Considerations for Combatives

While we have focused continually on awareness and avoidance as a means to prevent becoming engaged in a physical conflict there may be times when its unavoidable – especially to protect oneself from violence.  While physical self defense measures our not our focus there is so much inaccurate, misleading or false information out there — often delivered by people with good intentions — that its important to at least discuss some general principles and concepts that will allow the reader to better distinguish useful and worthwhile training from training which is not so good or not so applicable

Some things to consider at the outset:

  • As we have discussed before, the criminal will attack at a time and place of his choosing where conditions favor him.


  • There will likely be weapons, multiple attackers or both involved.  Some statistics on violence contradict this but they normally include “social violence” such as fistfights in bars and domestic incidents which are not our focus here.


  • The criminal will likely have committed this type of attack before and will have a game plan that has worked in the past.


  • If we are forced to counter this physically we must utilize the element of surprise, as much violence as possible and seek to disable the attacker enough to provide an opportunity to escape.

This means we need to utilize:


  • The element of surprise and non-telegraphic movement to the extent possible.


  • Gross motor attacks.  Fine motor techniques and overly complex techniques will likely not be effective.


  • Repetitive attacks until the assailant is disabled or breaks contacts and retreats.


  • Attacks to vulnerable soft tissue areas such as the eyes and throat that will inflict the maximum damage.


  • Use of palm strikes, hammer fists, rakes, elbows, knees and other tools that allow us to inflict damage without inadvertently injuring ourselves in the process.


  • Improvised weapons when available and applicable.  A realistic consideration of how commonly carried items or accessible items can be effectively utilized as weapons and subsequent training in their use is necessary.


Perhaps the most important aspect is mindset and the willingness to use violence and inflict damage when necessary to protect yourself or others.  It is however important to get some level of training in effective methods.  The degree to which you train will largely be determined by your level of interest and ideally by your level of need.  It can be difficult to find quality training that focuses on realistically dealing with violence.  Its important to consider some of the points outlined above when selecting an instructor or school.  Even after selecting an instructor and beginning training its important to have a critical mind and not accept everything at face value, be able to distinguish what is likely to work best for you and concentrate on realistic application under pressure and stress.



Social Networks and the Threat to Personal Security


Recent open source reporting indicates that the Colombian National Police just arrested a group of criminals that were using Facebook to identify, profile and target victims for kidnapping.  Initial reports the gang were using false Facebook profiles with pictures of beautiful women to target wealthy men as victims.  They would use information in the victim’s profile to assist them is selecting potential targets.  They would then engage the target in online discussions to build report and elicit additional information.  After a period of time, usually a few weeks they would arrange to meet the victim.  When the victim arrived at the pre-arranged meeting location he would be drugged – most likely with scopolamine – and moved to another location where they would be tortured and held for ransom.

This incident not only illustrates the vulnerability of revealing to much information about yourself in social network websites and to unknown persons online – which is the point of the post – but also touches on the use of drugs (probably Scopolamine in this case) in facilitating kidnaps which we discussed in “Devil’s Breath and the Ativan Gang” and also the process of victim selection, use of honey traps and utilizing technology to do a valuation of potential targets which have all been discussed to a degree previously.

The Facebook kidnapping gang is a clear example of what can go wrong if too much information is available in the public domain.  Even information that is can only be viewed by friends or contacts can compromise you if you “friend” or “link” to people you don’t know or don’t know well.

Social networking is a key part of most of our lives now and most people use if for personal or professional reasons or both.  The issue is not whether or not to use social networking but how to understand the vulnerabilities that exist and manage the type and amount of information available.

Social networks and the easy availability of online personal information is a huge force multiplier for stalkers, burglars, fraudsters, identity thieves,  social engineers of all types, terrorists and kidnappers make it much quicker, easier and safer to compile detailed dossiers on potential victims and exploit that information to their advantage.  Social networks also provide a vehicle to do a “cold approach” to a potential victim, establish rapport, gain additional information and arrange a physical meeting in person if desired.  That appears to be what occurred in this case in Colombia.

It also significantly reduces the need for physical surveillance of the target and the vulnerability to exposure that exists with that activity.  If the victim can be induced to voluntarily present themselves at a place and time of the criminal’s choosing it makes it much easier to carry out the kidnapping with limited risk.

The lesson here is not to eliminate the use of social networks which would be unrealistic given the role they now play in society.  The objective should be to understand the vulnerabilities that exist – especially in the context of your personal situation and risk profile.  Arguably a soccer mom from Annapolis, Maryland and a wealthy Colombian businessman have very different risks profiles and would need to manage their personal information differently.   While the soccer mom still has some level of risk, barring exceptional conditions (such as a stalking situation) her risk profile is much lower than the Colombian businessman.

Some things to consider regarding personal security when using social networks:

  • Security settings: most social networking platforms provide security settings that allow you to limit who is able to see what information about you and your personal network. Consider using these rather than the default settings.
  • Posting Potentially Compromising Information:  Not only can posting information about your drunken weekend put you in a precarious position with your employer, clients, etc. it also provides insight into your personal lifestyle that can be exploited.
  • The risk of using applications like TripIt when linked to social networks that share your travel itinerary.  This allows others to see where and when you are traveling.
  • The risk of using Foursquare and other GPS related applications that use your smartphone to identify and post your location to people in your social network.
  • Posting Photos:  Posting a portrait photo of yourself gives a potential assailant who has never seen you before the ability to recognize you.  Additionally many smartphone cameras also automatically geotag photos without the user being aware of it.  When the photo is posted it is possible to retrieve the geotag to determine where the photo was taken.

Social networking is here to stay and its role in our personal and professional lives will only grow. There are numerous positive aspects of social media and it can be leveraged to your benefit in many ways.

It’s important to look at the potential impact to your personal security based on an honest assessment of your personal risk profile.  You should consider limiting what you post, who you allowed into your social network or in some cases both depending on your situation.

Devil’s Breath and the Ativan Gang

Manila — Home of the Ativan Gang

An alarming trend that has been occurring in different places around the world is the use of drugs in facilitating crimes like robbery, sexual assault and kidnapping.  These incidents have occurred in locations as varied as Colombia, the Philippines and India.

While most Americans may be aware of the use of drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB to facilitate date rape, many do not know how common these drugging incidents are overseas.

In May 2012 a tour guide in New Delhi was arrested for drugging and robbing lone tourists.  He met most of them in the area of the Chandi Chowk and Red Fort, offered them food laced with an unknown drug that incapacitated them and then robbed them and dumped them in remote areas.  While this particular modus operandi has not been that common in India it is very common in other areas.

Colombia is one of the best known locations for this type of activity.  Scopolamine – known locally as Burandanga – is used to facilitate crime by rendering the victim into a compliant, zombie-like state.  When the victim recovers he or she will usually have limited to know memory of the incident.  A recent documentary called the “The Devil’s Breath” brought the dangers of Scopolamine to a broad audience but this drug has been used for nefarious purposes in Colombia and neighboring countries for quite a while.  Methods of deployment can include everything from spiking food or drink to blowing it in the victim’s face.

In the Philippines the “Ativan Gang” (probably actually numerous groups using the same or similar methods) has preyed on victims by drugging them with Ativan and robbing them.  In some cases an attractive female will strike up a conversation with a lone male, go out for cocktails and spike his drink.  Then she and her accomplices will rob him.  In another variation a group of matronly older women will initiate a relationship with a tourist and invite him or her for a meal.  They will subsequently spike the food and or drink and rob the tourist.  There are other methods as well but these are two of the most prevalent.

Sometimes with these stories it can be difficult to separate truth from urban myth but there are enough verifiable incidents to establish that this is a concern — in particular in some of the locations mentioned.  The scary thing about this type of crime is that it can render even the strongest, most competent fighter helpless.  The only remedy is to be aware of this threat and practice avoidance.  Be wary of unsolicited approaches by strangers.  Some of these can be very convincing.  Don’t accept food, drink or chewing gum from anyone you don’t know well.  If you are at a bar or similar establishment don’t leave your drink unattended and monitor it carefully.  Also — going out in pairs or groups may also help guard against this type of threat.