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Auteur Sujet: Knowing Conditions - Chris " Kit "@ Prevail Training  (Lu 1976 fois)

12 mars 2011 à 18:47:06
Lu 1976 fois

** Serge **

Knowing Conditions

A Path to Practical Awareness

“Observation is more than seeing; it is knowing
what you see and comprehending its significance.”

Charles Gow

Awareness is the safety net of daily life, allowing us to predict and prevent stressful or even dangerous situations. Whether a testy exchange with a spouse foretelling an argument, a looming traffic accident, or predicting circumstances in which our child may end up being hurt, many of us strive to do what Japanese swordsman-strategist Musashi referred to as “knowing conditions” to avoid or better handle these situations and their outcomes.

Yet when it comes to violent behavior directed against us we often don’t do so well, operating instead from a baseline of fear, hesitation, and indecision.

Some turn to martial arts to learn self defense, but most martial art training does not take a practical approach to situational awareness. The general paradigm is of a dueling mentality with students aware of and essentially consenting to a violent encounter, able to prepare for it by engaging in  “centering” or other preparatory activity against an equally aware partner-opponent. This by its very nature is divorced from day to day situational awareness, threat assessment, and the management of violence under actual duress.

By honing the latter skills, a more realistic understanding of confrontational dynamics is developed and a path toward making martial arts study useful for personal protection is made available.


Author Marcus Wynne, a former Special Operations soldier, air marshal, and protective operations trainer provides a good working definition of situational awareness as “the state of relaxed alertness that allows the operator the maximum amount of information about what is going on his crucial zone of control.” (1)

Zones of control are situational and circumstantially dependent, and very different for the cop on the beat, the federal agent on a protection detail for a diplomat in Iraq, and the father on an outing with his family. Further, it is more than simply seeing what is happening in the zone of control, but involves the ability to know what one is looking at; read the signs and assess the threat potential of situations and people.

To accomplish this one might begin by reframing their thinking about the motivations and commitment of likely assailants.  Human predators frequently bring to a confrontation a world view and estimation of their fellow human beings far different from that found in the population of the average dojo. Put in the starkest terms, there are people out there for whom the life of another, even that of child, is less important to them than their own orgasm, or their next high. To achieve those goals, they have learned the arts of deception, manipulation, and violence decidedly different from those practiced in most martial arts. Primarily interested in achieving the goal and not in testing themselves against another, they move quickly using methods of shock and surprise intended to be psychologically and physically overwhelming.

This is by design, as shock frequently short circuits a victim’s self preservation mechanisms. Often by the time victims begin to process what is going on, they have been robbed, punched or stabbed, or are already in an alley or the back of a van and being driven away to be used and then discarded like fast food wrappers.

The weak or unaware are naturally preferred targets. Being distracted in public, as in driving (and waiting at a stop light), using a cell phone, using the cell phone when driving or walking, or with hearing blocked with an I-Pod simply identifies one as a potential victim and does half the predator’s work – it means that extra few seconds to “get the drop” and shock and surprise before the target is even cognizant of what is going on.

No one is completely aware all the time, so we must develop a habit of mentally checking back in to baseline awareness when we realize we have lost overall situational awareness. Demonstrable vigilance in and of itself may prevent selection as a victim in the first place.


True seeing involves more than just looking around; it is assessing and understanding the significance of what is seen. When something is “seen” in this way, reacting to it effectively starts earlier and buys more time than if one fails to comprehend the meaning of what is seen, or doesn’t see it at all. This kind of seeing involves skilled vision.

Assessment and understanding are the hallmarks of skilled vision. Skilled vision does not mean 20-20 eyesight, but rather the efficiency of visual scanning and processing of the information drawn from it. Studies have shown increased success at threat identification among soldiers that have honed their visual and perceptual skills and learned to trust gut feelings about what they see based on their experience. They know what to look for, and know what it means when they see it.

Practice scanning the environment and the people within it first as a whole, then their hands, then any behavioral or other cues (facial expressions, gait, or tell-tale bulges) that may indicate further interest or action is warranted. Skilled vision repeatedly cycles through these scan patterns in directed and conscious way with each and every contact.

Initiative and Interval

The potential of both initiative and interval must be assessed and managed quickly. The difficulty is managing these factors in normal daily life. We simply cannot function in typical urban environments by keeping people outside of our zone of control or “critical distance,” let alone be always on guard when someone enters that space; we would not be able to walk down a city street if we did, at least not without the police being called on us! Normal life allows strangers get far closer to us than is safe – there is no way to manage that without proper awareness, assessment and decision making relative to initiative and interval.

Initiative is frequently the determining factor in violent confrontations. The “first with the most” generally wins in everything from traditional battle arts to modern prison knife attacks; treatises from Sun Zi’s Art of War to John Boyd’s strategic theory recognize this truism. Initiative can overcome mismatches in skill, size and strength, at times pre-empting those advantages altogether.

Conversely, operating from an initiative deficit places one in greater danger and under much more pressure to reverse a situation and re-take initiative. Taking initiative implies decisive action. Hesitation before or during the initial stages of a violent encounter could spell disaster against a motivated, committed assailant.

Interval is the changing space between potential combatants, to include the concept of “personal space”, position, time, weapon type and mode of carry, and psychology. It is the interplay of all these factors in combination, not just relative distance between combatants.

Distance and position relative to an opponent may be the deciding factor in who has the initiative, and thus the greater tactical and psychological advantage (if capitalized upon) to end the confrontation in that moment. It may be the deciding factor in responsive countermeasures as well. Interval is important in employing initiative as well, particularly in weapons based encounters at close range in which the winner of the “drag race to a weapon” can determine the outcome of the event.

Expect the Unexpected

Surprise is so powerful a force multiplier that it is axiomatic in teachings on conflict. This includes interpersonal assault. The ability to surprise a target and maintain initiative can literally mean the difference between life and death. This could pertain to a sense of disbelief that an attack is actually happening in the first place, or to what happens within a confrontation such as being shocked when an assailant absorbs our “best shot” and keeps coming. Either can be the critical turning point in a violent confrontation.

Most of us are not familiar with the experience of having someone actually try to kill us, especially at close quarters. In light of this, a sense of complacency is bred that must be mitigated through realistic training and mental preparation using exercises such as visualization, mental rehearsal, and the “what if?” game. These condition the mind to the possibility that “anything can happen at any time.” The idea is to be prepared for when it does, not paranoid that it will happen every day.

Studies have shown that even trained and experienced persons surprised by an unexpected turn in a combative situation had a more difficult time during the event, and in handling the “emotional aftermath,” than those who made a habit of expecting the unexpected.

Mind over Manners:

Uncertainty breeds hesitation. The lack of understanding of what is actually happening, what to do, what is the legal right to act, and how to articulate all these things together results in uncertainty.

While training regimens focusing on tactics and technique provide a sense of direction in handling the physical aspects of an encounter, the unknowns above present a wild card driving that order toward chaos and breakdown. All the technical expertise in the world will do no good if one is hesitant to act in the first place.

Addressing the unknown and making the decision to act starts with trusting intuition over manners. Manners can be very important in managing minor threats, but can actually be counter productive if the initial read on a serious situation is incorrect, or worse, a victim tries to talk herself into disbelieving her intuition because of good manners or a discomfort with personal biases.

In general, always trust intuition if something “feels wrong,” and don’t rationalize that feeling away for the sake of manners, sympathy, or challenging wrongheaded racist/sexist/class based or whatever paradigm. That panhandler who is encroaching on your space may not be a “poor guy down on his luck;” and that blind date may seem like a “perfectly nice man” until he’s had a few beers, wants in your pants, and you tell him “no.” One simply must learn to ascertain the difference between a confirmed threat, a potential threat, and something that is not a threat and the first step is learning to trust instincts and intuition.

Research has identified activity in the brain relative to tense, uncertain circumstances; the orbito-frontal cortex, involved in decision making, and the insula, where it is believed the brain translates various sensations and stimuli from the environment into a “cohesive feeling,” including one of danger. Our brains are wired for threat assessment and survival, and some are even more highly attuned to these things than others based on their overall mental stance. An Army study of IED Detection found those best at performing in threat detection simulations “tended to think of themselves as predators, not prey.” (2) Elite soldiers and police officers also share a similar trait.

It is this kind of mind that allows one to avoid being selected as a victim to begin with, to naturally engage a practical awareness that detects threats as they happen, and that will anticipate and carry through the worst of violent assaults. It can be cultivated through realistic confrontational simulation training and in making some of the practices described above habit, versus visiting them in the aftermath and thinking “I could have.., “ I would have…,”  “I should have….“


1. Wynne, Marcus; “Building Blocks of Situational Awareness,” SWAT Magazine November 2007.

2. Carey, Benedict, “In Battle, Hunches Prove to Be Valuable,” appearing in the New York Times July 27,2009.

© - April 2010 - Chris @ Prevail Training
"The quality of your life is a direct reflection of the quality of your communication with yourself and others." - Anthony Robbins
"Communications without intelligence is noise; Intelligence without communications is irrelevant." ~ Gen. Alfred. M. Gray, USMC


Keep in mind

Bienveillance, n.f. : disposition affective d'une volonté qui vise le bien et le bonheur d'autrui. (Wikipedia).

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