This post was inspired by Mike’s post at D&P. To read his article click the link here.
What if I told you there was one technique that was infinitely more important than any other technique for self-defense? In fact, it’s SO important that if you don’t learn this technique, then every other technique you ever learn is essentially worthless.
Can you guess what’s the super secret?
Not even the deadliest ninja secret passed down by Tibetan monks for centuries (yes, that’s a LOT of hyperbole) will help you from some thug who wants to play the Knockout game if you don’t even know he’s behind you.
There’s nothing really special to situational awareness. It’s just being in the present and not off in la-la land. Unfortunately, we are prone to getting so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we shut out the outside world.
This is dangerous!
Many assaults could be avoided if the victims were more aware of what was going on around them and not put themselves in dangerous situations. Thugs and criminals are looking for easy targets. What easier target is there than someone who is so clueless that you can walk right up behind them?
The SAS Method
The Special Air Service (a special forces unit of the British Army) classifies three levels of situational awareness, dependent on your location and the current situation. While these are pretty general levels, I believe they are effective for getting people in the right mindset.
Level 1 – This is the lowest level of alertness and as such, should really only be employed in your house (your friend’s or a family member’s house is also acceptable). At this level you are at complete ease and guard is dropped.
Level 2 – When you walk out of your house you should immediately switch to level two. At this level you are alert to your surroundings. This isn’t a high-energy level of arousal. You are just taking everything in. Your head is up, scanning your surroundings, occasionally looking behind you as well. At level two you’re aware enough that you won’t be bumping into anything, tripping over curbs, or be taken by surprise by anyone.
Level 3 – Someone up ahead notices you walking down the street and nods to a couple of his friends. You’re walking by yourself down the street at night at hear footsteps behind you getting closer at a rapid rate. Your heartbeat quickens, you get tunnel vision, adrenaline starts pumping. It’s fight or flight. At level three there’s a clear and present threat that needs to be dealt with. At this point you need to decide whether you have a clear escape route or if you will need to fight.
Arguably there could be a level 2.5, where you have that sixth sense “feeling” that makes your ears perk and the hair on the back of your neck stand up a bit. This doesn’t put you into full on level 3 fight or flight mode, but it does make your hyper-vigilant until you can confirm there’s no threat.
Use your senses
Sight – Your primary sense for detecting potential threats. Don’t stare at your feet as you walk or fiddle with your iPhone. Walk with your head up scanning your immediate surroundings. Look behind you occasionally. Be sure to also look further ahead to ensure you are not inadvertently walking into a pit of vipers. If you’re walking down the sidewalk with a lot of buildings around, it’s easy to sneak a peek at who’s behind you by looking at the reflection in the store windows without it looking obvious.
Sound – This is your secondary sense for when you’re out on the streets and why I recommend not having anything in your ears that will hamper your hearing. Listen for anything that might cue an incoming threat. Footsteps rapidly coming up behind you…is it an assailant or a jogger? Were those gunshots or an old car backfiring?
Smell – The third sense for detecting danger. Most people don’t think about using your sense of smell and while it won’t tell you that you’re about to be attacked like actually seeing a guy with a knife approach you or hearing a group of thugs yelling “get him!” it can let you know someone is nearby. If you’re walking down a deserted street and all of a sudden you get a whiff of cologne or cigarette smoke, you know someone is in the area. From there you can use your other senses to identify his location and assess whether or not he’s a threat.
Make it a game
What does that guy have in his pocket?
Judging from the sound of her footsteps, how far behind me is that lady?
Who’s wearing the Axe cologne?
Which car is blaring their music?
These are just examples. The criteria can be anything. The whole purpose is to get you in the habit of constantly observing your surroundings and not tuning out any of your senses. Make it second nature to constantly observe everything around you. This technique alone will protect you much better than any strike or block.
Finally, here’s a great video demonstrating situational awareness. It’s a little hokey at times (Bad guys with bandannas? How cliche) but it does provide some good info.