About Featured Expert: Growing up on Chicago’s Southside, Ed learned early in life to pay attention to his surroundings in order to avoid potentially dangerous people and situations. For over 30 years Ed Kress has been an instructor and student at the Degerberg Academy of Martial Arts, named “Best Overall Martial Arts School” worldwide by Black Belt Magazine. Master Fred Degerberg recently awarded Ed his 7th degree Black Belt. Ed is the founder of the ACT In Self Defense training program. Today, Ed focuses on urban and elderly self defense with Science of Skill.
The following is a condensed version of the full audio interview, which can be found in the above link at Science of Skill’s SoundCloud station.
Marcus Roth: This is Marcus taking over for Coach Dan, and I’m on the horn tonight with Ed Kress. He spent the last 35 years training and gaining experiences in the field of self-defense and personal communication. Now he’s here on the podcast today to share his insights on urban and elderly self defense. Hello, Ed, How do you find yourself in this field in the first place? What is it that you do in the field currently?
Ed Kress: Actually I got into martial arts by way of my wife. Our apartment was broken into. She got a little nervous about the whole thing and decided that we, both of us, should be taking a self-defense class, so I joined with her, and I met my future sensei, Fred Degerberg, and my martial arts career began.
MR: What is it that you do now?
EK: Teaching self-defense, I got into through my kids. When my son went off to college, I thought it was necessary for him to become more aware of things going on around him, paying more attention to what’s good, what’s bad, and I put together a self defense for him. Then a few years later my daughter went off to school. Right around the same time, a high school where I coached wrestling had asked me to put together a program for graduating seniors, high school seniors before they went off to college, so I took what I had already put together for my son and what I was redoing for my daughter and took it over to a friend of mine who is director of security at North Park university. He’s a former police chief and went over some of the materials just to make sure I wasn’t missing something. He liked it so much that he had me start working for him for teaching incoming freshmen how to be more aware, personal safety, self defense, so I had two clients right away, and things have gone on from there. I have continued to develop it, worked with a couple of guys I grew up with on the Southside of Chicago who also became policemen, and another one that became another police chief another suburb nearby. They keep me on the straight and narrow. If there’s anything I bring up that they think isn’t quite right or maybe they’ll educate me and let me know what would work, what wouldn’t.
MR: You’re a self-admitted old guy at least by what the date on your driver’s license says. What would the first thing you recommend to an older guy trying to learn self defense material for the first time?
EK: I have to start with the most basic thing, and that’s developing a situational and personal awareness skill. You had on a gentleman, Dr. Steve Albrecht, and he basically hits many of the same things that I would focus on in my classes, and that is first off just know what you’re about, so personal awareness to me versus situational awareness. Personal awareness is more about what do you look like when you walk down the street. Do you look like a potential victim? Are you just ambling down the street not paying attention to what’s going on around you? These are the types of things that you have to think about for yourself.The second part of that is if you were in a situation where you’re going to have to defend yourself, what are you going to do? Can you physically take your fingers and shove them in someone’s eye? Can you punch them in the throat? Can you grab parts of their body parts and do whatever you have to do to survive? Are you willing to do that? Am I going to draw attention by the wrong kind of people? If I do get into a fight, what am I going to fight over? Am I fighting over things that could potentially be replaced?
MR: Yeah, certainly if you’re definitely in a position that you’re a bit more well-off, like there’s not even a reason to fight at all.
EK: Exactly. Let me give you a good example of this. This, again, going back to the high school self defense students because they’re the ones that have bigger egos than say, some old guy like me. They say, “Coach, are you really going to fight? Are you really going to give your money away without fighting?” I said, “What I do is what I chose to do because I thought about it,” but let’s look at it this way: If I’m walking down the street and I missed the cue, and somebody is on me before I notice, and so I have this choice where they’re saying, “Give me your stuff or I’m going to beat you up,” or whatever, I can choose to do that. I can give him my stuff and take off, throw it away as a lot of Chicago police departments suggest.Throw it in one direction and head out as quickly as you can in the other and making a lot of noise while you do it. Then the other one is to fight. I said, “If I fight and I defeat this guy, I knock him down, I take care of him and the police come and they grab him, but I broke my hand.” Now my emergency room visit is going to cost me more than anything I’m carrying on me.
MR: Certainly. I can see that. I know exactly what you’re talking about. We talked about deciding what is worth and what is not worth fighting. What’s the next self defense measure that same guy should take? Should he be hitting the gym? Are classes in more of his future? What would you say?
EK: I would suggest at least they should be doing some exercise. We should all be continuously trying to do some kind of physical activity to keep us healthy. You don’t have to be a lean, mean, fighting machine, but you should be taking some kind of action to keep yourself somewhat physically fit. Two, it doesn’t hurt to take a self-defense class, or maybe it’s just boxing. Maybe it’s some kind of martial art. It could be, it doesn’t have to be boxing where you’re sparring. You’re hitting pads, feeling empowered a little bit about what you physical abilities are, and it also gets your head into the game of thinking, “If I had to defend myself physically, what could I do?” There should be some level of experience or experiential training whether it’s physical or at least mentally thinking about things.
MR: Switching gears here, I was looking at the website of the gym you teach at, and one element of the courses that it says you teach is verbal confrontation skills. Care to shed some light on what that is?
EK: Having a good sense of humor can sometimes help out there. A lot of times it’s the experiences of the people I’ve talked to, it tends to be younger people get involved because they’ve been drinking alcohol and they get into fights, or they’re at a party and somebody says something or whatever it may be. A lot of times it’s as simple as distracting them, especially if they’ve been drinking. To be able to just distract them like, “Oh, I think the cops are coming,” or whatever it may be, and the examples of dealing with drunks, it’s more a matter of just trying to get them to change what it is that they’re thinking about and redirect their anger into something else or someone else.
MR: Interesting. Now let’s talk about city life for all the guys. You lived in Chicago for a long time, so you must have seen your fair share of incidents. What advice on urban and elderly self defense do you have?
EK:I’m putting my mind in that of a predator. Where would I be hiding? Where are the dark spots? Where are the potential show points? Where can I find where I can position myself if I were the bad guy to make an attack, and then obviously trying to avoid those, or at least if I have to go through that area of increasing my awareness and my readiness to take some action should that be the case. A lot of times people feel obligated to be nice in situations that really do not warrant it. Someone is coming up to you and asking for money late at night, and that’s fine. Maybe they’re just a simple panhandler, but maybe it’s someone testing you. They want to see how you’re going to respond. Do you put your head down in a submissive posture, say, “No, I don’t have any money for you.” They may be looking to see how you’re going to respond before they take the next action. Simple things like, “Hey.” Somebody comes up. You don’t believe them, this person in front of you to be a threat. Maybe they are smaller. Maybe it’s a woman. I suggest just doing the thing like walking past them a foot or two, turning around and then if you care to address them at all, turning around then so that you can see behind you is there anyone coming up behind you.
MR: It will definitely shift their battle plan, right?
EK: Exactly. Then it’s like, “Oh, he saw me. This isn’t going to work. Let’s go to the next person.” There’s plenty of easy people out there who aren’t paying attention. If you’re one that is, you’re going to avoid all of this in the first place. They don’t want to be seen if you look them in the eye. Some people can’t … This is a good point, and I think, again, Albrecht brought this up in terms of identifying, looking at people so that they see that you’ve seen them, and it causes them to want not to change plans or at least to think, “Oh, oh, I’m spotted.” Some people can’t look other people in the eye without looking away. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, what have you. What I usually suggest to them is look at their chin. Look at their mouth. Don’t look them in the eyes, but in return it looks as though they’ve been spotted even though you don’t have that eye-to-eye contact. It does the same thing, so little things I give to try to help people be more aware and looking at people without feeling intimidated by doing so.
MR: Any other interesting situations come to mind when you’re self-defense training is coming in handy, or have there been any scenarios where you’ve witnessed or heard second-hand where you know someone with more self-defense experience could have altered the situation in their favor?
EK: Let’s use this age issue again with older guys. One of the people I trained when I first started the Academy 35 years ago, there was a guy who was old at the time, really good boxer and hit like a ton of bricks, not particularly a big guy, but strong. Some guys were attacking someone, and he put himself in the midst of it, and with his boxing, which he kept up on, dropped both of these attackers, and he was close to 80 years old.
MR: An important piece there, that even an 80-year-old man who just kept up doing a little physical activity was able to knock out two probably 20- to 30-year-old men looking to mug someone or whatever the scenario was.
EK: Right, because you’re not expecting it from some old guy. If some old guy comes up and cracks you one, you might like, “Whoa, what happened. How did that happen?”
MR: Plus it’s a story you’ll never tell in your life that you got destroyed by an 80-year-old man.
EK: They don’t happen that often, but they do happen. A story I wrote about on my blog was a guy, he was late 70s. He was in a library. Some guy came in with two knives and was going to attack the kids in the library. I think he was there with his granddaughter. He used techniques he had learned in the Korean War. He got cut. His arm was in a sling. He got cut pretty bad, but he took this guy out, and he was an older guy, heavyset, didn’t look to be in great shape, though he looked kind of muscled in the photographs I saw, but he just said, “I wasn’t going to let him hurt my granddaughter,”
MR: Projecting that memory of the past just all came back.
EK: Muscle memory tends to stay. If you can develop it, it tends to stick with you.
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