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. Gershon has a Masters Degree in Psychology, with a research emphasis on violence and violent offenders, and continues his post-graduate education in Criminology and Criminal Psychology. He has over 25-years’ worth of experience in the security industry.
I can spot a bullied kid a mile off: when they walk, they vary their pace too much. Rather than moving at a consistent speed, they walk faster when they feel exposed and in the open, and slow down when they can use people, groups and crowds to conceal themselves. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. It’s something you learn to do intuitively; nobody has to teach you, as it’s a survival mechanism that is written into our DNA. Unfortunately, bullies – as the apex predator in the school environment - are adept at spotting such changes in movement, and are quick to respond to them. But just as prey animals move in a certain way, so do predatory ones; and over time I learnt to recognize, when the bullies were on the hunt and looking for game and when they couldn’t be bothered (I guess even bullies need a break). This – game of cat and mouse, hunter and hunted - was the focus of my school life for a significant period of time, and whilst it may have hampered me academically, it taught me a lot about the importance of movement in avoiding appearing on a predator’s radar, whilst at the same time detecting and identifying their harmful intent. There are many components to situational awareness, and understanding movement is one of them.
Not all violence is the same: there are premeditated instances, and spontaneous ones. Spontaneous situations, result from our actions and behaviors, whether real or perceived e.g. somebody becomes aggressive/violent towards us because they believe we spilt a drink over them, cut them off in traffic, or jumped ahead of them in a queue, etc. It’s impossible to predict such events. Premeditated acts of aggression involve predators, who for a variety of motives, have deliberately selected and targeted us – to rob us of our wallet, abduct us, or sexually assault us, etc. Often it is the way that we move that attracts their attention (Betty Grayson and Morris Stein, did a now-famous study of this), and the way that they move which allows us to identify them before they commit their crime/assault. Crime, and violent crime, is a process, with identifiable stages and phases, and one of these is the predator’s “Synchronization of Movement”.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have had the feeling and sense that we’re being followed as we walk, life i.e. our fear system, operating subconsciously, identifies that someone is moving in a way that could be predatory, and triggers our adrenal system into action. As we sense this change in our emotional state, we consciously identify the movement behind us. Whenever we become adrenalized, and are in a state of fear, every behavior, action and movement, must be interpreted within this context: as a potential threat or danger. It’s easy to deny or discount, and explain away, the movement behind us (especially if it’s been a “false alarm” before) e.g. we’re imagining it, the person rapidly approaching us is in a hurry, or they’ve inadvertently fallen into step behind us, however, in the context of fear, there really is only one way to interpret such movement: a potential threat of harm, that needs to be investigated. If you hear repeated loud bangs in an office building where you work, is it better/safer to try and argue to yourself that somebody is letting off firecrackers in a corridor as part of a joke, or that it’s a lethal employee, on a rampage shooting? Your state of fear, and the context of the situation, should be your guide. Tracking/Trailing (or following) is a form of Synchronization of Movement (SOM) that indicates a potential danger.
When you’re constantly bullied, your eye-line will be somewhat further out than the other kids (another way I can spot bullied kids): you need time and distance, to react and avoid violence, and if you pick up on the warning signals too late, you’re toast. When I used to walk to school, I was always looking a long way out, as I wanted to spot those who meant me harm, at the earliest opportunity. If I saw them, I’d cross the road. If they saw me doing this, and they crossed the road, that synchronization of movement told me it was time either to run, or to switch my pain management systems on – I hadn’t yet realized that fighting back against a group was an option; it took me a few years to learn that. This method of directly approaching a target, may seem obvious to pick up on, but if you’re looking down and/or the predator(s) moves through a crowd towards you, their synchronization of movement may not be so easy to pick up. There are those predators who want you to know you’re in their cross-hairs, so as to see, and feed on your fear, and those – such as muggers – who don’t want you to identify their movement, until it’s too late.
To the bully, bullying is a game. It goes beyond simple violence. Sometimes I would just get clocked, but more often, the attacks would be preceded by some form of “mock” dispute, involving a perceived wrong that I’d committed against them, such as walking across my path, so I’d bump into them. It always seemed strange to me that my aggressors would try to create a justification for assaulting me, even though this was always their intention. In my years working club and bar security, I’ve watched groups plot how they would create a situation, that would give them an excuse to get physical with somebody – sometimes I noticed this in a later investigation, on the CCTV footage, sometimes in person. It’s a point worth noting, that in such conflicts, the members of the group aren’t ready in the first instance to become violent, and need some form of verbal interaction where they can justify their grievances, before they’re ready. Acting/Striking pre-emptively during these initial moments, with your eye on disengagement and escape, often represents your best survival option in these cases.
The method of interception, where an assailant will not directly synchronize their movement with you, but synchronize with your movement, so that your paths cross, is one of the most common methods that predators use to disguise their intent and get close to you. It’s a common method that security professionals will use when testing the security protocols, procedures and practices, at a company’s access points into a building, where passes are used to gain entry e.g. you’d wait for an employee who was carrying a large number of bags etc. that they had difficulty managing, and time your approach to the door, so you both arrived at the same time. As they fumbled for their pass, you’d offer – quite insistently – to take a couple of their bags, and then follow them inside, once the door was open. Pickpockets are adept at a similar method of interception, often using the environment to their advantage. One of the things I’m always aware of in any environment I’m in, are “funnels”. These are parts of the landscape which naturally slow you down. A good example of a “funnel”, in action, is an escalator in a subway station, during rush hour: large numbers of people approaching the elevator, must slow down as they are funneled into it. Pickpockets who “mark” someone in the lobby, will follow them, and time their interception to occur as their target enters the funnel. When trying to identify a synchronization of movement, I have an active interest in who is going to cross my path or arrive at a particular point, such as the top of the escalator, or at a door/entry point, etc., at the same time as me. One check I use, if I believe someone is synchronizing in this way, is to suddenly stop, and see if they replicate this change in movement.
My bullies knew where I lived. I grew up in a district of Glasgow, where everybody knew everybody else, regardless of whether they liked them or not. It was impossible to be invisible or anonymous in such a place. Every morning, my bullies knew where I’d be starting from, and where I’d be going, and were aware that at the end of the school day, the process would be reversed. When somebody knows where you’ll be at a particular time, they can synchronize their movement to yours, by waiting for you. As a kid who had to go to school, there was a limit to the number of routes I could take, and the degree to which I could vary my times of departure and arrival; I used to weigh up the costs and benefits of getting to school ultra-early, to avoid being accosted on the way, with the fact that there would be few, if any, kids in the school yard, that I could use to blend in with. As an adult, I have much more flexibility concerning the routes I take, and when I take them, etc. I try and build into my life – where possible – a degree of unpredictability, so that it makes it difficult for a predatory individual to “wait” for me. Many people try and do this on a “Macro” level but fail to do it on a “Micro” one e.g. on route to a destination will vary the roads they take, but once at a destination demonstrate predictability in their movements. An example of this predictability at a micro-level is when somebody in a parking-lot uses their key-fob at distance to locate and at the same time remotely unlock their car. This demonstrates where they are heading (allowing for an easy synchronization of movement) and also unlocks their car, making it available – and anything in it - to anyone in the environment.
We’re often urged to be more situationally aware. Some of us, like bullied kids, have to be because our survival depends upon it, but most of us don’t have to, because our lifestyles rarely expose us to danger. The problem is that we don’t experience danger and violence, until we do, and for many of us, at that moment, it is too late. It is not enough to just be more aware; we need to know what to be aware of, and one of those things is other people’s movement in relation to ours.