Best Self Defense Technique

What is the Best Self Defense Technique Everyone Should Learn?​

To answer what the best self defense technique is first watch the video below. Please disregard the fact that this is a typical day on the streets of South Africa.

This incident could have taken place anywhere in the world. Our victim/survivor is walking down a busy road. She is on her cell phone; engrossed in the world of social media.

A suspicious car stops next to her and she has little time to react as the first hoodlum snatches her handbag. But that’s not enough! They want her cell phone as well.

Her fixation with her cell phone cost her valuable seconds in reaction time, but full credit to our survivor, she managed to recover and take the fight back to her attacker.

There are multiple lessons to be learned from this footage. For example, where to carry your valuables as a pedestrian and how to keep yourself in a state of functional situational awareness. But perhaps the most valuable lesson is how to survive a stand-up grappling battle. Woman against man; small against large; fueled by maximum determination.

My quest has always been to develop a well-rounded set of skills that prepare you for different types of combat. However, nowadays it feels as if the world is spinning faster on its axis. Not only has the cheese moved, but it is now served with a liberal dose of jalapeno.

Nowadays when women are mugged or forced to the ground; criminals often take much more than a handbag. Nowadays suspects resist police officers, who struggle to handcuff them and bullies who slam their victims into the walls of unmonitored school yards, are armed with more than just their fists.

Nowadays there are more martial arts schools available than ever before; but many people don’t have the time or inclination to get sweaty and dedicate themselves to a martial art discipline that takes ages to achieve that elusive black belt.

But even if you are a martial art expert, with many black belts; the truth we cannot forget is that humans are primates. During times of physical crisis, the human primate defaults to the adrenal macro-muscular system. Our apelike hands and arms forgo the sophisticated movements learned in martial arts. Well-timed jabs and sophisticated arm locks are replaced by an ugly melee of grabbing, pushing, swinging, pulling, holding and biting.

So, what is the one self-defense move that everyone should learn? It turns out that my quest to find that one perfect self-defense move, was answered in the most significant lesson of my martial arts career.

The Lesson That Changed It All

Approximately 20 years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar with SGB (Straight Blast Gym) founder, Matt Thornton. I arrived at the seminar not knowing anything about the intense and lanky American.

Matt pioneered his way out of the JKD (Jeet Kune Do) fraternity, and had  been part of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Challenge) champion Randy Coutre’s coaching team. He introduced us to his concept of “aliveness” and soon after he had us working on the mat with a wrestling exercise, which I assumed had come from Randy Coutre.

We were on our feet, aggressively wrestling or “pummeling” each other, trying to gain the dominating position. Apart from various corrections and additional techniques, most of the session was built around this exercise.

Soon cardio vascular and muscular fatigue set in. If you were going to survive the exercise, you needed more than just strength. Correct posture, understanding center of gravity, learning to manipulate fulcrums, being sensitive to the energy of your opponent and adding a dash of guile were all part of the exercise’s ingredients.

I must make it clear that when I refer to energy, I am talking about the willful application of Newtonian force and not a mystical Chi power that allows you to crumble bricks with the touch of a finger. As Bolo Yeung said “brick not hit back” .

Years later, my career had transitioned away from the martial arts and into the security industry. My gloves and mats had been exchanged for a small grey second story office.

I was watching crime scene footage of one of our tactical officers being attacked and disarmed. Very similar to the above footage, the attacker had grabbed the officer and forced him to the ground. Then he had beaten him and fled with his service pistol.

It was clear that the officer had been surprised and attacked by a younger and more athletic person, but I couldn’t help thinking he could have done more to defend himself. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his body. His posture was weak, and his poor footwork caused him to fall on the ground (in fact, our pedestrian had done a much better job of defending herself). Surprise and a little luck and swung the fight in the attacker’s favour.

We engaged with a local Krav Maga instructor who arrived with a compendium of mechanistic moves. While they were logical and seemed effective, the exercises lacked the motion and “aliveness” I had learned about. I resolved to spend time with our officers in their training sessions. My goal was to make sure that we never put another gun on the street.

Self Defense Techniques For Security Guards - The Basement Sessions

The training sessions took place in our gritty company basement. Using some rubber training guns, I started the first session by getting the officers to reenact the scenario I had watched in the footage. 

Soon I saw the same issues that were apparent in the video. When the firearm was grabbed by an aggressive opponent, many of the officers froze on their feet and fixated on what was happening in their hands. 

The slick moves they learned from the Krav Maga instructor were instantly forgotten. Soon balance and posture were compromised, and the victor of the scenario was determined by strength and determination alone. 

Not good odds if the criminal is a brute of a man, who has decided to take a new Glock 19 home to Mama. 

Realizing we needed some fundamental skills first, I removed the guns from the training. We started with a simple premise; how to control another man while we are both still on our feet. The lesson took on its own momentum, and soon I realized we were following the lesson I had participated with Matt all those years ago.  The clinch had come to our basement.

Self Defense Tip - What is Clinch Fighting?

Simply put, if you are grappling or wrestling with your opponent whilst on your feet, you are clinch fighting.

In one of the oldest and most insightful internet articles on the subject; Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert John Danaher explains it as “any situation where both combatants are standing and have some kind of grip on one another”.

Danaher, an experienced bouncer, points out that the clinch features “heavily” in actual street combat, but is often neglected in martial arts training. Ironically Danaher’s article was written way back in 2003, but his observation still carries relevance.

Grappling arts aside, if you scroll through various YouTube and Instagram channels, you will notice loads of footage showing experts resolving various self-defense scenarios that start with a grabbing attack. Then usually what happens is that the demonstrator breaks the grip of his attacker and resolves the situation with a rapid succession of strikes. While this takes place the attacker generously stands immobile and accepts his beating.

Clearly, they haven’t met the criminals on the streets of South Africa. The scenario misses barging, pushing, pulling and holding all demanded by the primal clinch fight.

The importance of the clinch in combat is easy to understand. It’s one of the best ways to subdue a strong striking attack. Imagine being pummeled by an aggressive man flashing his teeth as he swings his hairy fists at you.

Before a set of tattooed knuckles that say “MOMMA”, hit your face, you have three choices. You can try to punch back. You can back off and try and run. Or, you can cover your head, move forward and subdue those swinging arms by grabbing them. This is a common tactic used by boxers when they are tired or need to buy some time.

Moving away from the world of fighting and back to our lady pedestrian, many street and home attacks result in a clinch fight. So, if you know the clinch, you know it will give you control.

Getting to Know the Clinch

Clinch exercises exist in various forms within the martial arts. This includes Greco-Roman wrestling, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Thai Boxing, Russian Sambo and even Tai Chi.

Yes, that’s right, I did say Tai Chi! You can see this here. Modern clinch training also has its own language. As you get to know it, you will become familiar with clinch nomenclature that helps to untangle the mess of a clinch battle.

Terms like arm wrenches, under hooks, knee bumps, sprawls and snap downs will become familiar to you.

Ask anyone the day after their first clinch session and they will tell you that their muscles ache all over! This is because the clinch involves the use of the entire body.

At this point you do need to put in a little time and sweaty dedication; but you will gain the benefits of added macro and micro muscular strength, and develop your kinetic senses like proprioception.

You will also gain a lot of cardio fitness. There are also psychological benefits to this training. Because of your close proximity to your training partner, the training immunizes you from the discomfort and fear of close contact with other human beings.

The demanding nature of the clinch will also force you to dig deep inside and develop your inner grit. This is a quality that extends far into the struggle of life in a chaotic and stressful world, where the cheese has not only moved, but is laced with jalapeno!

Dominating Positions Open Up Options

It’s not possible to cover all the intricacies of the various techniques here. But I can give you a few principles to keep in mind.

Key principle 1: Your goal is to achieve a dominating position

dominating position is a position in which you have some type of leverage over your opponent.

You are in a contest against gravity, and you must be in a position to control the center of balance. Without this position, it will not be possible to transition into an offensive maneuver.

An example of such a position would some form of a headlock, a bearhug, a throwing position, or even the Spear posture developed by Tony Blauer (for those of you familiar with the clinch, I’m trying to keep the terminology descriptive and easy to understand, so climb off that high horse and pass on the knowledge).

Key principle 2: Control your center of gravity 

Power is achieved by being balanced and rooted to the ground.

If your balance is weak, or you lean too far forward or backward, it will be easy for your opponent to throw you to the ground or achieve a controlling position of his own.

If we go back to our fighting pedestrian, she does well to stay on her feet. She instinctively keeps her legs bent and shrugs off his bear hug, an attempt to attain a dominating position.

She turns her back on him, slips past him, but then exploits her attackers lack of balance to barge him into the road. He is able to get her phone, but you get the impression it would have been difficult to force this woman into the car.

Key principle 3: Keep your head up

Its natural for people to put their head down when they are tired. This compromises your balance and opens a world of moves like the good ol’ fashioned knee to the face.

What do you do When You Are Dominating?

So, for a split second you’ve achieved the dominating position. What now? It’s the same dilemma dogs have once they actually catch the milkman’s truck! At this stage of the battle, various martial arts invite answers.

The grappling arts like Jiu Jitsu and Judo have provided us with some very functional submission techniques.

Chokes such as the guillotine choke or chokes using the lapel or even the neckline of a t-shirt are easily possible.

This is because a head is a large object that is easy to hold. Also, it is supported on the neck, which is a weak fulcrum.

Arm locks can be possible, but are hard to achieve. Arms tend to be slippery and very active when attached to non-complying opponents.

Sambo, Judo and Greco-Roman wrestling also have a variety of throws and take-downs designed to get the opponent to the floor and even inflict a little damage once a flying body hits the ground. Spend an hour with a skilled Judo practitioner and you will experience this first hand!

Thai boxing is an art that has specialized in delivering a range of devastating elbow and knee attacks from the clinch position. It’s also possible to add some so-called dirty boxing techniques into the mix.

Your imagination is your limit here, but techniques would include headbutts, eye gouges and even strikes to the back of the neck.

You are not going to achieve the dominating position for long, so when you get it, you need to pick your attack and strike hard.

Scenario Training

Getting back to our dusty basement sessions, we did a few fundamental clinch sessions and we were able to add some scenarios into the mix.

Weapon Retention

For first responders there are a number of scenarios in which criminals could attempt to take their weapons. Here I will focus on three scenarios, all of which I have seen in the real world:

Scenario 1: Frontal attack in which one suspect tries to take a holstered weapon

This scenario works well with some initial dialog between the two participants. Yes, I know. “This will never happen to me; I’ll get my six-shooter out and aerate the creep”.

But it does happen, and dialog is important as it often functions to distract the good guy. Then all of the sudden, the attacker strikes unexpectedly.

Under the shock and rush of the attack, fine motor skills like extracting your firearm from a holster are lost and the fight is on. Responders should focus on getting the firearm leg to the rear, then place your focus on getting dominating position or creating space to act.

Scenario 2: Rear attack in which one suspect tries to take a holstered weapon from behind 

I have seen this take place at a fast food outlet when an officer was waiting in line for a well-earned chicken burger, extra hot.

Here a good security mechanism on the holster thwart the attempt; but should this fail, the first step is to get your hand on the weapon or on the hand grabbing the weapon. The ability to turn in and maintain balance becomes important in this situation.

Scenario 3: Frontal attack in which one suspect tries to take a weapon out of the officer’s hands

This scenario works well during house clearing exercises.

The officer turns a corner and is ambushed and the suspect tries to grab the pistol away. As with my officers; the initial reaction is going to be to pull the weapon back.

A tug of war begins that could have a lethal ending. Officers need to be trained to bring the weapon into their body, there is far more power close to the body than out on the end of the arms where the hands are.

These scenarios can be augmented by adding extra attackers, extra officers and modifications to the environment.

Arrest Procedures

In an ideal world the bad guys would give up, lie down, put their hands behind their backs and behave.

But the world of the first responder is never ideal or fair. People often fight back. People with mental disorders or people who are high on drugs add to the complexity of these scenarios.

The scenario starts with a suspect pretending to be compliant. But once the handcuffs come out, the world turns to hell.

Clinch training is a powerful way of preparing officers for this explosion of violence. Again, the scenario can vary; an officer on his own; two officers together, or even a suspect with a hidden weapon.

Grit and Fighting Spirit

The fundamentals of the clinch, whether it is used in self-defense or to up-skill first responders, provide the answers for both attack and escape.

The training can and should be exhausting. The experience of the clinch is as much a teacher as the techniques of the clinch. Once the body is exhausted, it becomes time to recruit the spirit of our pedestrian: “Damn this, I’m going after them!” As has been said before, “neurons that fire together wire together”. Once the neurons are firing, the clinch is a powerful training ground for cultivating a fighting spirit.

Special thanks to amaFranx for lending us his musical neck for the pics.

References & Further Reading

Anselm, R. G. (2017, July 3). Why Dirty Boxing For Defending Yourself? Retrieved from The SOP: http://thesop.org/story/20170703/why-dirty-boxing-for-defending-yourself.html

Brodala, T. (2011, May 31). S.P.E.A.R. System: “Outside 90”. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-0iNT674Dc

Danaher, J. (2003, March). Fighting in the Clinch: A Key Skill in Real Fighting. Retrieved from Realfighting: https://web.archive.org/web/20061030125158fw_/http://www.realfighting.com/0503/jdanaherframe.html

FunctionalSelfDefense.org. (2019). Functional Clinch. Retrieved from Functionalselfdefense.org: http://www.functionalselfdefense.org/clinch/

Grant, T. P. (2011, December 24). New Fan’s Introduction to Mixed Martial Arts: The Clinch. Retrieved from Bloodyelbow.com: https://www.bloodyelbow.com/2011/12/24/2632138/mma-technique-clinch-new-fan-introduction

Lucanus, J. (2016, January 21). FINALS Josh Waitzkin vs. “The Buffalo” – 2004 Tai Chi World Cup – Moving Step Push Hands. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leuf-5pZaaw

Thornton, M. (2005, July 30). Why Aliveness?. . . . Retrieved from mattthornton.org: http://mattthornton.org/why-aliveness/


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5 Situational Awareness Exercises – Getting Practical With Self Awareness

This unique situational awareness training is designed to increase your awareness just by reading it.

To get started, watch this video clip:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/lMZUHwFCaLQ

In the 2013 thriller movie “The Call”, teenager Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is abducted and forced into the trunk of a car by a serial killer. She calls the 911 emergency centre from an untraceable cell phone and must provide clues to 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry).

If we divorce ourselves from the horror of the story, the scenario offers an interesting opportunity to explore and apply our situational awareness skills.  

Situational awareness is the use of the sensory system to scan the environment. The purpose of this is to identify threats in the present or to project those threats into the near future.  

Check out my detailed situational awareness guide.

Situational Awareness Training Exercise

Serial killer aside, lets step into the trunk of that car. You are going to discover that situational awareness is what changed Casey Welson from a victim into a survivor.  Now close the trunk lid and switch on your situational awareness. We are going to make a list of what we can perceive.

Let’s start with your sense of sight:

situational awareness exercises
  • You can’t see much, but there is a line of light around the edge of the trunk lid.
  • The quality of light will change as the vehicle moves from parking garage, into direct sunlight.
  • Variations in light tell you about the speed of the vehicle, and whether it has moved or has stopped beneath a bridge or some trees.

Casey is able to give a brief description of the car and her attacker. But there is so much more to describe.

The lack of light forces you to change from your usual visually-dominated mode. Now you must rely on your other senses.

Your hearing provides information about the environment and distance:

  • You can hear the car’s engine revving. This informs you about acceleration and speed.
  • The sound of the vehicle as it is driving and shifting gears tells you whether the car is in good working order or has an occasional knock and grind that suggest mechanical issues and a possible breakdown.
  • The sounds of car horns, other engines and screeching wheels will provide information about the type of traffic that surrounds you. Your awareness of time can be added to confirm this data. Is it the midday rush or the 4pm commute home?
  • There may be other peripheral sounds that add to the soundscape. Dogs barking, helicopters, sirens or car doors opening and closing are all auditory clues to what type of place you are in.

The senses of proprioception, balance and kinaesthesia tell you about movement and space:

  • Dark or light, you will be able to gage the dimensions of the trunk and how much space is available for the movement of your body. Could you reposition your body so your feet will be able to kick when the trunk opens? This may be important for if you choose to set up a counterattack against the driver of the vehicle.
  • You will be able to sense the movement of the vehicle, this will include acceleration, breaking, turns and stops. Take the time you have travelled from your watch or cell phone and start to get an idea of how far you have travelled from your starting point.
  • As the car travels forward, you will be able to sense the quality of the road. On a dirt road, the car will slow and bump and vibrate. Freeways will be confirmed by the combined smoothness of the ride, winds and the sound that tyres make at high speeds.
  • Your balance helps to interpret the mindset of the driver. Are you being thrown from side to side in the trunk as he panics; or in Casey’s case is the ride smooth and deliberate? This driver does not want to attract attention.

The sense of smell or olfaction provides unseen information:

  • By smelling the floor of the car, you can tell if the carpet is old or in the case of a new or rental car it may have that fresh “new car” smell.
  • It’s possible that there is a specific organic or chemical odour that helps you to build an information profile about the vehicle and its driver. It could be the sharp smell of a solvent or the sweet rotting smell of a long-forgotten item of fruit.
  • Smells from the environment will also filter into the car’s truck; industrial smoke, fresh tar from the road or the concentrated animal odour of a farm (Casey’s final destination).

Your skin’s sense of touch tells you about your direct environment:

  • Your hands can explore the mechanism of the hood, pushing and probing for weaknesses and moving parts.
  • The skin on your face, especially your cheeks, will help to detect air flow and temperature change. This could help to find mechanisms and compartments that you could open.
  • The skin senses the texture of the trunk’s floor. Perhaps the carpet moves, or there’s a source of grease that can be used as a lubricant to escape bonds or to be smeared in the eyes of an attacker.
  • In “The Call”, Casey finds a can of paint that she uses to draw attention to herself. There may however be other objects that could be used as striking or stabbing weapons. If you decide that fighting is the right tactic, you are going to need all the help you can get.

Deep analysis of the environment can only come through conscious investigation of the senses. But sensory information doesn’t come to you one sense at a time. It arrives as a combined multisensorial package.

Combining the senses

We’ve all had this experience. You are sitting in a restaurant and a person across the room says something that piques your interest. You look up and by looking at the person you can better eavesdrop on the conversation.

In an article called Combining Senses, Malte Bieler and Ileana Hanganu-Opatz explain that although our brains have separate areas for each sensory system, we are born with the ability to combine our senses. This process, called multisensory integration, helps to create a complete picture of your current reality.

Scientists still don’t yet understand how this happens, but to achieve a situational awareness mindset, it’s clear that the more sensory data we can expose ourselves to, the better our situational awareness is going to be. Now it’s time to get practical with some advanced situational awareness exercises to sharpen your skills.

Self Awareness Exercises

Exercise 1: Areas of influence

When you enter an environment, use your sense of sight to divide the area into three areas: Foreground, midground and background. You can do this process in any environment: a crowded public space like a concert hall, your garden, a city street or even a dinner party. Actual distances will differ depending on the environment you have entered.

Foreground:

This is the immediate space around you. It’s the area you will assess first because the things closest to you are usually the most threatening to you. Foreground introduces a vital tactical principle that involves time and distance.

ACTION IS FASTER THAN REACTION

Be it a self-defense, policing or even a neighbourhood watch scenario, the bad guy is usually going to act first.

The less distance you have, the less time you have to react. When assessing the foreground, don’t just look at what is directly in front of you. First responders the world over have a saying, “Watch your six”. This refers to the 6 o’clock position on a clock. In other words, the space directly behind you. You are going to do a quick 360° observation.

Casey makes the mistake of turning her back on the kidnapper while he is in her direct space.

Midground:

This is roughly the area halfway between your background and foreground. Depending on the overall space of the environment, people in the midground are only slightly less threatening than those in the foreground.

To understand this, take a friend to a flat surface and try the 10 meter sprint test. The average man should be clearing 10 meters in about two seconds or less. That’s not a lot of time to cognitively process what is happening and initiate a response whilst under pressure.

Using fine motor skill actions such as pulling your shirt aside to access your firearm, then drawing, cocking and accurately firing it, is going to be very difficult.

Background:

This is the farthest area in the environment where someone can still have an influence over you. Threats in the environment can be dynamic. For instance, moving cars or someone using a firearm causes a threat to move very quickly from the background to the foreground.

The background also becomes important when assessing your emergency escape route. When entering a shopping complex, try to get into the habit of identifying at least one escape route in the background. This could apply to a shopping mall, parking area or even a small grocery store.

Take note of fire escapes and the doors to the storage area of the store.  Alternatively, there’s always the butchery counter where the big knives are kept.

Now let’s go back to the abduction scene in “The Call”. Casey enters a parking garage. In the background are the sounds and movement of cars. As she is walking, the suspect car enters her midground. It’s possible that she could have heard that the engine was running, but she was distracted by her phone. She is almost knocked by the kidnapper’s car which enters her foreground. After a brief verbal interaction, she turns her back on him to pick up her phone. She wouldn’t have done this had she received a signal from one of the most important aspects of situational awareness – intuition.


Exercise 2: Observe internal changes from green to red

In learning how to develop awareness you are not only learning about what is happening around you, you are also learning about what is happening inside you. Self-awareness is the tool for monitoring your internal environment, which includes warnings of danger. The model in which you Imagine your intuition is like a traffic light offers you three possible states. Let us consider you are a single woman out for your morning jog:

  • Green: This is your neutral baseline emotional state. It’s important to know what this feels like so that you can compare changes in your internal condition.
  • Orange: It is now the second time you have seen a red sedan with two men drive past you. As they pass, the driver looks at you. Your internal state changes from neutral to uncomfortable. This intuitive feeling may manifest as a sensation in the body. This is often referred to as “gut feel”; but for some people it is a little voice in the back of your head that says, “watch out”. It’s your spidey sense talking.
  • Red: The car passes and stops 200 meters down the road. The driver gets out of the car and starts to look at his phone. Your skin “crawls” and your heart beats faster. You have felt this before. Fear! Your most primitive warning system has hit condition RED. Time to change direction and get out of there.

Intuition is like an FM radio, the more you turn the dial, the sharper the reception is. As you go through your day to daily life, notice how different people and situations evoke different emotions inside of you. These emotions are messengers. I will cover intuition in detail in a later post.  


Exercise 3: Deny your senses

One of the most effective sense enhancement exercises is to cut out one of your senses.  The blind comic character Daredevil is a prime example of someone who, through the loss of his sight, was able to develop sensory superpowers.

The idea that blind people improved hearing over sighted people has been validated by scientists. In fact it has been established that there are blind people who actually have Daredevil-like echolocation abilities. While this may not be possible for most of us, it is clear that with stimulation and training, our neuroplastic brain will develop new connections that give us enhanced sensory abilities. Try the following exercises:

  • Regularly move through your house and garden in the dark. Use your entire body’s’ sense of touch to understand spaces around the house. This may involve the occasional collision between a coffee table and a sensitive shin bone.
  • Try a blindfold exercise to develop your sound localisation ability. Cup your hands behind your ears when you do this, and notice that is possible to accurately locate the source of various sounds.
  • Watch a movie scene that you have never seen before with the sound turned off. Notice how the actor’s body language, expressions and actions fill in pieces of the story. Try to interpret the story, then watch the scene again with the sound on and compare your results.
  • Develop your proprioception and sense of touch by doing blindfold wrestling and clinch exercises. This is a valuable exercise for first responders who may need to arrest and control violent people. Your enhanced sense of touch will notify you of muscle shifts that will telegraph your opponent’s intentions.

Exercise 4: Measure your flight distance through proxemics

Ecologists define flight distance as the risk and distance that an animal will allow a predator before the animal initiates escape behaviour.

In terms of situational awareness, how close can you let a potential human predator into your proximity before you need to initiate flight or fight behavior? This is an especially important concept for police and security personnel. Maintaining the correct “interview distance” may save you from a bad encounter with an unseen blade.

Casey let the predator into her flight distance and turned her back on him. Once this happened the principle of time and distance was against her and she had very few options.

Proxemics is the study of the amount of spatial separation required for humans to interact comfortably. Use your proxemic sense to create your flight distance. As you move through the public environment, consciously create distances between yourself and various people. Ask yourself the question: “How much distance would I need to take action?”. The more uncomfortable you feel, the more distance you need.

Exercise 5: Decide to fight every day of your life

In the end, 911 operator Jordan Turner convinces Casey that she needs to help herself and fight. This is not a situational awareness strategy. This exercise is the daily decision that you are not a victim. Casey transforms from panicked kidnapped victim into empowered survivor. She starts to give Jordan descriptive clues derived from her senses. The final clue that leads to her rescue, is a distinctive background sound that Jordan was able to hear through Casey’s phone.  

As a standalone tool, situational awareness helps you to navigate a world. When combined with the daily survivor decision it becomes a powerful means to change your life.

References & Further Reading

Anderson, B. (Director). (2013). The Call [Motion Picture].

Bieler, M., & Hanganu-Opatz., I. (2016, June 14). Combining Senses. Retrieved from Ask a biologist: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/How-the-Brain-Combines-Senses

King , P. (2017, August 29). How Does The Brain Combine All Five Senses Into One Reality? Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/08/29/how-does-the-brain-combine-all-five-senses-into-one-reality/#160ab43642d5

Montreal Neurological Institute / McGill University. (2004, June 23). The Blind Really Do Hear Better. Retrieved from ScienceDaily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/07/040723093712.htm

Pape Møller, A. (2008). Flight distance and population trends in European breeding birds. Behavioral Ecology, 1095–1102.

Sinicki , A. (2015, May 8). How to Train Your Senses Like Daredevil – Echolocation Training, Neuroplasticity and More. Retrieved from The Bioneer: http://www.thebioneer.com/how-to-train-your-senses-like-daredevil-echolocation-training-neuroplasticity-and-more/

Stryker , G. (2008, November 12). How our Senses Combine to Give us a Better View of the World. Retrieved from Association For Psychologial Science : https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/how-our-senses-combine-to-give-us-a-better-view-of-the-world.html

Universitaet Bielefeld. (2016, June 6). How the brain merges the senses. Retrieved from ScienceDaily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160606082337.htm

van Dam, L. (2018, September 7). Do blind people have better hearing? Retrieved from The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/do-blind-people-have-better-hearing-102282

Walker , O. (2016, January 27). 10m Sprint Test. Retrieved from Science for Sport: https://www.scienceforsport.com/10m-sprint-test/


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The Best Martial Art For Self Defense

Best Martial Art For Self Defense

I am often asked which is the best martial art for self defense.

My feeling is that the skill of self defense involves more than just the act of learning to throw a punch or breaking a headlock. There are so many situations that could take place; it’s impossible to cover all the scenarios in the martial art process.

There are a set of assumptions that must be made:

  • The attacker will be aggressive
  • He will try to impose his will and his game plan over you
  • The confrontation will also include unpredictable movement and action
  • The situation will not subscribe to the rules of “fairness”
  • The attacker’s method may vary, this may include verbal attacks to intimidate you, strikes, pushes, grabs and attempts to restrain you pin you to the floor
  • The incident will be very stressful to you

When, where, how many and with what will all depend on the spectrum of scenarios that is called life. The martial art you choose must have an answer to these assumptions. Furthermore, it must give you a set of fundamental principles that allow you to solve the various situations that unfold. There also will be times when fighting is not the best option to guarantee your survival. To find the right martial art, and develop a comprehensive self defense skill base read on…

Self Defense is More Than Just Martial Arts

The conversation usually goes something like this: “Don’t do Karate, it’s not based on reality; or “Krav Maga is the way to go; they only focus on self defense” … and of course the inevitable

“You have to do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because on the street most fights go to the ground.”

But these answers cast an over-simplified cloud over a solution that is far more rooted in an ancient biological process.

Learning to fight is only one quarter of the self defense options available to you. So, before you put on a pajama suit and learn to count to ten in a foreign language, let’s explore some other choices.

Imagine this scenario. You are taking a jog one sunny morning, when suddenly a man leaps out of the bushes and tries to grab your arm. Without a thought, you pull free and run the best half mile of your life. Or, you swing your fist and savagely connect with his nose. Or, you see that he is armed with a gun so you stop and stay dead still while he helps himself to your iPhone and wedding ring.

Ryan Munsey, author of the brilliantly titled book ‘F*ck Your Feelings’, discusses this process when he featured on the KNOW FEAR podcast hosted by martial arts legend Tony Blauer.

In the interview Munsey quotes the Polyvagal Theory, which explains that we have three involuntary reactions to danger.

We freeze, we fight or we flee. Now this idea is not new to us, but Munsey adds that evolution has given us humans the ability to use cognition. With training we can use cognition to neutralize the threat.

As we become more self-aware, we take command of our bodies and can choose the best path forward. This may include a violent reaction, or simply taking a deep breath and talking your way out of the situation.

But what has all this got to do with your initial question?

The truth is that when we were born, Mother Nature preloaded us with fight, flight and freeze software. This is because in a natural environment, human beings need some self defense tools to survive.

In our man-made environment, childhood may have included a parent, teacher or mentor who added some conflict management skills to this self defense package.  So, if we are going to be good at self defense, we might as well get good at using all the tools at our disposal and not just the fist swinging one. Let’s discuss the others and then we will get to your question.

Flight

“Come on. Let’s run away.” 
“Where to?” 

Rincewind sighed. He’d tried to make his basic philosophy clear time and again, and people never got the message.

 “Don’t you worry about to,” he said.

“In my experience that always takes care of itself. The important word is away.” – Terry Pratchett, Eric.

When you are outgunned, overpowered and out numbered, a strategic retreat is a good idea. Initially this may involve you pointing your body in one direction and then making your legs move as quickly as possible. However, you can increase the efficacy of your retreat with a little strategy and skill.

  • Find the exits: The airline industry has been doing this for years. They know that once blind panic sets in people are more likely to find the way out to the emergency exit if you do a little preprogramming before the flight starts. When you enter any type of building; a house, an office block, a shopping center or an entertainment area, note the emergency exits. This sets your escape up for success and may protect you from a stampede in a mass emergency situation.
  • Take up running: That’s right, practice the art of flight. Test yourself. Could you pick a direction and run full tilt for 60 seconds? Would you be functional after that dash? This doesn’t sound like a big distance, but a lot can change in 60 seconds in an urban environment. If you can’t do this, it’s time to do a little road time jogging. I’m not talking the London Marathon, just a few miles a week. The Park Run movement has been instrumental in getting thousands of people comfortably running five kilometers at a time. Add some sprint interval training while imagining a large disheveled man or zombie, who wants you for his next victim, is breathing down your neck.  This is self defense training in action!
  • Flight and driving: You may need to escape from a situation in your car. Rather than blindly driving into oncoming traffic, you need a plan. Direct your vehicle towards a place of safety. Unless you want to bring danger to your front door, do not drive home. Pick a police station or a place where you will find security personnel. If you live in a country where you drive on the right-hand side of the road then make your first one or two turns to the right. This gives you a quick turn without having to face too much oncoming traffic (the process is reversed in left hand drive countries).  

Freeze Sucker!

The instinct to freeze is an ancient mammalian strategy. A wild hare spots a prowling jackal and it instantly freezes. The laws of camouflage dictate that movement gives away your position.

When faced with danger, you may find that you have involuntarily frozen. This reaction may save you from stepping on a snake, but for self defense purposes the story does not just end there. Freezing needs to become a voluntary strategy to increase your chances of survival. Or the freeze reaction can be a transition into another strategy such as fight or run.

To learn how to freeze voluntarily and not out of sheer panic, take a deep breath in and then purposefully breath out. Now you have a micro second to assess the situation and consider your choices.

  • When freezing is good: Many people have survived armed robberies by freezing or deliberately adopting a passive strategy. If you find yourself in the company of an aggressive armed attacker, the assailant is most likely to be full of adrenaline. Perhaps he is scared of being caught. In this case any resistance on your part is going to provoke a violent reaction that could have tragic consequences. By consciously adopting a passive attitude you have the opportunity to de-escalate the situation. In this way the robber feels he is in control and you part with your possessions and leave with your life intact.
  • When freezing is bad: There are instances after voluntarily freezing where you may instinctually know that you need to get away or fight. For instance, you are a single woman jogger and a man is trying to drag you into a secluded area of a park. There have also been active shooter attacks  such as the Christchurch massacre, where victims have deliberately played dead but the shooter has returned to make sure that his victims are dead.

Houston, We Have Cognition

In their podcast, coach Blauer and Ryan Munsey discuss the fact that a self defense scenario is going to start with an initial shock or surprise. You are attacked and you react. Tony Blauer says at this point your “startle flinch” reaction is activated. With some training it is possible to re-calibrate your reaction from “startled mammal” to “thinking human”. Now your brain is able to make choices. This gives me the opportunity to introduce the topic of “The fight”.

Often the debate about which martial art is the best, is orientated around the scenario of “one-on-one” street fighting. Or “you bump a guy’s drink and now he wants to fight you”. I would argue that these circumstances are not about self defense but rather “ego-defense”. To explore this further let’s look at the time-honored gentleman’s game of rugby.

This little scrap has all the hallmarks of the classic ego-driven street fight. The brain’s emotional panic button, the amygdala, has been activated on a mass scale. Energy used for the thinking neo-cortex is rerouted to the part of the brain required for primal survival. Neanderthal-like macro muscular punches are thrown. Headbutts, shoves and ground fights are added to the mix. The problem with this is that peripheral vision and the ability to assess threat has been forfeited.

The fact is that there is always someone faster, stronger and more aggressive than you are. And maybe you didn’t see his friend standing behind you who is willing to grab a beer bottle and smash it on your head. The principle is simple:

Fights that can be avoided, should be avoided.

To do this you need to snap yourself out of caveman mode. This cannot be done by thinking logically. You need a physiological solution. Here one is:

  • Take a step back and open your hands.
  • Breath in and then breath out.
  • Ask yourself, “how can I avoid this”?
  • Ask your co-combatant a question. Your goal is to get him out of caveman mode too and to activate his thinking brain. Try something like “Do we really have to fight?” and work it out from there.

On rare occasions, talking or running is not the solution. You want to be best prepared for this situation.

Let’s Fight!

In order to answer the question about which martial art is best for self defense, I am going to steer away from discussing specific systems or styles. Let’s discuss the characteristics of a good self defense system. That way you can make your own choice.  There are numerous styles out there.

Nowadays martial arts have divided into factions. There are traditional arts like Kung Fu and Karate. And there are functionally based contemporary systems, which cover a spectrum of mixed martial arts (MMA).

The quality of instruction can radically differ from one school to the next. The ability to inject context into a movement, gives a movement meaning. Without this you might as well be lifting weights or applying makeup.

When choosing a martial art for self-defense, I suggest you visit a few schools in your area and look for the following characteristics:

Aliveness

In 2005 martial arts innovator and founder of the Straight Blast Gym (SBG) Matt Thornton, introduced the concept of “aliveness” to the world. Thornton reasoned that for combat training to be alive and functional, it needed to include energy, timing, and motion.

Since then SGB has introduced some great martial artists to the world; including a fighter called Connor McGregor. When you watch a martial arts class, look out for exercises that include the following qualities:

  • Energy: This shows the quality and intent of the exercise. The participants must offer a level of uncooperative resistance to one another. If the opponent is compliant and allows his training partner to have his way and execute his move, the exercise has no fighting energy. It will not translate into proper self defense
  • Timing: Timing is developed when the practitioner faces an unpredictable and uncooperative opponent. Patterns and set routines will need to be discarded to achieve this
  • Motion:  In all true combat exercises, there is constant motion.  Whether fighting on the feet or on the ground, movement must take place. This can be in the form of footwork, wriggling, pushing or pulling. If the practitioners are running drills from a stationary position, they will not be properly preparing for battle. If you don’t believe me, watch the rugby game again

Ranges of fighting

Consider the rugby game. There was pushing and pulling and then headbutting. The fight progressed to punches and some wrestling on the ground. A good self defense system will cover all these aspects of fighting, including kicking. If you can’t find a school that covers all these ranges in their system; then choose the one which covers one of these ranges well, with a lot of aliveness.

Making contact

Don’t be afraid of a system that involves contact. Learning to deal with being roughed, pushed pulled and punched is all part of learning self defense. The more comfortable you become with contact, the less shocked you will be during a real-life attack, and the quicker you can progress to the cognition part of the conflict. Watch the class and check these questions:

  • Is there an element of “good spirit” and respect between the participants in the class?
  • Is the level of contact introduced in a progressive way?
  • Is safety gear used?
  • Does the instructor demonstrate in a way that people learn; or are the demonstrations used as an opportunity to bully and inflict pain? If the instructor does this, his students will most likely follow his example. This is not an environment conducive to learning.

Lastly, If the instructor tells you that it’s not possible to train using contact because his moves are too lethal; suppress your laughter because you don’t want to insult a lethal man! Walk out the door and never return.

Competition Is Not Self Defense

There is an element of truth to this. Martial art competitions take place in padded and sterile environments. They don’t take place in jeans or cocktail dresses.

You never see competition venues in bathrooms, bedrooms or parking lots. That being said; an attack requiring self defense can be very traumatic. If you freeze up and are unable to cope with the stress, it is unlikely that you will be able to execute the moves that you have learned.

Exposure to controllable stress helps you to immunize yourself against uncontrollable stress events. Scientists call this “behavioral immunization”.

Competition allows you to test your fighting skills in a different kind of stressful environment. Each time you compete, it allows for self-reflection and improvement.

A stress inoculated combatant has a distinct advantage over a person who has not faced this type of stress. There is also nothing stopping you from getting together with a buddy on a weekend and running a practice session at home.

Test your moves on hard surfaces and in cramped environments. This gives your self defense knowledge depth and versatility. You will soon discover that some moves are only possible in the gym, and that smashing your knee on a concrete floor can be a life changing event.

Ignore The Bling

When you walk through the doors of a self defense school, do not be fooled by medals and trophies on the wall, or pictures of the instructor posting with his master outside an Asian temple.

Likewise, you may find the instructor has discarded his traditional martial arts suit, usually called a Gi, and has replaced it with a camo outfit. Neither of these appearances give legitimacy to the self defense system. The exercises should incorporate an element of science and common sense.

Knuckle push-ups will not keep you safe on today’s streets and ultimately give you arthritis. But a fit and conditioned body is a significant advantage. Watch a class or two and get to the bones of the system.

Are the exercises alive? Will they help you to deal with stress? Could you transform from a shocked mammal into a human and can consciously implement a tactic? Last of all, will you have fun learning the system? It’s the fun and camaraderie that keeps you coming back for more, and will develop you into a competent self defense practitioner.

References & Further Reading

Blauer, T., & Munsey, R. (2019). Ryan Munsey – The Science Inside the SPEAR System. Retrieved from Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/321374115

Ellifritz, G. (2016, December 19). Playing Dead? Retrieved from Active Response Training: http://www.activeresponsetraining.net/playing-dead

parkrun. (2019, March 2019). Welcome to parkrun. Retrieved from parkrun: https://www.parkrun.com/

Porges, S. (2018, April 23). Dr. Stephen Porges: What is the Polyvagal Theory. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec3AUMDjtKQ

Pratchett, T. (1990). Eric. United Kingdom: Victor Gollancz / Corgi.

Santiago, N. (2019, March 28). Examples of Interval Training. Retrieved from lovetoknow: https://exercise.lovetoknow.com/Examples_of_Interval_Training

Scicurious. (2012, November 6). It’s not the stress that counts, it’s whether you can control it. Retrieved from Scientific American: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/scicurious-brain/its-not-the-stress-that-counts-its-whether-you-can-control-it/

Shutterfinger. (2011, February 17). A Punch Is Just a Punch. Retrieved from Shutterfinger: https://shutterfinger.typepad.com/shutterfinger/2011/02/in-martial-arts-as-in-life-you-dont-win-the-trophy-without-a-fight-before-i-learned-the-art-a-punch-was-just-a-punch-an.html

Thornton, M. (2005, July 30). Why Aliveness?. . . . Retrieved from mattthornton.org: http://mattthornton.org/why-aliveness/

Thornton, M. (2017, May 16). It’s Aliveness – Still. Retrieved from mattthornton.org: http://mattthornton.org/its-aliveness-still/


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Situational Awareness Guide – THE PRESENT

situational awareness guide

I was ready. at least I thought I was.

Over the years I’ve had six martial art instructors and attended seminars with world renowned martial art figures. I developed a well-rounded skill base, was athletic enough to jump over the hood of a car and never tired of sparring.

But when the time came to actually defend myself, I was lacking the one skill that could have saved me from being forced to the floor and having my arms tied behind my back with my own black belt (an ironic twist of fate that sent me on a mission to complete the self defense puzzle).

personal safety

Many martial art gyms sell their programs as “self defense” training. They proficiently teach various forms of striking, kicking and grappling and yet do not incorporate situational awareness into their teaching. I don’t believe that a self defense curriculum is complete without this essential element. In fact, situational awareness is possibly one of the first skills that should be scientifically broken down for the student to master.

What is Situational Awareness?

Situational awareness is a term used within policing, military and security circles.

The term is also used loosely around the dinner table. Cousin Jane recounts how her iPhone was stolen by two hoodlums that “came out of nowhere”. At this point uncle Wally clears his voice and lowers his glasses to the tip of his nose. The table quietens as the man who guarded the local library gates in 1957 against an imminent communist invasion is about to offer some sage security advice. “You need to be more aware” he tells the family. But, how do you actually do this, and why is it necessary? Let’s examine the mechanics of situational awareness.

Definition

There are several definitions of the concept, which differ in various contexts.  

On the battlefield senior officers will use the concept when referring to the position of friendly and enemy troops. In the health and safety field, it is used when briefing workers such as forklift drivers.

I will define it in personal safety terms. What this means is how a potential Peter Parker needs to get to work and home safely on a day to day basis.

For our purposes: Situational awareness is the use of the sensory system to scan the environment with the purpose of identifying threats in the present or projecting those threats into the near future.

The National Research Council (1998) refers to three hierarchical phases in the situational awareness process.

3 Levels Of Situational Awareness

Level 1:

Perception of key elements in the environment.

Level 2:

Comprehension of the current situation

Level 3:

Projection of the future situation

We will now discuss the first two levels of Situational Awareness.

In other words:

  • You use your sensory system to identify something unusual in your immediate environment.
  • You interpret that thing as a threat.
  • Or you anticipate that there are signs of a threat in the imminent future.
situational awareness training

Principle 1: Use the Sensory System to Detect Things Out of the Ordinary

In order to perceive threat, we need to go back to the five senses. Or maybe not just the five senses. According to Professor Barry Smith of London’s Institute of Philosophy, neuroscientists have dismissed Aristotle’s famous statement that we have five senses. The truth is we have between 22 and 33 senses.

self defense

Use All Of Your Senses

Apart from the usual five senses we are familiar with, there are a range of senses functioning all the time that we are not consciously aware of. For example, there are our senses of proprioception and kinesthesia. These senses tell us how our body is positioned in space. Whether it is moving, and in which direction. Our senses are continuously interpreting information via the process of adaptation and amplification.

Situational Awareness Can Improve With Training

It’s also worth knowing that situational awareness, powered by the senses can be improved and refined with training. In 1949 psychologist Donald Hebb described the theory of how brain pathways are developed through regular repetition. Today Hebb’s theory is commonly explained as follows: “Neurons that fire together wire together”. In other words, the sensory system, which is all about nerves, gets better at what it is doing with continuous practice.  


5 Day to Day Steps For Improving Your Sensory System:

1. Stop!

When you transition from one environment to another, STOP! As you step from the parking lot into your office or out of a bus or train, pause for a few seconds and let your senses take in the scene.

Who is moving and who is standing still? What sounds do you hear close to you and what sounds register in the distance? Are there any specific smells in the area? What is the temperature like against your face and arms? Is there anything in the environment that strikes you as out of the ordinary, or doesn’t seem to belong?

safety

Criminals often create subconscious “tells” that they are up to no good via their body language.

One of the most famous examples of this behavior led to the capturing and conviction of the Boston bombers who set off two bombs at the Boston marathon in 2013. After assembling witness statements and perusing hours of video footage, it was the unusual body language of the bomber in the white cap that helped to tie the case together.  

2. Spot Something New Each Day

As you follow that same route to work that you have been travelling for years; try to spot something new each day that you have never noticed before.

3. Be Aware Of Temperature

Explore the sensation of temperature. You will notice that temperature sensitivity varies on different parts of your skin.

Try touching a surface right now with your palm. Now try the inside of your forearm and then just for fun, try your cheek. Don’t worry about what your family or that scowling lady on the bus commute think; you are in the process of enhancing your spider senses.

4. Be Aware Of Sound

Note that your sense of hearing tells you about distance. Of course, this is nothing new to dolphins, bats and rats, who have been using sound for thousands of years to give them information about their surroundings.

As you read this; notice the sounds in your immediate area. Now let your hearing leave the room you are in and venture onto further parts of the environment. Finally try to hear the sounds in the far distance.

5. Explore In Darkness

Become a night time predator in your home. Turn off all the lights and navigate from room to room. You will discover that this is a multi-sensorial exercise. Touch, hearing and special sensations become amplified. The more you do this, the more you own your nighttime space.

Principle 2: Use the Present Mind – Be Alert

As each day trundles on, our mind meanders through various states that can be measured in time. These states are often accompanied with internal dialogues and mental visualizations.

The Past

At some time during our day we may think of an event that took place in the past. This could be in reaction to something you recently said: “Why did I just say that?”. Or it could be an enjoyable childhood memory, which is triggered by the sudden aroma of ice cream.

The Future

At other times in the day our minds may project into the future. This could be a useful exercise like scenario planning. However not all future thoughts are useful.

awareness exercises

Worry is a common future projection. Our mental space is engrossed with horrors of what might happen.

In the book “Can I See Your Hands – A Guide to Situational Awareness, Personal Risk Management, Resilience and Security” (2017), Dr. Gav Schneider notes that stress and anxiety; both of which are products of worry, reduce awareness. Criminals are drawn to people who are in this state. You’ve seen the look as a seven-year-old boy is engrossed in a cartoon, or more likely nowadays a game on a cell phone! His eyes are glazed and he doesn’t register sounds around him, or the voice saying for instance, “Pick up your toys!” To a criminal; a motorist or pedestrian in this state screams TARGET!

The Present

Sometimes our minds focus on the immediate present. Our minds are alert and tuned into our direct space. Our senses absorb the environment. Intuitive feelings are produced compelling us to act against danger or toward delight. Psychologists nowadays call this mindfulness.

In the old days when swords and beheadings took precedence over “chill rooms” and lifestyle coaches; the Japanese practiced the skill of “Zanshin”; the continuous state of relaxed awareness.

The Yellow State – Calm and Relaxed But Aware

In his Colour Codes of Awareness, Col. Jeff Cooper referred to this as the yellow state. In this state we are calm and relaxed, but aware of the environment.

The moment our minds lapse into the past or future, we lose situational awareness and drastically reduce our reaction time to threat. But it isn’t possible to stay in a state of concentrated focus all day long.

Gav Schneider explains that in a ten to 12-hour period, it is only possible to devote 30 minutes of intense mental focus. So how do we get the most out of these precious 30 minutes?  Consider the following:

How To Improve Situational Awareness

  • Switch on your alertness when you sense something out of the ordinary, or when you have an uncomfortable “gut feel”. We will discuss intuition in greater detail in a subsequent post.
  • Focus your mind when you are arriving at or leaving from a location. Be especially alert when you are at road intersections or when your vehicle is stationary.
  • Known crime hot spots or locations that provide opportunity for criminal activity should make you instantly alert. This includes public transport areas, retail areas such as bottle stores, small checkout retailers and automatic teller machines.
  • Consciously switch on your alertness when using sharp objects or complex machinery. Your fingers will love you for this at the end of the day.
  • Choose not to look at your cell phone at times when you need your situational awareness switched on. According to researcher Thomas Mackain, one out of every four vehicle accidents can be attributed to the use of a cell phone. At the risk of mixing Marvel and DC metaphors; cellphones are like kryptonite to your Spidey sense.

Principle 3: Move your RAS

Luckily, we don’t have to switch on our awareness and alertness all on our own. Mother nature has equipped us with our very own Reticular Activating System or RAS.

The RAS is much like our brain’s internal firewall.

  • This system filters the thousands of bits of data that we absorb every second of the day, and raises the relevant information into our consciousness.
  • It is responsible for our state of arousal from sleep to wakefulness.
  • When we are under threat it warns us.
  • It stimulates us when we are interested in something and excites us when we interact with something desirable.  

For example, Peter Parker hangs up his webs and plans to take Mary-Jane Watson out for a night on the town. To get ready, he pops into a local clothing retailer and gets himself a new red and blue t-shirt (apparently, he likes those colors).

During the course of his date Peter, is horrified. Wherever he looks; he sees guys wearing exactly the same t-shirt.

People in the policing or security field will be attuned to spotting people carrying weapons or driving suspiciously.

The reason is that the RAS is bringing that item of information into your consciousness. The good news is you can develop your RAS to raise the alarm when you are walking into potential danger.

How To Attune Your RAS To Keep You Safe:

  • Note how specific activities around your home sound. For example, what do footsteps sound like as they approach your front door? What does the door sound like when it opens slowly? This might not need attention during your busy day, but it is very relevant at 2am during the dark of the early morning.
  • Armed criminals that target their victims in a public space need to conceal their weapons. This could be in the waistband of their trousers, under a shirt or jacket, in a pocket or even in bag. They most likely need to wear shoes that they can easily run away in; and may add a cap or glasses to conceal their faces.
  • Criminals aren’t good a playing poker. They often produce some type of sign that they have ill intent. This could be a person who deliberately averts his eyes when you greet him, or someone who subconsciously taps his waist to check that his .38 revolver is still in his belt. In his book the “Gift of Fear”, international security expert Gavin de Bekker refers to these signs as pre-incident indicators. These are types of unnatural behavior that are indicators that an impending incident.  
  • Become familiar with the driving patterns in your neighborhood. At 07h30 in the morning adults are on their way to work and children on their way to school. This produces a specific speed and style of driving that is different from a casual Sunday drive to pick up a copy of the Daily Bugle. Your RAS should alert you when a vehicle driving style is incongruent with the context of the day and time.

I am not attempting to get you to spot assassins under every skirting board. Paranoia is the enemy of situational awareness. The goal is that you sensitize yourself to danger signs in the environment, and then you take action. In other words, you are in your relaxed state of alertness, you become aware of something unusual via the sensory system and the RAS, and you say: “Uh oh, spidey sense is tingling!”. Now you need act. In my next blog I will examine some concrete action steps.

References & Further Reading

abcNews.com. (2016, April 26). Boston Bombing Day 2: How Authorities Found the Bombers in the Crowd. Retrieved from YouTube :

Barry, A. (2015, May 15). Timeline: How police caught the Boston bombers. Retrieved from theJournal.ie: https://www.thejournal.ie/timeline-dzhokhar-tsarnaev-boston-bombing-2106664-May2015/

BSR. (2017, March 19). Jeff Cooper’s Awareness Color Code Chart. Retrieved from BSR-inc: https://www.bsr-inc.com/awareness-color-code-chart/

Coaching What Works . (2016, August 7). Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together. Retrieved from YouTube :

Enkamp, J. (N.D. ). Zanshin – More Than You Think. Retrieved from Karate:
http://www.karatebyjesse.com/awareness/

Mckain, T. (2014, MAy 6). The Effects of Cell Phones on Reaction Time . Retrieved from Prezi: https://prezi.com/lfkqdekrrmwe/the-effects-of-cell-phones-on-reaction-time/

National Research Council. (1998). Situational Awareness. In R. S. Pew, & S. A. Mavor, Modeling Human and Organizational Behavior: Application to Militatary Simulations (pp. 172 – 202). Washington DC: The National Academies Press.

Norman , J. (2019, February 26). Donald Hebb Formulates the “Hebb Synapse” in Neuropsychological Theory. Retrieved from Jeremy Norman’s HistoryofInformation.com: http://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=3902

Schneider, G. (2017). Can I See Your Hands! – A Guide to Situational Awareness, Personal Risk Management, Resilience and Security. In G. Schneider, Can I See Your Hands! – A Guide to Situational Awareness, Personal Risk Management, Resilience and Security (pp. 59 -72). Irvine. Boca Raton: Universal Publishers.

Smith, B. C. (2011). 2011 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY’S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT? Retrieved from Edge: https://www.edge.org/response-detail/11677


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