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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Anna Saracini was walking to her car alone at night when she noticed a strange man coming toward her on the sidewalk. The attractive blonde gave him a wide berth, but the man soon fixed his attention on her. Every time Anna turned, he turned in the same direction. With adrenaline pumping and the fight-or-flight response kicking in, Anna could sense she was about to become the victim of a violent attack.
But in this case, it was the man who was surprised, not Anna. Trained in a new proactive, radical self-defense program, Anna managed to warn her attacker, give him a chance to retreat, then physically engage at close quarters, knocking a knife out of his hand and decking the much larger young man to the ground in pain.
Saracini is not a bodybuilder, nor is she a martial-arts expert. This wasn’t a movie, and Anna did not fly through the air clad in a floor-length leather “Matrix” jacket. In fact, Saracini looks pretty much like the girl next door, perhaps even your manicurist. She is, however, a graduate of S.A.V.E! International, or “Survive a Violent Encounter.”
The S.A.V.E! ONE personal security program is now ramping up into high gear, attracting attention from military circles, aviation-security experts and average citizens as well, all who see it as a powerful anti-terrorism training tool with a wide variety of personal and professional security applications.
Supporters say the program fills a gaping hole left by the lack of effective training available to individual civilians and government personnel who some security experts say remain clueless as to how to successfully respond to a close-quarters terror incident, such as an attempted hijacking or a frenzied knife attack.
“The United States is the No. 1 target of diverse bands of terrorists,” comments S.A.V.E! International CEO Peter Letterese. “They aren’t kidding when they say they want to hurt us. We can’t be too prepared.”
He adds, “A brief review I have made of the Homeland Security bill seems to indicate that it should be re-titled The Homeland Disaster-Mop-Up bill, as it seems all about reaction/response rather than pre-emption of terrorist-induced tragedies in America. I could find no reference to civilian training whatsoever. So their score is ‘zero.’ The old Civil Defense Structure should be shaken out of mothballs.”
Fox news commentator Charles Slepian, noted aviation-security expert and CEO of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center, has become a big fan of S.A.V.E! International after graduating from the program in New York City last July. The gentlemanly attorney is known to create quite a stir when he practices the self-defense program on a punching bag at the New York City gymnasium he frequents. At the end of a recent Fox news interview on aviation security, Slepian presented his hosts with S.A.V.E! ONE T-shirts.
Following his appearance on Fox, Slepian and Letterese invited this WorldNetDaily reporter to undergo the same training in South Florida.
It was there that WND viewed the scene above being acted out before a Ft. Lauderdale class last weekend. Although Saracini has indeed survived a violent encounter, the scenarios and trials presented to students were adapted and maximized to be relevant to them. In Saracini’s actual encounter, she had intervened to stop an attack not upon herself, but upon another woman. During the incident, which occurred in a Ft. Lauderdale convenience store parking lot, Saracini put the woman’s attacker on the ground in about 45 seconds, writhing in pain.
“I got one scratch on my left forearm,” says Saracini. “He never knew what hit him.” Had Saracini not intervened, the woman would have been beaten severely – it was another 20 minutes before police arrived.
The S.A.V.E! ONE program, designed by martial arts-expert Richard Clear, incorporates a unique self-defense technology designed to be learnable by any age, regardless of physical ability or physical fitness.
Training airline personnel
Slepian, a tough critic of flawed aviation-security programs, sees the course as a critical component of aviation-security training in fulfillment of certain demands of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. The bill requires airlines to submit plans for training cabin crews in self-defense within six months. No deadline was given for the actual fulfillment of the training, and although most have submitted those plans, few have begun the instruction, according to Slepian.
“We have trained pilots and flight attendants on S.A.V.E! ONE. We have trained ex-law enforcement officers who have applied to act as baggage screeners at JFK airport,” Letterese told WND. “All did very well on the program and felt it helped them to handle their personal security better.”
Slepian explained that transportation-industry observers are interested in a way that civilian passengers could be called on in a dire emergency without the result turning into vigilante-style over-reaction. In addition, law-enforcement personnel found that following the training, they felt less inclined to resort to drawing a weapon as quickly as before.
Slepian also points out that it is folly to expect air marshals to provide comprehensive security.
“There are clearly less than 5,000 air marshals on flights,” Slepian told WND. “That’s out of 35,000 flights a day. The vast majority of flights have no air marshal.” In addition, he points out, marshals are instructed to not get involved in any disturbance unless it is an attempted takeover of an airplane. “There’s a need to give airline personnel a tool to control and subdue the situation when one or more passengers are causing a disturbance.”
“I can think of no better way to train individuals in both observing and deterring security breaches,” Slepian said. Following his own training and endorsement of the program, Slepian has now accepted a position serving as vice president of the company, focusing on public relations.
“We treat airline passengers as though they were ‘dead cargo,'” complains Letterese, “like jewels or inanimate objects that can take no ‘post’ or position in their own defense, except as a disorganized mob trying to suppress a clumsy, bumbling ‘sneaker bomber.'”
He referred to that incident as a unique and unlikely situation that involved “eight [passengers] at a time, including two doctors with narcotic drug-filled syringes and one semi-giant Italian basketball player.”
“Obviously, [such training] makes eminent sense,” said David Forbes of BoydForbes, Inc., an aviation-security consulting firm. Forbes indicated the state of American airline industry security operations is very poor. “Things that people think exist simply don’t.”
A survey recently conducted by Forbes indicated that since 9-11, a significant number of aviation-industry personnel have still not received any security training. Some of that training may only constitute viewing a video or watching a CD-ROM, but the best training is hands-on he said.
Forbes added, “If we worked at an airport, wouldn’t we expect to be part of the security and defense of the place? Yet a cleaner, mechanic or operations manager may all have different views of security, and many have never been trained at all.” Forbes indicated that there needs to be a cohesive, unified approach to security and a universal standard of training, but warns that historically, American airlines “have not been very much interested in security.”
Andrew R. Thomas addresses the situation in “Aviation Insecurity: The New Challenges of Air Travel,” a book due out next year: “It has been an often unstated fact within the industry that, depending on the carrier, the quality of security training by the airlines is poor and outdated. The training before 9-11 included showing crewmembers videos that focused on hijackings from the 1970s. Unfortunately, the training isn’t much better today. … Nearly a year after the 9-11 attacks, the Association of Flight Attendants surveyed 26 airlines and found training for flight crews ranged from two hours to 16 hours. Sometimes, the training involved little more than lectures or videotapes. One training program even taught ‘verbal judo’ designed to redirect behavior through language.”
Regarding the S.A.V.E! ONE program, Thomas, also author of “Air Rage: Crisis in the Skies,” told WorldNetDaily, “If Charles Slepian is behind it, must be good. I trust Charles’ evaluation on security measures implicitly.”
Letterese plans to make his program available to airlines to train their pilots, flight attendants, screeners, baggage handlers, ticket counter personnel and “everyone they deploy at an airport.”
“We believe that any S.A.V.E!-trained unit in the airline industry … can respond with greater precision, greater calm and greater safety for passengers than by any other means.” Letterese explained.
Smart self-defense for all ages
The class WND participated in included Lauderdale Lakes City Attorney Jim Brady, a professional stock trader, and a mother accompanied by her 13-year-old daughter. Instructors were survivor Saracini, Mike Munoz, and Letterese. The S.A.V.E! ONE staff says they worked hard to condense three days of training into one.
Training begins by showing participants how ineffective their instinctual reactions to threats are. Then the staff proceeds to lay a firm moral and ethical foundation for approaching self-defense. The emphasis on legality of all maneuvers underlines the fact that on occasion persons attacked become a victim twice when sued in court. One example is the case of Jaclyn Kurr, who was 17 weeks pregnant with quadruplets when she stabbed and killed her boyfriend, Antonio Pena, in October of 1999 after he allegedly punched her in the stomach. She later suffered a miscarriage. Found guilty of manslaughter, Kurr is now serving a prison term of five to 20 years. Last month, a state court of appeals overturned Kurr’s conviction on the grounds that the jury was not properly instructed on the “defense of others” theory. The case has been appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. Until then, Kurr remains behind bars. Her fate and the possibility of a new trial are still to be determined.
During the S.A.V.E! training, observational skills are taught that heighten threat awareness. Participants learn that individuals, like nations, are surrounded by a protective zone – a personal “airspace” of sorts. An attack begins with an invasion of this personal airspace – a zone students must learn to guard, monitor and protect. When this zone is breached, students are taught to issue a warning and prepare for a debilitating pre-emptive strike should the warnings go unheeded. Skills also are taught to equip students to pre-empt and deal with a close-quarters attack, such as in an elevator, where there is no approach or warning time. In addition, students are educated in various tricks that attackers use to catch people off-guard. These include false cries for help, where the attacker continues to approach the targeted victim, refusing to respond to the call to halt.
The actual form of some of the moves is somewhat strange in appearance and seems to incorporate elements of animal fighting as well as modern warfare strategy. One student noted it seems to turn people into “human buzzsaws.”
The training then moves on to physical blows. After a few hours, all class members, including the 13-year-old girl, were breaking three-quarter-inch boards with bare hands, minimal effort and no pain – staring in amazement at the splintered remains. “See how thick that board is?” Letterese asked the class. “A collar bone isn’t any thicker.”
Prior to graduation, the student must undergo intense trials that place them in unexpected, repeat attack situations, including a frenzied knife attack by a would-be “terrorist.” To graduate, the student must effectively fend off three attackers at a time.
Lead instructor Munoz, a martial-arts expert, told WND, “The goal is to give skills and techniques to people so they can defend themselves and not be scared. We’re not here to give people black belts. People don’t have years to prepare themselves.”
The program continues with one full year of online follow-up called Virtual Bodyguard Training, which is designed to help the graduate stay at the highest level of “calm yet precise” readiness with their skills.
The maneuvers were effective in smashing dozens of three-quarter-inch boards, which substituted for vulnerable target areas such as the eyes, throat, cheekbone, foot, knee and groin. Students learn how to quickly break strangulation holds from front or behind. They also learn how to choke an attacker into unconsciousness.
During Level Two training, a great deal of focus is placed on “one-touch knockouts” delivered, surprisingly enough, with minimal effort and without a scratch. The maneuvers were effective in smashing boards and in quickly breaking strangulation holds from front or behind. In addition, students are taught how to extricate themselves from the worst positions imaginable by exercising body torque. In this way, women were able to easily extricate themselves from threatening positions from which they previously deemed impossible to escape. These included men sitting upon them while pinning their arms to the ground. Close-quarter scenarios are played out, including being attacked while in a seated position, on one’s back on the ground, or in an elevator. Details of possible knife attacks are explained, as students act to protect themselves from being knifed gang-style across the throat by a hidden blade.
It is on this day that the student, after passing through the rigorous moral and legal foundation, learns the mantra, “I am calm, but deadly.”
Military strategist endorses program
Lt. Col. Robert R. Leonhard, also a graduate of the program, calls the training “extraordinary.” He is the author of several books and articles on modern warfare – including “The Art of Maneuver: Maneuver Warfare Theory” (Presidio Press, 1991); and “Fighting by Minutes: Time and The Art of War” (Greenwood Press, 1994).
A Unit commander during Desert Storm, Leonhard is a professor of military science at West Virginia University. He has previously planned and administered advanced war fighting experiments – large-scale futuristic tests in information operations – for the Army’s Force XXI program.
Regarding the S.A.V.E! ONE training, Leonhard said, “I watched young and old, male and female students become warriors.” In addition, he feels it’s a must for troops training as well. Leonhard is now senior advisor to S.A.V.E.! International.
“It is a method of self-defense that emphasizes and explains the complex mental and emotional tension that leads to an actual confrontation,” Leonhard said, explaining his endorsement of the training, “It equips the students with techniques of deterrence and posturing that both discourage attack while at the same time looking peaceful. If the attacker continues past a certain escalation point (by which time the trained S.A.V.E. Level One training graduate knows a fight is inevitable) it allows for an overwhelming pre-emptive attack, including against multiple attackers.”
S.A.V.E! ONE currently has a program to send a team of trainers to any company or group in North America and soon to Europe and Australia. They also conduct a program that sends trainers to neighborhood groups that organize classes for them to teach.
The big question, now, according to Forbes, is “who will pay for such training?”
“Airlines are faced with a situation where pilots are going to be armed – and there’s a huge administrative cost to that. The question of who pays for security has been haunting the whole industry, including airports.” He added. “With the current economic status of United Airlines, for instance, they’re pre-occupied with a lot of other things.”
But improvement of airline-industry security is desperately needed, Forbes warns: “Even security people themselves have been treated as token individuals, chosen to handle regulators rather than seen as an investment. One security director indicated he had been treated as a figurehead, something that was counter-balanced by receiving free flights for his family to exotic locations.”
Self-esteem, confidence and empowerment
The program has also met with significant interest from schools, hotels, restaurants, malls, senior citizens and corporations. Regarding senior citizens, a spirited Slepian told WND, “I can tell you as a 64-year-old, this [training] is a piece of cake for me. I feel empowered, and calm about responding to any threat. I’ve got absolute confidence walking the streets of New York City – knowing that if necessary, I can smack ’em down.”
WorldNetDaily also heard positive feedback from parents and kids, some of whom said they had overcome fear of bullying and gained a new confidence through the program.
Louis Calvisi, 14, of Detroit, Mich., told WND “I feel more secure. It has helped me in my personal relationships at school. I would recommend it for other kids my age.” His mother, Maureen, added, “I think it gave him the confidence to handle his first year in high school and to basically go into an unknown or an unfamiliar situation and know that he can handle himself.”
S.A.V.E! ONE is now in talks with the New York City Teacher’s Federation and AARP. The program also has been met with enthusiasm as a form of corporate team-building: “When they can learn to survive better and have helped each other to do so, they form a bond you can’t achieve with paint ball ‘wars,’ high-wire drops or encounter sessions.” Letterese explained.
“An American citizen could imagine himself overwhelmed,” concludes Letterese. “All in all, virtually none of us civilians have been taught how to think about our security.” Recalling recent events, Letterese added, “After the Russians have just killed over a hundred of their own citizens the weekend of Oct. 26-27, while ‘saving’ another 600 hostages from a movie theater siege using an unknown ‘narcotic’ gas their hospitals still can’t figure out how to counteract … given that no one yet has solved the anthrax attacks of 2001 or really understands the color difference in our Homeland Security Threat Warning System … given that the only discernible difference in aviation security 15 months after Sept. 11 is that we’re hearing equally unnerving warnings about railroad insecurity, too … Given all of this, an American citizen could imagine himself confused, nervous and anxious about Homeland Security or even his own personal security. We teach civilians how to intelligently think about, plan for and carry out homeland and personal security.”
Said Slepian: “Civilians must have training of this kind in the potential terrorist environment now extant in the early portion of the 21st century.”
Referring to the 9-11 tragedy and current security measures, David Forbes said that he, along with the airline-security whistleblower community, are of the same opinion: “We think it’s going to happen all over again.”
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