This’ll be relatively short as it’s Friday and I’m on-the-clock. We hear with regularity that “training can’t replicate reality”….and “what happens in the dojo isn’t like the street”….and “you can’t duplicate the physiological responses that real confrontation/violence produces.” And the street. And the street. And the street. Etc. etc. etc. Ad infinitum. On-and-on. Forever and a day. Blah, blah, bl….I know what happens on “the street”….I’ve been there, as have others.
Yes, this is 100% true…but have you ever assessed the perspective of these remarks? They’re almost always in a condescending, demeaning, negative light. As in, the people that would, could, might, may attack you will have this as their benefit and advantage. That everything changes dynamically because “they” dictate the playing field. Yet….if we’re trying to empower and embolden our students, do we not do them some kind of psychological, emotional, mental, spiritual disservice by constantly planting this little unhelpful seed in the back of their subconscious?
Those above remarks may well be true…but that means they are also true for us, not just those we may potentially face in scaling and varying consequences. Why is it perpetually “them”?
Here’s the truth of the matter. It’s not. We ALL have 2-3 extra gears when we leave the comforts of our training. All of us. We can all learn to turn it up on command. We can all crank-up the aggression and intensity. And we all have innately another level of violence within our internal animal when it’s needed. This bears itself out in countless survival stories. I know it first-hand from both reality and intensive training/conditioning. There’s an internal restraint button when the fire is partially friendly. It’s inevitable. The people we train with are generally people we like, are there to aid our improvement, and are most often respected cohorts. If not, we won’t be training with them for long.
On the anecdotal side, I once was challenged by 2 friends….both well-trained. To let go and release to really test my intensity levels during training. Both had 20-25 years martial experience and sufficient street experience. The caveats were that it was regarding groundfighting (I had ample experience, they did not) but I could let loose. They had protection so the element of restraint was lifted with their safety. What happened change my training forever.
The truth is, I can be extremely violent. Uncontainably so. An animal none of you will EVER see in training. The thing you see in front of you on the floor is simply not the thing you’ll see if you attack my wife or hurt my child or think of taking me away from my family. It’s another monster entirely. As it is for every. Single. One. Of. Us. We are not our training. Nor our training identity. Many of this sometimes confuse this….that if tap someone out repeatedly, or outbox them, or get more points consistently in the stick/knife-fight that this somehow represents when shit-hits-the-fan. Don’t buy it. It’s a fallacy. The truth is that much training out there actually inhibits this mental-cultivation, takes it away in the name of dogma, systemics, and
Anyways, back to the anecdote. I let loose. Growling, snarling, biting, tearing, clawing, eyes rolled back in head, aggression let loose. They were fully-engaged and resistant, trying maximally to pin me, restrain me, contain me. I tapped both out 3 times each. Each. Without being stopped. And I’ve replicated that result when pushed to do so from others wanting legitimacy and reaffirmation. Now, I realize this sounds like showing my plumage….but if I have it, really don’t we all? The only question is whether we have it hidden way deep down, how it’s accessible, and how we cultivate it when accessed. When developing fighting-intensity and survival-mindset for 20 years, it’s been explored on some level, at minimum so the consciousness that it’s THERE is present. But it’s there in all of us. We ALL have 2-3 gears higher when push-comes-to-shove and our very survival is in the balance. From conditioning. Nature. Usage. Environment. Any number of ways or combination of way. It’s there. So stop allowing the “experts” to tell you it’s always the other guy/girl that’s got it and you need to plan accordingly. I worry about me. My state. My mind. My capability. My terms. If I’m on top of “me” and “my game”, I don’t need to be constantly paranoid of “them.” I control my destiny.
Regarding shame/helplessness management, it’s one of the single-most important things we can do to help people in the self-defense industry. Yet we have a built-in victim-shaming element in MA/SD that goes hand-in-hand with physical-only approaches. “You failed previously and that’s on you, but with these krav maga classes…” such utter bullshit. (And this is not at all limited to women, men are shamed and blamed just as much as there’s a standard or code they’re expected to live-up to and vulnerability is weakness)
Whatever happened to reaffirming victim’s choices that brought them to you today? Or building their self-confidence by confirming they must have done something RIGHT to get to this point?! That the best thing we can do is use victim-scenarios (Youtube/CCTV videos, first-hand accounts, unbiased and honest anecdotes, documented professional reports) is to learn and analyze for future safety-scenarios instead of victim-accusing/judging/mocking?!
I don’t recall ever online or in-private where I’ve critiqued a victim and their choices. I simply do not have all the information, do not walk in their shoes, do not know the full-context of the scenario, and do not know the victim and their circumstances/state-of-mind/past experience(s) enough to pass judgment. Adrenaline, fear, stress, anxiety, tension, aggression, conflict…..are funny things that affect everyone differently at different times and in different circumstances. We, even as instructors, learn. Deduct. Analyze. Assess. Comprehend. Discuss. Build consensus. It is the best we can do and the absolute least biased way we can help students learn for their own benefit. Their life is different than ours. As our their threats and dangers and risks they face day-to-day. In their environments and cultures. And routines and patterns.
Shame, helplessness, trauma, emotional damage, mental problems, future fear (whether unfounded or not) are all huge elements for victims that impair their perception. Yet so many constantly fail to address this and jump right to what they can do for their newfound clients….not what their client actually needs in their own circumstance. “Listening” is a thing that’s greatly lacking in the self-defense world. Empathy, too. So are reaffirmation and acknowledgement. We’re so often too busy listening to the sound of our own voices, spewing our own violence credentials, telling students what they’ve previously done wrong instead of what they did right (and build off of that aspect)
It’s one of a number of reasons I’ve been lessening my online presence as I’ve long grown tired of the victim-blaming that goes on for real-life violence videos and news articles. We always know better and have never dropped the ball ourselves – we’re martial instructors, after all. I, personally, learn from absolutely everywhere I can, especially victims who are willing to share. (And their version is often much more accurate, humble, and honest than the guy who pounded 6 attackers with aplomb, anyway, if we’re being blunt….I glean much more from the former than the latter) We can quite simply learn a ton from them, usually far more than the weekend tough-guy who’s been in 150 bar-fights over the last 10 years. (who can’t seem to stay out of trouble, for some reason…) Criminals are, after all, looking for victims and EVERY single one of us is vulnerable at times..distracted, frazzled, picked-on, targeted, inattentive. All of us. None having escaped. We have ALL been a victim of some aggressive or conflictive scenarios at some point in our lives. I have. Nobody is EVER “switched-on” all the time, 24/7, ready and jacked. Nobody. (Remember, hyper-vigilance is bad. Negative. A burden to your health, well-being, and longevity)
We have all been victimized, bullied, verbally-berated, put in our place, taken-advantage of, punched in the face, gas-lighted, or intimidated. If being honest, most of us have likely experienced ALL of the above, whether admitting to it or not. SO, let’s stop victim-blaming and -shaming….it’s unbecoming in an industry that’s become much more known for ego, testosterone, projection, Neanderthalism, subjectivity, and entitlement than anything else in the public-eye. (I ask around) Time for a paradigm-shift. Or 3.
A friend asked me my thoughts on whether the freeze response can be broken. It’s an interesting question that caused me to do a lot of self-reflection and deep-thought over the course of the day.
Break it mid-stream? Mitigation/prevention? Post-event? If mid-stream I’d say it’s pretty difficult. Pre- or post-event, sure…with gradual lead-up, emotional-management time, and allowed self-awareness. Mid-event? I dunno. Acknowledgement or awareness (high-level consciousness) coupled with a massive knee-jerk state-shift could be feasible. Panic/hyperventilation breathing if momentary/sudden & a passing threat to get back “online.” Forcing the head to turn (peripheral-vision activation), feet to move (to break the freeze when you can feel it coming) if able. Maybe an anchor or mantra if powerful and practiced/trained. Lots of very realistic and replicable scenario-training prior. That’s a lotta’ ifs, buts, and ands. (for the vast majority of us, at least, who aren’t professionals with regular exposure to high-stress and ongoing experience-building)
That being said, human adaptation is truly quite a remarkable thing, and knowledge of how to maximize and understand evolutionary systems has never been greater than it is right now. So it’s always possible as there’s always a way to do a thing. I, personally, haven’t experienced it “in the middle of”, to be clear, and if being 100% honest. At least not that I can remember….so it likely didn’t happen as that’d be no small thing…a thing I’d likely recall. Prevented or mitigated it, yes, using many of the elements listed above. Quick recomposing post-event, also yes.
So, let’s say that it’s possible, for shits –and-giggles. There are times where it might be beneficial. If violence is inevitable, performance necessary, goal dashed, for instance. First, I guess, we should break down the different causes of freezing and the types that follow that causality. After my friend updated me on what many scientific and psychological studies are dictating, I’d have to agree on there being 3 different types of causality that trigger a freeze response, with the possibility of a 4th as well. I’d also say there’s validity in the 3 types of freeze having different physiological elements.
(Note that my descriptions are not on a scientific basis but trying best to articulate my own personal experience with them)
1. The assessment/evaluation variety: Waiting for further important information to come in before making best-outcome decision(s). Pausing unconsciously before walking in a poorly-lit backstreet until further threat-analysis and risk-assessment is done, for instance.
2. The strategic/tactical: an unconscious but intentional freeze to avoid/evade/hide from/diminish/be de-selected by a threat, risk, danger, or stress. I used to lower myself and minimize movement during speech-time so as to blend-in, go unseen, and avoid selection due to an early fear of public-speaking. Or, have you ever done, or not done as it were, something under immense stress that turned out to be the absolutely-correct thing, but you had no control or reasoning as to why you did it? Me too…
3. The possum/deer-in-headlights: freezing from deep-fear and no alternative. Panic-driven and immediate and present threat, risk, danger, or stress. During a sudden and aggressive confrontation from a volatile stranger as a panic of pain, punishment, violence, or repercussion hits explosively. (I admit to not liking the term “possum” as the metaphor “playing possum” so often now refers to an intentional misleading to gain advantage – which is not what we’re referring to here) This is the one most referred to when talking about the freeze response and often misunderstood to be the only type…
*Note that, as the examples given, not all of these are of the physical-threat variety even within their own category. For instance, the deer-in-headlights can be shut-down in front of a room of people that you’re facing when the attention is on you, like the public-speaking example above. Like everything, it is ALWAYS contextual and never binary.
Let’s get back to the deer-in-the-headlights freeze, as this is the one that self-defense instructors refer to the most, as the post-event trauma is the greatest, generally. It can be a jolting, humbling, overwhelming aftermath that can leave you with pride, ego, and your invincibility-factor severely shaken. I’ve had immense second-guessing, shame, embarrassment, helplessness from past freeze-responses….but the response often turned out to be the absolute correct one, in hindsight. It saved me a ton of far worse outcomes – death, injury, killing, court, money-loss. “Best solution.” Every time I can recall freezing in the face of violence or real danger, it was (in hindsight, and with the knowledge I have now) for a very particular reason that aided in my being here today. Against a far superior or more dangerous opponent where fighting would’ve been a mistake and ended badly for me. When action would not have been the best option (including escape or negotiation – sometimes it’s better to just fucking listen or stand still, no…) In circumstances where not enough info was present to yet make an informed choice or “best outcome.” (Is it a real threat? Am I putting myself unnecessarily in harm’s way? Are there intangibles and potential collateral-damage present that would make escalation an error?) Unforeseen and sudden danger where freezing made me unseen, innocuous, unthreatening.
It was an evolutionary protective mechanism (the 3 above) OR an internal resistance to utilizing violence in a situation where I was culpable and the aggressor, which I have had more than once before. (I provoked, exacerbated, or unnecessarily created and had an internal “blockage” that caused internal resistance to engage or engage further – whether due to elements of nature/nurture, spirituality, ethics/morals, conditioning – something few acknowledge as having the capability to trigger the freeze response. (Now, whether science has a different explanation for this, I don’t know, but these for me were different experiences than the 3 examples given above) Getting back to my above point, the bottom line is it kept me safe regardless of how bloody hurt my macho ego/pride/immortality were after….or how uncontrollable my post-event adrenal dump. (I was there to have that dump and lick my wounds, to the point)
Like all evolutionary protective mechanisms, they’re usually there for an important damn reason – to keep you alive or give best chance for safety or survival. I’d say all things considered, the best ways then to manage this are STILL prevention, mitigation, management, or avoidance – pre-occurrence or at the very outset of its manifestation. Experience (whether real or trained or conditioned) gives a ton of comfort to manage situations with more clarity, confidence, and comfort – meaning you likely dodge the freeze-response from happening, at least more often…or minimizing its effects to a manageable level.
So, regarding breaking the mid-stream freeze-response in the face of violence or hostility, remember this. Many modern, leading names in the self-defense industry are now claiming they can or trying to re-engineer evolution. They have the answers. The secrets. There are many instances it is there for a very important and particular reason, as mentioned above. Remember, too, that these people are also not neuro-scientists or psychologists and there can be a real moral conundrum when screwing with the hard-wiring of someone else’s brain chemistry – especially one you don’t know the history of, don’t know the trauma of, and don’t know the repercussions of doing so in other areas of their daily life that are far more regular than against the extremely-rare vicious hardcore predator.
There is the potential – the real potential – of greater damage being created. Of over-writing something of great importance. Of augmenting already-present fear, stress, anxiety, and paranoia. I bet there are many (m-a-n-y) more instances where the freeze response – when facing real danger and not self-created or manufactured – saved a lot more trauma than it caused. It’s a thing that is so often neglected to be discussed in the this industry as alllll self-defense instructors have your best interest at-heart and are trying to help you, don’tcha know. We are your one-stop Kwik-E-Mart for all things trauma, fear, and threat-based. I, for one, am very wary of those instructors who claim they can alter evolution, brain chemistry, play with your memories, and re-wire innate survival skill mechanism. Our job is to inform, guide, coach, talk….and refer when needed…and we can be a greatly positive influence and aid in this, make no mistake. But we are not therapists and we are not qualified to deal with all things brain- and trauma-based, contrary to what many will tell you.
There are many times where this can be dangerous or counter-productive – that’s what professionals are for. Doctors, neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists. Granted, not nearly all of these are ethical or stay in their lane either, but they do have specific training with how to deal with issues of the brain and mind. However, I guess all things considered, with many SD students never in any danger of facing real life-threatening violence and living comfortably in the burbs anyway, I guess it’s a moot point, right. (likely not lost on your local SD coach, either but digressing…)
Moral of the story? Be extremely cautious of who you let into your head and mind, and how deep. It’s your last line of defense and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the real predators from the fantasy ones…
*As a final aside, have you ever wondered if maybe the “fight-back” element is so empowering NOT ONLY because you’ve defeated an enemy and saved yourself….but because you on some level know you’ve momentarily conquered yourself in the process? Something to ponder…
I have 2 questions for you:
1. Do you believe that our intuition on issues of threat, safety, risk, and violence can be wrong?
2. Do you believe that violence, in the form of sudden human violent behavior, can be predicted?
Here’s my take on this, for anybody interested, so take with a grain-of-salt. Intuition can absolutely be wrong and consistently shows as much. Not all intuition is “good” intuition. It has an element of evolution, yes, where we’re wary of snake-bites, being burned, sensing predatory danger/being hunted, etc. It’s hard-wired. But the daily intuition in modern context that we refer to is developed over time and intricately personal…soft-wired. Important? Well, I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s prone to various types of personal biases and that it’s not a magical mystical thing always designed to protect us. Like adrenaline, the more knowledge one has, the more one understands, the more chance of calm(er) response to it and what it means. How is it developed? By experience, exposure, knowledge, training, nature, nurture, environment, culture and, when those change, so too does intuition over time. (also meaning that feedback from your past ‘can’ be very helpful if those personal biases don’t cloud things and you’re aware of them – thus, the paranoia) It can be very right or very wrong so simply “trust your intuition” or “go with your gut” or “I had a feeling” are only partially-true and shouldn’t be the fallback many instructors tell you. It’s not some magical 6th-sense that most claim….it is grounded in elements very tangible.
We are prone to errors but higher-stakes pattern-recognition (and let’s face it, intuition is a big part pattern-recognition) comes from a place of prior data/stimuli/experiences, which is greatly diverse from person-to-person. My intuition on night-club interview violence simply won’t be as honed as a bouncer’s due to his past. (which doesn’t mean I won’t have alarm-bells go off from my own experience/experiences) His/hers for particular Central-American issues won’t be as honed as mine for the same reasons. (Ditto on the alarm-bells for him/her) So, that being said, “thinking it first” has every bit the chance of success on many occasions as “feeling it first” if the perceptual filters listed above are present and there’s time. Thinking doesn’t make one paranoid, it just means it’s a situation where there’s greater time to assess and make an educated decision – whether right or wrong, like intuition, is another thing entirely. Generalizations.
One question on prediction. Can violence be predicted ahead of time to the point it can be stopped before happening? When we see “PINs” or “ritual signs of violence” or “body language/intent”….it’s at our doorstep and about to happen. It’s too late for mitigation, prevention, or prediction. It’s here and we need to deal with it…OR we simply don’t see or acknowledge these things and bad things happen. But can it be predicted prior and stopped? If there’s a lead-up or high-stakes predictions (long-term planning, manifestós, social media info, loved-one concern from signs, diaries, prior like-behavior), I’d say a far greater chance. If not, I’d say very difficult. Risk-analysis, threat-assessment, safety-precautions to mitigate threat….absolutely. To predict outright? I’d say pretty damn difficult. Trends, environments, statistics, signs all help to mitigate and risk-downsize….but it’s super-, super-difficult to predict individual human behavior what with urges, irrational behavior, impulse, momentary need, states, moods, etc. Maybe with the new brain/neuro technology that’s being developed but the risk of this (privacy-loss/mind-invasiveness/corporation-government misuse) is pretty damn horrifying. Lowering the odds is definitely achievable, however, to be certain.
Regarding definitions, I’d say (for me, from my perspective) “intuition” would be something on the short-end of time….something momentary, in-the-moment, situational, soon-to-happen..or not. “Prediction” longer-term, with a lead-up. Can we “predict” what will happen on the stock-market? How someone will handle traumatic bad news? What the future will hold? I’ll leave a few of very good, easy-to-read, and very up-to-date articles on intuition below for curiosity.
There are a lot of similarities in the grooming-cycle between narcissists and sociopaths and both have many similarities and overlap to predatory behavior and predators themselves – who will often be narcissists or sociopaths. I have intimate knowledge of the first two, studied the third intensely over the years. They may be of the “new person in your life” variety or within your very family construct. Regardless, the progression is extremely subtle, even for the sharpest minds…at times, completely invisible. Remember, this is from my experience – yours may be different. I have not researched much on this outside of my living in the midst of it and reflecting back on that living experience.
Gaslighting. They both make you consistently feel like your perception is off and things are not at all what you originally thought they were. They skew your perceived view of reality and make you question or doubt your own sanity, coherence, and state-of-mind. This includes expecting you to go along with their gas-lighting of others as to outward appearances, material wealth, perfection of the nuclear family. (all innocently, of course, in a “keep up with the Joneses” manner. You can become paranoid and insecure in a hurry with both.
Gifts. To distract from their behavior or manipulations, they’ll buy you lots of things, spend money on you, and buy your unconscious compliance. They believe they can overshadow their narcissism or agenda by appealing to your material or flattered side.
Guilt. Here’s where I’ve noticed a difference, in hindsight. Whenever you call out or react with hostility at the tactics or a narcissist, they crumble, put on a show, becoming exorbitantly over-emotional, and try to make you feel awful for mistreating them as it was never their goal to hurt or offend you. They can feign support when they subtly intimate things that cause you guilt, remorse, or shame. A sociopath is cold, unbending, and utilizing denial. They return to the gaslighting and show care and love to reinforce your original loyalty towards them, stating emphatically how much you mean to them and how they’d never do anything to hurt you.
Victimhood. Both will play the pity card any chance they get when feeling they’re being exposed or narrowed in on. They’re always the center-of-attention and always find a way to take the spotlight off the actual victim and make it about them. They’re the main sufferer and protagonist when something happens with their partner, child, parent, or sibling. They prey upon this and are masters at manipulating the narrative. However, narcissists lay blame at the feet of others wherever and whenever possible. Their therapist doesn’t understand them. Their family is mean to them by cutting them off. If only things weren’t the way they were, they’d be better. Everybody abandoned them. Their loved ones are what makes them miserable. Sociopaths do so in a more biting way, to wear-away the fabric of their victim’s self-confidence. Side-handed insults. Critiques. Planted rumors to others. Cutting comments.
Isolation. Sociopaths are exceptionally gifted at isolating you from your loved ones and those that will point-out what’s happening. In actuality, even minimal accessibility plays into their charade as you’ve often become so co-dependent on the manipulator that anyone doubting or questioning your relationship immediately becomes the enemy and someone trying to damage your loving relationship. A narcissist isolates in different ways, gaining your time and emotional investment by hiding their flaws and covering for them, making it seem like you’ve voluntarily taken away time from other loved ones to tend to their weak and vulnerable state.
Over-reliance. Narcissists prevent you from developing intestinal fortitude, resilience, and independence as much as possible. They intentionally prevent you from learning about life’s healthy struggle, making you dependent on them and under your wing. It also comes from a different place….insecurity. You can’t always gain attention without useful tools that can help make you a satellite to their pain or pride. Sociopaths add to your struggle. They want to subtly see you suffer and break you apart mentally, emotionally, and psychologically over time. Sometimes it’s for personal-gain, others it’s simply the power of knowing they can break-apart someone otherwise strong and confident. They take joy in the omnipotence of their ability to dismantle that self-confidence and inner-strength.
Tribalism. Narcissists stress the “family-unit” and act like there’s an unequivocal united-front in all things. They will not, however, openly go to bat for you, will scheme behind-the-scenes to sabotage you, and inevitably hang you out to dry when you feel you can count on them most. Sociopaths, too, promote tribe and family-unity, but at a moment’s notice can dissolve that dynamic with lies, deceit, and seed-planting, making you feel abandoned and ostracized when the need arises for their goals. And they won’t let you all the way in…something will be held above your head to keep you at-bay, knowing they’ll be leaving a train-wreck behind at some point and cutting-ties.
Antipathy. Both have an extremely hard time being authentic as they project a facade so often they find it difficult to authentically show empathy to the pain of others. They study that pain so that they can project it outwards to others, in the case of the narcissist, to gain sympathy for their own victimhood as they crave attention and pity, in the case of the sociopath to further goals and motivations. They both feign empathy extremely well, though there’s an insincerity about it that often goes overlooked by the actual victim…but it’s there, present and accounted-for.
Aggression. Narcissists exhibit passive-aggression in the form of sabotage, truth-manipulation, and partial-truths. They will black-list you quietly and, upon discovery, apologize without genuineness, not knowing exactly what it is they’re apologizing for when grilled. Sociopaths are a little different animal here. They can convince others to do their revenge bidding should vindictiveness boil over. Intimidate subtly (eg. standing over you while sleeping, brandishing a weapon in a subtly-threatening manner). Get people within your dual sphere to conspire against you and alienate you….or become aggressive in their own right. Death threats. Middle-of-the-night silent phone calls. Remember, if they can gaslight, manipulate, con, or hypnotize you….they can certainly do it to other people against you as well.
Money. Both like the outward-perception of doing well. They like their material things, the projection that they’re well-off, showing-off new toys. I’ve found, however, that narcissists can be very good with money, very capable of balancing budgets and saving, and restraining themselves when needed. Sociopaths tend to go the other way. They are not good with money, buy often on impulse, and can siphon money out of joint bank-accounts pretty quietly while using some of the same tacts above – gaslighting, denial, lies, etc.
Recklessness. Narcissists, from my experience, are not reckless as outward-perceptions are so important. They do not want to ruin the facade and exposure runs the risk of preventing others from that pity, empathy, and attention they so need. Prim and proper is the game. Sociopaths are more reckless, with sex, money (as mentioned), affiliations. They play with fire far more and become bored with their current status-quo after a time – they cycle and repeat patterns over and over.
Opportunity. They both profile well instinctively. They know when someone fits their description and they learn quickly the weak links in the chain. They see victimization possibility from early-on, thus the grooming strategies. The bigger the fish, the greater the challenge, but there have to be certain traits available that open the door. Insecure. Low self-esteem. Simple. Moral. Decent. An “in”..
Patterns. I should be clear that both narcissists and sociopaths are completely capable of functioning under-the-radar in society for lengthy periods of time. They can raise families, hold jobs, be pseudo-responsible parents, protecting and caring for loved ones…even show their version of love in their way and within their capability. There will always be something lacking in the authentic sense and they each have their own way of breaking the boredom of “normal urban living”…but they keep up the charade for an exponentially long time before needing to break routine again.
As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap here with child-grooming and relationship-grooming, and flat-out predatory behavior….as there would be. This is not an exhaustive list, just the elements that I’ve experienced first-hand. You may have experienced others. This, however, can be a template of signs to recognize for loved ones, your children, female (or male) members of your family or circle, or others you see in situations similar. If you’ve got a number on this checklist, pay attention, it’s not coincidental. Go with your gut. I learned a lot the hard-way, even in spite of a strong support-staff; this was not easy to write, trust me. In the end, I uncovered both, developed powerful strategies to manage and keep them at-bay, and set clear-and-reinforced boundaries….but it took years. I always say, though, in the end, by learning the intricacies of the game, even by learning it the hard way…you learn to control the game…though sometimes at a very high cost.
I come out of the house in the morning and approach my car. I take a quick look to make sure the tires are full of air. Check the oil and transmission fluid. Make sure there’s enough gas in the car, with gas to spare should I break-down somewhere or a strike prevents future random fill-ups. I let the engine warm up for a short time before moving.
I lock my doors. Buckle myself into my seat-belt. Check my rear-view mirrors and shoulder-check before I start backing out of my parking-space, testing my brakes as I go to make sure they’re working fine. I continue to do this as I back-up past the neighbor’s driveway and out the gate onto our side-road. All these are routine by now, after 30 years of driving, procedural. They’re not paranoia-inducing, they’re just soft-wired at this point. Via minimal training and a whole ton of experience. Daily procedures I do that exponentially increase my chances of not having an incident.
When I get out the gate, I look both ways for dual-lane traffic moving in opposite directions before I move onto the street, utilizing my signal-lights and giving as much congruent body-language I’m able to let the other cars know my plans in-advance so they can either continue unabated or adapt if necessary. (Most, too, have learned to read the tells of others both from their eyes, rear-view mirrors, head-and-hand movement, or vehicle micro-movements, I’m not at all unique in this)
While in-traffic, I’m experienced-enough to split my attention (remember, attention can be split, focus not so much) on numerous things that may come to my attention: erratic drivers, sudden lane-changes, accidents and police-stops up-ahead, movement-blockages, heated moments between other motorists that may develop, body language of other drivers beside/in front-of/behind me, etc. etc. If there’s nothing of-note, I continue on my leisurely way. If it’s something that might be of-note, I pay greater attention to it as it unfolds to see if it’s important or plan-altering. Many times it turns into nothing, in fact, the majority of times considering how many times we do this when leaving the house in a vehicle and how often we’re out-and-about. So, I carry on my way.
Note that I’m never in paranoia-mode or unnecessarily-stressful (breathe…what better place to find your rhythm and put theory into practice?), and this is generally ranked as one of the worst places to drive in the world. There’s minimal driving-culture, no driver’s education, law-enforcement who are lackadaisical (at best) in enforcing traffic violations, and a passive-aggressive culture that often takes their aggression out on the roadways. This IS the #1 threat to my personal safety in this country, if I’m being honest – driving. Road rage, reckless and inexperienced driving, suddenly changing conditions (heavy rain, for instance), the majority of criminal tactics are with moving vehicles, motorcycle-robberies, heavy traffic-jams, sudden strikes, accidents. #1 by far….and driving is not optional for me.
On top of that, I take the safety elements that I CAN control into my own hands. I make sure to at least try to be a good citizen and obey traffic laws and road-signs. I signal when I’m turning. I drive defensively. I limit my reactions and interactions to other perturbed drivers. I try very hard not to cut people off. I don’t tailgate. I pay attention to pedestrian-crossings and stop if need-be. I brake for uncontrolled train-crossings. I try sincerely to slow-down when a light turns amber if I’m not already part-way through it. In a nutshell….I stay in my lane. (a phrase to remember) It’s also worth noting that, after that 30 years of experience, I have a pretty clear idea of what pratfalls to look for, don’t waste my time on tons of things that aren’t worthy of my attention, and the vast majority of this is running “in-the-background”…like an anti-virus software on my PC.
When something occurs, it’s not that it’s instinctual or unconscious…it’s that my perceptual filters have seen and been involved in such an array of diverse obstacles, dangers, risks, threats, and safety-concerns on the road that I’m analyzing, processing, orienting, deciding, and acting far quicker than someone with a fraction of that/those experience/experiences. (whether before or during a potential incident) Time-lag – when things seem to happen in slow-motion, so the more ahead of the event you see, the more reaction-time you have, the greater the chance of avoidance or evasion. Experience, exposure, environment, and others dictate this ability to perceive things happening slower than they are. It is intuitive (from that experience/those experiences) – not instinctive (hard-wired, evolutionary)…a differentiation often confused by so many. It’s quite amazing….the volume of options we’re presented with – turning, swerving, braking, accelerating, reversing…yet we do all this within fractions of a second and with inches to spare. Effectively. Sufficiently. Daily.
I can even, at times, actually divert a small part of my attention to other things like talking with my passengers, listening to music, noticing passing things and people, seeing places I’d like to eat, playing mental games with my son, counting dogs or birds we pass on the way to school, or briefly thinking on things I need to get done during my day. Translation – enjoy my time on the road.
How many elements mentioned above to you think could be transferred to personal preservation – whether literally or metaphorically? I bet more than a few….look it over again.
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.
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…
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