Overlooked Self-Defense Elements 1: Awareness

This is part one of a series of articles where I look at the elements needed for a self-defense or self-protection course to be of real use. In a previous article I listed the required elements as follows:

  • Awareness
  • Avoidance
  • Pre fight indicators (pre-fight rituals)
  • De-escalation
  • Adrenaline effects
  • And last, actual physical skills

In a standard self-defense class it is only the last skill in which you will receive any training.  For this article we will take a close look at Awareness.


We all know that it is important to be aware of our surroundings, but we need to do more than just notice where the cars are and who the gangster is looking at.

We live in a society bound by the rule of law. Most of us would not kill anyone else even if there were no legal repercussions to such an act; we simply know it is wrong. But there are those people who do not recognize, for whatever reason, the rule of law. These are the people we need to be aware of. In most settings, we do not need to be on edge. At a dinner party at a friend’s house, while everyone is calm and sober, there is no pressing need to be hyper-vigilant, but one can still be aware of what is going on, and with proper training we can develop an ability to spot trouble before it turns into something truly dangerous.

There are other settings where being a bit more vigilant than usual is not only appropriate, it is recommended. One example which should immediately pop into mind is on an airline flight. Prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there was a standard recommendation of what to do should your plane be hijacked – nothing. Try not to attract attention, do not cause any panic, and above all, don’t try to be a hero. This was because in the pre 9/11 world the terrorists follow a standard script of their own – hijack the plane, have it land in some God-forsaken hell-hole, get a lot of news attention, only kill the people who get your attention, and let the rest go, go to prison in that very hell hole where you landed the plane, and get released after the attention to the event dies down.

All of this changed on September 11th. When the terrorist scumbags crashed the planes into our buildings and a field in Pennsylvania, they changed the rules. No longer can it ever be recommended to sit and do nothing. It is now the duty of every person on a flight that someone is attempting to hijack or bring down to fight and stop the terrorist. The terrorists rely on your fear and compliance. They are brainwashed into believing that what they are doing is good, and they no longer have any fear of dying. They count on your fear to enable them to successfully accomplish their nefarious acts of violence.

In other situations, you still need to be more aware than normal. Shopping malls have been targeted by gunmen before. Sporting events are more dangerous in a post-9/11 world as well. Any time there is a large gathering of people at a well-publicized event, be cautious and vigilant.

One that is not often considered by is traffic. In our super-fast paced lifestyle, the hectic, and stressful slow-moving traffic jam is a dangerous place. Road rage was unheard of in the 70s. Now it is a common term that everyone knows and has had some level of contact with. Is it really worth cutting off the guy who just cut you off in order to flip him off like he did you if there is even an outside chance that he will pull a gun and blow your brains out for it?

It does trouble me to see some of the unsafe habits which are becoming very common. Everywhere I look, I see people walking without even looking where they are going. I do not know how many people I have almost run over when I was driving as they could not be troubled to look away from their phone long enough to see if there was a car coming before they step out into the street.

To make things easier, I have put together a list of awareness tips, and hope it will be of some use!

Put your smart-phone away. I do not know how many times my wife has referred to her i-phone as “my life”. Your smart-phone is not your life, and it never was. And your texts, emails, Facebook and games really can wait a few minutes. No one will die waiting for you to be wherever it is that you are going before making your next “Words With Friends” move. The smart-phone is a complete distraction that makes you far too vulnerable as most people are completely oblivious to anything outside of the phone when they are using it.

Remember you do not rule the highway. We all get frustrated in traffic. I do, as much (and sometimes more) than anyone else. However, we do need to remember that everyone else wants to get where they are going. We are not the ruler of the highway, and the other drivers are under no obligation whatsoever to drive the speed we wish them to drive, move into a different lane to allow us to pass them, or read our minds regarding what we want them to do. I remember in my early twenties, a guy on the highway pulled in front of me and hit his brakes. I got mad, so I whipped around him and did it to him. And then I did it over and over, at least ten times, maybe more. When I think about it now, this was reckless beyond excuse. And this is just one incident among many from that time. I don’t know how I managed to never get shot in a provoked road rage. If you can remember that everyone feels pretty much the same in traffic, but that the “urge-to-kill” feeling will be acted upon by an unknown member of the herd, you might be able to keep your cool and not get shot.

Keep a proper distance when in traffic. This one does not require much explanation. When in traffic, you should be able to see the point where the tires of the car in front of you are touching the road. This applies to self-protection. If the driver in front of you get out of their car in a rage, you will have space to move around their car without backing up. But it also applies to other situations, such as the car in front of you breaks down in the road.

Do not avoid eye contact when a stranger seems to be approaching. I strongly advise against staring at a stranger, but making eye contact is not going to hurt. What can get you hurt is if you pretend to not see them and they perceive that as fear. Be confident, notice them, and move your gaze elsewhere while still keeping them in view. Don’t be afraid to look and see who is where and what they are doing. This is self-protection and shows a self-confidence that will deter some bad guys.

Do not be ashamed to ask for security to escort you to your vehicle. There is no shame in asking for security to escort you out, especially if something just doesn’t feel right. Speaking as someone who has worked security before, it feels good to do that for people. It is what we think of when we take a job working security. I hated the endless hours of walking perimeter, and felt great when I was asked to see someone safely to their car.

If you feel suspicious, go with it. There is no need to justify or examine why you feel suspicious in a given circumstance while you are still in said circumstance. The feeling is there, it may be nothing, but it could be well founded. Examine it later when you are home safe and sound. We all have our primate survival instincts, and we have been taught to think every situation to death. Skip the analysis and follow what your instincts tell you.


There is my short list on Awareness. I would like some feedback on what may be missing from this list if anyone would like to chime in!