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‘Don’t Go Into A State Of Denial’: Tips From A Self-Defense Instructor

Gershon Ben Keren teaches self-defense and martial arts at the Krav Maga Yashir studio in Charlestown. (Meara Sharma/WBUR)

Gershon Ben Keren teaches self-defense and martial arts at the Krav Maga Yashir studio in Charlestown. (Meara Sharma/WBUR)

The savage kidnapping and murder of Amy Lord has many in the city thinking about their own safety.

Gershon Ben Keren — who instructs self-defense classes in Charlestown, including free classes for women — teaches “krav maga,” a system of self defense developed by the Israeli military. Keren joined Radio Boston to discuss self-defense and offered some tips on how to handle potentially dangerous situations.

Interview Highlights

Comply materially, not physically:

“Compliance in many types of assault — mugging and street robberies — is totally advisable if somebody’s asking for possessions … That has to change, though, when you become the target of the assault, when someone wants to move you from the primary location where the assault occurs to a second location. The primary [location] represents your best survival opportunity — that’s why a person wants to move you from it. They’re going move you from it to somewhere that’s in their interest, which helps them facilitate the crime.”

An attacker’s worst fear is getting caught:

“Drawing attention to what’s going on puts pressure on them.”

Your escape is top priority:

“You don’t have to beat them physically, you have to prevent them from doing what they want to do to you … Stick a finger in the eye, strike the groin, cause a lapse in concentration and make a break away.”

Understand your body’s evolutionary history:

“The first instinct is denial, this isn’t happening. Our fear system has evolved over thousands of years to identify threats and dangers. When there’s that gut instinct telling you something’s wrong, don’t go into state of denial. Accept that your fear has been triggered for a reason.”

Find more information about Keren’s free self-defense classes for women here.


Gershon Ben Keren, a self-defense instructor at the Krav Maga Yashir studio in Charlestown

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  • callenwo

    I just heard the discussion about how to respond at various stages of situations that are threatening.  Many years ago, I went to a movie in downtown Boston by myself, and a guy moved to sit by me in an almost-empty theater.  He started talking to me and seemed creepy.  I confronted him and told him to move away.   He did, but waited for me in the lobby.  I confronted him again, yelling at him to get away from me.  He was passive but did not budge.  A male employee asked me if the guy was bothering me and I said, loudly, “Yes, he is!  Make him leave.”  The guy left. I asked the employee to walk me to the T.  The creepy guy was waiting for me in the alleyway, but didn’t attack me, as I was accompanied by the movie employee, who got on the T with me.  The creepy guy didn’t follow.  I then sat by a policeman who was on the T, came home, and then started shaking and crying. 

    This was a case where my intuitions said I was in danger, and I think I was.  I did act, but in retrospect I should have called the police.  My message is this:  if you think you are in danger, call the police.  But in the moment,  enlist anyone– strangers, groups of women, families– and don’t worry about being embarrassed.  People will help you– staying with a group, even a group of teenage girls, may well be enough deterrent for those out there looking to harm someone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      especially if you have not mastered krav maga yet

    • Threadleaf

       This is terrifying.  You made a number of smart choices.  Once home and safe, no wonder you were shaking and crying!  I had a similar experience many years ago, which I will share–maybe it will add to the mental toolkit people carry just in case.  It was about 8:45 pm, I was walking alone on Scott St. in Cambridge, headed toward Beacon St.  It is very dark there when passing the grounds of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  I realized a man was following me, so I walked faster.  He did too.  I started to jog; he did too.  I began to run and so did he, gaining on me.  Fueled by adrenaline, I ran as fast as I could, reaching Beacon St. just before he caught up with me.  Immediately I went to the center of Beacon St., traffic passing on both sides, and turned to face him.  He stood on the corner staring at me for a moment, then crossed the street diagonally and slipped behind the house on the corner of Beacon and Park St.  I wanted to continue on my way home, but realized he was probably positioned to ambush me, so I walked up the center of Beacon St. in the opposite direction (luckily all the drivers were awake at that time, and it was long before cellphones & such distractions).  After a while I came to a grocery store which was preparing to close (I don’t know if it’s still there), crossed the parking lot and used the pay phone in front of the store to ask a friend to drive over & get me.  I was shaking for hours.  Not sure why I didn’t call the police.  But I stopped walking alone through dark areas at night.

    • PaulD

      You were smart to ask for help.  However, I think it’s advisable for women to learn to defend themselves.  Take some classes, get some pepper spray or something else but you wont’ always be able to rely on others to do this for you.

  • staysafe

    While this is a devestating tragedy that spurred this, I applaud you for bringing this type of education to the media. Gershon’s knowledge and program is excellent and everyone should hear this. Although in the face of real danger we all hope to have 100% recall, this knowledge adds power. I will be passing it on to many near and far, including my own 24-year old daughter living in another major city. Please replay periodically, as overall safety tips, not just when an act of horrible violence occurs.

  • http://www.joyattheheart.com/ Lucy Charms

    The question “could she have prevented the attack” is bullshit.  The attacker is the only one to blame. Please stop even implying that it’s an attack victim’s responsibility to prevent an attack. It’s the attacker’s responsibility to NOT ATTACK. The question could have been put as “could she have responded to the attack in a way that would have saved her”. There’s a subtle difference, but it’s important. She could not have prevented the attack unless she was in the attacker’s head or was able to change the space-time continuum so what happened didn’t happen. Come on. Pay attention to your words.

    • Anthony

      You exhort us to appreciate subtlety of language, and yet you opt for offensive language to make your point. That said, I appreciate your argument. I could have composed that opening line differently. Subtlety, in deed. We should all hold ourselves to that standard.



    • Jacob

      Gershon makes a point to distinguish between victim blaming and victim facilitation, one being the assertion that the victim could or should have acted differently and it is because of their actions (or lack thereof) that they were attacked, while the other is an examination of common behaviors that aggressors look for in potential victims and prey on to make their attack. The phrasing of the question is loaded, to be sure, but please don’t disregard the answer, as it does not condone victim blaming in any way.

    • Sarah Green

      I have to agree with Jacob, Gershon made it very clear that Amy was not to blame for being attacked – what he did stress was that there are practical things you can do and steps you can take to avoid being IDENTIFIED as a victim. If you’re not identified you won’t be attacked, and this will PREVENT you being attacked. I think it is doing women a diservice to cloud this great piece on prevention by starting a debate on victim blaming, which any right-minded and sensible person wouldn’t hold to in the first place 

    • PaulD

      Part of Keren’s advice is about avoiding (and hence preventing) attacks through situational awareness and that wasn’t necessarily intended to apply to this specific case.  He also gave advice about getting away from an attacker after the attack has started.  So no, the question is not BS in general.  

      You’re absolutely right that all blame should be placed on the attacker, but that doesn’t mean an individual shouldn’t make an effort to be both aware and able to protect him or herself. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    its too bad women in boston are not allowed to arm themselves do the arbitrary decisions of unelected bureaucrats

  • David F

    Here is a interesting excerpt from a CDC funded study:

    Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence

    Institute of Medicine and National Research Council
    of the National Academies
    sponsored by the CDC


    “Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was “used” by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”

    • mmnp


  • Ellie

     I’m not interested in carrying a gun. I’m much more interested in protecting myself by staying aware, and learning self-defense and escape techniques. I appreciate Keren’s advice. Publishing his advice does not constitute blaming the victim.

    We are all wondering what on earth her attacker could have said to Amy Lord, that would have made her get money at several ATMs and then get back into that car with him several times, instead of running away, yelling for help, banging on nearby cars, etc. Perhaps he claimed to have an accomplice who was holding a family member prisoner, or something.

    • Give_Me_Liberty_92

      you would not be allowed to carry anything anyway in Boston, thanks to your chief of police and his discretionary powers. Boston has the lowest rate of gun permits in the State (less than 5 per 1000 residents, if memory serves me well), with basically 0 “all lawful purposes” license to carry (LTC-A). In practice, no civilian can carry concealed or otherwise in Boston. Even for getting mace you require a permit in Massachusetts, with costs and long waiting times. It’s ridiculous, especially when looking at Boston crime statistics….

      as for the skeptics, guns seem to work for the police, don’t they? and that in spite of their modest training (there was a statistics out of New York city stating that the total average  training for a cop was something like 8 hours per year on static paper targets….that’s less than the time an average committed gun owner spends at the range in a month…)

      so, by all means, require training, require qualifications, but let the people to be armed and ready to defend themselves. they deserve a fighting chance.

      • fun bobby

        the criminals in boston clearly know the women there are sitting ducks

  • mmnp

    What do you think of a “comfort dog” (different from a service dog). I am now disabled and do not live in a known unsafe area but do feel at risk due to my physical limitation. In my previous careers I had to be able to handly myself in potentially unsafe circumstances; I think my “antenna” for risk is fine, just don’t have a protective defense beyond my attitude/awareness.

    • fun bobby

      dogs are great. consider that wrangling a large enough dog to be intimidating often requires quite a bit of training and or physical strength. Firearms make a disabled person able to defend themselves.

      • mmnp

        I have had a gun license class A large capacity for decades now. The problem is if I go out of state or to a hospital to see a doctor…layer on layer of making my license useless. We share a dog with my daughter who has attended your class a couple of times and is so appreciative of what you do. I definitely think the dog is a deterent, lots of work of course but the trained dogs are allowed places that my gun is not allowed and the fringe benefits of a dog are lovely. Thank you for the important work you do. Martha

  • KerryLee4231

    Having attended one of Keren’s classes this Saturday, I have to say there is real need women to have access to this type of training. Whilst we did learn self-defense techniques the focus was on developing a certain mindset and way of thinking that could help us identify violence before it occurred. This was not simply the old cliched advice that I received in my teens and have seen the media (and the police) spew out time and time again when such tragedies, such as that which happened to Amy Lord occur, but real empowerment for women. 

    Excellent job WBUR on doing something practical for Boston’s women at this time by interviewing Mr Keren, and letting people know about his free training program – which I still can’t believe he offers free. The quality and sanity of NPR really shone through at this time in this interview. A really great response to the fears that Boston women have at this time.

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