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Coping In A Violent World

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by Dennis Fink

Aikido Journal #102 (1995)

Random acts of violence seem to be on the increase, at least in the United States. Although many of us hope to improve our self-defense skills as part of our aiki training, just how realistic is this hope? Aikido Journal has asked four law enforcement professionals to answer a series of questions about how each of us can cope when confronted by violence. Using as a starting point the December 1993 Long Island Commuter train incident, in which a gunman gone berserk killed and wounded dozens of his fellow passengers, we asked our experts the following:

What advice would you give to a passenger seated in a train car in which someone has begun shooting?

Should the untrained individual attempt to disarm the gunman?

What steps might you personally take to deal with the gunman?

Are there any distracting maneuvers that could divert the gunman’s attention in another direction?

Are there techniques taught in the dojo that might be of use in such a situation?

What steps should be taken by bystanders afterwards, while waiting for the police and emergency personnel to arrive?

Is there any way to minimize the panic among passengers?

What common sense steps can we take to protect ourselves in crowded public places such as a train, subway, or bus?

Do you favor banning or placing restrictions on the sale of handguns in an effort to reduce the number of gun-related incidents?

What should people traveling abroad keep in mind when visiting large cities with frequent violence?

If you find yourself in this situation

Depending on the configuration of the train car utilize cover and concealment, if possible. Immediately take cover behind a seat or any other available object that might provide protection, or take advantage of concealment (any object that hides you, but does not provide protection-for example, hiding behind a curtain). This would apply in all three cases, especially if the distance between you and the gunman is too great. If the distance is close, the techniques demonstrated below may be attempted as they apply to each of the three cases indicated.

Should untrained people attempt to disarm?

In most cases, no. In the Long Island Railroad train incident the gunman was captured by untrained citizens, subsequently saving lives. This is, however, a judgment call that has to be made at the time.

The professional response

Please refer to the photos presented. However, nothing is engraved in stone. You cannot prearrange or choreograph a REAL situation. Each is unique.

Distracting the gunman?

The scenario specifies a berserk gunman. To distract a drug-crazed or berserk individual is difficult at best, if not impossible. They develop tunnel vision and are in somewhat of a trance.

Techniques to use

I cannot speak for all dojos. However, I believe that in most legitimate dojos, yes, there are useful techniques. They may need to be modified to meet today’s needs, as indicated in the techniques I demonstrate in this article.

The aftermath

Try not to have too many chiefs, which can confuse the situation further. Clear direction is needed at times like these. Call and wait for police and other emergency services to arrive. Avoid disturbing the crime scene (touching or moving things), assure victims that help is on the way and that everything will be okay. If possible, do not let victims (or family members) see wounds (cover with blanket/coat, etc.). You should be concerned with blood-borne diseases such as AIDS.

Minimizing panic

Attempt to help take charge and assure everyone that the situation is under control. Reassure people that the gunman has been subdued and encourage them to stay calm until help arrives.

Common sense self-protection

Be alert with regard to your surroundings (suspicious characters, gangs or groups of youth, etc.). Avoid confrontations, and whenever possible travel in groups of two or more. Keep jewelry, money, and other valuables unexposed. Avoid empty train cars. If possible, sit in a car with a conductor or motorman. Do not stand near the platform edge in train stations.

Does gun control help?

No. New York City is a perfect example. In New York almost all gun-related crime is committed with illegal, unlicensed guns. New York City has the toughest restrictions on gun permits in the country and has one of the highest incidences of gun-related crime.

Advice for travelers

Avoid carrying knapsacks, since you cannot see what is happening behind you. Keep jewelry, money, and other valuables out of sight. Travel in groups of two or more. Seek information on areas to avoid; ask at tourist information booths, police, hotels, etc. Keep flaps on handbags inward, zippers closed to the front, and carry bags in front, if possible under your coat. Carry cameras in front, if possible under your coat. Carry your money separately from your wallet. Place money in different pockets.

NOTE: By no means does this cover every possible crime situation.

Dennis Fink Profile

A police officer assigned as an Arson Investigator for the Bureau of Fire Investigation, New York City Fire Department, Fink has worked in every high crime area in New York. A former Marine, Vietnam veteran, currently serving in the United States Army Reserve, as an Infantry Major. A graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fink also has a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science, both in management Began his budo training in 1963. Studied karatedo in Okinawa, and jujutsu, judo, and aikido at the Seikiryukan in Fukuoka City, Japan. Currently the International Director of the Sosuishi-ryu Jujutsu Kai, under the direction of Manzo Shitama, 16th successor to the Sosuishi-ryu. Holds the grade of kuraizume (rank of dignity or completion, the peak or summit) in Sosuishi-ryu jujutsu; 8th dan, kiyoshi in Okinawan Isshin-ryu karate-do; 5th dan, shihan in Shin Aikido; and 4th dan in judo, fink is also certified by the FBI and the New York State Municipal Police Training Council as both a Defensive Tactics Instructor and a Firearms Instructor.

New York Seibukan, 103-12 Metropolitan Avenue Forest Hill, NY 11375 718-268-9300