Friday, October 21, 2011

Are you looking at me? Am I looking at you? Awareness part II

In part 1 we were talking about specific things to look for as part of awareness training during the day and in high traffic areas.  So what about when the sun goes down?

Night time/low crowd:

The city is a different place at night.  Areas that were teaming with people hours ago now take on a different look.  And with that different look comes different things to look for.

You can easily apply many of the things discussed for day time awareness to night time, but several things in the environment have changed.  With fewer people around, differences from the collective behaviour are more difficult to spot.  While most people are still going somewhere or doing something, there is a much more relaxed sense of purpose, and often people can be just standing around, even trying to figure out what to do next.  It can be more difficult to identify aberrant behaviour.

Obviously, still pay attention to groups or gangs of suspicious looking people.  For individuals though, look for people that are doing one of two things.

  1. Staring intently at you, watching everything you are doing.
  2. Deliberately not staring at you.  Making a point to keep their heads down.  These people may wear hoods or other items of clothing that may obscure or hide their appearance.  They may stay just out of the reach of street lights.
If the hairs on the back of your neck go up, consider changing your direction, or making erratic walking patterns.  If someone follows or keeps pace with you generally, they could be a threat.  If they follow you after you've made an about face, the chances of them being up to no good is greatly increased.  Seek the safety of a populated area or an open business, anywhere with people.  

Be aware of sharp corners you can’t see around.  Take a wide berth around blind corners.  Watch for alleys or ditches close to where you are walking.  Watch for any area that can't easily be seen by foot or vehicle traffic.  Many attacks, mostly on women, involve being struck from behind and being dragged off the beaten path to an area that is out of the public eye. 

Keep an eye out for clothing that doesn't match the weather, typically more than is needed for the temperature.  This is easier in the warmer weather.

You may find yourself in a situation where someone is deliberately approaching you or engaging you in dialog.  They could ask you something incongruous or they could be deliberately confrontational.  They want your attention fully on them.  If you don't know the person, try to remain aware of what is going on behind you.  Many criminals operate in pairs.  While the first one distracts you, the other sneaks up behind you.  It’s always a good idea to know what’s going on around you, even if you look a bit weird by turning around from time to time when you're walking.

If you’re in a bar, or somewhere similar, try to keep a wall to your back.  Also, keep an exit handy and in sight.  Being able to see who is coming in and out of an establishment is never a bad idea.

And remember, not everyone is out to get you.  And no one action or behaviour means someone is a criminal or has nefarious intent.  This is what awareness is all about.  It’s about being aware of your surroundings, paying attention to patterns or behaviours, being aware of what does and doesn’t fit.

At the start of this post, I mentioned that it’s more important to ‘just be looking’ than knowing what exactly to look for. 

A person in a busy area might have his hood up and be staring at people with no apparent purpose and be continually checking a bulge in his low hanging jacket pocket and be moving somewhat erratically because he is high on drugs and is about to rob someone at gunpoint, or it could be a teenager on lunch listening to music on his earphones bopping away, while checking on his newly purchased iphone or hand held video game system that’s in his pocket.

There’s no definitive list of exactly what to look for, but hopefully I’ve provided some insight into potential danger signs.  And remember, if you are in a dicey situation, watch the hands. Hands are what will attack you 9 times out of 10 and hands are what grab and use weapons.  If someone's hands are kept from view at all times, you should be wondering what they're up to.

And always, always, trust your gut.  If a situation doesn’t feel right to you, leave.  More often than not, if you’ve been paying attention, your mind has put together a whole bunch of observations that have resulted in your feeling of unease.  Quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter if you can separate each piece of the puzzle, as long as the end result is you being safe.


  1. Great post and thanks for giving this topic such a decent airing! I've been fed up of people paying such lip service to this important area of self-defence. The more I look into the subject of awareness, including the psychological aspects of it, the bigger and more important I realise the topic is, so thanks again :-)

  2. Nice post. I'm always analyzing the surroundings (sizing people up, looking for exits, escape routes, etc)...but Im not really obsessed with it. I dont complain if the waitress seats us in the corner away from an exit, or if I'm sitting inside in a booth between people. Gotta live your life too.

    One thing I'd like to add - (I work in Security), and I notice people tend to do a "look-around" before they're about to do something bad. It's one of the biggest "tells".

  3. Sue,

    Thanks very much. I hope some of it can be of use to you. You are absolutely correct, awareness is a huge component that is often just barely touched upon in a race to get to the 'good stuff', the cool techniques. In truth, spending more time on awareness training will do far more to protect you than learning a few new moves.


    Good point, for most situations, just being generally aware is enough. The problem is, most people really don't have a clue what's going on around them, and that's a problem. I agree, most people will do one last 'sweep' of their surroundings to check for witnesses or police before they do something bad. Thanks for the addition.