Close-quarter combat training: how to stop a terrorist attack
This is a personal safety course like no other: learn to defend yourself from an attacker on the Tube
It's a rare day when I actually look forward to going on the Tube. But then, the carriage I was due to enter later today was anything but your average Underground train.
I was about to embark upon 11 hours of intensive training in confined-spaces combat techniques under the expert supervision of an Israeli counter-terrorism expert and one of the UK's most highly trained Krav Maga instructors.
One year's martial arts training was a prerequisite for all the participants on today's personal safety course, implying it wasn't going to be a walk in the park.
On arrival, I was greeted by Eldor, the aforementioned counter-terror specialist and founder of ACT, a company specialising in the training of close-quarter combat. The large room had been prepared beforehand. The tables and chairs were stacked neatly around the edge of the room leaving a couple of tables for us to sit at. I looked around the table and saw an eclectic mix of people – nine in all. From a huge doorman to a landscape architect to a heavy-set chef from Romania, the guys all looked pretty mean. The three female members of the group were all experience Krav Maga fighters. Everyone around the table looked like they could definitely handle themselves in a fight. Everyone except me. I was beginning to get nervous and hoped no one noticed.
Eldor kicked off the presentation with a look into the psychology of different attackers we may encounter from the crime-related to people with mental health problems to terrorism. Thankfully, the latter of these – we were told – was the most unlikely to happen.
Everyone around the table looked like they could definitely handle themselves in a fight. Everyone except me
We were shown videos of various attacks, the subtle indicators of what was to come, and how to spot them as well as how to be more aware of your surroundings and how to better prepare yourself should something happen were all subject areas touched upon in the surprisingly detailed presentation.
After around two hours we began our training in Krav Maga self-defence techniques. We were shown how to block punches and strike the assailant at the same time, counter knife attacks, and techniques to disarm someone holding a gun.
We then moved onto sparring and practising the techniques we had been taught, which certainly got the heart racing but sadly one of our number blew out her knee in one of the exercises and that was the end of the training for her. It brought home to everyone that this certainly wasn't a run-of-the-mill training day, and we really were expected to be able to look after ourselves when the more intense training began.
The afternoon session took place on a decommissioned Tube train where we could practice how to defend ourselves in the various scenarios that the instructors had devised to test our skills to the limit. The huge haul of protective gear such as headguards, mouthguards, body armour, shin pads and groin protectors sitting outside the carriage gave us an idea of what was to come.
Before things got underway we were reminded to watch our surroundings. The handrails that are above our heads and next to us, the slippery floor, the armrests, all these could cause serious injury if we are not careful during the simulated attacks.
This certainly wasn't a run-of-the-mill training day – we really were expected to be able to look after ourselves
We were taken one by one out of the carriage and given our instructions as to what type of attacker we would be and what type of weapon we would use. Those of us still on the train were to sit apart and behave as in a normal commute but were assigned different roles. One would be a victim and someone else would be a "defender". Then the action begun.
We were taught to "shout the weapon" so if an attacker has a knife, for example, then while we were tackling them we should shout out "Knife! Knife!", alerting other commuters to the danger they were dealing with and hopefully acting accordingly.
When it was my turn to be the attacker I was suited up to the gills with protective clothing and knowing full well how enthusiastic the group could be in their efforts to get into the thick of the action, I knew I was going to need all the protection I could get my hands on. My mission: a knifing rampage. I was handed a large realistic looking rubberised knife by Eldor before he went back into the Tube. I stood in the dark outside the closed carriage waiting for the doors to open while everyone inside were being given their individual instructions. I noticed members of the public staring at me through the gates as they walked past. I must have looked like "Jason" from the horror flick Friday the 13th.
As soon as the doors opened I was through them like a greyhound out of the traps. Adrenaline pumping and vision seriously impaired by the suffocating full face protective headgear I ran through the carriage slashing and stabbing randomly anyone unfortunate enough to be in my path. In a matter of seconds, I had covered an entire carriage and was in the second carriage when I felt a huge weight land on my back. Clearly someone I hadn't "killed" properly was getting their revenge. I kept going, looking for my next victim when I felt someone grab my right arm and then a huge force barrel into my back on top of the existing deadweight.
I was then shoved violently, face first, into a seat and my head pressed against the glass whilst people kept screaming for me to drop the knife.
Any will to fight back quickly disappeared as I felt my left shoulder slowly but surely being wrenched out of its socket by someone who was twisting my left arm in the most unnatural angle possible. I then heard what sounded like the most beautiful word in the entire English language being shouted repeatedly by Ben: "STOP!" Finally, the melee was brought to an end and I escaped without sustaining serious injury. Amidst the laughter we had a group debrief with Eldor and Ben who gave us their observations and points to remember.
Before we knew it the day was over and an amazing 11 hours of solid training had come to an end. We changed and regrouped in the small café where hot pizzas were waiting for a very tired and hungry lot.
Any will to fight back quickly disappeared as I felt my left shoulder slowly but surely being wrenched out of its socket
Walking home from the Tube station with legs feeling like bags of cement and nursing a massive purple bruise that covered most of my right arm I was totally drained physically. Mentally, I was elated to have completed such an epic day of training.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It gave me a baseline of my own physical abilities, a lot of information that I found useful, and hopefully knowledge I will never have to draw upon.