moved back into was hers, and she wasn’t going to give that up, in fact she’d rather contest and fight over that precise space, than be guaranteed “extra space” somewhere else. It was not just about her having space taken away, it was also about denying him that space. She wasn’t going to move – he should. If this seems extremely petty, you’d be right. But her motivation was about getting back something she’d lost rather than bettering her cause, and unfortunately this is human nature, and one that drives many, many human conflicts e.g. if someone loses for example status, they will work 2-3 times harder to regain their loss, than they would to improve their position had they not lost it.

Fortunately, on a 15 hour flight, the opportunity to sleep can give people a face saving way out of the conflict, and this is eventually what both parties ended up doing. Could the passenger in front have avoided a confrontation? Quite easily. He could have played the difficult person’s game; agreeing to inform her each and every time he adjusted his seat – she’d set the ground rules and he could have adhered to them, making sure they were more of an inconvenience to her than to him. However, that would have involved putting his ego in check, and not rising to her implied threat. Could the airline staff have been more effective? They could have dealt with it at the first instance, and not let it escalate. They had spare seats and insisting on moving the woman, would have prevented her from raising further complaints about other passengers without making herself appear completely unreasonable. However, that would have taken a level of confrontation the airline staff seemed uncomfortable to pursue, which begs the serious question of at what stage/escalation would they have forced someone to move seats.         



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Kidnappings And Risk Assessments

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 14th Feb)


This blog article is about different types of kidnappings, and how we can determine if we are at risk from them i.e. how to make a risk assessment around kidnappings etc. This article is prompted by a seminar I conducted yesterday, around armed abductions.

The first thing we must do if we are to ascertain whether we are at risk or not, or what the level of risk is, is to make a risk assessment. There are three things we need to look at in order to do this: assets, threats and vulnerabilities. An asset is something, which we value, and want to protect from potential threats; it maybe an object such as a car, building or laptop, it may be information (possibly contained on a laptop), or a person, such as ourselves. In kidnapping scenarios, we may neglect to consider certain assets, and so not put in place any measures to protect and secure them e.g. If you are on business in a foreign country, and are the victim of an express kidnapping, where you are taken to ATM’s and forced to withdraw money etc. you may not consider that the company data you have on your laptop, is an asset that could be at risk – one of your kidnappers forces you to login to your computer, so that they can access personal information about you, such as reading your emails, and in the process find company data that if leaked would give your company’s competitors an advantage etc. Making a comprehensive inventory of your assets is part of your risk assessment.

One of the other things you need to consider when making such a risk assessment are those things which are threats to your assets. In this case it is the different types of kidnapping there are, and how they relate to you i.e. what type of threat are they to you (this is where you conduct a threat assessment). There are various types of kidnapping, and how they relate to you may change according to geography e.g. in one country you may be a desirable target for a particular type of kidnapping, and in another not. In the US, you may be seen as someone with not enough financial resources to pay a significant ransom, however as soon as you set foot in South America, parts of Africa, that perception may change. The level of threat, may change based on your geography. If you are a successful business person, with a high net worth, who may have your own security detail, you may be targeted whether you are in the US or abroad; it may be that your kidnappers take advantage of a business trip you take to South America, however in this instance your geography has not changed/altered the threat, but instead has exploited a potential vulnerability e.g. your security detail is not familiar with the environment in which they are working etc.

Understanding vulnerabilities that a threat can exploit either deliberately or inadvertently is the third part of your risk assessment. If you recognize that a kidnapper could gain access to the company information on your laptop, you can look at ways to correct this vulnerability. You may at first think of encrypting such data, so the person trying to gain access to it needs a specific password to unlock it etc. This would work, if your laptop was stolen, however it wouldn’t work if a kidnapper put a gun to your head and told you to unlock a particular file/directory or they would shoot you. In this situation the data is still vulnerable. If you hid this data on an encrypted partition of your hard drive, which was not easily identifiable to anyone who didn’t know the partition existed you have dealt with this vulnerability. If you leave your house at the same time every day, taking the same route to work etc. your predictable routine, makes you vulnerable to anyone who may want to kidnap you. It is worth pointing out that in a “Tiger Kidnapping”, you are not the person of value, but are a bargaining chip to leverage somebody else to commit a criminal activity e.g. your partner may have the access codes to a safe, and you are kidnapped, in order to force them to give up those codes to your kidnappers etc. If your kidnappers know your routine you will be an easy target for them.

If you are targeted for this or a similar kidnapping, your chance to identify that you have been selected is by picking up on your kidnapper’s surveillance of you – sometimes this is crude, sometimes it can be relatively sophisticated and difficult to identify. If you leave your house at the same time each morning, it is easy for a car to follow you, and determine the route you take – it is also relatively easy for you to identify this. However, if a car follows you for a few turns, and then another takes over for a few more, and another after that etc. you will probably not pick up on these change-overs, and fail to realize that you have been followed. It is unlikely that a kidnapper would put direct these resources to the target of a basic kidnapping, however if the potential rewards and gains were big enough they may well do so. If you kept changing your route to work, it would be extremely difficult for each car to know where to wait and take over from the one that was following you. It can be difficult, and sometimes impossible to reduce threats, however it is always possible to manage vulnerabilities.

Risk, is basically the intersection of assets, threats and vulnerabilities. If there are no threats, there is no risk, if there are no vulnerabilities there is no risk etc. if we can manage our vulnerabilities we can reduce risk. If we our realistic in our threat assessments, we can identify what we are at risk from e.g. if we are not a prominent political figure, it is unlikely that we will be at risk of a “political” kidnapping, where we are taken to either produce political change, or force political/terrorist prisoners to be released etc. By understanding threats and vulnerabilities, we can start to reduce risk.



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5 Personal Safety Myths That Put You In Danger

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 7th Feb)


At our school, we don’t simply teach techniques, we teach solutions to situations. This means explaining the dynamics of violent interactions, the methods and motivations behind assaults, as well as explaining how situations develop and change based on a Target’s behaviors and actions etc. This means talking about personal safety/self-protection; how to predict, prevent, identify and avoid violence, along with what, and what not to do, when dealing with aggressive and violent individuals. The start of the year has been a very busy one, and I’ve found myself doing a lot of personal safety “myth busting” for want of a better term. This blog article looks at five pieces of advice or rules that people have been lead to believe will keep them safe, that either don’t deliver on that, or in fact put them in more danger.

1 – “Don’t Run Wearing Earbuds or Headphones.” When I talk about situational awareness, people will often cite this “rule” as an example of something people do, which prevents them from being situationally aware. The problem with this piece of advice is that it implies that by not wearing earbuds/headphones you will automatically be able to identify potential dangers and harmful intent in your environment, which simply isn’t the case. If you don’t know what danger looks like, you won’t be able to identify it, whether you are wearing headphones or not. This is the major problem with many personal safety rules, that they tell you what not to do, rather than what you should be doing, and imply that by not doing something you will automatically be safer. I have seen people running without headphones who are completely oblivious to their environment and what’s happening in it; these individuals have no more awareness, than their counterparts who are running with earbuds in. Not doing something, doesn’t by default make you safe; teaching people what are, and how to identify potential threats along with reducing personal vulnerabilities when running, does.

2 – “Never Walk Alone at Night, Always Walk with A Friend or in A Group.” This is a better piece of advice than the rule about not wearing earbuds when running, as it at least prescribes you an action/something to do. It is also a good general piece of advice, however there are situations where being with someone else doesn’t necessarily make you safer, and blindly trusting this rule/piece of advice will lull you into a false sense of security. If you are a woman walking alone late at night, you will be a potential target for any sexual predators who are operating in the area. A rapist will generally be looking for a single victim, and will find it easier to target someone who is on their own. On the other hand, a pair of armed muggers, will get potentially double their pay out if they target two people, rather than one. Walking with a friend may protect you from one type of predator whilst at the same time attracting another. You still need to be aware of what is going on in your environment whether you are on your own, in a pair, or are part of a group; also, don’t rely on others in your group to identify danger on your behalf.

3 – “If Confronted by A Mugger, Throw Your Wallet Away from You.” This is an extremely dangerous piece of advice- at first glance it may seem like a good way of getting a mugger away from you- but it isn’t realistic when we look at the locations and situations where muggings take place, and the motivations of the mugger. Firstly, to be able to throw your wallet away from you, assumes that muggings take place in deserted areas where there is the space to throw a wallet, without other people either walking over it or witnessing what you are doing. If you are mugged in a well-trafficked transit station or parking lot, neither one of these conditions apply. Muggers generally don’t select deserted locations, as there are few, if any, people to rob, and prefer to choose locations which see a good supply of potential victims. Imagine you are on an escalator, and somebody walks up, moves behind you, puts a knife at your back and demands your wallet (it is unlikely that anyone near you will either see or hear what is going on). Where are you going to throw it? This piece of advice is not borne out of reality but from someone who is well intentioned and trying to find a logical solution to a problem/situation they don’t understand. Another good reason not to throw your wallet away from you when a mugger asks for it, is that you have failed to comply with their demand. Although their primary motive is to acquire your wallet, all violent incidents involve secondary motives which include power, anger and control. Your action of throwing the wallet is likely to bring these secondary motives to the fore and see you either stabbed or shot. You don’t need to throw your wallet to get a mugger to move away from you, in 99% of cases, handing it to them will achieve this.

4 – “If You Need Assistance Don’t Shout “Help”, Yell “Fire” Instead” – This piece of advice is outdated by about 500 years, and creates a dangerous way of thinking about bystander intervention. The thought behind this piece of advice is that people are more likely to respond to a fire than a person’s cry for help. The idea for shouting fire rather than help when attacked, was formulated in 16th century London. London at the time consisted of wooden houses and dwellings that were located very close together. The threat and danger from fire was a constant one, so if somebody yelled fire, everybody who heard it would come on to the streets to try and put it out as quickly as possible before it spread to their house i.e. they had a vested interest in responding to the person shouting, therefore if a person being attacked shouted fire they were likely to get a greater response than if they made a cry for help. This isn’t the case in modern society, where fire is not the threat/danger it once was, so there is little reason to shout “fire”, rather than “help”. The real danger of this piece of advice is that it suggests should you cry either “help” or “fire”, people will come to your assistance; unfortunately, this has been proven time and time again not to happen, with bystanders and third parties being extremely reluctant to come to others’ aid and assistance. If your strategy for surviving a violent altercation is to rely on others to intervene on your behalf, you may want to think about revising it.

5 – “If You Feel Scared and Need a Weapon, Put Your Keys Between Your Fingers to Form an Improvised ‘Knuckle Duster’” – This is an old chestnut, that I heard as a kid, and held with me into my teens and twenties, before I properly understood how improvised weapons actually work. The good part about this piece of advice, is that if you are looking to use your keys as a weapon, you have accepted that you are in a potentially dangerous situation; many people when faced with a potential threat or danger get caught in a state of denial, and argue themselves out of doing anything on the basis that they are either over-reacting, or being stupid. If you find yourself going for your keys, you have at least recognized the potential for being the target of a violent assault. My problem is not using your keys as a weapon, but how to use them. In Krav Maga, we use a categorization system, to identify improvised weapons, and that categorization system informs us of how they should be used. The system teaches us to look for objects that resemble actual weapons e.g. objects that look like a stick, objects that look like a shield, objects that look like a knife, etc. When you look at a key, more than anything, it resembles a knife; it’s sharp and it can cut. This means your keys are best used like a knife e.g. hold one between your thumb and forefinger and use it to cut with, etc. The reason not to use them as a Knuckle Duster as they don’t resemble any impact weapon – a knuckle duster is used to deliver concussive force, where a knife is designed to cut and slash.

There are a lot of people with good intentions and good ideas offering advice on personal safety and self-defense, who unfortunately lack the qualifications and/or experience to give sound advice. In lieu of an understanding of what real life violence looks like, they try and apply logic to situations they don’t really understand, and these rules and pieces of advice unfortunately get repeated and repeated until they are accepted as expert opinion – even though no expert ever formulated them. If you want to truly be safe, you need to educate yourself as to what violent situations actually look like, and formulate your responses based on this understanding.



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