Your home is still your Castle

A Look at ‘strangers at your door’

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The majority of people who knock on your door or ring the bell are genuine, bona fide individuals who are there for any number of  legitimate reasons, from family members visiting a relative to delivery operatives like post office workers and courier companies, religious groups, door-to-door sales people, officials from Government  and Parish departments etc. They all have a genuinely held belief that they are at your door for a specific and legal enterprise.

However, there are also unscrupulous individuals and groups that sometimes target premises for nefarious aims, such a burglary, theft and assault (both criminal and/or sexual). These peoples’ aim is to attempt to gain entry by using pursuasive engagement and a well rehearsed story to gain your confidence enough so that you will happily grant them entry. These individuals are generally known as ‘confidence tricksters’, who uses a seemingly genuine sounding story to gain access to you and your belongings.

Regularly used identities have been that they are from the electricity company, water board, local council, telephone engineer, social services, housing department etc.; the list and made up stories are endless. And some people  are excellent at convincing you that they are the genuine person, even producing fake letters with officially looking letter heads, fake identity cards and signage on vehicles.

If a person turns up at your door claiming to be from a utilities company, often these are visits that happen on a regular basis and the representative is known to them. They used to expect the electric meter reader, or the water meter guy to come at set times of the year or the daily post man delivery. Often, if a resident is elderly, this can be the only human contact that many have.

Below are a few tips if you are unsure as to who is coming to your door:

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  • Prior to opening your door, put the safety chain on (if you do not have a safety chain fitted, I would recommend that you do so). 
  • For an extra level of security one could have a spy hole fitted which allows you to view a wide angle of who is at your door. There are now door bells on the market that allow you to view, record and speak to the person on your mobile device without having to open the door.
  • Ask the person to identify themselves. If they are genuine, they will have no problem complying with this request. Ask for an official identity card. If they produce a business card, this is not an identity card as they normally do not carry a photograph of the holder but, it does give you an opportunity to contact the person’s place of work to see if they have sent out someone to see you. Even if they give you an identity card, they will not be fazed by you ringing their workplace to check. DO NOT let them in unless you are satisfied that they are genuine. Err on the side of caution.
  • An ‘official-looking letter’, on its own, is not proof of identity. Anybody can mock up this type of document in minutes on a home computer.
  • Prior to letting someone in, ask them to state clearly and in easy to understand language, what they are at your premises to do. If they are too vague or have no specific task, do not let them in.
  • If you are unsure of anything, contact a friend or family member who can either come down straight away or at a later time and arrange with the person at the door to come back when you have company.
  • Sometimes, people who would gain entry to your house, to steal or worse, may have been watching yours and/or other peoples’ houses for a while so that they can select likely targets. Unfortunately this seems to be narrowed down to the elderly and vulnerable and people living on their own, sometimes at isolated addresses.
  • If in doubt, do not let them in and call the Police.

I have noticed, as technology improves, that some of the traditional utilities companies no longer need to physically gain entry to premises to read meters and check gauges. This can all be done via interactive technology where meters are read remotely by computers. No need to leave the office.

Finally, for now, and something that has come to Jersey in the recent past, that has been prevalent for years on the British mainland; DODGY BUILDERS.

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There is a regular occurrence in the UK whereby an alleged ‘Builder’ would turn up at your door unannounced and tell you that, while driving past your house, they had noticed that you have problems on your roof, guttering, exterior facade, chimney etc., it could be anything. If you do not know much about building construction, it would be very easy for someone to invent a plausible story to try and convince you that work needed to be done and that it was fortunate that they were passing.

These persons invariably will give you an on-the-spot quote, normally vastly inflated and state that the problem, if there ever was one in the first place, was a lot bigger that they first thought. The price would then steadily increase to sometimes eye-watering proportions, but many vulnerable and elderly people will go along with this. These con-artists are normally extremely convincing. It has been known for these people to drive the householder to a cash point or several cash points to draw out money which they always, “need up front’. They then milk the situation for as long as they are able and regularly leave the house in a worse state than they found it before disappearing without trace and move on to their next victim.

This is not a dig at genuine builders, whether small works companies or larger contractors who in most cases are genuine Company’s, fully insured and experts in their trade. This is about the chancer in a van, with their eye to a quick scam, with enough general knowledge to sound plausible, whose sole intention is to rip people off and disappear without trace. If in doubt say no and call the Police to check.

In Jersey, we are seeing more and more UK registered ‘works’ vans on the island’s roads. Many are genuine and here for a lawful purposes who, if required, have obtained the relevant licenses to operate but, there are still some who have slipped the net at the Port of entry and are here to make a quick buck before disappearing from our shores back to the mainland.

BUYER BEWARE

 

Self Defence; Does it really do what it says on the tin?

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PART 1

In every town and city in Britain, there are people attending public classes, courses and seminars on the subject of self-defence. These can include self-defence for woman, the elderly, vulnerable, the disabled or just the population at large.

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One source of self-defence classes are the ‘martial arts clubs’, a group of people practising the fundamentals of a usually oriental fighting style, originating from different systems, from countries such as India, China, Japan, Korea etc.

Martial arts traditionally runs on a hierarchal basis whereby, in the past, the most experienced, skilled and highest graded person, usually a black belt, would be considered the leader of the club or school. In Japanese terminology, this person would be called “sensei” (in Japanese culture; different names in other countries), more commonly translated as “person born before another” or “one who comes before”. It does not specifically mean “teacher” but by the inference of being older and more experienced, it related to someone with more knowledge and developed skill than a newer student.  Of course now, due to international development and the spread of martial arts training to the majority of countries around the globe, a “sensei” is not necessarily older in age, but will most likely be experienced and skilled enough to pass on the philosophy and techniques of a martial art to those, of whatever age, who wish to learn, and there are many reasons why people wish to take up a martial art. Those can be:

  • For health and fitness
  • To learn a competitive sport (not all martial arts hold competitions)
  • To learn self-defence
  • To provide social interaction, forming friendships
  • To learn a new skill
  • For mental health development
  • To understand body mechanics and learn more about your body’s capabilities

The list is varied but not exhaustive.

Martial arts styles are a way of teaching the fundamentals of forms of combat in times when a human had to regularly fight for their very existence. In modern times many styles have been ‘watered down’ to fit in with current laws, sensibilities and ways of life as well as in the development of sport and social interaction. That doesn’t mean that martial arts are ineffective; far from it. A potential student has a vast choice of martial styles and invariably they choose one that suits their requirements. Some join to learn to fight and defend themselves; some for competition; others for tradition or for fitness of mind and body and many for a combination of reasons., but!

Is it self-defence?

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I always say that martial arts and self-defence are on the same spectrum but are different animals. Martial arts deal with passing on knowledge, and training in a system that originated from traditional fighting styles mainly from the Orient. Over the years, while some of the traditional, often feudal fighting styles, have remained true to their origins, many are  diluted and there are newer styles that have emerged but, since we mostly have the same limbs and body parts, these are often based on more ancient styles of combat, going back many centuries. Some may claim that they have devised a new martial art, but I can guarantee that it will have been drawn from an already established style or combination of styles. This is how martial arts evolve.

I have attended, sometimes as a guest instructor,  various martial arts clubs in Britain and Europe over the last thirty-five years who have organised a ‘self-defence’ course, often aimed at women and more likely than not, after a particular event has become prominent in the news eg. the rape or sexual assault/s in the locality, an increase of reported domestic violence incidents, national or international news coverage etc. therefore, is the specific course aiming to draw in people who feel vulnerable because of what is reported in the media, or does it aim to amplify irrational fears and insecurities among a particular demographic in order to gain higher course participation? 

There are, of course, many reasons why a particular section of society would want to undertake a ‘self-defence’ course; to learn something new, hone some skills already learnt, increase their knowledge of a wide and diverse subject, to feel better equipped, help build confidence and self esteem; the list is endless.

Sometimes I used to see adverts that, while attempting to draw in women to participate, they would add the promise that after a short period of time, six, eight, ten weeks maybe, after completing a course, they would be “confident enough to defend themselves in any real-life scenario.”

Sorry to burst that bubble but that is not an endorsement anybody should offer or can back up, theoretically or practically. Nobody knows how they will react to a particular fear induced and stressful verbal and/or physical altercation. Training to any level does not include dealing with the one thing that you can never reproduce in any training environment, the FEAR FACTOR.

What you have in a training environment at best, is more knowledge than you had before, which might be useful in helping you to defend yourself from an assault, attack, abduction etc. but there can be NO GUARANTEES that you will be able to remember, let alone implement, techniques and drills that you have learned on a short course, which can often be taught by people who have little or no understanding of REAL violence.

A high ranking martial artist does not necessarily understand raw violence if they have never worked in that environment or been exposed to it personally. Many of the techniques that I have seen, both in real time and online, use totally fictitious and unlikely scenarios and even more dubious ways to defend against those fantasy attacks. Teaching these to small groups is bad enough, but sharing them on a worldwide online platform, such as You Tube, will draw people in and give them a false sense of security.

There are groups out there who claim to have the ability to reproduce the ‘fear factor’ to a training environment but,what they are actually doing, is putting people under a severe level of ‘stress’ by overwhelming them emotionally with shouting, posturing and screaming profanities, while subjecting them to physical pressure by unleashing one or more ‘attackers’, who are often wearing full rubber protective suit/s. Stressful? Yes; Real Fear? ABSOLUTELY NOT. The ‘victim’ knows it is not real regardless of what type of spin is put on it.

While certain levels of stress do trigger the release of the hormone adrenaline, causing a number of recognisable symptoms (eg. heart rate increase, shortness of breath, mind going blank, being given no time to think etc.), the participants still know that the attack is not REAL and for many reasons, none more so than the health and safety of participants and having to adhere to a legitimate insurance policy, plus the fact that an instructor should know when to step in and terminate the exercise, if it looks like the ‘victim’ is being overwhelmed, this does not constitute real life and is a different feeling than that of RAW FEAR, where you do not have people guiding you or stopping the attack if it starts to go wrong. Feeling real fear is the way for the body to release adrenaline to aid a ‘fight or flight’ physical response. It is a different feeling to a controlled and stressful exercise, which can be anything from running away, through brain freeze, to fighting like a demon. Nobody can predict how anyone will respond.

There is one thing that I can assure you of; that until you have experienced real, unadulterated, terrifying fear, you will never know what it feels like, no matter how much training that you undertake. If a person ever tells you that they do not, nor ever have felt fear in a real violent attack (physical assaults are rare, so do not believe that there is a ‘ninja’ around every corner), they are lying or, they had their bodies anaesthetised with drink and/or drugs at the time and their feelings were somewhat scrambled and inhibitions lowered.

 

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In Part 2 we will be looking more closely at what, in my view, should be included in any self defence course; AWARENESS.

PART 2 – Self defence is 10% physical, 90% AWARENESS.