THIS MONTHS ARTICLES
(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 28th Sep)
I am a big fan of simple solutions to violence, of not over complicating the ways we deal with assaults and threats. However in the reality based self-defense community simplicity, can often become simplistic e.g. an eye strike will solve everything, a slap/strike to the groin will always leave an assailant stunned and disabled etc. The truth? Maybe, but no outcome is ever guaranteed, and to make conclusive statements about the effectiveness of such solutions is dangerous, and leaves students with a false sense of security in the techniques that they are taught. I am a Krav Maga instructor, who teaches eye, throat, and groin strikes however I also acknowledge there are things that the attacker does either deliberately or inadvertently that can result in them having little or no effect, and positions along with environmental factors that can prevent such strikes being made in an effective manner. In this article I want to look at some of the occasions when striking the groin doesn’t yield the expected results that are often taught conclusively and without question in self-defense classes.
Firstly, people are very good at naturally and instinctually protecting the groin. Any large movement towards it results in a flinch response that sees the hips being pulled back, and the groin moved away. This means large front kicks that are thrown upwards towards the groin, when square on to the attacker are probably not going to make contact; if the attacker is moving, chances of a kick of this nature being successful increase greatly. If you practice such kicks statically against a partner holding a pad in front of you, in the belief that you will be able to replicate this movement in a real-life scenario, you are training yourself to fail. It may work sometimes, but those times are few. Kicks are relatively slow, and require large movements that cross a person’s peripheral vision and so stimulate a flinch reflex that sees the target being quickly withdrawn. One way of making such kicks more effective, is to make the person move, as you make the kick; this opens up the groin, and because the person is moving, their flinch reflex becomes secondary to their need to stay balance and stable i.e. it’s effectively switched off. It is often easier to use hand strikes and slaps to the groin that work inside a person’s peripheral vision (so not causing a flinch response) and use much smaller and less identifiable movements.
The human body has evolved putting its most vulnerable parts in its most protected areas. For groin strikes to be effective they have to move upwards, hitting the testicles from below. A strike that hits them in a forward motion, may be uncomfortable, however it won’t have the same effect as one that comes upwards. This can make the groin a difficult target to strike when on the ground. I hear a lot of people advocating using groin strikes to release somebody who has pulled guard on you - firstly this is a very unlikely position for you to find yourself in, but for the sake of demonstrating the ineffectiveness of groin strikes in certain positions, let’s entertain it…If somebody does pull guard, their legs are wrapped round you; the groin is accessible, but not in a way that allows you to make an upwards strike, as your body restricts you from doing this. This means striking the groin is not the most effective target when in this position. Creating “simplistic” solutions that rely on groin strikes to escape positions, where the groin may be accessible, but not vulnerable, is painting a false picture of reality.
One of the most serious restrictions on making effective groin strikes is clothing. If the crotch of somebody’s jeans is low, then striking upwards towards the groin will mean that the clothing will act as a buffer/barrier to your strike, either slowing it down, or preventing it from reaching its target completely (this is also true of strikes made with the hands). This can be hard to appreciate, if you always train in loose fitting training clothes, where the groin is easily reached and targeted, however in real-life clothing, depending on the fit, and the way they are worn, a person’s clothes can mean the groin becomes inaccessible as a target. This can be compounded in ground situations, where the ability to strike in the right manner is impeded.
Does all of this mean that we should stop looking at groins strikes as a useful tool? Absolutely not; groin strikes have their place and can be extremely effective. What we have to acknowledge is that they are not a universal solution to every problem, and that sometimes we are not in a position to make them e.g. if somebody is pulling you backwards at speed, it can be extremely difficult to make such a strike, as the target is moving, it is well protected by your assailants moving legs and the clothing around the crotch will be stretched; couple this with the fact that most of your effort will be directed at staying on your feet and the groin becomes a difficult target to reach. Groin strikes, eye strikes etc. should be part of a solution, and not the critical component. No solution to violence should rely on one thing, and redundancy should be built in e.g. if one thing fails it shouldn’t render the solution/technique useless. If you have a solution to violence that depends upon the success of a groin strike, it may be worth revisiting it, and looking at ways in which other movements may be added, so that if clothing – for example - renders the strike useless, the complete solution doesn’t fail. Our solutions should be simple but not simplistic.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 21st Sep)
As any Cop will tell you intervening in a domestic dispute is a thankless, usually unproductive and not very rewarding task, however when a person’s safety is compromised it has to be done. As civilians we may witness domestic disputes, and acts of violence perpetrated by one partner against another, and despite us not having a duty to intervene we may feel compelled to do so. This blog article looks at ways to intervene as well as what you can expect, and not expect, to happen.
Firstly you should understand what the short term and long term effects of your interaction and intervention will be. When you took to individuals who work in Law Enforcement, you will find that a common reason for most joining the force was the belief that they could make a positive difference in their community. You will also find that one of the things that depresses them the most is that they end up dealing with the same individuals over and over again e.g. they apprehend a petty criminal who is shoplifting to support a drug habit, only to run into him again 6 months later, engaged in the same criminal activities, after he has served a short sentence, gone through a program, completed some community service etc. This is a fairly depressing cycle of events, especially for somebody who took on the job wanting and expecting to make a change. When you intervene in a couple’s row, argument or fight, you should understand that your intervention is unlikely to solve the underlying relationship problems of these individuals; all you can hope to do is ensure a person’s safety in that moment – and it is key to understand how short that “moment” may be.
You should also understand that the person you are trying to help may not want or appreciate your input, and may have played a part in creating the situation (this is not to say they are responsible or to blame for being dealt with in an overly aggressive or violent manner – just that the situation you are witnessing may not be as black and white as it first seems). One time walking back to my car with a fellow doorman, we heard loud banging and a woman’s scream somewhere in front of us. We couldn’t see anything but it was obvious that a woman was being assaulted. When we got a little further forward we could see that a man was slamming a woman violently against the glass of a shop doorway. The person I was with was a big guy, and he gently tapped the man on the shoulder and said, ”excuse me sir.” The guy who’d been slamming the woman against the glass, thinking we were police, replied, “Thank god your here can you tell her to give me my keys back.” When he turned round he realized we weren’t police, and what had been an attitude of relief turned to anger. From his shouting at us, and her shouting at him – now that she wasn’t getting slammed against the glass, she had started to resume her complaints against him – we deduced that they were in some form of intimate relationship, that they’d been out drinking at some bar and he’d asked her to keep his house keys in her purse, towards the end of the evening they’d had a row/argument over something, and she was refusing to give him his keys back; having run out of alternative solutions and feeling justified to do so he’d decided he’d get them back through physical force. That was what we’d walked in on. To make matters worse, after a few minutes of trying to convince her to give him the keys and sort the dispute out later, and explain to him that we couldn’t walk off without knowing he wasn’t going to assault her, four of the couple’s friends turned up. Buoyed by numbers we now became the villains of the piece, with the group, including the woman we’d tried to help, starting to act aggressively and violently toward us. That was our moment to back away and disengage, which allowed the new group including the couple to create a new dynamic that meant there wasn’t someone getting their head slammed off the glass.
When you intervene you should only do so in a manner and a capacity that you can manage, and you should be prepared to disengage and back away when your own safety is called into question. You should also recognize that the person you are trying to help may turn against you, as it may allow them a way to show support to their partner, and a means of ending the dispute – it doesn’t mean that the relationship is now a healthy one, just that at that moment they are able to find themselves on the same side. You may end up solving the issue in a way that you didn’t intend; our intention was to resolve the dispute however when the couple’s friends turned up, the situation was of one unified group against another and their personal dispute got forgotten.
It is very easy in these types of disputes to immediately take the side of the woman, especially if she is the one being assaulted however when dealing with violence it is sometimes necessary to put aside the rights and wrongs of a situation in order to be effective. The guy who was assaulting his partner had a genuine grievance (even though this didn’t justify his actions) that he wanted a resolution to i.e. he wanted his keys back. Sides had already been formed between him and her, and adding weight of numbers to her side would only isolate him further and make it look like his grievance wasn’t relevant. Any effective solution needs to include both partners, and not look like you are taking sides – even if it seems to you that it is very clear cut who is right and who is wrong. Using phrases such as, “is everything all right?” is much more effective than using phrases directed at a particular individuals, such as, “are you alright?” Both parties need to be included in resolving the situation.
Recognizing your limitations when you intervene is also key. You are not law enforcement officers and have no powers beyond that of persuasion. It may be very clear that things are not right, despite both parties saying they are, however you only really have one choice, which is to accept this; your only other would be to inform law enforcement. You don’t have the right to force the person you believe is at risk to come with you, as that is kidnapping, even if you believe they would be safer doing so. It has to be that person’s choice. You should also understand that this individual knows their situation much better than you do. Many people believe that women who stay in physically abusive relationships are passive players who are subjected to violence without being able to influence or exert any control over their situation, in fact women who are domestically abused are adept at trying to lessen the amount of abuse they receive and are extremely active in engaging in strategies to reduce the assaults they endure; they understand their situation and have found ways to manage it to some degree. You may think you have the answer/solution to their problem(s), but they have a much better understanding of what will escalate/de-escalate a situation for them. At the end of the day you have to respect this, and if somebody refuses your help, there may be a good reason for them doing so.
It is easy to create situations in our minds where we imagine that we intervene in a dispute, only to find out later that the person we tried to make safe was murdered by their partner, and then question if there wasn’t more we could have done. It is easy to focus on worst case scenarios and get eaten up by what ifs, however all we can do is what is possible in that moment. If we can make a person safe in that moment we have done all that was practically possible. If they ask for further help, then yes we can give it to them, but if they don’t we can’t. I have no idea what happened to the women we tried to help, over 20 years ago. I thought about her a lot in the immediate days after the incident e.g. if her partner later punished her for having stranger’s intervene in their dispute, whether they both talked and laughed about us as the losers who had to back away when their friends turned up etc. All I know is that in that situation we couldn’t have done much more, and I’ve got a lot better since at not imagining or asking too many what ifs, and hoping that when the time is right for people to make the long term choices that will change their lives the right people will be there to assist them.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 13th Sep)
On Friday I was sent a link to a video that showed students engaged in a drill that involved them making defenses against an attacker with a knife; the attacker and the person defending the knife attacks, were in a circle, and every now and again one of the students in the circle would push the attacker towards the person defending – the attacker was making realistic and frenzied attacks, stabbing and shanking low, and then making high cuts and stabs etc. There was nothing wrong with the drill itself, my issue and concern was that the attacker was a boy who looked to be around the same age, perhaps a little older, as my own son who is 9. The issue of children training with adults in reality based self-defense classes, is becoming more and more prevalent with martial arts school owners who don’t understand what reality based self-defense is, and in mixing these two populations together such schools are doing a huge (and potentially dangerous) disservice to both groups.
My first issue with mixing adults and children together is surprisingly not one of safety, but of reality. My reality and the potential dangers and the violence that I am likely to face is very different to a 9 year olds, which is very different to a 15 year olds etc. If I am training individuals of all ages in reality based self-defense I have to train them to deal with their reality, and the situations they are likely to face. If I am teaching all ages together I’m failing in this, and giving each group an unrealistic expectation of what they are likely to experience. This doesn’t even fit with the idea of basic and advanced techniques, it is down to reality e.g. training to deal with multiple assailants is a much harder, and possibly more “advanced” form of training than dealing with individual attackers, however we introduce this form of training to kids and teenagers at a very early stage, as a lot of the aggressive and violent situations they may find themselves in will involve somebody and a group of their friends etc. Different age groups, different realities.
This is something that many parents don’t understand. I once had a mother who brought her 14 year old son to try an adult class. The kid was over 6ft and weighed well over 200 lbs. He was confused when I wouldn’t let him join the adult class, citing that in the Tae Kwon Do classes he took, the instructor had him train in the adult class because of his size. In a traditional martial arts class, there is logic and sense to this, however it doesn’t cross over to a reality based self-defense class, where the kid would have been introduced to adult realities that weren’t appropriate to him.
There are certain techniques and types of training, which shouldn’t be taught to children – I question the wisdom of having a child make frenzied knife attacks against either adults or other children, whilst a group encourages him/her. The message being sent to the child is an unclear one. Having lived and worked in the UK where knife carrying, and attacks, are prevalent amongst teenagers and sometimes younger, I see a great danger in encouraging, albeit in a training environment, a child to attack somebody else with a knife. When you talk to the kids in the UK about knives, and the dangers of carrying one, they are woefully ignorant of the actual effects and damage that a knife can cause, and don’t have the maturity to understand that when somebody backs away from them they should do the same; “power” in young hands is rarely reigned in.
It isn’t just weapons techniques and drills that can be dangerous to teach to children, escapes from strangulations and chokes can be as well. Kids like to show off what they know to other kids, whatever they tell their parents and teachers. If a child wants to show off their ability to escape a strangulation or choke to a group of friends, they have to have somebody in that group choke or strangle them. It may be that the biggest and strongest kid in the group wants to “test” their ability, and so makes sure that they sink the choke in deep, and keep holding until the struggling stops. None of the children involved really understands the danger of chokes and strangulations, and because of this one is unconscious. This is the same with teaching kids arm and wrist locks; if they decide to show these to friends they may end up hurting and injuring them – not because they are malicious but because they lack control (this is especially true if they have learnt these techniques with adults, and have got used to applying them with the force needed to control someone who is bigger and stronger).
Putting a child in an adult class is a disservice to the adults in the class. As soon as a child is introduced into an adult group, that group has to change its dynamics and the way it behaves; language has to change, topics of conversation have to change etc. The group’s entire behavior has to change. The way I interact with other adults when my son is present is different to the way I act when he is not. As an adult practitioner I want to train with other adults. In certain situations it may be appropriate for a child to learn certain things that wouldn’t be taught to a child in public classes, and this is the time for private lessons, rather than bringing down the training experience of other adults.
Kids are kids, let’s keep is that way. Let’s not introduce them to adult realities. The violence that children experience, is different to adults, and it is impossible to teach reality based self-defense to both at the same time – sure you can teach the same techniques, but this is only a small part of reality based self-defense. Despite all of this, I know instructors will keep mixing adults and children together. It may be because that model works in their traditional or sport martial arts classes, or simply because they don’t want to put on separate programs due to time or financial constraints. They may simply have small classes that they want to pack. The business reasons are endless, the self-defense ones aren’t.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 6th Sep)
If you grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s you’ll know who Chrissie Hynde is. Now aged 63, Chrissie Hynde, was the hard living/partying female front of the Pretenders, who was known for out-partying many of her male counterparts. As such she became a hero/heroine of the Feminist movement, who saw her as someone whose actions and behaviors broke down stereotypical gender lines and boundaries, and whose outspoken views assisted the debate on gender equality. However in her new autobiography she recalls being gang-raped, and taking full responsibility for what happened to her, as she was high on drugs, and saw all the warning signs e.g. as a lone female she agreed to meet a group of Hells Angels at their deserted clubhouse, having noted that many of the wore “I Heart Rape” badges. This has sparked a huge debate, and garnered her a lot of criticism as she seems to be endorsing victim blaming i.e. the idea that the victim is to blame for their assault, rather than the assailants. Whilst I think the language and terminology that she has used to try and make sense of what happened to her is unfortunate, I think the message about personal safety and responsibility that she is trying to send out, especially to young women, is an important and timely one.
It is true that in the 1970’s and 1980’s there was a culture of victim blaming around victims of sexual assaults, that somehow they had been asking for it because they were provocatively dressed, or even the belief that this was something that women secretly desired. I am not saying that 30 years on we are living in the most enlightened times however we are certainly more aware as a society that these myths are just that myths, and the research on sexual assaults, show that factors such as the clothing of the victim were minor/irrelevant factors in the assault. However there has also been an accompanying shift in the idea that women should be allowed to act and behave how they want, and not expect there to be negative consequences to their actions. The key term is “should be”, and I agree with that. Anyone regardless of their gender, race, creed and color “should be” able to act and behave freely as they want without suffering negative consequences however this doesn’t mean that they “can”. I should be able to feel free to walk into any bar or pub in town and have a drink without fear, yet there will be bars and pubs that as a white Jewish guy I’m better staying away from. Don’t get me wrong I’m not now making the case that there should be a movement created for short, white, Jewish guys to drink in any bar they want, and equate this with the Feminist movement, however the point is that there are things we are probably best not doing, even if we should have the right to do them.
Chrissie Hynde said about her rapists, “you can’t f*** around with people who wear I heart rape”, patches. I would love to live in a world where people didn’t profess this sentiment and/or felt the need to advertise it, but I don’t. That’s reality. I would love it if many university fraternities didn’t hold or express predatory desires towards women, and didn’t feel it was acceptable to hang up banners outside their frat houses that said, “Drop your freshman daughter of here…and her mom too.” I can get depressed and outraged at this culture, however it doesn’t make anybody safer, or reduce the chances of someone becoming the victim of a sexual assault. Yes the culture is wrong, and to a greater or lesser extent, it will always be wrong. There will always be Hell’s Angels and similar gangs, as well as fraternities and groups who don’t respect women sexually (or at all), and Chrissie Hynde gets that. It may be hard to accept, and it may seem to diminish some of the progress that the Feminist movement has gained in turns of female equality, but there will always be men, and groups of men, who see rape and sexual assault as acceptable. It is irresponsible to advocate that women should behave and act how they want without accepting that they may be assaulted; this isn’t right or fair but it is realistic. I may argue with some of the things that Ms Hynde thinks will get women targeted but I agree with her general message.
Are victims of sexual assault to blame? No. Might they have made bad choices or taken decisions that could have facilitated these assaults? Yes e.g. turning up high as the lone women at a Hell’s Angels clubhouse, when a female companion advised you otherwise. It seems that are society is more concerned with being right than being effective, that because you should be able to, you can. This is a dangerous and unrealistic message to send out to young women. Whilst it may seem to offer them a sense of empowerment, it is also telling them to ignore warning signs, and forget their fears – and some fears are positive, as they keep us from danger. Chrissie Hynde describes an extreme situation, and may be trying to take control of what happened to her, in order to lessen the traumatic effects of her assault, however she acknowledges the bad choices that got her there, and takes ownership of them. Do I believe she was to blame? No. Did she facilitate her assailants? Yes. If young women can understand that just by having the right to act and behave how they want, it doesn’t mean they should, Chrissie Hynde’s message is a positive one.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 1st Sep)
On Saturday a worker at P.F. Changs in Peabody stabbed a colleague in the back as they worked in the kitchen. The previous week two journalists were shot by an ex-colleague whilst on air in Virginia. Both examples of workplace violence, in two very different work environments – one blue collar, one white collar. Whilst workplace violence resulting in fatalities are statistically rare, they demonstrate that despite our individual best efforts to avoid violence, there are situations where we may be forced to share space with individuals who possess harmful intent towards both us and/or the organizations/groups we belong to. The two incidents of violence cited, illustrate some very different components and motivations, which show how complex and involved the subject of workplace violence is.
Both parties involved had a history of failing to deal with their anger issues; Jaquan Huston, the chef who stabbed his co-worker at P.F. Changs was due to start an anger management course in a few days. Vester Lee Flanagan II (Bryce Williams was the on-air name he used), was a reporter who had been fired two years previously, from the station at which his victims worked. He had a work history in the TV industry, which showed that he rarely stayed more than a couple of years at any one station or company – often leaving on bad terms, and suing his former employers, and/or emotionally exploding during termination interviews. If viewed individually each incident could be explained as a one-off, however if viewed collectively, a pattern can be seen. The problem is that when a company hires such an individual they aren’t looking at their resume as reflecting a potential pattern of aggressive and violent incidents but instead look on each change of job from the perspective of the candidate’s professional career e.g. did they change jobs or leave a job because it wasn’t challenging enough or because they wanted to progress their career in another direction, not because they were let go after a couple of years because nobody could or wanted to work with them etc.
It’s unlikely if references were checked, before or after interview, that anyone asked questions concerning personal safety issues. More than likely the questions asked related to their ability to perform the job i.e. were they a good reporter, and by some accounts he was. The News Director at San Diego 6, reported that “He was a good on-air performer, a pretty good reporter.” If somebody was looking for a reference concerning his abilities to do the job, that’s not a bad reference to have, and of course that’s what the focus of any job interview is – the ability to do the job. It’s extremely difficult for an employer to get a complete and accurate overview of a prospective employee’s sociability and ability to fit in to a workplace environment; individuals who suffer from anger-management issues may be the greatest and most fun to be with individuals, until something causes them to get angry. It is likely that either Vester Lee Flanagan, or Jaquan Huston presented themselves at interview, in a way that made them seem like the ideal candidates for the job.
This inability for information that could be used to predict violence to be passed on from employer to employer, is something that also happens in the school system, and allows for potential school shooters to go through the system unnoticed, even though there are predictive indicators that show that they are emotionally unstable and psychologically volatile. After the Columbine shootings, many teachers referred to incidents, pieces of artwork, and essays that the shooters had written and completed, which had disturbed them and given them cause for concern, during their time at the school. The problem was that when they moved up a year, this information wasn’t passed on to their new teachers – each one was getting a snapshot, rather than a history of their behaviors. After the event, it was easy to collect all the pieces of evidence together and gain a complete picture of these troubled individuals, however each new school year they effectively started with a clean slate. When this is coupled with a strong dose of denial e.g. school shootings happen at other schools not this one etc. any predictors that may be evident are discounted or denied. Schools unlike different employers do have a chance to join the dots and see patterns in a person’s behavior, however this information has to be collected, collated, shared and passed on so that patterns can be identified, and intervention can occur.
If references were taken seriously and followed up, and the right questions asked, a similar history could be gleaned by prospective employers, however much of this would rely on other employers doing the same thing (and references having to include the candidates last employer). If when following up on employment references an employer asks about the references that were used for that individual to get their previous job, such information could have the ability to be passed on. If all employers asked questions concerning personal safety, then a person’s character may be better judged. If in an interview a candidate is asked to give examples about the types of situations that anger and upset them, then a clearer picture of their character and behaviors may be gleaned; people with underlying anger issues are usually very quick to give examples and will talk at length about the injustices they have experienced from previous employers. Vester Lee Flanagan, believed whether rightly or wrongly that he was discriminated against for being black. A potential employer who asked him about those things which upset and angered him would probably have been provided with numerous examples of injustices and the way he dealt with them, if only they had added a “personal safety” component to their interview process.
Stabbing someone requires an assailant to be in an extreme emotional place as well as perceiving they have no alternatives but to act in this – Huston felt justified in stabbing his victim, telling his mother that he was threatened and ‘did what he had to do’. Asking a candidate to provide examples of what they would do in situations where there were disputes or disagreements, will quickly show which individuals can come up with a number of alternatives that could solve a dispute, and those who fixate on being right and avoiding blame. This section of an interview does not have to be long, but it should take place, if we are to avoid such situations in the future.
In both Vester Lee Flanagan and Jaquan Huston’s lives and careers there were signs and signals that these individuals had difficulty dealing with their emotions, however neither of the employers got to see the full picture of this, until it was too late – to what extent they tried is unknown. Would both of these individuals have gone on to commit acts of violence, had their respective companies refused to hire them, possibly/probably, however both companies would have at least taken seriously their responsibilities to create a safe working environment for their employees – and ultimately this is something that every company should do.
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