One night I had arrived at my martial arts class a little early. I was at the back of my car with my back turned towards the outside and totally absorbed in whatever I was doing. One of my classmate’s parents came up behind me and said something. I screeched in surprise because I didn’t hear him coming. He questioned my training and said, “what would happen if someone snuck up on you?” I was rightfully embarrassed and by now I should be constantly aware of my surroundings. It’s what I teach after all. There’s no room for hypocrisy when teaching others.
In self-defense circles, the words “situational awareness” and “zanshin” are frequently used. Both of these terms mean basically the same thing, although the transliteration of this word in Japanese, zanshin (残心), is “remaining mind.” Situational awareness means what it sounds like: being aware of your situation. This can apply to many things in life but when it comes to self-defense, situational awareness begins once you are outside of the relative safety of your home, work, or vehicle.
I teach people to be aware of their surroundings, to watch for signs of approaching danger using their physical senses, and their “gut” (a.k.a intuition, sixth sense, instinct, hunch, etc). This means paying attention to unusual sounds, smells, sights, and the feeling something’s not right. Perhaps there is a smell of cigarettes or alcohol nearby, or there’s a different car where another one usually is parked.
Situational awareness seems logical and easy, but, it’s surprising how many people don’t think about this when moving between home, vehicle, and other public spaces. People are busy corralling kids, talking or texting on the phone, occupied by something in their vehicle (like me that day), or any number of distracting things. Good situational awareness means taking the time to ensure that nothing strange is around you and you can safely proceed with your plans for the moment.
Situational awareness IS the ounce of prevention that negates the need for the cure: violence.
A person aware of their surroundings will make good choices for themselves and their loved ones. Is some creepy-looking guy on your side of the street? If you’re aware of him, you can cross the street. If not, you’ve afforded him the opportunity to attack, especially if you’re not even aware he’s there. A mom struggling to get her groceries in the house is vulnerable when her back is turned to the outside and she is totally focused on the inside of her vehicle. Simply turning the angle of her body with her back the door so she can see what’s around her changes her from being a victim to being a person who’s making her own safety choices.
In my town there have been several attacks in the past two years on women. Some guy is/was ambushing women outside of their apartment buildings and trying to drag them to his car. Had these women taken a moment to pause at the door to their apartment building and scanned the area for signs of danger (unusual smells, sights, sounds, gut instinct), they might have gone back inside and called the cops instead of fighting for their lives. People at a local Walmart have been attacked in broad daylight while loading groceries in their cars. Being aware, and training to be ready for an attack, is essential to preventing the worst possible outcome.
If you’re reading this, I encourage you to start noticing the environment outside your home and car. Look for things that don’t seem right, and avoid them. Adopting this kind of behavior is not based in fear and paranoia. Rather, it shows street smarts and the courage to take control over your own life. I don’t ever want someone to be attacked, having to live with that the rest of their lives. I know that wish won’t ever be totally true, but let’s all reduce the percentages and use what God gave us to keep ourselves safe.