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The Nuts And Bolts Of Awareness - Part 1
Spotting Trouble Before It Happens

Randy LaHaie

What if violent criminals looked different?

If they did, and you knew what gave them away, would this reduce the chance of becoming their victim? You bet it would. Unfortunately rapists, muggers and predatory reprobates don't look any different than a "normal" person. However, the good news is that they can be recognized by their behavior. If you know what to look for, you can recognize a problem as it unfolds and stay one step ahead of a human predator. That is the goal of awareness.

==== Communication is Predominantly Non-Verbal ====

People communicate their intent in three ways. Seven percent of your ability to interpret that intent is based on words, thirty eight percent through voice, and a whopping fifty five percent is projected through body language. Why is this important?

A predominant aspect of self-defense involves the communication process. Human predators don't just pounce on the first person that comes along. There is an evaluation process that occurs where they deliberately or unconsciously assess the "victim potential" of a target. In doing so, they project their intentions by watching, following and even "testing" you. If you understand this process you will spot predatory intent before an assault is initiated.

In future articles, I will explain victim selection and predatory behavior in greater detail. For now, realize that knowing what clues to look for will allow you to anticipate and respond effectively to a potential confrontation.

==== What is Awareness? ====

Awareness is the ability to "read" people and situations and anticipate the probability of violence before it happens. It is knowing what to look for and taking the time to notice safety-related aspects of what is happening around you.

Awareness is not about being fearful or paranoid. It is a relaxed state of alertness that you can incorporate into your character. It is neither desirable, nor necessary, to go about life hectically scanning your surroundings for the boogey man around every corner. Your level of awareness should be appropriate to the circumstances you are in.

Some circumstances call for a greater degree of awareness than others. Obviously, you would want to be more aware when walking alone to your car at night than when shopping in a crowded mall with friends.

==== What is Successful Self-Defense? ====

How you define success determines the strategies you implement to achieve it. Many people confuse the ability to defend themselves with the ability to fight. If your image of successful self-defense is fighting off an assailant, your solution will be directed at learning physical techniques. You would be missing the point.

Success in self-defense is not winning a fight but avoiding it. The ultimate success in self-defense is when nothing happens! If that's not possible, consider this philosophy: If you can't prevent it, avoid it. If you can't avoid it, defuse it. If you can't defuse it, escape. If you can't escape, you may have to fight your way out of the situation. If you do have to fight, it will be as a last resort, not a first. Does this philosophy influence your success strategies?

==== Predatory/Defender Time Line ====

The sooner you detect and recognize a threat, the more options you have to respond to it. Imagine a time line spanning from the time a predator forms the intent to commit a violent crime and the moment he initiates it upon you. The time it takes you to detect, recognize and respond, impacts how successful your actions are likely to be. The sooner you act, the more flexible and deliberate you can be in avoiding, escaping or responding to the situation.

Awareness strategies focus primarily to the "pre-incident" phase of the encounter; to the cues and signals you can detect and recognize that allow you to anticipate the event before it occurs.

Knowing What to Look For

There are three primary aspects of awareness: knowing what to pay attention to, paying attention to safety-related details and matching the degree of your awareness to your circumstances.

==== Effective Self-defense Requires a Map ====

The brain's ability to recognize and understand anything is a result of having a mental map or blueprint relevant to that experience. Psychologists call these maps "schemas." They consist of our accumulated knowledge, experience, beliefs and habits and are activated when we activate or recognize patterns associated to them.

A good mechanic can detect what's wrong with a car by the clunks, squeaks and rattles it makes. Paramedics can diagnose unseen injuries by the patient's symptoms. Hunters can track an animal for miles based on broken twigs, displaced soil and clues invisible to the untrained eye. They have the mental maps that allow them to do this. Diagnosing a potential confrontation requires self-defense maps. In his book, "Vital Lies, Simple Truths," psychologist Daniel Goleman describes how schemas work. "The (process) that organizes information and makes sense of experience are 'schemas,' the building blocks of cognition. Schemas embody the rules and categories that order raw experience into coherent meaning. All knowledge and experience is packaged in schemas. Schemas are...the intelligence that guides information as it flows through the mind."

Schemas allow us to make sense of the world and influence what we recognize, understand, notice and ignore. They allow us to interpret patterns, predict outcomes and respond in appropriate ways to what happens in our lives.

==== Evaluating Your Self-defense Schemas ====

Effectively defending yourself requires an accurate mental map about self-defense situations. Assessing your own schemas is difficult. We tend to resist or ignore anything that challenges our existing perception of the way things are. Schema enhancement is impossible without an open mind and curiosity about the way things really work.

In order to evaluate your own mental maps, and determine where they can be improved, consider the "Three A's."

=> Accurate:

Accurate mental maps are essential to effective self-defense. You establish and refine them by learning about violent and predatory situations; how they happen, where and when they happen, who they are perpetrated by and so on. This involves learning to recognize pre-assault patterns and developing an inventory of skills and strategies to resolve confrontations.

We build experience by using what we have learned. By consistently applying awareness and prevention strategies they become habits. Soon they are unconscious and automatic. Physical and scenario-based training drills can reduce your fears and desensitize you to the threat and exertion of combat.

Beliefs dramatically affect your perceptions and behavior. Do your beliefs empower or disempower your ability to protect yourself? Are they realistic and functional or based on fantasy? Evaluate your beliefs about your power to defend yourself and, if they don't contribute to your skill, resilience and ability to respond, change them.

=> Absent:

When you lack knowledge or experience in an area your maps about it are absent. Absent self-defense maps result in people being naive about their safety, more likely to place themselves in risky situations, and oblivious to signs of danger. If someone with an absent map encounters a confrontation, they are more likely to panic, freeze or react ineffectively. In self-defense jargon, that's called, "Not Good!"

=> Assumed:

An assumed map occurs when a map associated to an experience is flawed, inaccurate and erroneous. A map of Winnipeg is useless is Chicago. A map that is wrong won't help you produce the results you desire.

Assumed self-defense maps are more prevalent than you might think. Even trained martial artists often hold an unrealistic perception of what a "real fight" is like. They confuse the chaos of violent encounters with sparring. They confuse martial art techniques with the ability to defend themselves. That's like equating hockey with golf!

Studying self-defense is about developing and refining accurate mental maps of confrontation. We must build an accurate mental database of knowledge, experience and beliefs about self-defense situations and our power to respond effectively to them. The purpose of these articles, my courses and seminars, and the Protective Strategies Self-defense Resource Center is to assist you in the development of your self-defense maps.

Note: In this discussion, I don't mean to imply that people without extensive self-defense training are helpless or unable to respond to threatening situations. It is indisputable that far more "untrained" people successfully defend themselves from assault than those with formal training. We all possess the instinct to survive. More important than learning self-defense skills is respecting, re-awakening, and tapping into existing instincts that have been neglected, denied, or suppressed.

Self-defense training is not always a matter of "installing" new maps but "dusting off" and improving the ones we already have.

Continued in The Nuts and Bolts of Awareness Part #2

Randy LaHaie is the president of Protective Strategies and has been teaching reality-based self-defense for over 30 years. He is the author of several "Toughen Up Combative Training Guides" ( Subscribe to his FREE SELF-DEFENSE NEWSLETTER at

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