Find out what five experts — Kelly McCann, Michael Janich, John Riddle, Tom Gresham and Mike Gillette — have to say about improving your awareness and safety on the street.

No matter how connected the Internet makes us think our planet is, human beings are still very much a tribal species. In part, that’s why we can watch a news report about a suicide bomber in the Middle East and think, “Yes, that’s terrible, but it’s happening on the other side of the world to people I don’t know.” When a terrorist attack happens close to home, however, everyone pays attention. At that point, some people take action. The ones who haven’t been preparing often start, and the ones who regard themselves as always ready often turn up the intensity of their training. As a martial artist, you no doubt fit into that second category, and it is to assist you that Black Belt presents this article. Before we begin, it’s worth noting that not every terrorist attack involves an improvised explosive device or an AK-47. As the events that unfolded on September 26, 2014, and October 24, 2014, prove, “lone wolf” terrorists are now using weapons that martial arts training enables us to defend against. On the first date, one woman was beheaded and another repeatedly stabbed by a man in Oklahoma. Afterward, Rep. Frank Wolf (Virginia) urged the Department of Justice to investigate the incident as an act of terrorism. On the second date, a man whom Reuters described as “self-radicalized” used a hatchet to critically wound two New York City police officers. And lest you think only Americans face these threats, think back to March 1, 2014. On that day, eight terrorists armed with knives murdered 29 people and injured more than 140 at a train station in Kunming, China.


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Whether these acts were perpetrated by bona fide terrorists, by lone-wolf recruits or by mentally ill copycats doesn’t matter from the perspective of the martial artist. All present a threat and must be dealt with. To help you figure out the most productive way to proceed, Black Belt polled five subject-matter experts. They hail from different backgrounds, but they convey information that’s vital for all who train for self-defense. QUESTION 1: Should the average person be worried about lone-wolf terrorist attacks?

Photo courtesy of Mike Gillette

Mike Gillette (former counterterrorism consultant for the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration, tactical trainer, executive bodyguard): Worried? No. Mentally prepared? Yes. The way we mentally frame various circumstances plays a big part in how effectively we’ll respond should a response become necessary. To put it in simple terms, the language we use when discussing or even thinking about dangerous situations can be positive or negative. If you default to always using negative terminology, your mind will store those negative attitudes accordingly. And those negative attitudes create a defeatist mentality [that] assumes the worst and is more prone to giving up when confronted with danger. The key is to understand that while certain things such as terrorists are “scary,” you don’t have to be perpetually scared of them. Learn how they operate and what it takes to protect yourself, and then go on about your life.

Photo courtesy of John Riddle

John Riddle (law-enforcement officer for 28 years, SWAT defensive-tactics trainer, jeet kune do full instructor): Americans need to educate themselves on what’s going on in the world today. The better educated they are, the less they need to worry and the more prepared they will be.

Photo courtesy of Tom Gresham

Tom Gresham (firearms trainer, former editor of several firearms magazines, host of the Gun Talk syndicated radio show): People should not be “worried” about anything. Worrying does no good. They should, however, be aware of possible threats, and they should take appropriate steps. What’s appropriate will differ for various people. Mostly, however, it means being aware of your surroundings and thinking ahead of time of your options to get away with your family should there be an attack. QUESTION 2: Do you think the Internet is becoming the prime tool for terrorist organizations to recruit lone wolves in any part of the world?

Michael Janich photo by Rick Hustead

Michael Janich (former employee of the National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, Filipino martial arts expert, edged-weapon instructor): The Internet has revolutionized communications and marketing. If you have a message, you can share it with millions of people worldwide at virtually no cost.

Kelly McCann photo by Robert W. Young

Kelly McCann (retired Marine Corps counterterrorist trainer, CNN consultant, weapons expert, combatives instructor): The Internet is being utilized by various terror groups to recruit disaffected youths globally to their causes. Cellphone technology has made information of all sorts much more available and negated the necessity to even own a computer. Add social media and you have incredible access to people who are searching for ways to be involved. QUESTION 3: Are there any parallels between how terrorists recruit lone wolves and how gangs recruit members? McCann: There are direct correlations between how gangs and terrorist organizations recruit people. The single biggest difference is gangs don’t use the Internet, although they may use social media outlets, and there’s usually an in-person interaction that must occur with gang membership. The same is not true with terrorist recruitment.

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Janich: Both sell the concept that membership will allow you to be part of a community and be part of a “greater cause.” This concept can appeal to anyone but particularly to people who are not strong, independent thinkers. Riddle: In the United States, we have young people who enter organized gangs. These people are down and out, have no home life, no job, no one leading them. They feel a connection to others who are like-minded and in the same down-and-out situation. A bond is made — this is their new family. On the other side, there are angry people around the world who dislike our government and what we stand for. These types can be found voicing their anger on the Internet. They are looking for a cause to be involved in, a cause to fight for. Read Part Two of this article here. Click here to read Part Three.

Black Belt Magazine has a storied history that dates back all the way to 1961, making 2021 the 60th Anniversary of the world's leading magazine of martial arts. To celebrate six decades of legendary martial arts coverage, take a trip down memory lane by scrolling through some of the most influential covers ever published. From the creators of martial art styles, to karate tournament heroes, to superstars on the silver screen, and everything in between, the iconic covers of Black Belt Magazine act as a time capsule for so many important moments and figures in martial arts history. Keep reading to view the full list of these classic issues.

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