November 2, 2023, El Al flight 358, Frankfurt - Israel
Contrary to what the title suggests this blog is not actually about safety tips for travel. It is about regular travel tips, i.e. how to get the most out of travel, but applied to Krav Maga. However, since I don't want to disapoint those who were seeking actual safety tips for travel, I will begin with some basic travel safety tips.
1. Have a basic knowledge of self-defense - If you are traveling to unknown areas, or even to areas you have visited before, you should be prepared for the unexpected. Tourists are always easily identified and are considered easy prey. It is also assumed that tourists have cash or other valuables. The reason they are considered easy prey is because they don't know what to expect. They don't know what or whom to avoid. The curious and confused look on most tourists is an invitation for a robber.
2. Don't look like a tourist - As much as possible try to avoid looking like a tourist. These days it is easier than in the past. In the past you saw the tourist with the colorful Hawaiian shirt, a silly hat (fear of the sun), a camera hung around the neck and a big map in one's hands. Today with cellphones there is no longer a need for maps or noticeable cameras. Do whatever you can to blend in.
3. Act natural - Part of the above point, i.e. don't look too obvious, is to act natural. Looking around trying to figure out where you are, walking slowly while constantly checking your phone, makes you a target. Figure out where you need to go and go there. Move with confidence. Act like you are a local, like you know the place like the back of your hand. You are not a confused tourist; you are a local son of this town.
4. Learn the lay of the land - Don't wander off on your own to explore interesting places "off the beaten track". Understand where it is safe to go, with whom, and when. Traveling with a local friend can make all the difference, not only in not being charged "tourist prices", but in knowing what parts of town to avoid. As Mr. Miyagi says, "Best defense, not be there". Avoid trouble as much as possible.
5. Don't be distracted - An easy tactic used on tourists is having one local start talking to the tourist, chatting them up. At this time another will come and steal their wallet or hit them over the head and rob them. Stay aware and don't get drawn into conversations that others have initiated with you.
6. Situationel Awareness - The most important point, above all others, is to be constantly aware of one's surroundings. Scane your environment all the time. Yes, you need to do this. If you train yourself, it becomes natural and it does not detract from your enjoyment of your trip. Be aware of everything and everyone around you. Nothing spoils a trip like being robbed. Be aware of your surroundings, watch the people around you, and avoid being caught by surprise.
The main point of this blog.
In the inflight magazine there was an article, which I only glanced out and then got the idea for this blog. It was called "How to travel off the beaten path", and it had nothing to do with Krav Maga. But yet...I saw useful ideas.
First point in this article was, Read up on your destination but leave room for spontaneity.
Let's apply this to Krav Maga. First, in a literal sense. When traveling, know where you are going to. Read up, not only about the cool places to visit but about crime in this region. What is it like at night? What are the places to avoid? What kind of behavior should you avoid, what kind of clothing should you avoid. Clothing that you might find acceptable might be unacceptable in other areas. Behavior that you might consider acceptable might be unacceptable in more conservative and traditional environments. Know what happens in certain clubs late at night, or at the beach. As the blog says, READ UP, but look for clues about crime.
Let's take that a little deeper. Read up on your destination but leave room for spontaneity. Study your techniques (i.e. read up on your destination), understand how to defend yourself in many different situations and under many different circumstances, but leave room for spontaneity, i.e. leave room to improvise for the unknown, the unexpected. The enemy may attack differently than your dojo training partner, leave room for improvisation, adaptations. That is why in IKI we do not memorize techniques but rather we understand concepts. And those concepts can be applied in any situation, i.e. Leave room for spontaneity. Leave room for improvisation.
Next point, Learn a few basic phrases in the local language.
Translate to Krav Maga terms - Rather than expecting everyone to speak your language; learn the local language, i.e. understand them. When you assume that your enemy thinks like you, you disrespect him. When you think a cartel member or a terrorist is someone you can reason with, a Liberal with a college degree in Humanities, you show that you are not speaking the correct language. You need to speak and understand the local language. Often this language is very violent. You are dealing with a person very different from yourself. They did not grow up in a pleasant upper-class neighborhood, they were not sent to summer camp, they did not attend Harvard. They went to the school of Hard Knocks, and their weekly allowance came from robbing other kids. Their sports class was bare knuckle fighting on concrete streets. Their idea of a compromise was you lying on the floor with broken teeth. If you insist upon speaking your language and expecting them to understand, you are in for a rude awakening. You must understand the local lingo. Learn or die. Israeli prime minister Gold Meir once said of American secretary of state Henry Kissinger, "Mr. Kissinger is a perfect gentleman, his problem is that he thinks the rest of the world is made up of equally perfect gentlemen." It is not, the world has great cruelty, we need to understand this and speak their language.
Rent an apartment in a residential area.
The article of course feels this is a great way to really get to know the place you are visiting. Rather than staying in a fancy tourist hotel, get to know the real place, the real people. Let's translate that to Krav Maga lessons: Rather than being aloof in your training, detached from the reality of the street, it is better to go down to the people, to the hood, to see how people fight in the streets, not on your TV screen or in the dojo. The dojo is your five-star hotel, the street is the street. At IKI we do not rely upon traditional teachings, we learn from watching current crime caught on surveillance cameras. We speak to those involved in crime and learn directly from their experiences.
Eat where the locals eat - "one of the best ways to...."
Again, the same idea. Eat where the locals eat, not in some touristy spot. See how the people live, learn to understand them a little. Your values are not their values. In some areas the idea that stealing is wrong simply does not exist. Violence is a way of life. They might believe that since you have more than them, they deserve to take some of what you have. They may feel that since you are a rich tourist, you owe them something. You may have been brought up to value life, but they may have been brought up in a dog-eat-dog world where survival justifies violence. Eat where the locals eat. When you eat their food (not literally of course), you absorb their values and culture.
Use public transport. "Whether it's using the bus, the metro, renting a bike or a rikshaw, the best way to learn your way around a new place is by using public transportation. Public transport isn't just the cheapest way to get from A to B it's also the best way to discover a place's inner workings and immersed yourself in the local language and everyday life."
Again, same message with a different emphasis. How do the locals travel? You might be in a protected limosine but the average person might have to take the bus, or walk, you need to walk a mile in their shoes and understand the dangers that they face. As a Krav Maga instructor I do not look only at my own life and circumstances, I look at others, I try to imagine their lives, walk a mile in their shoes and see how they live. Krav Maga self defense has to be relevant to their lives. We need to use the bus, the metro etc to see how they live, what dangers they face. How would you defend yourself on the New York city subways? How would you defend yourself on a bus going through a dangerous neighborhood, if you have no other choice? Some people do not have the luxury of avoiding bad areas, this is where the live or work. We need to walk their walk. We have to "immerse ourselves in the local language and everyday life" as the article says, in order to truly understand danger and how to defend against it.
Go on a guided tour with a local guide.
Both on a literal level and a Krav Maga level: When I am in an unknown area, I go with the locals. I do not wander off on my own exploring. No way. I stick with people I know and trust and they guide me. In a more Krav Maga philosophical way, find a local guide, i.e. find a local to explain to you the local crime, the types of crime committed in these areas and the mindset of those who commit these crimes. While the techniques are the same, the way they are applied differs from place to place. The first thing I do in any new place is speak to the locals, I learn about the local crime culture, and then we apply our Krav Maga teachings to fit and work with the local situation. Our Krav Maga is pliable and can be applied to any culture.
Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.
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