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We like to think of ourselves as “fair” people e.g. when we make judgements concerning the actions and behaviors of others we do so from a neutral position, considering and weighing up all the factors at play in an unbiased manner. We often believe we are being fair and accurate even when we don’t really have enough information at hand to inform our position - when we lack a context we will imagine/create one, as our brains abhor a vacuum. This can result in us making inaccurate judgments concerning things we have witnessed and even blame people for not acting or behaving in a certain way. We may watch a clip of CCTV footage of an assault and determine that someone should have responded to a situation in such a way, that we would have dealt with it differently in order to secure a successful outcome. However, most of our social judgments are susceptible to attribution errors and biases, and these can cause us to draw wrong conclusions about the things we see, and the interactions we have with others. Whilst we may be extremely confident in our view of the world, and the way we navigate it, it is often worth considering how accurate and unbiased our attributions are, and whether the result(s) may be a flawed perception concerning our personal safety.

One way in which our attributions may be flawed, is that we tend to attribute the actions and behaviors of others to something personal and inherent about them, rather than due to situational factors and components that are at play e.g. if someone fails to recognize a threat or danger, then it is due to their lack of awareness, rather than due to the situation itself - such as an assailant making an unprovoked, spontaneous assault for no other reason than in that moment they could. This phenomenon is referred to as the “Fundamental Attribution Error”, which can really be summed up using the phrase, “I would have done it differently”. In our minds, we are not constrained by situational factors, as in our view we would have somehow managed or mitigated them – everything in hindsight is 20/20. However heavily weighted a situation is against someone, our correspondence bias, will make us believe that a person’s failure to act was due to that individual’s personal characteristics, and that even when the odds are completely and overwhelmingly stacked against them, these don’t determine the outcome but instead it is their intrinsic personal failings of the person involved that do so; dispositional rather than situational attribution. This can cause us to over-estimate our own abilities to deal with and handle difficult situations. We might think that we would spot a potential threat because we have good awareness, even though there might be little in a situation that would help you identify the danger. If we were to fail to identify such a threat, our own narrative would be that this was down to situational reasons, not personal ones.

Another attribution we are affected by is, Defensive Attribution. This occurs when we are less judgmental about a person’s actions and behavior in a situation, when we perceive them to be like us e.g. if we hear about someone who was attacked when they were drunk and unable to defend themselves, we might initially see them as facilitating, or even being somewhat responsible for, the assault in some way, however if were to later find out that they were of the same ethnicity, socio-economic demographic, age, etc., as us, and that the assault occurred in a location that we frequent, we may soften our judgment, and start to explain the assault as being the result and product of situational factors, rather than due to personal failings on the part of the individual. This is partly the result of not wanting to be perceived in a negative way, or be blamed, if we were to be attacked in a similar situation/fashion. One of the dangers of this, is that we conclude that there is nothing we could do to change the outcome if we were to be put in a similar situation, and that just as this person was unable to defend themselves, neither would we be able to i.e. the situation is outside of our control, and such violence is random and inevitable, and is controlled/dictated wholly by situational factors, which we are unable to change or influence. This can also lead us to develop an idea concerning the inevitability of being the victim of violence i.e. it is people like us who are targeted. The two often go hand-in-hand, with individuals concluding that they are likely to be attacked, and that there is nothing they can do if they are.

We also have a bias/attribution that other people’s interactions with us, are by and large related to dispositional factors, rather than situational ones. If we cut someone off in traffic, and they get angry, the part we play in their anger – the situational component – is minor, and even insignificant, and the real reason they became mad with us is that they are a nasty, angry individual. However, in contrast, if we are cut off in traffic and become angry, that’s solely down to the actions and behavior of the other person. This can cause us to underestimate the effects of how we interact with others. We may believe that taking a parking space that someone else was waiting for is a trivial matter, and that they should understand that we probably have a good reason to do so, without realizing that it is likely this action, rather than their “personality” which will cause them to become aggressive and potentially violent towards us. One of the results/conclusions of this attribution could be summed up with the phrase, “we have the right to be aggressive/angry with others whilst others don’t have the right to be angry with us”.

For us to be able to predict, identify and avoid violence, as well as having a fair understanding and appreciation of how we can respond and deal with it, when/where it is inevitable, we must understand how our attribution errors and biases effect our appreciation of violent incidents. If we simply look at violent events without understanding the filters through which we view them, we are likely to come away with a skewed picture that represents what we want to think, rather than what has actually occurred.

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I realized recently, that I hadn’t written anything concerning travel security, in over two years; and in the middle of the holiday/travel season, it seems as good a time as any to talk about it. Travel security, is a huge subject area, in that it covers all your regular day-to-day security concerns, but looks at them from the perspective of being in a foreign/unfamiliar environment e.g. you may be fully aware of the bad streets and neighborhoods in your own locale, but have little knowledge of the risks that exist in the area(s) you will be visiting etc. In this article, I want to look at a few practical steps that can be taken to improve security when travelling.

Anyone who has worked in close protection will tell you that advance work will make the actual detail/trip a lot easier, and ensure that everything goes smoothly – and if there are any incidents they can be dealt with quickly and effectively e.g. if you know where all the hospitals are ahead of time, and somebody gets sick you can act immediately, rather than having to spend possibly precious time locating them, and then working out the best/fastest route to reach them – if such an incident happens in rush hour, the most direct route may not be the fastest. Obviously, for most people going on holiday it’s impossible/cost prohibitive to send an advance party to check things out beforehand, however it is possible to do virtual advance work, and an hour or to on your computer can go a long way towards familiarizing yourself with a new and unknown location.

When I travel for leisure or business, there are two basic things I like to know beforehand: what my hotel or the destination I’m going to stay at looks like, and the route from the airport (or other transport hub) to that hotel/destination looks like. Neither one of them should be a surprise to me. When I spend time in Central London, I rarely stay at large chain style hotels, opting for smaller privately-run establishments, which are usually much cheaper. Often these hotels are large converted houses that are part of a terrace row, and not always particularly easy to visually identify. Using Google Earth, I can trace my routes virtually, and using google maps street view, get a visual on the place where I’m staying before I travel there. Google Earth also points out key features, such as schools and churches that I would pass along the way from say the airport to the hotel, giving me a better understanding of my new/foreign environment. This can be handy, when I’m taking a taxi or ride sharing service, to make sure that they are heading in the right direction, and a) not trying to bump up the fair, or b) trying to abduct me; something that may not be as relevant when visiting London, as it would be when travelling in/to Mexico, or other locales where this is not such an uncommon practice.

Get local currency before you go, and don’t wait to do this at the airport. Cash is still king. Even in modern economies there can be power outages – New York City had a power outage on Sunday that left large parts of the city without power. When this happens, your credit/debit card isn’t worth anything to you e.g. you won’t be able to buy food, dine out etc. It’s even worth getting local currency for countries you are transitioning through e.g. a few years back when I was travelling to Israel, I had a connecting flight that went through Istanbul; so I had a small amount of Turkish Lira, so that if anything happened which kept me there longer than anticipated, and there was a power cut (a combination that was unlikely but possible), I could at least but food and water – call me paranoid but life has made me that way. The reason not to wait till you get to the airport to get currency is that there are times when they will run out; especially of currencies that they don’t hold a lot of – and often these are the countries where cash is a much more dependable commodity than credit cards. In certain locales cigarettes make a good backup to cash, and can be an easy way to make a “bribe” with local officials, than offering them cash.

Get an international driver’s license/permit. In the US, these are issued by either the American Automobile Association (AAA), or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA), who typically charge around $15. You will need to carry your country or state issued license as well, however in about 175 countries, this permit is recognized as an official form of ID. This means that you don’t have to carry your passport (it can be left in the hotel safe) or hand it over to local officials as ID: who in some locales may decide to confiscate it for financial gain. On a more practical note, when hiring a car, the hire-firm may require it, and not recognize a state issued license/permit. It is worth noting that its expiry may be set for a year’s duration, or tied to your own license’s expiry date, so that at some point it will need to be renewed. However, for a very small amount of money it’s good to have an internationally recognized form of ID, which is not your passport.

What dictates most of our safety concerns and our attitudes towards risk is a recency bias i.e. if bad things haven’t happened to us recently – or at all – we’re likely not to think about or consider risk, and/or potential threats and dangers: bad things don’t happen to us, until they do. When bad things happen in a foreign country or unknown locale, we don’t want to be figuring things out in real time. Doing virtual advance work, making sure we have the financial means to deal with any incidents, and preserving our official documents, are three things we want to have in the bag.           

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Skills are more important than techniques, when it comes to surviving a violent altercation. A skillful person can get a sub-optimal – I don’t like using the term “bad” – technique to work, but an unskilled person cannot get the most efficient and effective technique (if such exists) to work, in a real-life encounter; without a massive amount of luck and incompetence on their attacker’s part. Some people don’t possess the skills to make certain techniques work, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad or inappropriate techniques e.g. there are a lot of great strikers who don’t have the skills to throw, and a lot of great grapplers who don’t have the greatest striking skills – this doesn’t mean throwing is bad, or striking is bad; both are good for those who have the skills to use them. There was a legendary British doormen and Karateka, who used to finish his real-life encounters when working the door, with high-kicks to the head, even though you’ll often hear the tired and cliched mantra of, “high kicks don’t work on the street”; if you don’t have the skills, they don’t. In the world of reality-based self-defense, there is often an over-focus on techniques, without a discussion on skills-development. In this article I want to focus on skills, and how we need to get constant feedback, on their development – and how we sometimes misinterpret that “feedback”.

Geoff Thompson, when asked what the philosophy behind his system was, replied by saying that it was about learning how to hit hard. That has always stayed with me. My elevator pitch self-defense lesson is: get a hand in the attacker’s face – to disrupt them – and then throw hard hammer-fists until you can disengage and run. I can teach that in the time it takes for the elevator to reach the 3rd floor, where my studio/dojo is; admittedly it’s a freight elevator that moves slowly. It’s a simple tactic, but it takes a lot of skills to get it to work under stress and duress. First, you must be prepared to strike first, and this means you need to develop threat recognition skills so you can understand when you are in danger. You need to be fully committed to your actions (that commitment is a skill that needs developing), you need to be fully aware of your legal rights as to when you are entitled to act preemptively (that’s not a technique, it’s a skill), and you need to be able to hit hard, etc. What looks and seems easy on paper, is something else when you try it in the real-world. I remember a guy who joined a team that I’d worked several years with on the door. After working with us a few weeks, he asked me to show him how to do a wrist control that he’d seen me use several times. When I demonstrated it, he remarked that it seemed really simple and that he’d use it the next time he was involved in an altercation. A few nights later, he told me that it was a stupid technique, that didn’t work – he’d tried it, and not surprisingly it had failed. He knew the technique but didn’t have the skills to get it to work, and/or the understanding of when and when not to use it. Not a problem with the technique, just a lack of skills.

When people train striking and punching, there is a danger that they think they are developing good skills, when really, they are just reinforcing bad ones, as they misinterpret the “feedback” they are getting. When I lift weights, my body gets feedback as to the effort I am putting in and the power I am generating. The tension in my muscles tells me whether it was a hard or an easy lift, etc. When people bend at the waist to touch their toes, in order to stretch their hamstrings, they are not actually stretching: a muscle has to be relaxed, in order for it to be stretched. What they are feeling/experiencing is an eccentric contraction of the muscle, that is supporting the weight of the hanging torso, and misinterpreting the tension in their hamstrings as a stretch. Is being able to touch your toes a demonstration of flexibility? Yes. Is it a good stretching exercise? No. It feels like a great stretch, but really it’s a misinterpretation of what the body is telling you. One of the biggest problems I have with students who are punching and striking with tensed arms when doing pad-work, is convincing them that they are not generating the maximum power that they can. They can “feel” the power they are generating; the tension in their arms lets them “feel” it, and they don’t get the same feedback when they try striking relaxed, so the logic follows that when they’re relaxed they’re not generating as much power. When the pad-holder is asked for their feedback, they’ll say that the relaxed strike/punch is more powerful than the tensed one. The problem is that every time they punch with the tense arm, they get “feedback” as to the perceived power they are generating, whereas the student holding the pads for them only gives feedback sporadically and often not at all.

One of the great things about throwing, is that when you get it right, you feel nothing – it is effortless. When a person’s balance is properly taken, you don’t feel a thing, because they become weightless to you. The problem is, how do you develop something that you can’t feel; when the only feedback is your opponent/assailant falling. The effectiveness of a good punch, or a good throw, can only be judged by the response that it causes; a tense arm, or a heavy lift, only tells you that you are doing it wrong. If the pad moves back, or the person goes flying, then you know that you’ve got it right. It’s not about what you feel, it’s about what you make happen. A sharp knife will cut through things effortlessly, whilst a dull blade will make you work for it. Our job is to develop fighting skills, and to do this we must take the right feedback from our training, and not misinterpret what our body is telling us.    

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Not all anger is the same, and in order for us to stand a chance at de-escalation and conflict resolution, we need to understand what motivates it, and where it comes from; if you spill a drink over one person in a bar, they may become slightly aggressive, but not committed to physical action, whilst another individual may aggressively explode into you, with no other thought than to cause you maximum damage and harm, etc. When we can understand the personality, along with the “thinking errors” that accompany the character of such violent individuals, we can tailor our responses accordingly. If we treat all aggression and anger as the same, or reduce it to the trigger or cause of the dispute (such as believing the issue is the spilt drink, etc.), we are in danger of misreading the situation i.e. if people respond with differing levels of anger after having a drink spilt over them, it’s not the drinking that is the driving force in the incident; it’s the individual’s personality, character, and thought processes – and these may differ from person to person. This article looks to explore some of the different types of anger that we may face in aggressive confrontations and recognize when certain types of resolution may be appropriate, and when not.

One well-defined type of anger is Narcissistic Rage. Narcissism is a personality disorder, which is comorbid with many others e.g. if an individual has a personality disorder such as Paranoid Personality Disorder, they are also likely to have certain traits and characteristics that are found in Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissists are self-serving individuals, who will often try to justify their selfish actions, by stating that they are for the greater good, when in fact the individual who ultimately benefits from them is themselves. However, it can be hard for them to continually convince themselves of this argument, and/or reconcile the discrepancies in the way they see themselves, with the way others treat or see them e.g. they may believe that they should be recognized as the expert in a particular field, or the person who is most qualified to occupy a certain position, but find that there are others who fail to acknowledge this, etc. This puts a strain on their identity and idea of self, and at some point, manifests itself in extreme anger and rage. Somebody will trigger this with something they say and do, however this isn’t what the anger is about. It’s not about anything external, but rather an external manifestation of an extreme internal frustration, and like everything connected with narcissism, the rage is entirely selfish and self-serving; it is not a highly emotional expression of righting a perceived wrong, it’s about dealing with internal emotional disparities, as an attempt to reset the balance of how they see themselves with how the world views them. After such aggressive and possibly violent outbursts, the narcissist will congratulate themselves that they have restored order to the world, and everybody sees them as they deserve to be seen.

A long time ago, I did some youth work with gang members in the UK; although they were referred to as “gang members”, they were really loose affiliations of teenagers, from different locales who hung around together, and were aggressive towards others who were not from their area – occasionally groups of them would visit other districts, looking for violence. All of them carried knives. I would often ask them about the types of scenarios that would cause them to pull their blade, and the universal number one answer was when they felt disrespected. At the risk of generalizing, those who engage in criminal activities often use language slightly differently, to the law-abiding population, and this is certainly true when it comes to the idea of, and the use of, the words “respect” and “disrespect”. I could never make the argument that I’m a fashion guru – I don’t care too much about clothes. When appropriate and necessary, such as when dealing with corporate clients, I’ll make an effort, but day-to-day, I don’t give much consideration to what I’m wearing; if it’s clean and it fits, I’m good to go. If somebody was to point out that I don’t dress as well as I could, I wouldn’t feel disrespected, I’d agree with them. The person making the remark might mean it as a slight, or as an attempt to provoke a certain response from me, but I don’t feel disrespected because what I wear, the car I drive, etc., isn’t part of my identity. When I talked to the teenagers about respect, they had great difficulty articulating what respect actually was, and often what it boiled down to was that they didn’t have particularly thick-skins, when it came to dealing with interactions – both aggressive and non-aggressive – because they didn’t have a strong sense of individual identity and a stable character. It wasn’t about respect and disrespect, it was about not being able to deal with anything that was perceived as a slight; and for this there was an extremely long list, that demonstrated several “thinking errors”, such as making consistent eye-contact when talking to them – if you didn’t look away every now and again when talking to them, it was being disrespectful. The source of their anger and aggression was having an extremely thin skin, coupled with an inability to deal with what they thought was adversity.

A certain level of adversity is something most of us expect to deal with i.e. we’re not just going to be handed things, we’re going to have to work for them, etc. If we expect to get a high-paid job, we’re going to have to put in the hours to gain enough experience to qualify us for the position, and we’re probably going to have to do a certain amount of self-education – we’re not just entitled to it. Certain individuals don’t recognize this, and believe that they don’t deserve to have to do these things i.e. they should be recognized for who they are and receive the appropriate rewards they’re entitled to. This may be as simple as not believing that they should be stuck in traffic, or stuck behind a car which is moving slower than the speed they would like to be driving at, etc. Most of us accept that these things are part of life, but some individuals aren’t able to cope with these minor inconveniences and adversities – in their view this isn’t what their life should look like. If you’ve ever been in a subway carriage that has broken down, and see somebody just lose it, dollars to donuts, it’s not because they are going to be late to an important, potentially life-changing meeting, but rather that they’re unable to cope with adversity and feel that they are entitled to a different experience.     

The things which trigger aggressive and violent outbursts are rarely the reasons for them, however it is easy to get caught up in trying to resolve the conflict, by making it about the event. To de-escalate a situation successfully we must be able to see past the incident, and deal with the individual, recognizing that their anger may come from a number of different places, and be motivated by internal rather than external factors.      

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I’ve always cross trained, and I believe this is essential, not because of what a system may be lacking in, but so that we can better understand our own system, and its approach to self-defense and fighting, even if it only confirms what we already knew/believed. I once did a security review for a company, where there were only a few minor suggestions I had regarding the processes they already had in place. After a presentation, detailing and explaining my findings, conclusions and recommendations, one manager seemed disappointed that I didn’t have more suggestions and proposals for them – my main one having being that their processes that were in place were fine but employees needed to understand the requirement to follow security protocols and not try to circumvent them when they seemed personally inconvenient (a standard finding and recommendation in most of these types of reports). I explained that sometimes the benefit of getting an external viewpoint was to validate what you already know so that you can move on and progress, building on what you already have, knowing that it stands up to scrutiny. This shouldn’t be viewed as a test or challenge e.g. a boxer doesn’t need to start training in Muay Thai, in order to prove that boxers have better hands than Thai boxers, in fact this would be missing the point entirely; the goal would be to see how Muay Thai fighters use their hands in order to get a better understanding of striking in general, so that your understanding of boxing increases. We may all think we know how another art or system operates but until we participate in it, we really can’t say that we do.

In the late 1980’s and 1990’s a lot of Judoka, started to cross train in wrestling, both Greco Roman and Freestyle, to start to give us an edge in competition; primarily I was looking to “steal” techniques, movements and entries, that other Judoka might not know how to deal with. Initially, my attitude was one of comparison e.g. I’d look at how Judo’s O-Goshi (Major Hip Throw) was a “better” throw than wrestling hip toss etc. and didn’t really attempt to understand, even without the GI, why wrestlers would want to throw in this way, as it looked uncomfortable and potentially injurious, etc. However, over time, as I started to wrestle more, I began to understand how throwing in this way, gave me some new angles, positions and directions to attack from. Perhaps the biggest change in my Judo, from wrestling, was in the way I execute my Morote-Gari (two-handed reap). Without clothing to grab onto – as in wrestling you don’t wear pants - I found that I couldn’t control my opponent’s legs with my hands, especially when sweat started to enter the game. To counter this, I started to control the knees rather than the legs. When I translated this into Judo, my throw became significantly higher and bigger, because I was lifting from a lower position, and there was the added benefit that it became harder for my opponent to pull me to the ground afterwards. Once I moved outside of my “original” art and saw how other systems dealt with the same or similar problems, I became more of a grappler, rather than just simply a Judoka. If your system is a second-generation system that has incorporated other arts, then it’s a good idea to train in those “original” systems to get a better understanding of your own e.g. do some boxing, put on a GI and do some Judo, etc.

My ego prevented me from doing BJJ for quite a long time. I had a fairly good Ne-Waza/ground game from Judo and didn’t want to acknowledge that another GI-based system, might have actually improved upon Kodokan Judo (at the time I saw Kosen Judo from where BBJ derives as an apostate system, that had gone down the wrong path, without actually attempting to understand it or the contexts for which it was designed). Until you do something, you can’t actually understand it, at best all you can have is a theoretical understanding e.g. if you don’t practice Judo in a GI, you don’t actually understand Kuzushi - the way that balance is broken – when utilizing Judo throws; that is not to say a wrestler, or an akidoka, doesn’t understand balance breaking, they just understand it from a different perspective. I thought I “understood” BJJ, because I’d been on the ground in a GI before, but rolling with Judokas is a totally different game – especially when you’re attempting not to be on your back, and where guard isn’t a recognized position, etc. A simple rule change, alters the dynamics considerably, something that isn’t necessarily obvious or apparent when you’re looking in from the outside; when you simply stay in your own system you don’t know what you don’t know. This is not to say that every student needs to practice multiple systems, but an instructor attempting to understand how things works, why they work, where they don’t, etc. – should. This is not acknowledging a failing or a gap in their own art, but a way of improving their own knowledge.

I remember talking to Judo players who believed that the only way to improve their Judo was to do more Judo. They looked down on weight training and running, even though this was part of every top athlete’s training. They took almost a religious view, that they’d somehow not be true Judokas if they acknowledged that other non-Judo training methods would improve their Judo. If you practice boxing, your striking will improve, if you practice Judo your grappling and throwing will improve, if you practice Muay Thai or Tae Kwon Do your kicking will improve, etc., and you can do all of these things whilst still being “true” to your own system – this is a very different approach from simply taking a throw from Judo, and saying it is Judo, or a ground work from BJJ and saying it is BJJ. All martial arts have specializations, and to be the best fighter you can it is worth spending some time listening to and training with the specialists.  

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About 15 years ago, I developed a framework for my corporate clients, expressing how certain premeditated acts of violence and crime are committed; I termed it the 5-step predator process (the title being influenced by similar work that was being undertaken by criminologists at the time around the stages of grooming that pedophiles take their targeted victims through) – I wrote briefly about it in this blog around 6 years ago. It’s a simple model that suggests that when looking retrospectively at certain crimes, those that commit them follow a certain sequence, some of which is conscious and some of which is unconscious i.e. they select a location, or recognize the benefits a location provides, they select a victim, carry out some form of surveillance, synchronize their movement to that of the victim, such as by following them, and then engage in either some form of interview or direct attack. In this article, I want to look at some of the ideas underpinning this model/framework, as well as some of its limitations i.e. what it is not able to explain and demonstrate, etc.

The first thing to note about the model is that it is situational. Often when a theory or idea is proposed it is taken to be a “general” theory that attempts to explain everything e.g. Felson and Cohen’s (1979) Routine Activity Theory is often presented as a general theory, because it attempted to explain and show how overall crime rates changed in the United States between 1947 and 1979, however what they were really measuring were certain types of crime, that accounted for these changes. Their proposal that for a crime to be committed there must be; a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian, has merit in explaining certain types of street crimes, but as Feminist Victimologists have pointed out, needs a certain degree of adaptation to explain domestic violence, and familial child-abuse, where in simplistic terms the “capable guardian” - who is seen to deter and prevent certain types of crime - is the motivated offender in others. Likewise, the 5-step predator process model attempts only – in a very loose way – to explain criminal processes wherein the perpetrator and the victim have no formal or identifiable relationship. If a criminal has already identified a target - such as the  partner of their friend - for a rape/sexual assault, the selection of location becomes less important to understanding that crime, than the relationship they have with the individual they are planning on victimizing. I often use the abduction and murder of Amy Lord to illustrate this. In 2016, Amy Lord, a mid-twenties South Boston resident was beaten in her flat and abducted, before being taken to a series of ATM’s to withdraw money, and then driven to Hyde Park, before being stabbed to death. On the Saturday afterwards, our free women’s self-defense program was packed with women in their mid-twenties from South Boston who feared that a killer was targeting women in their specific location - a it turned out, they were correct. However, if Amy Lord’s killer had been a past boyfriend, that relationship would have been the driving factor in her murder, and the fact that she lived in South Boston far less relevant. Crime and Violence is situational, and two of the five situational factors that can pivot how a violent act is understood, are “Location” and “Relationship”. The 5-step process I use, is only applicable where there is no existing relationship between the perpetrator and the victim i.e., the victim is chosen/targeted in a location.

Another foundation of the model is a mathematical one, that underpins a lot of behavioral sequences in psychology, and comes from the mathematician Andrey Markov; the Markov Chain. Basically, Markov Chains look at sequences, going in one direction: forward, i.e., the current step or stage - and not any of the previous ones - is only relevant to the next one; the cumulative history is not relevant to the next step in the sequence. In the 5-step model, this would translate in the following way: after victim selection, comes the surveillance phase, however the selection of a location isn’t relevant to this step in the chain, as it occurs. This doesn’t mean that certain locations aren’t chosen for the concealment and surveillance opportunities they may provide, but that this is part of the process in choosing a suitable location i.e., the first step in the chain, and this choice isn’t as relevant to the act of surveillance, as to the selection of a potential victim. When looking at such models in a Markovian Chain, this is referred to as lag-one i.e. it is only the last link in the chain that is relevant to the next. This becomes a very important idea and concept when looking at impulsive and opportunistic behavioral sequences, where what is happening in the moment dictates what happens next – a common feature in violent crimes, even when there has been a fair degree of planning. It also reduces a lot of complex rigidity and allows the model to represent fluid and dynamic situations.

Another idea of the model is that certain phases of the sequence can run concurrently e.g. surveillance can occur at the same time as a synchronization of movement e.g. a perpetrator can select a victim, and as they follow them, synchronizing their movement, as they carry out their surveillance, etc. Because the process is modeled as a Markovian Chain, it is the synchronization of movement that is affected by the surveillance phase, that occurs after the victim selection step; and you obviously can’t carry out surveillance on a victim, until you’ve selected them, or been in a location where they exist. A perpetrator’s surveillance may be as simple as watching a selected victim to confirm that they were correct in choosing them, and they may combine their synchronization of movement to help influence this. Several years ago, there was a serial rapist operating in the North End of Boston, which is a rabbit warren of narrow, winding streets. One of the women who was victimized reported that she had picked up that she was being followed, and decided to stop and pretend she was on her phone, so that the person behind would a) know that someone knew where she was, and b) respect the social convention that you don’t interrupt somebody’s phone conversation. It may be that the attacker used his movement to gauge his target’s response, as part of the surveillance phase, to judge whether they were likely to fight back or not e.g. would they turn around and verbally confront him or ignore him, hoping that he would pass them by?    

There have been attempts to present general theories of crime, but often these become so general that they offer little in way of explanation, and it is often more useful to use several theories and models to explain acts of violence and other crimes. The 5-step predator process model/framework is something I use to give a sense of how violent crimes, committed by strangers, occur, however there will always be certain situations that don’t fit neatly into it, often because relationships between perpetrators and victims aren’t so black and white or clear cut e.g. in certain neighborhoods/locations, victims and aggressors will rub shoulders with each other on a daily basis, but not have a strong relationship with each other, clouding how the two situational factors of location and relationship affect each other. However, as a means of explaining how certain criminal behaviors can be predicted and identified, I have found it to be an extremely useful framework.          

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I recently read an article which stated that criminals like the dark, as it hides their actions, and gives them an advantage etc. At first glance this seems reasonable, and a lot of violent crimes do take place at night, however much of this is down to availability of suitable victims, and the routine activities that many violent criminals engage in, rather than the dark per se e.g. it’s not so much that criminals like the dark, but rather that their activities are engaged in during those hours because circumstances are favorable etc. In the winter months in Boston, more street robberies are committed in the earlier parts of the evening, than the later part of the night/early morning, when compared to the summer months; it’s colder later at night, and less people are about on the streets etc. It’s not so much that certain crime rates go up because its dark, but because of what happens at night – people engage in leisure activities, such as drinking and socializing and are more likely to be in public spaces (and some crimes such as residential burglary go down, because houses are more likely to be vacant during the day when people are at work, than at night when they’re home). This perception of the dark being responsible for high crime rates is a widespread one, and one which affects many public policies e.g. many cities have adopted major street-lighting and relighting projects in order to reduce the crime rate – to mixed results. The research seems to suggest, but certainly not conclusively, that such projects have been more successful in the UK than in the US. Though in certain UK relighting projects increases in crimes and disorder, especially that committed by juveniles and youth gangs has been experienced, as the improved lighting makes the nighttime more socially accessible to them. Although the jury is out on whether improved street lighting does actually improve safety and reduce vulnerability and victimization, the majority of the research does seem to point to the fact that we feel much safer in well lit areas, with our fear of being the victim of crime being decreased; even if that is not necessarily the reality. This article looks at how lighting affects our perception of danger, and other factors which when combined may be more influential in our determination of risk.

There are three environmental factors that influence our level of fear concerning our environment(s), these are: prospect, concealment and escape (this is based on various criminologist development of Appleton’s prospect-refuge theory). Prospect concerns our ability to spot danger at distance and is dependent on our sightlines. If we are in the middle of an open field with no objects obstructing our field of vision, we have good prospect – we can see potential danger approaching a long way off. Our ability to see potential threats goes down when it gets darker, and we aren’t as able to see as far; which is where we value good lighting. We also feel less safe when our environment offers many concealment points, where a motivated offender can hide, or carry out surveillance on us unobserved. What is interesting about this, is that our natural fear is of an aggressor, attacking us by surprise without any warning concerning their physical presence. Such fear seems to be strongly lodged in our DNA, and seems to suggest that we are still very much wired to expect and deal with predators who remain hidden and undetectable until the last moment, like the crocodile who waits, hidden just below the waterline, and ready to pounce on an unobservant Gnu that comes down to the waterhole to drink. However, human-on-human violence rarely involves such physical ambushes and is more likely to involve some form of visible approach with preceding dialogue. Even if we may consciously understand and appreciate this, our emotional self is still more worried and concerned about the rear-strangle and other unseen attacks, than the more likely social interaction that precedes most violent attacks. More than prospect and concealment, it seems that our ability to escape, is a more influential factor regarding our perception of crime and violence. We appear to fear entrapment more than anything – we emotionally prefer the option to run away, much more than the ability to spot danger, and avoid it at the earliest opportunity. So, whilst we might value good street lighting that allows us to identify potential threats, more important to us is the ability to get away. This goes some way to explain our fear when in unfamiliar places, even when everything else suggests that the environment is safe.           

Street lighting, and public lighting, is starting to change. Many cities are starting to change their traditional, static streetlighting systems to more dynamic and intelligent ones. Many municipalities are looking to both save money and reduce their carbon footprint (it is estimated that public street lighting accounts for 19% of global energy production, along with around 19 000 metric tons of C02 emissions (Gaston et al., 2014)), and so not light areas when they are unoccupied, or light levels are sufficient, such as when there is a full moon. We now have the technology to do this with motion sensors, and Apps on our phone, which identify our location, and can be used to switch on lights when we are near them etc. This both saves money, and is more environmentally friendly, however its effect on both perceived safety, and actual crime is unknown. In CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design), light is often used as a permanent means of defining and enforcing “boundaries” – it is not yet known whether dynamic lighting can do this, or whether it can do it to a greater or lesser degree i.e. does a motion sensor light create and enforce a stronger sense of boundary than a permanently switched on light etc. From the perspective of safety, research (Haans & Kort, 2012) has shown that we feel safer when our immediate area is lit up, rather than when prospective areas we are potentially moving in to our lighted; suggesting that we are emotionally more concerned with dealing with a threat/danger as it happens, than predicting and preventing it.

Surveys and questionnaires have shown that we put a lot of stock in good lighting, and that we believe criminals use the dark to their advantage against us, however there is little evidence to suggest that this is the case. We consistently mark good lighting as one of the most important factors in crime-prevention, though the evidence concerning the effects of lighting on actual crime is inconclusive. It is perhaps natural that as diurnal (daytime) creatures, we mark violent criminals as being naturally nocturnal i.e. an almost different species to us etc. without recognizing that it is our night time activities that attract their attention, rather than something inherent about the dark/night – something that may make us feel – without qualification - that we are naturally safe in the daytime. Whilst lighting may affect our fears concerning crimes and violence, we still exhibit many of the features of prey animals who are more concerned with the exits that an environment provides us, than the ability to identify and predict danger before it occurs. Maybe the most important take-away is that good lighting is far more important to us regarding our feelings and perceptions of safety, than it is to affecting violent criminals actions and behaviors.    

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We like to think of ourselves as “fair” people e.g. when we make judgements concerning the actions and behaviors of others we do so from a neutral position, considering and weighing up all the factors at play in an unbiased manner. We often believe we are being fair and accurate even when we don’t really have enough information at hand to inform our position - when we lack a context we will imagine/create one, as our brains abhor a vacuum. This can result in us making inaccurate judgments concerning things we have witnessed and even blame people for not acting or behaving in a certain way. We may watch a clip of CCTV footage of an assault and determine that someone should have responded to a situation in such a way, that we would have dealt with it differently in order to secure a successful outcome. However, most of our social judgments are susceptible to attribution errors and biases, and these can cause us to draw wrong conclusions about the things we see, and the interactions we have with others. Whilst we may be extremely confident in our view of the world, and the way we navigate it, it is often worth considering how accurate and unbiased our attributions are, and whether the result(s) may be a flawed perception concerning our personal safety.

One way in which our attributions may be flawed, is that we tend to attribute the actions and behaviors of others to something personal and inherent about them, rather than due to situational factors and components that are at play e.g. if someone fails to recognize a threat or danger, then it is due to their lack of awareness, rather than due to the situation itself - such as an assailant making an unprovoked, spontaneous assault for no other reason than in that moment they could. This phenomenon is referred to as the “Fundamental Attribution Error”, which can really be summed up using the phrase, “I would have done it differently”. In our minds, we are not constrained by situational factors, as in our view we would have somehow managed or mitigated them – everything in hindsight is 20/20. However heavily weighted a situation is against someone, our correspondence bias, will make us believe that a person’s failure to act was due to that individual’s personal characteristics, and that even when the odds are completely and overwhelmingly stacked against them, these don’t determine the outcome but instead it is their intrinsic personal failings of the person involved that do so; dispositional rather than situational attribution. This can cause us to over-estimate our own abilities to deal with and handle difficult situations. We might think that we would spot a potential threat because we have good awareness, even though there might be little in a situation that would help you identify the danger. If we were to fail to identify such a threat, our own narrative would be that this was down to situational reasons, not personal ones.

Another attribution we are affected by is, Defensive Attribution. This occurs when we are less judgmental about a person’s actions and behavior in a situation, when we perceive them to be like us e.g. if we hear about someone who was attacked when they were drunk and unable to defend themselves, we might initially see them as facilitating, or even being somewhat responsible for, the assault in some way, however if were to later find out that they were of the same ethnicity, socio-economic demographic, age, etc., as us, and that the assault occurred in a location that we frequent, we may soften our judgment, and start to explain the assault as being the result and product of situational factors, rather than due to personal failings on the part of the individual. This is partly the result of not wanting to be perceived in a negative way, or be blamed, if we were to be attacked in a similar situation/fashion. One of the dangers of this, is that we conclude that there is nothing we could do to change the outcome if we were to be put in a similar situation, and that just as this person was unable to defend themselves, neither would we be able to i.e. the situation is outside of our control, and such violence is random and inevitable, and is controlled/dictated wholly by situational factors, which we are unable to change or influence. This can also lead us to develop an idea concerning the inevitability of being the victim of violence i.e. it is people like us who are targeted. The two often go hand-in-hand, with individuals concluding that they are likely to be attacked, and that there is nothing they can do if they are.

We also have a bias/attribution that other people’s interactions with us, are by and large related to dispositional factors, rather than situational ones. If we cut someone off in traffic, and they get angry, the part we play in their anger – the situational component – is minor, and even insignificant, and the real reason they became mad with us is that they are a nasty, angry individual. However, in contrast, if we are cut off in traffic and become angry, that’s solely down to the actions and behavior of the other person. This can cause us to underestimate the effects of how we interact with others. We may believe that taking a parking space that someone else was waiting for is a trivial matter, and that they should understand that we probably have a good reason to do so, without realizing that it is likely this action, rather than their “personality” which will cause them to become aggressive and potentially violent towards us. One of the results/conclusions of this attribution could be summed up with the phrase, “we have the right to be aggressive/angry with others whilst others don’t have the right to be angry with us”.

For us to be able to predict, identify and avoid violence, as well as having a fair understanding and appreciation of how we can respond and deal with it, when/where it is inevitable, we must understand how our attribution errors and biases effect our appreciation of violent incidents. If we simply look at violent events without understanding the filters through which we view them, we are likely to come away with a skewed picture that represents what we want to think, rather than what has actually occurred.

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Many years ago, when I was much younger, I had a stalker. Like most stalkers, it was an ex-intimate partner who couldn’t and didn’t want to accept that the relationship had ended – even though it had been a very brief one that had only lasted a couple of months. The stalking campaign lasted roughly six months, and finally ended when I moved apartments (for other reasons). At the beginning, I didn’t know much about the phenomenon of stalking, and did a lot of things wrong which fueled and perpetuated it, and it was only as I educated myself that I was able to take some of the steps, which enabled me to start taking back control of my life. At the time, my approach to dealing with aggressive behavior – which stalking is, though it may be packaged in a way where this isn’t evident – was to confront and engage i.e. what your default attitude tends to be when you’re younger and stupider. With stalkers, this is almost always the wrong response, and one which leaves you stressed, frustrated, and disempowered. Dealing with a stalker is a relentless business, and can sometimes feel like a full-time job; so I have every sympathy for anyone who is having to or has had to endure a stalking campaign. In this article, I will share some of my experiences and solutions, including those which worked and those which didn’t, in the hope that they will be of use to anyone who is going through a similar experience.

Stalkers want a relationship. In my case, the individual in question wanted to continue a relationship that had ended. It may be that initially their actions and behaviors are meant to punish you, or that they believe their constant pressure, arguments, contact, etc., will convince you to restart the relationship you ended, or it may be a mix of these things and other confused emotions. However, in most cases stalking campaigns start out with a goal. The problem is that over time, as the stalking campaign progresses, that goal gets lost, and the person simply gets caught up – and addicted – to the process of having some form of relationship with you i.e. it doesn’t matter how they are in your life, as long as they are in it, and are an all-consuming part; they want you thinking about them all the time. If 70% of your phone calls, texts and emails are from them, then every time the phone rings, you get a text, or open your email, you’re going to think it’s them, even when it’s not. This is how they stay present in your life – they know that you’ve started to associate every piece of communication with them. If there’s a knock on your door, that’s going to be them. Stalkers are resourceful. You change your number, your email, your social media accounts, they’ll find your new ones – they’ll find a pretext for asking friends and family members for your new details, etc. In the end, I kept my old phone and email account (social media wasn’t a thing at the time) and got new ones. My stalker still believed she had access to me but was using a mobile phone number that went straight to voicemail, or my home phone that went straight to an answering machine. I used to check both daily at a set time (which allowed me to control the communication) and then contact people I wanted to stay in contact with, providing them with my new number/contact details. Over time, the calls and emails started to dwindle – stalking campaigns take a lot of time and effort, and if the stalker doesn’t get any response back, there is little to feed and fuel their campaign.

I learnt the “No Communication” rule – which is the generally the best way to deal with stalkers – the hard way. Initially, I thought that if I could explain my point of view, and reason and rationalize the situation, then things would end. For me, it was obvious that receiving phone calls and emails every 20 minutes throughout the day was intrusive, annoying and unnecessary, etc., and given the chance I could explain and convince her to stop doing this. At one point I agreed to meet her, at her request, for one last time so we could clear the air and get things straight, etc. I welcomed this opportunity. We met for dinner and by the end it seemed we were on the same page – she’d even apologized. Driving back to my house, I was relieved that the ordeal was over. When I got in, I saw that the answering machine, to my old phone line was flashing. At this stage the only person who called it was her. When I played the message, it was all about how great it was that we were getting back together, that we were giving it another try, and that she accepted my apology for ending the relationship, etc. Whatever I said earlier that evening either wasn’t heard, was unconsciously re-written, or was deliberately misunderstood. Either way, it was a brilliant move to get me to “respond” to her communication, as I had to clarify that this wasn’t the case. At that moment, I was back in a “relationship” with her. It took a further three months of not responding before things started to tail off again. During this period, for about 6 weeks, she used to get on the same Tube train into London as me (I had several regular clients I trained in the city that she knew about), and sit opposite me, looking at me in silence, for the 20 minute journey – it was one of the best educations in learning to handle and become comfortable in socially awkward situations. My personal belief is that this is what really killed off the campaign i.e. not communicating and responding when she was present and appearing to be comfortable when doing so.

Not responding is the best, first step when dealing with stalkers. Many people have an initial reaction to call the police. However, unless an actual law has been broken (and most stalkers don’t cross this line), or you can provide evidence of harassment – which varies from state to state – there is little they can do. More importantly, you have responded to their communication/action, with perhaps the ultimate response, and nothing has happened i.e. you have been shown to be impotent. The key to initially coping with a stalking campaign is to start to control the communication e.g. keep your existing phone, email, etc. so they think that they can still communicate with you, but start using a new one – telling people who you want to stay in contact with, not to hand out your new number. Don’t bother to try to reason with your stalker, anybody who engages in a constant harassment campaign, is not operating rationally; and trying to enlist friends or family members to communicate – or even intimidate – on your behalf will still be seen as a “response” and evidence that the “relationship” still exists. If you’re not communicating, you’re not in the relationship.  

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Not all points in a violent confrontation, are the same or “equal”; and this effects the options we have. If you can recognize a developing situation early on, you will have a lot of potential options e.g. you could disengage, you could look for an improvised weapon, or make ready your own personal carry weapon, such as your OC/Pepper spray, etc. If you are reacting/responding to a physical attack, these options aren’t going to be as readily available to you, as your focus and concentration will be on dealing with the attack that is underway. The same attack in the midst of a fight will be experienced differently to that at the start; you will be less surprised by a punch thrown during a fight, than a punch that initiates it, etc. However, there is a tendency to simply treat a punch as a punch, a strangle as a strangle, etc., when the way these are experienced can be very different – this doesn’t necessarily mean that we require/need different techniques or solutions to deal with them, as they are the same attack, but rather that we need to train them in the many different contexts in which they can be experienced. However, it may also be that we require a different response; if I can control the range at the beginning of a fight, I can use blocks to deal with punches, as I have the time and distance to make these work, however in the middle of a fight, where/when I have lost this control, and my aggressor is much closer to me, I may be forced to cover and ride their punches and strikes, rather than intercept and block them. If we can understand that the same attack may be experienced differently at different points a violent confrontation, and train to deal with these attacks in different contexts, then we will be better prepared for reality.

Dealing with a push at range is very different to dealing with a push when an aggressor is standing nose-to-nose with you; same attack experienced very, very differently. If somebody attempts to push you (and from my own experiences observing violence, this is a remarkably common fight initiator), from distance there is much less pressure to deal with this attack than if it were performed up close; in fact, they might as well have hired a marching band to walk in front of them signaling their intent. In reality a person isn’t going to come towards you with their arms already outstretched, as they will have no power with which to push you. Instead, their hands will already be on your chest, with the elbows bent, ready to drive you back. It is a completely different experience to identify an attack, and respond to it, purely by feel, without any visual cues to help and guide you. The problem is, such attacks are often not trained in this way because it is difficult to perform a complete and definitive solution, and instead all we can do in the moment is limit the effect of the attack; such as not being driven directly back and/or ending up on the ground, etc. This message of limiting the effects of an attack, rather than dealing with it, and in the same moment extricating ourselves completely from the fight can be a difficult one to sell to those who believe and put all the power in the effectiveness of their techniques –we are not always able to perform our techniques (even if we believe they are the best ones) in an optimal way. This doesn’t mean they are bad techniques, just that due to context, they may only be capable of restricting and limiting the effects of an attack, and so we need to be prepared for this; rather than always expecting them to work to a rigid, fixed and expected outcome.

There are many ways that you can get guillotined e.g. you can have your head pulled down, you can be pushed or slip, so that your head passes your shoulders and hips, etc. It may be that as you slip out of a clinch, an assailant is able to trap and control your head. The potential contexts, in which this attack can be experienced, are almost limitless, yet often it is only trained in one or two ways – I have even seen several clips of people running/stepping towards training partners with their heads down, so that they can be guillotined in order to practice an escape, etc. This is not just neglecting to practice the attack in a particular context, it is creating an entirely new one, which has no basis in reality. The problem is that we often have a focus on training the solution to an attack, rather than looking at the nature of it i.e. identifying the conditions that need to be met for a guillotine choke to be applied and setting up realistic scenarios that replicate these. If all we are interested in is acquiring the head knowledge concerning how to escape a guillotine choke, then we should start with the choke already being applied; if we want to practice it in such a way that we have a chance of dealing with it in a real-life confrontation, we must experience the application of the choke, as it is being applied. We must go through the process of its application, in the different positions and scenarios in which we are likely to find ourselves being choked in this way. To complicate/confuse matters, there are also many different ways to apply guillotine chokes, and we need to find out if our techniques/solutions work universally or whether we must be prepared to make certain adaptations, etc.

Training to defend ourselves shouldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach, where we train our techniques in one context believing that this prepares ourselves for every scenario and situation we may experience. We need to practice defenses against the same attack at different ranges, and in different phases of the fight, as well as in different positions and contexts, etc. Presenting violence in the same way, every time, is too simplistic and we need to recognize the dynamic nature of physical confrontations that can change how we experience the same attack.            

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