Eliminating Vulnerability

June 8, 2007

Eliminating Vulnerability - By Hannah Shaw Grove , Asa Brett Prince - 06/1/2007

Concerns about safety and security are growing among the very wealthy. As is often the case, when fortunes increase so does unwelcome attention from a variety of criminals. One reaction to the heightened concern is the use of security experts, close protection personnel and state-of-the-art security systems that can protect loved ones and physical assets. But increasingly, affluent individuals are supplementing their professional security arrangements with education and training on self-defense tactics.

"There's been a pronounced increase in the number of nonprofessionals that want serious training in self- protection," says Eric Konohia, president of Bulldawg Protection LLC, a private client security firm based in Maryland. "More schools and training facilities that used to work exclusively with specialists and professionals are finding corporate executives and the like in their classrooms, at their firing ranges and in their defensive driving schools."

It's not surprising when you think about it. Most successful individuals can attribute their accomplishments to tenacity, intellectual curiosity and a desire for control-the very same qualities that likely prompt them to learn more about security strategies and techniques. "Smart businesspeople don't leave anything to chance when it comes to an important negotiation, "reasons Konohia. "And this is no different. They want to be informed and prepared if they find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation."

Charting A Course Of Instruction
Training options are available for all levels of proficiency, although most nonprofessionals want quick results that give them peace of mind. George Chaber, director of Karate America in Connecticut and a well-regarded combat martial arts instructor of security professionals, knows what's important to skittish wealthy clients. "Our newer students have a lot at stake and they feel like targets. They're captains of industry. They have massive homes, deep pockets and beautiful families, and they don't want to feel impotent in a crisis."

Many wealthy individuals choose to continue with training once they've mastered basic competencies. At this stage, students generally work with their instructors to focus on either unarmed or armed training, as each discipline has unique philosophies and techniques that are best learned in isolation.

Leveraging Natural Resources
Unarmed, or weaponless, training must be highly focused and tightly executed, as there is often little room for error. "We draw from many different martial arts to build a curriculum of self-defense techniques that are easy to learn, but devastatingly effective," says Chaber. "Our goal is to help the client master moves within a few hours that can cause damage within a few seconds."

"It's a real anomaly," says Charles Giangreco, president of the Westchester Martial Arts Academy and an instructor to military special operations teams. "The more lethal the unarmed training, the easier it is to teach and the less time it takes to master. For instance, it's much harder to lock someone up then it is to just cripple him." Techniques are drawn from many different martial arts styles-from the well-recognized karate and judo, to more esoteric styles such as koshu, muay thai, tai zen and dim mak. This variety gives students the flexibility to adapt their skills to each situation. Most affluent individuals begin their unarmed combat training as part of a self-defense initiative, however both Giangreco and Chaber have worked with students who took their training far beyond the initial intent, incorporating it into their lifestyle and eventually competing in tournaments with other nonprofessionals (see box).

The Millionaires' Fight Club

You begin the last leg of your journey on one of the larger Caribbean islands that is easily accessed by private jet or commercial airliner. From there you board a private seaplane that takes you to an island unknown to most of the world and never mentioned by name. Seaplane is the only way to reach the remote island, and the owner carefully monitors each visitor's arrival and departure. As expected, the island's facilities are limited, even provincial, but you are aware of one important incongruity: a fully operational hospital staffed with orthopedists, neurologists, surgeons and emergency room professionals.

The island is exquisite-cerulean blue seas offset by linen white beaches and lush greenery-a tropical paradise intended for a postcard or a travel brochure. As you disembark the seaplane you take one last look around, knowing it will probably be the last time you are relaxed enough to notice the beauty. You are not there to vacation. You are there to engage in hand- to-hand combat-it may literally become a fight for your life. You have entered an underground tri-annual martial arts tournament that carries a $100,000 registration fee and a winner-take-all purse of one half the combined entry fees, roughly $2 million.

You have known about the competition for nearly a decade and have tried to enter twice before without success. The tournament's organizers require new competitors to be vouched for by a past participant or someone else with connections to the event. You feel fortunate to be here, knowing there is a waiting list filled with the names of other hopeful fighters.

You are one contestant in a group numbering somewhere between 40 and 50. The fighters come from all corners of the world and men outnumber women 15 to one, but that is where their differences end. Every competitor is over the age of 50, a self-made multimillionaire and still actively involved in business. No one is a professional or semiprofessional fighter and no one has exclusively trained for more than six months before the event. The amateur nature of the event is a significant part of the appeal and, as a result, extensive steps are taken to bar ringers and other professionals. In effect, this is a secret tournament staged for super-successful C-level executives and their ilk.

It's a single elimination contest. There are two weight classes-under 150 pounds and over 150 pounds-and the winners of each weight class fight one another to determine the tournament victor. Historically, the majority of contestants are in the heavier weight class as are most of the tournament champions.

Despite the rigid environment surrounding the tournament, once a fight begins very few rules govern the actions of the contestants. Weapons are expressly forbidden, and the contestants have informally eschewed the use of padding and other forms of protection. You know that when the match begins, it will be one human being against another with nothing but training, wits and will to separate the victors from the losers.

Once a fight starts it will continue until one of the contestants is declared the winner. You were surprised to learn that most fights are over in a matter of minutes, but not without some consequences. More often than not, this means that one contestant is up and the other is down-possibly bleeding, probably hurt and definitely relieved when they remember the hospital.

"This a berserker contest. Without rules and safety equipment, it's as important for the fighters to avoid injury as it is to inflict it," explains George Chaber, director of Connecticut-based Karate America and a trainer to tournament contestants. "During training, we focus on mastering the quick, lethal moves that can stun. A few extra seconds can be all that's needed to mount a follow-up attack that can break your opponent."

You take a deep breath, focus your resolve, and walk toward the smiling host to begin one of the strangest and most exhilarating experiences of your life.

- Hannah Shaw Grove, PW executive editor.

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