Situational Awareness: A Personal Story

parking lot

It was just another day at the office.  I was leaving work at my normal time 4:45PM from my desk job at a large auto manufacturing plant.  It was late fall and the sun was already starting to get low in the sky, stretching out the shadows of the cars, light poles, and what few trees were around.  The parking lot I was in was massive and I had a good quarter mile walk to my car.  I was enjoying the cool breeze brush past my face when I picked up on footsteps behind me.

How long has this person been behind me?

Why am I just hearing him now?

I wasn’t too concerned just yet, but my awareness and curiosity of this stranger behind me was peaked.  I listened intently to the cadence of his steps as he walked behind me.  Sounded like he was about 20 – 25 feet behind me.

I began to alter my pace to test him.  I’d speed up for a minute, then slow down.  He always stayed the same distance behind me.

The hairs on the back of my neck began to stand up.  My ears perked, listening to each footfall behind me.

I began weaving through cars in the parking lot, still making my way to my own car but in a more erratic fashion.  The footsteps were still behind me.

keys in fistMy heart rate began to increase.  My pace quickened.  I quietly grabbed the keys out of my pocket and put a couple in my fist, ready to counter with vicious strikes should the need arise.

The steps stayed a consistent 20 feet behind me.

I looked around for anyone nearby that might be able to help.  A security guard, another employee, anyone.  No one was around.

It was just me and him.

In this massive parking lot with hundreds, maybe thousands, of cars, there was only the two of us.  What were the odds?  I casually glanced to my side using the reflection of a nearby car window to sneak a peak at the stranger following me.  The most I could make out were that his hands were buried in his jacket pockets.  Was he hiding a knife or gun?  I couldn’t make it out in the split second glance I got.

I started weaving between the cars more erratically sometimes taking 90º turns.  If he really is following me, this tactic would show his hand once and for all and we’d both know it.

Gradually, the footsteps dissipated.  I took a deep breath and relaxed a bit, still keeping a cautious eye out around me.

Was the guy behind me simply walking towards his car or was he a potential mugger and got spooked when he realized I knew he was following me?  I’ll never know…

…but I was ready for him.

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12 thoughts on “Situational Awareness: A Personal Story

  1. Good writing man.
    Make sure you give us more insights in martial arts. That ‘punching technique’ post was really good. Share more clever tricks if you can.
    Personally, I’d like a post about using momentum, not just raw strength. How to play it out in a fight, etc.
    Keep up the work!

    • Hey Alex! Thanks for visiting and the request for an article. I will definitely put it on my list of article ideas and discuss it in the future. I don’t have a ton of experience with using another person’s momentum (I’m assuming you mean styles like Hapkido with their throws), but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve that might help.

      I have another article idea similar to the punching technique post, but for kicks. Might actually be my next post.

      • Jacob, you mentioned Hapkido. I assume that is a soft style.

        Because of my age (52), I am too slow for the traditional punching and kicking in a fight.

        I have negotiated my way out of every street confrontation with my wits. One day when those run out I want Aikido to fill in for me.

        What are your thoughts on that style in my circumstances?

        I was going to try it when I got to 225lbs. I am 6′ now and weigh 247

        • Hey Grey. Always great to hear from you. I’m not very familiar with either Hapkido or Aikido so I can’t give you a very informative answer on either of them. I would say choose one and if you like it stick with it. If you want to learn more self defense oriented stuff, I would suggest looking into Goju-Shorei weapons training or Rapid Assault Tactics. GS teaches you to fight with knives and canes while RAT is a great course that covers all ranges of fighting. I have linked KSA Martial Academy in some of my self defense posts. Cat Fitzgerald has trained with SEALS and really knows his stuff. If they’re too far for you to attend one of his workshops, he might be able to point you to someone nearby.

          My personal approach is to find a martial art that you enjoy and build a solid foundation in it and then branch out to other styles and take what is useful from them.

          Ps – if you do happen to ever attend one of his workshops in TN, give me a shout and I’ll be sure to drop by!

        • Grey, wanted to give a little more insight on your question. I personally am not a huge fan of Aikido for self-defense. Like all martial arts, it does have its good points and bad points. From my limited experience with Aikido (mainly being a punching bag for students, but that’s a story for another time), I noticed that even the “beginner” techniques that were being taught were rather complicated and required the students to do it just right for it to have any effect…and that was on an “assailant” (ie- me) who wasn’t moving or fighting back. Most of the time I just stood there looking at them like “when is this supposed to hurt?” Add in the adrenaline and stress of a real self-defense situation and you’re going to be limited in large to gross motor movements. The fine details of Aikido will largely go out the window. Again, this is just my limited experience as a punching bag so someone with more Aikido experience feel free to chime in.

          This isn’t to discourage you from taking Aikido if you truly enjoy it, but you need to keep an open mind and realize that almost every martial art has weak points. Even though you’re “old” and don’t move as fast as you used to (I personally think you would be surprised what you can do with a little training), I would highly recommend getting some experience in some hard martial art styles as well. I train people in their 50’s and they are pretty damn spry.

          A person who can kick, punch, throw, joint lock, disarm, fight with weapons, and grapple stands a MUCH better chance at surviving than someone who just focuses on one of those aspects.

    • Hey Chris. Thanks for the video links. Always looking for new information. I think the first video would be a little awkward to try and pull off but really digging the second example where you hold it in your fist and stab from the overhand position. Nice alternatives. I’ve been playing with the idea of testing out different weapons/striking methods against a solid(ish) surface to see what works and doesn’t. Maybe trying out different ways of attacking with keys will be my first venture into that realm of posts.

      • I figured I’d give you a few options and let you decide what works for you. I like the hammer fist option for bigger keys and the cupping option for smaller keys. Play with it and let me know what works for you.

  2. Whoa! Dude I bet you were ready to do what ever it takes! I know I tend to carry a pen for that reason just in case some one decides to do something stupid I would turn that pen into a stabbing weapon real quick!

    I’m glad the Hoodlum decided not to mess with you! You should always look around your surroundings while you are out and about. I usually park the care in a public parking lot when I go to work and every time before I head towards the lot I stop and take a quick scan around.

    Even walking towards my car I look left and right and use the cars bodies to see look at what or who is behind me. If i hear someone walking behind me I will tend to do what you did and begin to walk erratically through cars

    You always have to be ready because there are a lot of desperate people in the world today who will do anything to take form you!

    Glad you are safe bro!

    • It’s definitely a practiced skill. If I’m in an area I’m unsure about, I take wide turns around cars so I can see any potential threats hiding behind a car without being right on top of them.

      If you stay off the iPhone and stay aware of your surroundings, your instincts will tell you when you’re in a compromised situation. It might not mean someone is about to attack you, but you will know that the place could be home to hidden threats.

  3. That’s a scary situation to be in, for either a man or a woman. The most important thing you did was to BE AWARE of your surroundings. Everyday I see people walking along, texting, or fidgeting with whatever gadget they happen to have in hand. They step out into the road without even looking up to see if a car is heading their way. Muggers aren’t even on their radar.

    You made an excellent point about adrenaline and gross motor skills. In an extreme adrenaline rush, many people will actually be unable to use only one side of their body, so instead of striking with one hand, they will strike out with both hands at the same time. I trained as a FAST Defense coach under Bill Kipp’s watchful (and very demanding) eye, and it really changed the way I thought about traditional martial arts as self-defense. Check out some of his Youtube videos. Experiencing that adrenaline rush and striking full force (in a simulated situation, but your brain thinks it’s real), will forever change the way you approach self-defense.

    I’m really enjoying your blog, Jacob, keep up the good work!

    • Almost a year ago I did a Rapid-Assault Training course led by a good friend of mine. It was a lot of great information on self-defense and I got a lot from it. The only thing I would have him add in is performing under stressful situations to stimulate the “fight or flight” response. Practicing techniques is one thing. Practicing them under extreme pressure is an entirely other. I’ll definitely check out some of Bill’s videos; always looking to learn new things!

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