Posts Tagged ‘critical thinking’

Apply a bit of crazy to crank up your aggression and stop a threat before it stops you. (source)

I regularly encounter the belief that “if I learn Krav Maga it will make me really aggressive, because it’s just about going crazy and fighting.” Not exactly. While aggression and an understanding of how fights work are components of learning Krav Maga, these in themselves are NOT Krav Maga. Remember, Imi Licthendfeld, the founder of “modern” Krav Maga, when asked what its purpose was, said “so one may walk in peace.” Does this sound like the words of someone who wanted people running around being aggressive and messing people up? I think not.

While you certainly cannot learn Krav Maga without learning to attack with purpose and aggresion, if you think you are always going to walk into a Krav Maga class and go 100%, trying to kill each other, you are completely wrong and probably need to spend less time on the internet (or get better sources).

More accurately, Krav Maga teaches you to understand, and respect, the reality of violence, with the additional understanding that times change and so do people. Especially in a modern world in which laws matter and cameras matter, making self-defence more complicated, you need to have a more holistic approach to your Krav Maga.

So let’s expand.

Yes, being aggressive is a fundamental of Krav Maga. However, we aren’t talking about aggression in personality or attitude in everyday life, what we mean is, when forced to, you must attack with everything you have in order to overwhelm the threat, and you don’t stop until the threat is stopped. Though it probably isn’t the original expression Kravists used, we like to sum it up as “crazy beats big.” Or rather, the person willing to do greater violence with greater ferocity (while applying wise tactics) is most likely to win any given fight. We also have to remember that Krav Maga came out of a need for survival in a literal life or death situation. Of course, if you are in a life or death situation with another human then, by all means, have at it; be as aggressive and as violent as you need until the threat is stopped, even if that, unfortunately, means lethal force.

The thing is, unless you are in such a situation (ideally avoided via the first two stages of self-defence), then being so aggressive that they die is going to result in dire consequences legally, emotionally, socially, etc.. The days of going full on in all situations are basically over in most places (at least in the Western World) and the reason is simple: Accountability.

How so? As one of my many teachers Amit Himelstein of IKF said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Guys, it’s the 21st century, Krav Maga can’t be about being insanely aggressive anymore; everyone has cameras or there are cameras everywhere.”

This means that if you are overzealous in your violence somebody probably saw it or it was filmed. Best case scenario it’s on YouTube, worst case scenario you are in jail for the rest of your life (or worse depending on where you are).

The reality is our modern societies have modern laws and modern social standards.

Let’s take Canada for example, our self-defence laws are as such that you may employ “equal force” in the moment to stop a threat. Now, in theory this is simple, but, in practice, when looking at the results in a range of court cases, you might as well flip a coin. Cases I thought were clearly self-defence ended in a guilty verdict, and cases I deemed aggravated assault were came out not guilty.

The truth is the jury process really isn’t about peers, it’s simply about citizens, who, on average, are not experts on use of force and have little understanding of how violence works. That is, sometimes you need to be more violent than onlookers may think; because they aren’t the target of the threat itself and therefore cannot feel the actions or resistance of the aggressor, or grasp what’s going on for you internally.

It means that, in reality, you actually need to be very careful how much force and aggression you use, which can be quite difficult without significant training.

If your default is always be super aggressive and destroy the attacker, (especially for men, even more so larger men) you may find yourself regularly on the wrong side of the law. Even if you, and others, feel you were in the right, based on actual knowledge of use of force and self-defence.

I am going to tell a story about an “alleged” student I once had: They came in and were quite aggressive, to the point that all the instructors and students complained. I asked this student about it and they told me “but Krav Maga is all about aggression and that if they weren’t being aggressive in class then it wasn’t Krav Maga.” This individual is the only person I can recall to whom I’ve had to give a written warning and probation (most people who don’t fit the style of the school just leave on their own.) I told them they had to train safely or they would be out. They kind of disappeared until the probation period was over and came back thinking it was lifted. I guess they didn’t understand how it worked. From what I’ve heard they ended up bouncing around a few Krav Maga schools that I know. One day I got a visit from one of the more serious police squads. It seems this individual may have not have gotten the hint, or may have just been a psycho, and may have stabbed someone a few years later. They claimed they learned it all in Krav Maga and that I taught them to be super aggressive. This claim, of course, was false; they were just unstable and were looking for somewhere to be violent. Which is not Krav Maga, and is certainly not “learning to walk in peace.”

While some people (psychos aside) thrive on aggressive, hard training, and only want to do Krav Maga if it is this, I must constantly remind people that this, in itself, is not Krav Maga, but rather an aspect of it.

If you only want to train because it’s hard, aggressive, and you get to go crazy, then you may in fact be missing the point.

Krav Maga is truly about learning to walk in peace, knowing you are capable of violence, if you must, but that you would rather not, in true warrior fashion. Warriors of old knew this because, once upon a time, it was always life or death, and the wrong encounter would mean your death not theirs. Or worse, a crippling injury with no medical system, which meant your family starved and you died anyway. This, perhaps, is a lesson we have lost, since it’s not all about life or death anymore, but it is one we must never forget.

So, whether it’s because our laws keep us in check, or because the wrong fight means death, just know that aggression is only one part of Krav Maga. It is meant as a tool to counter someone else’s extreme violence, not a state of being or a default.

Use your aggression along with your strategy, your technique, and your control, all while trying to avoid conflict altogether. But know that when fire meets fire, you may have to go full flame on. BUT ONLY IF YOU MUST.

Ask yourself, are you learning to be aggressive and go ham in Krav Maga, or are you actually really learning to walk in peace as Krav Maga was originally intended for?

Written by: Jonathan Fader

For training online visit at www.utkmu.com. If you are in the Metro Vancouver area, come learn with us in person, sign up at www.urbantacticskm.com

Mr. Miyagi employed novel methods to teach karate to an impatient a teenager in the ’80s. (“The Karate Kid”, Columbia Pictures, 1984)
Krav Maga Myths and Misconceptions – “It Should Be Taught As It Was By Its Creators” Audio by Jonathan Fader

Many organizations and individuals still take a “traditional martial arts” approach to Krav Maga. They say, “this is how I was taught by the Master so-and-so, thus I should I teach it to my students this way as well.” This is patently wrong and actually goes against some basic principles of Krav Maga. That is, if it doesn’t work, don’t use it! Inherently, by the fact that the times change (and so do people), attacks will change, tools will change, and knowledge will change, so too must the techniques and strategies change.

I have met individuals from various organizations and countries whom are training Krav Maga as it was taught 30 years ago, and they told me “only this is Krav Maga.” I suspect many of these instructors have lost their connection to those at the forefront of Krav Maga. Or they have simply been tricked by their own ego.

Just like with the principle of “Situational Awareness,” instructors must look at their system and their methods, then assess, assess, and assess. Further to that point, as a student you must know that, periodically, techniques may (and should) change. This might come in the form of additions or subtractions in the curriculum, modification to the way techniques are executed, or new approaches to how techniques and principles are taught.

Let’s expand on this.

One thing to remember is that, at its core, Krav Maga is, and should be, principle-based rather than technique-based.

Some of the original principles of Krav Maga were:

Do you see a specific technique listed here? The answer is, No. These principles are mostly about strategy or the application of techniques, not specific ways of doing. These principles were developed based on logic, biomechanics, and the philosophies of Imi and other Krav Maga pioneers. Since their original inception, however, if a technique or principle doesn’t work in most scenarios, the norms of what is acceptable in society have changed, or we discover a more effective idea, we rethink, re-assess, and make changes. The principles are core to the system, but they too are not set in stone.

What this means is that there is quite a lot of interpretation regarding what is the best technique or approach… and this is where the trouble starts. In many ways it’s about credibility and ego. That is, an instructor or organization doesn’t want their students to know that their current curriculum may not be as up-to-date or as effective as the instructors claim it is.

Fact: Common attacks will vary from place to place and time to time, therefore requiring adaptation of techniques and approaches.

Fiction: What worked 20 years ago will work now (at least as a 100% hard statement)

This means that, over time, things will change and refine to maximize efficiency for the most people. For the MOST people! Krav Maga tries to leverage natural reactions and movements wherever possible, but some people, unfortunately, will always need to put in more training and practice to gain efficiency, no matter the technique (bodies, abilities, temperaments are different).

Occasionally I will have students who come from a school or organization that was teaching Krav Maga as it was 30 years ago. Their techniques often fall apart under stress testing, which says a lot. Their “instructors” may have been, unwittingly or not, conning them.

Now, with that being said, there actually shouldn’t be TOO much variation in the solutions for specific attacks, for a simple reason: We have a head, a groin, two arms and legs, that really hasn’t changed much over time. Thus techniques and approaches from place to place should actually look reasonably similar, so long as they follow the core principles. If they don’t look even close to other Krav Maga schools it’s probably not Krav Maga; be that due to the teachings being outdated or infused with too much “other stuff.”

In the Krav Maga community, much like in other styles, there is… politics. So, if you only ever train with one organization and it never exchanges ideas with outsiders, change is unlikely. Which means it is unfortunately likely that you are not being taught the best options in the wider Krav Maga knowledge base.

I personally started my Krav Maga journey with one of the major organizations. While they have updated their curriculum a little over time, I found myself thinking their arsenal of techniques was somewhat bloated and not exactly up-to-date. As I explored various other organizations I realized that some schools had developed better solutions for one problem and others for another problem. As a result the UTKM curriculum has changed over the years, as I get more information and training myself, and as we stress test techniques with a variety of students.

Occasionally I will see students struggling with one technique consistently. Sometimes I can solve the problem myself, but on some occasions I need some input from outside sources; maybe that is from another organization, maybe it’s from another style of self-defence or another martial arts system.

As long as the techniques fit in smoothly with the other techniques and follow the core principles then it will work. However, what I will never do is add a random technique for its own sake.

All these changes can be annoying, I know. Very annoying. Trust me, I know! Sometimes I even have students complaining that they have to learn something new. But, guess what, that’s Krav Maga!

So, regardless of the technique (though there are garbage ones out there), the reality is that the obsession with lineage and “this is how it was then,” really isn’t the Krav Maga way. The goal is efficiency, to stop the threat, and that means changing and adapting. With that in mind, if you are still doing it the way it was “in the old days,” then don’t be surprised if your techniques quickly fall apart under duress (Especially if the training was “easy” the whole time).

Ego has no place in developing Krav Maga, yet, as it involves humans, it will unfortunately always find its way in. As an educated student or instructor it is up to you to constantly remind yourself that well-thought-out and well-planned change is, in fact, the way.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

For training online visit at www.utkmu.com. If you are in the Metro Vancouver area, come learn with us in person, sign up at www.urbantacticskm.com

If you didn’t Avoid, couldn’t De-escalate, and chose not to Strike First, you are Reacting!
Audio by Jonathan Fader

Finally, we are here. The last, and least desirable, stage of self-defence. If you have reached this stage you have failed to follow the previous steps and advice, or your attacker simply had better tactics and skills than you. In which case, why did they want to attack you and why did you allow such a situation to happen in the first place?

Too often people think that they should wait for the other person to start the fight for legal reasons, but this isn’t always true (and definitely isn’t safe!). If it is justifiable, and you can explain that, you should strike first.

The worst case scenario for this stage is that you have already been punched, kicked, or grabbed, and you are now forced to react; fighting fire with fire. However, you must understand that you should only use as much force as is required to stop the threat (in most cases). When they stop, you stop. If they don’t stop, or they escalate the violence, then you must keep going using retzef and other principles, or you must either escalate the violence yourself or find your exit.

Remember, at this point there is the possibility that you have already been, or are about to be, overwhelmed. This means your reaction needs to be fighting with everything you have; digging deep inside for aggression and sheer willpower, not stopping until you are safe.

Something to consider with this stage: If you have lots and lots of personal stories involving you having to react to violence, then you have repeatedly been making bad decisions and have not improved your verbal or awareness skills. So, unfortunately, the stories here are limited because, you know, while bad decision making brought me to these stages, smart decision making limited the violence.

  1. It was high-school (again) and, to be honest, I don’t recall what had been said (probably a “he said, she said” situation), but here I was in a local community centre, minding my own business, when a group of people, whom I knew and was friendly with, surrounded me. I wasn’t at all expecting an attack because, after all, I thought we were friends. However, they were from a different ethnic group, and though some of them had told me that they respected me, if it ever came between me and someone of their own background, even someone they didn’t know, they would always support the latter. This is a lesson I learned early; while it is not popular to discuss, different groups of people can operate by different social and cultural rules. Even if you live in the same country. So you really should be culturally and socially aware, in order to understand that what you thought was “no big deal” might be interpreted completely differently by other people. Anyway, back to me being surrounded. I was legitimately confused; as far as I knew (at the time) I hadn’t said or done anything out of order. It seemed like another person, or persons, whom didn’t like me was trying to get me jumped. The largest of my aggressors, maybe 300lbs, was the defacto “ring leader” (though I knew he wasn’t really the one I should be afraid off). He made some comments and then promptly punched me hard in the solar plexus. I smiled, then asked if that was all he had. Plus one for building up my abs the previous few years, I guess it paid off. It also goes to show the difference combative training can make, though he was big, he didn’t actually know how to use his weight affectively in a punch. (Otherwise I would have been on the ground getting my head kicked in.) Here is where you probably think I immediately started swinging back and fought my way out because this is reactive self-defence. WRONG! Remember, I was literally surrounded by a circle of people who were looking for a reason to do some damage. It probably would have been a terrible idea to return the aggression at that moment. If you know anything about use of force models, you know that you must always try to go back down the scale whenever possible. So I jumped back to stage 2 and tried to de-escalate. Obviously, the fact that his “hard” punch did little, and my reaction being that of amusement, threw them off completely, as this is probably not how this scenario had played out for them in past. I used it to my advantage, saying [whatever it is I said in the moment], managing to convince them it must have been some kind of miscommunication by someone else, and it was over. Though for a hot minute I was definitely freaking out (on the inside). They left, possibly pondering the overall situation, and I went on my way to safer and hopefully greener pastures… well, not really, I probably just went back to hanging around at school or home… So remember, react last, but if you are clearly in a bad spot try to scale it back down the stages of self-defence to give yourself better odds. – Jon
  2. Another reactive situation occurred not in high-school, but rather in an allegedly more adult and serious environment, ie. the army (the IDF to be precise). For much of my time in the army, I was not really in a good place mentally. Not because of the army, per se, but due to the manner in which the difficult environment exacerbated my depression (which had not yet been diagnosed and therefore I had no tools to deal with) That difficult environment came in the form of little to no sleep, crappy Hebrew fluency, and even worse people skills. This meant I didn’t get along with most people or didn’t like most people enough to bother getting along with them. I generally kept to the small group of close friends I had made; usually those who spoke English and were, I thought, a little more intelligent than the average soldier. Others, whom I felt lacked discipline or intelligence, and was shocked they were allowed into the army at all, were the ones I often had arguments, or worse, with. Most of the time people just thought I was the “slightly older and kind of crazy Canadian,” but I was respected on account of being a volunteer, while they were drafted without a choice (service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18). However, some people I just couldn’t stand and made it clear they were neither my friend nor someone I could care about at all. Some people got it, some did not. One individual whom I did not like and whom often didn’t get the hint, failed to fuck off on one too many occasions. Sleep deprivation and a foreign language, combined, resulted in poor decision making and even poorer understandings of how things may translate differently. For example, in English if you say “son of a bitch,” most people (at least where I am from) don’t take it too seriously. Whereas saying “son of a bitch” in Hebrew, in particular to a Mizrachi or Sephardic Jew, usually didn’t go over so well. One time, during a heated argument with the aforementioned individual, who was annoying the shit out of me, again, I called him a “son of a bitch.” He dared me to say it one more time. So I did. He threw a hard, wide, hook punch. Luckily, I was well-versed in 360 defence and blocked it, bursting in and stopping just short of his face with my fist. I knew he wasn’t really a threat, in addition, the moment I moved in I could feel that he was pulling his punch (realizing his mistake). I told him he was a moron and walked off. But imagine if I had not had my hands ready, what would have happened? He probably could have knocked me out. Though the escalation was likely my fault, and I was tired, and pissed off, he threw the first punch. Something I should have seen coming by his body language, but I didn’t. Nevertheless I was ready and I defended it without injuring him (other than a bruised ego). Once again, I was also lucky that he wasn’t much of a fighter and didn’t immediately follow it up with something else. At this time my skills were limited, though I often convinced people they were more than they were, which, combined with my still unstable reactions to things, usually kept me out of serious trouble. Had it escalate further it is possible we would have had to stay on base when everyone else was off, or worse, army jail. These were the only reasons I stopped at the time, but looking back, it was the wise decision anyway. – Jon
  3. I was out drinking with a buddy one night, in my misspent youth, and he had overindulged by quite a bit, so we headed back to his apartment to drink some more (logically). Unbeknownst to me, at some point in the night he had got it into his head that one of the women I was talking to at our regular bar should have been talking to him instead. An unseen anger had, apparently, been welling up in him all night (because that is certainly a healthy way to deal with emotions and friendships). At his place we cracked a few beers and were chatting about the events of the evening when he suddenly hit me with a right hook. No warning, no outburst, nothing! It wasn’t a hard hit (seemingly a common theme in those who open with sucker-punches), more surprising than impactful. I looked at him, confused. He threw a second one, I blocked it with an inside tan sao and pushed him onto his couch. I had no idea what was going on, but for whatever reason my immediate instinct was to shake up the beer bottle I was holding and spray him head-to-toe with it (perhaps to discourage further action?). I turned, walked out, and never heard from him again. – Corey

It is interesting that most of us do not have many stories involving stage 4 self-defence. Those we could think of were over quickly, as, when your are “playing catch-up” in the encounter you must react swiftly, with intent. This, of course, is a good thing, as it indicates we either live wisely or we are all efficient in stages 1 and 2 (occasionally 3). Consider that, if you find yourself always on the tail-end of someone else’s first strike, you are failing, in a fairly significant way, to follow good self-defence principles, and are making seriously bad decisions on a constant basis.

With that being said, there is a common element between all the stories that were told through out this series: In almost all, if not all, we were under the age of 25…

This should say something. Science has suggested that we reach adulthood, or rather brain development stops, around the age of 25 and not 18 (as we often legally define adulthood). It is also a known fact that young males under the age of 25 are also more prone to making bad, rash, or more extreme decisions. Usually they are of the social and physical nature told in these stories. Sometimes they result in severe injury or jail, and worse they lead to a death(s). It is as though, at least according to nature, this impulsiveness is expected under the age of 25; we frown upon it but seem unsurprised by it. Beginning in the 25-30 range there is far less forgiveness for such acts because you are now adjusting to your more stable brain chemistry. After 30, however, it’s not cute anymore. If you haven’t figured your shit out and, outside of job requirements, still find yourself in stage 3 or 4 self-defence regularly, you are doing it wrong, plain and simple.

I hope that this series has provided you better insight as to how to apply each stage of self-defence. Though the stories told are limited, the reality such that, if we spent the time to compile stories from more people, it is likely we would have tonnes of examples to choose from. The theories, concepts, and principles of Krav Maga and self-defence are sound ones, which apply most of the time. But they, like most theories or ideas, mean nothing if you, as an individual, do not know how to contextualize and apply them in real life.

I hope that, at the very least, this series has helped you to better understand the reason behind the definition of the stages, and their unique challenges, and how you may better use them to stay safe and walk in peace.

Written by Jonathan Fader

Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book (1894)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

As some of you know, or are just finding out, there is a process when dealing with conflict. On the Macro (Political Science, Sociology, etc..), it can be quite complicated and nuanced, on the Micro, well, it still is. However, the process is simple enough that anyone can easily learn the basics.

Pre-Emptive is the 3rd stage of self-defence; when you have failed to Avoid or De-escalate (Diffuse), it’s Time to Act! This series incorporates personal stories from UTKM instructors and students to provide context and examples for what these concepts look like in the real world, the various ways they can be applied, and how different approaches may play out.

Pre-emptive is a tricky one, because, sometimes, it may look like you were the one who initiated the conflict. This often leads to people being hesitant to “throw the first punch” even if they sense they are in imminent danger. Particularly if you grew up in Canada where (at least when I was in school) there were emphatic about never hitting, EVER! Unfortunately, this stance is somewhat delusional, and quite silly, given that in many cases teachers, or the school, will not step in if there is conflict between students. Or if they do, they have little power to sort out complicated situations. This means they are, at least in my opinion, affectively removing empowerment and the ability for individuals to learn to solve their own problems. They tell kids, “you can never strike someone,” and if the other options don’t work they are fucked. Its wrong, plain and simple. As you will see from this collection of personal stories, from several authors, and as Krav Maga has learned, sometimes you MUST strike first.

Part of this comes from the fact that, despite what many believe, Humans are still animals, and though we are omnivores we are predatory in nature. This means that those who are powerful, or worse, feel powerful, will rarely pick fights with those they perceive as stronger than them. Just like lions on the savanna, predators will target the old, the very young, and the weak in the herd. Because the strong ones will either fight back or stick together for strength, but in the wild predators CANNOT afford to take significant damage, as it means the beginning of the end.

Unlike predators in the wild, however, human predators will rarely (at least in modern times) face life or death for picking the wrong target, which can embolden them. Striking first will, at the very least, let them know, “Hey, asshole, you picked the wrong fight today!”

Of course, if you do strike first and then immediately realize you should have run, then it’s time to run. So make sure you train hard, assess, and be smart; you will know when to strike first and when to run. It can be hard for most people to know when to make the right decision, but one thing is for sure, if you hesitate you may look weak and then you will end up in the last stage of self-defence, reactive, or worse. So, to help you learn and contextualize the idea of striking first, here are some personal stories, from several individuals, to illustrate the decision making process:

  1. I must have been out of high-school already, as parties were not really my thing back then. But, like many, once you hit adulthood and decisions are solely on you, it is time to explore. Several of my friends at the time were already living on their own, or with roommates, and several of them liked to party. Which meant, so did I. One friend had a place fairly close to where I was living at the time, which was great because it meant I could walk to her house, and therefore let loose. Like many parties at the time, they were held at peoples houses that were considered “the party houses,” so, while there were those who were invited, it usually meant random people showed up; sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. In this particular case it was a mixed bag of nuts, so anything and everything could have happened; from salty tears to the hard crunch of teeth breaking. This story is, of course, alcohol and ego fueled, and driven largely by my big mouth. (Meaning it was completely avoidable but it happened nevertheless.) Typically, striking first is a result of the actions of someone particularly predatory, but, sometimes it comes from you getting into a situation of your own creation. In this case, I fully acknowledge it was the latter. A few (or many) drinks in, I started a conversation with an individual whom I was not familiar with. He had a tattoo on his arm in a language I wasn’t sure of, so I asked about it. He said something along the lines of, “It’s Latin, because I’m Latino and it means…” Of course I found this both hilarious and stupid: While Spanish, English, French, and other Romance languages have their routes in Latin (and others), being Latino in the modern sense is not exactly the same as being someone who knows and speaks Latin. Unsurprisingly, he was not fluent in Latin; as few people, outside of classical scholars and academics, are even remotely verbally competent in ancient languages. Me being me, couldn’t resist mocking this man. Not to his face of course, because that’s just rude! But, rather, to a friend of mine on the other side of the party. Somehow, at what point I am not sure, he heard; and he didn’t take to kindly to it. Later on he got in my face, not just by himself but with two tall and broad individuals, one on each side. He called me out for mocking him and then started to front by saying “do you know who I am?” blah. blah. blah. His claim was that he was in a gang etc… I counter that with, “No, but do you know who I am? NO, so it doesn’t matter does it?” I was trying to bluff, using aggression and intimidation. No, posturing is usually not the appropriate way to de-escalate, but it can work, especially if you make it believable. It can work simply because the other person, the predator, may think you are a bigger predator and you might be far more trouble than your worth. Just know: It doesn’t work for those who cannot at least look like they are a killer. Even back then, if not more so, I had the crazy eyes and a bit of a reputation for being an un-predictable nut, so for me this strategy often worked (don’t try this at home, follow the strategies as laid out in the de-escalation post). Despite my posturing the thoughts in my head were that of panic. Aside from the leader, who was my size, the other two could probably pick me up like I was nothing. They were all standing with their backs against a pool table. I had some space behind me and then a set of stairs with one of those half-walls to prevent people from falling down. I knew I had to do something, as these types can only be bluffed for so long. Action was needed. So I threw a HARD elbow into the leader’s chest, which caused him to stumble back and fall partially onto the pool table. After you act, you must be ready to act further. I was preparing to grab one of the big guys by the nuts and (attempt to) toss him over the wall, down the stairs. Luckily neither of them made a move, my bluff worked! I mean, what kind of crazy person strikes first when he is out numbered and out gunned? Me apparently! It’s important to note, at this time I really didn’t know how to fight, yet I instinctually knew to strike first even (though I generally avoid it at all cost on account of not being a very large person). In their shock they decided to throw more insults rather than responding physically. That’s when my friend, the host of the party, herself a short loud mouthed (and even more aggressive) individual, came like a bat at of hell screaming. “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE PICKING FIGHTS WITH MY FRIENDS AT MY PARTY!?” talking to the three individuals (she was crazier than me in many ways). In some weird twist the three guys ended up apologizing to me, shaking my hand and it was over. I am not really sure, what would have happened if I had not have struck first, but I know that it worked. Afterward I learned how badly it could have gone; at least one of them was carrying a pistol tucked in their pants. I didn’t have the experience or training to know to how to look for this type of thing first. Imagine had they pulled it out? It would have been a bad day. This is why it’s always best to stick to the first two strategies; Avoid and De-escalate. But had I not acted, it is possible they simple would have collectively jumped me, so at the time, and given the results, it would have seemed my instincts were correct. – Jon
  2. There are many more stories I could tell that are far more exciting, but this is pertinent to the many individuals who are bullied in one way or another in school: Back in my day (I can’t believe I’ve started saying that), physical bullying was all you had to worry about. But, today it’s both physical and digital, so keep that in mind. I can’t recall exactly what I was doing, but I was standing in the hallway in high-school not paying attention, when I felt a hot, burning, sensation under my chin. One of the kids who ran with the “popular” guys had put a lighter under my chin and ignited it. This pissed me right off (justifiably so)! I had a few choice words (the specifics I’ll leave out), which caused their friend, a kid who was dumb as a brick and quite scrawny, but a known brawler and quite popular, to get up in my face. He was attempting to protect his lackey, who was smaller than me and held the lighter. One thing led to another and, once again in sheer panic, I kicked him as hard as a could in the groin. He dropped like the brick I thought he was. They were not expecting it, and is probably one of the many events that gave me the reputation of being unpredictable. No, I could not fight. No I did not have reliable “backup” who could, and would, fight, and, although many people knew who I was, I was certainly not a popular kid. This ended the conflict right there and then. Furthermore, it had some lasting effects. Cleary, though popular, these individuals were bullies. AND the kid I kicked was in fact one of those who would engage in organized scraps at least once or twice a year (you know, those high-school fights where you say “meet me at the park at this time” and everyone encircled to watch?) which made it even more interesting. In any future conflict between me and him, I would take a step forward or similar and he would often step back. One time, if I recall correctly, he even told someone else to get me instead of doing it himself. Fascinating isn’t it? This is a story that emphasizes how, when it comes to bullies, they may not stop until you let them know you are not an easy target. EVEN if they could easily beat you in a fight, you have made it clear that an altercation with you will not be without consequences. So you see, humans are animals, predators, and will usually only target those who we can feel we can engage or overpower without risk of repercussions. Thus the attitude of “never strike first,” is simply wrong. It may in fact be the best and right option. It works, simply because though the human condition is complex, we are still animals. – Jon
  3. My experience with having to, or at least making the choice to, strike first was when I was in my mid-to-late 20s, at which time I had been training Krav Maga for about 2 years. I had just finished work, closing at a restaurant in the city of Perth (Australia), so would have been somewhere after midnight. I had about a 5min walk from the restaurant to the paid lot where I always parked my car; this walk involved crossing through a large park by the river. The park was only semi-lit before you reach the open air car park, which was lit and, if you believe the signage, security patrolled (though I never saw any security the whole time I parked there). So here I am walking across the grass, on my phone but with enough of my peripheral vision working that I saw two people approaching from a comfortable distance off. They were coming from the direction of my car, and thus in-between me and my car; though being we were in a large, grassy area there were escape routes in all directions. As they got closer to me I put my phone back in my pocket as if it was a natural thing I was about to do anyway. They both looked a little younger than me, say late teens to early 20s, and they looked like, let’s be generous and just say, “juvenile delinquents.” I looked toward my car, kept an eye on them without making eye contact, and adjusted my path a little so that I would go around them to get to where I was going if neither of us changed course. When they got to be a few meters away (maybe 12-16ft for all you North Americans), they started to engage with the usual approach of “Hey, have you got the time?” or “Can I bum a smoke?” or something to that effect. I replied politely with a “Nah, sorry” or “About 12:30 (or whatever the time was),” but the changed direction, coming toward me. Now, my thinking at this time was basically; just be polite and don’t do anything sudden or to draw attention or look frightened. The particular local type I pegged these two as had a reputation of being somewhat cowards and not picking on people that stood up to them (know your local and regional context!). I simply kept walking and they kept closing the distance ’til one was in front of me and the other was just off to my right. At this point it turned into hands out towards me and “Hey, have you got any change?” Running wasn’t really an option now, given their close proximity (though it might have been a minute ago), and it seemed like they had decided I was worth there time. I replied, again simply, with a “Nah, sorry mate just my card.” Then, before they could start asking for, or demanding, more, I explosively shoved the one in front of me with both hands in the chest. He fell backward and at the same time (in my mind at least) I side-kicked the one to my right, somewhere in the mid-thigh to groin area. He also fell backward, then I ran to my car, got in, and drove off. I didn’t stop to look back and see if they were following me, I’m pretty quick so they may have tried for a second before realizing they wouldn’t catch me. Tactically, I guess you could say I made some mistakes getting into the situation in the first place, but it was resolved with little effort on my part and quickly. Could I have simply ran to my car as soon as I saw them? Sure, but that may have been unnecessary, or worse, it may have made them chase me, thinking I had something worth stealing. Could I have run at any other point as they closed in on me, or when they initiated contact? Again, sure, but same reason as above but they’d start their pursuit closer. Could I have simply chosen a different career or job that didn’t require me to walk home alone at night? Sure, but why live in fear or let others dictate my life choices? What I definitely did right was training in martial arts and self-defence, so that I had an understanding of the situations I might end up in and how to deal with them. I kept my cool and didn’t end up in mental state Black. I identified that a physical confrontation was unavoidable after after attempting to avoid, and, well, not making great attempts to defuse, but not engaging them overlong. Once that threat was identified I pre-empted it; I struck first and quickly, but with only the amount of force needed for me to escape the situation. I didn’t stick around to fight it out (or to “finish it”), and I didn’t open with something so big I might end up facing assault charges if, say, I had gotten it wrong and the threat was only imagined. And lastly, I made a quick escape without turning around. – Evan

As you have read from the above examples, sometimes, whether due to circumstance or ego, the time for stage one or two either passed, or was not appropriate. And the next stage, pre-emptive action (good old striking first), was the next logical step. Be aware, however, that it often requires a good read of the situation, the ability to strike first with maximum affect, and the understanding that it may fail so you must be ready. When it fails, you must be prepared to either run or continue to fight, applying all of the techniques and strategies you know. This is why, despite its effectiveness, you must always try to avoid the fight and de-escalate whenever possible. But when the time comes, know that it is always better to strike first than to be struck first.

Written by Jonathan Fader

Knowing how to avoid danger increases your chances of survival dramatically! (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

The “4 stages of self-defence,” as taught by UTKM, is the basic order of operation for what you are doing when presented with conflict; be it physical, social, or otherwise. The order, moving from best option to worst, is; Avoidance, De-escalation (Defusing), Preemptive Self-defence (Strike First), Reactive Self-defence (React Last). Understanding the basics is easy, but, like all concepts, understanding when and how to apply them correctly can be trickier.

The major reason for this is the simple fact that if you do not truly understand what you are doing and you lack the experience to make a quick and correct decision (and you do not have your instructor whispering the answers into your ear), the real world situation is suddenly more complicated than it was in training.

Grasping the nuanced application of a technique, how and why it works, and when to employ it, can be the result of you being fortunate enough to possess an innate ability to understand intricate contexts, or, as is more common, it can be accomplished through consistent training. Consistent training makes up for talent by internalizing the details, purpose, and application of a given technique (or reaction in a scenario), to the point that your nervous system and decision making process will, more often than not, fire correctly under duress.

To help foster a better understanding of these key concepts, I, and others at UTKM, will be sharing real world experiences relating to the four stages. Each week we will expand upon one of the concepts and give examples.

This week it is the first and arguably most important stage: Avoidance.

“You win 100% of the fights you are not in.” – Nir Maman

First you must accept the fact that you cannot always avoid. For example, applying avoidance as a self-defence tactic for interpersonal conflict will most likely result in further problems. The concept of Avoidance simply suggests that it may be better to avoid than to confront in most situations However, and this applies particularly when it comes to bullying or active violence, sometimes the best option is to directly confront the source of conflict. After all, Krav Maga was built on the idea that sometimes running is not an option. So, please, do not interpret this stage as permission to be passive-aggressive or to never deal with life’s problems, that is not the correct application of this concept (and, honestly, if avoidance is always your chosen option in life, this may be indicative of other, deeper problems you are struggling with.)

So, lets start with some examples from my youth:

  1. It was Halloween night, and, like most young teens (I was maybe 15 or 16), I wanted to go out. In our area, big house parties were not a common occurrence, but what was all too common were hoards of teens and young adults roaming the streets like a hungry packs of wolves, looking for fun and perhaps trouble. I was with the group of friends I usually ran with at the time, and we ended up crossing paths with another pack of teens. Walking together with them, in costumes, masks, and painted faces, with candy and fireworks in hand (legal then, but illegal now, likely due to these same ravenous packs of ne’er-do-wells getting up to yearly mischief) we were on the boredom-fueled prowl. Some confident and bold, others just trying to fit in. In my case, the latter seems like it was the appropriate category. I mean, is that not what one of the best features of Halloween is; You get to dress up and pretend to be something else, something grander, something more powerful? It is after all, “All Hallow’s Eve,” where dressing up as something scary was meant to fend off the roaming spirits and demons that walk the earth on this night, every year (so the legend goes). But masks and make up can only mask you for so long. One of the older boys in a mask, I did not recognize. Clearly a leader, out front, loud and obnoxious, identified himself to me. It turned out this masked individual was someone whom I had issues with in the past. He was also dangerous, in the literal sense, much like that of a hungry alpha. He regularly got in fights (and won), regularly had police interactions, the circumstances of which were anything but innocent fun, and he “may or may not” have had ties with even more violent individuals who were known to police. He was also much bigger than me, a good bit stronger, and far more athletic. Which, through a child’s eyes, was a terrifying thing, even though I considered myself tougher than perhaps I was and, like most males, overestimated my skills. I had no training and no experience, just an over inflated ego. It was, of course, dark, and I did not like the things coming out of this guy’s mouth, nor the energy in the air. The feeling of fun turned to a dread and an uneasy churning in my gut (yet to be filled with candy.) It was uncomfortable. Concerned that the hoard was full of individuals who did not in fact like me, not to mention the de facto alpha, this was not ideal for an enjoyable night. So I decided to listen to my instincts; it was time to leave. My pace slowed, I fell to the back of the crowd, then quietly, but swiftly, faded into the dark, walking to my home a few blocks away. Later, when I was asked by my cohort where I had disappeared too, I made up some plausible story. The reality is, it was probably the right decision. Those uneasy feelings we have may be wrong sometimes, but it is often better to err on the side of caution, as we never know how things will escalate. There is one thing for certain; if you are not feeling your best, or you are uncomfortable, it can be easy to do or say the wrong thing and cause a situation to quickly shift from manageable to disastrous. So, in that case, with those personalities, avoidance was the best choice. No harm, no foul, no hospital.
  2. I was an awkward teen with no sense of who I really was yet. Which meant I was not so great with the opposite sex. So, when female friends came into the mix, it was always a joy, and an uneasy excitement (the kind only a teenage boy knows.) For a time, I frequently hung out with two girls who were a year or two younger than me. Feelings were always mixed, as I liked them each at a different time; which meant I would often go out of my way to spend time with them. Lacking experience and confidence, of course, things never went the way I had imagined. Nevertheless, it was fun at the time. Like many youths lacking good mentoring and guidance, I had trouble controlling my temper. I would never hurt anyone, but it was obvious to those all around me. Like a tornado striking down in an open field, I was loud, boisterous, and, to some, terrifying, as the fear that the destruction might come your way. (This is something I still work on daily, though with calmer mind, maturity, and fewer raging hormones it is much easier to manage.) One of these girls had a cousin, equally attractive in my eyes. Someone who I had met previously, at a random community party. She was troubled. If I am informed correctly those troubles continued to impact her in adulthood. Whenever she came around to join us, it never went well. I was POSITIVE she would intentionally say or do things to illicit my temper and unleash the tornado for her amusement. I was cold, dry air, she was warm, humid air, the inciting words and actions were the required updraft. Everyone said I was either crazy or imagining it. Nonetheless, there came a point at which I could no longer stand to be around her. So the strategy I employed was avoidance. Anytime she randomly showed up, I would find a reason to leave. If she was already there with my friends, I would make other plans. Everyone thought I was being unreasonable. However, I did not like having my fun outings turned into episodes of anger, thus, to me it seemed like the better choice. It also prevented me from hitting a breaking point and actually doing something I would regret. Despite the fact it made me look even more weird and unstable, socially, in many respects I probably made the right decision by practicing avoidance. (In hindsight, and perhaps re-framing the situation, it turns out that this girl may have actually liked me. I was told by someone, later down the road, that she was very likely trying to illicit my aggression on account of a secret, let’s say, fetish for violence. Had I been more confident, then perhaps I would have handled it differently and allowed my cold dry air to meet her warm humid air, but given my lack of knowledge at the time, avoidance was still the best strategy. Lest the tornado met the hurricane and all hell broke lose. It probably wouldn’t have been good for anyone.)
  3. If you think bullies disappear after high-school you may have practiced avoidance a little too much, and may in fact be a shut-in who is living in a perpetual state of self-imposed exile. As the internet has shown us, most people are not as stable and confident as you think, and many have bully-like tenancies at the very least; trying to use force, intimidation, or aggression to get what they want. Or, they simply have not learned to manage their anger like others and emotionally lash out at people when they are challenged, or whenever things do not go their way. I learned to deal with these people early in my youth, and as an adult I tolerate it even less. I, of course, generally employ Stage 2, deescalation, as much as I can; using my words and avoidance, as Stages 3 & 4 (outside of physical violence) are not at all appropriate in day-to-day life in a Civil society. Which means, as an adult, mastering the first two stages is that much more important. Especially when you live in a strata (eg. a condo or townhouse). Personally, I despise stratas, as it is all to easy for a bully, or someone who has a bully-like attitude, to get on the council and try to tell others how to live or act, or has a personality that leads them to take issue with being challenged (due to their perceived powers.) I personally think stratas have been nothing but a disaster, and will go the way of the dinosaurs eventually, but until then, you, like me, will likely have to deal with them at some point. Without getting too detailed, there was some conflict between me and those on a strata council. Whether I was in the wrong or the right isn’t important, sometimes I was, sometimes I wasn’t. However, several members of the council seemed to think it is acceptable and appropriate to yell and scream at people when they don’t like what was said or done. This is, of course, utterly inappropriate, and in the adult world could constitute bullying and harassment. Obviously, this is something I will not tolerate. Extensively researched, well-worded letters where sent! The goal of these letters was not to demand compliance one way or another, but rather to make it clear that I am not the kind of person to pick a fight with, verbally, physically or otherwise. Initially they got the hint and basically stopped bothering me. Later, another incident occurred where a member of council, once again, decided to scream at me. After making it clear that this was an inappropriate (and futile) tactic it didn’t seem to matter, they saw me as a threat to power, and continued. As an adult, I made the decision that, clearly, these individuals are old, unstable, and have never resolved their personal issues. I understand, but I still have no patience for it. I privately told another, calmer strata council member that their fellow’s outbursts were boarding on harassment. Moving forward, I just ignored the problem individuals and do not engage. Clearly they have problems, and those problems are not mine to solve. I made it clear that I will not be pushed around, they all seem to have gotten the hint. I avoid conflict with them, they avoid conflict with me, and we now all live in a cold peace where, so long as we don’t bother each other, all is well. While it is certainly not an ideal situation, I would rather have good relations with my neighbours, it is, in modern times, often quite impossible to get along with everyone. So, practicing a peaceful yet aware avoidance strategy will, in the end, help keep things calm, and less stressful.

Whether you are a teen, an adult, or a senior learning to practice good avoidance (and when to move to the next stage) can be extremely useful, not just in literal sense of physical self-defense, but also to help you manage the hardest part of life: Other people. These skills can be innate or learned. In my case, it seems to be more of the former, though through practice I refine them as I go along. Perhaps as an Ashkenazi Jew it is in my genes to be cautious, and avoid whenever I can, as thousands of years of oppression and living in fear is likely to impact your genetics a little bit. (Think Woody Allen, the stereotypical, nervous Ashkenazi Jew, albeit a extreme case.) Regardless of how you come to learn these skills, learning it early, and learning it well, will only mean one thing; a happier, more peaceful life. One in which your visits to the hospital due to violence are low, and your conflict related stress is that of calm waters rather than a raging storm. For if you find yourself raging too much, too often, you may find yourself battered, bruised, and broken; because you failed to manage your mental state (see awareness colour code.)

Written by Jonathan Fader