Hero to Zero

© Copyright Avi Nardia & Tim Boehlert, 2020

Understanding Use of Force. Seeing things that others don’t. Learning to not rush to judgment – we can’t know many aspects of violence that we see, because we only have limited access to all of the facts.

I learned one exceptional piece of information from my teacher, many years ago while sitting at the dinner table in his home. Besides being a very deep thinker, he was able to pass on to me the ability to ‘see’ where I was blind.

Avi and I would sit in his home and have the most impromptu conversations, and I would just sit and listen in awe, as he could talk for hours, non-stop. It was hard to catch my breath, and I forgot so much during the course of those lessons, but the one thing that stuck was that I was being gifted with insights that most of his other students would never get. Humbled does not even begin to cover it. Thankful? Of course, but how can that word cover the totality of the process and opportunity?

I specifically recall one conversation where Avi pointed out to me a flaw in a common Krav Maga technique. While discussing it, Avi inserted his insights, and the switch flipped in my head. I was stunned – and hooked. I want to learn how to do THAT! Because learning the technique is one thing, the bigger takeaway is finding the flaws, but the BEST takeaway is SEEING it in the first place.

Avi has a very analytical mind, and it’s no doubt because of his unique training opportunities.

Can that ability be passed on? Can we as educators change our path and start to build better programs based on evaluations? Well, we can certainly affect some changes in our industry, perhaps starting with a few basics – so let’s discuss a few of these.


All programs need to have a solid foundation built on and with some basics, a solid base to build upon, a base that is thoughtfully constructed, and that requires high standards of moral conduct.

One concept that has been in use for an unknown length of time to me is called operant conditioning, or behavioral modification:

“Men have always used a variety of mechanisms to convince themselves that the enemy was different, that he did not have a family, or that he was not even human. Most primitive tribes took names that translate as ‘man’ or ‘human being,’ thereby automatically defining those outside of the tribe as simply another breed of animal to be hunted and killed. We have done something similar….” (e.g. using derogatory names to describe a person, a culture, a race, or a group/tribe)

Grossman, Lt. Col. Dave. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

“Othering is the ability to convince yourself that another human is different from you. In most cases the ability to other determines how much force can be used on another person.”

Miller, Rory. ConCom: Conflict Communication A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication.

The principle is to minimize and de-humanize others to the point that we would be able to inflict more severe harm than we would without this conditioning. We use psychology and words designed to help us overcome our natural tendencies to resist these changes in our personalities. Name-calling is one tool. When we diminish others by using their faith, race, sexual orientation, beliefs against them, we have successfully been indoctrinated.

As one common example, we might use the term ‘engage the target’ as a substitute for saying ‘kill the man.’

This concept is in fact a very useful tool. It can be good or evil, and that depends on its intent. We all know the evil use, as previously illustrated. The good use would be to use it to move others do things they would never normally consider – as an example, to save a childs life from a sexual predator – a pedophile, we might goad (indoctrinate) a mother to envision the evil acts a pedophile may perform on her child to get her to intervene and do damage to the predator.

It’s what we do with this tool and how we teach it that defines its ethical purpose.

When a training program uses this technique to define everyone that is not a part of their particular tribe as a threat that is when it has the potential to be used for evil. As an example, when a security company or martial arts studio trains its students to view everyone as a threat, they provide a disservice. Everyone is NOT a threat. But, that mentlaity persists, and soon the employees or students begin to get it ingrained into them that every situation is threatening. Everything becomes a nail, and the answer is always a hammer. They forget to train in a manner that presents the  hypothesis that training should be about the probable, and not the possible. One is the best route, the other is the trap.

Having the ability to distinguish when to use ‘othering’ is an absolute requirement.

Avi and I have written another article recently for Budo International where the My Lai Massacre is mentioned, for one reason – to point out the ONE individual that was able to step up, and speak out to prevent any further acts of violence against the citizens of the small village in Viet Nam during the war. These acts were no doubt fueled by and enabled by the ability to ‘other’ the Vietnamese people, which included their children. When this ability to ‘other’ becomes so strong, it also becomes the most dangerous. The one person that was able to see through the fog in this example personally paid the price of speaking out, for years, and no doubt carries the burden for a lifetime from the costs to he and his family. The military machine was successful with it’s indoctrination techniques in this instance to overcome one’s natural inability to kill another. 

In this instance, group dynamics were also at play:

Hive mind (noun)

A group mentality characterized by uncritical conformity and loss of a sense of individuality and personal accountability.

This can be seen in rioting situations, where any large group gets together for what they perceive to become a common purpose, but the resulting protest turns into a riot situation, based on the actions of one or more individuals and where the majority of that same crowd follows suit. It may result in looting, property damage, or violence against any other factions not directly related to their tribe.

This can also happen in groups of as few as two.        

Group dynamics – crowd-think – can be a very powerful force. It usually doesn’t take much to spark off events that can then spiral down to basic primal actions by many within that grouping. The result is anarchy.


We have always spoken out against our group using uniforms of military design. What we teach is not military entrenched dogma, nor aimed at a military ideology. Wearing any uniform of camouflage sends a very clear message to the group/tribe and also to those outside the group. It’s not a good signal to be sending out necessarily, especially during these trying times. As a group, our intent is to teach the civilian market self-defense, not Para-military or an at-war ideology.

We don’t train our students to kill; we train them to defend themselves. If we teach techniques that could result in damage, harm, or death, we also teach about proper recovery techniques to counteract those movements, medical application for recovery, and we try to convey a better understanding of the technique as it relates to physiology, and psychological damage that could occur. This then is only appropriate where death or grievous bodily harm may be imminent. We teach to use only the force necessary to stop an attack.

We weed out those from the group that step over specific boundaries through their actions or through their words. This includes displaying specific behaivor, social media posts, and training taboos.

T   H   I   N   K

I was having a discussion today, re: UODF – Use of Deadly Force between two civilians with a few members of a specific training group. Most do not understand what their eyes are telling them. They THINK they see one thing, while I see another. When I point it out, it immediately draws some fire. My ego tells me one thing, but when I stop to think, I respond differently. I educate instead of criticize. I try to make valid points without making it personal. I struggle at times, but then remember that I was there once as well – BLIND.

Knowing what tools to use is a game changer in many instances. The true magic, the power, is in knowing WHEN, WHERE and WHY and HOW, and also in when knowing enough to STOP.

“THIS is what’s important – the thought process, NOT so much the actions. If we are to use our training properly, we need BOTH components – the hardware to do the act, the software to dictate the when, where, why and how.” tim boehlert

If we are to truly teach, we need to include everything that we possibly can – and that includes the MORAL use of force. Most Police officers are taught that the threat is over when the threat stops. When active resistance ceases, the arrest can continue. A Police officer is a human being, and susceptible to the same flaws that we all face and perhaps struggle with.

It may be impossible to ever know what one’s true intent is or what drives one to do something egregious to another – outside the norm, outside the legal remedy. We get blinded by our own interests while acting in the interest of others at times. We make things personal – and it matters. So, we need to be aware of our emotional investment when using force against another, and to not only see that change of attitude, but to also respond appropriately to those changes. If we take on the role of judge/jury, we enter into legal waters that are over our heads and we’ve now participated in signing our own guilty pleas! 

We need to therefore work on learning more about how emotion drives us, and to be aware of it – recognize it when it takes over, and learn how to throttle back any emotional response, maybe with the exception of empathy and compassion. We should merely be trying to STOP a threat, as quickly and decisively as possible. When we let emotion color our response, we lose the moral high ground. 

Tim Boehlert

Avi Nardia