I swear the entire world thinks situational awareness is the most important element of self-defense. This list includes our friends at STRATFOR, who devoted an entire article to situational awareness’ central role for both individual and societal safety. Not unexpectedly, STRATFOR scribe Scott Stewart trotted out ye olde situational awareness color chart—for readers who don’t stop to wonder if a white (relaxed) to black (OMG OMG OMG) awareness scale is inherently racist. Like me, obviously. But I do wonder why gun gurus and self-defense experts fixate on situational awareness. Like this . . .
Clearly, few of us are living in the type of intense threat environment currently found in places like Mogadishu, Juarez or Kandahar. Nonetheless, average citizens all over the world face many different kinds of threats from a variety of criminal actors on a daily basis, from common thieves and assailants to militants planning terrorist attacks. Situational awareness can and does help individuals protect themselves in any environment. When practiced corporately, it can also prevent terrorist acts intended to shock and destabilize an entire society.
At the risk of being labeled a hopeless pedant, situational awareness doesn’t prevent a terrorist attack. Nor does it protect you from attack. To avoid death and dismemberment, you have to actually DO something when the threat is perceived. Whether that’s phone it in, shoot someone or run away like Tom Cruise in [pick a movie].
Ah, run away! Avoidance. Who doesn’t love avoidance? Gun gurus preach avoidance like Baptist ministers tout fidelity. If you don’t have a gunfight or sleep with your secretary (or have a gunfight with your secretary), chances are you’ll get off scott free. Which is not to say that trained armed citizens live in Dred [sic]. Just that they reckon early threat detection is THE key to survival.
It’s that OODA loop thing. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. If you’re situationally aware, if you’ve got your OODA loop up and running, you have a better chance of emerging from a violent or potentially violent encounter ahead of the game (or whatever crew 50 Cent is hanging out with these days). If your enemy’s OODA loop is already up and running before yours when an attack occurs, that’s a gurney full of not good.
In theory. In practice, two things. First, you think bad guys are stupid? Well, OK, they are (otherwise they’d be working for the government by now). But in a low animal cunning sort of way, they’re plenty damn smart. Bad guys know that a surprise attack is their best offense. And if you think your situational awareness will never let you down, B.A. Baracus has a message for you: fool.
Note: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have situational awareness. You should. But–
Trusting in the supremacy of situational awareness can make you over-confident. The bad guys can’t sneak up on me because I’m looking for them. And then BAM! The bastards take you by surprise. You’ve been knocked for six and you’re so far behind on your OODA loop that it looks like that endless stretch of desert road they use in horror movies.
Equally, you can detect trouble and then what? What if you can’t avoid or escape? How fast can you switch from situational awareness to combat ready to combat? As mentioned above, are you ready if events conspire to eliminate the first of that three-part sequence?
To survive a violent encounter you may have to go from rest to death match in the blink of an eye. People who focus all their energy on threat detection are only seeing half the picture. Sure, odds are that an early ping on your self-defense radar will forestall most trouble. But not all.
Bottom line: you really need to place equal emphasis on the fighting part of the program. As I mentioned before, Krav Maga. Force-on-force training. Run around your house with a blue gun like a blue assed fly. But, above all, be born with mental toughness. Or, if you weren’t, reborn. As they say on that interminable teenage soap opera, whatever it takes. Woo-hoo.