Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Awareness - Intent versus ability

Readers of this blog will know that I believe awareness is the single most important part of self defense.

Now, I exist is a slightly more vigilant state than most.  It's not quite paranoia, but I am always scanning my surroundings, scanning for potential threats. Military people, police and security can often be identified just by the way they scan any new bar, restaurant, store, subway car etc, that they are entering.  I am guilty of this.  My buddy called me on this not long ago when we were out at a pub.  He got a kick out of observing me observe others.  He wanted to know what I was looking for.  He understood about exit points, potential weapons and that sort of thing, but wanted to know what I looked for when I scanned people.

That part is a bit trickier.  In the example above, there were several dozen people in a fairly small pub.  It wasn't too crowded but there weren't many empty tables.

So how does someone scan 30 people in a few seconds?  I have, after all, walked out of an establishment based on a five second scan.

There are two things I try to hone in on. One is the overall energy in the place. No matter what you want to call it, if the place has a bad vibe or bad energy, I'll go somewhere else.  I think most people have walked into a place and felt bad energy.  Something about the place just didn't feel right.  I say trust this. Unless you have to be there, leave.  Trust you gut.  Call it your sixth sense if you want.

The second thing I look for is intent.  I scan each person briefly to try to judge their intent.  I can't guess at any one person's ability, so the only sense I can get from a quick look is intent.

If I'm scanning a room, my mind and my eye easily 'rule out' most people as a threat in an instant.  It's those individuals that give off bad energy or intent that I take a second look at.  I could walk into a bar filled with martial arts masters of the highest calibre and would most likely rule them all out as potential threats in a heartbeat, providing they were there with good intentions.  That's the difference between intent and ability.  The masters would have the ability to be a threat were they so inclined, but if they don't have bad intentions, I would skip right past them on my 'threat-o-meter'.

I can usually tell the few people who are in an establishment with bad intentions.  The ones whose energies aren't focused on the positive around them, be it food, company or entertainment.

I might 'flag' a guy standing at a bar.  I might think that he might be threat.  If I had to drill down and explain why, it might be that every time someone walks by, they tense a little bit and stand a bit further back possibly hoping someone will accidentally bump into them.  It might be that they are giving mini 'stare-downs' at those around them.  Or they might fixate on someone not known to them or inappropriately stare at someone's girlfriend or partner.  They might make rude comments to be overheard by others.  They might deliberately stand in someone's way, making the other person ask them to move.  Their eyes may be cloudy or the pupils might be large, a possible indication of an intoxicating substance.  They might clearly be drunk, and loud etc.  There are dozens of little things, that when combined, get my hackles up.  And while clothing and appearance play a role, they are far less reliable indicators than actions and attitude.

It is actually harder to break down all the different things that combine to give you a good or bad feeling about someone than it is to make the overall assessment.

With the exception of certain professions, it isn't even necessary to break it all down to explain it.  Your brain processes all this stuff for you.  The neat part is that it's a skill that can be used and improved by anyone in any walk of life. It can even be fun. Make a game of scanning the room wherever you go. Look for bad energy or intent.  What's the worst that can happen? Nothing.  The best?  Maybe you avoid being present for an unpleasant situation, whether or not the bad intentions ever get aimed at you.

And remember, predators watch for victims that aren't paying attention.  If they see you paying attention, they'll move on to easier prey.

Be safe.  Have fun.


  1. Interesting post. We should never ignore our instincts or gut feelings about a place or the people in it - they're generally right.

  2. Sue,

    As long as we don't become too paranoid or hyper-vigilant, we should always listen to our instincts. Our subconscious picks up, processes, and deciphers huge amount of information. Who are we to argue with that? Our survival instincts have been somewhat dulled by the proxemics of modern society. Too often, we talk ourselves out of listening to the 'warning bells' that go off in our heads.

  3. It's interesting you refer to 'survival instincts'. That is the subject of the third book in my series of books related to the science behind combatives. It is suggested, and not just by those who are interested in the effects of our 'survival mechanism' on combat and survival performance, that this mechanism/instinct is maladaptive to the modern environment. That we have changed the environment but we haven't changed so as to become adapted to it.

    It's a fascinating subject. As is instincts and intuition. A subject I cover in book #1. So much more ...

  4. Fascinating subject! Our subconscious picks up, processes, and deciphers huge amount of information. We should never ignore our instincts.

    Mr. Martial Arts

  5. John,

    We're in an interesting time where notions of personal space, comfort zones and distance are changing rapidly based on our surroundings. We have always been social animals, but we're now 'packed' in together tighter than ever before. From a self defense perspective, it creates a bunch of interesting challenges.


    Thanks for the comment. I'm happy to hear you enjoyed the post and the subject.