Monday, December 30, 2013

Self Defense Training: Identifying and Extending Your Limitations

Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.
Albert Einstein
Once we accept our limits we go beyond them.  Albert Einstein

Self Defense training will highlight your abilities and limitations- physically, mentally, and emotionally. You will feel inspired as you learn life saving skills but frustrated when you struggle with certain techniques and exercises. Through these experiences you become more capable of protecting yourself. 

Here are some general examples of how Krav Maga training highlights your abilities and limitations.

Fitness. Training will improve your cardiovascular conditioning, strength, and flexibility. If you stay away from donuts and beer (or in moderation) you will also lose body fat.  In the process of training you will also meet your limits.  Even the fittest struggle through  Burpee jumps, chin-ups etc... 

Confidence.  Learning techniques is certainly confidence building. There will be times, however, when you struggle with a technique/exercise, or your test results are not what you hoped for. Unsettling?  Yes.  All students (and yes, instructors) will experience an ebb and flow in confidence.  It is part of your growth.

Comprehension. Krav Maga is a relatively simple self defense system but some techniques involve more detail.  When you have those epiphanies or “a-ha moments” it is encouraging.  There are times, however, when you will hit a mental roadblock.  For the longest time I couldn’t wrap my head around wrist releases.  Practice, practice, and ask questions. 

Decision-making:  Besides the challenge of learning specific techniques you learn when and how to use them.  Through various exercises you make better decisions in a shorter time.  Multiple attacker scenarios, for instance,  require quick and concise decisions and we all make mistakes.  The key is to practice and to minimize these mistakes as every correct decision can save your life. 

Focus on yourself.  There is always someone who is stronger, faster, younger, bigger, more experienced etc....  Focus on your abilities and limitations.  You will get frustrated but with consistent effort and informed guidance you will improve, enjoy your training, and learn life saving skills. 

Be safe, 

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor, International Krav Maga FederationToronto

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Self Defense in Public and the “Diffusion of Responsibility”

Generally, we have a greater sense of security in groups.  Whether we are walking through a shopping mall, traveling on the subway, or sitting a movie theatre, we often relax, taking comfort in the “safety in numbers.”    There are many witnesses (most own camera phones) to deter criminals from initiating an assault.  If an assault occurs someone will intervene or get help. 

Can we rely on these assumptions?  A closer look at assault cases suggest that the presence of others does not necessarily deter or guarantee assistance.  

In his bestselling book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Galdwell refers to the 1964 tragedy of Kitty Genovese who was chased, stabbed, and ultimately murdered in New York City.   Adding to this tragedy was the fact that none of the 38 witnesses attempted to help or even call for help. Various explanations have been given for this lack of response including the anonymity of urban life.  Galdwell suggests another explanation - the diffusion of responsibility.   “When people are in a group, he writes, “responsibility for acting is diffused.” In other words, in group settings we tend to feel less compelled to respond as others present can (and hopefully do) take action. 

We don't have to go back to 1964 and Kitty Genovese for such examples.  In April 2010, on the subway near Chester station in Toronto, two young men assaulted and robbed a 79 year old man in front of 20 to 30 passengers.  None of the other passengers helped nor was their evidence that anyone utilized the subway’s emergency alarm.  

 Various other factors were likely at play including fear, or what one might call an urban apathy - the same that evokes  frustration rather than empathy when accidents or illness cause commuter or traffic delays.  Moreover, violence and how to respond to violence, is not familiar to many Canadians.  This being said, I cannot help but think many of those passengers were waiting for someone else to intervene.

I do not write this to promote cynicism but to remind you that crowds might deter or intervene but not always. 

Be safe, 

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor, International Krav Maga FederationToronto

Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.  Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 2002.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Self Defense and Subways

Subways are public places but assaults still occur as people travel to work, home etc...  Some examples:
  • In April 2013, as a subway approached Davisville station a man was stabbed in the throat. 
  • April 2010, 2 men held down and mugged a 79 year old man on the subway near Chester station.  There were 20 to 30 passengers on the subway.  No one helped.
Surviving a subway assault requires you to be aware and to understand the particular challenges of this environment.

Here are some points to consider.
  1. Public place = safe place?  Sadly, no. Subways are a public place but as the above examples remind us, assaults still occur.  Be aware of who is on the subway and be mindful of their verbal and body language.  
  2. Confined space.  A subway is a confined space meaning escape options are severely limited.  Accordingly, you might be forced to stay and fight. 
  3. Limited space. Subway aisles don't offer a lot of room to move. This is exacerbated during busy travel times.  Flying spin kicks will have to be rejected in favour of short range striking tools (knees, elbows, etc..),, and grappling.  You must also be aware of obstacles such as seats, poles, suitcases, walls... 
  4. Getting Help.  Be aware of the presence of security personnel so you can ask for their help.  Subways also have emergency notification systems.  Be aware of where they are and how to use them.  Don't assume bystanders will intervene.  
  5. Defending From a Sitting Position.  There is good chance you will be sitting when an assault takes place putting you at a disadvantage.  If you are involved in self defense training ask your instructor for tips and to include such scenarios in your training. 

Subways are generally a safe way to travel.  Be aware and if you are involved in self defense training ask your instructor to help you prepare for potential assaults. 

Stay Safe,

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor, International Krav Maga FederationToronto

Image courtesy of Matt Banks at