Threat Assessment and Decision Making Through Scenario Based Training

The term reality based self-defense, gets thrown around a lot in the martial arts and self-defense fraternity, and yet our training oftentimes doesn’t properly take into account what reality is – or what reality is for a particular individual may be e.g. a mother who is always with her kids, has a totally different “reality” to a 20 year old male college student etc. However in many self-defense classes, both are taught the same technique to deal with a particular attack, without having the different contexts of the way each of them will experience such an assault explained to them i.e. what are the probable and different locations, motives, and relationships they with have with their assailants etc. Whilst it would be impossible in every class to concentrate on these specifics, at some point reality based self-defense training has to take them into account. This is the point of scenario based training i.e. replicate the situations that people are likely to find themselves in. Below is a quick guide to conducting scenario-based training.
The first step is to recognize the situational components present in an aggressive confrontation and/or violent assault. I use five components to do this:
  1. Location – where does the assault take place?
  2. Relationship – who is committing the assault?
  3. Motive – why is the assault being committed?
  4. Third Parties – who, if anyone, is with the target of the assault?
  5. State of Mind – is the target, given and warning of the assault and/or are their mental faculties compromised e.g. such as being drunk?
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When selecting locations, an accurate understanding of where different assaults take place is key e.g. most women are likely to be sexually assaulted in their home, or somebody else’s and the majority of muggings don’t happen in dark deserted alleyways – there just aren’t any potential victims in a deserted alleyway. When selecting a location, you should try and replicate some of the physical characteristics of the environment – if you train groundwork on a large matted space, understand that groundwork in a reality context is probably going to occur in a restricted space, such as in a car, on a sofa or a bed, or in a crowded bar etc. If there is the chance of going to ground in your scenario, you should possibly look at ways to restrict space and movement, so that an accurate experience of what going to ground in a real-life situation looks like. A simple way to restrict space when on the ground, is to have students with kick shields create barriers that prevent movement in certain directions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of having every assailant be a stranger, however real-world violence is a little more complex than that – as mentioned previously, women are more likely to be assaulted by someone they know than a stranger; if you want to reflect reality, you will need to represent such relationships. When creating scenarios, the relationships the targets have with their assailants goes a long way to defining the “roles” of the aggressor e.g. loudmouth in a bar, who they’ve seen before, and has a reputation for violence, but who they’ve never spoken or directly interacted with etc. It is feasible to create “back stories” for your aggressors and assailants, however it is wise not to get too complicated with this. Part of the goal of scenario-based training is to train the decision making process, and with too much information those participating in the training can over complicate the scenario.
An assailant/aggressor has to have a motive. This could be a pre-meditated one, such as somebody
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who has planned a mugging, abduction, or a sexual assault etc. or a spontaneously derived one – they have had a drink spilt over them, believe that someone is staring at them or looking at their girlfriend etc. Those participating in the scenarios, should not look on the scenario, as inevitably leading to a physical confrontation; de-escalation and disengagement should be practiced as well. The student’s goal is to navigate through the scenario, without always having to resort to violence. Those who are acting out the roles of aggressors should have their responses to the student’s behaviors and actions explained to them e.g. if in a mugging scenario the student hands over their wallet or money, the person playing the role of “mugger” can simply walk away – non-physical solutions to aggression, should be an option as well as physical ones, and students should be encouraged to seek them out where appropriate.
Third Parties, can be friends, acquaintances and bystanders etc. These players have to have their roles defined and explained - the student working through the scenario, should not be informed of how these individuals (or the aggressor) will act and behave in a scenario. Bystanders and friends may be vocal, but not physical e.g. they may shout at the aggressor to leave the target alone, but offer no physical assistance. Equally, they can walk away and leave the target on their own, or play the role of a friend who keeps escalating the situation e.g. keeps encouraging the target to stand up for themselves etc. Third parties can also be those who are with the individual playing the role of the aggressor, and they may get involved both verbally and physically dependent on the way the target acts and behaves.
State of mind, is perhaps the hardest situational component to replicate, because the student knows that they are working through a drill, and so by default is prepared to a certain degree/level. Pre-fatiguing the student who is working through the scenario, will go some way to affecting their mental faculties, making them extremely dizzy is a good way to simulate drunkenness etc.
Once you have chosen your situational components, replicated the environment as best you can, and assigned the roles for those involved, explaining how they should act and behave in response to the target’s actions and behaviors you are ready to go. After working through the scenario, that may only last a few seconds e.g. a mugging scenario, where the target hands over the wallet, and the mugger walks away, you need to conduct a debrief, explaining what happened, and giving everybody the opportunity to explain why they acted and behaved in a certain way. This complete process is time consuming and involved, and yet it is one of the best ways to prepare people for what real-life violence looks like, giving them the skills to assess threats, and make effective decisions. If we are indeed teaching reality based self-defense, we must at some point in our training attempt to replicate reality.  

Check out this google author talk that touches on some of the points in the article:




About the Author:


Gershon Ben Keren has been training in Krav Maga since 1994 in both Israel and Europe. He holds a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Krav Maga in Israel, where he also received his teaching certification. He has been trained by some of the IDF's (Israeli Defense Forces) most experienced and respected Krav Maga instructors. In December 2011, he was inducted into the "Museum of Israeli Martial Arts" at the Israeli Martial Arts Center in Herzilya. He has taught Krav Maga to civilians, security personnel, law enforcement agencies, and to members of elite military units and Special Forces. He also holds a 2nd Degree Black Belt in Judo and has won regional and national titles in Judo tournaments.

He has a Master's Degree in Psychology, with particular reference to violence and aggressive behavior, and incorporates this knowledge into the reality based self-defense training that he provides. He lives and teaches Krav Maga in Boston, running Krav Maga Yashir Boston.

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