What does it mean to be vigilant? Is it something you can develop with practice? How do you maintain it? What is it?
Well, first off, it is the name of our new program.
It starts with Situational Awareness, 360 Awareness and what ever other terms you want to apply. I simply call it being "turned on and tuned in".
It incorporates your situational awareness of the environment and the skills necessary to make realistic and valid assessments of potential threats in that environment so you can decide on appropriate responses and then take action on those decisions.
If any of you are familiar with the OODA Loop you will recognize that explanation of the mental processes of decision making that occur. I will delve more into the OODA Loop, how it works and why it is important at a later date.
For now lets look at VIGILANCE as a self supporting skill.
Being attentive to what is happening around you, who is there, what they are doing or saying. What physical place are you in, a parking lot, shopping mall, apartment building? Where are your avenues of escape, weapons of opportunity? Where can you get help from other people? Is this a dangerous area of town? What senses do you use to help you observe potential dangers? Is it only sight or can your sense of smell tell you if something is wrong? What about hearing, touch and taste?
When I leave my condo, I stop for a moment on the steps outside the door, I make sure I am fully awake and ready, I look around, I listen for a moment, I smell the air, then I turn around and lock the door and start walking to my car, watching the parking lot and surrounding area. I check the vehicles on either side, look up and down the driveway and then if no one is around I open the door and enter my car. I start and go right away ensuring the doors lock and get moving.
This is just one example of how I check myself to make sure I am vigilant, turned on and tuned in. As I travel around, going to work or running errands I try to maintain some level of vigilance all day, without being paranoid and exhausting myself in the process.
VIGILANCE, Part 2
In the first post I described how I, turn on and tune in, when I leave the house in the morning. Making sure I am awake and using my senses to assess any potential danger or threats in my immediate area. Some call that, Situational Awareness.
I quickly mentioned that being aware of your environment is the first step in self protection, noticing things that are out of place, that are not normal. How do you decide what is "not normal"?
You first establish a baseline. To do this you observe the area, the location, people and figure out what normal is in that environment. For instance normal at a restaurant is very different than normal at a beach. It sounds obvious but it can get more difficult in new places and locations that are not so obvious.
Let's say you are out for a drink with some friends. The band is playing, people are dancing, having fun, singing along and pretty much enjoying themselves. Out of the corner of your eye you notice 2 individuals walk in the front door. They look different, maybe you can't quite put a finger on it but they just don't fit in. Maybe it is their clothing, body postures, perhaps their facial expressions are out of place. They enter, look around as if assessing the place and who is there and then they split up and take post watching people. Maybe you have practiced your vigilance skills and you notice the slight bulge of a firearm on the hip of one of these people. Perhaps the long trench coat on the other looks very much out of place.
What do you do? Do you grab your friend and leave? Do you notify the bar tender or security? Have you assessed your environment for the nearest exits and way out?
There are 4 steps in the self protection model I teach, awareness, assessment, avoidance and action. I sometimes joke that the 4 A's are actually avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid. A good choice in pretty much every situation.
Making the decision to simply leave an area where there is a potential threat is always a choice. Choosing to alert security or the bar tender in this scenario is another. Combining both would be a good one. Alert someone, then get out.
One point that is often brought up in classes about personal safety is to listen to your instincts, intuition. If something feels out of place, dangerous, if it looks strange, then pay attention and take action. That may be making a more through assessment, it may be notifying another person or simply leaving the danger area before something happens. There is not right or wrong answer. The only wrong thing is to not listen to yourself.
Maintaining personal safety is a skill we have within us. It is animal survival instincts at their best. Learning to listen to them and taking appropriate action is something we can develop with a little practice and self awareness.
Next time we will discuss inner vigilance and learning how to pay attention to your inner voice.
Until then, stay alert, stay safe.
VIGILANCE Part 3
In today’s episode we will discuss your Inner Vigilance.
We have looked at some aspects of creating and maintaining vigilance and how to observe and assess your outer environment but how do we ensure our inner environment is on track and where it needs to be.
Being present in the moment, self awareness, mindfulness are terms we often hear when we talk about our inner state of being. It is important for our overall sense of wellbeing to understand what is going on within us and to take steps to stay balanced and healthy. In the realm of personal health, topics often include meditation, positive self-talk and visualization exercises to present to your mind the perfect place you choose to be.
For our purposes of creating and maintaining vigilance all of these exercises and methods are true as well. The focus may be different but the results are the same. Creating a state of inner awareness and balance allows us to maintain a state of external vigilance and the ability to respond to unusual or dangerous cues in our environment.
Let’s say you get up in the morning and you did not sleep well that night. Even after your 2 cups of coffee you are tired and lethargic. You still have to get ready to go to work and deal with the real world. As you leave your house you forget to turn on and tune in, discussed in a previous episode. It would just take too much effort this morning. Your mind is on pause and your body aches. You leave the house without pausing and looking around, without listening for potential danger or anything out of place. You walk down to your car and don’t bother looking around to see if anyone else is lurking or getting close to you. You fumble and drop your car keys, your hands are full because you couldn't bother to pack your things properly. As you bend to pick up the keys you feel a shove from behind and go flying to the ground then a stomp on your face knocks you unconscious. You awaken to your neighbor yelling into the phone advising 911 of your location and situation. Your car is gone, along with your wallet and computer. You sit there dumbfounded. How could this happen? What were you thinking? Well the short answer to that question is, you weren’t. You were on sleepy autopilot and not paying attention, your vigilance lapsed and you paid the price.
Let’s run this scenario again, this time with a little difference. You still had a bad night and didn’t get enough sleep. You are tired and your body hurts. You take 10 extra minutes this morning for a mindfulness exercise you are learning in meditation class. Your focus slowly comes back, your body awakens with your focused breathing, you are revitalized. The 3rd cup of coffee helped as well. This time as you leave the house your belongings are all properly packed in your backpack, leaving both hands free. You stop at the door and make sure you are turned on and tuned in. You listen for unusual noises, smell the air to ensure everything is as it should be.
As you are walking to your car you notice an unfamiliar face, a male just walking slowly in the parking lot, you pause, he is looking around but does not appear to be going anywhere in particular. You notice his big heavy jacket even though it is a nice spring day, you pause again.
Is he a threat? What is he doing? Why is he here? Have I ever seen him before? As you observe him and your outer environment your inner alarms are sounding loud and clear. Stay back, get your phone out, reach for your pepper spray. Perhaps your intuition says go back inside and call the Police. Whatever it says, LISTEN.
As you pause on the walkway, the male sees you watching him, sizing him up, he says a quick hello and scurries off down the street. You observe from a safe distance until he is out of sight. You quickly get in your car, lock the doors and drive off. Your inner and outer vigilance just saved you from a nasty and traumatic experience.
Learning to maintain inner and outer vigilance and listening to your inner voice are key skills in personal protection. Remember, as you leave your home, stop, wait, turn on and tune in. Now, get on with your day. It only takes a few seconds to be safe.
VIGILANCE Part 4
The OODA LOOP
The OODA what? Yes, the OODA LOOP. Have you ever wondered how your mind goes through the process of making critical, immediate decisions in dangerous situations? Well the OODA LOOP is one way to describe how that works. There are other words and acronyms that are used but I like OODA, and you will see why as you continue to read. It is easy to remember and we can have a little fun with it, which helps you remember it even better.
OODA stands for Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action or in the action form, Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
Let’s break them down a bit. How do we observe? Well with our senses of course. Sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, right? Wait, there is one missing. Yes, intuition is a sense, if you know how to use it properly.
The first 5 are pretty obvious. We can see, hear, touch, smell and taste danger. We can also feel it. That is the intuition kicking in and telling you something is not right, something is dangerous, out of place. It is very important to listen to this inner voice, it has saved many people from harm over the years and is one of your best allies. In his book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker, writes about several people who did and did not listen to their inner voice and the results of that choice. Some escaped danger, some were injured, some died.
That inner voice or intuition often manifests as fear. Fear is our friend. Just like the quote in the movie GI Jane, “pain is your friend, it lets you know you’re still alive, to get the job done and get the hell home.” Fear is your friend, it lets you know something is wrong, to pay attention and to get the hell out.
So now that we have established 6 senses for observations, let’s continue with Orientation. Being able to quickly and effectively orient to something in your environment requires that you have some base of knowledge about what you are observing. Let’s take a 1 on 1 self defense situation for an example. You are being approached by a large menacing person yelling and screaming about how they are going to harm you in unspeakable ways. There is little orientation required, it is pretty plain and easily understood. Now, change that scenario up a bit. You are standing at the bus stop, a person approaches from the side, you get an uneasy feeling in your stomach, something isn’t right. What is it? Why are you feeling this? You watch the person, nothing obvious stands out, but, something isn’t right. Then you see the knife he is hiding under his coat, he closes the distance and you freeze. You have no idea how to respond, you have no orientation to what's happening and no choices to make for a response.
This happens to people all of the time. We see it in youtube videos, news reports, a person is attacked and does nothing. Gun shots are ringing out in the mall and people just stand there, looking around, having no orientation to the sounds, wondering what they are listening to, what to do.
This is what I call getting stuck in an O O (Oh Oh) moment. You Observe, try to Orient and get stuck at OO. You can’t get to D or A. Your mind is stuck and you can’t decide what to do, therefore you take no action.
This state of freezing up is common. It is usually experienced by people who have no training in personal protection or self defense. It is something that occurs with young, inexperienced drivers and why they tend to have more vehicle collisions. The mind simply can’t process what is happening fast enough. As those young drivers gain more experience, they tend to react faster and can get all the way through the OODA LOOP, making decisions and taking actions to brake, steer and avoid the collision.
Responding to danger in a self defense situation is the same. If you know what to pay attention to and have oriented yourself to a similar situation you can decide on an action and take it much quicker than if you have never seen or thought about the situation before. A really simple example can be a person approaches you, takes a swing with their right hand in a big haymaker style punch and you step to the side and deflect the punch, immediately counter attacking and running away as the attacker bends over with their breath knocked out of them. If you have never learned how to respond to this attack and what counters are available you will likely get punched in the face. Your brain can not orient to the danger fast enough to make a decision. This is why training and practicing is so important. Whether that be driver training, martial arts classes or practicing with your firearm to respond to threats, you must have some experience to get through your OODA LOOP and take action.
After you have the ability to observe danger cues and orient to them you can make decisions much faster. That may be to run away. It may be to close the distance and engage a violent person. It may be to dive for cover, unholster your gun and return fire from safety.
Fight or flight are choices we make using the OODA LOOP. Freezing means you got stuck in an OO moment and you need to move yourself out of it as fast as possible and complete the cycle.
In our next article we will discuss how you can get your OODA LOOP functioning at lightning speed, observing, orienting, deciding and taking action effectively and immediately in any situation.
Until then, keep your head on a swivel, pay attention to your surroundings and practice reading people’s behavior and most important of all, STAY SAFE.
Article originally posted 2018.
Reposted here 9/22/2020
Sparring vs Scenario Based Training
There seems to be a little misunderstanding out there about sparring and it's benefits compared to reality based scenario exercises and role playing.
I am going to start with what I understand as sparring and what it helps us develop.
Sparring is a great way to test particular skills against an uncooperative training partner. It helps us check out what works under certain conditions, challenges our physical fitness and tests basic skill sets. Our partner agrees to resist our attempts and makes us work for a win. Protective gear of some sort is often used and there are rules of engagement that protect the participants. Sparring is primarily used to test sporting based martial arts that have a competitive component to them.
Sparring is primarily concerned with developing physical skills, endurance, speed, competitive spirit and has a strong component of sportsmanship like all athletic events. The level of intensity can be varied depending on the skills of the participants and rules can be adjusted to test particular skills.
Sparring has a place in martial arts, but it is limited in what it offers and what is developed in the participants. Sparring is often also style based. For instance in Tae Kwon Do take downs and ground fighting skills would not be tested. In BJJ kicking skills would not be used. If you are training for a point, no contact, tournament then those rules would be followed. Sparring is a sports tool. It can be geared to develop many aspects but it is limited in many ways.
Scenario based training can test everything you can in sparring and much more. Decision making, tactical and strategic thinking, use of weapons, cover, concealment, escape routes, use of force, proper use of environment are just a few examples. Like sparring there are rules to protect participants and protective gear is often used however the purpose and approach are totally different and much more diverse.
To start with, here is an example of how a scenario based training exercise could function.
You have been in a weekend workshop focused on how to use barricades, obstacles and weapons of opportunity against an attacker. The focus is on de-escalation, maintaining a position of tactical advantage and immediate neutralization of an imminent threat. OK, so here is a big difference. When have you ever heard terminology like that used during a sparring session?
So the scenario is this. You are walking to your car in a parking lot at the mall. You had to park a fair distance from the door because it was very busy when you arrived. It is now 9 pm, the parking lot is almost empty and it is getting dark. There is no security to call to walk you to your vehicle and you are alone. As you approach your vehicle a male walks up to you and asks for some money. He seems harmless at first but as he gets closer he reaches out and grabs your shirt. As you attempt to pull away he steps in and pushes you against your car. You have pepper spray in your purse and a tactical flashlight in your hand. There is a car on both sides of you and the mall entrance is 75 yards away. There is no one else in the parking lot.
Well, if this ever happens to you you made several mistakes to begin with, but that is not the focus right now. The response here in a scenario is to do what ever is necessary to remove yourself from the situation as fast as possible. There are many options available to you. Which ones you choose and why are what is being tested. Your immediate physical response and the intensity of your attack is being tested. How quickly did you disable him? What was your fear level? How did you deal with it? What other factors came into play? How do you describe what happened to the police? How do you justify your use of force if he is on the ground moaning, holding what used to be his testicles and bleeding all over the pavement?
Scenarios can be used to test knowledge, skills, decision making and much more. They can be simple or complicated. They can take place in parking lots, bedrooms, living rooms or an office environment. They can include weapons, multiple opponents and just about anything else you can come up with. Put some protective gear on, bring in multiple attackers and you have a challenge that will test anyone at any skill level.
Reality based training is an important element of a complete martial arts or personal protection program. If your school or program does not use scenario based training then talk to them about incorporating it. Sparring has it's place but as I said before reality based training goes much deeper and has many more aspects to it than sparring alone.
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