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Krav Maga Yashir Books
By Gershon Ben Keren


In 2013, Gershon Ben Keren, was approached by Tuttle Publishing to write a book on Krav Maga, and the Krav Maga Yashir system. The book was published in 2014, and has been reviewed by and critically acclaimed by journals such as the U.S. Military Review, along with military professionals and leaders in the security industry. The book is not just about Krav Maga, but explains how Krav Maga techniques canvas be used and madev to work in real life situations. If you would like to learn more about the book, and read sample chapters please click here.



Krav Maga Google Talk
Gershon Ben Keren


In February 2015, Gershon Ben Keren was invited to Google as part of Google's Author Talk series, to talk about personal safety, security and Krav Maga. To see the talk please click here



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Gershon Ben Keren


Krav Maga Blog

Krav Maga, Self Defense & Personal Safety


Gershon Ben Keren (Head of System for Krav Maga Yashir)started writing his blog in 2012, updating it weekly (and sometimes more frequently depending on events in the news, questions raised in classes, points brought up in seminars etc). Since then he has written 354 articles about personal safety, self-defense and krav maga. These have included articles on sexual assault, home security, street robberies, improvised weapons, school and adult bullying, situational awareness, CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) etc. There are few areas of aggression, violence and personal safety, that he hasn't covered or touched upon.

The last four blog articles, that have been published, are displayed below. If you would like to visit the main blog site to read other articles, you can click on any of the months listed in the right hand side bar, or click here to go to www.kravmagablog.com.


Using The Environment To Your Advantage

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 12th Feb)

A line that I use a lot when talking about real-life conflicts is, “violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum”. This is something that can easily get forgotten or lost in the training environment, where you might be practicing techniques and solutions in an open and unobstructed mat space e.g. will you have the space in a real-life confrontation to perform an armbar, or guard sweep, that works well in an open mat space? That’s not to say that such techniques aren’t appropriate or don’t have value, just that we need to understand the contexts in which such techniques and approaches will work, and when and where they won’t. It would be nice to think that all techniques and solutions are universally applicable to all situations, however this is not always the case, and one factor that can affect the appropriateness of a particular technique is the environment – have you room and space to perform it? Is the surface you are on level enough to allow you to perform it? etc. Whilst the environment can restrict and limit our options, it can also create and present “new” solutions to us, such as providing us with improvised weapons that we can use to help increase/up our survival options. However, we can also use it in other ways; by putting ourselves in a position which restricts our assailant’s movement, or using objects as barriers and obstacles to slow down/prevent and attacker’s access to us etc.


One of the issues that we often face when dealing with social/spontaneous aggression, is that when do we draw a line, and make it clear to the other party that we regard the situation as a conflict; this may escalate it into a violent altercation. In the initial phases of a dispute or disagreement with somebody, the other person’s emotional state might be “edgy”, rather than overtly aggressive. This would not be the time to shout, “Get Back!” and adopt any semblance of a fighting stance; as this would simply escalate the situation and take it in a direction, that it probably didn’t need taking, however at the same time we may want to do something discrete, that starts setting things in our favor, should it go physical. Many years ago, I was drinking in a pub with some friends, at a table, when a drunk man bumped into me, and spilt some of a drink he was carrying – I was seated and stationary at the time. Immediately, he became aggressive and started to blame me for knocking into him. In any situation where you are seated, and something like this happens, you need to stand up; one, it puts you in a better position should things go physical, and two, it prevents the other person from dominating you, by standing over you (if they’re able to do this, they may conclude/convince themselves that they have a greater ability than you to act physically). I stand at 5’6”, so I’m not a physically imposing individual, and anything I can use as an “equalizer” I’ll take. As I stood up, I turned the chair I was sitting on, so that the seat was pretty much level with my aggressor’s knees – I held on to the back and rooted it to that spot. If they wanted to throw a punch, or try and make a grab at me, they’d have to do it over the chair. From this position, I was able to look fairly casual – as if I was having a normal conversation – as I went through my de-escalation process. The chair was not a substantial barrier, but it would have hampered their ability to make an attack, and in some cases, this is all that it is needed for an aggressor to question their ability, especially if their strategy relies solely on getting in the “cheap shot”. Of course, if things had kicked off, the chair could have been picked up and used as an improvised weapon.


Moving furniture, such as tables and chairs, to impede an attacker’s advance towards you, and help create the time to make your disengagement is a good and productive use of your environment. Often, when we are looking for self-defense/self-protection solutions, we are looking for the “silver bullet”, that will deal with everything, and solve the problem we are facing: we want one simple thing to do, that will make everything right. Most real-life situations, are solved bit-by-bit, by doing several things, which may not be significant on their own, when added up, create the solution. Stepping back, and pulling chairs and other objects in front of you, as you disengage is not going to stop your attacker indefinitely i.e. they can move these objects out of the way, just as you were able to move them into their path etc. but it will give you a millisecond here and a millisecond there, which when added together, can help facilitate your escape. 


In Active Shooter/Killer scenarios one solution, which may be available to you (and suitable to your situation), is to to barricade yourself in a room, piling tables, chairs, and other pieces of furniture up against the door. Will such a barricade ultimately, prevent a shooter from getting to you? Maybe not, but most will be unwilling to spend the time trying, when there are probably easier and more vulnerable targets to be had. Active Killers, are on the clock to kill as many people as they can, in the shortest possible time (before those who are capable of stopping them enter the scene), with the goal of exceeding the number of fatalities achieved by prior shooters. When students in room 205 of Norris Hall barricaded the door against the Virginia Tech Shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, preventing him access, he eventually gave up trying to break the door down, and went looking for easier targets. This strategy was replicated by students at UCLA in 2016, to prevent active killer, Mainak Sarkar - a disgruntled PHD student - from gaining access to them. These are not isolated incidents, neither did they involve “trained” and “informed” individuals. These were persons who saw the importance of using that which was in their environment to increase their survival chances.      


I’ll often describe myself when I provide corporate services as a “Professional Coward” – it’s the job description I use. Although at first glance it may just appear a self-deprecatory remark, it actively describes who I am, what I do, and what I teach. All violence comes at a cost to those involved, even if at the end of the event you deem yourself to be the successful party. If there is a chance to disengage, take it. If you can slow things down to facilitate your disengagement, do so. I have learnt over the years that few violent situations can be dealt with in one go, and that most have several stages and phases that you must work through – even if this involves setting things up to make a “conclusive” strike (which in reality is rarely conclusive) or disengaging at the earliest opportunity. Knowing how to use the environment to increase your chances is a key survival skill.


 


 


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Working The Pre-Conflict Phase

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 5th Feb)

From my experiences, and those of other security professionals I’ve worked with, and supported by the research I engage in, most fights and incidents of social/spontaneous violence start face-to-face, and are preceded by some form of verbal communication; this may involve direct threats, or involve dialogue where the harmful intent is hidden or disguised. What we do and say, along with how we act and behave, is crucial during this Pre-Conflict Phase. In this article, I want to talk about what to look for, with regards to warning signs and imminent Pre-Violence Indicators (PVI’s), along with how and where to position yourself, and what to do with your hands. Your success in this phase of the conflict, largely determines your success in the next phase; if/when the altercation becomes physical. Whilst we may train from a position of unpreparedness, this should not be a state that we want to find ourselves in, and the earlier we can recognize the presence of danger, the more options we will have; both physical and non-physical. I have written about many of these things before, but in this article I am presenting them as a series of steps to follow.


Step-1: Control range and distance. I’ve written a lot about the importance of range control, but it is always worth mentioning and re-emphasizing it again. If you let somebody get to close to you, the chances are that their action, will always beat your reaction, even if you are in a state of readiness. In most instances, even when prepared, their movement will “surprise” you, even if that surprise is only momentarily; and if the attack involves a knife that means you’re getting stabbed to some degree – even if you are able to get your arm out to make some semblance of a block, that makes contact with your attacker’s arm, it’s probably not going to stop the knife completely (and at this range, forget about any form of simultaneous block and strike). To control range, check that when your eyes are on the center of your aggressor’s chest, you can see their forward foot, and a sliver of ground in front of it, using your peripheral vision. This should keep you at a natural distance for talking/communicating with your aggressor but will force them to have to move their body forward to make an attack; a much bigger movement to respond to than an arm swinging in to punch or stab/slash you.


Step-2: Control the “space” between you and your aggressor. I talk with my hands a lot, when dealing with aggressive and potentially violent people, using either a “static” or an “active” defense with my arms/hands. This sees me, extending my arms and putting my hands out in front of me. Sometimes, I gesticulate with them, “talking” with my hands (an active/moving defense), sometimes I have them out statically in a more passive and placatory manner, and other times they are extended more emphatically, with the palms out facing the aggressor, communicating a message of “stop”; both being more static defenses. How I position my hands is usually based on the level of aggression that is being displayed e.g. if it is fairly low-level, and I’m confident that it’s a situation that can be de-escalated, I will be more casual in my hand and arm movements as I “talk” with them, than if I’m dealing with somebody who looks like they are getting ready to cross a boundary. I may also be more active, moving my hands as I talk, if I’m preparing to make some form of pre-emptive strike; with the hands already moving, I am much more likely to get past an assailant’s flinch response, than if they suddenly start to move from a static position. One of the main purposes of having my hands out in front of me is to control/occupy the space directly in front of me, so that I can maintain my control of range.


Step-3: Step back. Whilst this is often necessary in order to control range, it is also an important action that will help you/your attorney present the incident in your favor, should the situation turn physical, and you find yourself involved in a criminal and/or civil case. For the conditions of assault to be met, you must fear for your safety, and your assailant must put themselves in a position where they can cause you harm – for an assault to take place, there doesn’t have to be any actual contact (when that occurs the assailant will have committed an assault and/with battery). If you step back, your aggressor has to actively move themselves to a position where they can cause you harm – should they wish to physically engage with you. At this point, you are permitted to strike/attack pre-emptively. By stepping back, you are demonstrating – to any witnesses – that you are moving away from the conflict i.e. you are not the aggressor, and if the other person moves in (and you have reason to fear for your safety), it is clear that they are acting in the role of aggressor. Even when I command people to “Back Off!”, I do so as I move back, in order to set these conditions, and ensure that it is clear who the aggressor is. If it looks like things are going to get physical, now is not the time to demonstrate your assertiveness, and try and force the other person to back away – if you command somebody to “Back Away” and they don’t follow your order, what is your next move/step? To hit them? If this were the case they/their attorney may be able to successfully argue, that you were the party that was guilty of assault and battery i.e. they had reason to fear for their safety, and you put yourself in a position to cause them physical harm, and then preceded to do so.


Step-4: Move slightly offline. Don’t stand directly in front off your aggressor. Your movement should be subtle enough that they don’t feel the need to turn, in order to face you, as you talk. However, it should mean that they will be forced to turn/rotate slightly if/when they make an attack. You’re maybe only gaining a millisecond of time here when they do attack, but every bit helps and adds up, improving your chances of making a successful defense. Generally, I’ll shuffle slightly to my right, away from their right hand/arm. I work off the premise that most people are right-handed, and so that’s the hand/arm that they’ll use to attack with – and I want it to travel the greatest distance to reach me (it is also likely that it will be slowing down and reducing in power, as it would have been timed to hit me, had I been directly in front of my attacker). Oftentimes, an assailant will give you a clue as to the hand they are going to use, because they will step back with the same side leg, and load weight on to it – this allows them to shift weight forward, to help generate power, when they make their attack. If somebody shifts weight on to the left in this manner, I’ll assume they are left-handed, and move slightly off-line to my left, away from their hand. All the time, I am checking for other signs, such as target-glancing, and scanning (you’ll be surprised at how many people look/glance away, and back at you when they’re planning to make an attack), which may indicate their readiness to punch/strike/stab/slash/grab etc.


Step-5: Keep your plan simple enough, to allow yourself to be decisive. I’m a strong believer in the effectiveness of pre-emptive striking. My “regular” plan, is to move back, and when/if my aggressor steps forward, committing an assault, to be the one who strikes first; because situations determine solutions this isn’t a hard and fast plan, but simply the one I generally default to. When I strike, I have only one thing in mind: getting a hand in to my attacker’s face. This is actually my “self-defense” plan in just about every situation; get a hand into my assailant’s face, and then let my training take over. Trying to think two, three moves ahead is impossible in a real-life encounter. This is due in large part to the fact that you can never predict your attacker’s response(s) to what you do. When he played IBM’s Big Blue Computer, Chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov, stated that he only ever calculated (and was only capable of), one or two moves ahead at a time, from there he was simply responding to the situation and letting his years of experience and knowledge intuitively guide him. In contrast, the computer – and a team of programmers – calculated all of the possibilities to the millions of iterations and possibilities as a result of each move, and at the end of the day, lost. A real-life violent encounter is far more stressful than a chess match (whatever the stakes), and two moves ahead, is usually too much to think about. Keep it simple and have a go-to starting move. For me, it’s the hand in the face, to disrupt my attacker - after that, my training – my time sparring, my work on the pads etc. – leads me. Everything I do, is to ultimately facilitate safe disengagement at the first opportunity; this goal also helps me avoid the risk of using excessive force (i.e. I do only what’s necessary to give me the opportunity to get away safely).


Obviously, some of these steps happen simultaneously, rather than sequentially, however laying them out in this fashion, allows me to have a checklist of things that I need to do, if involved in some form of spontaneous social violence. It also gives me something to focus on, and have a plan that I’m working to, which is one of the ways I control my fear, and prevent my overall response from being one of panic. Having something to do in that moment, is better than trying to work out what you should do. In terms of what to say, and when and how to de-escalate a situation, use the website’s search function to look for articles on “de-escalation”. Any de-escalation process you employ should be done whilst following these steps.


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Pushes: How To Defend Against Them & How To Use Them

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 29th Jan)

When it comes to looking at the most common attacks we are likely to face, there really are no reliable statistics to go on. A small UK police force, once collected this data over a short period of time, and presented a list of the top 10 most common “street” attacks, however this was a fairly crude piece of analysis and left many unanswered questions e.g. were the attacks evenly split, or did the top three (for example), account for 90% of the attacks? Was there a regional bias? What about unreported attacks and assaults – would these have skewed the data in a different way? Were there “biases” that could affect the order, such as when the attacker was a stranger, or when it was somebody known? These are some of the issues with presenting data in such a simplistic manner, even when it comes from the “field” and is reliably gathered. In most instances, an instructor’s ideas around common attacks, is based on their experience (if they have any), and the experiences of others they have talked and conferred with etc.


The problem with experience, is that it is by nature limited e.g. I have worked door and bar security, and have seen a lot of fights, but I have seen them in the context, of a bar/pub, when people are crowded together and usually drunk. Whilst my experience is valid in that context, it is not directly applicable in others, such as attacks that occur in the home etc. So, to get an idea of the most common methods of attack, we need to combine anecdotal evidence, our own experiences and whatever research exists, and accept that this may be limited to geography, gender, age, relationship statuses and any number of other demographics etc. When I tell you, that some of the most common attack methods, I and (others who I have worked with) have seen, and which some “statistics” and other pieces of research (including that done by the aforementioned UK police force), possibly confirm, involves pushes and grabs (usually clothing), take it with a pinch of salt, and recognize that these may not represent the most common types of attack that you are likely to experience, and may be restricted to certain contexts and situations.


Pushing – and taking a person’s balance – is an extremely effective way of putting somebody in an extremely disadvantageous position, which sets them up nicely for being punched. This is something that was pretty common, in the pubs and bars I worked in, where the conflict involved two men – it was usually preceded by some argument/verbal altercation, and possibly a couple of “light” (but escalating, in force) two-handed pushes; often used to test the other person’s response. All of this – and this is important to note when training defenses against pushes – happens at close range. A person would generally feel the push, rather than see it. This was partly due to the fact that they’d be looking at the other person’s eyes, which is natural when conversing, and not watching their hands, and partly because they were too close to see their hands come up. The simplest defense to avoid/prevent being pushed, whether it’s one-handed, or two-handed, is to step back, and control range i.e. I’ve never seen anybody run at somebody to make a push, when facing them (I have seen people do this from the rear); it’s just too telegraphed an attack. Stepping back, and putting your hands up, and out, in a placating manner, means that your aggressor needs to either knock your hands away, or find another way to gain access to you. If you miss the opportunity to do this, and somebody goes to push you, it’s likely that the first thing you are aware of is your attacker’s hands on your chest – and if you are training to deal with such attacks, this is where your partner should start their push from.


Most attacks, where social violence is concerned, is going to be initiated at this or a similar range, with you and your attacker being nose-to-nose. Your first job, in such conflict is to step back, put distance between you and them, and begin to control range, and alter your positioning, so you aren’t standing directly in front of them – your movement off-line should be discrete and not so noticeable that your aggressor will feel the need to realign their body with yours; the time they will find/realize that they need to do this, is if they were to make a physical attack, such as a push. Setting yourself up, to be able to control range and body positioning, in the pre-conflict phase of an altercation, is key to making your Krav Maga/Self-Defense effective.  


Just as we should recognize how effective a push against us can be, in terms of disorientating us, and allowing our attacker to control the range/distance between us, we should also understand how pushes can be used to our advantage – when/where appropriate. When I spar, I use pushes quite a lot, especially to set up low roundhouse kicks. It allows me to move somebody back to a range/distance I am comfortable with, it upsets their balance, so they are not able to both recognize the attack, and form a defense against it, and because they normally try to root, as part of their process to regain balance, their leg absorbs all the power of the kick. Does it work well against people who are significantly bigger and heavier than me? Not particularly, and I don’t use it then i.e. different tools for different jobs. Although sparring doesn’t fully represent a real-life fight, there are moments when it does, or can, and we should take those lessons learnt and appropriate them for reality. Pushing an assailant isn’t particularly clever, and may not demonstrate our technical prowess, but it can be extremely effective at putting an attacker in a disadvantageous position that we can exploit – and we shouldn’t think that it is something, which is beneath our dignity to use and employ. What works well for the untrained individual, should work well for the trained individual as well.


Training to defend against pushes, both one and two-handed, may not be the most “exciting” or “sexy” part of our training, but it is necessary. Once your balance is taken, you are extremely vulnerable, and your chances of defending yourself in that moment, is almost impossible. If somebody is able to land a solid punch, as you fall/move backwards, and continue striking you, you may find it extremely difficult to get back in the game; both mentally and physically. Preventing that push, should be one of the priorities of our training.


 


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Slow In Fast Out

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 22nd Jan)

On Friday, I gave a training session to one of our corporate clients on transport security e.g. how to safely navigate subways, bus terminals, parking lots, and similar. One of the subject areas I covered was pickpockets, and as part of my presentation included CCTV footage of some at “work”, as they committed their crimes. Whenever I show this type of footage, people are amazed at the speed and audacity of these criminals, and often ask for me to rewind and show the footage again; because even though they knew, who and what they were looking at, the actual moment of execution was so fast, it was almost missed. This is often the case, when dealing with predatory individuals, who are skilled and operating to a plan – a plan that often takes into account their target’s reduced state of awareness. If you’ve ever witnessed a pre-meditated knife attack, where the assailant approaches their victim, already possessed with the intent to stab/shank them, the actual moment of the attack is as fast as lightning (something that rarely gets accurately replicated in the training environment). However, if you watch a knife attacker, or a pickpocket, synchronize their movement with a target, and close the distance between them, the process is glacial by comparison – only the lifting of the purse/wallet or the knife attack itself has a sense of urgency and immediacy about it – the preparation takes time.


One of the phrases that stays with me from a Tactical Driving Course I attended many, many years ago was, “Slow in, fast out” i.e. you approach a hazard/danger with caution, and once past/through it, you get away from it as fast as you can. This is how many predatory individuals plan their actions. A pickpocket will spend a long time observing, approaching, and positioning themselves, but their execution and disengagement happen at speed – a pre-planned knife attack is the same; there’s no rush in getting to the victim, but once in range the attack occurs at full speed, usually with a similarly speedy disengagement based on the situation and circumstances. To be successful in dealing with either of these criminal activities, it isn’t techniques that will save you, it’s an understanding and awareness of what’s happening before the criminal makes contact with you – in most cases, even with training, at the moment of attack, you will not be aware of, or quick enough, to deal with the criminal; the crime/attack will have been committed before you have time to even register it. 99.9% of the time, action will beat reaction – and when the assailant has a plan of action, we might as well say it’s 100%.


Pickpockets usually only take the effort to disguise the moment they “dip” into somebody’s bag or pocket. Up until that moment, they are often fairly blatant about what they are doing e.g. walking extremely close to the person they’ve marked, covering a target’s bag with a newspaper they are holding, or a coat that is over their arm, etc. They may even deliberately bump into somebody (using the motion of a bus or train as an excuse), in order to initially feel where a wallet/purse is being held. The CCTV footage I have collected over the years, shows both the lack of subtlety in the “approach” phase of their crimes, and the lack of awareness of the individuals they are targeting e.g. I have several clips of pickpockets pushing the wallet up out of the back trouser pockets, of people in front of them on escalators, so that it is easier for them to grab/extricate; they’ll often wait for the person to make a reassuring tap on their back pocket to check that the wallet is still there, before they make the lift/dip. Pickpockets are not alone amongst predators, in giving us plenty of warning signs, that indicate and demonstrate their harmful intent towards us. Unfortunately, we often discount these warning signs away, rather than taking them seriously.


Several years ago, a man had his buttocks slashed whilst he watched the Notting Hill Carnival, in London. One of the attackers filmed it, and the footage made its way to the major TV Networks. As a Self-Defense/Krav Maga instructor teaching in London at the time, I, like many other instructors became pretty much obsessed with finding solutions to such attacks i.e. when you are attacked with a knife from behind. However, the dirty little secret about real-life knife attacks, is that most people are as unaware about being slashed and stabbed, when the attack comes from the front, as they are when it comes from the rear; in both cases it is largely unseen, with orientation meaning little in the initial moments of the attack. As instructors we can get caught up in arguing which system’s techniques are better at dealing with knife attacks, whilst forgetting that most people, whether trained or untrained, will be stabbed/slashed multiple times before they even get to the point where they can respond; and yes, I include techniques and systems based on natural reflexes and responses, such as the one I teach (such things will only get you so far, and have a limit on their effectiveness).


Watching and studying pickpockets allows us to see how obvious their approach and positioning is; a quick search on YouTube, will demonstrate how clearly identifiable their process, approach, and positioning is – you will be amazed at how obvious their tactics are. However, the difference between you, watching it unfold from the outside, and the target, is that you have the opportunity to see what is going on; the person looking at their phone, walking looking straight ahead, or reading a newspaper etc., doesn’t. However, that is a choice they have made.  The signs, the signals, are all there, clear as day. Physical attacks, whether armed or unarmed, are no different. There are always Pre-Violence Indicators (PVI’s), and often these are as obvious as the ones that Pickpockets display. Without picking up/identifying these, your techniques have limited value, and the likelihood that you will sustain multiple stab wounds, or take multiple strikes and punches is extremely high. I say it all the time, Self-Defense/Krav Maga/Martial Arts, on their own rarely work, because they need awareness and preparation to allow them to have the edge/advantage. If you don’t believe that crime – including violence – that targets the individual isn’t predictable, take a look at pickpockets in action, and then compare their actions leading up to the execution of the crime, to physically violent predators.  


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