Scanning Can Save Your Life: Here’s How

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When you hear “scanning,” what pops into your mind? Scanning documents? Looking around? To clarify, what pops into your head when you hear the phrase “scanning your environment?” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s talk about it.

If you’re like most people, you’ll agree scanning your environment’s a good idea when considering situational awareness. For example, not blindly walking to your car in the dark in a dimly-lit parking lot in a shady neighborhood… not staring at your cell phone while walking down the street… paying attention to people around you, what they’re doing, saying, etc. Most people agree we must be careful, especially at night, especially in a new place. 

So why do we even need to talk about it? Doesn’t everybody know better than to put themselves in a compromising situation? Honestly, I wish we didn’t even have to discuss these things. I wish we could go into every day as carefree as a toddler, blissfully unaware of the dangers in this world because – hooray! – our world is safe! But we do need to talk about these things because – surprise, surprise – our world isn’t safe. 

And though we may think we know what to do and will do whatever it takes to survive a situation and emerge victorious, one look at the news tells us what’s true. And what’s true is you don’t know what you don’t know. None of us does. Chances are, without training and reinforcing concepts based on reality, we’ll freeze, flail, or fawn when a dangerous situation arises. We’ll emerge traumatized, harmed in body, or worse. 

Let’s dig deeper.

What Is Scanning?

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Simply put, scanning is taking in a situation, a room, or an environment. We often scan by sweeping our eyes across an area while simultaneously activating all our senses first to establish what’s expected, then to figure out if anything’s out of place. So let’s say you’re in a restaurant and want to try your scanning skills. First, find a seat where you can see as much of the room as possible at a glance with a full view of the entrance. You’ll also want to know where the exit is if it’s different from the entrance. 

Our scanning skills involve sight, so let’s explore that. What are the patrons and staff doing? Note erratic behavior. Now let’s employ our other senses.

So let’s move on to smells. Aside from the delicious aromas of food cooking, what other smells do you sense? How about alcohol on someone’s breath? Cannabis? Any odd smells that seem incongruent to a restaurant? Where are they coming from? 

How about the general mood of the place? You’ll want to note if there’s a shift in any of the baselines you’re trying to establish here. Then ask what changed – and why.

Scanning employs most, if not all, of our senses, in observing a room, a place of business, or even an area outside. Then, after establishing what’s expected in such a place (what’s normal here?), noting anything that seems out of place.

What’s The Next Step?

If we’re carefully scanning and realize all is normal, there’s no real next step except ordering our food and simply monitoring to see if anything changes. We don’t have to be paranoid; we just keep our feelers out for any change in the established baseline our initial scan produced. And we’ll most likely eat our meal, pay the bill, and leave without incident.  

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But what if we sense something’s just not right? We ask ourselves, what’s the deviation from the baseline? Does something smell different? Maybe a burning smell? Is someone raising their voice? Is there a disturbance in the corner? Do you feel anger or fear coming from somewhere nearby? Is some guy wearing a suit in a McDonald’s? Or a trenchcoat in the summer? Could they be hiding a sidearm? It’s worth noting. And planning how to act if things go sideways.

So the next step is planning a strategy, given all the factors above. How will I get to the exit if a guy has a gun? Who may need my help? If I don’t have the training, I won’t try to disarm them, but how can I get away safely? Drop to the floor, crawl that way… Let’s see. If someone tries to strike me, what can I use as a weapon? Silverware? A glass? Plate? My purse or phone? 

What if I smell something burning and see smoke billowing out of the kitchen? “Where there’s smoke there’s a fire,” so dropping to the floor and crawling to the exit would be my best bet. Planning to take charge may also be appropriate, so shout, “There’s a fire! Drop to the floor and crawl to the door! Someone call 9-1-1!”

So we take in an environment with as many senses as we can, note any changes, and have a plan to act, depending on what’s happening. And it all begins with scanning.

Okay, But I’ll Probably Forget

I’m glad you realize that! I’m the same way. Most of us are. How many of us read helpful information (like I just shared) and immediately apply every point? How many of us watch a few self-defense videos and are totally ready in a sketchy situation to take care of ourselves and beat the bad guy?

I don’t see any raised hands… And I’d be lying if I said any of us who train in self-defense have that superpower. Let’s be honest. The most skilled among us – a pianist, pro ball player, or  martial artist – must practice. First, we learn what we want or need to know. Then we go and rehearse it. We make our bodies do what doesn’t come naturally as we discipline our minds to do what may seem counterintuitive.

Ask a firefighter or a police officer, How in the world do you run into the fire instead of away from it? When everyone else is bolting away from shots fired, why are you running toward a deadly situation? Who does that? And how can I learn to stand and fight or at least think clearly enough in the moment to get my bearings and get out of the situation any way I can? They’ll tell you something like, “I got training. I applied my training. I keep training. I keep applying my training.”

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Sometimes we get this strange idea that we can’t do what they do. Well, they can’t do it, either, without training. And neither can we. So instead of letting our fears and feelings of “I can’t do X” make us potential victims, we take the step to start training. Once we begin, we choose to apply what we learn. Then we keep training. And using what we learn. 

And, when push comes to shove (maybe literally), we’re prepared, just like the firefighters and police officers are. It really is that simple.

Now I get it. Simple isn’t necessarily easy. But once you start, you’ll want to keep coming back. Why? Because you’ll find yourself holding your head a bit higher, walking more purposefully, and more robust in spirit and body. It’s so worth it to realize the more you train and apply your training, the less the attacker sees you as a target. They’ll want to move on when they sense the fierceness you’ve cultivated and keep growing. They’ll keep going. At least they’re more likely to. Of course, this is not guaranteed, and I won’t pretend it is. But you’ll shift the odds more in your favor as you decide to do the simple but difficult task of showing up to class and returning for more, including learning how to scan.

And though we may think we know what to do and will do whatever it takes to survive a situation and emerge victorious, one look at the news tells us what’s true.

How We Train Scanning

As with pretty much every technique we learn, we use a multi-pronged approach. We employ various exercises to hone our senses and discover how to detect changes. We create and role-play multiple scenarios where we notice and act on people acting uncomfortable, touching their clothing, displaying erratic behavior, getting aggressive, and more. We explore which skills best answer whatever the suspicious character’s actions warrant.

Here’s an example:

Mary is 50 years old and lives in a suburb outside a major city. She walks her dog to a park about two blocks from her house every morning. So she’s come to expect certain sounds, sights, and smells. Mr. Frederickson pulls his trash can to the curb every Tuesday morning and waves hello. Every weekday morning Susan Andrews chats her up about gardening or her grandkids. And about halfway through her walk, she passes a corner where a cluster of little kids and their parents wait for the school bus. 

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One morning Mary was strolling toward Mr. Frederickson’s place when her spidey senses started tingling. A quick scan of his yard and driveway seemed normal. Then, her dog started growling, so she slowed her walk and thought, “What’s different here?” She noticed a guy in his mid-twenties standing on Mr. Frederickson’s porch. He was scruffy and wearing a tattered blue hoodie.  When Mary noticed a bulge in his jacket pocket with what looked like a gun barrel poking out, she pulled her dog across the street and called the police.

It was a good thing she did. The man was a former employee Mr. Frederickson fired the week before. That bulge in his pocket? A loaded pistol. He told a friend his plans to shoot his boss that very morning. 

As Mary walked past his house the next day, Mr. Frederickson opened his door and said, “Wait!” He strode up to her and thanked her, taking her hands in both of his. His wife waved from the open doorway and invited Mary to come by for dinner sometime. They’ve been friends ever since.

Let’s Bring This Home

A world increasingly distracted from the here and now by portable devices and a false sense of security is a world increasingly victimized by criminals. Understanding this, really believing it’s true, spurs us to behave differently. At Tigress’ Roar, we take responsibility for ourselves and those we love. This looks like doing the hard work of showing up to train and returning for more. We choose to own what’s entrusted to us – our very lives. We keep adding new skills to our toolkits and continue honing the ones we learned, including scanning our environment and taking the fight back to the enemy.

Our doors are open to you, and you’re welcome here.

Join us.


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