Self defense techniques and training.

There is a huge demand for so-called reality based self defense. I find this a rather amusing thought; surely nobody would want to partake in self defense training in which the techniques were not real?

However here lies the problem. By its very nature training is “artificial” – that’s why it’s called training. OK, I guess that seems obvious but my point is this: Every student must develop eyes that see and should not be scared to question what they have been shown. If the techniques don’t seem to work you owe it to yourself to say so.

If they do work (and they should) then all good and well.

As I said earlier training, by its nature, is artificial and it remains the responsibility of instructor and student to make it as “real-world” as possible. That means for example that when learning defences against a knife attack the knife should be dealt with and trained with “as-if” it were real, although it may actually be wooden or plastic.

In the same way students should practice with spirit and energy to avoid what can best be described as “dead” training. That meaningless task of merely going through the motion, doing the technique half-heartedly.

There is a flip side to this coin. Trying to make it too real when either the instructor or the student (or both) aren’t truly proficient enough. Just recently I heard news reports of a student being shot in the abdomen while being taught firearm disarm techniques. OK that sure was “real-world” but in truth is counter productive to the student, the class and the instructor no matter how “real-world” the training was sold as!

Lastly, many a soldier has said that their training never adequately prepared them for the real thing. That’s intersting because they fall back on their training time and again – and it’s the best that can be done for them ahead of time. Interestingly most will actually do what they were taught. What I suspect they mean is that no training environment could fully prepare them mentally for the life and death reality of the situation.

My martial arts teacher once asked the Grand Master of our art how long should be spent in basic training – to which the reply was “it depends!” When pressed on what he meant by “it depends” the Grand Master clarified his statement by saying that in peace time one could dedicate an entire lifetime to basic training – but in times of war training may be as little as a week or two, if you were lucky!

Stay Safe!

Self defense lessons from the Beijing Olympics

My last blog about safety highlighted lessons from long ago – The fall of Constantinople. Today I would like to talk self defence lessons from a much more recent event – the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing.

No doubt you are wondering what the Olympics, hosted thousands of miles from here, has to do with self defense lessons in South Africa? Don’t worry I won’t keep you in suspense for too long!

If you managed to watch at least some of the Olympics on TV then you will no doubt agree with me that we were privilaged to see the worlds finest athletes in action – and my impression was that many Olympic and World Records came tumbling down.

What astounded me (and here we are getting to the heart of the self defense message) was the disparity between the Gold Medal winners and the last-placed person in the finals…never mind the heats or qualifying rounds!

Now I find this last point quite intriguing if I consider:

A) The time, effort and dedication to training an Olympic athlete demonstrates; &
B) The great lengths that the Olympic Committee go to to ensure a level playing field. No one should receive any advantage and competition must take place within the rules. Obviously this also means that athletes are screened for drugs and other performance enhancing substances.

Thank you for bearing with me thus far –  I believe I have set the scene sufficiently to highlight the key self defense lessons that watching the Olympics reminded me of.

Unlike the Olympics:

1) In real-world self defence there are no judges and committee’s to ensure that everyone fights fair!
2) The criminal will do everything to gain an advantage – from superior numbers to drugs and alcohol to make them meaner and stronger.

Just like the Olympics:

1) Career criminals train! (And average Joe Citizen doesn’t).

In order to survive you must:

A) Cultivate the correct mindset;
B) Acquire the necessary knowledge;
C) Train.

Let me leave you with one final thought.

You may train with passion, energy and dedication – and just like the unfortunate Olympian – you may not win the race…but I can virtually guarantee you one thing and it is this; if you fail to train you won’t even make it to the games!

You want to survive? You must train! Will it ensure victory? Maybe not – but failure to train is a certain recipe for a self defense disaster!

Stay Safe!

The fall of Constantinople – safety lessons from the past.

The middle of the 15th century was a time of great invention and flux. Several seemingly innocent happenings combined to bring about the fall of a 1000 year empire!

Berthold Schwarz, a Germanic Monk is widely accredited with the mixing of “Schwarz Pulver” or black powder in Europe. This explosive mixture of charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter was used in an upturned bell by the Hungarian Janos Urban, who covered the bell-mouth with a rock and filled in the gaps before lighting a fuse. The result – a crude cannon which flung a stone ball into a nearby field!

The city of Constantinople stood surrounded by two 8m high walls with 112 towers each 20m tall and overhanging a moat-like ravine, built ca. 453 AD by Emperor Theodosius II it was the Capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Under the rule of Emperor Constantine XI Dragases the city of Constantinople was the destination to which a much excited Master Urban rode, with plans for his new-fangled contraption – a siege cannon!

Unfortunately for Master Urban, he was not well received! Fuming at the rejection and convinced of the military importance of his contraption Master Urban looked across the water for other takers.

His meeting with Sultan Mahomet II was met with great excitement, the Sultan having had designs on conquering Constantinople since he first laid eyes on the city during his childhood.

Master Urban was asked to demonstrate his cannon and following the successful sinking of a Venetian galley anchored in the Bosphorus was showered with praise and gifts by his new master – Sultan Mahomet II.

Excited by the prospect of this new super-weapon Sultan Mahomet II prepared to lay siege to Constantinople! He massed an enormous army numbering in excess of 150 000 men.

Emperor Constantine, aware of the imminent assault called his men to arms – but only a paltry 4900 of a male population of 100 000 heeded the call.

A further 3000 mercenaries were hired from Genoa under Condottiere Giovanni Giustianini – possibly one of the finest soldiers of the time, and soon made Captain-General of the Constantinople forces and in charge of the city’s defence.

The famous and ancient church of St. Sophia was filled with the citizenry praying for their well being. However, aside from lighting a few candles they did nothing!

When in April 1453 the siege-assault finally began Master Urban’s cannon were deployed. Some of these super-guns required 400 men and 60 oxen to serve, were capable of firing 6 or 7 times a day (the barrel needed to cool after each shot, and due to the enormous and uncontrolled recoil the cannon needed to be re-aimed).

Despite the huge impact caused by these projectiles the walls showed little signs of collapse, which infuriated Sultan Mahomet II, until Master Urban suggested concentrating the cannon fire at the exact same spot in the wall – and very soon results began to show.

Impatience led Sultan Mahomet II to storm the breaches opened by the cannons before they were wide enough to leverage an advantage from his far superior numbers. The defenders were able to repel many attacks and hastily repaired breaches with any material at their disposal, including roof timber from near-by houses and palaces.

After many days of continuous bombardment new breaches began to show in the outer walls and Mahomet again decided to attack. He sent wave after wave of his bashi-bazouk (an ill disciplined and ill equipped mob) against the defenders. When they were defeated he ordered provincial levies, the Anatolians into the attack.

Finally he threw 15 000 elite janissaries into the fray. They too were routed by the defenders in the peribolas (the space between the outer and inner walls).

The valiant defenders managed to turn three consecutive attacks by the janisseries but it was taking its toll! Their numbers were dwindling and most were near or past the point of total exhaustion. Nevertheless it appeared as if they would manage to repulse another attack when it came, however…

A slum-dweller and grave robber was caught outside the city’s walls by a Turkish sentry and, grovelling for his life promised, to reveal a deadly secret. There was one weak point in the city’s double wall: Only a single wall surrounded the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus. Next to the Palace and hidden from view, located in a bend in the double Theodius wall was a small gate – the Kerko Porta.

This door had been walled up a quarter of a century earlier and then forgotten, except by beggars and thieves who had removed some of the stones creating a gap wide enough for a person to enter the city undetected.

So it was that 50 elite janisseries gained entrance to the city and caught the defenders from behind, trapped between the inner and outer walls. The surprise was complete!

While that is not quite the end of the story, it was during a counter offensive by Emperor Constantine that he was hacked from his horse. Those near him were thought to have heard him cry out the words of Jesus Christ on the cross “Eloi! Eloi! Lama Sabactani?” – My Lord! My Lord! Why has’t thou forsaken me?

I hope you enjoyed the story, but we no longer live in 1453, right?

Correct, but in many ways our mindset is identical to those of the citizens of Constantinople so many years ago!

So lets look at what lessons the fall of Constantinople holds for us

1) How different might the outcome have been had the “Wise” men in Constantinople not sent Master Urban and his cannon design packing? Conventional wisdom therefore dictates that in war-time (and yes we are in a war) you don’t turn down any advantage – if someone offers you an advantage take it! If someone offers good advice – heed it!

2) Although they were faced with being vanquished – and losing all their possessions and perhaps even their lives (many of Constantinople’s populace were killed, 50 000 became slaves to their new masters, and many girls and women were sold off into harems and w h o r e houses). Had all (or most) of the 100 000 male population heeded the call to arms the outcome may have been different. So when the time comes (and it’s here in my opinion) for you to stand up and be counted then stand up! Be Counted!

3) The citizens of Constantinople hired mercenaries to fight on their behalf – and it failed them. Today we still use “mercenaries” in the form of armed response companies. If they fail, as they often do, then you alone bear the consequences exactly like the citizens of Constantinople so long ago.

4) The neglected back door, which played a major part in the downfall of the city, is another case in point. We need to pay attention to the small details – the stuff we often overlook. The door we should have locked, but didn’t. The alarm we should have armed, but didn’t. The branches that should have been cut away from the fence, but weren’t.

Make no mistake about it, if there is a vulnerability the criminals will not only find it but they will exploit it too. So pay attention to the “little” things – they are as important as the really big stuff!

Now there is only one question you need to answer (and be brutally honest with yourself) – are you going to stand up, be counted and play an active role in your safety or are you going to bury your head in the sand as the citizens of Constantinople did so many years ago?

The choice and the consequences are yours alone.

Stay safe!

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Identity Theft

All around the world people are falling victim to identity theft. What is identity theft? Well at it’s most simple it is a person (other than you) who has gained access to your personal information.

This takes the form of real theft of things like your passport or Identity Document or Drivers licence, to “virtual” theft of things like usernames and passwords for things like internet banking and social media sites such as YouTube or Facebook.

In effect, a person who has your details can “virtually” become you! They can open banking accounts, withdraw funds, post comments on social media sites – in YOUR name! The list of possibilities is endless.

Now to the conundrum – especially for us South African’s. I recently visited two of my local health clubs (names withheld for the moment) because I wanted to see their facilities with a view to joining one of them.

Now, before I could even see a membership consultant I was obliged to complete a “visitor” form – which included an indemnity (in case a weight stack fell on my head or a barbell rolled over my feet while touring the facility) and asked a whole lot of questions not least of which were:

My full name.
My Physical and Postal Address
My Contact details (telephone numbers, work and home, my cellular and fax numbers..)
My Identity Document Number…

all this on the pretext of “knowing” who had entered their club(s) and for the supposed purpose of enforcing their indemnity!

I think you can see the problem…while I may not agree with the process (and I don’t) what worries me more is the amount of personal data that they collected, which begs the following questions:

How is the staff vetted before they are allowed to record and handle such sensitive information?
Are they even vetted? and if so, by whom?
What happens to that data?
Is it recorded in their IT systems, and if so, who has access to that information and what steps have been taken to safeguard that data and prevent it falling into the wrong hands?
What happens to the original form that I filled out? Is it disposed off and if so, how and by whom?

What should we do about it? In my humble opinion, we the consumer, should refuse to hand over such sensitive information to all and sundry and should ask those pertinent questions before we hand over that amount of information.

So, before you hand out personal details in the future – think…who am I handing this data too and what could they do with it? Does the organization have my interests at heart and have they taken sufficient and reasonable steps to safeguard my personal details!

Self protection in “Fortress Suburbia”

Posted to the web on: 15 January 2008
Looking after themselves in fortress suburbia
Jonny Steinberg

THERE is something black South Africans became skilled at generations ago that whites are just beginning to learn now. It is the art of looking after oneself.

Self-protection does not come naturally if it isn’t already in the blood; whites have made some spectacularly false starts. But they are learning slowly, and as they do so, they are beginning, more and more, to resemble black SA.

Until the late 1980s, or the early 1990s, perhaps, the South African state was able to protect whites from harm as well as any of the advanced industrial states in the northern hemisphere. Rates of murder, armed robbery and grievous assault were as low among South African whites as they were among the middle classes of the gentlest cities in the developed world.

As for the personal security of black people, the white state did little to underwrite that at all. In the 1970s and ’80s, crimes such as murder and armed robbery were doubling every five or six years in Soweto and Alexandra, and yet remained constant among whites.

That gap is now closing. The transition to democracy has spread the condition of insecurity from black people to white. The South African state is no longer able to keep whites as safe as their suburban counterparts in Surrey and Amsterdam. White South Africans are now as victimised by crimes such as armed robbery as the middle classes of notoriously violent cities such as Caracas, Bogota and Sa o Paulo.

And so, for the first time in the history of South African security, whites are starting to do what blacks have done for many decades. Abandoning the state as a failed protector, they are beginning to buy personal protection on open markets, and to build it using the resources of ethnic solidarity and neighbourliness.

How are they doing? The first decade or so was an unmitigated disaster. Whites began protecting themselves by recoiling from their cities. In a thousand shapes and forms, they built fortresses, moats, fences, and ducked behind them.

And yet if one looks at what has happened to crime statistics over the past decade, this massive investment in safety has been a ruse. The crimes that the new barricades are meant to ward off have increased. In the 1995-96 financial year, the police recorded just over 77000 armed robberies a year. In 2006-07, the figure stands at more than 126000, an increase of almost two-thirds. In contrast, residential and business burglaries — in which empty homes and businesses are broken into and thus nobody is held up at gunpoint — have declined a little. The contrast is ominous. It seems that a decade of barricade building has simply spawned a generation of criminals prepared to use more violence.

Why did suburbanites throw so much money at so useless a remedy? Essentially because they acted as individual householders and not as communities, and because they live in a market economy. If your neighbours build higher walls, you must do so too. If your house is the only one around without a big wall, a predator who reconnoitres your street will target you. Next, your neighbour gets an electric fence, and you must follow. Then armed response. The security market thrives on the blind necessity of these cascading defences. Everyone keeps up with his neighbour, and, collectively, everyone is more exposed to violent crime than he was before the first walls came up.

Only in the past few years have white suburbanites begun to organise self-protection with some effectiveness. It is happening, almost invariably, in neighbourhoods blessed with the invaluable asset of ethnic solidarity: Jewish Glenhazel, Muslim Fordsburg, the pockets of Portuguese-South African communities to the south and east of central Johannesburg. What distinguishes them from others is that they are acting as communities, rather than as individual householders. Instead of each burying himself in heavily fortified private space, they are collectively policing public space.

Each neighbourhood does so after its own fashion. In Glenhazel, well-paid veterans from the Angolan war patrol in 4x4s, stalking unfamiliar young men who enter the neighbourhood. In less wealthy areas, residents do the stalking themselves. But the same rudimentary principle is at work: make life very difficult for unfamiliar black men, especially those travelling in groups of two or more.

It sounds, and indeed is, unpleasant, but black communities have been doing much the same for generations. The examples are legion. In Basotho-dominated Newclare on the western edge of Johannesburg in the early 1950s, a formation of well-armed Basotho migrants called the Russians prevented any non-Basotho young man from entering the neighbourhood. To the north of Newclare, in Sophiatown, a 1000-strong association of proud title-deed holders called the Civilian Guards patrolled the streets every night on the lookout for tsotsis. Where policing is inadequate and neighbours are bound by ties of solidarity, collective self-protection inevitably blossoms.

It is no different today. In the heart of old Alexandra, where the same families have lived for generations, an association of middle-aged men called the Sector Four Patrol Group fans out across the neighbourhood in groups of 20 every Friday and Saturday night stopping and searching men for weapons. A few hundred metres away, in shack settlements inhabited by new arrivals to the city, there is no collective self-protection. People do not know or trust their neighbours, and so the invaluable asset of solidarity is missing. Everyone hunkers down in her shack, keeping a low profile, hoping that trouble will not find her.

That is precisely how white SA is finally beginning to resemble black SA. The suburbs are becoming motley patchworks of self-defence. For those lucky enough to live in places where bonds are thick, effective modes of protection come quite naturally. Those not be blessed with this asset of neighbourly solidarity suffer. To live in a suburb where the resources of self-organisation are poor is to be less secure.

Blacks have known this longer than anyone can remember. With the demise of minority rule, whites are beginning to know it too. It is the most traumatic and destructive aspect of white experience in post-apartheid SA. No amount of prosperity will ever make up for it. When personal security has always been a birthright, its sudden diminishment is inconsolably devastating.

The original was published by Business Day here.

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