Self defense in the time of terror attacks

Otzma’s David Djaoui talks about how civilians can keep safe by being proactive.

Doing martial arts since age four: David Djaoui works the punching bag (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Doing martial arts since age four: David Djaoui works the punching bag
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
David Djaoui began martial arts training at the age of four. Born in France in 1980, he moved to Toronto that same year. From six to 16, he grew up in Hong Kong, before returning to Paris, where he left the Sorbonne with an LLM in international law and international business law, and subsequently worked as a lawyer. During that time, he also worked as a security officer for France’s Jewish community.
After making aliya in 2005, Djaoui spent a year as special adviser to the director- general of the Knesset, followed by IDF service in the Golani Brigade, and Israel Bar Association certification. From 2010 to 2015, he was legal counsel at the Foreign Ministry.
In 2010 he met Boaz Barr, founder of Otzma – the Jerusalem-headquartered organization whose mission is to provide comprehensive solutions to diverse emergency situations – and joined with him in putting together a task force to develop specific training modules for Jews under threat. Barr also comes from a mixed background, was part of an anti-terrorist unit in the army and is a longtime practitioner of several martial arts, combined with degrees in education and psychology.
Instructors at Otzma are multilingual, specialize in teaching anti-terrorism and unarmed combat, legal, verbal and tech skills, and working with youth and special needs. Hebrew, English, French, Spanish and Russian-speaking, they all hail from within the Israeli military security apparatus. Working in the country and abroad, Otzma recently trained a group of police counterterrorist units.
Djaoui spoke with Metro about how civilians can keep safe by being proactive.
Let’s get down to business right away. Give us some advice on how to defend ourselves, please.
In a nutshell? First, to be aware. To change your habits and realize that it only takes very slight differences in behavior. Sometimes the tiniest change, like not going the same way to work every day. And of course, taking your head out of your phone, and your earphones out of your ears.
Before you start push-ups [and other forms of physical training], which are great and allow for healthy reaction under duress, [just make sure you] look around; be tuned in. It doesn’t matter that you can bench-press 200 kg. If you’re taken off guard, or your head isn’t in the fight, then it’s over before it started.
Listen to your gut. Cross to the other side of the road, if necessary. Don’t do nothing! Do something, in line with what you believe your capabilities to be. I am not going to advise everyone to jump at the person with the knife. There is never [just a single] response; there is never a black-and-white answer. If you can take that responsibility upon yourself, then do. But if not, a phone call can save lives, too.
What do you do if someone coming toward you on the street has a knife?
If someone is coming at you with a knife, the first thing is that you should have seen it coming it from a mile away and moved, evaded.
What does a person carrying a knife look like? There is a different body language that emanates from someone who is concealing a knife or a weapon. The signals are very different, coming from the placement of their hands and the way they interact with the weapon and the signals that emanate from their facial expression – all indicators that you need to run. [At Otzma] we have a computer program that simulates this.
What if you don’t manage to pick up on any signals?
Now, if one missed the signals, and the knife is out, then the response needs to be assertive, maybe aggressive. You need to yell, to find that extra modicum of strength, to break the freeze, alert others. Never be an isolated victim. Make sure that when the police come, it is clear who the attacker is.
You need to be able to differentiate between the reactions [you need] to different kind of weapons. Defending oneself against a knife, which is short and quick, is not the same as defending against an ax or machete, which are long and ungainly. Not to mention a firearm. Or a car.
Should people learn self-defense from YouTube?
I really want to caution people about that. Not only will it never replace an actual class by an actual instructor who interacts with his students, it also misses the main point. It’s not about copying technique from a movie (we all did that growing up), it’s about the mind-set, making decisions under pressure, and that is the real challenge; that’s why, for the way in which we train at Otzma, it doesn’t matter what foot you put first, or exactly how you place your arms. It is using the technique as a platform to train your mind.
How important are self-defense and martial arts classes?
I advise everyone to enroll in a self-defense class, in any form. It can be Krav Maga or anything else. And to get fit. Come to Otzma, too, if you like, but if not, do something.
Classical self-defense Krav Maga, or whatever, doesn’t really prepare you for the psychological reality [of an attack], but it starts to put you in that mode, and Krav Maga definitely starts to help you train your aggressions. However, even if you are a highly trained professional or amateur who practices martial arts, you usually do so in a very particular setting which ignores, or is parallel to, the reality of conflict, because it takes place in a sterile environment, and the combatants are kitted out in special gear.
How advisable is Krav Maga for aggressive people?
Krav Maga is based on aggression, on developing it as a tool to liberating your power. If you are someone with a short fuse, you can get into it easily, but perhaps Krav Maga would be better for someone who has trouble liberating their inner beast. Often, someone who is naturally prone to aggressive reactions gets easily carried away, losing control or developing tunnel vision, which prevents him or her from seeing the bigger picture and can be very dangerous in the street. Those are the shortcomings of what we call “traditional Krav Maga,” because of that focus on rage. [This character trait] makes it more difficult [for a person] to incorporate the mental and psychological aspects, to make split-second decisions. You need to be able to take it all in and to switch your aggression on and off.
What makes Otzma different from other self-defense programs?
The premise is that if the objective is to take people with little or no background in combat and to give them basic tools to survive urban conflict, it’s not enough to go to a Krav Maga class once or twice. Even under the best of circumstances, these techniques require years of training. And that certainly doesn’t work if your objective is to teach people in a short amount of time. So for these two reasons we take another approach.
We need to engage the mind of the student, to create a situation in which the mind actually feels it is undergoing stress and conflict. We need to activate the mind before, during and after an incident.
How do we activate the mind before an incident?
Keep your head up, take your eyes out of your screen, your earplugs out of your ears, and be more in touch with your environment.
It’s essential to always be aware of one’s surroundings. Analyze your environment, listen to your intuition, get in tune with small changes that might make your spine tingle. Examine things that society has taught us to rationalize away. Ask yourself, for instance, “Why is that person wearing a raincoat? Why is this one running?” We need to detect the small details, to be in tune with something else, like okay, something is wrong, what do I do?
And these are simple things that anyone can learn but can make all the difference. It’s about breaking routine and getting back in tune with your surroundings. This is actually accomplished by doing something that has fallen into misuse in recent times: interacting with the physical world.
Getting back in tune with our surroundings?
For example, by identifying things that can be used as shelter or cover, finding escape routes, identifying threats and tools, detecting what is to your advantage, as you prepare the mind for conflict. Otzma provides scientific tools for use in environment analysis, identifying and anticipating threats, as well as identifying things that people could possibly use to their advantage.
What about during an attack?
This is a little more subtle, it is the more physical aspect of what we do. To an outsider [attending one of our sessions] it looks like a sport, a Krav Maga session, with people running around and hitting and yelling. But we don’t teach the techniques in the hope that people will be able to recreate them in a life-threatening situation.
Rather, what we are looking to ensure is that they should not be as surprised [if they find themselves in a dangerous situation] to feel what it is like to be attacked, to be stressed. We make people wear a blindfold to get them into a state of panic which we then help them work through. The physical is hard, you work up a sweat, but really we get your mind in gear for the civilian version of unarmed combat.
So we bring a psychological and mental experience which, short of jumping into a war zone, gives you a taste of the actuality of an attack. This is crucial, lifesaving material.
We teach the simulations in such a way that the sum total is that [the students] are confronted with different scenarios that have happened in reality. We show how A leads to B leads to C. We walk them through a process. We teach them to expect the unexpected, to be able to react and take decisions.
Being aware, getting out of the freeze and communicating are crucial in order to manage such an event. It is very important to make people understand that they must learn to call for help or to call the police when defending themselves, or learn to work together with others to disarm an attacker.
How do you train for what happens after?
What happens after crisis management is an option that we integrate with first aid as part of some of the classes themselves. In these classes [the students] will manage the crisis as it happens, and then they will have the final act, calling first responders and then giving first aid. We explain whom to call and what to say, to be able to give clear details and information regarding the event, which is not always easy after a traumatic experience.
If someone has been stabbed in the process, giving first aid is crucial. People can be seriously injured, and as civilians we may well not know what to do.
Otzma has a strategic partnership with Magen David Adom and with [United] Hatzalah, and we integrate them into our training whenever it is required. We also have paramedics at Otzma, so that is how we brought in the first-aid aspects of training. We wanted to figure out what the need on the street was, and to involve the right professionals to integrate into the process. Every day we discover something new.
How do you work?
We teach as many groups as needed, and we are able to customize our workshops at will, according to what the group defines as its needs. A training session can, for instance, be a two-hour or an eight-hour one.
However, beyond our everyday bread-and-butter workshops, every once in a while we hold open sessions, free of charge. They are slightly shorter in duration and allow people to pop in after work and get some of the basics.
At the end of the day, we feel that Otzma has a mission to provide everyone with the necessary tools to protect themselves and their loved ones. Presently, we are integrating defense from cyber bullying, which requires another set of skills, and we are constantly working on new content. The reality changes, the threats change, and if we don’t adapt, the system becomes stale. Our aim is to stay current.
What is your mission statement?
We firmly believe that Jews can be empowered to be more aware, more prepared and, in so doing, more in tune with their surroundings, more comfortable and less fearful of the very real threats around them. It is a fundamental mental shift. And that shift should come from Israel.
Israel is a beacon of security for Jews everywhere, and that beacon should shine all the way to their countries of residence in the Diaspora.
But beyond that, we want to empower Jews from all over the world to hold their heads high and never again have to hide who they are and how they live. It appalls me that Jews in Europe no longer feel safe to wear a kippa in the street.
There is a way to defeat that and instill Jews with a legitimate sense of awareness, for a safer, happier life. And that way starts with training the mind.
That is why we run a not-for-profit organization, registered in Israel and the US, that raises funds for communities in Israel and everywhere else, granting them access to quality training and knowledge.
For more information about Otzma: 054-809-9858, [email protected] com, or