Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Body Language: 6 Signs of Aggression

If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture's purpose was to disclose them.
    - John Napier (1550-1616), Hands 

As we emphasize during our self defense classes, assailants often won't announce their intentions, preferring the advantage of surprise.  Some situations, however, can be anticipated.  One way to anticipate a potential assault is by understanding body language - how a person's body expresses aggression.

So imagine someone looking at you.  Perhaps they are across a room, approaching you, or very close.  Maybe they are saying something to you or are staying silent.

Whatever the situation, observe their body language.

Do they display any of these 6 signs of aggression?

  1. Clenched hand(s) 
  2. Rapid gestures.
  3. Body shakes
  4. Clenched teeth/jaws/pursed lips/ a taut neck
  5. Eyes squinting, staring, glaring as if they are challenging you or "sizing you up".
  6. A visible and sudden change in the their breathing.  

Of course, these indicators do not guarantee an impending assault.  They should, however, alert you to the possibility.  Leave the scene if you can.  Look for escape routes.  Alert a friend...

In other words, be prepared. 

Stay safe,

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor and Owner
International Krav Maga Federation(IKMF), Toronto

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Awareness and Prevention: 6 Habits to Develop

In August of 2012, in the east end of Toronto, a man approached a woman from behind, put a knife to her throat, and dragged her into a nearby wooded area and assaulted her.  She survived but is left to deal with the trauma of this horrible event.

This event brings up many issues.  One of them is awareness.  While it is not always possible to prevent an assault, developing greater awareness will better your chances.

 Here are some basic "awareness-enhancing" habits that you can blend into your daily routines.

  1. Don't Impair Your Senses.  Texting, earphones etc... impair your sight and hearing, limiting your ability to sense potential dangers.  
  2. Look Around.  Besides developing a sense of your surroundings you are communicating to a potential assailant that you will not be easy to surprise.  Scan everywhere, especially behind you.
  3. Scan for exits. If you need to flee the scene it saves time if you know where to go. 
  4. Hiding spots.  Around the corner of a building, between vehicles, behind some trees...?  If someone wanted to surprise you where would they hide?
  5. Scan for Common Objects.  Are there common objects on your person (coins, keys) or in the area (chair, cups...) that you can use to defend yourself?
  6. How to get help?  A police station, pressing the yellow strip on the Toronto subway, bystanders, 911...  Be aware of who can help and how to reach them.

You don't have to walk with your head on a swivel but being aware of your surroundings is vital to prevention - the best self defense.

These practices won't come naturally at first but if you begin including them in your routines they will become useful and potentially life saving habits.

Stay safe,

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor and Owner
International Krav Maga Federation(IKMF), Toronto

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Self Defense and Workplace Wellness

Increasingly, organizations in the Greater Toronto Area(GTA) are implementing workplace wellness programs.  Besides, enriching the lives of employees, these initiatives can improve production, and workplace morale.  All contributing factors to organizational success.

Including self defense training in your wellness program provides employees with an greater sense of security and well being.  Such programs can include:

  • Awareness training: Learn to assess your environment/situation.  
  • Assault education: How do real assaults happen?
  • Verbal techniques: Using your voice to call for help, defusing situations....
  • Travel safety: Tips for those who travel domestically and abroad.
  • Parking lot safety
  • Escaping: Identifying and accessing escape routes
  • Public transit safety
  • Escaping grabs, abduction attempts
  • Defending against unarmed and armed attacks
  • Self defense for fitness.

Of course, training must meet the particular needs of each organization.  Ask for a free consultation.  Including practical self defense training into your wellness program can enhance self confidence, awareness, and even save lives.

Stay safe,

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor and Owner
International Krav Maga Federation(IKMF), Toronto

Friday, August 17, 2012

6 Ways to Use Your Voice to Protect Yourself

Self defense classes instructors devote many hours teaching you to strike properly, deflect, block, escape...  Such exercises help you to understand how to use you body to protect yourself.  Training should also develop your mental skills - identifying and assessing danger, adapting to various situations......

One aspect of self defense that is often overlooked is your voice.

Teachers, coaches, presenters, actors and other professionals know that effective use voice to is essential to reaching their audience.

Voice is also an important tool to reach another audience - the assailant(s).  Here are 5 ways to use your voice to protect yourself.

  1. Stay Away!  Tell a person directly and firmly that their actions are not welcome.
  2. Help  Using your voice to call for help.  Be prepared. Help might not be forthcoming so you might have to defend yourself - physically.
  3. Alarm Bells  Assailants usually don't want attention drawn to them.  Too bad. Yell!
  4. Calming.  Use a steady voice to calm someone (after you mistakenly cut in front of them in a Starbucks lineup, or are the brunt of their road rage).
  5. Alerting Help.  If you sense danger or suspicious behaviour alert someone - a police officer, transit employee, security guard....
  6. Inflicting Pain  At close range(e.g. a bear hug) a scream can be painful for the attacker.

Of course, some very determined attackers won't be deterred by voice alone. This is where your other skills are needed.   Using your use can be an effective tool to send a strong message to stay away, calmly resolve a conflict, or attract help. 

Not all of these techniques come naturally so they should be included in your training.

Stay safe,

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor and Owner
International Krav Maga Federation(IKMF), Toronto

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Developing a "feel" for self-defense: Surprise Assaults

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

On August 16th, 2012, a woman in the east end of Toronto was assaulted.  The attacker grabbed her from behind in a headlock and threw her to the ground.  Similar assaults have occurred in the Bloor/Christie area (see article).

These horrible incidents reinforce the fact that we don't always "see it coming".  We advocate prevention strategies but assailants can be cunning and we are often distracted.  You might "feel" an attack before you see or hear it.  Some examples:
  • headlocks and chokes
  • bearhugs
  • strikes from different angles
  • knife threats and attacks 
  • being pushed into a wall, door.....

How do you train for such situations?  One way is for students to develop a feel for various attacks. This is done in a safe manner, and especially for beginners, do not match the intensity of real life situations.  So, for example, a student approaches you (sometimes your eyes will be closed) and controls your wrist, or grabs you in a bear hug.....)
Daunting?  Yes.  A sometimes uncomfortable way to become acquainted with other students? Yes. 

But such exercises help you to identify the nature of the assault by "feel".  With continued practice you develop the ability to identify the problem and act in an effective way.   In a surprisingly short period of time you improve your reaction time - your responses become reflexive.  

In situations where you are caught by surprise your ability to quickly identify and respond effectively to an assault can save your life.  Learning to "feel" an attack might be awkward but it is a necessary part of any effective self defense training.

Stay safe,

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor and Owner
International Krav Maga Federation(IKMF), Toronto

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What is Practical Self Defense? 5 Elements

When I ask people why they come to us for self-defense training (and why they stay) they usually answer: “Its practical.” Of course, we love this answer because our goal is to provide practical self-defense training.  But what is practical self-defense? The long answer can fill many pages of many books.  In the meantime, here are 5 elements of practical self- defense.

  1. Realistic scenarios  You need to understand how assailants behave.  They attack when you are not ready, from different directions, and in ways that are far from sportsmanlike.  To adequately defend, you must understand real assaults.
  2. Adaptability  We don’t choose where or when an assault occurs.  It can be while you are  walking, standing, sitting, inside/outside, on a subway, in our homes, in a public gathering… Anywhere. Anytime. Practical training includes various scenarios in various contexts.  
  3. Stress  No matter how well trained you are an assault will induce stress or even terror. You must learn to function under stress.  
  4. Simple  Under stress our motor skills suffer. Techniques need to be simple and grow from our natural reactions.  Not all of us can move like Jet Li or possess the strength of a 200lb competitive fighter.  Practical training accounts for various ages, fitness levels, sizes etc…..
  5. Does it actually work?  Complex defenses can work against a compliant attacker in a studio.  Sad news.  In real life, assailants are anything but cooperative.  They recoil their punches, hit repeatedly, and yes, they fight back! 
In essence, practical self-defense must educate you about real life assaults and what you can do to get home safe.

What does practical self defense mean to you?  

Stay safe,

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor and Owner
International Krav Maga Federation(IKMF), Toronto

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fitness instructor and blogger Michelle Ngo tries Krav Maga

This summer, Michelle Ngo, Toronto fitness instructor and avid blogger, visited us and tried some classes. She was an enthusiastic and talented student.

Here is what she had to say.

Defending Against Distractions

     Let's face it.  Overall, our spatial awareness is horrible.  There is an increasing number of accidents involving people who are distracted - often by mobile devices such as iphones, cell phones, and ipads.   When I walk busy areas in Toronto - Dundas Square, Yonge St., Bloor St. - I find myself evading approaching pedestrians, their heads down, oblivious to me and all others. Great self defense training but irritating and potentially dangerous.

     From a self defense point of view this trend is disturbing.  For an aspiring assailant it is an opportunity.  Allow me an analogy.  In essence, a stalking predator in the wild (e.g lion, leopard) strives to avoid the prey's sensory alarms:
  • walking quietly (hearing)
  • approaching from behind or the side, under cover of grass, trees etc.... (sight)
  • approaching from downwind (smell)
     Predators also create or wait for an opportunity when the prey is distracted and has limited escape routes.  A example is a wildebeest grazing or drinking at a waterhole.  When the predator gets into striking distance they do so with great force and speed.  

     Human assailants, at least the cunning ones, approach victims in similar ways, from surprise directions, walking quietly, and striking quickly.   A distracted person person simply makes their job easier.
  • headphones and cell phone conversations reduce or eliminate your ability to hear footsteps, or warning calls
  • texting compromises your vision, severely reducing your ability to perceive potential and real dangers (if people are walking off subway platforms they won't see a punch or grab from any angle)
  • all of these activities severely reduce you spatial awareness - e.g. finding the nearest exit

     I certainly don't recommend you walk with your head on a swivel.  Nor do I expect this article to lead to a widespread reduction in the irresponsible use of communication devices.  What I do ask, however, is that you strive to reduce the advantages and opportunities that your distractions offer potential assailants.

Awareness and prevention.  Two cornerstones of practical self defense. 

 P.S. Don't read this blog while walking, biking, driving, or climbing a ladder!

Stay safe,

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor and Owner
International Krav Maga Federation(IKMF), Toronto

Image courtesy of Ambro at

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Self defense in the palm of your hand

Punches are among the fundamental tools of self- defense.  An adequate toolbox, however, includes various tools to solve different problems.  If you haven’t already, add the palm heel strike to your skill set.  

What is a palm heel strike?
The body mechanics of a palm heel strike are the same as a punch.  Fast recoil, body rotation, elbows in….all apply to palm strikes as they do punches.   The difference is in the striking surface you are using – the palm rather than the first two knuckles.

When/why do we use palm strikes?
  • You are striking a hard surface – e.g. the side or top of an attacker’s head
  • You cannot make a fist due to a sprained or broken finger(s)
  • A cut/laceration prevents you from making a fist.
  • Long nails (real of fake) can hinder “fist making”.
  • You simply prefer palm strikes to punches. 
  • You don’t have confidence in your hand strength or punching technique. 
For those of you who come from a boxing background (for example) palm strikes can feel awkward.  There are times, however, when the palm strike is the preferred or the necessary choice. 

Stay safe,

Christopher Gagne
Lead Instructor and Owner
International Krav Maga Federation(IKMF), Toronto