Gershon Ben Keren started writing his self-defense and personal safety blog in 2012, since then he has published weekly (and sometimes more frequently), 337 articles on self-protection, crime prevention, target-hardening, and other areas of personal safety. Below are the last 5 articles of the blog. If you would like to read more, please visit his blog site by clicking here.

Acid Attacks

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 17th Oct)

I was recently asked by somebody working in the UK, about acid attacks e.g. how to predict, identify, avoid, and deal with them etc. To give an idea of the extent and prevalence of such assaults, this July two teenagers on a moped in London, carried out five acid attacks, in the space of 90-minutes – racing around and selecting victims at random. These types of attacks are on the rise in UK, and in London specifically - where more than half of all attacks with corrosive substances in the UK take place (there were over 450 reported attacks of this type in 2016). Even in London, such attacks aren’t evenly spread, with the borough of Newham (in East London), having three times as many attacks, as the second highest borough for such assaults – location and geography are key situational factors in any crime, something I have written about in more detail, in previous articles.

The rise in acid attacks, may be partly due to the work that has gone into dealing with knife crime. This is not to say that the UK, and London, has solved its problems with knife attacks (Between April and June of this year – a three-month period - there was a total of 5,237 knife possession offenses recorded in the UK), however a two-strike rule, introduced in 2015, in which minimum custodial sentences were set for those who were convicted of a second offense, may have made carrying a blade a less attractive proposition than it once was. With the UK Ministry of Justice still getting to grips with the sentencing terms for acid attacks, and not yet having legislation in place concerning the legalities and illegalities of possession of acid and corrosive liquids, acid may be at this moment in time a preferred weapon of choice for many criminals and gang members.

In many ways it is a more predictable weapon than a knife or a gun. There is a much higher chance of someone dying from a stab wound or gun shot, than there is from an acid attack, meaning that an assault that was just meant to punish, injure or maim somebody could lead to a fatality, and as a consequence, a higher sentence if caught. It is one of the reasons that Stanley Blades, Box Cutters and Razors, have been popular in Glasgow (where I grew up), as they would maim, and leave a visible cut or a stripe, when slashed, but weren’t particularly good stabbing weapons – and stab wounds, by and large, are much more likely to lead to fatalities than slashes (unless major arteries are cut in the process, and a victim bleeds out). During the 80’s and 90’s, many gang members, and teens I knew who carried a knife for “self-defense”, would tape two blades of a box-cutter together, with something that acted as a spacer in between them, so a “double stripe” – that was extremely difficult to stitch up - would be left. We should never doubt the ingenuity, resourcefulness and creativity of violent criminals, and a shift from knives and guns to acid, reflects this; if you legislate and crack-down in one area, another method of inflicting pain, and injury, and of maiming, will be found.

Another advantage that acid has over a knife or a gun, is that a criminal or predator can have their weapon out and on display as they talk to/interview their target. This means that they don’t have to reach for it, draw it, and make it operational, before it is used. Somebody intending to attack you with acid, can stand with an open water bottle, containing the corrosive liquid, and talk to you, without you being aware that they have a weapon, “drawn” and ready in their hand. The other advantage that acid has over a knife, is that it can be used at a greater distance. When working, I would always maintain a certain distance between myself and anyone who acted and behaved in a manner that might indicate they had harmful intent towards me, and anyone else I had a responsibility towards – I needed this distance so I could see their hands, and also have time and space to react and respond, if they were to pull a weapon. It’s important to note that this wasn’t a lot of space; close enough that I could carry on a conversation with someone, without them feeling the need to step closer, but enough that I had a chance of responding to any attack they might make. With an acid attack, the assailant doesn’t have to move in (a pre-attack cue), but can throw their liquid from where they stand, or even as they’re moving away. This makes physically intercepting and preventing an attack, extremely problematic, with the space created only serving one purpose, and that is to give you the time to turn away, and cover your face – the likelihood being that you’ll still be hit, but hopefully on your arms, back of head, rather than your face.

Having an awareness, of anyone with an open bottle in their hand – especially one which they’re not drinking from – and not discounting the fact that it could contain a corrosive liquid, is your best safety guide. Upping your awareness, when you are in locations where such attacks are prevalent, is also important; whilst you should never be switched off in any location, raising your awareness in others, where a certain threat is known to be prevalent is key. In many acid attacks, multiple assailants are present, and mopeds and scooters are often used – groups of young men, and pillion passengers on bikes, are things that should attract your interest.  If you are involved in any verbal altercation, with someone who has an open container, acting pre-emptively and disengaging quickly will be in many cases your best strategy – if you don’t have an option of initially disengaging and exiting the situation.

Acid attacks also demonstrate the need for first-aid skills, and knowing how to treat yourself and others as quickly as possible. It always surprises me, the number of people who practice reality-based self-defense and yet have no first-aid skills. If you train defenses against knife and gun, you should also train how to deal with stab and gunshot wounds. Being able to stop or slow down the bleeding so that you are still alive by the time you get to the hospital, improves your survival chances greatly – in many instances it will be quicker to get to the ER/Casualty yourself (with somebody else driving), than waiting for an ambulance. Having a bottle of water on you at all times, and knowing how to treat yourself or someone else (or be able to instruct another person what to do) if attacked, will lessen the effects of such an attack greatly.

Share on Facebook

Active Killer Emotions & Motivations

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 9th Oct)

This is not an article on the recent Las Vegas shooting tragedy, but rather a piece that looks at the motivations and emotions that different killers have exhibited, as drivers behind their mass murders. This is not to justify their killings, or show sympathy towards them, but rather to try and understand what drives an individual to not just have the desire to kill on mass, but why it seems necessary for them to do so. Whilst I am sure that in both the fantasy and planning/preparation stages, a potential killer has doubts that they must overcome, by the time they come to execute their plan they will have convinced themselves that what they are about to do, has to be done. It would be wrong to try and search for a “rational motive” in any mass killing/active shooter incident, because there never is one, however to the killer there is always a logic (and inevitability) behind their actions, and to them, what they are engaging in makes absolute sense – and above everything else, has to happen.

Killing is born out of fantasy, and the need and justification to kill is fed by fantasy. Eventually, the fantasy will grow to become something all-consuming, and the killer will enter an alternate reality, where they can only make sense of what is going on in the/their world, by looking at things through the lens of the fantasy. Every action and behavior any person, group, government or entity makes, will be understood as it pertains to the fantasy; a fantasy that leads the individual to one inevitable conclusion, that they must kill others.

Feelings are the conscious interpretation of emotions, and are what fantasies are based on e.g. a feeling/sense of injustice, may lead to a desire for retribution and punishment, that develops into a fantasy that involves killing others. Fantasies will feed and reinforce feelings and vice versa. In many cases, it may look like a shooter has just snapped, but in reality, they will have had their dark thoughts and fantasies for a relatively long time. Some of these feelings/emotions that past killers have had include: entitlement, injustice, bullying, isolation, anger/hatred and/or a desire to be recognized as a significant individual i.e. fame and notoriety. Rarely will just one feeling/emotion be at play, and it is more likely that an active killer, will have a shifting and complex cocktail of many.   

Many active shooters/killers have a sense of entitlement, as to how they should be seen, how they should be treated, etc., and kill, because they are not recognized by their group or community, as they feel they should be. In 2014, Elliot Rodger killed 6 people and injured 14, before killing himself. Before he went on his rampage, he uploaded a video to Youtube, where he explained and justified his motive. He explained that he wanted to punish women for rejecting him (one of the targets of his shooting was a sorority house), and punish men for being sexually active – he envied those who had active sex lives, when he himself didn’t. Throughout the video, he demonstrates a sense of entitlement, explaining that women were wrong to reject him in favor of others; and that because of this, women are sluts and whores who need to be punished. There is a sense/feeling (though it has no empirical backing), that one of the reasons school shootings are on the rise, is because successive generations are becoming more and more entitled, believing that they deserve to be treated in a particular way – and when this doesn’t happen, they become frustrated and feel a need to punish those who haven’t treated them as they felt they should have been.

Bullying takes many forms, and doesn’t have to involve physical contact. In 1989, Joseph T. Wesbecker went on a killing spree at the Standard Gravure printing works in Kentucky. Wesbecker had started out with the nickname, “Little Doughboy”, but it was later changed to “Rocky”, after he was beaten up in a bar by a woman he’d been hitting on. Wesbecker, wasn’t only ridiculed by his colleagues, he was also involved in a long, running battle with management, who refused to allow him not to work on a machine, which both his doctor and union, had stated was bad for his health – other employees had been excused from these duties on the same grounds. Wesbecker, felt that the whole world was against him; he’d divorced his wife earlier when he found that she’d been sleeping with his co-workers, and he was openly mocked both by them and his supervisors/management. Caleb Sharpe, when he opened fire on his classmates at Freeman High School (Washington), said he did so to “teach everyone a lesson” about bullying. People will turn to violence, when they believe there are no other alternatives to dealing with their situation. This doesn’t mean that they are right to do so, however to themselves this is justification. Both Wesbecker and Sharpe had been bullied for a long period of time, and both came to the same conclusion about how to resolve their situation, and punish those they saw as responsible for it.

Individuals can become isolated for a number of reasons, including bullying, anti-social behaviors, and simply not being able to socially adapt to fit in with those around them. Once someone becomes isolated, they may start to feel that their “rules” of living are more important than those of society. If they feel that society has rejected them, they may feel that they are free to live by their own rules and standards. This is one of the features of the Columbine Shooting, where Eric Harris became enticed by the Nazi ideal of a Master Race, of which he saw himself part (entitlement). Already rejected and isolated, this allowed him to develop a number of dangerous views, ideas and opinions, that weren’t ever going to be challenged by those around him – because his community had effectively cut him off. Isolation can also be self-motivated, with an individual withdrawing from those around them because they don’t feel part of the group or community. Many people suffering from PTSD will withdraw, because they feel/believe that those around them don’t understand what is important and what is insignificant, and what matters and what doesn’t, etc. Feeling that they have no common ground, or shared experiences with anyone, they can withdraw and become isolated. On their own, they may start working to their own alternate reality.

The emotion that drives almost all instances of violence, is anger, and sometimes hatred. There are times when that hatred is directed at the community, as is the case with many school shootings (the school is the hub and focus of the community), and there are times when it is directed at a particular group. This might be an ethnic group, such as the 2015 Charleston Church shooting, that targeted African Americans. Dylan Roof hoped that his mass shooting would inspire other white supremacists and nationalists to start a race war. Both the Pulse Nightclub Shooting (Orlando, 2016) and the London Nail Bombings (London, 1989), specifically targeted those cities Gay communities, and were acts of hatred. The 2017 vehicular ramming in London, at the Finsbury Park Mosque, was an act of terrorism that specifically targeted Muslims. Not every target/location chosen has a relevance to a particular group or community – some are simply chosen because they offer the opportunity to kill the most people possible – but many are.

Perhaps the hardest motivation to understand, behind mass shootings, is the desire and need for notoriety; to be infamous. All of us want to be significant and relevant in some way, and want some form of recognition from others – even if that is just to be thought of as a good person or friend, etc. Human beings are social creatures and need to be connected to others in some way. When a mass shooting occurs, for a period of time, everybody knows the killer’s name, is interested in their life, their views, their beliefs, etc. Mass shootings are public events, that occur in front of an audience, and this is extremely important to understand – few, if any killers, given the choice, would prefer to not be in the news and talked about. Mass killers are competitive, each one wanting to kill more victims than those who went before them. They study and select their methods – and their targets – based on their ability to kill the most people possible (in the case of specific groups, where ethnicity, religious belief or sexual preference is the driver – it will be the largest number of victims within these groups based on opportunities presented). Active shooters want to be in the limelight, even if it is posthumously. To a certain extent, these killers are showmen, who want the attention of the world – and this is a large part of their motivation.

A mass killer may have all of these motivations, feelings and emotions present, to different degrees, and at certain times one may have more significance than the others. There will be many arguments about gun control in the coming months, some constructive, some reactionary, etc., however, attention should also be given to understanding why our society produces people with the need and desire to kill on mass, and how we can possibly recognize the warning signs of those who are starting to go down this path. Approximately four out of five mass shooters tell someone of their plans, and if we can understand the emotional and psychological makeup of someone who is serious about what they say, we may have the ability and opportunity – as has happened in many cases – to prevent future killers from executing their plans.

Share on Facebook

Breaking Balance

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 2nd Oct)

If you’ve ever leaned back in a chair, and found yourself on the wrong side of the tipping point, you will have experienced a moment of panic, where your only thoughts and actions would have involved trying to regain your balance. The same will be true if you find yourself slipping on ice, tripping over an object, or losing your footing in some other way. It doesn’t take much to lose your balance. The head weighs about 8 pounds, and doesn’t have to pass too far from over the shoulders and the hips, to take your body out of balance – if this happens rapidly, in an uncontrolled fashion, that feeling of panic, borne out of our natural fear of falling, takes over. We may be able to train our body to respond to this sensation, such as by going with the fall, and making a break-fall, etc., but we can’t switch our thought processes to something else.

When we spar, or are involved in a fight, we can turn our pain management systems on, in order to control our experiences of pain – we can also condition ourselves to reduce the feeling of pain e.g. if you’ve never experienced the trauma caused by a roundhouse kick to the thigh, when it first happens the pain will be excruciating, but after several years of training and conditioning where you’ve experienced this type of pain over and over again, the effect will be lessened – you will know what to expect, and you will have learnt to manage it. If you have to deal with someone in a real-life confrontation, who has experienced many fights before, your striking is not going to have the same effect, as if you were going up against someone who’s never been in a fight. The experienced fighter is going to expect to be hit, and probably won’t care too much about it – the shock and surprise of being punched will have left them a long time ago, and if they’ve been drinking or taking drugs, being punched/kicked, etc., is unlikely to disrupt them. Taking their balance, however, will.

One of the most common initiating attacks I’ve seen, and experienced, is a hard push followed closely by a punch. Even the untrained attacker knows that whilst their target/victim is falling/moving backwards all their attention will be on trying to regain balance, and during this period they will not be in any position to make an adequate defense to the following strike/punch. Most fights are over in seconds, and the person initiating the attack is normally the successful one; if they can keep the other person off-balance and moving, it is unlikely that they will recover enough to both defend themselves adequately and respond with attacks of their own – most will emotionally crumble at this point and take themselves out of the fight. Taking balance is the key in delivering success to this type of assault. As martial artists, we may look down on these unsophisticated tactics, however we must ask ourselves why trained people often fall foul of them, and a large part of that answer is that we can’t train ourselves out of that moment when we first lose our balance. Even if we are experienced Aikidoka and Judoka, who once we recognize it, can respond, we are still vulnerable in that moment – and our focus goes to initiating the break-fall, not dealing with a follow up attack - this extremely short window is what the untrained but seasoned fighter is able to exploit (and we should learn to exploit it as well).

Using simple pushes, that take an assailant’s balance, can also help us position our assailant so that our strike, punch or kick is more effective from a power generation perspective. When pushed, a person will try to regain balance, by centering and attempting to root their weight. When they do this ,their legs become vulnerable to low kicks, as their weight will be loaded firmly on them. This can easily be trained and developed in sparring. A variation of this – that doesn’t involve taking balance – is to push yourself off an attacker, pressing their legs into the ground, as you move back and kick the legs. This is another way to make sure that weight is loaded onto the limb you are attacking.

Taking an attacker’s balance when you are disarming them of a weapon, is a good way to take their attention away from the knife, gun or stick they are holding. Disarming should not be a static process, it should involve moving the person, so that all their attention is directed towards them staying on their feet, and not on retaining their weapon. If this movement can be combined with lower-level combatives, such as knees and kicks, then all the better – arms and hands should be kept, controlling the weapon arm, and weapon. When a person is rag-dolled around like this, they are disorientated and focused on one thing only: regaining their balance. Attacking balance, should be put on the same par, as attacking with strikes and punches, and in reality, is often much more effective at disrupting an assailant’s assault, whether it is armed or unarmed.

Attacking balance is the first thing that should be done when attempting to throw or perform a takedown. Unfortunately, many people still see throwing somebody as an act of “lifting”, which requires strength, and this is not helped when videos and photos, show a throw being attempted on someone whose head is still over their shoulders, and their shoulders positioned over their hips, etc. This is why it is virtually impossible to throw someone who is punching with good form, as unless they are over-committing to the strike, their balance won’t have been disrupted – plus, if they are recoiling the punch, there is little to no chance of taking/grabbing hold of the arm. There are some very, very restricted instances in which throwing someone who is punching is possible, but it relies solely on their movement and them giving up their own balance. Balance taking, makes a throw effortless, because the person is already falling, and only requires being directed. This is a skill which takes time to develop, however it is one that allows a smaller person to overcome a much larger attacker, where there is a significant size and weight disadvantage e.g. a 110 LB individual, will be able to generate more power against a 250 LB person through throwing, than they would through punching/striking.

Balance taking doesn’t have to be as “sophisticated” as throwing, sweeping or reaping, but the tactical advantages it gives should be appreciated and understood. If we recognize that pushes followed by some form of attack, work well for untrained individuals in confrontations, we should look at ways we can incorporate and improve on them, in our own training. An individual is perhaps no more vulnerable when they have lost balance, and this is something we should use to our own advantage.   



Share on Facebook

Different Situations Different Solutions

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 25th Sep)

One of the ways to test security protocols and systems is to run a set of simulations against them to find out and discover their weak points, and the ways in which they can be breached and compromised. Every protocol and system has gaps and vulnerabilities that can be exploited, and running simulations allows you to expose and understand them. Changing a simple variable within a combination can cause a system to fail. Self-defense techniques, methodologies and solutions are no different; change a variable, such as the way a person reacts to a strike/punch, and you can see your solution fail and fall apart; expecting an armbar to cause a break that renders the arm inoperable, and finding that it doesn’t, can severely compromise your solution. There are no certainties in real-life encounters and to assume that there are is an extremely dangerous route to go down. Never assume that a punch is guaranteed to disrupt or damage, or a joint-lock to incapacitate an attacker; this is simplistic thinking that may seem to make sense in the training environment, but has no place outside of it.

I have written before about the importance of training a technique to failure, and understanding its inherent weaknesses, and eventual breaking points – and every technique, regardless of style and system has these. This doesn’t mean the technique is worthless. A punch can be ineffective in disrupting a highly adrenalized, pain resistant (whether due to drugs or natural attributes), and committed attacker, however it would be stupid and incorrect to say that because of this possibility, punching shouldn’t be taught. At the same time, it would be incorrect and simplistic to not recognize this possibility – and either alter a solution when this is realized, or choose a different one from the start if you believe this is/would be the case. Because situations determine solutions, you should never just have one to work to. Running a different set of simulations against a technique will determine what works when under a certain set off conditions. Every technique will work within a limited set of conditions e.g. a certain knife disarm may work if you are dealing with a single attacker, with a certain amount of room, on even terrain, etc. - change one of these components and the technique may no longer be effective.

In the world of safety-testing, simulations are extremely important. You would not want to step foot on a plane that had only been tested and flown in good weather, where all the conditions are set to allow it to fly successfully, unhindered. You want to know that it can cope with adverse conditions as well. A plane has tolerance in certain weather conditions but will fall apart in others; a technique is no different. Understanding the limitations of something is as important as being confident in its abilities, and effectiveness. We should be taking techniques and solutions and running them through different simulations and judging their effectiveness, and weaknesses, so we can understand what works when, where and why. In real-life encounters, we can’t set and/or (often) control the conditions and variables that are present and color the incident, and so we need more than one solution, to what may appear in a sterile training situation, to be the same problem. Sanitized self-defense training is a decent starting point, but continuing to train within a vacuum, where an attacker will only respond in one way, doesn’t reflect the reality of violence.

Not all solutions/techniques are equal. There are solutions that are preferred in one situation, over another. In one situation, it may be preferable to control the weapon, in another, the assailant e.g. in many active shooter incidents, the killer has multiple weapons, and controlling the evident/primary weapon may give them the opportunity to pull their second or backup weapon. When Mark Moogalian tried to wrest the rifle from the gunman during the Thaly’s Train Attack (2016), the shooter pulled a pistol and shot him through the neck. Later in the same incident when three Americans tried to subdue the shooter, they were slashed and cut, as he gave up using his rifle and pistol. There are times when it is advisable to control the attacker, rather than their weapon. Next time you run a “simulation”, change the number of weapons and see if your technique/solution breaks down and either needs to be modified, or another solution chosen. The Thaly’s Train Attack is only one of a number of active killer situations where those tackling the killer found themselves having to deal with a second weapon, after trying to control the first e.g. the Thurston School Shootings in 1998, First Baptist Church Maryville, Illinois Shooting 2009, Pacific University in Seattle Shooting, Washington 2014 etc. In your simulations, when you test your techniques, add a second active weapon – when/where I lived in Glasgow, assailants would tape a knife to each hand/wrist when they went looking for victims (something that the London Bridge terrorists did with their knives in the 2017 attack – preventing the possibility of a disarm), or would attack using a pair of cutthroat razors, etc. In these types of situations, would your current solutions be effective, or would you need to think about altering and changing your approach/methodology?         

When we look/consider all the different situations we may have to face, we need to consider all variables and understand the contexts in which a solution will and won’t work – there isn’t a one size fits all approach. This is what separates and differentiates Krav Maga from many other martial arts e.g. Boxing says that the only way to deal with an attacker is through striking, Judo and Wrestling through grappling, etc. These are linear approaches to self-defense and fighting, and we should not limit ourselves when dealing with real-life violence, to one approach. I have spent many years running simulations for businesses, agencies and enterprises, testing their precautions and preventions to avoid their assets being compromised and exploited, I take the same approach to the physical self-defense I teach.    

Share on Facebook