Situational Awareness Self Defense
In the Karate Kid film the wise master, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel San, “Best defense – not be there.” We might call this “Situational self defense” but there is more to this topic.
Most martial arts schools hardly touch upon the topic of self defense. Yes, I now they think they do but they don’t. Learning a judo throw, an arm bar or a front kick has very little to do with actually surviving a violent encounter on the street.
Even schools that focus on self defense are usually very limited. They train for a few situations, usually involving one on one hand to hand combat with ample space and no handicaps.
Self defense, or survival, involves much more than just “techniques”. You must understand how the body reacts to fear. You must understand the nature of stress and you must be very very humble.
You must also understand that if you react to a situation as soon as it gets physical you have reacted too late.
You must Pre-react, you must first size up the situation.
In my definition Situational Self Defense involves looking at any given situation and imagining what might or could take place. For example, if I am in a tank in the Iraq I must anticipate possible anti tank fire, rockets, planes, etc. There is no need to think “What shall I do if a man runs up to me with a pair of nunchucks or Samurai sword?”
On the other hand if I am waking through the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, being hit by a rocket is unlikely. Being attacked by a knife is a possibility. So my situational awareness consists of thinking “in this situation a knife attack is a possibility. Thus I will keep my physical distance as much as possible from others, I will watch their body movements and be aware of their hand positions and I will keep my hands free. Mostly, I shall remain very alert.
We must train ourselves to be alert and see potential dangers. This is our first line of defense.
This Pre-Attack awareness is more important than any physical technique.
A friend once told me “I think that maintaining a sense of awareness is a given.” I think not. Perhaps this awareness is a given for a trained martial artist, perhaps for a police officer, but not for most people.
In fact I believe this is our greatest challenge; to get people to start thinking in these terms, to be aware.
I had a friend who went to prison, most of the guys there were petty criminals. On his first day he went to someone and put out his hand, “Hi, my name is Joe, I am new here”. The other guy punched him in the face and knocked him down, and said, “We have a game called ‘Top of the Class’; you are on the bottom, welcome.”
My friend had no situational awareness. He was actually a good fighter but did not anticipate this attack at all.
When someone asks me how to defend against a sudden stabbing attack in a prison yard the answer is simple. The technique is the same as we learn in other situations but in prison one must be very alert, very aware, that a sudden running stab is a distinct possibility.
Having that awareness is not a given, but should become one. It is the difference between life and death.