Posts Tagged ‘Situational Awareness’

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

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You may only have a few precious seconds in which to prevent a violent explosion(source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

So… you were unable to avoid that threat you identified. At least you were able to see it coming and have not been taken by surprise. Congratulations, but there is now some fast work to do. Welcome to Stage 2, De-escalation!

I am neither a psychologist nor a hostage negotiator, but, over my 42 years, I have figured out a few tricks for talking to people and getting oneself out of ugly situations. The two tactics I have employed most often throughout my life are “Tactical Empathy” and “Reframing” (though I didn’t know the names for what I was doing at the time):

Tactical Empathy – In his book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, ex-hostage negotiator Chris Voss describes tactical empathy as “understanding the feelings and mindset of another in
the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase
your influence in all the moments that follow.” Figure out what is motivating the other person, then leverage that information to shape the encounter by expressing common understanding.

Reframing – A “frame” is someone’s point of view and expectations of what is normal in a given interaction, based on their beliefs and emotional state. If you walk up to someone shouting angrily, you expect them to react with either fear or their own anger. Reframing involves changing the narrative and redefining what normal is for the interaction. If the person you are shouting at reacts with a smile or a friendly laugh, your brain’s plan for a heated exchange has been derailed; your frame has been “broken” and now you have to stop and reconsider the rules of engagement in that encounter.

Of course, both of these methods require an understanding of people, a willingness to engage people verbally, a bit of creativity, and a whole lot of confidence, but, as with any skill, they can be improved through practice.

Developing these skills can be handy in all sorts of non-threatening situations as well. I’ve leveraged tactical empathy and reframing to get into bars for free, skip lines, dodge fees, etc., though in mundane contexts it is less about “tactics” and more about finding common ground and being friendly.

I’ll illustrate these tactics using two examples from my past in which I talked my way out of potentially disastrous situations:

The International (Football) Incident

In 2014 myself and a friend traveled to São Paulo, Brazil to attend the 20th FIFA World Cup tournament. We had done our research ahead of time; we were advised to avoid wearing flashy clothes and jewelry (so you don’t look affluent), carry a “drop wallet” (a secondary one, with some fake cards or small bills, that you can toss down to distract muggers in order to flee), and stay out of the favelas. Also, we learned that Brazil has two major religions, Catholicism and Football, so you have to be careful what neighbourhoods you go into when wearing a specific team’s kit (they were a bit forgiving during the World Cup)

The sixth game we attended was a Round of 16 match between Argentina and Switzerland. The emotions were already tense in the crowd as we slowly mobbed into the packed stadium; this is the knockout round, whoever loses this game goes home. This is further fueled by a longstanding rivalry between the national teams of Argentina and Brazil (Argentina would love a chance to defeat the host country)

We arrived in our section, and suddenly realized we’d made huge mistake. Not wanting to sport a Brazil jersey in a rival crowd, and not having a vested interest in either team’s success, we chose to wear our Canadian (Women’s) National Team jerseys to the game… not for a moment considering the fact that they are red and white… the same colour as the Switzerland kit.

Our seats happened to be right in the middle of a sea of rowdy, drunken, Argentina supporters (borderline hooligans); there are white and blue striped shirts EVERYWHERE, and only two “security guards” in sight. The beer-fueled shouts of “hijo de puta” started flying at us! As we walked up the steps all I could think was, “great, we are going to be responsible for the 2014 World Cup riot.” We reached our seats and the guys all around us started sarcastically chanting “Up, SWISS!”

I had to defuse the rising tension, fast, or this was going to be a less-than-enjoyable experience. If Argentina loses (or even gets scored on), it could turn deadly. I face the guy doing the most taunting in English, and say, in a friendly manner, “It looks like you boys are pretty excited about this match.” He chuckled at my comment. I had him!

I extend my hand “I’m Corey, this is Homan, we’re in from Canada.” He shook it and introduced himself and a few of his friends. But there were still a few on either side, behind him, and behind us, who looked unimpressed. Looking at them specifically, I ask “Are you all from Argentina?” One guy offered up that he was from a town on the border with Paraguay and it took 20hrs to drive here. I replied, “Buddy, that’s hardcore, we had to save for four years to make this trip!” I then stated something to the effect of “this is do or die time, eh?” Which was met with a chorus of passionate tales of Argentina’s highs and lows in the recent past. We then talked about our jerseys and I went on to make a few jokes about how what little Spanish I knew was mostly swearing and talking about women.

By the end of the match they were buying us beers, we were sharing pictures of our kids, and, fortunately, were celebrating Argentina’s victory with them. (Argentina narrowly made it to the final but was defeated by a stellar German squad.)

How did we go from targets of hatred and derision to friends?

As we entered that section of the stadium, I was in mental colour code Orange, as the rowdy Argentina fans’ presence was a potential threat (we’d done our research!) In this scenario the threat could not be avoided; we had ticketed seats, there was no standing area, and I was not about to walk away from a World Cup match that I traveled to another country to see. Their behaviour essentially put me into mental colour code Red, as, even without our participation, we were in a verbal conflict. I had to de-escalate, and I had to do so immediately, before mob mentality kicked in and one of our harassers is inspired to move from verbal to physical.

The source of the conflict came from the assumption on the Argentinian’s part that we were going to return the same aggression they had shown us. My goals became; 1) Reduce or eliminate their aggression, 2) Remove their desire to harm us, and 3) Bond with them to solidify the “peace.” As a bonus 3.5) Make them see us as worthy of protection from other aggressors.

My path toward those goals was as follows:

  1. I started by immediately “breaking their frame.” They expected we would either return their vitriolic team pride with our own, or cower and be a source of amusement all game. By engaging them with humour, rather than anger or meekness, I disrupted their angry passion narrative. (similar to physically disrupting and off-balancing an aggressor with your own action). If you can get someone to laugh, it tends to shift their opinion of you toward the positive.
  2. In that moment of disruption I replaced their “hooligan” frame with the groundwork of my “comradery” frame: I named us and offered a handshake (thus humanizing us instead of remaining generic “rival fans.”)
  3. I then spotted the doubtful ones and kept them engaged with a trivially simple question that invited them to exert their pride, while at the same time (hopefully) opening up about themselves: “Are you all from Argentina?” This led to a more personal connection, as they have confirmed a part of their identity to me. It also created an opportunity for establishing common ground.
  4. “…we had to save for four years to make this trip!” Not specifically true, but it establishes three points in common: A shared passion for football, we aren’t locals, and we are regular, working class lads (what I call “economic camouflage.”)
  5. The above statement also satisfies their egos a bit by indicating that A) I’m impressed by their commitment, and B) we aren’t wealthy North American jet-setters.
  6. Bringing up their team’s “do or die” potential, again affords them an opportunity to exert their pride, passion, and identity, in a positive way. It also incorporates Dale Carnegie’s advice, “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you.”

By the time I’m asking them to regale me with the history of Lionel Messi and La Albiceleste, I’ve accomplished goals 1 and 2, and I am deeply into goal 3! While there were still hostiles in the area, whom we kept an eye on, the way the boys in our immediate vicinity were interacting with us deterred aggression. As the bonus 3.5 goal was not assured, we beat a hasty retreat to the exit the second the match ended!

Ego-Driven vs Predatory

In the above example, the threat was a bunch of drunken football fans looking for a hit of dopamine by way of national pride, they sought it through intimidation and I gave it to them, instead, through jovial comradery. (Dare I say that I might have chiseled away at their preconceived notions a bit?)

When considering your tactics, be aware that what at works for ego-driven threats won’t necessarily work for predatory threats.  The former can be manipulated by either feeding the ego or reframing it. By “feeding”, I mean that de-escalation could be a simple as saying “I don’t want to fight, you’d kick my ass!” or “yeah, I was looking at your hot wife, but she’d never take me over you, buddy.” For reframing, re-read the above! (In discussing “Fight or Flight,” the Hard2Hurt crew notes “submit” as a possible alternative.)

As always, be aware of variables such as culture, context, and the demeanour of the threat. Looking weak or submissive may actually escalate the situation in some regions or contexts, whereas in others meeting a challenge head on is an act of de-escalation (as counterintuitive as that may seem). Whatever option you choose, do it with confidence!

However, a predatory threat is more complicated, as the assailant may be dead set on harming you for reasons you may not be able to account for (eg. they are high, mentally/emotionally unstable, desperate, a habitual offender, etc.). It may be that your attempt at verbal de-escalation is really a distraction to buy you time or set you up to strike first.

Gun(Bar)fight at the Not-so-OK Corral

I have an eclectic taste in music, but I over the years I’ve tended toward the numerous varieties of Metal, Punk, and Industrial. Spending (or misspending) most of my youth in Alberta, these genres were sometimes hard to find, and one inevitably ended up at Country bars more often than not. But that’s okay, because I can three-step and line dance with the best of them (raised in Alberta!).

Let’s break this one down as we go along:

On one such evening I found myself with a group of friends in Southern Alberta, at a popular bar called the Corral (there were many with that name over the years). Everything was going well, the music was as good as it could be considering the genre and the drinks were flowing like water. Going well, that is, until one innocuous trip to the bathroom.

I turned from the urinal to find that I’d been followed in by five “cowboys” (I come from a farming/ranching heritage, and these boys didn’t look like the real thing). Regardless, we are alone, it is five on one.

At this point it bears mentioning that in my teens and twenties I had hair down to the middle of my back and generally dressed in band shirts with torn jeans or fatigue pants. In this case I knew I was going into a potentially unwelcoming place and had not adapted to the local customs (because I didn’t give a fuck.)

The defacto leader spoke first; “we don’t appreciate f*gs in here.” (It is Southern Alberta after all, the nexus of the farm belt and bible belt.) Under the surface, this threat is clearly ego-driven, they are insecure men, but their actions are predatory, ie. they stalked me and intend me harm for a specific reason. I need to stall long enough to either get to the door or be lucky enough that someone else comes in as a distraction.

I play dumb, “If I see any I’ll let you know” and start moving to the door. Unsurprisingly, they blocked me. “Why do you look like that?” he asked. It becomes clear that they don’t want to just kick my ass, they want to intimidate me first in order to “send a message” (or, perhaps more likely, they are cowards and no one wants to “start it.”)

My next gamble was to keep them talking while edging toward the door and keeping calm, making it clear I’m not weak or intimidated (I didn’t know the trick of “humanizing” back then.) I this situation, with these people and in the given context, being submissive would have encouraged them. I keep my hands up in a semi-passive position and I asked, “What about what about this looks gay?” One of the guys shouted “Your f*ggy hair!”

I saw an opportunity to defuse/reframe with humour. I replied, “I’ve heard that criticism before, I’ll consider it. Surely one of you boys can think of something more original?” It got a stifled laugh from one guy, but not enough to indicate that I had shifted the mindset of the group. Fortunately, another one shouted said “and it’s ugly!” I tried again with, “This guy cares what I look like? Now who’s gay?”

Bad move. There are effective ways to turn insults into reframing tools, but shaming or prodding the already emotionally unstable ego is NOT how to do it! But I was young and stupid.

They have an even more heated reaction; swearing and gesturing, one guy even started wrapping his belt around his knuckles. My final chance to reach the door involved a risky reframe; I said, “Woah, I’ve got piss on my hands, mind if I wash them first?”


At the sink I had a clear path to the door, but, tragically, it opened inward. I also noted that I had created a secondary (thought terrible) option by getting close enough to a stall that I could bail into it and at least bottleneck and align my attackers if escape proved impossible. Again, buying time!

I didn’t know how to fight at this point in my life, but my instincts regarding herd mentality were to square myself to the “leader” and try to drop him first in hopes of scattering a few of the others. (However, now I know that in group fight scenarios you go for whomever is CLOSEST). I kept edging toward the door but made sure they were still all in front of me.

At that point, the door opened. A bouncer was doing his rounds. He looked at them, looked at me, saw our positioning and body language… “All of you, get the fuck out!”

I head straight back to my friends and introduce the idea that it is time to go home.

Overt Predatory Threats

Fortunately (unfortunately for this post), I have never had to de-escalate a “overtly predatory threat.” That is, situations in which the attacker is deeply committed to the threat and is in your face so fast that you are starting at a disadvantage (eg. being mugged at knife point, getting jumped without warning, etc.). I’ve either managed to avoid them, albeit narrowly in a few cases, or talked them down before they made their intensions clear. Though, in my travels I have picked up a few pieces of advice that apply in most predatory scenarios, and in many ego-driven encounters as well:

  1. Don’t Argue – Do you really want to aggravate someone who is already in the middle of a poor decision? If someone demands your wallet, are you willing to get stabbed over a few bills and some replaceable cards? Again, submission MAY be the safest de-escalation, but you have to know your context. Otherwise, if you see a chance to reframe or employ tactical empathy, do it.
  2. Don’t Go to a Second Location – Allowing a predatory threat to take you somewhere else greatly increases the chances that things are going from bad to worse (sexual assault, murder, kidnapping, etc.). Yes, this conflicts with #1, but it is more important.
  3. Don’t Demand – When someone is angry, insisting that they “calm down” NEVER WORKS! If someone is trying to exert power over you, meeting force with force is unlikely to have positive results. Speak calmly and with confidence, “Please leave me alone” rather than “Fuck off!”
  4. Do Get Trained in Self-defence!
Further Considerations

Whether you managed it by roguish charm or clear and confident statements, just because you talked yourself out of a bad situation doesn’t mean that the threat has been stopped. The threatening party may change their mind if you look weak as you leave, or if you present them with an irresistible opportunity for a sucker-punch (you prevented the situation by being alert, don’t squander that now!).  When you remove yourself from the situation, assess once again; are you now on “good terms” with the potential threat, does their body language indicate that they are barely holding back, are their friends looking at them expectantly or chastising their inaction? 

Either way, now that you have the chance to get away, do so confidently (not arrogantly), and keep your eyes on the threat, directly or indirectly. Depending on the situation you may need to walk backward, cautiously, maintaining awareness of the threat and your surroundings, with your hands up in a semi-passive stance, until you are clear to escape. It may be that you simply need to keep an eye on the threat in the reflection from a store window, or take a quick look over your shoulder as you cross the road (which you should be doing to immediately create space!).

Understand that, until you are completely clear of the threatening person or situation, you MUST still be thinking and acting in mental colour code Orange. Situational awareness, as always, remains important; are they about to regroup and chase you, has frustration led them to pull out a weapon?

Be prepared, at any time, to move immediately to stage 3…

Written by Corey

Have you assessed this situation critically? Is the short cut worth the risk? (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader with additions

Being assaulted, attacked, robbed etc… will always be a horrible, unwanted experience. Yet, at any given time, all over the world, it is happening to someone. For the purposes of keeping it simple I am only going to be discussing basic assaults (eg. muggings). This subject will, of course, become more complex with regard to domestic disputes, or when the assault involves close friends, relatives, or mentors; such situations are impossibly complicated, as they are interwoven with emotion, personal connection, betrayal, and often shame. Perhaps “domestic and close relationship violence” could be a topic for another time (likely requiring another series)

For our discussion, imagine you were attacked while walking home, or you were mugged at an ATM. These are terrible experiences, and yet they are often somewhat avoidable. If you still watch the news or follow trends, you may often hear the term “victim blaming.” Discussing fault is typically frowned upon as it is considered cruel to say the person who got attacked was (even partially) to blame. Particularly in cases where it may have seemed unavoidable, taking responsibility for what happened, for most people is a daunting and heart wrenching task.

Before you jump down my throat, know that no one has the “right” to attack you and that these attacks are inexcusable. In most countries there are laws against such things, some of which have been in place for thousands of years. Yet this has not stopped assault, robbery, rape, and other garbage behavior. The idea that laws will protect you outright is, in many cases, delusional. If someone is trying to rob you, will you be able to call the police? Probably not. Even if you are somehow able to call 911, the response times can range from 5 minutes to no response at all (especially in today’s anti-police climate); which means that, when it comes to your own personal safety, you are the only one who can prevent immediate physical harm or death.

Of course, size matters. And if you are underage, with less life experience, it matters even more. If your attacker is bigger than you and decides to target you, fighting may be considerably more difficult and risky.

So what do you do, and why may it be your fault that you got attacked?

Simple, the best self-defence is avoidance. Though Krav Maga teaches to fight with all you have, this is really meant for when running is not an option. The goal, however, should always be to take a step back, think critically, and try to make good decisions and assessments so that you do not even have to make a fight or flight decision.

Hearing or even thinking that being attacked was, in one way or another, your fault, is a difficult idea to swallow and yet, if you don’t want such things to happen in the future you will have to make some changes. (Again, we are not talking about assaults involving partners, friends, or relatives)

The concept of personal responsibility or “ownership,” (made more popular these days by Jocko Willink in his books “Extreme Ownership” and ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership,” and by others in various publications) is a difficult concept for many, even in the best of times. You see, we have this thing called an Ego, and it wants to protect us and shift blame elsewhere. So if someone did a bad thing to us, we rationalize that it must be completely their fault. Yet, when it comes to self-defence and protecting yourself, that may not be entirely true.

Were you walking in a way that made you seem like an victim? With your head low, shoulders rolled forward, for example, are physical indicators that will lead an attacker to believe you are an easy target. Or did you, as Jordon Peterson would say, “stand up straight, with your shoulders high.” It may seem silly, but this simple change will take you from “easy target” to “potential problem” in the eyes of the attacker.

I, myself, am not the largest person, being 1.6m tall and (in the past) around 65-68kg. Yet I managed, despite my big mouth and tendency to offend people, even when I was younger and did not know how to fight, to not get jumped, or attacked, or worse (much to my surprise). In my case, it’s an explainable confidence that probably kept people guessing whether it was a good idea to attack me or not. I managed because I talked big and looked the part. Of course, occasionally I would recognize that I said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and I was immediately aware of that instinctual feeling: “It’s time to leave.”

Knowing when you are about to get in over your head, in any situations, is difficult. But knowing when you must leave (early “flight” indicators) will save you great pain and hardship. Failing to recognize that you, A) just pissed off a bunch of people, B) are probably in over your head, and C) failed to avoid further conflict, means that you are largely responsible for the resulting hospital trip. You failed to manage a bad situation, you stayed in that bad situation, and you allowed it to get worse.

Another example is the classic “taking a short cut through a dark alley.” Didn’t your mother tell you not too?! You can say all you want that “the person who robbed you shouldn’t have!” And you are right, they shouldn’t have, but your attacker doesn’t care; they are operating on a different moral scale then you are. Even if they are just trying to survive, they don’t have the right to take from you. But it really doesn’t matter in the moment, because now you are in the situation, and they are doing it. Failing to recognize that you were making a bad decision, a decision that put you in the position of being an easy target, makes it your fault. Failing to maintain situational awareness, to know when to run when you must, might be your fault to.

You might say, “Wait a second, for some people their body will cause them to have paralytic fear, causing them to freeze up and prevent any decision making that will be beneficial. So how can it possibly be their fault?”

Well, why did you go into the dark alley in the first place? Even if you knew it was a bad idea? Failure to recognize that decision as your fault may cause you to make it again and further compound any psychological trauma you may have experienced from the results of the first bad decision.

Furthermore, what did you do to prepare for violent situations? For most the answer is “Nothing.” Which would then be your fault. You assumed it would never happen to you and when it did you may have found yourself asking yourself, “why didn’t I do more?”

Prevention is the number one way to stay happy and healthy, which includes the ability to defend yourself. If you never learned even the basics of defending yourself, and you didn’t keep your body in good health so that you can run, it is again your fault.

We can say all we want that “people shouldn’t attack people” (which they shouldn’t) and “it’s their fault,” but we cannot control other people, we can only control ourselves, which means our personal safety is on us and us alone.

This, of course, doesn’t apply to small children, but as a parent you can teach and inform your children, in age appropriate ways, to give them the best possible chance of survival in any situation.

So, do you want to be the victim? Or do you want to take a proactive approach to self-defence, taking full personal responsibility. Learn to make good decisions, avoid people who might be problematic in your life, and learn to defend yourself.

Remember, it’s your life and your responsibility. While others contribute to who you are and why you are the way you are, when it comes to assault, in that single moment of time, all the blame on society, your parents, your significant other, are completely irrelevant. In that moment it is only you and them.

Did you do everything you could to avoid that horrible situation, or did you do nothing and wait to be the victim?

Written: by Jonathan Fader

You all thought I was joking.  No, I don’t joke about sleep.

So during class, Jon (lead instructor, has been compared to a dying wolf spider with fewer legs EDITORS NOTE: First I am aware of this but sure)  posted a picture of me to the UTKM Instagram story. Look at the picture below carefully as I shall be referring back to it.

When I found out about the post I, of course, was annoyed and I then reposted it and threatened to rant “share about my life experiences” or whatever Jon always is asking people to do. So in my mild annoyance, enjoy my rant.

If you’ve been to enough classes or poked around on the blog, you will have heard of the mental awareness color code. If you are a student of UTKM who is reading this, you should know that ‘white’ is when you are unaware of your surroundings, usually in a safe place like your home (If you don’t, you need to read all the principles and listen more in class). Eyes closed, headphones in, I’m not going to really argue about that. I was pretty close to white. However, I WOULD argue that if you are asleep that you are closer to black, which is when your brain can’t protect you as it’s shut down. While your brain doesn’t actually turn off while you sleep, sleeping is a lot closer to having been choked out, fainted, or gone into ‘the black’. And I was not in stage black, as you will see if you keep reading. If you stop now, then you are wasting all the effort I put into making a convincing argument. I even did research! Like five minutes worth but still… Might as well keep going to make sure I don’t just say “LET ME SLEEP I WAS TIRED”.

So, is falling asleep in Krav class a good idea? Well first we have to keep in mind the location. Krav class. That’s very different from a Skytrain. I personally wouldent recommend falling asleep on a Skytrain? I mean, I’ve done it, but I also missed my stop once cause of that soooooo TRY TO GET YOUR RECOMMENDED AMOUNT OF SLEEP AND DON’T DIE.

The only people who should be there (Krav Class) are students, instructors, or people interested in joining. There are not going to be random people just hanging out there for no reason. Also if people are coming to class for the purpose of  attacking other students for no real reason and UTKM isn’t stopping it, that’s a major problem. This is why I’m glad that the students are nice (of course until they get to orange belt and they’ve been long enough to feel comfortable with one another, then all sorts of things might happen.)

Look at how nicely that leads to my next point that I’m not sure should been its own point but is anyways cause I’m the author yay! You need to be able to trust the people you train with. To be honest, I’m not sure if there’s a blog post, annnd okay, there is I just checked. It’s more about being a good (student and) training partner but it is close enough. The way we train, it could be easy to injure each other. To all the new people, don’t worry, injuries thankfully don’t happen that often. That’s because we know how to be careful and trust our skills and those of our training partners. Now, if someone can refrain from hurting you in class (where it would be easier to pass it off as an accident), why the !#$@ would they attack you unprovoked in plain view of others (please no one attack anyone in or out of class). Note that I said your fellow students should not being trying to kill you at least, they will and have pulled pranks (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE).

Now, let’s say a threat did come in with the intent to harm someone (with a knife because I say so) during that class. They aren’t going to be going for me specifically as I don’t make bad life choices! I think? If there’s anyone out there who wants to kill me, mind giving me a heads up? Or you could just not. So this person has come to stab people. First, they’d have to get through a room full of dancers. Why bother looking in other rooms when there are convenient things to stab right there? But okay fine. They LOVE dance and refuse to hurt the dancers, moving on to a small room where your author lies helpless. -_- I’d like to draw your attention to the kick shield wall on the right side of the picture. This wall is between me and the door, making me hard to see. Plus why attack me when you can stab Jon, who is conveniently right there. Now in this class, we have Jon, a yellow belt, three white belts who have a decent amount of experience, and obviously me. I have faith in their combined skills to take this attacker down. Or failing that, at least make enough noise so that I wake up and A) fight them off B) steal their knife and stab them or C) run and call the police. I’m voting for C but who knows. Regardless, I’m not dead!

So why would it be a bad idea to fall asleep in class? The place is safe(ish, watch for pranks), the people are more or less good, and you have a bunch of free bodyguards! At this point if you can’t relax you may need to look at the blog again and make sure you aren’t in mental state orange. Guys I’m covering three of five states, that’s so many more than I planned for. This is the exact and the only reason why we should expect the unexpected (to my shock and dismay, there isn’t a blog post about this but Jon has talked about it enough sooooo good enough also I didn’t look that hard). Right, I had a point. If you can’t get out of orange while you are at Krav, it is kinda a problem (obviously be prepared during drills/sparring). But if you are in a place where you trust the people around you (to a certain extent) and know that if something does go wrong the people around you are prepared to handle it and you are STILL worried someone’s going to attack you? You are getting paranoid (or you made very very BAD life choices). I can’t think of anything else to say to transition to the conclusion. I’m so glad this is voluntary and I’m not getting a grade back. That would NOT go over in my English class.

A few things the picture doesn’t show you. I was feeling sick that day which *I* thought was justification for a nap, clearly I was wrong.  I watched at least 1.5 hrs of class, so it’s not like I was sleeping through all of it. Now, are you ready for this? I wasn’t actually asleep, just listening to a podcast. And you see that knife in the bottom right? Later on I actually grabbed that knife just in case (if you’ve been half-heartedly scrolling through and not paying attention, allow me to reiterate, DO NOT TRUST ANYONE NOT TO PRANK YOU! They WILL betray you).

Hey look at that. A well-reasoned explanation that ties in Krav principles and is more than “aaaaaaaah i’m tired let me sleeeep” bet you didn’t expect that! I don’t think I did. I put way too much work into this if only I could do the same for my school work. I’m not kidding I have school tomorrow (actually it’s now tomorrow) and I’m doing this instead of schoolwork. Moral of this story is don’t sleep at Krav if you don’t want people to poke/kick you awake because it’s time for class, or build a FREAKING FORT AROUND YOU! WHY? I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING.

That is all,

Karis out!

In 1989, Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper, a former US Marine and creator of “the modern technique” of gun fighting, wrote Principles of Personal Defense, an easy to understand guide to training oneself to avoid dangerous conflict.  Cooper had long been famous for teaching his “Mental Awareness Colour Code,” a system that employs the colours White, Yellow, Orange, and Red to indicate the level of awareness a person is experiencing. “Black” was added later by the USMC, after realizing what behaviours extreme psychological stress can cause. The awareness colour code is a simplified view of a person’s stress and awareness under stressful, potentially dangerous, situations. It is important to know, both in Krav Maga and in life, at what level you are at, in order to avoid reaching code Black. A key concept often heard in Krav Maga is “Situational Awareness,” this as usually taught in class as the awareness of physical surroundings. Here you must ask yourself things like; “are there multiple attackers?”, “are there weapons?”, “do I have viable escape routes?”, etc…  However, a big part of situational awareness is also being aware of your personal mental state and your ability to act or react appropriately in a given situation. Enter, the Awareness Colour Code. An easy guide to understanding your mental state at any given time.Principles of self defense.jpg

White – Unaware and Unprepared

This is you sitting relaxed on the couch after a large meal. Often students like to test an instructor with a surprise attack, even if a black belt is teaching, but is at White level any person could easily sucker punch even the most accomplished martial artist. This is a relaxed and unassuming state, you are not anticipating an attack and are relaxed in both a mental and physical sense. This is a state you should be in only when in safe environments.

Yellow – Relaxed Alert (A)

Most, animals such as cats or dogs, spend most of their time in this state. To quote Cooper’s book;

“Observe your cat. It is difficult to surprise him. Why? Naturally, his superior hearing is part of the answer, but not all of it. He moves well using his senses. He is not preoccupied with irrelevancies. He’s not thinking about his job, his image or his income taxes. He’s putting first things first, principally his physical security.”

 – Jeff Cooper (2006). “Principles of Personal Defense: Revised Edition”, p.14, Paladin Press

In this stage, you are relaxed but still paying attention.  It would be harder to surprise a person at this stage, but they are still not experiencing a level of stress, just simple awareness. It must be understood that being at Yellow, or relaxed alert, is not paranoia. If one were to mentally be at orange (below) or higher on the scale on a regular basis, identifying everything as a threat whether real or imaginary, then this would then be moving into paranoia. Remember, relaxed alert is just that, relaxed. You can stay here indefinitely with out any issues, other than being more prepared to perceive, Analyze, Formulate, and Act against identified threats (See Action Vs. Reaction: Stages of Mental Processing for more).

Orange – Specific Alert (A) (D) (PE)

This is the level of awareness you experience when you have identified a specific area or person of concern and your attention is now focused. A nefarious looking person is walking towards you, or perhaps you are a soldier on patrol assessing windows and doors. While Yellow is a stage that you can maintain indefinitely, Orange requires mental concentration. Consider working an 8 hour job; statistically most work is done before noon, as people still have the mental focus to be productive. The same goes for Orange; stay here for too long and you will begin to read the situation incorrectly!

Red – Fight! (PE) (RA)

Either the situation was unavoidable or you misread it, but you are now actively engaged in a fight or conflict. Imagine a car tachometer.  How long can it stay red-lined until the engine blows? The same goes for a fight. How long can you maintain this level of intensity, both mentally and physically? This is why for us, as Krav Maga practitioners (Kravists), we try to limit time spent in Red, and end it as soon as possible.

Black – Catastrophic Breakdown (Non-Functional Freeze (NFF))

If you hit Black, you have experienced a complete, catastrophic breakdown; mentally, physically, or both. The longer you spend at condition Red the more likely you are to trip into Black. A persistent example of this would be “shell shock” (PTSD). However, some people go straight from White or Yellow to Black, this would be the “freeze” reaction, which is when your nervous system is overwhelmed and shuts down instead of entering “fight or flight.” You can avoid this by training properly, so that your brain and body know how to react appropriately to violent stress. However, it is impossible to know who will experience this before it happens; some people are prone to it and some people are not. It is also important to have proper mental decompression if you spend too much of your time at Orange or Red. If you experience this or anything like it, and have survived a violent confrontation, we advise that you seek professional counselling to ensure that you do not suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress as a result. Proper, professional debriefing, and possible therapy, will help, both practically and emotionally.

* See The Stages of Self-defence post for more details on the below information

  • (A) – Avoidance
  • (D) – Diffusion
  • (PE) – Preemptive
  • (RE) – Reactive

**Topics under any principle category (Eg. Krav Maga Principles) may be updated from time to time.  So check-in every few months to see if the posts have been updated.




While Krav Maga is by no means new, it is still new to many people, especially in North America. When I am asked, which is often, what is Krav Maga, I usually go into some long unending history of it  to the unfortunate individual who was silly enough to ask me that question. I usually say it’s complicated, but it is basically self defense that works with an Israeli twist. However, I think I can simplify it even further. It is the art of awareness.

After being asked to describe the importance of awareness in sports psychology, the first thing that came to mind was Krav Maga. As most Krav Maga practitioners should know, Imi Lichtenfeld,the man essentially responsible for creating Krav Maga famously said, when asked what Krav Maga was created for, “So one may walk in peace.” Add this to something I picked up from Nir Maman, “You win 100% of fights you are not in,” You begin to realize that the essence of Krav Maga is awareness. You may walk in peace because you know avoiding the fight is the best way to be safe and the only way to do this is by being aware.

Situational and environmental awareness is probably the most important thing you should get out of a good Krav Maga school. If you are only learning a set of moves, or just losing weight you should probably start looking for a new instructor or school. Now granted, being situationally aware may sometimes be seen as paranoia, it really is not. On the awareness colour code originally created by Jeff Cooper, being slightly aware is where most animals are at the yellow awareness level. This means you are calm, but still paying attention, while a person who is paranoid spends most of their time at the orange level which for most people would simply burn them out.


Being aware simply means paying attention to what is going on around you. In today’s modern world, largely due to the smart phone,most people spend their time looking down at some kind of digital display and not paying attention to the world around them. This means that countless generations are losing that spatial and situational awareness that was crucial to early human survival in the wilderness. While I understand we are not in the wilderness anymore, the world once again is getting very violent. Being aware of your surroundings could literally be the difference between life or death. This means that if your Krav Maga training has made you aware of what’s going on around you then it is doing its job. I would like to think that we at Urban Tactics have put together a good program to get our students thinking. I mean I guess we are, since I regularly have students tell me that they are now paying attention to things they never used to. As teacher, educator, instructor, this makes me happy. It lets me know that my students are truly learning to be aware so that they may walk in peace. To sum it up, in the future when someone asks me what is  Krav Maga, I can now answer with ‘It is trained awareness for self defense, or simply awareness.” I realize that I will most likely end up giving another Krav Maga history lesson as it is my passion but I think it’s a good place to start.

Written By: Jonathan Fader

holding cellphones

I noticed a funny thing the other day that I have never put much thought into. I had forgotten something at the grocery store so at 11pm at night I headed back out to walk to the store.

I currently live in a relatively nice area of one of the suburbs of Vancouver, Cars lined the street and the trees grow tall hanging over the sidewalks. It was a clear mild night perfect for a late night outing. I looked up and about 200m down the sidewalk I saw a young woman. Her hands were out, and she was walking at a comfortable pace. As we got closer and closer she pulled out her smart phone and looked down at it as she walked passed me.

It dawned on me. Our technology is increasingly giving us a false sense of security. In this case, her looking down at her phone would do nothing to prevent me from attacking her if I was a bad person. Not only this, from a self defense point of view, the fact she has taken her eyes off of me for the perceived safety of the phone has actually put her in a worse situation.

If she had been looking at me and I attacked she would be able to have some kind of normal human instinctual flinch response, such as throwing her hands up to protect her face. However, now with her eyes down, focused on the screen pretending I was not there she would have no time to even do that. Technology has gotten in the way of our ability to even react with our normal instinctual reactions. This is bad.


I thought about it even further and I am partially guilty of this myself. I know that if I am walking and I have my phone in my hand, while I am always paying attention it will drastically reduce the speed at which I can react. Why? because in the back of my head I think, this phone is my life, I run my business from it and it is expensive thus, I must protect it. I even may try to justify this fact by suggesting that the phone cannot defend itself so I must protect it.
This of course is not a good mentality, as a phone is just a thing and my life is well, mine and I would like to stay alive.

I know that with the phone in my hand I am at least initially operating as if I only have one good hand as my other will be holding on to the phone. Instead of the dropping it immediately or throwing it like I know I should it is likely that I will protect it first. Again, this is bad.

Granted, If I am in an area that I am really not comfortable in I always put it away and remain observant, but complacency can happen and I could still potentially be in a bad situations and not know it because I am still focused on my phone.

Imagine this, you are on a crowded subway or light transit system. What will you most likely see now in the 21st century?

You will see the same thing, many people looking down at their phones. If someone is attacked or being aggressive the only thing people will do is look up, see what’s going on and then look down back to their “safety”. There may be even one so bold as to film it and post it on YouTube for later viewing. Of course this is the Bystander effect at its greatest. The advantage now, compared to 50 years ago, is that there is evidence for later prosecution or arrest, but for those being attacked this is too little too late.

So I say to you, stop using your phone to avoid paying attention, it does not make the situation safer. If you see someone or something your are unsure of or do not like, pay attention. Put your phone in your pocket or purse and observe. You do not need to look at the person or thing in question, simply pay attention. Your phone will not save you in the moment but your situational awareness will.

Written By: Jonathan Fader