Most people’s default response is to freeze. Would you know what to do? According to the Gun Violence Archive, 272 mass shooting incidents have already occurred in 2018, as of October. Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. There is no pattern or routine method used by perpetrators. It is impossible to predict where an active shooter scenario will happen next, but we can look at recent events and statistics for indications. Active shooter events most commonly occur in businesses (45%), schools (25%), and government facilities (10%). It can happen in an instant; someone fires a gun, and you have a split second to react. At that moment it is all about having the courage to overcome your biggest fear, and the knowledge to implement action.
I, along with Alon Dagon, have a simple goal for our Counter-Terrorism Seminar at Krav Maga Experts: to teach the participants how to react in a nightmare situation. Although everyone’s primary goal is to survive and get out safely, achieving that goal is a challenge and can be significantly enhanced with a mock scenario and expert instruction.
Working with knives, rifles, and handguns can be extremely stressful even for trained combat soldiers. Since we are working with civilians, handling weapons is something that’s new to most of the participants, and some are hesitant to touch them, while others admittedly are enthusiastic. Our primary objective is to increase technical skills, but also to instill the courage to act with weapons present. At my previous Counter-Terrorism seminar, I taught how to hold handguns, rifles, knives, and batons properly. For this seminar, we decided to concentrate only on knives and rifles, allowing the participants to have a deeper understanding of these two weapons, and grow more confident in working with them. By the end of the two hours, participants are not only aware of how to disarm the perpetrator but have practiced wielding the weapon in hand-to-hand combat, where rifles can be used as a ‘cold weapon’ almost like a mace to stun and neutralize the attacker.
We recognized that another skill we must teach, besides the real weapons techniques, is how to overcome the mental fear when confronted by a lethal weapon. I may be a Krav Maga expert and an IDF soldier, but even I would feel scared having a person point a gun at me. However, I can overcome the natural feeling of fear and avoiding the freeze mode, because I practice how to snap out of it and how to consciously take the most effective actions possible to get away from danger and improve my position. The skill is not to eliminate the fear, but recognize it and work through it, using it to fuel useful aggression. If a participant is finding him/herself in a life-threatening situation and immediately reacts, whether it is to escape, hide or attack, they cannot freeze. Fear is paralyzing. If you are taking action and hyped with the energy of a Krav Maga fighter, you’re less afraid.
Situational awareness is a key component of survival. During an active shooter situation, what is the difference between cover and concealment? Although they sound the same, they aren’t. Knowing this simple difference can be the difference between life and death. Use the environment around you to your favor. Here are just some of the actions to be aware of and implement in almost any scenario:
Call 911. This is the most important step. I’ll even repeat it. Call 911. Don’t assume someone else is calling. This isn’t just to alert Police, or to stop the shooting or the attacker, but to get medical help for those who are injured.
Listen quickly. Assess where the attack is coming from and listen to the details about the type (handgun, rifle, or knife) and frequency of firing and assess your best safety options to move away from the attacker or hide.
Start moving. Find the nearest exit and escape out of the scene. Warn others around you, and escape through the most readily available and safest exit while helping others if you can. If someone is insisting on staying under a table and not willing to come with you in any case, don’t stay there to convince them, get away if you assess that is the best plan of action.
Cover or Conceal. It is better to hide if there is no visible escape. A cover is hiding from a threat in a place that will provide “ballistic cover”. In other words, it is someplace that can stop or slow bullets, like a heavy metal door, dumpster, brick wall, a car’s motor, metal cabinet or even a refrigerator. This means that a person is relatively safe from being hit. Concealment is hiding so you cannot be seen, such as under a desk, under a pile of coats or behind a thin door. You are not protected from object penetration, but less likely to be a direct target if you cannot be seen. It may be that the best step is to hurry people into a room, have everyone hide quietly, turn off the lights to make the room seem empty and lock the door. If it does not lock, try to jam the door. If you have time and a choice, hide in a room where the door opens towards the inside so it will be easier to jam it with objects like chairs and tables.
As a last resort, or in a direct conflict situation, use your practiced defense skills to neutralize the attacker with hard and aggressive Krav Maga actions. It is best to surprise the shooter with an accurate swing using a hard object like a fire extinguisher or a chair towards the aggressor’s vulnerable points to neutralize them.
There are as many different dangers and ways for something to unfold as there are people in this world. Empowering everyone with the knowledge of the steps to take, ones as simple as ‘run for your life away from the danger zone’, may allow them to stay alive.
One of my students asked me after the seminar, “Aren’t you giving us false hope? It’s one thing to do this in class, on the mats, with an attacker who you know from training. It’s another in a real-world scenario.” That is a good question, and one I think people should be asking. Part of what I love most about Krav Maga is its efficiency in real life-threatening scenarios. People do use it to save their own lives against an attack or to save the lives of their loved ones. Because there are millions of outcomes that can happen in any situation, there are a million and one ways to react in the scenario, which includes aggressive interaction. If Krav Maga knowledge, practice, and training give you hope and courage for that possible interaction, then it is not false. I think false hope is the belief that a nightmare scenario will never happen to you. While I don’t want people I teach to be paranoid, I want them to be paying attention to the world around them.
If you hear a noise that sounds suspicious or even weird, assess the situation and take steps to ensure your safety. All of what I described is possible for ordinary civilians to do. By seeking out knowledge and classes like our counter-terrorism seminar, I believe you have already taken the first step it takes to be a survivor.
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Written by Raz Chen