Monday, 10 October 2011

Awareness – let's not just pay lip service to this important area of training.

How often do we pay lip service to the skills of awareness in relation to self-defence training? Every self-defence course you go on will tell you how important awareness and avoidance are. Five minutes later you will be moved on to  learning some physical techniques (the fun part) - after all, isn’t that the reason you’re really there, to learn some self-defence?

Yet we all know that most physical attack situations can actually be avoided if we are truly aware and paying attention to our environment. So why spend so little time learning the skills of awareness? Perhaps you don’t think it is a skill. Perhaps you think it is something we can all do naturally and we just need reminding about it now and again.

Do you think you have good awareness skills? Watch this:

Did you notice it? This just shows that we are only aware of things that we are looking for. If we are not looking for something we won’t notice it. Do you know what you are looking for when you are told to be more aware of your environment?

Here’s another video:

This shows us that even when we know what we are looking for we don’t necessarily notice it all the time. This shows that good awareness is a skill that needs to be learned, honed and practised just like the physical skills we learn in self-defence training.

So what is awareness? According to Randy LaHaie of protective

 “Awareness is the ability to ‘read’ people and situations and anticipate the probability of violence before it happens. It is knowing what to look for and taking the time to notice safety-related aspects of what is happening around you…..your level of awareness should be appropriate to the circumstances you are in……….some circumstances call for a greater degree of awareness than others. Obviously, you would want to be more aware when walking alone to your car  at night than when shopping in a crowded mall with friends."

This poses some practical questions?  What is it about people that we need to ‘read’? What are the things in our environment that we need to be alert to? What are we supposed to notice about particular situations? How do we determine which circumstances require a greater degree of awareness?

Okay, so some common sense is required and we do have such a thing as a survival instinct which helps us determine when a situation or person is dangerous. We also have gut instincts that seem to instinctively tell us when something is not right. However, both common sense and gut instincts are learned from experience or training.  Our parents, school teachers and other people teach us from a young age not to talk to strangers, walk home alone at night or go down unlit alley ways. We eventually file away information like this under ‘common sense’. In addition, personal accounts from others or personal experiences we have ourselves of being followed, watched or even grabbed/attacked can internalise and resurface later as ‘gut feelings’ when we experience similar (pre-cursor) circumstances again.

But can we be sure that we have counted all of the ‘Fs’ and not missed the moonwalking bear without specific awareness training? I don’t think so. Why should we presume that we instinctively know what we should be aware of?

In other areas of our lives related to personal safety we expect or be taught or told what we need to know or even to do special training. As children we are taught how to cross a road safely and have numerous practices at it with our parents in attendance until we are deemed safe. Later, when we learn to drive we are taught about hazard perception and tested on our ability to spot hazards.

In both these cases we are taught the things we need to be aware of in our environment – where is a safe place to cross, how to observe the traffic before stepping into the road (speed and direction of traffic), observing for the ‘green man’ etc; or when driving we learn to anticipate the behaviour of people on the pavements (is someone likely to run into the road?), notice a parked car that is about to pull out in front of you and we learn that we must give special attention when approaching an unmarked crossroad or when the traffic lights are not working.  This learned behaviour eventually becomes internalised and we perceive much of it as common sense or gut instinct – we have learned to have an appropriate awareness of our environment for the task we are engaged in.

So if that task happens to be ‘preventing oneself from being attacked whilst going about our daily business.’ What are the things we should be aware of?

There are many very good articles (including the one I linked to above) that tell us about the importance of awareness and how to be more aware but they don’t specifically say what we should be aware of, except in the vaguest of terms e.g. ‘observe for predatory behaviours.’

I would like to put together a guide called ‘Awareness in self-defence- what to be aware of’ and I need your help to do so. Leave me a comment with your advice about what we should be aware of in our environments and why – be specific, not vague. Also tell us the things we can do to practice our awareness skills so that they improve. If I get sufficient comments back I will turn them into a guide  - similar to the ‘World guide to passing your black belt’, in which I will accredit each author with their comment and provide a link back to your blog/website/profile.  I received 21 comments to my request for information for that guide and hope to get a similar level of response for this guide.

Please help if you can….thanking you in advance……

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Charles James said...

Sue: these tests are geared to cause you to fail. These tests were more to point out the foibles of the brain and how it processes the environment.

True, it is a good venue to point this out and it is something a karate-ka should be aware occurs much like the diminished capacities encountered by the adrenaline dump of fear, anger, etc.

These tests are simply showing you in another direction how "magic" and "magic tricks" actually work.

As to awareness you also have to taken into consideration the power of suggestion.

Just my two cents, don't allow anyone to get the idea that if they train it will matter when these types of tests are encountered.

There are just some things about the mind, etc. that are not trainable.

Charles James said...

Sue asked, "So if that task happens to be ‘preventing oneself from being attacked whilst going about our daily business.’ What are the things we should be aware of?"

I have to bow down to a greater expert, Mr. Rory Miller and his book facing violence and meditations on violence.

He explains the things that would trigger your "instincts" and set off "alarms" allowing you to bring in focus and thus avoid violence, violent environments, etc.


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Sue C said...

Hi Charles, sorry to be so late in responding - just had one of those weeks!

I don't think that these tests so much set you up to fail but rather they make you realise that the brain observes things in a selective way - just because something is in front of you doesn't mean you'll see it, unless you are actually looking for it.

This was the point I was trying to make - that if you don't really know what dangers you are looking out for you probably won't notice them in your environment and this is why we should train ourselves to know exactly the kind of things we should be aware of when we are out and about.

I'll set you a challenge Charles - list me 10 things that you look out for in your environment when you are out and about as part of your self-protection strategy (and don't refer me to a book!)

Charles James said...

I'll set you a challenge Charles - list me 10 things that you look out for in your environment when you are out and about as part of your self-protection strategy (and don't refer me to a book!)

1. impressions: I tend to allow my instincts to notify me of things that would cause me pause.
1a. the collection of young adults whose demeanor cause the hair on the back of my neck to tickle.
1b. two or more individuals standing at one end and the other where exit routes are missing or restricted.
1c. the way a person walking toward me looks, i.e. eyes, face, body language such as eyes darting, face in a grim setting, fist clenched, etc. but temper that with the possibility in relation to the environment might be someone upset about work or what ever and your not involved.
1d. the overall impressions of the environment where there are lots of vagrants or youth or groups or bars and a type of bar that is seedy and suspicious, etc.

2. I scan as I walk where I might look for:
2a. police collecting around persons.
2b. fire and emergency vehicles along with the impression of the environment that may indicate some trouble or maybe an accident, etc.
2c. running persons dressed in a manner that does not fit and then impressions as to the overall demeaner where I might simply turn and walk across the street placing distance between me and the direction they run.
2d. loud noises that don't fit cause me to scan quickly to identify and classify the situation while moving towards a pre-scooped safety area.

3. Sounds
3a. traffic, i.e. loud roaring that might indicate some vehicle driving dangerously - cop chasing a drunk where that could cause loss of control and running my old butt over.
3b. Does my environment consist of building, people, businesses that could cater to less then stellar persons so I would turn around and go a different direction.
3c. hiding spaces such as alleys, dumpsters and the amount of bystanders that would be witness vs. no one in sight but me and a lot of hiding places.
3d. look up to top of trees or buildings with balcony or fire ladders for gawkers or folks that look like they have mischief in mind.
3e. sounds of arguing of two or especially more than two people.
3f. sounds of groups gathered in locations such as train stations or commuter trains.

4. Sights
4a. the demeanor and dress of folks standing close to my seat in a commuter train.
4b. individuals out of place when I stop at stop signs, stop lights, intersections.
4c. the driving habits of those around me. especially two suspicious cars that pull fast in front then slow while another comes up fast behind me.
4d. look for various avenues of escape both on foot and while driving always allowing an escape route to safety.

In a nutshell and quickly but in reality my knowledge and decision to exclude such things from my environment both at home and work make it a matter of listening to my instincts and the hair on the back of my neck. Regardless, I listen to that voice in my head. If it speaks I focus my awareness to help trigger deeper instincts to act accordingly.

When I get in and our of my car I tend to scan for anything that would cause me to pause. I don't take unnecessary chances and scope out crime maps of where I will go and routes I would take avoiding any and all that might cause my spidery sense to tingle.

I have studied those things that would give pause and trigger spidery senses using mother natures survival instincts and I don't ever let my self say, It can't happen to me, here, or what ever. It drives my wife nuts on occasion.

Sue C said...

Charles, this is a fantastic response, thank you so much for taking up my challenge. I like the way you have split the list up into these various categories. It's true that we rely a lot on our 'spidery senses' or instincts and we shouldn't ignore a 'bad feeling' that we may get about a situation.

You have inspired me to make my own list which I think, as a woman, may be a little different to yours...

Charles James said...

Hi, Sue: Thanks ... "as a woman, may be a little different to yours..."

I would agree. I believe, from my side of the pond anyway, that our society teaches males and females in a vastly different manner concerning fights and war and thus self defense BUT my view in today's world that this is and has changed ... for the better.

When I read your posts and hear of your efforts and when I read between the lines I see from your efforts a positive change that benefits women but more importantly all of us especially in MA.

You should feel very good about what you have done, accomplished and are achieving.

Thanks, as you can see your input does inspire some interesting topics and posts .... :-)

Sue C said...

Kind words Charles, thank you

John Coles said...

Check out The Gift of Fear and other survival signals that protect us from violence by Gavin De Becker

Sue C said...

Thanks John, I'll check it out...


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