Sometimes industry-norms need to be challenged and re-visited. The now uber-overused “situational and environmental awareness” terms are in need of such revision. There’s a lot of value in these terms, admittedly, but it seems the longer and more that terms get thrown around within the industry, the more convoluted, catch-all, and misinterpreted they become. (To be clear, we’re talking about risk, danger, threat, safety….not actual violence itself. Think of these terms as all the things potentially leading-up to an interview/evasion/escape/concealment/cover/or violence itself) So, as “Have situational awareness”, “Be aware of your environment” get thrown around more-and-more, it seems fewer people actually know what they mean, how and when to utilize them, and think they know what they’re looking at. More and more we’re seeing these terms used as a generalized cookie-cutter approach for paranoia and anxiety, perpetuating an ongoing hyper-vigilance in martial arts and self-defense students alike along the way. What to be aware of, what universal signs there are, to be constantly vigilant on coming dangers, looking everywhere for pre-incident indicators and ritual signs of pending violence. Unnnnhealthy.

Have we ever thought what this mentality might bring? Like long-term health problems? Unhealthily-high levels of stress? A general forgetfulness to enjoy the moment with the loved ones we’re with? A fear of one’s shadow? Looking constantly for bogeymen? We often seem to have forgotten to see things that are important in-place of looking forever for things that aren’t there. That glitch in the matrix that stands out. The oddity that isn’t normal for the environment or circumstance. Something that catches your attention as peculiar and incongruent. (which is exactly ‘why’ it catches your attention in the first place) But instead of looking for what’s out-of-place….when it’s out-of-place….there seems to a permeating sentiment to analyzing everything in our situation or environment, scouring every single detail for something that might not fit on the chance that singularity will show up and screw with our day’s peace.

Situational or environmental awareness has seemingly become synonymous with a constant coherence of your circumstances. Back-to-the-wall in a restaurant. Closest-to-exit in the office. Weapons at-the-ready when in public. Constant assessments of body-language. (Everyone’s a micro-expressions, proxemics, and corporal-expert nowadays because you can certified in a week now, don’tcha know) Strange glances and eye-contact that’s too long. What side of the sidewalk to be on. And so-on-and-so-forth ad infinitum.

How human beings process the information they’re presented-with regarding those risks, dangers, threats, safety-issues. Endsley’s model of SA. This is a synthesis of versions she has given in several sources, notably Endsley (1995a) and Endsley et al (2000). Drawn by Dr. Peter Lankton, May 2007

I like this diagram. Again, from the aviation industry, where risk-assessment with regularity is the norm and constant re-evaluation is part of the construct. Also, as it pertains to the self-defense industry, this is why it pays not to be constantly vigilant and perpetually looking for things that simply aren’t there (and over-taxing your nervous system and long-term healthy)….but notice things that are actually of-importance when/if they occur. The current-model of “tactical” situational awareness, formulaic “what-to-look-fors”, and pre-incident indicator regurgitation is outdated, as with soooo many other things. Each case – own volition – own merit.

First, the aviation industry is (generally) known for peer/policy review, drastic and immediate change when needed, industry-consensus, and constant simulation (scenario-training) – out of necessity. (public/client safety in an industry where the acts need constant vigilance and focus. Second, I’d say it reinforces that this is a constantly changing thing, this situational/environmental awareness. It is complex, dynamic, and your ability to see it is constantly altered by variables. It is not, nor could it be, cookie-cutter or uniform, the way so many (including big-name) instructors tell people. Sharing knowledge and experience on it is fine/great, but the minute it becomes a “Here’s what to look for…”, “This is what happens”, “These are the signs of ritual violence…”, or “This is what this always means”….we take the human element completely out of this…not to mention your student’s perceptive capability of adapting or thinking. They again start looking for things that aren’t there instead of seeing things that are…

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A pilot’s look at the elements that they need to react to as necessary, aided by multiple factors ground-control, equipment, multiple sets of eyes, simulation-training, and experience..among others. Multiple systems work to deal with risks as they make themselves known. Perpetual paranoia, anxiety, and hyper-vigilance would build even-greater stress to an already-stressful line-of-work, create panic in passengers and staff, and cause rash decision-making. Controlled work-time, regular self-evals, psych exams, and constant industry-standard reviews also mitigate the risk of error. Lots of personal preservation correlation here…

People are becoming far too over-analytical and the self-defense industry often is guilty of perpetuating this. Feeding fear, building paranoia, and creating students that aren’t realizing the fact that the bluster and projection they sometimes inherit from their neighborhood martial-arts instructor is creating conflict they otherwise would’ve avoided in the first-place. (and assessed under the guise of “Wow, I handled that much better than I would’ve!”) This “situation awareness” thing is generalized and makes many people paranoid and anxious. They have no idea what they’re looking for, not at all knowing what the hell is actually a thing to worry about or not. My point? Just live your damn life and go out and enjoy yourself. Your intuition and alarm system will tell you when there’s a serious threat to your safety. Don’t create one. 

I’m simply not always “on”, I’m not always “jacked”, I’m not always “uber-aware.” I’m aware when I have to be aware because something has made me aware. The rest of the time I go out and my focus is on my family or whomever I happen to be with…not distracted by invisible shadows. (And just because you know all about “pre-incident indicators” and know what they look like….doesn’t mean they always mean the same thing-context, environment, time anyone-nor does it mean you can do a damn thing about them if you see them just from having that knowledge).

Now, I know both the title and first sentence are somewhat hyperbolic….the terms aren’t going to change as they’re catchphrases, mantras, cliches, and soundbites at this point. I just think that, as terms become bastardized or exploited, it pays to take the time to re-evaluate exactly what it is they mean. Maybe “abnormality recognition” would

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