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Why you should avoid conflicts at any cost

Well, let us be clear about this right from the start, a “self-defence” situation only applies when you do not have any other option than to fight back! That means there is no more option to turn around and run away, or to resolve it in any other way. Everything else is a “fight”, a situation where two or more individuals have concisely chosen to get into a physical confrontation with each other.

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How important is your self-defence instructor’s background?

If you follow my posts here, you already know that my views on parts of the self-defence community are somewhat critical. After a lifetime being involved in martial arts on one side, but also with real forms of violence on the professional side, I just happen to have an opinion on certain things. You would probably be surprised to find that despite my vast personal experience, I believe to be far more open-minded than many of my industry colleagues out there. In fact, you can say that the self-defence industry is full of people with very big egos who often think they know it all, regularly judge what others do and usually praise themselves as being the best. Now the old Greek Philosophers have a long time ago revealed that someone who is mainly driven by his own ego is not on a good path. It is probably easier just to let them go down their own path, but in some situations, it might be necessary to comment and give some advice so that those who are looking for help out there, won’t be fooled by false prophets. I will therefore try to answer the following question for you: “when looking for a good self-defence instructor, how important is his/her background?

Ex-Special Forces, Police, Bouncers, Bodyguards… 

When you start searching for self-defence training, you will certainly come across people who seem to have very impressive biographies and experience, but how do you know what of this is actually legit or even relevant? Does it matter if someone was an elite soldier, a police officer, a bodyguard? How many black belts and instructor certificates does one need to have, are visits to the country of origin of a martial art important to be a good instructor? From my perspective as an instructor, it can be tricky. It’s easy to fall into the same trap here if you start listing all the things you have done in your life, after all, I am in my late 40s now, so after 25-30 years of experience, you do have stories to tell. But to answer the question if any of that matters to you? The honest answer here is “it depends”, a very diplomatic answer, I know. But let me give you some context here. I have a biography that reads well and probably suggests that I am a good fit as a self-defence instructor. I started with martial arts when I was 12 years old after being regularly bullied as an immigrant child in Germany. I have trained actively for more than 25 years in various martial arts, earned a black belt and many other colourful belts (never really cared for belts and titles), I also hold several instructor licenses in various self-defence systems and some disciplines that are more relevant to professional security training.

While in the military, I served in special forces and earned my green beret, after that, I worked in private security for decades until today, although I am now a Security Program Manager in one of the worlds biggest corporations responsible for the protection of locations around Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I had been trained as a bodyguard, worked as a bouncer in nightclubs and on so-called security intervention teams. I had countless physical interventions at work over the years, be it in stadiums with violent hooligans, on concerts and festivals with drunk and drugged people and not to mention the regular drunk or overconfident hotshot on a Saturday night at the nightclub or even criminals being caught on the scene while committing break-ins or robberies. Altogether with my rough childhood and some wild teenage years, it can be said that I had my fair share of violence in life and that experience certainly does help me in my work as a self-defence instructor today. But, you will also find a lot of other instructors out there with a similar biography, or even far more impressive ones. I guess it is somehow the path of a warrior to end up sharing your experiences when you get older and teaching others how to survive violent encounters, at least that way you try to make the best out of it. Now, does a good instructor really need to have this kind of experience as some of these people claim? In my honest opinion, no he/she doesn’t.

What did all this experience teach me?

The only thing I have really adopted from my military training is the simulation and scenario training and motivation methods to create a strong mindset. No fighting techniques taught there has any application in everyday civilian life. Working as a bodyguard has taught me extraordinary situational awareness, to the point that my wife calls it a professional deformation that I always need to sit in the corner of a room so I have an overview of what is going on there. Working doors have mainly taught me de-escalation skills and understanding motivation in conflict situations, and the experience from working on a security interventions team in stadiums or on concerts have taught me how dangerous groups of aggressive people are and that escaping often is the only solution. But as you can see, none of it has actually taught me any amazing fighting skills, as one might first assume reading such a biography.

Ex-Special Forces experience 

So, when you read or hear that someone was a special forces member what does that even mean? It should be clear that in the military you mainly train armed combat and you train to kill. Is any of this really applicable for civilian training, eventually teaching young teenage girls how to stay safe on Saturday night out? Nope. Well, the one thing that might be useful is that he certainly would have a strong mindset. It is willpower and determination that separates regular soldiers from those who become elite. Physical strength, endurance and other skills can be achieved by training and conditioning, but it is the willpower that keeps you going when others quit. If an instructor can teach this to his students efficiently, that definitely counts. Now I do see this ability also with others not coming from this background, personal trainers for example. We had a young female Zumba instructor in Germany, that had the room booked before my class. Watching her Strong by Zumba session was highly impressive. The way she was able to motivate the crowd while performing all these exercises herself as well and everything being perfectly coordinated to the beat of the music, really impressive. So, do you need to be ex-special forces to be a good instructor? Nope.

Working doors as a bouncer

How about that other thing, being a bouncer and having worked on doors? Yep, that is a good one, but again not for the reasons you think. Here in the UK, this is a highly regulated profession with strict licensing requirements, in other countries it varies, some have no regulations and others do to some extent. Regardless of the legal framework, you are being hired to keep the peace, to allow paying customers to have undisturbed fun and spend more of their money. Any kind of conflict and escalations can easily ruin the fun not only for the customers but also for the business owner who hired you. As you can see, the main role of the security personnel working at the doors or inside nightclubs is to keep everyone happy and the party going. Now in reality, yes you often have some kind of conflict, people do stupid things when they drink too much, but if you do your job right, you mainly resolve the problems by verbal de-escalation, this is what the job mainly is about. Is this a useful experience for an instructor? If he teaches de-escalation skills, absolutely, priceless. No one knows better than a bouncer how conflicts develop, what pre-fight rituals are involved, how to watch out for weapons and the moment when someone is about to attack you. If he however teaches only self-defence techniques, probably this valuable experience does not come into play.

Then how about bodyguards?

Well, I mentioned it already, in this job the most important part is preparation, proper risk assessment, planning, prevention. You learn great situational awareness skills, you scan people and try to read them, try to spot anomalies, something that looks out of place, something that might indicate that there is a threat, all that before anything happens. Most of the time nothing happens, but that is the goal. If you ever get into the situation to have to use force as a bodyguard, you probably have failed your mission, but that can of course also be depending on the assignment. The work is different in high-risk countries where you have permanent hostile activities and civilian work where the goal mission is to blend in, ideally complete the job without people even knowing that you were the security detail. So, useful as an instructor? Maybe if you teach situational awareness and prevention, which definitely should be part of any good self-defence training, unfortunately, this part is usually missing in most self-defence training offered.

Ex-Police officers…

Definitely depends, I have not worked in the Police so it’s not fair to judge, there might be some very experienced individuals out there, as the job obviously does fall into the category of having to deal with violence, often on a daily basis. However, the truth is also that the government (and by that, I mean every government) never invests enough into proper training, equipment or manpower of the Police. As a result, many Police officers also have to train privately, at their own expense if they want to improve their ability to defend themselves and others. If I would categorize them the same as other professionals who train with the goal to learn things that they can apply effectively at work and in real life. I had several members of various Police units in different countries train with me and would not say that they stand out from a perspective of being more skilled than other professionals because of their work experience. If at all, it would probably be more of a disadvantage, as the Police has more rights in general, they can use weapons like batons, tasers, pepper spray and even guns (very much depending on the country) and of course back up is usually just a call away.

Having 10 black belts…

How about having 10 black belts, does that matter? Yes, absolutely. For once it shows that this person has also discovered that one single martial art could not provide all the answers to his needs 😉 . I would actually dare to say that someone who has trained only in one fighting art, might have a limited perspective on real-life self-defence, but I might be wrong here as I have not trained in all of them. So, does it matter how many black belts or how highly ranked? It depends, having a black belt or a master ranking should reflect how proficient you a certain martial art. It isn’t the only measurement, but it proves dedication, discipline and a solid understanding of the principles applied. It usually takes years to earn a black belt in any martial arts, in numbers easily between 5-10 years. That depends on many factors, the art itself, how complex it is, how many levels there are, how many techniques to learn, who your sensei is, how strict and demanding the schools or organisations requirements are. Just as an example, I studied Ninjutsu for years, I was at first fascinated with the variety of skills being taught, for those who don’t know, the mythical Ninjas have been the commandos and special forces of their time. They have been acting behind enemy lines, usually as spies, sometimes as assassins or also as small units that could do significant damage to the enemy. The training includes also various weapons (katanas, spears, bow and arrow, shuriken, just to name a few), and skills camouflage and sneaking up on an enemy. Coming fresh out of the military that was interesting to me. What is the downside of it? Well, you can study this art for a lifetime and still not know it all. Hundreds of techniques and endless variations to it, many with mentioned weapons that were used in Japan in the times of Samurai. After a few years of training, I found that most of the things that I had learned had no real-life application so I moved on without sticking around just to earn a black belt, looking for other solutions.

I mention in other posts that I was always more oriented towards the practical use of martial arts, I needed solutions that I could apply in real life, at work, ideally the very next day after training. I also found that many martial arts don’t lack good techniques or principles, but that they fail in real-life application because they do not pressure test their techniques. At some point when they were still real warrior arts trained for real combat that might have been different, but being practised just for recreation, they have lost their edge. Having some kind of sparring with full force applied and without staged and pre-defined attacking patterns or adding a bit of chaos with multiple attackers etc. As a result o fthis, I have witnessed that excellent martial artists, with multiple black belts, were absolutely incapable to defend themselves in an attack on the street. I have a separate post here about how good self-defence training should look like, if you want to know more, I recommend that you look it up and read it. Long story short, having a lot of titles and black belts, do in my opinion not necessarily mean that you understand self-defence better than someone who has been exposed to real violence for example. I also mentioned elsewhere that you can find a lot of individuals, especially among criminals, who are quite skilled at violence and have actually never trained in any martial art or combat sport.

How to spot a “fake” master?

When you see someone claiming to have a dozen of black belts, especially being highly ranked 10th degree here and 8th degree there, be cautious, there are a lot of self-proclaimed masters out there that literally made up their own martial arts, and/or organisations and have given this titles themselves for pure self-promotion or fraud. In every industry or market, you always have people who try to capitalise on something by cheating, misleading and making false claims, and martial arts, self-defence or even security are no different. I know a few recent examples from my social media circle. One is an individual that promotes himself as a bodyguard and self-defence expert and he regularly uploads certificates from bogus organisations probably once a month. Just to give you some insight, professional security or likewise self-defence instructor training is very specialised and usually costs a lot of money. Going somewhere just for the weekend to do some tactical shooting drills costs easily around 700 EUR in Poland or elsewhere in Eastern Europe, bodyguard training starts anywhere around 1.500 – 5.000 EUR and any kind of self-defence instructor training that earns you any type of certificate, can cost easily between 500 to 2.500 EUR depending on the course length and the organisation behind it.

So, if someone continuously claims to have been to such courses every month, you start wondering if he might know something you don’t know. Maybe he found cheaper training providers (although it’s a small world and we know most of them, if worth knowing) so I tried to look up a few of them out of curiosity and guess what? Looks all fake, just simple websites with poor English and the same ridiculous text on all of them, no real location or address, no responsible person named, or if so it’s always the same one, some guy in Serbia (probably his buddy), no company registration number or anything that would actually relate them to any person or organisation with name and standing in the industry. When I see people congratulating him every time on his newest achievements, I always wondered how nobody ever checked if these organisations even exist, if they are legit or why it always is the same individual signing these certificates and why he never posts any pictures from the training apparently taken? “Top secret” – would probably be the answer 😉 . So, be cautious when you see things that make you wonder, don’t be afraid to question things, ask where did they learn their skills, how long did it take them to achieve that, for every serious instructor this should be a good conversation opener to point out the experience he made during his training. If he avoids talking about that, or things don’t add up, something is probably fishy. There are of course also exceptions to this, some truly amazing martial artists who have dedicated their lives to studying martial arts, but when they are authentic you can easily follow that up as well. There will be articles in specialised magazines like Black Belt and other material from magazines, newspapers, TV, they often give a lot of well-visited seminars around the world and should have solid followership, etc. so it is actually very easy to verify how authentic such claims might be or not. So, in conclusion, does an instructor need to have 10 black belts? Nope! Is it a good thing if he has? If legit, absolutely, but this type of person rarely runs a small weekend self-defence course, but you could probably meet them at some bigger seminars.

New instructors…

Sometimes the question also comes up, what if the instructor is relatively new and inexperienced? Now we have ended up again in that rabbit hole, some critics might say, that an inexperienced instructor might teach you skills that give you a false sense of safety and might eventually get you killed. Well, I admit that I also tend to criticize techniques that are absolutely unrealistic because they cannot be performed by normal people (only by Ninjas) or they simply are too dangerous like lousily executed knife defence or gun disarms. Since the internet is a free place, you can find more of this nonsense on youtube nowadays, than anything that is legit. But as you already know this is exactly why I am doing this here. Now as for the inexperienced instructor, we all have been at some point fresh instructors, even if at that point we might have been already seasoned, martial artists or experienced professionals. Even when I look back on what I was teaching a few years back, I kind of feel embarrassed. I also taught courses following the Krav Maga curriculum, (which I have parted years ago), but that’s the nature of it, we learn, we progress, we adjust and we become better. There is no better way of progressing or learning, than by doing it, so there is absolutely nothing wrong with people who are new instructors, or of young age, or who simply do not have such a biography to show in order to promote themselves. I have picked up a line from Sensei Avi Nardia, the founder of modern Israeli Kapap which I often plagiarise “Always a student, sometimes a teacher”. I believe that summarizes it perfectly, this should be everyone’s motto in this industry. You can always learn more, and you can from everyone. Most of the time you are the student, you always search for better solutions, because maybe something didn’t work for someone on your last course, or you just met someone who taught you something new. Having an open mind is very important in all this, and sadly not everyone in this field has one.

As a matter of fact, with the desire to bring the kind of efficient self-defence training that I promote to as many people as possible, I have also trained others as instructors. And while some of them had already either martial arts, self-defence or professional security or military experience, others had actually evolved from joining my self-defence classes starting from zero, being insecure and vulnerable and they progressed into confident, strong individuals that are perfectly able to teach and present self-defence techniques to others. I believe that women have an advantage in teaching other women self-defence because obviously, they can relate better. I am therefore very proud to have had taught a couple of very motivated young ladies to a level that they are able to teach others now in self-defence. It does not always take an impressive biography to be a good instructor, what counts most is passion. I found that being able to inspire and motivate people is one of the most important skills to have as a self-defence instructor. That means literary that you can turn your own weakness whatever that might be into an advantage as people can relate to it, identify themselves with it and find in this the motivation to change their life too. Therefore never judge a book by its cover, rather give it a try and see how you like the class, the instructor, the methods and techniques being taught. You might not have the luxury to be able to train with the instructor or system of your choice, therefore, in my opinion, any kind of training is better than no training at all. Even if you start learning any martial art, it is also far from ideal self-defence training, and I have a separate post on how self-defence training should look, but you will still learn something. Worst case, if you find that some things do not work the way they should, you will end up on a quest for better solutions as many of us did before you 😉

I hope this was informative and useful, if you want to find out more about personal safety and self-defence training check out some of my other posts on the subject in the Personal Safety category.

Stay safe!

Renato Skofac

What self-defence training should look like

OK, so you’ve decided that you need to do something for your personal safety and you want to learn some self-defence. That’s a good decision, but where do you go to? Do you just sign up at the closest martial arts studio? Does it matter what martial art you train and do martial arts even teach you proper self-defence? Once you type self-defence on your search page, you will discover that there are actually a lot of different providers offering some form of self-defence training. There will be all kinds of martial arts schools and combat sports clubs that are advertising that you can learn self-defence when signing up for their classes, some might even boldly claim to be the only “real authority” for self-defence out there, (marketing and ego you know 😉 ) Your search will most certainly also bring up some independent self-defence instructors (like myself) that offer self-defence courses and training both for professionals and civilians, some maybe even offering specialised courses for women. On top of that, I am sure that the “only real” search engine will start bombarding you now also with all kinds of “online” self-defence courses, that offer the newest, absolutely secret, never seen before, only used by Ninjas, most lethal self-defence systems that you can learn in just a few hours while comfortably sitting on your couch at home, and without dropping any sweat at all. Are you confused yet? No worries, let me try to guide you through this chaos.

What kind of self-defence training should you look for?

When I started this blog my intention was to give free advice, to be unbiased and objective, so people could make their own choices based on concrete facts and insider knowledge. I know that most people first associate self-defence with various martial arts they might know from movies, TV, sports they eventually came across or they know someone is practising. I mean who doesn’t know Karate kid, Ninja Turtles or some good old Jacky Chan movies? For those who are not very familiar with martial arts, you would be very surprised how many of them actually exist, probably even in your neighbourhood (at least if you live in a big city). Since the question here is what kind of self-defence training would be the best and most efficient, I will not go down the rabbit hole to analyse how effective one or the other martial art is, I do however have an opinion when it comes to learning self-defence through practising martial arts. There is a clear difference in the purpose of training, as martial arts aim for so much more than just simple self-defence. Some are passing on centuries-old traditions and therefore include all kinds of rituals, forms, weapons, techniques in their training that are not at all related to any efficient use in a self-defence situation, but rather reflect cultural, artistic and sports values. Passing on these old traditions and skills, usually also requires that techniques are trained and executed to perfection, which requires a lot of discipline, dedication and usually takes years to master. The purpose of the training in self-defence should however specifically aim at teaching you how to defend yourself fast and efficiently without all the traditions, rituals and the need for perfection.

Self-defence has to be easy to learn

One of the most important criteria for me is that it can be learned relatively fast, as most people are simply not willing to invest years of hard training to learn these skills, even though they are potentially life-saving. I consider self-defence being an essential skill-set comparable to first aid, something absolutely everyone should have at least a basic understanding of, as you never know when you might need it to save your or someone else’s life, yet hopefully, you will never find yourself in the situation to really need it. In fact, I believe that good self-defence training should have you going home from your very first lesson, with the confidence that you have already learned something useful, and I am sure you will agree that this is what you would expect as well, right? Practical (hands-on) self-defence training should be kept simple but the information provided during training or a course should definitely also include prevention strategies and tactics on how to avoid, escape and de-escalate conflicts, hopefully additionally enriched with some real-life stories and anecdotes from your instructor, that can help you to better relate to all this. It should also be clear to everyone, including your instructor, that you are probably an absolute novice to all this, that you might have never hit anyone in your life, and that violence might be something you absolutely hate and only might have experienced not voluntarily on the receiving end. That makes self-defence training very delicate as it not only has to teach you the physical skills how to successfully resist an attacker and fight back but also help you to develop a completely new mindset, to actually be able to physically resist someone in the first place and eventually also overcome traumatic experiences. Self-defence training also needs to be 100% efficiency-oriented, there is no room for fancy or unnecessary moves. If someone shows you a technique that seems overly complex, and even after a detailed explanation you do not understand how it is done, skip it, delete, forget.

The secret to efficient self-defence lies in simplicity

The purpose of self-defence is to instantly respond to an, in most cases, unexpected violent attack. That means that at that moment you are going to be shocked at first (especially if you have no awareness), then your body will respond with the release of Adrenalin to give you an extra boost, but that reduces your ability to think clearly. Your vision will be narrowed to focus on the attacker (tunnel vision) and the brain will initiate some kind of emergency program (If there is any). You might have heard of the term “Fight or Flight” reaction, and I have a separate post explaining that in more detail. Important to know now is that in such a situation you will be under extreme stress, probably in shock and fear and that makes it almost impossible to perform any complex movements or techniques. Hence, what you need is the most simple solutions possible, basic movements and techniques that are easy to remember, that feel natural and are simple to perform even under such stressful conditions. Therefore all you really need to learn are a few basic ways of hitting, and kicking, what body parts to target to make the most damage or to imply pain to your opponent and how to block and defend yourself from being hit this way. This should not be too excessive, you do not need to know 20 deadly ways of the fist, or a variety of 10 different kicks like spinning, jumping, flying… On top of that, you just need a few principles and techniques that will teach you how to escape some chokes, grabs and holds either while standing or also on the ground. And the most important tactics of all escaping to safety! 

Progressive advancement

Each lesson should build upon what you have already learned, progressively going deeper, showing you also variations to the learned techniques should something not work for you. Your instructor should be able to give you a good understanding of all potential outcomes of every situation, including the legal consequences. Usually, within a few weeks time you should be able to acquire already a very solid foundation, and repeating these training sessions with increasing intensity, stress drills etc. over a period of a few months should really show already very good results for anyone, no matter where you started at. Talking about reality in training there are also a few other things to look out for. One of them being that if you learn how to fall, it should not be trained on mats. From my own martial arts experience, I have to say that the softness of a mat or Tatami gives you a false sense of understanding how to go to the ground without hurting yourself. Even many seasoned martial artists wouldn’t need the attacker to do anything to them after taking a fall on concrete as it would simply knock them out. Also very important is to rather practice in regular street clothes and shoes, I don’t go that far to say that you have to show up in class in high heels and a tight dress, but if that is your average working outfit, then learning how to fight barefoot and in a Kimono or Gi, does not really reflect that. Another fact that serious self-defence training has to take into account is that most people who train in self-defence might have a physical disadvantage if the adversary is bigger, stronger and more aggressive. There are no rules in self-defence, meaning you are allowed and encouraged to use any means necessary to prevent someone from hurting you, which includes also biting, scratching, eye gauging, as well as using any kind of available objects to hit and hurt the attacker with. The goal however is never to win the fight by defeating your opponent, it is to end the fight by escaping to safety.

How stress drills pressure test your skills

The things that self-defence training absolutely has no need for are rankings and tests. If any tests, they should be rather pressure tests, or so-called stress drills, where attacks are simulated in aggression and intensity to match real-life attacks, for the purpose of reinforcing your ability to apply the learned techniques under pressure. The most effective way to achieve this is by using a special method used to memorise things that are to be used in high-stress situations. Allow me to describe this process for illustration purposes in a bit metaphoric way. Picture the human body as a biomechanical machine that is controlled by a computer, the brain. Like any other computer, it has an operating system that runs all critical operations in the background without your conscious interaction, but everything else is controlled by specific programs. You are the sum of your experiences, what you have learned over your lifespan defines who you are, how you think and respond. Every experience is like a little program uploaded in the brain. Those programs can be changed and overwritten. I assume that most of you currently don’t have an emergency program as you lack any experience of how to efficiently defend yourself. So, we need to write an emergency program, telling the brain if such a situation ever occurs, this is what I want you to do. And the most effective programming is done by actually simulating these situations as close to reality as possible. Once the brain recognises the pattern that leads to a successful resolution of the situation, it will start using this automatically. Therefore good self-defence training always has to include some sort of simulation training, stress drills and conditioning of your mindset under high pressure.

Developed for combat, not for show

These are training methods that have been developed for the military and law enforcement and they have proven to work very efficiently for any kind of self-defence training as well. It is mainly law enforcement, security services and the military, who actively train and use hand to hand combat for maintaining their ability to defeat adversaries or control and restrain individuals by force in real violent situations. Everyone else more or less practises martial arts or combat sports just for recreation purposes. This usually reflects in the way they train, often practising certain moves or techniques with a compliant opponent who knows exactly how to attack for your technique to work and with force and resistance applied that suits you. This is by no means realistic training, it might be good for starting to learn more complex techniques like that, but then you have to progressively increase the pressure and put that to a test, not knowing when and how you are going to be attacked, simulating the force and aggression a real attacker would use (without compromising safety in training). It is not easy to apply the things you have learned under these conditions, and therefore it shouldn’t be easy in training either. Even simple things like escaping, running away, using obstacles in doing so, also using any type of available tools to help yourself in a critical situation, requires to be trained and conditioned and therefore has to be part of your training. If your training does not reflect the mentioned escape tactics, if you are not being attacked by multiple opponents eventually being armed with knives, bottles, baseball bats, etc., if you are not being punched or kicked by others while on the ground fighting one opponent, then you are not training for reality. That is the main difference in the purpose of the training, it is one thing practising for demonstrating perfectly executed artistic techniques or for competition within a boundary of set rules and another thing to train to survive. There is an often used saying in the martial arts world, “You fight like you train” and that is the simple universal truth. It also means that you do not know how to defend yourself in situations that you did not train for, period

Is online training a real thing?

This will be a short one 😉 , I understand that the world is changing and everything is getting delivered online nowadays. For some things that does work perfectly, including the education sector, I don’t see why one would not study online as long as it concerns theoretical knowledge, in fact, I have done that too recently. However, if you need hands-on experience in something, I guess it will be difficult to get this delivered online, correct? The same applies to self-defence training, I see a lot of benefits in providing the parts of theoretical self-defence training in an online format (working currently on it). I could reach a much wider audience than I could ever in person, which holds exciting opportunities. Even teaching you my self-defence curriculum online as well, might even work to some extend, at least as preparation and assuming you have at least a partner to train with. But when it comes to the part where you need to overcome your fears, step out of your comfort zone and transform from the victim mentality into a survivor, I believe that part still requires a good coach. Maybe I am wrong. I will put it to a test and see if I am wrong with this. Now I have been talking mainly here about my own course being delivered online, I have not really considered anyone else’s online offers here. I did come across a lot of videos online and they are like most things online, some are great, others are OK and a lot of them are BS. Now what I have seen so far from courses that are being advertised, I am very sceptical about them. Whenever someone advertises as being the only “real solution” out there, or they use language like “never seen before, never released to the public before, etc.” this should trigger your consumer “self-defence awareness” as it definitely stinks like BS. Maybe I should do a real review of such programs in the future, if you think that this might be useful, drop me a comment so I can see what the interest is like for that.

I hope this was informative and useful, if you want to find out more about personal safety and self-defence training check out some of my other posts on the subject in the Personal Safety category.

Stay safe!

Renato Skofac

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Crisis & Disaster – are you prepared?

If I would be writing this article anytime last year, probably no one would ever read it. I mean let’s face it, who the hell thinks in normal times about potential crisis & disasters that might or might not happen? Well, governments do, and so do organizations and all kind of corporations and businesses, at least the big ones. There is actually a whole industry out there that deals with the preparation and proper response for any kind of crisis & disasters.

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Women's self-defence - Renato Skofac

Women’s self-defence – does that even work?

We all can at some point get exposed to threats and potentially dangerous situations where we can get assaulted, mugged or even worse, no matter where we live or how much money we earn. The world is not a perfect place, far from it and the streets are not always safe. There might be differences in the number of violent attacks, rapes and stabbings if you compare a metropolis like London, New York, Paris or Berlin with smaller cities, but still, one cannot say that it is really safe anywhere, especially if you are a woman! This article is about personal safety and self-defence for women, as they, unfortunately, represent one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, being exposed to abuse, violence and crime in a different way than men are. By that I mean of course all forms of sexual harassment, psychological and physical abuse and rape.
sexual harassment

Violence against women is widespread…

It is incredibly sad that in times when we can look back on so many amazing achievements of our modern society, it is still necessary to address violence and crimes against women as a problem that is widespread throughout the world like a contagious disease. It really doesn’t matter where in the world you are, it just happens everywhere. What shocks me most, is that many women are not even safe in their own homes! Statistics say that 1 out of 3 women experiences violence and sexual abuse in her life, sadly often from her own partner. These numbers leave me speechless, as a man, a husband and a father! Another shocking statistic is the fact that around 90% of all sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone the victim knew and trusted! It is therefore also a reality that self-defence alone is clearly not the answer to all these threats. I have meanwhile initiated a dedicated project that is trying to address this issue with more in-depth research and advice on the prevention of sexual assault. As I am teaching self-defence classes for years now, and although not specially intended to be self-defence for women, it does make me proud to say that my course participants have over the years mostly been women.
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security tips travel safety

Traveling for work? Who takes care of your safety?

Traveling for work can be sometimes a welcome alternative to sitting in an office day in, day out. But anyone who travels frequently will tell you that it has also it’s downsides. For one, it can be very tiring to constantly travel, after all you are not a tourist, you have work to do as anyone in an office has too, but you also have planes to catch, you do calls and online meetings in taxis between hotels and airports. You often respond to emails late in the evening in the hotel, in other words, days can be very long. If you are away a lot, you also miss out on social interaction with family, friends or colleagues, so it can be hard at times, even depressing. But traveling for work also comes with an increased risk for your personal safety, regardless where you travel to. Now let me ask you, have you ever really given it some deeper thought about your personal safety when traveling? I ask this, because I believe that most people actually don’t!  I will therefore cover here first some very basic travel routines to what we would consider “safe” destinations. I will also address in more detail the issue of “high risk” traveling in a separate post.

So, even if your travel destinations don’t fall into the “high risk” category, there are still potential threats and dangers everyone should be aware of. It is not my intention to make traveling look like an mission impossible, I simply want to raise your awareness to some of the situations that have frequently happened to other travelers before and therefore a certain likelihood of repetition exists. Let’s start with the essential then, shall we? Before your travel check the current situation in the country, are there any severe weather conditions, health concerns and diseases or political situations that might lead to conflicts, civil unrest or protests. Familiarize yourself with the local customs, religion, worth of the local currency and learn at least a few basic words in the local language such as “hello” and “thank you”. Avoid speaking about political or religious subjects, that way you prevent getting in trouble by saying something wrong or provoking, that locals might find offensive.

The most valuable items you carry with you on a trip are usually your passport, credit cards, your laptop and your mobile phone. Without your passport you are stranded and probably won’t be able to leave the country, loosing your credit card might put you in the unpleasant situation that you can’t pay your hotel and other bills, the laptop usually contains sensitive company data and the mobile phone has become in the smart phone age the most vital personal item, as almost anything runs on an mobile app nowadays. Most people probably don’t even know their own phone number out of the head anymore, not to mention anyone else’s contact details. Now imagine yourself in the situation that you are somewhere in a foreign country and some of this essential items get lost or stolen. Do you realize in what kind of trouble you would be in? Therefore make copies of your travel documents and itineraries, keep them separate in different bags, ideally also leave copies back at home so someone can access them for you if needed. Taking a picture of your luggage before check-in, makes things a lot easier if your bags get lost.

Safeguarding your essential belongings

You probably think now that all is common knowledge, you don’t need a security expert to tell you that. True, I totally agree, my intention was simply to raise your awareness and give you some simple advice on how to avoid that such things happen to you. Personally, I like to travel light with only one bag I can always take with me on the plane. If I have to travel with more bags, all the important items are with me on the plane, that eliminates the risk of losing important items should my luggage get lost at the airport. I use a travel backpack which is very handy and it has so many nice pockets, but make sure you don’t put anything important in the little handy pockets on the outside of the bag. They are very tempting as they are so easy accessible, but unfortunately they are also for anyone else and you wouldn’t even feel if someone would open it standing behind you. Trust me, pickpockets are very proficient in what hey do and for those who think where they would possibly meet such a daring thief, well try to think like one for a moment. If you live in a country that is economically weak but is visited by a lot of foreign tourists and travelers, you would probably also come to the conclusion that they are perfect victims, because they all come loaded with money, credit cards, passports, smart phones and other valuables with them. Now can you think of a location where many of them hang around and are easy to identify? Ideally a very crowded place so it’s easy for you to blend in, somewhere where anyone has access to without any questions asked and with many exits making it easy for you to flee the scene safely. Do you know such a place? An airport, bingo!

So, for obvious reasons, except my laptop, I keep passport, wallet and phones always on me. I have a system in which pocket I put what, preferably inside jacket pockets that can be closed with a zipper, so nothing can fall out accidentally while getting out of the seats or reaching for bags. It is also very simple to check if everything is still there, as I know exactly where everything is supposed to be. Some people prefer to have a small travel bag they keep on them, that has become a “thing” nowadays for men lately, so if you find that handy, go for it. But, and here it comes of course, the special expert advice, if you keep all your credit cards in a wallet, loosing it would mean loosing it all. I like to take one out and put it in another place, maybe hide it inside your backpack, I also always have some emergency money there, some 30-50 EUR cash to be able to get to the hotel or somewhere in case I loose my wallet. If you have some old credit cards keep them in your wallet along with some small amount of cash which you can hand over in the event of you being mugged, keep your main (company) credit card separately in a different place.

I hope I don’t need to say that a travelers bag, including your backpack should have a label with your name and contact details on it. I wouldn’t necessarily put my address on there, I don’t think anyone “normal” would send my belongings to my home address. Also write your name and contact details on a note and leave it in your suitcase on top of your clothes, should the name tag on the luggage get lost or ripped off. If you lose your luggage, or let’s say someone steals it, takes out whatever valuable he finds inside it and then throws it away or leaves it, if you have your name, phone number and an email address on it, that should be enough to get in touch with you. If you work for a well know company, don’t use your business email address, because that might bring the thief to ideas digging deeper what valuable data might be on the laptop, etc. As for the phone, many people carry actually two phones with them, a private and a company phone. Due to company restrictions on the use of apps etc. a dual SIM phone is no solution for many of us, so you might have two, I do so too. Despite the hassle of carrying two phones, that is actually a good thing from a security perspective, that is of course if you don’t keep them together in the same travel bag. Make sure you copy the most important phone numbers on both phones, and also write all important contact numbers down somewhere, should your phone get stolen or lost, you need to be able to contact at least your superior, family members or colleagues, the corporate security line or dedicated SOS number, and eventually local authorities. 

Hotel safety during your trip

When you are at the hotel, there is usually some CCTV installed and good hotels are well managed and really gives you that feeling of comfort and security, however, you should never rely on that! A big hotel might have hundreds of employees and they are usually not very well paid, especially when you travel to countries where the life standard is lower. If someone among the staff is dishonest, it is easy enough for them to figure out where potentially interesting customers are accommodated, how to avoid being caught on camera and even when you are outside the room. When people mention the term “organized crime” most people think of big and brutal criminal organizations. During my career I had the opportunity to discover several structured and very well organized little groups of employees, that had set up a very lucrative side business for themselves inside their companies, without anyone knowing for years! It is therefore important never to leave your valuables unattended in the hotel room, not even when you just go for breakfast or for a short drink at the hotel bar. Most decent hotels have a safe in the room and they are free to use, so use them! They are big enough to fit a few laptops, a camera or things like passports and wallets if you don’t need them and will successfully protect your belongings from thieves that just randomly try their luck. Should they manage to force open the safe, and they are not of the highest quality or are sometimes just attached to some furniture, you can at least say that you locked it all away. Should your belongings disappear from the hotel room and your manager asks you why you haven’t used the hotel’s safe, you won’t be able to explain that reasonable. By the way, that also applies to the wife and she has probably no technical knowledge what so ever. Should there be no safe in your room or it is not big enough for your laptop to fit, usually hotels have also a bigger safe somewhere beside the lobby and even if not, they have security on site and are certainly willing to look after your laptop, bag or whatever you might have with you that might be of some importance or value to you. The same rules also apply for leaving your bag in someones someones office, or maybe car, that one is really easy, DON’T! EVER!

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