General/Situational Awareness – Not paranoia, but a diligent alertness for anything that throws a “red flag.” Red flags are really nothing more than a change in circumstances that makes you feel uncomfortable—even if you can’t “put your finger on it.” To draw from the movie Star Wars, the Jedi always say to “trust your feelings.” I would echo that. Never distrust that still, small voice in your mind that tells you something isn’t right. In fact, try your best to develop the clarity of that voice, and listen to everything it tells you. Anyone can do this. You don’t have to be a martial arts expert in order to develop your intuition and alertness. Like anything, it comes with practice. Think of this stage like the “green light” of a traffic signal.
Heightened Awareness – The stage where a red flag has been identified, and probably the most important phase for many reasons. You’re still not 100% sure about the situation, but something has caught your eye and you begin to get an uneasy feeling. For example: you’re alone in the parking lot at night and the car next to yours is running, with two people inside, and they don’t seem to be going anywhere. “What are they doing just sitting there?” you might wonder. The overall circumstances and your inability to answer that question give you a gut feeling something is off. This is the stage where you have to take that red flag and develop it into a plan on what to do BEFORE something bad happens. Maybe you turn around and head back into the store and wait for them to leave. Or if being followed, perhaps you take a nonsensical route through the store and see if they are still following you after a short period (don’t wait too long). In any case, ignoring or dismissing the situation is NOT an option. More than any other stage, NOW is the time to begin taking steps to avoid an unwanted encounter. “Best defense, [is to] not be there,” as Mr. Miyagi would say.
This is also the stage where some would recommend making sure whatever self-defense device you have with you is accessible. The difference between noticing a red flag and being confronted with actual violence can sometimes change within seconds, so don’t plan on arming yourself later—it could be too late. Of course this is a pretty loaded topic (forgive the pun) and so I recommend educating yourself on the law in your area and abiding by those rules. Also, use common sense. Being suspicious of someone doesn’t give you the right to pop open a switchblade in the juice isle at Target.
The key thoughts in this stage are taking preemptive action to avoid, and preparing yourself should something happen (looking for exits and ways to level the playing field). The longer you have in this stage, the better. Tactically, it gives you room to make decisions and get out of harm’s way. Think of this stage as the “yellow light” on a traffic signal.
Focused awareness – The stage where a SPECIFIC threat has been confirmed or is growing more dangerous. The person you believed to be following you has remained behind you no matter what route you take. Or maybe that suspicious person in the car gets out and seems to be walking toward you with intent (body language is a whole topic of its own). At this point, making a hasty exit with your health and safety in tact becomes the top priority. Time for planning or being preemptive is over. Look for any way possible to avoid this person, put distance between the two of you, or draw attention from others to assist with the situation. This doesn’t mean you have to start yelling for help just yet (though nobody could blame you), but maybe you cut your shopping trip short, check out, and ask the manager to escort you to your car. Or slip into the next isle of the parking lot and move quickly (perhaps even running) into the opposite direction of the person in question (or toward a crowd of people, or back into the store to speak with a manager, etc). In any case, last-ditch efforts of avoidance are the key, here. Think of this stage as a “yellow light” that has been on for a while, and could turn red at any moment.
Acute Awareness – The threat is not only real, but its right in front of your face. You are now confronted with a potentially very dangerous situation. Hands come up to face level with open palms in an outward-facing manner, take two steps back (or more, if possible) and verbally engage the attacker with commands of, “What do you want!?” and “Stay back! Leave me alone!” (or something along those lines). Hopefully all they want is your wallet or purse—easy enough! Give it to them! But what if what they want is YOU (kidnapping), or to harm you in some way? The answer to that question is extremely complex and depends greatly upon your surroundings, training experience, level of threat (are weapons present? Are there multiple attackers?) and many other factors. But the short answers is: you have to fight for your life! Fight dirty, fight hard, and fight to win! To quote Tony Blauer, (paraphrased) “You have to turn yourself into the creature from the Alien movie and tap into a side of yourself you may not have seen before.” The best way to do that is to plan out and train for those situations by enrolling in self-defense lessons with a solid, reality-based school.
Written By: Aaron Awbrey
Aaron Awbrey is native to Edmond, Oklahoma and is the owner, Instructor at American Ninjutsu of Edmond. He holds a 2nd degree black belt in American Ninjutsu and has earned advanced level belts in multiple other art forms throughout his nearly 30 years in the martial arts.
For more info on lessons in the Edmond/North OKC area, visit the American Ninjutsu of Edmond page on Facebook