T Nation

Situational Awareness


Like the title says, I would like to discuss this often overlooked topic and dig into different situations. would like to see some discussion or video of what to look for in someone who is about to attack you, or are there signs to signify they have a buddy or two hiding in the crowd.

I have discussed this with several trainers at different times but would like to see what insight is here on the board. I think this might be the most important aspect of self defense and maybe a big one just for life itself.


I think before you need situational awareness you need to be aware of avoiding needing it in the first place, when possible. I have a friend who was robbed after he went to an ATM late at night, in a sketchy area. He said he should have been paying more attention to what was around him. I said he shouldn't have gone to the ATM.


I agree with what you are saying, and you can make choices to avoid certain areas that are known to be bad but I also refuse to live my life based on what some scumbag is doing over in the shadows. Also sometimes you just can't avoid things or you are out of town and just don't know.


Part of it is actual physical cues (you are lucky enough to see a single/group of attackers coming up behind you in a reflection or out of the corner of your eye for example) and part of it is trusting your gut. Sometimes you will just get a feeling that something is "off" about someone or some situation and IMO you should always trust that gut feeling. Even if you happen to be wrong and be overly cautious, it's better than being right and being overly careless.

You also have to consider who you are dealing with. A lot of "tough guys" will use a lot of posturing and intimidation to attempt to either get you to submit (and make themselves look like the victor) before ever physically attacking you. Now that's not to say that they won't attack you, but their first goal is to intimidate (they also figure that if they can get you scared you won't fight back as hard/well). These signs are all fairly easy to spot and common:
-puffing out the chest
-getting in your face
-pointing a finger in your face of into your chest
-rolling up the sleeves
-pacing or shifting weight from foot to foot
-yelling or speaking words meant to intimidate you

We classify these types of situations as "escalating" and with them you generally have a chance to utilize verbal and postural self defense to either diffuse, escalate, or submit to the situation (sometimes just giving someone what they want is the best way to solve a situation in the long run). These are the "easier" types to deal with.

Then there are the career criminals who will not give you warning that they are going to attack you. These types will attempt to infiltrate your "kill zone" by way of asking you seemingly mundane or harmless questions/requests, or simply by just getting close when there is an opportunity and will then seek to "ambush" you once they have the range or mindset (in you) that they feel will allow them to effectively assault you. This is really when that "gut feeling" is going to come most into play and sometimes you simply are just not going to see it coming and have to hope that you are able to survive the initial attempted ambush attack.

Sometimes you can simply avoid such situations by maintaining a "safe" distance from people you don't know, avoiding bad parts of town/establishments, "slicing the pie" when going around blind corners or obstacles which someone could be hiding behind, always looking in the back seat of your car before you get into it to make sure no one is hiding in your back seat, always looking around to see if someone might be watching you when you go to an ATM, or gas station alone (especially at night), sitting with your back to the wall in restaurants/bars, etc... But realistically, unless you live in a very, very rural area you are going to find yourself in situations where you have to break these rules (at least some of them). And you also don't want to live your whole life in "code red" or you will drive yourself crazy with paranoia.


Very interesting post Sentoguy, thanks for that.

Excuse my ignorance but what is "slicing the pie"?


I didn't realise this happens in real life! I always thought it would be brutal when I see it in movies, but I didn't realise it was a strategy that was actually used. I'll start checking!


Great post!

Im personally very aware of my surroundings. Specially in cities and urban area's. Weighing up if you should run or fight on that gut instinct is vital.

I think some people just walk around oblivious to there surroundings, these are the types that tend to be picked on.

Miss spent youth to thank for being so streetwise!


"Excuse me have you got a lighter?"


Going around a corner like this:

As opposed to the usual "walk until wall isn't next to me, turn 90 deg" which can leave you vulnerable, not to mention the chance of walking into someone.

Sento's post is excellent, if I may add another couple of tips:
* Stuffing around on your phone while you're walking. Ditto for listening to music that's way too loud.
* At night or when I'm alone, every now and then I'll turn my head to look at something while checking what's behind me in my peripheral vision. Listen as well.


It may be semantics, but I would argue that you need situational awareness all the time. Life's hazards are not confined to muggings or spontaneous ninja attacks. It's not at all something that is limited to recognizing when someone's going about to attack you.

The principles of situational awareness extend to "that driver in the oncoming lane doesn't see me in the crosswalk" or "those guys working on that scaffold might drop something, I think I'll cross the street instead of walking underneath". My workplace (tree climbing /trimming/removal) is all situational awareness all the time or you are likely to kill yourself or someone else. Even your ATM example requires the situational awareness to assess the area and decide to do your banking elsewhere.

If you're walking around in condition "white" (referring to the colour code system for threat levels: white, yellow, orange, red, black) you simply aren't making those types of evaluations. However, if you get in the habit of stepping it up to "yellow" every time you leave the confines of your home or a similarly secure environment you will be a safer and more effective human being in virtually every day to day situation, whether a ninja attack materializes or not.

Regarding specific pre-assaultive cues, I was trained to look for (in no particular order):
1000 yard stare, target glancing, jaw clenching, chin tucking, body blading, hands opening and closing, shedding of clothing, target glancing, unconsciously patting a likely spot for a concealed weapon, conspicuous ignoring, increasingly monosyllabic answers, pushing off from a fixed object (car/counter) changes in skin tone (first red then pale), lips tightening and a number of other things that escape me just now. Some of these indicate an assault is more imminent than others. They will also tend to show up in clusters when things are getting serious.

Also, everything Sento said.


Of course. I lived in the inner city for a few years and somethings were unavoidable. Someone was shot in front of my house in the middle of the day while I was home. Had it happened 10 minutes later I would have been on my way out of the house to witness it or get shot myself, assuming the shooting would have happened regardless. I also did stupid things like going to the ATM at night.

I think that if you are going somewhere that you'll need to keep your head on a swivel then you need a plan beforehand so you have an idea what you're going to do if you do spot trouble. One example of what I'm trying to say is that KO game "kids" are playing. If you are walking alone and you see a group of kids walking in your direction rather than become alert and heighten your sense of awareness if one makes a move, you'd be better off just thinking about how to avoid a possible confrontation. One time I was in a parking garage at night and a young woman was walking ahead of me. I could sense that she was uncomfortable and uneasy. She was obviously aware of my presence. What did she do with that awareness? Nothing. She just kept walking with her "ass puckered." Because I'm not a jerk I stopped walking and let her get well ahead and to her car. I'm sure a lot of people have become victims because they were afraid of how things might appear. A white person sees a group of young black men and in his heart he wants to cross to the other side of the street but doesn't want to look racist so he or she soldiers on and prays.


Excellent topic and great responses.

I incorporate this topic in lots of my training and it is very difficult to get across, if the student has never faced armed combat or an actual physical assault. Reality is always the best teacher. Sento/Batman and others have covered the topic very well, just a couple of observations:


having spent the last 7 years working, training, and living in various countries in the Middle East, you have to learn your environment... This applies to everywhere I have worked, including 6 countries in Europe. there are certain situations you need to try and avoid at all costs: large crowds on the streets, lines of people in the markets ,intelligence on whether the area is Shiite or Sunni, know your local hotspots for attacks, does the street have any children playing, if not, run like hell, try to avoid or exit a police/military checkpoint as fast as possible. Always have secure and reliable communications (I prefer two cell phones with two different carriers) , transportation, backup team or direct communication with a QRT, a reliable and pre planned exit route, and, if legal....weapons.

International travel:

This is where everyone is the most vulnerable. Know the airport lay out the best you can,(maps on walls) arrive 3 hours early , get through customs and then walk the terminal marking the exits, bathrooms, and checkpoints....does it have multiple levels? if so, spend time in the upper levels watching the crowds entering, because, if an attack is going to occur, if will be on the ground level (high percentage). Locate security...is it the army or local police? do they have roving patrols or fixed stations? if they are killed outright, can you operate their weapons for your own survival? visualize an attack and then decide what you are going to do...what cover do you have? where are the exits? have a plan, no matter how simple.


stay away from the "food courts" at all times.....if a mass of people a sleeping along the walls ( Kuwait International) never linger...walk on by. watch everyone carefully, especially if they are carrying large amounts of luggage in cardboard or other types of carriers..... try to arrive early enough to avoid waiting several hours checking in....This has happened to me several times after late flights and , believe me, waiting with several hundred people on the GROUND FLOOR of a terminal with massive amounts of luggage is not a good situation. Most security entering the ground floor is shit. (recent LA airport shooting). Watch the entrance as much as possible, have a plan. example:( There is nothing wrong with jumping past the ticket agent and crawling through the luggage conveyor belt if someone opens up with an AK-behind you).

The most stupid thing I see every time I travel: USE OF ELECTRONICS.

for God's sake, get those buds out of your ears, how can you hear gunshots, people yelling, rockets or mortars whistling in with music blasting ?

How the hell, do you watch your area, if you have your face stuck in an I-Phone playing the latest version of whatever....save that crap when you on the plane or in your hotel room.

Just a few thoughts this morning.


I think response to a possible threat needs to be addressed. Should you just leave some place or stay and deal with the potential trouble. How do you decide when to do what? I think we all have that "spidey sense" but we don't always listen.


This awesome information guys. I have learned a thing or two already. One reason I posted this was because of something that happened to a friend of mine and training partner. He got caught in a confrontation at a club downtown. I don't have the whole story yet, but it looks like as one guy was threatening him or arguing another one came from the side, possibly with brass knuckles and laid him out pretty good. He was in for surgery yesterday to repair the bones in his face and jaw.

Now I have a feeling that he could have probably avoided the whole situation just from my own experience being in clubs with douchebag assholes but again I wasn't there and I don't know the situation. I do know that my friend is a pretty good fighter, actually better than that. I'm sure he got caught blindsided. I am looking into more ways to understand and teach body language and situational awareness in the future and this situation hit very close to home for me.

Right about now my expectations from humanity is pretty low and I suspect most people as in need of a good ass whoopin and some may even need deadly force so I just keep to my inner circle as much as possible.


I have a cousin who worked at the door at a club. He reused to let a couple of guys in for whatever reason. They left. When my cousin went to his car at the end of his night they were waiting, with more friends, and he ended up in the hospital. I guess one moral is to not assume everyone will take rejection the same.


Similar situation with my trainer. He threw a guy out for smoking crack in the bathroom. The guy left and came back about an hour later and did a drive by. My guy jumped and rolled but caught one in the hip. Clubs make me nervous as crap. So many dudes in there trying to act cool and damn near raping women. My awareness has taught me to not go there lol


Great posts by batman and Idaho and good posts by everyone else.


What about eye contact in street situations in America? Good or bad?

Say walking past an individual that activates the gut reaction?

If seeing one of these individuals do you already have your hand on your weapon? Or searching for an improvised one? brick etc


great great topic, it is always insightful to hear from such knowledgeable guys.


The overwhelming majority of individuals in the street in America have their heads up their Iphone's asses; earphones inserted.

The remainder of individuals are blankly staring off in an oblivious to the world gaze.

Bottom line is people are afraid to make eye contact and acknowledge the presence of others via peripheral visual assessment. The proliferation of technological gadgets have further enabled these oblivious souls to hide themselves from noting their surroundings.

Many will pay for this. It's a predator's paradise.


I think whether you should or not depends on several things. Also, it depends on what kind of eye contact you make.

If you get the reaction while walking by it could already be too late. If you get it before then IMO you should try and avoid walking past that person. If the guy has a knife, and he knows what he's doing, then you are probably going to get stabbed if you walk by him. It's not like in the movies where he'll pull out his knife and get into some stance. You'll feel the knife before you see it.

If you have a hand on your weapon that's one less hand you have to protect yourself if he takes a swing or something. If he has a weapon and you do manage to see him go for it then what? You are going to play quickdraw or something? He will be vulnerable as he goes for his weapon and that is the best time to try and disarm him.

When teaching cops weapons retention the first thing we would teach was to not rely on the weapon and automatically go for it. It was also the hardest thing to teach because cops somehow think their gun makes them superman. There is video footage of prisoners practicing disarming cops. This is why I find those civilians who like to open carry because they think it's some deterrent, idiots. It will deter some but those who aren't deterred are the ones they will have a problem with. It wouldn't deter me if I were a criminal. When I see those Youtube videos of guys openly carrying their guns so they can post a video of how cops violate their rights I see some seriously out of touch people. I used to workout with ex-cons who looked like linebackers and if any one of them walked up to one of those gun toting champions of our right to bear arms and said hand it over, they would hand it over. If Tyson were standing 2 feet in front of you do you think you could draw a weapon before he caved your skull in?