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What is Self Defense in a world with Terrorism?

Senior Consultant Security & Intelligence Services

What is Self Defense in a world with Terrorism?

What means Self Defense in a world with terrorism? 

Very often we read or see news about terrorism, kidnapping, assaults, murder, violence, sexual harassment, crime…crime…crime, and concerned people is starting to think seriously about their own security, about protect themselves and the loved ones, because the governments and law enforcement agencies can’t protect everybody anytime, making an analogy with Kennedy’s speech “don’t think how the police can’t protect you, think about how you can protect the society”… and yourself as part of this society.  

Let’s see some statistics about EU and UK for example, it will show us clearly, what is the reality, because when you are choosing  training services in the self-defense and security fields, those methods must be driven by reality, validated information, tested models of response and the objective data is a core part of what we do. Those charts taken from Eurostat and UK Gov websites are public and available to everybody.

The first sample is about Sexual Violence Offences in Europe, data is only about police recorded case, not includes situations in which the victim refuses to present denounce in a police station or court.


If we take a look to the statistic from 2010 about police officers per 1.000 inhabitants in the European Union, United Kingdom is clearly in the last positions of this table, with 30% fewer agents than Spain or Italy to name a few.

If we are digging a little bit more about official data, we realize the dramatic cut of the workforce, with many agents retired and their jobs, never replaced, we have a new scenario, with less presence of uniformed officers on the streets, it’s represents a new paradigm of increasing crime and lower presence of police.

After reviewing the statistics above, the lack of law enforcement presence, and the lack of weapons in the right hands, a recurrent question arrives at many people: what if we are involved in an extremely violent situation?.

In bank robberies, terrorism and related violent crimes, weapons are an important factor to stop the attackers, here we present the result of a study conducted by the American magazine specialized in weapons and law enforcement, Tactical-Life (www.tactical-life.com), the number of police officers and agents with weapons in the four representative countries of Europe is distributed like this:

According to all previous data, (and much more accessible from (gov.uk), one question seems clear, crime is raising, the violence and frequency of the crimes too, however, the police have less presence. Those are the main factors contributing to introduce the  Self Protection into the personal and familiar sphere, concerned people are taking the decision to do something by themselves, and here comes the spark for the next question “how I can protect myself and my family”?. Usually, the easy and faster answer is: “learn self-defense”, but we have a problem in the definition, What means self-defense in a world with terrorism?

In terms of Self Defence, we find many definitions and ideas in the popular imagery, maybe the most usual, the one would be chosen by our mother, cousin, the taxi driver, our friends, the bartender or the CEO of the Hi-Tech company and the executive of our Bank, is something like:  “a bunch of tricks to fight in the street”. This point of view could realistic thinking with the vision of 300 years ago in Japan, either with the scenario of Shanghai in 1910 or the founding of Israel 60 years ago, but we are in 2018. In the 21st Century, the Self Defense concept is changing to confront new scenarios and threats, the old instructors didn’t design their systems with terrorism or cities with 10 million people in mind, because didn’t exist at that time. We are watching from the present to the future because we are moving forward, learning from the past but focused in what we need today for the requirements of tomorrow, we see it as Self Protection, where Defensive Techniques are just a part of the whole system, a dynamic system.  As humans, we are exposed from the beginning of the history to a different kind of risk, and many times, we lose the focus about what is really dangerous to us, what can really kill or cause severe damages, we will try to add some light with real numbers, statistics and lessons learned during our career in the areas of Personal Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Intelligence.

What is security?

We would find a different kind of definitions, but most of them are from the linguistic perspective in instead to the real mean, “security is the sensation of feeling safe”, “security is the quality of secure persons and buildings” and so on, it’s hard to find a clear explanations in a dictionary, for this reason, I prefer the concept I have been using in my classes from 1996:


“Security it’s a group of protocols, assets and human resources, aimed to stop, reduce or transfer, any kind of risk to people, information or properties, defending the target from any level of damage, independently kind or origin of the threat”

David Rivas 1996 – Definition for the Ministry of Interior/National Police

This definition is used in general terms for all security issues, it’s also more accurate with the concept of Self Protection, let’s check the concept step by step:

Protocols: the First concept in protection is to understand our needs, design the adequate plan and implement the Standard Operation Protocols (SOP), to detect wrong situations in early stages, this will give us a tactical advantage, response time and automatic reactions in the worst case scenario.

Assets: Bruce Lee is dead, Rambo is for the movies and use weapons, forget amazing promises from the McDojo (those clubs growing like mushrooms everywhere, specialized in providing fast certifications with cool names, but no realistic scenarios or professional training), usually the criminals carry weapons, batons, knives, guns or are acting in groups, as wolfs. We need elements to help us if the situation escalates, not only something passive and defensive such body armor, armored backpack or bullet-proof messenger bags, we would need elements to fight and defend our lives, we will talk in future articles about legal aspects involving weapons or tools considered illegal by police. Always check what it’s legal to carry and use in case of legitimate defense in your country or state, different rules need a different approach to the Security, Protection, and Defense.

Human Resources: we are the main human resource, and the most interested in protecting our life or the family.

Stop: Sometimes, we have superiority to eliminate the problem, because we are better, stronger, faster, we detect in advance the situation, whatever.

Reduce: Other times, we can’t stop the problem, maybe a terrorist attack is taking action inside the shopping we are buying our new shoes, however, we can reduce the impact of the situation applying specific techniques that obviously will not be reproduced here to don’t feed the enemy with critical information. As a simple example, we can reduce the risk to be killed during a knife attack, if we carry a knife-protection cloth or bag.

Transfer: A good Insurance policy is really cheap, compared with cost-benefit in case of incidents, if you have any kind of personal or property damage during a criminal action, at least someone else will pay the bill for the hospital, the broken window in the car or even a new apartment if was victim of Arson.

Any kind of damage: if we are talking about young people, the Bullying is growing everywhere, especially in the Internet era, and this potentially can harm not only the body but the mind, producing suicides or permanent damages in the behavior. It’s a similar case with the sexual aggression, kidnappings or street violence, it’s not only the physical problem, is the mental state of peace damaged forever, creating insecure persons, but that’s also the reason, we consider extremely important to conduct training and events from early stages of the life.

Internal: because many times, the victim is even living with the threat (case of domestic violence, rapist or workplace violence).

External: All kind of accidents, incidents, natural disasters and of course criminal and terrorist activities are included in this category.

The risk and the training

We have a different kind of risk, according to their origin, severity or permanence of damages, we can classify them in several ways, using the methodology of international professional standards such ISO 31000:2018 or equivalent methods applied in the European Union, Israel, UK or USA.

Additionally we have the parameters from different professional security associations such as ASIS or SIA, however, I like to keep it simple for non-professionals, focused on 3 big basic areas.

  • Risk to the Life and Health
  • Risk to the properties and information
  • Risk to psychological parameters

It’s usual to hear experts talking about the roots of the violence, for example, academics, (my American friend, a Colonel retired from US Marines, Dr. Paul Cobauh, is a remarkable sample), many of these persons possess huge knowledge about specific subject, they can explain pretty good why this person, this group, this ethnic or tribal elements are acting in some specific way according to their cultural heritage or why a criminal has become a social problem.  This information is usually true and very interesting, however, it’s not critical in terms of security, safety, and survival, going forward, it’s almost irrelevant.

If you will ask my friends Amit Himelstein or Eran Casher from Israel, or even myself, Why a Jihadist is killing 150 persons in the London Subway?, Our answer probably will be: we really don’t care at the moment, it’s not affecting to our response.

Why organized crime is kidnapping people randomly in Mexico? well… doesn’t matter for our awareness, Why this gang is attacking at night with a knife or why some bullies are abusing of our kids is not a core knowledge for defensive actions, in that critical moment, two important factors are extremely relevant above others:

  • The early detection of the situation
  • Fast and correct deployment of the accurate measures to resolve the problem.

Our mindset

If we put together a group of random people, probably they will  agree, the most popular Martial Arts warriors are the Japanese Samurai, they were one of the bravest warriors in the history, well, they have a sentence: during a normal situation, 90% mind, 10% action, during combat, 90% action, 10% mind.

The interesting point here is that modern studies and neuroscience experts, confirmed the data from Samurais, the humans are incapable to process information or make sophisticated movements under high stress, only to react.  From our perspective, a key part of the training has to be based on natural reactions, effective combat tested skills, simple easy-to-remember protocols and responses tested many times in different conditions.

This subject was tested in-depth in the military field during centuries by empiric method, however, in our days is confirmed in the psychological field by two different ways: the so-called “Fight or Flight” response, where a person usually is mentally frozen during unexpected attack and have to take the decision between fight or escape, with the subsequent effect know as “Adaptive Syndrome”, it’s a well know psychological aspect of the shock, the reptilian heritage in our brain, during fight or unexpected conflict, we use the Cerebellum, know as “Snake brain”, the part dedicated to primary instincts, including survival.

The other data confirming the extreme difficulty to think during combat or stressing situation was described by John Milton and colleagues at the University of Chicago, “they conducted brain imaging while very high skill (members of the LPGA) and low skill (novice) golfers imagined pre-shot routine for a 100-yard approach shot. The supplementary motor cortex showed strong activity in the golf pros and in the novices. In a real golf swing, this would also be the case for the motor cortex. Those are the parts of the brain that have to be activated in order to plan and perform the golf swing”.

Supporting the same information, E. Paul Zehr Ph. D, describes the situation in an article for psychologytoday.com, in this way: “When you do a physical motor act a certain part of the cortex called the supplementary motor area is active. It’s actually activated both in imagining and in doing real movements. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can reveal activity in the brain during skilled movement like golf. Golf represents an interesting combination of fine motor skill and gross muscular effort, similar to martial arts”.  

What means Self Defense today?

Well, first at all,  the name that represents better my point of view, and fit with the methodology I’ using daily, is Self Protection and could be defined as the Modern Science focused in the study of the protection of the life and health against any external intentional threat. In accordance with this point of view.

I have been working for the last years in the creation of something called MS3 Standards, designed 5 seminars to teach the Minimum Security and Safety Standards for Self Protection, or MS3 Self Protection, in a more friendly denomination.

Those courses and many others can be taken independently, without order and no pre-requisites, because they cover different areas of the Self Protection. However, I would like to remark a point: whatever are the preventive measures, the physical security, security awareness or any other pre-conflict protocol, you must learn how to fight and protect your life and your loved ones, as the last monkey in the Noah’s Ark and two others are on board. We have to be trained for the last option in the worst case scenario: the combat. For this reason, I’m collaborating with the International Kapap Federation from Israel, bringing some of the best and updates methods to the west.

Family Security

  • Threats in 21st century
  • Security environment
  • Basic protocols for Self Defense
  • Body Dynamic Skills
  • Defense against knife
  • Defense against weapons
  • Legal aspects of Self Defense
  • Introduction to Terrorism
  • Basic Emergency Medicine
  • Prevention for natural disasters & medical issues

Dynamic Combat Shooting

  • Weapons safety and manipulation
  • Reload and clearing malfunctions
  • Dynamics of gunfight
  • Psychological effects during a gunfight
  • Use of pistol in Self Defense context
  • Use of rifle in a Self Defense context
  • Shooting against dynamic targets
  • Shooting against several targets
  • Shooting in movement
  • Close Combat Shooting
  • Legal aspects in the use of weapons

Information Management

  • Information management and classification
  • Paper documents in a digital era
  • Physical protection systems
  • Digital information and data protection
  • Secure Communications
  • OSINT as an investigative tool
  • Understanding the basics of IT penetration

International Traveler Program

  • International travel protocols
  • Crisis management
  • Counter-Kidnapping
  • Urban and rural evasion techniques
  • Terrorism prevention
  • Basic negotiation skills
  • Basic First Aid

Security Pro Awareness

  • Surveillance detection
  • Counter-Kidnapping
  • Security Driving Introduction
  • S.E.R.E techniques
  • Anti-Terrorist skills
  • Interview techniques for security
  • TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care)

Independently of my personal courses (this is just the MS3 Program), the IKF provides a top-level Boot Camps, Special Shooting Seminars, Security Crash Courses, Tactical Operations, Counter-Terrorism and Taylor-Made courses designed according to the needs of corporate and public customers, such military forces, police units, and security teams.

For those interested in a professional career in the security industry, I strongly recommend the next IKF Close Protection Officers CPO, with accreditation SIA CPO Level 3 or Highfield.

You will find more information here