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Travelling the world is often a hugely rewarding experience which opens your mind to a myriad of cultures and philosophies you may never have imagined before. However, in this modern age of air travel, large areas of the world and its cities have become ‘westernised’ to a degree in order to attract the influx of money tourism can offer.

When we first went travelling to countries like Thailand over 25 years ago, they were hugely different places to what you see today and it is now heavily influenced by the tourist industry. With this in mind, we hear of more and more people travelling to countries not normally frequented by tourists in the search for untouched cultures.

On top of that, with the way world news is broadcast 24 hours a day, there are huge numbers of people hoping to offer their services within the aid and charity organisations providing invaluable work in some of the most war-torn regions of the world.

At Special Operations Agency, we have nothing but respect and admiration for the women and men who put their lives on the line to help others in their hour of need, and that’s why we wanted to write this blog. In this article we aim to offer expert advice to keep you safe in some of the most hostile parts of the world, whether you’re a traveller eager for new experiences or someone helping those less fortunate than yourself.

The first piece of advice is simple enough but not always easy to undertake, especially when you’re caught up in a new city and culture. Nevertheless, it is the most important point and one likely to give you advance warning if anything is about to go awry and it’s this – watch the locals.

The way people behave is an excellent barometer for the amount of tension within an area and can be a huge indication that something is about to go terribly wrong. Often the locals will know if an attack is about to happen, so if the streets suddenly become empty, get out of that area fast.

At the simplest level, locals will spot something or someone dodgy a lot more quickly than you and they’ll react accordingly. If they are leaving or acting agitated, you must become alert and search for what they’ve seen.

Another point is never let people know where you have come from, even if you trust them. There is a simple reason for this – you simply don’t know who they will tell, even if it is with the best intentions. Broadcasting where you’re from is likely to make you a target, particularly if you’re in an area rife with kidnappings.

While we’re on this point, make sure you learn local customs and sensitivities before you travel as well, something that’s considered good manners where you’re from may be seen as an insult where you’re going. For instance, it’s not a good idea to give someone the thumbs up in the Middle East!

Always keep an eye on world events. If you’re somewhere that has access to TV, then watch the news. ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ is a wise saying, and terrorists often attack in retaliation to events that happen on a global scale. So stay aware of what’s going on and act accordingly. If for any reason you feel it may be time to leave, leave.

If you’re visiting a region often associated with global terrorism such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria or some African countries, we cannot stress enough the importance of receiving even the smallest amount of hostile environment training before departure. You must consistently confirm the details of your security protection while you are in the country as well, because things can rapidly change. Do not get caught out.

And finally, our last piece of advice is to keep belongings out of sight. That means no expensive jewellery, watches, necklaces or bracelets. There are two reasons for this, the obvious one being that your assets are likely to get noticed. The other one is that even a standard watch can cost more than the local populace earn in a year in some parts of the world. As well as staying safe, as a visitor to their country, it’s also not very respectful to brandish a year’s wages on your wrist!

Come on, we have all been there. Walking out of a shop, pulling away from the lights or walking home at night, everyone has at some point in their lives scared themselves senseless thinking they’re being followed.

Thankfully, most of the time we’re not, but this is something we’re quizzed about all the time. What to do if you’re being followed, or at least, think you are?

So we’re going to tell you because knowing a few tricks will help put your mind to rest. It may also mean the difference between safety and vulnerability. Today’s global cities can often be dangerous places to live but there are a few tips we can offer to help avert risks.

First of all, focus. This is one of the most important factors in any walk of life. Take note of your surroundings, look from left to right and take in what’s on either side. Are there windows you can see a reflection in, or some shiny cars, the glass in bus shelters, anything. Once you have mastered this, you’ll find yourself walking down the street picking out reflective surfaces without thinking about it.

Remember fear comes from a lack of knowledge, so if you start to feel uncomfortable with someone’s presence, confirm whether he or she is actually focused on you. Take the time to have a look and access what you think. There are a number of ways of doing this.

If you are walking down a street use the Green Cross Code to your advantage. Stand on the side of the road and take a good look around while you wait to cross. A good trick is deciding not to cross at the last minute and watching what your suspect does. Do they do the same?

Always remember to vary your walking speed, as anyone pursuing you will try to keep up. Listen out for their steps, do they mirror yours? It’s always worth changing direction a complete 180 degrees, particularly if there are other people near you, as this can put you face-to-face with your suspect. If they look surprised or change direction as well, then it’s possible you’re being followed.

If you are being followed the best plan is to head for a busy, populated area such as high streets, a shop, or a taxi rank if it’s late at night. Look where you’re going, plan 10 steps forward until you see somewhere to avert your direction. As soon as you reach a safe area, find a sheltered place and call the authorities.

Any pursuer, regardless of their intentions, will be deterred when you enter a public space due to potential exposure. If you find yourself in this position and have already identified who the pursuer is then establish eye content and let them know you have compromised them. This in itself is likely to deter the suspect.

If you ever fear you’re being followed in your car by another vehicle, change lanes and see what the other vehicle does. Also remember to alternate your speed, the same as if you were walking. It’s always worth indicating to exit at a junction but not actually doing so, does the suspect vehicle do the same?

If so, use your surroundings to your advantage, such as roundabouts. Go around them a couple of times, this will not only help you ascertain if you really are being followed but also give you an opportunity to see who your pursuer is. As with before, if they feel they have been compromised, they will extract.

SURVIVE A KNIFE ATTACK

We often get asked about how to defend against a knife attack. It’s a question we have grown to dread as there are no finite skills or tactics to overcome such a threat but it is something we have tried to answer below. Due to the nature of such attacks, there are a myriad of things you must consider, hence the length of this blog. Please stay with us; it may save your life one day.

 

First things first, if you’re ever confronted by someone with a knife and have an opportunity to run away, run. Never consider taking the person on if this option is available.

The reason for this is simple. In order to overcome somebody with a knife, you must have faster reflexes than them, and even that might not always be enough. Even if you are trained to defend against knife attacks, there is still a very high probability you are going to get cut.

This is because of the diversity involved in a knife attack. You must remember that 90 per cent of the time, it won’t be a single attack but a series of continuous attacks, often frenzied. It is very seldom someone will only stab out once, especially if the attacker has any knowledge of knife mechanics.

Instead an attack is likely to come in the form of slashes or in a combination of two, which makes anticipating the attacker’s second move tricky.

If you do find yourself in this situation then the most important thing is to study your surroundings. You must ensure the attacker cannot back you into a corner. If you get caught against a wall, your space to move and defend becomes extremely limited. Instead, use your surroundings against your attacker.

The next important factor when facing a knife attack is to protect your face, neck and organs. One stab to any of these areas could neutralise you, even kill you. It will also prevent you from escaping if any opportunity does present itself.

Instead, defend with your forearms. You’re much better taking a cut to the arm in defence of your vital areas. Any cut to your forearm will hurt but will cause relatively minimal damage.

The best solution is to dodge and weave. Stay in motion with your attacker and try to ‘pull’ your body away from them. If they try to stab your stomach, pull your stomach in as you jump back. If they strike towards your legs, pull your legs back. If they strike at your head, bend your neck back. This may sound simple but it can be easily forgotten in the heat of the moment.

If you’re completely unable to escape and fighting is the only option, then you must not rush the situation. Keep a cool mind and block the attacks patiently, staying focused. If it’s possible, try to counter-attack with punches to the attacker’s face. If you have to block with the left them immediately hit them with the right and vice versa, do it. You must be bold.

If you think you’re stronger than your attacker, then grab their wrist. This will eliminate the opportunity for them to slash at you. You can then secure their second arm in a lock or strike the assailant to make them release the knife or disable them.

Do not try to disarm them if they deliver a non-committed attack. In our experience, you will not be able to properly grab hold of the knife. Instead you’ll open up your vital areas and potentially slash your palm.

Anyone who is experienced in wielding a knife will never deliver an all-out, killing blow because they will immediately expose themselves to being disarmed. Instead they will play with the knife and try to deliver slashes and non-committed attacks to cut but not kill you. Their aim will be to slowly break down your defence.

That is why counter-attacks are so important. It will damage your opponent, possibly forcing them to flee, or anger them into delivering a committed attack. If they do, you may get a chance to disarm arm.

If possible, keep a distance between yourself and the attacker at all times. If you do have to engage them but start to lose your grip on the situation, let go and get back. You must be patient.

Distance is important for two reasons. Firstly it will enable you to study the attacker, read their next move. Secondly, it buys you extra time to defend.  Although that may not sound like much, it could mean the difference between life and death.

Distance can also provide the opportunity to strike the assailant from behind. This will limit the attacker’s sense to your position and movements. If you can attack them this way, then pressure-point strikes will be the most effective. If they let go of the knife, you must continue with your attack in order to get them into a take-down position for apprehension.

We understand that may sound unfeasible to most of you but trust us, your instinct for survival is an empowering thing. However, if you’re a lady of 5-4” facing a 6-6” monster it’s unlikely you’ll overpower them.

In this situation, if you truly feel attacking your enemy is the only option, then jump head-first into their chin and nose. Use all your might, your head may cut but you’ll damage your attacker more. It will hurt, and you will have to dig deep to stay focused, but it will be worth it.

Always remember in any attack to defend with a plan and work your way towards escape or disarming the attacker. If there are people nearby then make as much noise as possible and never just defend in hope the attacker will get bored and leave. You will probably get killed.

Our last piece of advice is this. Always keep your attention on the knife, despite the attacker’s attempts to divert it. You must understand the knife is the main threat to your life, not the attacker.

We hope none of you ever have to utilise this advice but if you do, good luck.