Situational Awareness

Big Don

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Can situational awareness be taught? How?
I know mine is mostly fear of the other shoe dropping, paranoia, so to speak.
Not the best reason to know who is around me and what is happening in the vicinity, but, it has worked so far...

Seriously, how do you teach someone to be aware of their environment (Put, your hand down, Gore, we weren't talking about that!) without just instilling a sense of impending doom?
 

Sukerkin

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Interesting question that I'm not sure we've addressed directly as a specific topic before (I sense a thread search coming on :D).

The Japanese arts are full of this concept; it is described within the term zanshin. There are related concepts of seme and metski but they are more to do with applying psychological pressure and establishing dominance.

Zanshin should be an integral part of your training and develops as your other skills do. Whether you are engaged in kata or sparring, your situational awareness should be broadening and focusing as you deal with the imagined or physical attacks, threats and obstacles. It is more than just using your more mundane senses to see where people are, it is also being able to 'read' them to an extent and predict what they are going to do.

Teaching it is a bit like trying to teach someone to ride a bike. You can tell them how to do it and possibly advise them what you think they're doing wrong but each individual finds their own path to it.

Some drills that I found particularly useful in iaido involve keeping your sword crossed at the tip with a partner. One is designated as holding the initiative and all you have to do is walk up and down matching their pace and movement as they stop, start, speed up and slow down. In a more complicated version they will also throw in an attack every now and again. It sounds very easy but it is some of the most taxing martial arts training I've ever done - the concentration levels are huge at first until you learn to do it with calm.

Via such excerscises tho' you (and I apologise for the Jedi-like sound of this) are learning to sense rather than see. You don't watch the opponents eyes, shoulders, feet etc but take in all of it and react to the subliminal picture your brain builds.
 

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One game I used to play is you stand in the middle and a bunch of people stand around you, and whenever one of them moves you have to turn and point at them. This gets you used to sensing all around you, and you can advance it to contact if you want, but it'll still only take you so far.
 

Sukerkin

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Good point, Paul. Another drill in swordwork is very similar i.e. you stand in the centre of a ring of iaidoka and at random one will make a cut. You have to turn and face the one you think made the cut.

This can be a bit mystical sometimes as I have seen sensei turn and face someone who has decided they were going to cut and had barely started to life their sword :spooky:. I hasten to add that I cannot do that :lol:.
 

Brian R. VanCise

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As soon as you flip the switch so to speak and start noticing things and people around you your awareness will literally go through the roof. Talking about it helps during training and pointing out what people should be looking for also helps. Quite often I will lecture on when you go into some place say a restaurant do you notice and note every person and what they are doing? Do you immediately look for the exits and position the people you are with so that an exit strategy is available. Do you ensure that you have the prime view of the room and all occupants? These are just simple things but could really be a life saver. This applies to everywhere and every building you enter. The same applies to when you are driving, walking, etc. Taking note of everyone in your immediate vacinity is very important for serious personal protection skills. This is all conscious awareness and it is very, very important for personal security. There is also unconscious awareness that can be trained and is equally important. Good topic!
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MJS

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Can situational awareness be taught? How?
I know mine is mostly fear of the other shoe dropping, paranoia, so to speak.
Not the best reason to know who is around me and what is happening in the vicinity, but, it has worked so far...

Seriously, how do you teach someone to be aware of their environment (Put, your hand down, Gore, we weren't talking about that!) without just instilling a sense of impending doom?

I say yes, it can be taught. Simple things like scanning the parking lot when you enter and before you exit your car, continuing to look as you're walking to your destination, being aware of the entrance/exit doors, etc. Once someone knows what they should be doing to be aware, going thru scenario drills is a good way to re-enforce this stuff.

I don't think that being aware is being paranoid. I think its all part of self defense. Being paranoid would be never leaving your house for fear that you're going to get mugged, carjacked, and things of that nature.

Mike
 

girlbug2

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Big Don,

As someone who has trouble being situationally aware myself, I would love to be able to find techniques to teach it to myself. I have become aware however of a particular handicap -- now don't discount this, but I believe that being introverted makes it more difficult for a person to be consciously aware of their environment, so if one is to teach sit. awareness, that has to be taken into account. (Fortunately introverts are only @ 25% of the total pop.)
Now I have gradually learned some S.A. skills over time, such as scanning my vehicle before I get into it, immediately locking the doors after I enter. But for some reason, things that I know I should do, such as scanning the parking lot before I cross into it or noticing the people around me in a public situation like a restaurant, I rarely remember to actually put to practice. They say God protects fools and children, well I suppose I know why I haven't been attacked yet.

I have wracked my brain to come up with a solution to my absentmindedness, and so far what it comes down to is some form of extreme negative reinforcement. That is, either I have to learn the hard way to wake up by being attacked (please God no) or some kind of shock knife training. I am seriously considering asking my instructor about that (it is listed as something my school does offer).

Perhaps I will start a thread on that subject later to get people's opinions on it.
 

morph4me

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Great thread. I learned my situational awareness skills by being a nerd and growing up with jocks and wannabes. I would walk out of my house and end up getting pounced on regularly. It works, but I don't recommend it. I teach my students to play mind games with themselves, today you're a mugger, or a rapist, pick a victim and then analyize why you picked that person and avoid those behaviors. Watch TV or a movie or read the newspaper, look at the situations that people get into and figure out how it could have been avoided. I have also been known to randomly attack them in class. We also go over basic rules like the ones that Brian and MJS mentioned.

Girlbug, I'm an introvert myself I can relate, but I also realize that I depend on myself more than other people, so situational awareness is even more important to us.
 

Empty Hands

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Can situational awareness be taught? How?

Sifu Cornejo used to put chairs and other obstacles randomly placed around the floor during sparring. Effective, I have no doubt. Especially since he was forced to stop because people kept hurting themselves on the furniture.
 

Kacey

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I think you can teach situational awareness skills, such as the ones already mentioned. You can teach people why they need situational awareness. You can teach awareness of movement around you that you can't see, or see only peripherally. Over time you can even get some to change their habits; when I started TKD in college, I used to walk around the campus wearing headphones for my Walkman and reading a book - I was barely aware of where the tree branches were, much less anything else - haven't done anything like that in over 20 years, once I was taught just how dangerous it is.

What you can't do is force people to change their habits - no matter how much they understand why they should. I met a woman who took a self-defense course I taught after she was mugged in her own home; I was the third self-defense instructor to tell her she needed to close her door behind her when she brought things in, and to not wear headphones while she was doing it, so she could hear people coming - but it was more efficient to leave the door open while she brought in her groceries, so even though that's how the mugger got in, she wouldn't do it... someone might steal the groceries she hadn't brought in yet, she said - even after I pointed out that the next time it might be a rapist (or worse) instead of a mugger, and that a few groceries were nothing in comparison. The risk of being attacked again was outweighed, in her mind, by the cost of her groceries. She did agree that she should find a way to bring them all in at once, but wasn't willing to leave some outside her door while she brought the rest in, no matter what anyone told her. She understood why she needed to be aware; she'd been taught the skills for being aware - she just refused to use them, because food is expensive, and walking from her car to her door without music was too boring to contemplate. Personally, I'd much rather lose a few groceries....
 

Pacificshore

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Often times, if not most of the time we are caught up with daily life on-goings. One way I present or teach situational awareness is asking the question, "how many ways do you know how to get from home to work, etc.?" Not surpisingly enough many only know one way, the most direct route. So with that, I follow up and ask students, or seminar attendees to think about another way to get from point A to B. Some at least had an alternate route, but not many. Same thing goes for simply using their eyes, ears, and that feeling you get when the hairs stand up in the back of your neck. All these things lead to, or should lead to RECOGNITION of your surroundings. So long as you plant these prompts in your students head, like where exits are, lit parking lots or streets, using shadows to their advantage, etc. then you are providing them yet another tool to their box :)
 

MA-Caver

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One game I used to play is you stand in the middle and a bunch of people stand around you, and whenever one of them moves you have to turn and point at them. This gets you used to sensing all around you, and you can advance it to contact if you want, but it'll still only take you so far.
True. As Sukerkin pointed out it's a useful game... but as you stated it can only take you so far out there. In the dojo you've fewer distractions and you're pretty much localized in a single place. You can stand in the center and turn in a slow circle and basically know (or have an idea) where everything is at. You can almost see everyone in the area. But out there there's a lot more things to look at, more distractions, more visual/mental distractions (what did that sign just read?) and more importantly... you're not always standing in one spot. You're moving from the building to your car or vice-versa or going to the ATM and so on.

I say yes, it can be taught. Simple things like scanning the parking lot when you enter and before you exit your car, continuing to look as you're walking to your destination, being aware of the entrance/exit doors, etc. Once someone knows what they should be doing to be aware, going thru scenario drills is a good way to re-enforce this stuff.

I don't think that being aware is being paranoid. I think its all part of self defense. Being paranoid would be never leaving your house for fear that you're going to get mugged, carjacked, and things of that nature.

Mike
Agreed again here. It's not being paranoid it's being aware there is a big difference. Awareness is "what's that shadow around the corner of the building?" Paranoid is "what's that shadow around the corner of the building?" but with fear. Most criminal types will tell you that they will tend to avoid a chosen mark if they seem aware and will make a bee line on the mark if they're acting paranoid. Like (the) animals they are they can "smell it" on you.
They will notice the subtle shifts of the head to broaden that particular end of their peripheral vision or notice the wide scanning left to right and trying to look directly behind them. Awareness can very well save your life while paranoia will definitely take it.

Awareness as I've known it is a mind state. Some will call it "street-smarts". I've had to learn mine the hard way. But learn it I did because I'm typing this all out in the comfort and (relative) safety of my parent's home. It can be taught and it must be practiced. Especially if you live/work/train in a potentially hazardous area.
Far too many people walk around life with their "head down" and "mind's off". These are the ones we read/discuss about in the Study and Horror Stories section of this forum.

One idea that MIGHT be of benefit ... to those who teach self-defense classes is to find/hire/invite someone who has street sensibilities such as a reformed drug-dealer or robber to give a talk or a few classes on what/how/where/who to look at when out on the streets.
You know that show "It Takes A Theif" from the Discovery Channel. Two former professional thieves choosing a house at random and showing the owners how easy it is to break into their home? Same idea.
 

kidswarrior

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I have become aware however of a particular handicap -- now don't discount this, but I believe that being introverted makes it more difficult for a person to be consciously aware of their environment, so if one is to teach sit. awareness, that has to be taken into account. (Fortunately introverts are only @ 25% of the total pop.)
I've got the same cross to bear: living in a world of extroverts (I've seen numbers as low as 12% introverts). They often think we're rude, cold, whatever...because we're different. :D None of which is necessarily true (could be true of some, but not cause/effect). :)

Anyway, my 'advice' as someone who's made peace with who I am (been roughly six decades on this spinning ball, and ain't that many years left to try to be someone I'm not ;)):

First
, give yourself permission to be introverted. We have a lot to offer, such as thinking before we blurt out whatever pops into our heads (not that everyone else does that, I'm just sayin). I'm sure you can come up with a long list of positives you bring to the table because you're introverted.

Second, stemming from the first, the more we live in the moment, the more aware we are of it, and that's the only time a bad situation is going to occur. It's not going to happen in the future, because the future isn't here. When/if it does go down, that will be the now. So, let yourself not try to do everything at once, or be all things to all people, and live as much as possible in the moment--it's the only time you've got. And then see how much more you see, how much more *situational awareness* you have. :)

End of rant from an old man (oh, and morph4me is pretty old, too. He also has some pretty good advice :bangahead:).

OK, that'll cost you two cents. :lol:
 

morph4me

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Hey!! Let's not get personal. I don't know about you, old is always 20 years from my present age. :D
 

theletch1

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Hey!! Let's not get personal. I don't know about you, old is always 20 years from my present age. :D
20 more years and we'll see you on the weather report celebrating your birthday! ;)

Kaceys story reminded me of the last women's self defense seminar I taught. We ran through 2 hours of class and took a break. During the break several folks went up to the store about a half mile down the road. When they got back I heard a couple of the students speaking amongst themselves about how many things they'd noticed while going to the store that they'd done that were on my list of no-no's for situational awareness. Did they carry that info over into day to day life? I dunno, I hope so. I believe, sadly, that it was just that the info was so fresh in their minds that they actually paid attention to it.
 

kidswarrior

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Hey!! Let's not get personal. I don't know about you, old is always 20 years from my present age. :D
Yeah, that's called denial. :lol:

theletch1 said:
Did they carry that info over into day to day life? I dunno, I hope so. I believe, sadly, that it was just that the info was so fresh in their minds that they actually paid attention to it.
This is the bane of teaching, Jeff, always wondering how much (or little) students internalize and keep. All we can do is keep putting it out there. :) I have had some surprising students come back (not the ones I would have thought) and thank me for what they learned. So, you did what you could. All any teacher can do. We often don't get to see the successes down the road.
 

theletch1

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Yeah, that's called denial. :lol:

This is the bane of teaching, Jeff, always wondering how much (or little) students internalize and keep. All we can do is keep putting it out there. :) I have had some surprising students come back (not the ones I would have thought) and thank me for what they learned. So, you did what you could. All any teacher can do. We often don't get to see the successes down the road.
Too true, KW. I have had the opportunity to talk to one of the students in the class since the seminar. She gushed about how much fun she'd had and wanted to know when she could come watch an aikido class... since little of what is taught in a one day seminar is actually aikido. I suppose I got through to at least one and it made me very happy. A bit of ego stroking there I suppose but happy none the less. The aikido students that I work with surprise me weekly with what they remember from one class to another and will even look over at me and smile if a particular defense goes well using something I showed them. That reward is worth all the pain, time and effort that I've put in and will continue to put in.
 

girlbug2

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she just refused to use them, because food is expensive, and walking from her car to her door without music was too boring to contemplate. Personally, I'd much rather lose a few groceries....

A problem that seems to be growing with each generation..generation "Y" is almost continually "plugged in", have you noticed?
 

Tomu

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First, to the OP, great thread.

I agree with whats been said so far. I think humans have the inate(sp?) ability to be highly aware both conciously and subconciously. But I think we have been so long removed from the natural order and the predator/prey situation that our senses are a bit dull. Can a person be taught to use this ability. I would say yes, but they have to be willing to use it often or it will go dull again. Besides training, a way that I stay sharp is hunting. Now I realize that people are not going to run out and take up hunting, but I'm using this as an illustration. In order to be a successful deer hunter, I have to be aware of everthing that is going on around me in the woods. It takes focus. During the first two weeks of november I will usually sit in a tree stand for 8-12 hours a day. This is where the subconcious part helps. Inevitably, my mind will wonder off to winning the lottery or some other nonsense, but even as I'm daydreaming I am still scanning the woods and listening although I don't notice I am. My point of all of this is that it takes practice to become proficient. Since I hunt some type of animal for 5 months out of the year this allows me more practice to hone my skills than most people.

All of this helps in public, but there are still other things that can help one be prepared.
Some things I do:
Always sit in an area where I can see all entrances/exits or if theres only one DO NOT sit with my back to door.
Be aware of people moving against the flow on normal patterns.
Always have a plan. My wife thinks I am paranoid, but I am constantly thinking "If X happens, I will do Y".

The sad fact is most people do not want to be bothered with this line of thinking. They are always inside their own little world. This is a sure way to become a victim. Prevention is always best.
 
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