Personal Safety: Awareness


In an article published on a feminist “news” site, claiming to address the topic of self-defense, the author used a line that still bothers me. The line was “and the amazing and impossible ‘be aware of everything around you all the time.’”

This mischaracterization of the subject of awareness does have a basis in a deeper problem. For many years, the common line was “be aware of your surroundings” and the term “situational awareness” was taught without depth for so long that some in the self protection industry prefer not to even use the term anymore. I still use it, but that is because it is very descriptive and helpful, if some information is given as a follow up. Still, I understand why some people shy away from it.

What follows is my take on the concept.

I prefer to look at situational awareness as a sliding scale. Some people use a color code to go with it, I do not. I tend to avoid things like that as the teens I work with see such things as a gimmicky trick rather than the memory aid it is intended to be.

The scale of situational awareness that I use is:

Calm and relaxed awareness

Heightened Awareness


  1. Calm and relaxed awareness

As we go about our day to day, there is simply no need to be in a state of hyper-vigilance. It is unnecessary, and probably more than a little unhealthy. Added to the problem of hyper-vigilance is that such a state would be incredibly hard to maintain. And after a certain point of imagining ninjas around every corner, you might start to overlook lesser, but still real threats. There will, no doubt, be a mental burnout that would accompany keeping one’s self in such a state of awareness. This is where so many people who promote preparation and awareness send the signals that allow people to justify labeling them as part of the lunatic fringe of society.

Much more appropriate would be a calm and relaxed awareness. This would be much healthier in that you will notice good things, beautiful things all around you every day, and who doesn’t need that? This will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is allows learning, healing and growth.

But beyond this, you will also enhance your ability to see when something is out of the ordinary. In the martial arts we use the very basic example of warm weather and a guy in a heavy or long coat. This is an exaggeration, obviously, but it is used to illustrate a point.

When you teach yourself to notice the everyday things; the out-of-the-ordinary stand out that much more. The little things will be less likely to go unnoticed, and that is key for personal safety.

What we notice is what we remember. Think of a time when you may be telling your spouse about a dinner party at work, and perhaps your spouse asks, “Was Mrs. So-n-so there?” and you say, “As a matter of fact she was.” And your spouse asks, “Was she wearing the watch we gave her for her birthday?” “You know what? I really don’t remember!” You can see and not notice. This is something that people do all of the time. So, anything we can do to enhance our ability to notice the things that are odd will be helpful.

Heightened Awareness

If something does seem out of the ordinary, we will move to the state of heightened awareness. This is a stage where we are not yet taking action, we are simply looking at things a little more closely.

We are looking for evidence.

Suppose you are on a train, and someone gets up to exit the train but has left a bag or a package on the train that they had brought with them. Here, we would go into a heightened state of awareness.

It is then that you determine what the next step is. If the evidence shows that there was nothing to be concerned about, you then return to the calm and relaxed awareness state. If suspicions were confirmed, it is time to go to the next level.


This stage is going to mean different things to different people, as well as being largely determined by the specifics of a situation. Space does not permit, nor does inclination urge that I attempt to provide a list of every possible circumstance. Such an attempt would be doomed to failure at the start anyway.

Action can mean attacking the bad guy, but it can also mean running or hiding. It can mean notifying Law Enforcement. The situation will dictate what is appropriate and possible at that moment.

In closing I wish to add an often overlooked element of awareness and that is self awareness. For any awareness to do us any good at all, we have to be aware of our state of mind, what words are pouring out of our mouths, and what we are doing that is influencing the behavior of those around us. If we are being a loudmouthed jerk, or making threats (verbally or physically through the use of threat displays), if we are trying to be the one to get the last word in or have the most clever (or rude) comeback, we are adding to the fire that is burning down our personal safety. More than any physical technique we could ever learn, being aware of ourselves and our influence on the situation is essential to personal safety.

Kids and Grit


I found this talk from Dr. Angela Duckworth on the subject of kids, success and grit. Give a listen.

What I really like about this is the way in which, through my work with KICKSTART KIDS, I get to see this first hand as year after year I have students who have futures very much in doubt who learn the hard way. They learn that failure is not a condition, but an experience and an opportunity for growth. No one in the martial arts gets it right the first time, but with time and effort (the very meaning of kung fu), anyone can become successful. This is a microcosm of life. And these kids learn that this same lesson applies to all areas of life. They learn about grit, and they learn how to develop and use it.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to discuss this with some of my colleagues in KICKSTART KIDS. I rattled off a list of some of the brightest martial artists we have produced as far as black belts are concerned. And I added, that I was not them, I was me, and even at their young ages, had I been compared to them and expected to hit that standard, I would have failed. But I am me. And the reason I was able to become a black belt, and the reason I was able to achieve success in the physical aspects of martial arts was because of my work ethic and my attitude of never accepting failure. Grit. I get it, and I am so thankful that I understand it because this puts me in a better position to teach it.

I loved this talk from Dr. Duckworth, and hope you did as well. It speaks not only to martial arts, but to education systems as well.

The Obligatory New Year Post


As 2014 comes to a close, and 2015 bears down on us like a runaway freight train…

I want to thank those of you who have read my writing and especially those who take the time to share posts and even drop a line to me, even those who disagree with my points. I still appreciate being read, because that means you took time – time you could have spent doing something else- and used that time to read what I write and think about what I was communicating. I appreciate that!

I am proud that I was finally able to get the free online course out there for anyone interested. I got some really good feedback, and many people even asked me about more courses – some people even offering to pay for a course!

We also held some really good seminars, and I had a chance to meet some awesome people and work with them, and sweat with them and learn from them. Hopefully they learned and got as much out of it as I did. The feedback from them seems to indicate that they did.

As for 2015…

I am currently producing two online courses that I hope to have completed before Summer, and ready for going live. Details on these will be posted here, so stay tuned!

I am also at various stages of completing three different books that I really hope to make available this year, again, stay tuned here.

And I am currently (as in…once I finish this post…) finalizing the curriculum for seminars that I will be offering in 2015. As work for the KICKSTART KIDS Foundation takes up a ton of time, and as my Family time takes first place, the dates for seminars are limited. I hope to have all available 2015 dates booked before March, and I am keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

And last, I hope to continue to be able to provide my readers with what they want. The support has been amazing, and I wish you all a very safe, and very happy New Year!

Five Suggestions to Increase Personal Safety


After several emails asking for ideas regarding what would be the most important things a person should know or do in order to increase personal safety, I decided that this is a good place to answer.

The fact is that increasing personal safety can be done for most people without ever learning martial arts. However, for my personal choices; I think it is good to be able to ask for peace from a position of strength. I am fully capable of hurting you, but to me, I can also see the value of not hurting you when you are in my face asking for a beating. There are a whole host of issues that I will have to deal with if I smash you, and I really prefer to not have to deal with those issues. This is different from being afraid of fighting. The good thing is that the other person can usually see this difference. Well, it is a good thing that they can see the difference unless you are afraid of violence. Which would bring us back to asking for peace from a position of strength.

Please keep in mind that violence is a complex subject and as such, there are no quick five point lists that will cover every situation. That said; I feel that this list covers some important points as applies to typical social violence that people seem to jump into head first these days.

1. Use good manners

When I was a kid, we were taught to say “please”, “thank you”, “yes sir/ma’am”, “no sir/ma’am”, and so on. Our TV shows had people like The Waltons and not The Kardashians. Manners were reinforced in school, church, and at home. I understand not everyone was brought up this way, but what I see out there is that manners are slipping. People are coming to believe that rudeness is strength.

“Rudeness is the weak person’s imitation of strength” – Eric Hoffer

In attempts to be/look/seem/be seen as cool, people resort to every type of rude behavior imaginable. It is not necessary, and it lessens personal safety.

2. Stop trying to make people see the world your way

Political doctrines, religions, sports teams, best Universities, superior martial arts, quick fixes for societal ills, gumbo recipes – ALL of these are things for which people go into the conversation with their minds already made up. They know the answer, and the entire time that you are trying to convince them to adopt your ideas, they are mentally poking your arguments full of holes which they will then respond to you with whenever you stop talking.

Where this can affect personal safety is in the intense emotions people are so ready and willing to bring in to what could otherwise be a simple conversation. With a little social intelligence, it becomes easy to pick out the people who are going to take things to that level, and this gives you the justification to avoid certain topics around that particular person.

3. Be selective in your choices of where and with whom to spend your time

If you are spending time with criminals you are likely to either end up doing what they do, or at best end up in situations where you are less safe than you could be otherwise. Add to this the way people think of a relaxing evening at home as “boring”, and instead opt to go to a bar and consume quantities of alcohol that the human body is not designed to ingest, and then wonder why they wake up the next morning in a jail cell with horseshoe shaped bruises all over their face, and you can start to see the issue. You have choices regarding where you spend your time and who you spend that time with, be selective!

4. Remember that you really lose nothing from backing down from a fight

The reasons that people usually give for not backing out of a fight typically fall under the category of not losing face. This is deeply set in our minds and as such it is very difficult to overcome the thought pattern. We fail to see that the loss of face is a change in the way that we think other people perceive us. And usually this idea we come up with of what they will think of us is wrong. Often, a guy will not back down from a fight because he thinks that a particular woman will think less of him, and more often the opposite is true – the woman will think less of him for being an out-of-control idiot than she ever would have thought of him for backing out of a fight. This goes back to these conversations we have in our heads about what other people are thinking.

5. Understand the difference between a different opinion and an enemy

And last I would like to point out the disturbing trend of viewing people who hold a different opinion on a given topic as if they were your enemy. Politicians and the news media exploit this human weakness, and it really puzzles me that people do not see through the game more often.

Put simply; a difference of opinion is nothing more than a difference of opinion. There is no need at that moment to classify the individual in question as the enemy. Whatever the subject may be; religion, politics, martial arts, whatever. Thinking that someone who disagrees with you is your enemy is to make an unwarranted jump.

The news media has taught a lot of this behavior with their constant labeling of groups as racist/bigot/sexist/whatever. But the truly disturbing part is the way people so commonly make that unwarranted jump to the conclusion that the media promotes, and so label their friends as racist/bigot/sexist/whatever.

Understand that the only mind you can make up is your own. Adults are supposed to be able to take it when others do not agree with them.

And that concludes my list. Remember, Social Intelligence IS Self Defense.