Stay Out of Trouble – Toby Cowern

This summer I have been busy travelling and planning for a new range of courses. This is in addition to my routine and extensive travels for other work.  Today  I share a summary of some key things I’ve learnt in my travels on things to do (or not!) if you find yourself in a ‘new place’ or are unsure of what the social ‘norms’ of the area you are in may be. I hope it is of use and interest!

Remember, in these days of increasing ‘multiculturalism’ it is perfectly possible to get yourself into trouble breaking ‘cultural rules’ without travelling to a foreign country

The overarching consideration for this type of problem can easily be broken down into two categories. Deciding on a recommended course of action or displaying a behaviour can always be held up to this simple litmus test…

1) No harm can come from this… (Insert action)
2) No good can come from… (Insert action)

See how this applies in this list of top 10 things to consider below:

1. Be Observant

Breaking rules in other cultures can attract moderate to severe penalties. (Go to Deera Square in Saudi Arabia on a Friday afternoon to see a stark example). Due to the potential severity of punishment of what we may see as ‘slight’ or minor issues, the exquisite art of observation must come into play as early as possible. Scrutinize your surroundings and compare yourself to them and see in what ways you will/are ‘stand out’ and then take action to address those issues swiftly. No harm can come from being observant.

2. Keep Covered

This applies to men, but even more so to women. No harm can come from covering as much of the body as possible in an unknown area (See how the test works!?) If you feel you ever are realistically going to find yourself in such an ‘unknown’ situation we are illustrating, then make sure long sleeved trousers and tops are worn or are immediately available. Early observation should indicate if you need to cover your head. For shawls/scarves/head covers unless you KNOW the tribal identifiers (e.g. patterns and colour connotations on a shemagh) keep them as neutral and non-specific in style as possible. Your dapper blue cravat may look great at the cocktail bar in your tennis club but will probably cause you problems in South-Central LA.

3. Avoid Comments

Let’s face it, you are probably already ‘pinged’ by the locals or residents as being a stranger. Trying not to stand out will help, but an overheard comment (especially a negative or derogatory one), no matter how outstanding, strange, odd or degrading event you are commenting on is going to get you on people’s radar swiftly and not in a good way. No good can come from mentioning how ‘different’ these people are from you, or you are from these people.

4. Stick Within Your Gender

Do not attempt to engage, in any way, with members of the opposite sex. Full Stop (Period). Be as affronted at this advice as you want, but take it. No discussion is required. If you can’t follow it in this format you WILL be taught another way…

Also know this isn’t just about you. If you are introduced to a woman do not offer her your hand. Wait for her to offer. If you hold out your hand in simple politeness you may be forcing her to choose between insulting a guest (you) or touching a man she is not married to—either or both of which may be harshly punished for.

5. Steer Clear of Religious Buildings/Areas

In the absence of a professional guide, or clear acceptance of tourists, the odds of you breaking up a VERY significant rule are so off the scale it is not worth the risk.

6. Remain Clear Headed

Degenerating your ability to be observant, and cognitive ability to understand why you need to stick with these rules is a plan no good can come from… On this, please note, just because you see locals doing something doesn’t mean you can too…don’t get drunk or high in dangerous places. More strongly, NEVER alter your mental state except in a confirmed safe place.

7. Don’t Engage with ANY Solicitation

Do not give to beggars, do not feed the poor. From personal experience don’t stop the child running in to the road clearly in your line of sight (it’s bait for a trap you don’t want to be in). Don’t talk with prostitutes, even if you are ‘Just asking for directions’, avoid street vendors, touts, self declared taxi drivers… You get the idea.

If You Need Help, Ask Someone in a Public Facing Role or just ‘Back Up’ – Look for assistance from service staff, waiters, store owners etc. DO NOT stop random strangers in the street, and don’t stand in the street looking lost and/or bewildered. If you have ‘inadvertently’ found yourself in the wrong place, turn around and go back the way you came (Like if you ever accidentally take an express subway that doesn’t stop at 70th Street in New York City, but takes you straight to Harlem at 11pm at night, and you are translucent white, not American, and look like you just got a beating from Muay Thai class, get back on the Subway and head back the way you came…)

8. No Pictures

You’ve realized you may not be in tinsel town, so stop wandering around like a tourist. Unless you’re taking pictures of your teeth for dental record analysis later on, no good can come from getting in peoples way with a camera.

9. Don’t Display Wealth

If it’s shiny and possibly expensive looking stow it away or hide it. Dress down to the best of your ability.

Most important point last!

10. Be Polite

Not witty, engaging, entertaining, fascinated, shocked, pious, or committed to ‘educating people’, or any other way you may think I mean by ‘Polite’. Out and out, genuinely polite. You are the odd one out, you are under scrutiny, anything going wrong WILL be seen as potentially your fault, so try not to do anything ‘wrong’ (even though you don’t know yet what wrong is) so be sincere and respectful in your actions until you’ve figured out what is going on…

These 10 simple measures will hopefully ‘buy you time’ to figure out how to best act and proceed in an area previously unknown to you. Getting into trouble in an unknown area is fraught with additional risks. Inciting a mob is a situation you will very likely never escape from.

Do you have any ‘rules’ you follow when you are in ‘unknown areas’…? Please share them with us


A Change of Perspective – Clint Overland

I would like to introduce a concept I have been working on, not really original but something I have been hashing around and working at implementing it into almost every aspect of my life. But first I would like to ask you a couple of questions. Simple ones really just word association. Whats the first thought or word that pops into your head when I say the word Nurse? Ok write it down. Now what is the first thing that pops into your head when I say the word Mechanic?

Now what’s the first thing that you think of when I say the word Police? Chances are that you associated the word nurse with a woman. Mechanic with a man and police with a white man. Reason I said this was because I asked twenty different people what they thought of when I asked them the same question and twenty out of the twenty five said exactly the same thing. Woman, Man, White Man, now we know through experience that this is not true, and that these positions are filled with people of all color and all races. But our perception through our experiences have set certain ideas into our heads. Our perspective or attitude towards something and it is our perspective that can influence our thinking and if we apply that affected thinking to our lives we can see where it for either good or bad can influence every aspect of our existence.

The concept or idea that I would like to introduce for lack of a better word and as I said it isn’t new but maybe needs to be re-introduced is really a simple one. Change your perspective to change your thinking and then change your training. When I was a kid I thought because of movies that anyone who studied martial arts was automatically a bad ass. I mean I saw all the guys on T.V. and ate the theater do beat the asses off of anyone that they went up against. Then when I was a little older I did get my ass beat severely by an older guy that had studied martial arts and that helped set my perspective even deeper into my thinking.

Jump forward a couple of years I had a few fights under my belt, had been beat a few times and had begun to think about things differently. I started working in bars and learned from other bouncers and old tusk hogs the how’s and why’s of violence. I learned that I could take a few more hits than I thought I could and that I would heal up. I learned that a serious martial artist was a not a necessarily a thing to fear. Respect yes, but that they were just humans too and could be dealt with. What brought this change of thought was the change of perspective by experience. I learned that I could deal with situations and manage conflict because I had dealt with it before.

Now let us apply this to your training. If you are a sport martial artist and really only train for competition on the mat or in the dojo and you have a perspective of this will work in all situations then you have a perspective that is wrong. And before anyone gets but hurt I am not saying that what you learn in a dojo is wrong but that applying it in situation that you have never trained for is. Go out and try a spinning back kick on asphalt in dress shoes with gravel on it and then think about applying that while you are in a stress filled situation with a hundred extra variables that you have never trained for. You will begin to gain an understanding of what I am talking about. You can apply this to every aspect of your training, conflict management or even your life.

Several years ago I was preparing to go and compete in an America’s Strongest Man competition. My whole life was centered on this competition. I had been seriously training to achieve this one goal for over five years. I then had my first heart attack. Life changing moment right there folks.

I had to completely change every aspect of my life, the heavy weights were no longer an option at this time. A combination of sleep apnea, heavy lifting and a stress filled life had taken its toll on my body. I had to change my perspective on training and change my thinking about everything if I wanted to continue to go to the gym. I had to change if I wanted to just keep living. That was a huge undertaking. It paid off in the end but I still miss it. I could have kept training the same way, eating the same and living the lifestyle but I would have probably been dead in two years. I let my perspective change and then my thinking changed then my training changed.

Now take this to your training, do you practice escape and evasion, lock picking and improvised weapons. If you practice with firearms do you practice off hand shooting, from various positions and then for fun try one handed reloads. Then throw in a little adrenal reaction training, do 20 burpees and then try and fire center mass at a moving target. Does your training involve mock police questioning, mock legal proceedings or discussing local and state laws on the use of force and claims of self-defense.

Everything you add to you repertoire is one more tool that you have one hand when and if the time comes. Now I know some of you are reading this and thinking I already do these things. Ok my answer to you is where is your perspective wrong and how can you change it. Because every day I find something in my life and relationships that is in some form or fashion wrong. If you believe that you are the only one that is correct in an argument with another person then your perspective is wrong. By backing off and looking at all side of the conflict you can and will find how perspectives can change from person to person. Then you can move forward with a solution to solve whatever problem you are facing.


I can´t suspect everybody! – Marcus Linde

On the lack of professionalism in dealing with conflict in German social work and caretaking professions

Today, I arrived at a seminar held by the BGW (Berufsgenossenschaft für Gesundheitsdienst und Wohlfahrtspflege). It´s called “Professional Management of Violence and Aggression”. In Germany every working person automatically joins an employer’s liability insurance association. This government run insurance covers workplace accidents. It treats injuries caused by other humans also as workplace accidents. It is also responsible for controlling the companies’ security and prevention measures as well as helping to improve them. The BGW offers these seminars to everyone working in the social sector. For free. No charges. They cover the travel expenses and I´m actually sitting at the desk in my BGW paid hotel room. By the way, I´m not hungry because I just ate on their bill.

A year ago I started thinking about which topic to pick for my B.A. Thesis in social work. I wanted to find out how social work as a highly violent profession is dealing with violence. So I started researching.

Social work violent?
What do you call a bunch of people coming to take your kid from you? Or someone who doesn´t let you out on probation because you had to fight in order to keep your reputation? Or even someone who, legally, demands all your personal information?

Well, I found studies and literature on violence against women, violence against handicapped people, sexual violence against girls, abusive relationships, violence against clients and so forth. I found only one book chapter about client violence towards social workers which examines British literature on the topic. The author complained about the taboo of violence against social workers in German literature. It was written in 2003.

That means reality is ignored by a whole profession of caretakers for more than a decade. So I asked the BGW for data on how many “accidents caused by humans” have been reported regarding social workers. They replied they estimate 193 incidents in 2012. Well, 193 isn´t that much. But what wondered me, is that they were estimating the numbers. They didn´t have any solid data regarding “social workers” due to people not filling out the report correctly.

Today we were told that in 2015 the BGW altogether had about 4,000 reported incidents. That means that the only Job with a higher risk of getting injured by another human is being LEO. They also told us that they did a survey in 2013. They went inside the facilities and questioned the people. What they found out is that only three to five percent of violent incidents resulting in injury are even reported. That means that in reality there are between 80,000 and 130,000 violent incidents towards professionals in the social field every year out of approximately 7 million people.

Let that sink in:
There´s a profession in Germany that is more dangerous than being in Law Enforcement.

How come a whole “scientific community” focusses on the help recipients’ problems and overlooks the ones of the helpers.

Just imagine that for other helping jobs. Hepatitis vaccinations only for patients, tell the nurses to be careful with the pointy things. No oxygen masks for firefighters because we´re too busy handing them to the people in the burning building. Body Armor for the criminals, because if the cops get shot it´s their fault. Everywhere else it´s the other way around. When the army helps out in a disaster, the first thing they do is to set up a tent for shelter, unpack pallets with water bottles and start cooking something for the soldiers. I mean, you gotta eat when you´re supposed to carry sandbags the whole day.

So why not just train staff?
Because they don´t want to be trained.

Training on how to deal with violence and conflicts has to involve learning about the dynamics of it. Unfortunately, that means you have to take a close look at your own worldview. And this is where trouble starts for caretakers. I understand that it´s difficult to be empathetic and resource oriented towards clients and be careful and a little suspicious at the same time.

In my B.A. thesis, I designed a three-day seminar to introduce students of social work to the topic. While three days is enough to fit a lot of role play, physical stuff and theory in, I had to use almost the half of it to let the participants reflect on their worldview, morals and motives for even taking up the job. And to be honest. I don´t think that’s enough time.

This morning one woman reported that she took up a new job a year ago. She´s working in a Workshop for developmentally challenged people. She told us that she´s so tired of work that she thinks about quitting. Why? Because she gets hurt every single day. She mentioned bruises, scratches, black eyes and two weeks in hospital with a ruptured spleen. That woman literally has put others above herself. That kind of person is the reason conditions in the caretaking professions will not change in the near future.

I´m not even talking about policies written to reduce legal liabilities here, which are highly intolerable in my view. This is just about the self-image of the staff and their training. I once taught a nursing class and just gave general hints on how to manipulate the environment to make work safer. Simple stuff like arranging the bed and table in a way to leave room to get out quickly, putting glass bottles away, keeping an eye on the hands of the person. One of the nurses indignantly stated: “how can I do a good job when I suspect everybody?!?”.

That´s the point! We as teachers should focus on the benefits of “suspecting the clients”. Watching their behavior is a key component of the caretaking professions. Expanding those observations towards cues of violent and aggressive behavior improves the quality of the observation. Not only that caretakers become able to protect themselves better, they´re also able to protect the clients better.

Changed behavior towards “violent clients”, denied services, legal problems, self-blaming, future victimization are all things that can be prevented if violence as a possibility is recognized and therefore prevented. Additionally, caretakers will notice subtle changes in clients earlier and more often. This will make them be able to intervene earlier and provide better help. On the side of the professionals, fears can be reduced, psychological casualties prevented, resources to back up the injured staff minimized and general satisfaction with the work environment can be improved. There is no downside to safety in this case, except for the possible pain in reflecting the own behavior, motivation and world view.



Meet the Businessmen – Garry Smith

In my previous article ‘Shitters, Nearly Men and Inwegos’ I introduced three broad types in the career of a football incident and alluded to a fourth type. The Journey from Shitter to Nearly Man is not compulsory, people can start at any point but generally, for the majority of football hooligans it is a journey, an apprenticeship served. These people are  involved in social violence and are jostling for positions in the belonging area of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Securing a position within the mob is the first priority, however lowly a shitter you may be, if you are in you are in and will begin to self identify. Once in it is about bonding with the group and acquiring then increasing status within the group. Let’s take those in order. Bonding is key, we have seen how the group, made up of different types works as a whole, it is more than the sum of its parts. The anonymity and contagion described by Le Bon, (See book review in Conflict Manager February 2016), help to lower thresholds of what society in general regards as acceptable behaviour so that individuals can regress and settle into monkey brain thinking and behaviour. So acting and thinking exactly like those around you successfully integrates you, the rhythmic chanting and aggressive territorial group monkey dancing rapidly reinforces the in group feeling. This together with dehumanised and emasculating songs and chants directed towards the enemy helps to other them increasing the intensity of the bond. Now we have a tribe.

If it sounds a bit textbook that is because it is, exceedingly so, Go back and watch the Chelsea Cardiff video again with the sound off. By being a part of the mob, by sharing the intensity of the experience then young men bond together, it is centuries, millennia old process that is constantly being recreated by our so called modern brains. Things we would never do as an individual are now possible when the monkey brain liberates you from the restraining frontal cortex.  Once bonded increasing the intensity of your behaviour and gradually moving closer to the action can increase your status especially if repeated over a period of time, you see there are shitters and shitters and location is the key. At the back is ready to run, at the front and you can still run but you are getting closer to the fire as it were, beware Icarus. As progression takes you into the role of Nearly Man you step away from the Shitters, this is a testing middle ground but an increase In status until you pluck up the courage and Inwego.

The Inwego is the top status in this group but remember the Inwego is also the Outwecome. In the clash in question there are many hooligans and at first very few police, if they wanted to they could seriously go for it but they do not, there is no sustained fighting of anything more than a couple of seconds and much of that is sniping shots and wild swinging, trying to hit and not be hit and here is where the usefulness of that video ends for me although not the typology.

The fourth type of hooligan, and these can be further subdivided later, are the Businessmen, (the Sheffield United hooligan element, my lawyer wife has represented several generations of them are called the BBC, Blades Business Crew, sweet name and to the point, they do the business. Myself and my peers predated these guys by a few years and were simply known as the Lansdownethe name of the  pub we drank in). There are some wild and whacky names out there, such as Arsenal – Gooners, The Herd, Aston Villa – Steamers, C-Crew, Villa Hardcore, Villa Youth, Birmingham City- Zulus, Zulu’s Warriors, Zulu’s Army, The Zulu, Derby County -Derby Lunatic Fringe  Chelsea – Headhunters, Everton – County Road Cutters, – Liverpool The Urchins, Leeds United – Leeds Service Crew, Middlesbrough – Middlesbrough Frontline), Newcastle United- Gremlins, Newcastle Mainline Express NME, -Nottingham Forest – Forest Executive Crew, Manchester Unitde – Red Army,  Sheffield United – Blades Business Crew, Shrewsbury Town – E.B.F – English Border Front, Tottenham Hotspur – Yid Army, Wolverhampton Wanderers – Subway Army and most famously West Ham United’s – Inter City Firm.

What characterises these groups is they were not mass mobs. These were close knit firms where entry is based on ability.

I choose Businessmen as the name for this group of individuals as all the ritualistic behaviours associated, indeed central, to that displayed in the Chelsea Cardiff clash, and the location it took place in are superfluous to them. It is ability to do the business that matters not shouting, chanting and dancing in the street, but fighting.

The businessman has graduated from or in some cases bypassed all that and simply wants to fight, many are just psychopaths  want to hurt others, the football is irrelevant,  to do the business in the most efficient manner. That is not to say that there will be no monkey dancing, there will, but it is kept to a minimum, pre fight intimidation will involve the monkey for sure but this is usually short lived, here the fists and boots do the talking. All the noise and theatre of the big clash like Chelsea Cardiff is a hindrance, it will attract the attention of undesirables, the police.

The type of unit found here is much closer knit and usually by invite only, size can vary but you have to have earned the right to be there. Staying there means regularly reproducing what got you there which means going toe to toe and not quitting, you fight until you win or until it’s unwinnable, No chanting, no colours, small groups of men called firms hunting one another or steaming into the bigger mob with its different layers and running them. A small committed unit can do that, been there done it, Sometimes we travelled away 25 strong in the back of a panel van, (avoiding police detection), and parked in the home team’s territory deliberately so it could go off right in the middle of them, sometimes we travelled with as few as four, me and three brothers, nobody ran if the fighting started even though on one occasion one of the brothers went to prison for 3 months, we were chasing a much bigger group of home fans who picked a fight with us then did not like it when we got stuck in, doing the business, and they ran, we got jumped by some guys in a car, so fought them, unfortunately they were plainclothes police, again a tale for another day. You see the bonding amongst young men who hunt and spill blood, and risk spilling blood, is very strong.

The businessmen are different from the Inwegos in that the latter have reached their high point, they excel in social violence, they have reached their pinnacle and are happy there as belonging and status are achieved, they have reached the highpoint of their career. For the former something different is happening, these individuals have achieved the highest point on Maslow’s pyramid, all the previous layers are accounted for, they are above the game and are able to self actualise, violence, often brutal and extreme violence is what they are good at, to them engaging in a violent encounter is their version of playing a solo violin concerto. I can vividly recall some of the prolonged violent exchanges I have been involved in as if they were seared into my brain. I can also remember, and sometimes  crave for, the exultation that came from standing tall if bruised at the end.

This is not about myself but it is impossible not to recall what it felt like, how the buzz felt as that cocktail of drugs raced around the body, despite the hurt that often came later, and how long it lasted, it felt like days. Moving to doing the business from being an Inwego is a big step, some do not take it, I had friends who were very violent psychopaths, we used to co-opt them into our firm for ‘special’ occasions as did all the other firms, they only came along to inflict pain on someone, if you are an Inwego or a Nearly Man these people will eat you up for breakfast.

On a personal note when I finally discovered martial arts I thought it was cute, it still is, but however rough we make it, I like ten guys on 2 msq mat gloves and gumshields in and free punching, it’s still not going in on someone who will put you in hospital if they can with the intent on doing the same. It is why I glibly say Ju Jitsu is like methadone to me.

I no longer attend football matches, I am too busy and the football was woeful. I rarely look at the scores even and have lost contact with those I used to associate with, back in the day they were like brothers to me, we built and held reputations. Now I see one or two of them, some are dead, some old men, one walking with a stick, they once walked tall.

I have read much of what academia has produced as analysis of football hooliganism as well as the writing of former hooligans. Much of the former is flawed and occasionally distorted, I actually wrote to one author who published his PhD as a book, I pointed out how he was totally incorrect on 2 examples in his book, major errors, I know I was there and I started one event and I knew the person convicted of the second who he said was never caught, despite being all over the front page of a newspaper he quotes multiple times.

The latter are OK but no rigour and are often boastful. For the third time I will make it clear this is not an academic essay, it is something between academia and personal recall. Shitters, nearly men and inwegos exist, and so do the businessmen.

So I hope I have created a typology of those involved in football hooliganism. You can take this model and apply it to most models where group violence occurs, these groups will have different reasons for being there but the types will be present, think Ferguson, think the recent protests against migrant rape gangs in Europe, think Black Lives Matter, turn on the news, they are there.

The majority will be Shitters, then some Nearly Men, some Inwegos and lurking somewhere in the back streets beyond the fringes are the Businessmen.


The Statistics Trap – Randy King

If I can give you any advice as an instructor, it’s to not get stuck in the statistics trap.  As a person who’s just living their life, in this age of disinformation, where we have way too many people telling us way too many things, it’s very easy to fact-check something over and over and over again, even if the source is incorrect.  What I mean by the “statistics trap” is very simple.  A lot of instructors will read fancy statistics, memorize those statistics, and use those statistics constantly, regurgitating them, trotting them out like a proud parent, but without understanding where the stats come from, what the research is, or any other factor that makes that statistic true.  Very simply put, statistics can be used for anything across the board.

The first statistic I used when I started teaching was related to stabbings.  We are a very knife-oriented gym; we teach a lot of blade work. The city I come from, Edmonton Alberta, is lovingly referred to as “Stabmonton” Alberta, due to the fact that gun violence is low, but knife and machete violence is very high.  We used the general stat that everybody used, which is that 80% of knife attacks come underhand, and that’s how the attack lines work.  

When we built our first curriculum, we designed it off that statistic, since I don’t go around knifing people. I’ve been stabbed, I have friends that have been stabbed, but the studies showed that most attacks were coming underhand to the lower body, side, kidney region.  I ran with that stat for two years. Every day of those two years, people would come to me with anecdotal evidence, saying other things, like, hey when I was stabbed, this happened, or, I’m a paramedic, and this is happening, etc etc.  And I held steadfast and true to the statistic that I had read, in a book from a country that I’m not from.  When I delved deeper, I realized that the survey that the statistics were based on had included prison stabbings.  If you know anything about prisons, the weapons that are used are generally point-oriented weapons.  So, of course, the study was skewed towards  stabbing at that low angle, because so many prison stabbings come at that angle.  

Why bring this up? I had fallen into the statistics trap.  It was ridiculous of me to tell people who worked as EMTs, to tell people who had been stabbed, to tell people who were doormen, that stabbings happened a certain way, when all their experience didn’t line up with the statistic.  It was ridiculous of me to disregard my own story. My favourite joke is that I’ve been stabbed two and a half times – I’ve been stabbed once in the leg, once in the face, and once by a fork (that’s the half).  Every single time I was stabbed, it was an overhand stab, it looked like a monkey dance with a knife, an overhand swing coming at me.  This was also the evidence I was getting consistently from EMTs, people I trusted and respected, but because I had this fancy statistic and I was an “expert”, all of them turned their brains off and stopped arguing with me because of the fact that I could quote a statistic.  

Understand the information that you’re using, understand where it comes from. You can use it as an example, but nowadays most statistics on the internet are written as clickbait.  These sites want to give you a stat like, “1 in every 7 males with blue eyes is attacked by foxes”. That’s a crazy stat!  Obviously, you have to understand how surveys work, and how sample sizes work.  There was a great article by the Huffington Post on the statistic that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted while in places of higher education.  That article then breaks it down very well …  if you read the article, you see it’s not 1 in 4; that number is exceptionally high.  That  number is the 1 in 4 people who took the survey, and it just means that a large number of the people who took the survey were been people that had already been sexually assaulted.  Now, I am not saying that sexual assault is not a horrible thing.  What I’m saying is that the number that everybody’s throwing around, the 1 in 4, was used by the New York Times as clickbait, without the full study being released.  

One of my favourite bits from the great comedian Bill Burr is on stats, and how he hates stats. He does this whole bit on how you can go to and use a stat to prove that you are right or wrong, as long as it lines up with your vision of things. That’s the problem with most of this stuff; the statistics you’re using just happen to line up with your view of the world, and so you take that stat at face value without going further into the information. Then you’re disseminating information to people that is not intelligent, it’s not making people more powerful, it’s just making people more crazy about number crunching, just blurting out things to make it sound like they are more intelligent, again just becoming really proud parents.  

The stat Bill Burr uses is about shark attacks.  His bit is, “did you know, most shark attacks happen in shallow water?”  And he pauses, and everybody’s thinking, “yup, yup, yup, that makes sense” and then he states it very clearly, “why do you think that happens?”  

Because that’s where the PEOPLE are, people are in SHALLOW water, so of course shark attacks are going to happen in shallow water”.  

This problem of the statistics trap is becoming more and more prevalent in the marketing of self-defense programs.  I’m not saying don’t use statistics, and I’m not saying change your marketing plan. I’m saying that every one of those statistics should have a little star beside it, and the star should say, “as of the study here, where they use a sample size of this”.  Because there is no study in the world that takes 100% of the population, who then all send their surveys in, and who then don’t lie, so then that stat is completely true.  You have to take all these stats with a grain of salt.  

Rory Miller sums this up succinctly as well, just to hammer this point across one more time. His favourite saying is, “Correlation is not causation”.  The stat he drops is very simple.  “Did you know, that the more churches in a city, the more violent crime that happens in that city?”  The wheels start turning in everyone’s heads, “oh yeah, that makes sense, uh, obviously more churches means there’s more religious tensions …” and then Rory breaks it down just as simply as Bill Burr does.  He says, “No. The fact that there are more churches in the city means there are more PEOPLE in the city, and more people in that city means there’s more violent crime in that city”.  More in this case not being a per capita rate, but simply more total cases.  The language used and the statistics used are very important.  

So. Do me a favor.  Do your due diligence on statistics!  Find the stat you like, if it fits how your brain works, if you think that this stat is true, read the actual study.  Don’t take the clip, don’t do the thing that happened on IFLS (the science publication), where they put up a headline that said “Cannabis Proven Not From Earth!”  People shared and shared and shared and shared, and loved it, and said “yeah, cannabis isn’t from Earth, that makes sense!” If you had clicked the link instead of just reading the clickbait title, instead of just reading the 1 in 4 – the article actually wasn’t about that at all.  The article was about people only reading headlines.  

As an instructor, it’s your duty not to fall into the statistics trap.   


Options – Rory Miller

I’m part of that generation of police and corrections officers who was raised with the idea of a “Force Continuum.” We were taught that there were specific levels of force, each level had certain effects and was justified by certain criteria. Most agencies have moved away from the idea of a continuum. Not because it is ineffective or out of a fear that people would misunderstand and think it was a “connect the dots” game that required every step be touched on the way up the ladder.

They have been rejected because the courts have stated explicitly that the court would not consider the continua as elements of reasonableness. That doesn’t make the continua bad practice or bad teaching or even inaccurate, it simply makes them an unacceptable part of one piece of the legal process.

The continuum I was trained on had six general levels of force. Force for our purposes means anything that can make a person do something they don’t want to do or stop them from doing something they want to do.

Our six levels were: Presence, verbal, touch, physical control, serious physical control, and deadly force. For conflict resolution, I’d like to propose eight categories. Not definitive, just for this discussion. The eight options I want to mention are: Avoidance; Acquiescence; Presence; Verbal; Touch; Force; Pain; Damage; and Deadly Force.

There are always three over-arching factors that dictate what level of force is appropriate. The first is the necessary outcome. If you are under serious attack, your own survival should be non-negotiable. If you have a mission to accomplish, such as arresting a felon, that job must be finished. If you are negotiating a contract, there will be things you need in the contract and things you need excluded.

The second is your safety. Not just survival, but a scale from discomfort through pain to injury, to long-term injury, to death. You want the least impact on your life.

The third is the bad guy. Legally and morally, you will be expected and required to solve the problem (accomplish the mission) with the minimal harm to the bad guy.

These three things are always a part of the equation, but they will have different weight depending on the situation and your individual value system. I was taught as a military 91A (medic) that “A dead medic never saved anyone.” My safety first, the mission second, and the enemy a very distant third. In practice, however, many medics put their own lives second on the list. And in some circumstances, the combative person is the mission, and the medic will not and should not harm a combative patient in order to help the combative patient. It’s a balancing act, with few simple solutions.

Somewhere in the balance of mission and the intent to minimize harm to all involved, there is a “best” level. Generally, higher levels of force are faster, easier, more effective and safer (for the one using the force.) Shotguns simply solve problems faster than negotiation, and the problem solved with a shotgun tends to stay solved. But the higher levels of force require higher levels of justification. Boundary setting doesn’t draw the legal or social scrutiny that shooting does.

The Lower Levels of Force.

Avoidance is simply not being in the bad place at the bad time. The skills involved include reading terrain, reading social patterns, reading people and profiling places. Those skills must be combined with the will to act on your decisions. If you know that one of your friends is a trouble magnet, the information is useless unless you are willing to be rude and act. “No, I’m not going to the pub with you.”

Acquiescence is on this list because it has worked. Like many strategies, however, it only works until it fails and when it fails, it fails catastrophically. Acquiescence, without a higher-force back-up plan, cedes all initiative and power to the threat. In addition, under adrenaline and with high stakes, the hind brain looks for any strategy that has worked and acquiescence quickly becomes a habit. Acquiescence as a strategy only makes sense when one is certain that other options will fail and will be met with punishing force. Don’t be fooled, since this is what a threat will want you to believe. Acquiescence is sometimes a survival choice for the victim, but it is exactly what the predator wants.

Is there ever a time to acquiesce? It’s a personal decision when dealing with bad guys, but I’ll give you one example. Lawful arrest, when the person arresting you has the power of the government behind the badge and not just the right but the legal responsibility to overcome resistance, you will lose. And you will be punished. “Resisting arrest” is its own separate crime.

Presence is idiosyncratic. How you move, dress, stand, and what you look at largely determines your victim profile. Some people present as harder targets than others. Being large and fit certainly helps, but small people who move well are also avoided by predators. Your clothes can send a “hard target” message, but without the body language to back it up, particularly the alertness, wearing 5-11 clothes and Oakley sunglasses marks you as a wannabe.

Presence as an action is simply adding information. When you show up as a witness, many bad guys will cease their crime. This can be accentuated as well. I’ve stopped road rage incidents by visibly picking up a cell phone and prevented a probable burglary of a neighbor’s house by walking up to the suspicious car, visibly taking a picture of the license plate and walking back to my own home.

Verbal prevention and de-escalation is a vast skill. It includes everything from pleading to negotiation to naked threats. It is just as personal as presence, but almost infinitely expandable. A hostage negotiator might need to cajole, calm, threaten (rarely) and run a con all in a single conversation.

Presence and verbal are the best options when they have any chance to work. Excellent chances of success with very little chance of physical injury. But part of the skill, especially in verbal de-escalation is recognizing the point of no return, the moment where it will go physical no matter what you say.

Touch is barely a level. That is the soft hand on the shoulder to get a drunk’s attention or a calming embrace. It is definitely communication and can be seen as an extension of verbal. I separate it out for two reasons. The first is that in many jurisdictions, touching someone without consent can be construed as battery. For this reason alone, I prefer to use verbal tactics rather than escalate to even the lightest touch. The second reason is that if I can touch the threat, the threat can touch me. If I have misjudged the danger, touch without control puts me at risk.

Force is using strength and leverage to make someone do something or stop that person without resorting to pain or risking injury. Pushing someone away, or holding back a friend who wants to fight. It has many of the dangers of the touch level.

Pain is also idiosyncratic. Inflicting pain is a form of communication. Which means that if someone is not willing to communicate, or unable due to mental illness, emotional distress or a bad drug reaction, pain by itself rarely works. Pain compliance works through an unstated bargain, “If you quit fighting, the pain will stop.” A threat in excited delirium feels the pain of a pressure-point gouge, but is incapable of reading the bargain and often fights harder.

There is a hard transition between this level and the next. Tactically, morally and legally the levels we have just covered are very different than the higher levels. The levels so far have been appropriate when you are at little or no risk, when you are in control, when you are winning. In police terms, these are the techniques that will likely work on a non-compliant threat. A non-compliant threat is resisting, but that is an entirely different world than a threat trying to injure or kill you.

This split is critical to understand. If you attempt to use a low level of force in a high level situation, you will likely lose. If you use a high level of force in a low level situation, it won’t be legal self-defense.

The Higher Levels of Force

Damage is different than pain. Pain hurts, but doesn’t hamper your physical abilities. When damage is justified, I am trying to break the threat or part of the threat in such a way that he loses the physical ability to hurt me.

Realistically, there is an element of communication to this as well. Most people quit psychologically. I’ve stayed in fights with shoulder dislocations, broken ribs, fingers and (this is sport) twice with complete ACL tears. The shoulder, finger and knee injuries hampered my abilities. The ribs just hurt.

Deadly force is appropriate when you need to shut down the entire threat immediately. Jurisdictions vary slightly in the wording of the legal definition, but “deadly force” doesn’t just mean killing. It is death or “grievous bodily harm.” Again, the definition of “grievous” in the moment is going to be hashed out in court by lawyers. Generally, anything that has a permanent effect or impairs a life function will be called grievous harm. Permanent scarring. A permanent limp. Partial or total blinding…  If you want to use an eye gouge, you need to be able to justify deadly force.

Deadly force is only justified when faced with deadly force. For anything less than immediate death or grievous bodily harm— or rape, every jurisdiction I have checked includes rape under the definition of grievous bodily harm and a rape attempt therefore justifies lethal defense— killing and maiming is out of bounds.

There is a saying, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” When all you have is training in a single option, it is easy to convince yourself that it’s enough. It isn’t. A pacifist who eschews the physical force options is left with only acquiescence, relying on the mercy of others. Negotiation from a position of weakness, whether that weakness comes from a lack of skill or of will, negotiation without force options is only begging.

Conversely “kill them all and let god sort them out” is almost never legally, ethically or even tactically appropriate.

If you are ignorant of an appropriate option for a given situation, you are helpless in that situation. And always remember that none of these skills have an end-state. You can always get better and learn more.

For more information on different force options, we recommend Scaling Force” by Rory Miller and Lawrence Kane.


May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor – Erik Kondo

As someone who has a deep interest in conflict management and self-defense, the subject invariably comes up in many of my  conversations.

I bump into people on a regular basis who also show an interest in personal safety.  They indicate their interest by stating that they:

  1. Carry some type of weapon.
  2. Took a martial art at some point in their lives.
  3. Are very aware of their surroundings
  4. Know how to read people.
  5. Took a self-defense class.

I agree that these are all very important aspects of self-protection. So we have a common interest.

But that where our common interest ends. Because they tell me that they are “good” at where they are at. They don’t need or want anything more. They have no interest in further education and training on the subject. They are all set.

It’s not that they don’t want anything from me. They don’t want anything from anybody else either. Why? Because they don’t need it for the reasons stated above.

They recognize the importance of personal safety. But they feel that they have achieved a high enough level of competency, such that further improvement on the subject is not needed.

Mind you, this is a different belief than those who feel no need to be concerned about personal safety. That is another Ball of Wax. For instance, if you carry a weapon, then it is safe to assume that you have a significant concern about your personal safety.

The people that make these statements are not dumb. They are smart and capable people. And in their judgement, they are competent in the realm of personal safety.

Rather than focusing on them, I am more curious about the origin their beliefs. How do people whose very statements display a lack of knowledge of the complexities of violence and self-defense come to believe in their own competency? What is the basis for their belief?

These are intelligent people.  But what metric do they judge their competency against? How do they evaluate their skills?

For example, if you carry a gun and have taken single firearms training course, what forces have conspired to lead you to believe that you have now reached personal safety competence? The same goes for carrying a knife, having taken a self-defense class, or achieving some martial art ranking.

In my opinion, these people have been duped by the self-defense industry in particular, and by society in general. In their desire to market their self-defense products, many in the self-defense industry make grandiose claims of how easy it is to protect yourself once you take X class or buy Y product.

This same industry tells you that the others who don’t do X or buy Y are merely helpless Sheep. While simultaneously convincing you that you are worthy of the Sheep Dog designation. It’s those other people are the unaware and fearful masses. But not you. You are good to go.

My response to that is:


Do they really have any idea about the cluster f— of human complications that surrounds incidents of violence and self-defense, particularly when a weapon is involved?

Yes, a weapon is a force multiplier. It is also a bad judgement multiplier. It makes it easier for you to injure or kill someone by your error of judgment and/or lack of skill. It makes it easier for you to go directly to jail and not collect $200 as you pass GO. And it will take more than the loss of a few turns to get out.

And it’s not their fault! Their belief in the infallibility of their weapon, their training, or their martial art didn’t originate from them.

They were feed a seed. It was implanted in their head. And now it has grown to a full sized unshakable belief.

They went shopping for a solution for Danger Management, but were sold a solution for Fear Management. They were provided with a product that solved their Fear problem. Fear exists in your head. But danger exists in the environment.  But now that their Fear problem has been solved in their heads, they are not concerned with real Danger in their environment.

And as a practical matter, the odds are that it will not matter. Statistically, unless they live in certain areas or engage in certain activities, they are unlikely to have the need to defend themselves in the manner that they think they can.

It’s like they are playing Russian Roulette with a revolver with an unimaginably enormous barrel. A barrel so big they can’t even count the many chambers for the bullets. And all the chambers are empty, but one.

For most people this modified game is Russian Roulette will work out fine. But given the Law of Large Numbers, there are a few that will make an unfortunately spin and their belief in their self-defense competency will be shattered like a dropped wine glass on concrete.

May the odds be ever in their favor.