SEPS Co-Founder Gershon Ben Keren's Personal Safety Google Talk

Gershon Ben Keren was invited to present a talk at Google, after his book, "Krav Maga: Real World Solutions to Real World Violence" was published. In this talk he outlined many elements and parts of the SEPS framework for predicting and preventing violence. If you are looking to learn more about how to improve your personal safety this is great lecture/presentation to watch.

Self-Defense Books

The SEPS System is a personal-safey/self-protection system; it presents a framework and a set of tools that allow you to predict, prevent, identify and avoid violent situations before they occur. Self-defense systems are those that teach you how to physically defend yourself if you're unable to do this, or if violence is unavoidable. In, "Krav Maga: Real World Solutions To Real World Violence", Gershon Ben Keren, presents physical solutions and techniques to deal with violent assaults. You can get a preview of the book, and purchase it through Amazon by clicking here

Interviews & Media

NPR/WBUR Interview With Gershon Ben Keren

In 2013, a young South Boston women was abducted from her home and murdered. SEPS Co-Founder, Gershon Ben Keren was interviewed on NPR abou this, and was asked to prescribe what to do if you were to find yourself in an abduction scenario. To listen to this interview, please click here.

SEPS Personal Safety on Fox News

Gershon Ben Keren is regularly interviewed and consulted by the media, on issues of personal safety, security, and self-defense. In this interview he explains how predatory individuals select victims. To watch the interview, please click here.

Module 5 - Deescalating Dangerous Situations

Dealing With Spontaneous Acts of Violence On Campus

There are two types of violence that you may have to face: premeditated acts of violence and spontaneous ones. A premeditated act of violence is committed by somebody who has planned, prepared and/or orchestrated a situation in order to become violent e.g. a mugger who has chosen a place to wait and accost victims, a sexual predator who has set up a date with the aim of raping his victim. Spontaneous acts of violence are those, where somebody becomes aggressive and violent towards you due to something you have done; it doesn’t matter if you have, they just need to believe that you have e.g. if you push in front of somebody in a queue, step painfully on somebody’s foot with the heel of your shoe etc. it is your actions which have caused that individual to become aggressive.

Imagine you are at a party, and one of your girlfriends has drank too much, and in doing so she has started to become unstable on her feet, resulting in her knocking into a group of guys who are standing nearby drinking. Because of this one of them ends up spilling his beer down his pants. Immediately he turns towards your friend and starts shouting at her. What do you do?

The first question you should ask when dealing with an aggressive individual is, “Is this a premeditated situation or a spontaneous one?” In premeditated situations, your aggressor has an outcome or goal; they know what they want. They may be a mugger who wants your purse or a sexual predator who wants to rape you, but they know what they want, and you’ll not be able to dissuade them; you must either fight or give them what they want – this is why it is important to learn how to predict who these individuals are so you don’t have to find yourself making this choice. In a spontaneous situation, your aggressor doesn’t know what they want, they don’t know what will make the situation right for them; part of your job is to help them find a non-violent alternative that they will accept.

If someone you know, or you, ends up spilling a drink over somebody, that person has no idea what will make the situation right for them. At the moment it happens they are emotional and feel justified to use physical violence against whoever committed the injustice; and more importantly they aren’t able to consider any non-physical alternative courses of action. Before you can help them find an alternative to violence you must first take the emotion out of the situation along with their justification to act in this way. It is always worth remembering that this individual didn’t come to this party looking to get violent, they have become aggressive because of what has happened to them.

De-escalation is a process, and it’s made up of several stages. The first step is to acknowledge the situation that is unfolding before you. You may feel that the person who has had the drink spilt over them is over-reacting, and that they should calm down and acknowledge that it was an accident. This may be true but it doesn’t really matter, when you try and sort these types of situations out (and remember it could have been you who spilt the drink, and are facing the anger of this individual), you have two choices you can be right or you can be effective. Unfortunately too many people try and argue their case, stating that they are right, and the other person is wrong and acting unreasonably. The other person may be acting unreasonably however if you continue to argue your case, you are only going to escalate the situation, and move it towards a violent conclusion – don’t think in this day and age, a man won’t assault a woman if he feels he is justified to do so, and can’t see any other alternatives.

Let’s look at the situation from the perspective of the person who has had the drink spilt over him. He is out with his friends probably looking to try and meet a girl, and he’s been drinking. In his eyes he’s now been publicly humiliated, and is probably well aware that this story will be recounted by his friends over and over again. He probably thinks/believes that his chance of hooking up with someone is virtually nil, as people will think because of the location of the stain that he’s had an accident, or won’t want to be around someone whose clothes stink of beer. His evening is effectively over, and your friend is the cause of it. He has the right to feel angry and aggrieved, though not to use physical force or violence against your friend. If you start to discount the way he feels by saying things like, “it was just an accident”, and/or, “it’s only beer, and it’ll soon dry”, you will not help the situation. When dealing with angry and emotional people, you need to acknowledge the way they feel.

When somebody becomes hyper-emotional, such as when they are angry, they cease to be aware of what their emotional state is. They are caught up in the moment; their emotions have overtaken their ability to reason and think rationally. If you can help them become aware of their emotional state, you can go a long way to calming them down, which is the real goal of de-escalation.

If your friend is drunk to the point where they can’t speak, or are angry/belligerent and unapologetic. It makes more sense for you to start the de-escalation process on their behalf. Obviously if you are the one who had spilt the person’s drink, you would be the target of that person’s aggression and would be de-escalating the situation for your own, rather than somebody else’s, personal safety.

Step 1 – Acknowledge Your Aggressor’s Anger

When confronted by an angry person one of the most effective things to say first is, “You seem really angry.” More often than not the person will be caught off guard, and with surprise say, “Yes I am.” At that moment they have been made aware of their emotional state, and have been given an opportunity to reflect on it. This is where they may start in more measured tones to start listing their grievances, and start to explain why they are angry. If somebody starts to do this, they are now more self-aware of how they’re feeling, and able to think more rationally about what has happened to them. As they list out their grievances and injustices, don’t deny them, or argue them, it is better to say nothing or to nod in agreement. One of the quickest ways to escalate the conflict is to deny this individual the right to feel angry. If he believes you and your friend are listening to him, and taking him seriously a lot of his justification to use force against you, will be taken away. With his justification gone, it is now time to help him find alternatives that will both satisfy him, and help him save face in front of his friends.

Step 2 – Adopt a De-escalation Stance

As you say, “You seem really angry”, you should adopt a De-escalation/Interview stance. In a famous set of studies, Doctor Albert Mehrabian, concluded that 7% of communication is by what we say, 38% is by our tone of voice and how we speak, and 55% by non-verbal cues e.g. facial expression, stance and posture etc. Whether this split is entirely accurate is not important, most people who study communication agree that the majority of the way that we convey information is by body language, and the tone of our voice rather than the words themselves – our posture and tone, give context to what we say. This means that when we are dealing with aggressive individuals we should take account of these non-verbal signals.

Your De-escalation stance, should send of several strong messages, and this is done by standing in the following way.

  • 1. Head should be over your shoulders, shoulders should be over head i.e. stand upright, and don’t lean, or slouch.
  • 2. Put your hands out in front of you palms facing your aggressor.
  • 3. Stand with one leg forward, and one back, with your weight distributed 50/50 between your feet.

The message(s) that you want to convey to the aggressor is the following: by standing upright and not leaning back, you are indicating that you are not frightened by them (leaning forward can be interpreted as being aggressive) and by holding out your hands with the palms pointing towards them, you are indicating that you are not being aggressive and threatening, and that you don’t want any trouble. Your hands are also in a position of telling them to “stop”. By putting your hands out in this way, you are also creating and maintain distance between you and the aggressor, and are making it difficult for them to grab, push or strike you.

Step 3 – Help Your Aggressor Find Non-Violent Alternatives

Have you ever tried to tell an angry person to calm down? If you have you probably found that your request was met with more aggression and anger, rather than the calmness you were hoping to achieve e.g. most angry people when told to calm down, will say/shout something like, “I am calm!”

It’s worth taking a moment to understand why angry people react in this way, so that you can understand what types of things you should say, and those that you should avoid. Human beings can think and operate in three ways, and we basically have three different “thinking patterns” that allow us to understand the world in different ways – each of these plays a part in keeping us safe. The three patterns that we have our as follows:

  • 1. A Rational/Reasoning Pattern
  • 2. A Mammalian/Limbic Pattern
  • 3. A Reptilian Pattern

At the moment you are using a Rational Pattern to understand the information you are reading. This is the pattern that allows you to compare options, make calculated decisions, process complex information, determine relevant and irrelevant information etc. You can think of it as your “Human Brain”. However we are also social animals, and we have a Mammalian/Limbic system Pattern that allows us to understand more primal social information and cues e.g. this is the pattern that interprets body language, understands competition between individuals, social status etc. The best way to think about this, is to look at it as your “Dog Brain”. You also have a third way of thinking and interpreting information, and that’s as a reptile. This pattern enables you to recognize a threat and either run away or engage with it. You should think of this as your “Snake Brain”.

When somebody becomes highly emotional they lose their ability to think rationally, as they start to use their Limbic (dog) & Reptilian (snake) patterns to interpret information. These animalistic and more primal patterns of thinking are much better equipped to deal with aggression and violence. If you understand how dogs resolve disputes and conflict, you will understand why someone will respond aggressively when you ask them to calm down. Dogs resolve conflicts rarely by fighting, 99% of the time resolution comes through displays of posturing and submission i.e. one dog through posturing e.g. growling, standing tall etc. will cause the other one to back down and respond submissively, such as rolling on to its back. When you tell an angry person who is interpreting the world with their Limbic/Dog Pattern, to calm down, you are to their mind, posturing; you are telling them what to do. Their response is generally to posture back e.g. to shout back, “I am calm!” Anytime you tell, instruct or request an angry person to do something, however nicely you say it, or however reasonable it is, they will interpret it as you posturing to them. If a person is highly emotional they may not be using a Limbic Pattern, but a Reptilian one, in which case they will interpret your words as fighting talk. If we look at the different ways the different patterns can and are limited in interpreting information and how they can respond to it, we get the following interpretations and responses:

  • 1. Rational Patterns – Reasoning
  • 2. Mammalian/Limbic Pattern – Posture & Submission
  • 3. Reptilian Pattern – Fight or Flight

When we attempt to de-escalate a situation, we are attempting to get our aggressor to start using a Rational Pattern to understand the situation. If we can get our aggressor to start to think rationally they can consider other options than simply posturing to us or fighting with us. The most effective and successful way to do this is to ask open ended question, where the individual has to think about and consider their responses. The most effective question you can ask, when dealing with spontaneous acts of violence, is, “What can I do to sort this out?”

This open ended question forces an angry and aggressive individual to start using a Rational Pattern to consider options and alternatives, something that both Limbic & Reptilian Patterns are unable to do. For someone to use a Rational Pattern, they have to think rationally rather than emotionally, and so the situation will naturally start to de-escalate. The other thing you are allowing your aggressor to do is posture back to you in a limited, directed and controlled way, satisfying some of the emotional drivers and motivators that are present in these conflicts. If when they start to consider alternatives they tell you that you can buy them another drink, and give them some money for dry cleaning, you are allowing them to posture to you; and by accepting their solution, to your aggressor you are responding submissively, just like a dog would do to end the “fight” with another dog.

This is very different from you offering to buy them a drink, and pay for their dry cleaning. If you offered these things, your aggressor may believe that you are posturing to them i.e. you are telling them that this will end the conflict, and they must respond submissively by accepting. By letting them create the solution, they are forced to use a Rational Pattern (and rational/reasonable people don’t use violence), and are allowed to be the posturing/dominant party in the dispute.

It could be that the person who has had the drink spilt over them, over-postures i.e. they make too many unreasonable demands, such as you buying the next two rounds of drinks for them and their friends, that you and your friend have to engage in some sexual act with them etc. People tend to over-posture when they aren’t confident of their social position in a group, and feel they need to make some show/display of power. If somebody makes an unreasonable suggestion/request, which is so far out of proportion with the injustice they have experienced, simply keep asking them open ended questions e.g. “I’m sorry but I can’t agree to that, is there anything else you can think of that would make this situation better?” It may be that they continue to make extreme and over the top requests, however the more times they have to think and consider alternatives, the more they are forced to use Rational Patterns and modes of thinking, rather than emotionally driven ones. This means that in order to consider physically assaulting you, they must become emotional again, and switch of this mode of thinking. Something that would take a conscious effort to do.

Step 4 – Exit/Leave the Situation

Once the conflict is resolved, leave. This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that people make; they stay at the scene. You may have bought the guy a drink, and given him money for dry-cleaning and assumed that this was the incident ended, however as he has a few drinks, considers what has happened he may come to the conclusion that he deserves more. If you are still at the party, he may come looking for you and your friend. It might not seem fair that you should have to leave, after all you sorted the situation out and that should be an end to it, however from a personal safety perspective, to stay would leave you in the environment with someone who has a reason to harm you.

De-escalation involves the following four step process:

  • 1. Validate your aggressor’s emotional state – “You look really angry”
  • 2. Adopt a non-threatening but confident stance i.e. your De-escalation/Interview Stance
  • 3. Allow your aggressor to consider non-violent alternatives and posture to you i.e. “What can I do to sort this out?
  • 4. Exit/Leave
  • You should accept that your ego has to take a back-seat during this process and that the situation you are put in is not a fair one. Understand that this process will not be effective with predators who engage in pre-meditated acts of violence. These individuals know what they want, and have determined how they will get it.

    Warning Signals

    Some people are simply too emotional for you to get them thinking with a Rational Pattern and in a reasoning mode. These individuals are so emotional that they are only using their Reptilian Pattern, and can only interpret and respond in terms of fight or flight. There are many physiological changes that people undergo when they are in this fight/flight state e.g. that blood drains from their face and skin, as it is moved to the larger muscle groups in preparation for physical action etc. These changes indicate when an aggressor is about to attack you. They are however very difficult to pick up on and identify e.g. in low level lighting such as in a bar or pub, it may difficult to pick up on this color change, also alcohol can make it difficult to see such color changes.

    One of the most effective indicators which identifies when a person is about to start acting violently, is their inability to speak clearly, or at all. When somebody is getting prepared to fight the brain starts to shut down unnecessary processes, that aren’t required during a physical conflict. One of these is the ability to verbally process information and communicate verbally; when it’s time to fight, the ability to talk is no longer necessary. There are three cues that indicate when a person is about to assault you, these are:

    • 1. When you ask them a question, they respond with silence
    • 2. When you ask them a question, they jumble their words when they respond
    • 3. They respond by repeatedly shouting their complaint/injustice e.g. “You spilt my drink!”

    If when you say, “What can I do to sort this out?” you are met by one of these three responses, you need to forget about the de-escalation process, and work in a different way. The reason you may be met by silence is either because the person is so emotional they can’t make sense of your words and/or doesn’t have the ability to respond verbally. An aggressor may be in a highly emotional, and still retain a somewhat limited ability to communicate verbally, in which case they will probably jumble up their words, saying something like, “You drink my spilt!” Repetitive Looping, is where an aggressor keeps shouting the injustice, normally increasing in volume and speed e.g. “You spilt my drink! You Spilt My Drink! YOU SPILT MY DRINK!” etc. Aggressors do this in order to get themselves into an emotional state where they are ready and feel justified to use violence.

    If you are met with any of these three responses, de-escalation is unlikely to work. This doesn’t mean physical violence is inevitable, just that it is more likely. One thing you can attempt to do, is move your hands rapidly towards your attacker’s eyes, and loudly shout at them, “Get Back!” at the same time as you do this you should move backwards away from them. This can be an effective way of startling them out of their emotional state. There are two fears, which we are born with (the others we learn and are taught e.g. if you are scared of dogs you learnt this fear), these are, loud noises and fast rapid movements. Both of these stimulate a “Startle Reflex”, which causes us to freeze. When you move your hands towards your aggressor’s face – making sure not to touch them – and shout loudly, you are stimulating this startle reflex, and changing your aggressor’s emotional state. It’s almost as if you are waking them up and out from their aggression.

    It may seem that this is a risky strategy e.g. won’t it just anger my aggressor more? At this stage when your aggressor is preparing to assault you, you can’t really make them anymore angry. This should not be your first response, when dealing with highly emotional people however when it is obvious that there is no chance of being able to bring them back to a rational/reasoning way of thinking, then this is your best option. As you back away, keep backing away, the more distance you put between you and your aggressor, the more ground he has to cover in order to attack you. It is likely that with enough distance he will hesitate to follow you.

    Alternate Realities

    You may decide to do some of your socializing off campus, in the town or city where you go to school. This may cause you to find yourself in situations, where the “rules” by which people work are slightly different to the ones you are used to operating by.

    Imagine you and a couple of friends decide to have a drink at a local bar/pub in a part of town that you’ve not been to before. The bar itself looks okay, and you and your friends sit down at the bar and order some drinks. You’re not making too much noise and drawing undue attention to yourselves. In fact the bar is pretty empty and quiet. Halfway through your first drink, middle aged man and his friend come into the bar, walk up to you, and say, “You’re sitting in our seats.” You look around and see there are plenty of other seats at the bar, which are free, as well as a lot of empty tables with chairs. You reply that you have been sitting there for about half an hour, and nobody was sitting there or looked like they were sitting there when you came in. Once again the man says, “I told you, you’re sitting in our seats.”

    It could be that you’re dealing with somebody who just wants to start some trouble (in which case it’s best to give up your seats and leave anyway), or you could be dealing with someone who genuinely believes that they are his and his friends seats, and you’re sitting in them. In most people’s world seats are allocated on a first come, first served basis e.g. if you were the first person sitting in a seat, then that’s your, and everybody else has to find another. However for some people this is not how seats are allocated. It could be that the man and his friend have been drinking in that bar, in those same seat, for over 15 years, and they may genuinely consider them their seats. It could be that regular drinkers in the bar understand and respect this, and either don’t sit in them, or vacate them when these two arrive, reinforcing the idea, that these seats are theirs. Basically this man and his friend are working to rules that exist in an alternate reality.

    It is unlikely that at that moment in time you will be able to convince these individuals that seating shouldn’t be decided according to the length and period of time in which someone has sat there, and they need to accept that chairs are allocated on a first come, first served basis. It matters little if you are right or not, you will not be effective in making them change their mind. If you refuse to give up your seats, then you are giving these individuals justification for using physical force, and leaving them with really only one alternative, which is to force them to back down. This is their bar, and you’re on their territory, so they are going to feel an additional pressure to defend what they see as theirs. The sensible and practical option is to apologize, admit that you didn’t realize, and ask them where you can sit. If they say nowhere then you are in a hostile bar that you should leave.

    When you find yourself in these types of situation, you must accept that not everybody views the world in the same way you do, that some people hold to alternative realities, and work to a different set of rules. This takes a certain level of maturity and confidence to do this, as your ego and insecurities will tell you that this isn’t fair, and you should not let people dictate to you like this. It is worth being aware that in this situation you are not on campus, and you may be in a town/city where students are generally looked down upon and are not welcome. Deciding to stand your ground – over a chair – in such a location is not a wise move. If you decide not to move chairs it is likely that these individuals will use physical force against you (they’re not going to back down to college kids in their bar). Let’s be overly-dramatic about it, and one of them pulls a knife and stabs you, was it really worth getting stabbed and injured over a chair?


    De-escalation is a process that works in situations where the aggression and violence is spontaneous e.g. where a person has become aggressive because of something you have done, or that they think you have done. These things can be as simple as jumping in front of people in a queue, accidentally knocking into someone, taking a parking spot somebody was waiting for, spilling a drink over somebody etc. If the individual can verbally communicate with you – and the best way to do this is test them by asking a question – then you should be able to de-escalate the situation safely. Otherwise you will need to stimulate their startle reflex using loud noise (shouting), and fast move (quickly moving your hands to their eyes). If none of this works you should attempt to disengage and/or prepare to physically defend yourself.

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