The Forgotten Aspect of Situational Awareness

I’ve talked quite a bit about situational awareness in this blog. I wrote an introductory post explaining the different levels of awareness and two follow up posts on how to improve your situational awareness. I’ve even written a post as an introduction to behavioral cues. If you haven’t read those yet here are the links: Levels of Awareness, Body Language: A Precursor to Violence, Exercises for Situational Awareness, and KIM’s Game. This post is about tying many of my previous posts together to be proactive rather than reactive.

In the self defense industry, the biggest problem is that the majority of instructors teach their students to be reactive by only teaching techniques. As I mentioned in several other posts, most use blanketed statements about being aware and situational awareness. This type of mindset can lead to an increase in vulnerability. Why aren’t we teaching our students to be proactive in their safety? I mean really teaching them. This is why I primarily teach the Pre-Attack phase. I want people to be proactive. We should be seeing the threat prior to the attack and mitigating the violence.

Patrick Van Horne, the author of Left of Bang, makes this point quite well in his video Creating Informed Awareness. It is the same idea that I talked about in my Body Language post. If you don’t know what to look for, you will only know someone is a threat once that individual has moved into the Attack phase with the presentation of a weapon or you being assaulted.[1] In essence, an individual who doesn’t know what the precursors to violence are will go from relaxed awareness to high alert, completely skipping over focused awareness. This is problematic because it places the victim into a reactive position, and action is almost always faster than reaction. The way to avoid this is being proactive.

There are many ways to be proactive such as: learning, understanding, and practicing good and proper situational awareness, along with behavioral cues, staying in the present moment instead of day dreaming or being glued to a cell phone, for instance. These are great examples but in order for them to be effective they have to be used at the same time. The idea is to start in relaxed awareness and get a feel for the environment, see what is normal. Once you see what the standard behavior in your environment is, irregular behavior will stand out to you. When you observe irregular behavior you need to move to focused awareness and identify what behaviors called your attention. Basically, you are evaluating the threat. This is where the forgotten aspect of situational awareness comes in; creating a plan. The plan doesn’t have to be elaborate, more of an idea of what needs to happen in a given circumstance or if “X” happens. For example, if “X” happens I’m running to the exit or I’m going to draw my pistol/attack, etc. Once you establish a tipping point, stick to it (unless new information negates the threat, in that case move on since the individual is no longer a threat).

Awareness Cycle

What we don’t want to happen is to move from relaxed awareness to high alert. If you skip over focused awareness, you are missing a vital step in being proactive and being prepared to deal with violence. The key is to create a plan once you have identified a threat so that when “X” happens you have a better chance actually running to the exit or drawing your pistol/attacking rather than freezing or going into comatose. Essentially, you are preparing yourself for the violent encounter.

I understand that it may seem like a lot of information to evaluate or even digest. However, if you practice it will become an acquired behavior. Think about how hard it seemed to read when we were first learning. As we become educated, the meaning of a word becomes second nature when we see it and we can’t help but automatically interpret the meaning. The same notion applies to reading environments and people. Practice and it will become natural.

When it comes to being prepared, one exercise that I like to do in my down time is create scenarios and formulate a plan. What you shouldn’t do is try to create a plan for every possible scenario. What is needed is a general plan that crosses over between the relevant circumstances. A cautionary note, you have to be realistic about the scenario and your actions. You can do this by creating a specialized threat assessment.

Overall, the point is that self defense is about being proactive and mitigating threats, rather than reacting to one.

1 Patrick Van Horne, “Creating Informed Awareness,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEahs5RqHm4

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