Situational Awareness | Women's Self Defense- Lethal Ladies, Part 1

We often hear about “Situational Awareness” and the role it can play in Women’s Self Defense. When I train women clients in Krav Maga, I always include a running dialogue about awareness, predator optics, victim selection and strategies to minimize our “attractiveness” as victims. Awareness skills are not as common as you might think among the general population and need to be developed through practice and exercise, just like any other skill. We increase our ability to notice things in our environment by purposely doing so and making it habit. After some training in what to look for, I give my trainees “homework” to both sharpen their observation skills and help them develop catalogues of useful information that can be accessed under stress if the need arises. How do we do we maximize situational awareness? We do it by paying attention to our physical environment and the people in it. The goal is to develop a sense of what is normal for any given environment and watch for people or situations that don’t fit. In their book Left Of Bang, Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley discuss how Marines on patrol in hostile territories, where terrorists hide among the general population, are taught to develop baselines for their areas of operation (normal) and actively look for people and things that don’t fit (anomalies from that baseline). These techniques originally developed to hunt terrorists are applicable for spotting criminals and would-be attackers here on the streets of America. This is not some form of magic or extra special mental powers, but simply paying attention to your surroundings and developing a sense of what typically should occur (absence of normal or the presence of abnormal). If activity falls outside of the normal parameters, it does not automatically mean someone is a terrorist or criminal, but does indicate that this situation or person requires additional watching or scrutiny. Many times there will be a rational explanation for the anomaly, but we never want to rationalize the behavior or explain it away in our own minds until the facts justify doing so.

How Do We Develop Situational Awareness Skills?

First, we make the conscious decision to practice observation and make it a habit. Colonel Jeff Cooper describes “Condition Yellow”, as a state of readiness where we observe our environment in scan mode, not focused on any specific threat, but watching for general threats in our environment. When was the last time you were walking down the street and you observed someone staring at their cell phone (IPad, IPod, etc.), oblivious to their surroundings to the point that they almost bump in to you as they are walking? Here is an example we can all relate to. This is an easy trap to fall in to as we become preoccupied with our busy lives. I call this “task fixation”, where we become so engrossed in a task that we lose our peripheral awareness to our surroundings. This is a sort of self-imposed tunnel vision which puts us at risk for accidents, missed opportunities and, yes, predator attacks. The cell phone zombie I described has zero situational awareness and is advertising that fact. Don’t be a zombie. Pay attention. Getting started is that simple. Next time you are at the mall, get a cup of coffee and sit in the food court. Watch the people around you and look for patterns. Mothers with children will be doing different things than teenage couples or mall workers. Pay attention to spatial relationships between people, how they interact, how they converse. Soon you will be able to make educated guesses (deductions) about their relationship to each other, their roles and status in the group. This is how we develop the “catalogues” about human behavior and the environment that I mentioned earlier. Van Horne talks about “Domains” which are areas of observation that Marines use to catalogue the environment and indicate specific clues about what is occurring. Each Domain (Kinesics, Biometrics, Proxemics, Geographics, , Iconography and Atmospherics) is a specific area of observation that can paint the picture of what is occurring in any given environment. A good trick many law enforcements officers use (I still use it extensively) is to run a mental narrative of what you observe in your own mind. You make observations, develop baselines, categorize anomalies. When you come across an anomaly, ask yourself, “so what?” (i.e. “What does this mean to my safety? What are possible outcomes to this behavior?”). Further observation or investigation will often produce a rational, fact based explanation. But that is the key – further observation and/or investigation, NOT rationalizing the anomaly based on hope or “it will never happen to me” thinking. If there is no good explanation for the anomaly, you need to take action. That action can be as simple as leaving the area. That is the cycle you want to develop through practice: Observation Commentary; Development of Baselines; Cataloging Anomalies; Observing Further/Taking Action.

Let’s look at a hypothetical situation. You are out of town on business staying at a hotel. You arrived late, grabbed some dinner and you get in the elevator to take to your room on the 22nd floor. You are alone in the elevator when it stops on the 12th floor and a male subject gets in the elevator and stands offset behind you approximately 2 feet to your left. During your observation you make a mental note that it is customary that when 2 strangers occupy a confined public space, they will normally move to opposite ends (after pushing the floor button) and not stand inside of arms distance. This male subject is inside the margin of that distance. There may be several explanations for this: he is a very tired business traveler who is pre-occupied thinking about tomorrow’s presentation and is not really paying attention; maybe he has a phobia of elevators and has to stand in the center……..or maybe he is positioning himself to ambush you in an attack scenario and wants to be close enough to strike from your blind side. You don’t know for sure, but your observation of the baseline and his actions (anomaly) create enough information for you to act, so you quickly step off the elevator before the door closes. Action taken – situation avoided. If you are a cell phone zombie, the door closes before you even realize where he is positioned. Get it? Pretty simple stuff. As you get better at this, and with a little bit of training, you can become more sophisticated in your efforts. Add some self-defense and basic emergency medical training to the mix and you become your own Close Protection Operative. But it all starts with Observation. At Krav Maga New York we have a life-long philosophy of Avoid*Deter*Engage*Escape. Your ability to observe your environment and make sound decisions based on these observations will help with the Avoid part. The Engage/Escape component takes a bit more training and work (nothing of value comes easy). The Deter part is the residual of all of these components. The sum of these parts makes us less attractive as victims to the predator. After all, they want victims, not an alert adversary that may fight back.

Situational awareness (women’s self defense) can be less complicated that one might think. When in public, always scan for potential threats and escape routes, and for weapons of opportunity (but that’s another lesson).

Next: The Predator Optic and The Attack Cycle.

About The Author: Ed Raso is a retired Major from the New York State Police with 32 years of law enforcement experience. He is also the Chief Instructor for Krav Maga New York’s Orange County location and the Leader of Krav Maga New York’s Force Training Team.

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