LETTER FROM THE
Dear Budo Fam,
One of our main objectives with this eMag is it to get in touch with really talented martial artists, learn from their lifetimes of dedicated practice, and share their interesting stories & skills with you all.
One martial art that we have been very interested in, and wanted to learn more about, was Krav Maga. So, we decided to see if we could find an expert out there to help shed some light on the school.
Gershon Ben Keren is the head instructor of Krav Maga Yashir in Boston, is an author of two books on Krav Maga, and writes a weekly martial arts blog that draws from his background in Judo, his time spent working in the security industry, Master’s degree in psychology, and the 20+ years he’s been teaching and training Krav Maga. He also writes articles on occasion for various publications, such as Conflict Manager International.
Needless to say, we're delighted to have Gershon share his story (and some skills) with us in this month's edition.
We also picked up right where we left off in part-1 of the Vietnam Adventure.
Hope you enjoy!
Featured Budo Brother
Gershon Ben Keren
Gershon Ben Keren
Gershon Ben Keren is a 5th Degree Black Belt in Krav Maga, who has been training in Krav Maga since 1993. In 2011 he was inducted into the Museum of Israeli Martial Arts, in Herzliya, Israel by Dr Dennis Hanover. He is the author of, “Krav Maga – Real World Solutions to Real World Violence” (Tuttle Press), and “Krav Maga – Tactical Survival” (Tuttle Press), and has been writing the weekly Krav Maga Blog (www.kravmagablog.com), since 2012.
Real-life violence is fast, dynamic, and frenzied. Where I grew up, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be attacked without realizing, until some way into the assault or after it; they would feel the back of their neck being grabbed, their head being pulled down, and something being repeatedly slammed into their stomach – only when they saw the blood, did they realize they’d been stabbed multiple times. By then, their assailant was walking back to finish their drink, eat their Kebab, etc. I’m from Glasgow.
I started training in the martial arts, not as a hobby, to gain belts, or compete, but as a means of increasing my survival chances. My motivation was simple: fear. When you grow up Jewish in a city that is divided along sectarian lines, you become a target for both the Catholic and Protestant populations. You don’t have a side to call your own and/or support you, you’re it. United Nations statistics, state that you are 7 times more likely to be assaulted in Scotland than anywhere else on the planet, and if you want to increase your chances of this, visit Govan – four miles of unspoiled derelict docklands and rundown public housing. This is where I grew up, alongside and in between gangs such as the Ibrox Tongs, the Tuecharhill Young Team, and the Kimbo Kills. The question isn’t whether you will be assaulted when you live in such a neighborhood, it’s when, and how often.
In the 1970’s, the three popular pastimes in our district were drinking, fighting, and soccer; sometimes all three would be engaged in together. As a child, teenagers would often force us younger kids to fight each other as a “Square Go”, simply for their own entertainment. Sometimes they’d arm us with bricks and hammers, etc. to increase the sport. The culture was a violent one, and those kids who were considered “daft” – the most violent and aggressive ones- would get the respect of the older set (I never received this honor, and to be honest never really desired it). During these matches, I got a good education to the strengths and weaknesses of Judo; great when the fight closed distance, which it often did, but not so good on the ground, where everyone watching the fight would start stomping and kicking you and the other combatant – if you’re thinking of finishing a fight with an armbar on the ground, where there are third parties present, I’ll tell you from experience it’s not a good idea. Judo often gets a bad rap as an ineffective martial art, however at a young age I soon realized that when a person hits the concrete hard, the fight goes out of them very quickly – and that most fights end because a person emotionally crumbles and gives up, rather than being physically incapacitated and unable to continue. I actually got not bad at Judo, and have won regional and national titles, as well as holding a 2nd Dan in the art. I believe that Judo provides a foundation for real-life fighting that few others arts I have studied can match e.g. when you learn to think clearly, and formulate strategy, as you’re being thrown about, you have a valuable skill for life.
When you grow up in a violent neighborhood, you get a sixth sense about when things are going to kick off. You pick up on potential assailant(s) checking you out (“Target Glancing”), or looking around for the presence of law enforcement, escapes routes, and to check whether you have acquaintances who can come to your assistance (“Scanning”), etc. You also get good at recognizing when somebody’s movement is attuned and tied to yours, as well as when the environment favors an attacker – it lacks natural surveillance (other people can’t see or witness what’s going to happen), and restricts and funnels your movement in a particular direction, etc. In short, you develop good situational awareness. If you grow up in “prey” mode, you soon learn to detect the warning signs, that things aren’t right. Throughout my time teaching Krav Maga and reality-based self-defense, I have tried to formalize these skills, so that they can be communicated to others, either in classes, in my books, or in articles I have written for my blog, and other publications. Without being able to predict and identify violent situations before or as they develop, it is very difficult to respond effectively when things turn physical e.g. if somebody sidles up to you, grabs your shirt/neck and starts shanking a knife into you in a frenzied manner, changing their target areas, from your stomach, to your back, to your neck, and back again, and you weren’t able to prepare in some way for the attack, you’ll be stabbed multiple times before you even have a chance of getting back in the game. That’s reality. Identifying the warning signs of such an assault are as important - if not more so - as the block you use to stop the knife.
I continued my education of violence, when at 18 I started working door security – or as it was then referred to, “bouncing”. It wasn’t so much that I had a fascination with violence, rather that I needed a way to help pay myself through university, and an opportunity came up through the Judo club I was training at (most of the pubs and clubs in the city took their doormen from the two most notable Judo clubs in the area). I started working in a club called the Blue Monkey, that was a converted movie theater, which often saw the locals “bomb” unsuspecting targets, by dropping full pints of beer from the upper-level balconies, with concussive force; I soon learnt that 360 degree scanning and awareness, meant looking up, as well as around – just when you think you’ve got your awareness sorted, another factor comes into play. I also learnt to defend against high kicks; something a lot of people don’t believe occurs in real life. It was not uncommon, when chasing somebody up the stairs, to have them turn and deliver a kick to your head. For them, it was a low-kick, but the environment meant you had to deal with it as a high one. In my final year at university, the club got burnt down by a gang from the next door city, and I ended up working the doors of several pubs. At this time, I was still relying on, and using Judo to deal with violent altercations – a fellow Judoka/doormen instructed me that when you had to throw somebody out, to make sure that you gave them their jacket or coat, as once they have it on, it makes throwing them that much easier.
I first came across Krav Maga in 1994 – I’d taken a trip to Israel to recuperate after a back injury took me out of competitive Judo. Initially, I wasn’t that impressed. At the time, it looked to me a bit sloppy, as there was no emphasis on form or process; something that as a traditional martial artist was anathema to me. (Through my further training with different instructors, I learned that my traditional martial arts approach didn’t have to be excluded from my Krav Maga, and I now practice and teach the system as a martial art). What I did like though was the mindset, and the focus on aggression. From personal experiences, I’d come to realize that the only way to deal with violence, was with greater violence; you got nowhere by doing “just enough”, you had to inflict a lot of pain, as quickly as possible (in the rare cases where inflicting pain wasn’t effective, other solutions could be employed) – and Krav Maga as a system, understood this, embodying it in its tactics and solutions. It’s 23 years now since I first started training in Krav Maga, and I’ve been fortunate to have trained with some of the most notable and influential military trainers in Israel. In 2011, I had the great honor of being inducted into the Museum of Israeli Martial Arts, in Herzliya, Israel by Dr Dennis Hanover, whose family and association have probably trained more members, and been more influential in the development of hand-to-hand combat in the IDF, that any other individual or group.
I now live and work in Boston, MA, running a dedicated 16 000 sq ft Krav Maga training facility. I no longer work on the door, or work as a security operative, preferring to dedicate my time and effort to teaching those in my community how to predict, prevent, identify and avoid violence, and if necessary how to deal with it in the most efficient and effective manner. I have not stopped learning, and never will; that’s the martial arts journey. OSS!
Skills Of The Month
Skill #1 - How it usually starts
Skill #2 - 'Shank' You Very Much!
Skill #3 - The ground never misses
Adventure - Part 2
The Adventure Continues!
Recap Of Part-1
Part-1 of the Vietnam Adventure can really be captured in the following bullet points:
- Took us some 32 hours door to door to arrive (Tired AF)
- Touch down, met some pretty amazing locals (Babes)
- Had the most UNREAL New Years of our lives (Actually)
- Shook the hangover, and it was time to get down to business! (Hustle-mode: ON)
In case you missed it, the full story behind part-1 can be found here.
Time To Get Down To Business
Any good hustler knows how to work the phones. But, working the phones in a different country... now that's an entirely different story. Especially when you're too cheap to get a phone plan, and all you have is data - Which reminds me, WE GET RIPPED OFF FOR DATA in North America btw... We got off the plane & purchased 9GB of data for the price of a latte!
Once we were able to shake off our regret-free New Year's hangover via a couple fresh coconut waters, it was time to start strategizing on how to get in front of the TOP DOG manufacturers that call Vietnam home.
One of our concerns: Since we're not exactly a massive multinational company (yet,) these manufacturers might not give us the time of day unless we're talking about minimum orders of 10K+ for some of the gear we produce. Well, there was only one way to find out!
Given that the old fashioned cold call was not an option, the only choice we had was to just show up! And that's exactly what we decided to do.
First, we wanted to observe our potential future business partner in their natural habitat.
- How do they treat their employees?
- Do they run an organized operation?
- How does the place look when the customer isn't watching?
.... All of these questions could be answered by simply showing up unannounced and observing.
Now, very rarely do you hit a bulls-eye on your first attempt at the unknown. But, in our case, we literally could not believe what we found, as this internationally recognized manufacturer was willing to work with us even though we were clearly punching well above our weight class.
WATCH THIS VIDEO:
Well That Was Easy
Or was it? Sure, in principle we had what appeared to be a working agreement, but we needed to come back with some new designs that they could take into production or we would look like couple rookies. Which meant, it was time get creative and come up with some innovative ideas around "Urban Wear With A Martial Flare" (TM.)
So, we decided to fly up north to visit some world-class tailors that are capable of birthing anything you can dream up.... Que the $0.50 latte's and let's get to work!
All of this was happening so fast! It was important for us remember to stop and smell the flowers while on this epic journey.
During our first flower-smelling pit stop, we noticed something moving amongst the leaves... What was it???
...Every kid's childhood dream of finding a turtle in the gutter, naming him Leonardo, and looking forward to the rest of your life being filled pizza, clashes with the Foot Clan, and being called Master:
We had a severe dilemma on our hands: A dream just came true, and that dream just so happened not be compatible with modern airplanes.
We figured there might be a slight chance that we would be able to charm Airport Security into allowing this miracle to run its natural course, but, we could not ignore the "Invasive Species" fine print that clearly neglects to pardon miracles.
We had no choice but to set Leonardo free. (Writing this feels like a eulogy; but we will move on. He will never be forgotten.)
Just Go For It!
Four words that pretty much defined our trip.
Did we have any idea what we were doing? Hell no! "Just go for it"... What's the worst that can happen? ... We learn some sh*t? Sign us up!
Little did we know that these four words would be exceptionally applicable when it came to crossing the street. Now, being the relatively polite Canadians that we are, we found ourselves waiting upwards of 15min to find a clear opening to cross the street. Then, we saw some locals just walk into oncoming traffic, texting, and not even looking where they were going! It was then that we realized if we were to function inside this organize chaos, we had follow the local's lead.
We could not believe this works, but it does! Mind blown.
SEE FOR YOURSELF:
We managed to survive multiple street crossings, but little did we know that one day we would...