Self-defense company keeps changing with the times

As someone who almost lost a loved one to violence, Bob Thurman has made it his business to help others be safe — and to know what to do when danger can’t be avoided.

“For most people, the chances of being victimized by a violent criminal are slim,” said Thurman, whose

Counter Attactics

firm has been in business more than 20 years. “But when it does happen, it’s crucial to be prepared, whether it’s one person alone, or an organization with hundreds of employees.

“The difference can be life or death.”

Thurman, of Lee’s Summit, was a Professional Karate Association world champion from 1982 to 1990 but gave up the martial arts game and started his safety and self-defense company after his wife was attacked and nearly killed by a robber in 1989.

Teaching self-defense tactics was easy, but his wife’s experience told Thurman that more was needed. He consulted psychologists and law enforcement experts and developed seminars that emphasize situational awareness and avoiding danger in the first place.

“Criminals and psychopaths don’t think the way we do,” Thurman said in a recent interview. “It’s important to know how to avoid being a target.”

And if someone or some workplace is unlucky enough to become a target, Thurman teaches how to be prepared, and then act. For individuals, he teaches how to size up a threat, such as the different cues a robber who just wants money will give, versus someone bent on assault or kidnapping, which can require escape or counterattack.

And just as it’s important to think on your feet in a dangerous situation, Thurman has learned to improvise in his business, to try new things, and to adapt to changing circumstances.

Over the years Thurman has added planning and prevention consulting for large companies and organizations, so they can have plans in place and know the best way to proceed in the face of a gunman or other attacker.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Thurman’s safety course was approved by the Transportation Security Administration for pilot and flight attendant training, and he added some regional airlines as clients.

Thurman said Counter Attactics also had provided training programs for police departments, hospitals, universities and a variety of corporations and organizations, including St. Luke’s and Sprint in the Kansas City area.

Counter Attactics has stayed relatively small, which helped it weather the recession. Thurman usually has five or six other instructors employed to help him. But his client list and the types of help he can provide keep expanding.

“I do small group seminars a lot, but I can handle most any size group,” Thurman said, “and I recently did a video that the Alief Independent School District in Houston is using for its teachers.”

That video, available on an internal website for the district’s thousands of teachers, covers situations including what to do when a gunman is inside a school.

And recently Thurman has given several presentations for chapters of Vistage International, a nationwide networking organization for executives and business owners. Last week Thurman addressed groups from the organization in Richmond, Va., and Austin, and this week he talked to a chapter in Dallas.

Bill LaRosa, who does executive coaching with Vista, praised Thurman’s presentations as “enormously beneficial,” both for their safety information and inspirational spirit.

“Bob’s own personal story is something that touched everyone,” LaRosa said. “Our members often discuss business and economic trends at our meetings, so Bob’s lessons on safety and situation awareness were a good change of pace.

“His lessons and training were right on target.”

Thurman noted that because many executives travel extensively and dress well, they’re often in unfamiliar surroundings and could be attractive targets. So being aware of their surroundings and knowing how to scout out and avoid potentially dangerous situations are particularly important, Thurman said.

Thurman said he enjoyed presenting to the Vistage chapters.

“It’s exciting working with dynamic business people, and getting to know them,” Thurman said. “They’ve given me some ideas, too, to keep my business growing.”

A reality show on surviving and escaping attackers is one possibility, Thurman said, though he knows anything in the television business is a long shot.

“Regardless, I’m going to keep going,” Thurman said. “From the fight game I learned you have to take a lot of shots. But that was always my approach, to keep advancing no matter what.”