In this series of articles, I am going to look at what I call “the brain stuff” of self-protection. So many people spend so much time and money (sometimes well spent and often wasted) on self-defence classes, courses, seminars, etc. As an instructor, I used to talk about awareness before we got into the techniques and concepts. I always felt that students were listening to me, but firstly, were waiting to get on with the hitting, kicking and gouging. Secondly, it was often lost on them, because they could not see how they could do this “awareness thing”. It didn’t seem to mean anything to them or to be a priority.
Then one of South Africa’s biggest financial firms asked me to travel around to all of their offices in the country, talking to their employees about how to stay safe. What, no hitting, kicking and gouging? I realized I needed to rethink the way I put an awareness across, in order to make it important and practical. So, I made some changes in the way I thought about awareness and that changed the way I explained it. Since these first talks, I have now travelled the length and breadth of the country doing the same talk for various companies as part of their staff investment plan and have had huge results and feedback.
Question 1: Who in here, has been or knows someone who has been, involved in a criminal interaction of some sort? Around here, 99% of the room put their hands up.
Question 2: Who in here, has been involved in or knows someone who has been involved in a building fire of some sort? About 1% of the audience puts their hands up.
I pause and let everyone process what they have seen in the show of hands. Then I say, “doesn’t it seem odd to you, that we are most prepared for the least likely event and least prepared for the most likely event?”
So, I’m hoping with this series of articles I can give you the “brain stuff” around self-protection. The elements of self-protection that takes the least effort, the least investments, are the easiest to practice and become good at, with the highest possible paybacks.
So, what is awareness?
In so many self-defence seminars, we hear the instructor say, “You must be aware”, “Be aware of your surroundings”. What does that actually mean and how do we “Be aware”?
To go back to the fire example, awareness is not the fire fighter, or the fire extinguisher, it’s not even the sprinkler system, it is the smoke detector. It’s the system we put in our homes and offices to tell us “get out of here, there is danger and if you stay it will become a major problem for you”. The smoke detector does not sense everything and then decide which out of the millions of inputs is smoke, it senses smoke and tells you when it senses it.
In the same way, awareness is not about seeing everything and deciding which one is criminal behaviour or situation, it’s about knowing what criminal behaviour or situation is and telling yourself and your loved ones when you see it. If I tell you to be aware of everything that’s going on around you, your brain will fry, sometimes in the first few moments. Imagine stepping outside onto a busy street and trying to see everything that’s going on. It would be impossible. To have good awareness, the first thing we need to do is see what matters to us, or another way of saying it would be, to see what might impact us. Does the lady pushing the pushchair with a four year old in it matter to me? No, she is highly unlikely to attack me. Do the two younger guys standing on the side of the road watching people walk by, studying them and taking note of the ones who have visible valuables matter to me? Yes. What if I am not going in that direction? Then no. To sum it up, decide who might have an impact on you and fade the rest into the background.
Is there an easy way to identify people who might have an impact on me, I hear you ask? Yes, 100%. Human behaviour is almost entirely predictable, when our subconscious is in charge, we all behave the same. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Cape Town or Johannesburg, Basra or London, criminals do the same things prior to an attack. An odd example of this would be: What does an elephant do before it charges? Most people say, “flap its ears, trumpet, shake its head and then charge”. This is in fact a mock charge, but that’s not the point, the point is, before an elephant does a mock charge, no matter which elephant it is or where it is, it will do the same as any other elephant. Well here is the good news, humans are the same.
Before an assault, the criminal will do one or more of the following:
- Targeting Glancing – A large head movement scanning the area for security/police and looking back at the intended target person or persons.
- Self-Grooming – A repetitive movement of the hand around the face, neck or head. This action indicates a discomfort with the actions they are, or are about to be involved in. The fear of getting caught doing what they are about to do.
- Indexing – A repetitive touching of the waist band. When we are preparing to use something we think about it and check it to see it is still there. We do this in every day life too, if you get out of your car to go into a shop, what do you do? Yep, touch your wallet. So why does the criminal touch his waist? Because that’s where they tend to carry their weapons.
- A Hidden Hand – This is a significant indicator of trouble. If someone is approaching you in a context that supports criminal activity and you can’t see their hands, it’s worth assuming they are carrying a weapon in the one you can’t see.
- A Correlation or Interception of Movement – If you are walking and someone is moving in the same direction, but at an angle that will end up with them in the same place as you, or they are in front and on a path that will intercept yours, this could spell trouble. Now if we add to pre-event indicators together in one situation, you can be pretty sure you shouldn’t be where you are right now.
Lastly, I would like to cover the colour code of awareness and preparedness. The colour code system was created by the legendary Jeff Cooper. The idea was to give people a framework to understand what level of awareness they should be in, in order for them to see an incident coming and be prepared to deal with it.
I have an adaptation of the colour code system that I believe helps students internalize and understand it’s application better. The main things I try to get across to audiences are:
No one level is a constant, the most likely colour you’ll spend extended periods in is yellow. However, the system is in constant flux. If you are at home watching a movie (in colour code white) and you hear a bang outside, you’ll jump to colour code orange (what is that noise outside?). Once your cat comes waltzing in and you realise it was the cat flap, you’ll go back to colour code white. Now you hear another noise, you go to orange again. The cat is in already, so you decide to investigate and go to yellow alpha (all your senses are in high alert). You see someone in the back garden climbing over your wall into your garden (you move to red). They see you and jump over the wall again and run (back to yellow alpha) and so on. The colours to be most careful of, are trying to go from white to black in one jump, you simply can’t do it. If you don’t know that trouble is there until it’s happening to you, your attempts at action will probably be either the wrong ones or most likely nothing at all, freezing. Either way the end result will probably be, passed out or passed away.
What’s the takeaway from this?
- Be prepared by learning about awareness (a great book to read is “Left Of Bang”) and practicing it in everyday life.
- Look for unusual and unnatural behaviour.
- Be in the right colour code.