Sunday, January 17, 2010

Awareness - The Cornerstone of Self-Protection by Drew Guest

Drew Guest is a RBSD martial arts instructor in Toowoomba Quensland and author of this article.

If self-protection were a cup of tea, then awareness would be the hot water. It is vital for a good cuppa, and blends and combines the other ingredients. Like a cup of tea, Self-protection would be pointless with out the hot water of awareness. This is why awareness is referred to as the cornerstone of Self-protection. Without it your self-protection would crumble.

What is meant by awareness in the context of self-protection?

It is awareness of your environment, the awareness of your situation, awareness of yourself and awareness of the possible dangers you may face.

Environmental Awareness

As the name suggests this is being aware of the objects, obstacles and people in your immediate environment. It is also being aware of the conditions of your environment and terrain as well as exits, safe zones and danger zones.

It is simply being aware of your surroundings and how they relate to you. Stay alert to your surrounding and take note of them. When you’re walking down the street take notice of what is happening around you, Note areas that are hidden, like doorways or behind bushes, anywhere a potential attacker may be laying in wait.

Take note of the people around you and how they are behaving if someone is acting in a suspicious manner, keep an eye on them, but move yourself to a save zone, enter a shop etc. Take note of safe areas and how to get there quickly and safely. Be aware of the type and conditions of the ground you are and will be walking/running on. Where are the benches, bins and other obstacles can they help you or hinder you if the worst happens?

When you enter a building, automatically take note of the location of exits; the toilets, telephones and the general lay out of the premises. Are the chairs and tables bolted down in a CafĂ©, can they be moved out of the way in a hurry? Scan the people and customers, if you don’t like the look or behaviour of a group of people then don’t sit near them, or go elsewhere.

I could go through and list all the things you could see and should be aware of, but neither of us has the time to do that. I’ll provide a list of tips, and suggestions at a later point (in the Target Hardening section) that are aimed at specific environments. The main thing is to be aware of your surroundings so as not to be caught out by surprise

The simplest way to look at environmental awareness is to ask your self “if I was going to attack me where, when and how would I do it in reference to the environment I am currently in”. Then ask yourself “how can I avoid that”?

Situational Awareness

This is being aware of the situation you are in. It is especially important to be aware of the changes in your situation. It can also be your position in relation to your environment, thus is related and complimentary to Environmental Awareness.

Your situation may be shopping in a large shopping mall, walking between stores, waiting for a bus, enjoying a few drinks with friends or partying hard with them at a nightclub. Your situation may be that you are being “Interviewed” by a potential attacker. Or your situation may be that your date has over stepped the mark and you are now risking a date rape situation.

Your situation is simply what is happening to you at the moment or in the near future, being aware of it will enable you to choose a course of action that will lead to a safer (dare I say safest) situation.

For example being aware that you are alone with a man who wouldn’t mind a bit, or put bluntly, is a bit horny, is essential if you want to take steps to avoid the next possible situation of being date raped. The earlier you are aware of the situation the easier it will be to prevent the next, less desirable, situation from occurring.


Self-Awareness is also important and is being aware of your strengths and, particularly, your weakness as well as other factors such as illness or medications that may affect your mental and physical abilities. Knowing your level of intoxication or how much alcohol you can "handle" uses self-awareness.

It is also being aware of the psychological and physical changes that occur with in your body and mind. These changes will often warn you of danger before your conscious mind picks it up. One Eg is being aware of your Intuition or your "Gut Instinct" (as men prefer to call it). Most victims state that they "felt " something was wrong before the attack.

It is also important to be aware of your current state of mind as well as your emotional state. You don’t feel the same every day and differing states will bring different perceptions. Your state of mind will affect the choices you make, if you are depressed, for example, you may be less motivated to avoid danger, if you are angry you may be more likely to seek confrontation.

Predator Awareness

This is being aware of thepossible dangers you may face. This will require prior knowledge to some degree. Basically this is being familiar with the typical set ups, and tactics used by attackers. For eg knowing the use of the 4D's by attackers enable you to identify them thus provide you more options and a better chance of avoiding violence, or at least give you a better level of preparedness. Knowledge of attack rituals, predator or attacker profiles, rapist profiles, their motives and methods will all add to your level of awareness.

Developing Awareness

It’s easy to say that you need awareness, but how do you develop this awareness so that it becomes natural and automatic?

There are two main methods that will help you to develop your awareness. The first is called “Silent Commentary” or as I call it “Commentary Walking”. The second is called Profiling. When practiced together they can greatly increase your natural awareness levels.

Silent Commentary

Silent Commentary or Commentary Walking is based on the Advanced Defensive Driving technique called “Commentary Driving”, hence my name for it. The idea of commentary driving is to state out loud what is happening around you wile you are driving your vehicle. This in effect forces you to be aware of what’s going on around you on the road.

Virtually the exact same method can be used to increase your awareness regardless of what you are doing. Obviously, if you’re walking down town, you don’t want to be describing things around you out loud. That’s why we use silent commentary, but the principle is the same. The important aspect of this is that you are silently acknowledging and describing your surroundings in as much detail as possible.


Profiling is similar but the focus is on people. Simply put you describe the people who are in your immediate environment. It’s not just a matter of describing their physical appearance such as distinguishing marks, height skin and hair colour etc, but also using your intuition and judgement to “guess” the type of personality they have, there occupation, relationship status and so on.

It is a tool to help heighten your awareness of people around you. Care must be taken when profiling so as not to fall into the trap of stereotyping or dismissing a possible threat. After all most rapists etc look like nice people, it’s part of their tactics to deceive and earn trust from a potential victim.

Silent Commentary and Profiling work to increase your awareness by forcing your mind to focus on what is happening in your surroundings. Eventually you will be able to almost instinctively see potential threats or danger zones. For example hiding spots where a possible ambush could occur and spotting suspicious behaviour will become easy because it will simply stand out against a sea of normal.

The 6 Senses of Awareness

Too many people associate Awareness with only the sense of sight. It should (and does) incorporate all five senses; sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. It should also incorporate intuition or your "Gut Feeling", your 6th sense if you like.

You'll smell a fire before you see it. You can feel the condition of the ground beneath your feet. Your ears will pick up footsteps or screeching brakes behind you. If your favourite drink does not taste quite right then it could be spiked, and if your intuition is telling you that something is wrong then usually it is. These are but a few examples, but practice using all your senses for awareness.

It’s a great exercise to practice Silent Commentary with your other senses. For example try to determine the type and location of a particular smell or sound. Feel which direction the wind is blowing from. You can even block one sense and train the others. Try walking around your home with the lights off or put your hand into a draw and try to identify the contents by touch only.

Other Awareness Tools

Silent Commentary can obviously be used as an everyday method to maintain your awareness, but there are other techniques that are worth mentioning. With a little thought you can come up with your own unique personal method, or even use a combination of techniques to design the best method for you. You can change the method you use from time to time; this will relieve monotony and will prevent complacency. You may even find that methods work better for you in different environments and situations. Experiment to find your preferences, but as a starter, I recommend you first use the Silent Commentary method until your natural awareness levels improve.

The Bubble

The bubble is a tool that enables you to confine the area of your awareness. This helps in preventing the sensory overload that can occur when your environment is busy. The basic idea is to imagine you have a bubble surrounding you with you in the centre. The size of the bubble will depend on the amount of activity in your environment, the greater the activity the smaller the bubble will be and vice versa.

The area your bubble will also depend on the level of risk and familiarity you have of your environment. The greater the risk the greater the bubble and the less familiar you are with your surroundings the larger the area your bubble covers.

The bubble is used as an area of focus. As something or someone enters your bubble perimeter you would pay more attention to it. You don’t stop being aware of the environment outside the bubble; you are just simply being more alert to the things within your bubble as they will be of more immediate concern.

The Radar

Simply imagine you have built in radar that scans your environment and “pings” on items of concern. Every time you scan you will be extra alert to the things that ping, such as that secluded doorway, the nervous looking man etc. This method is particularly useful for tracking the things that cause you concern as you and them move in you environment.

Heat Vision

Much like the radar in concept, but rather then “Pinging” you would imagine the object or person that gives you concern as glowing like they are hot and you’re looking through infra-red goggles or similar. The greater the need for concern, the brighter the glow.


OK this might sound a little silly, but basically this method is akin to the Terminator or Robocop type of targeting system. As you scan your environment you are looking for targets, or things of concern. When you sport one you “aim” using your targeting system. Instead of firing bullets or laser beams you fire alertness. Think along the lines of the search in “search and destroy”.

People Watching

This is similar to Profiling, except the focus is more on body language, human interaction and behaviour. Next time you’re in a busy environment, such as a shopping centre, take a view minutes to observe the people around you. Take note of the body language displayed and how people react or interact with others.

Try to determine the thread of a conversation, the relationship between the people involved and what they may do next. Are they arguing, whispering sweet nothings, are they being polite, is one trying to convince the other, is one being the more aggressive or passive, is one dominant or submissive. Are they a couple, are they strangers, friends or family. The list could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.


I’ve really only just touched on the vast subject of awareness. What I have included here is the basics and should provide you with a good base to further improve your own awareness levels. I’ve talked about the types of awareness and the various methods to develop it.

It is important to be consciously aware so that you subconscious awareness will develop. This will eventually result in a natural awareness, where you expend less energy on being aware and alert, but still maintain a high level of awareness. It’s a lot like driving a car or riding a bike, at first when you start to learn you are concentrating heavily on the environment and the car or bike.

After a while the action becomes almost natural, you stop consciously focusing on how to drive and the traffic and road conditions, instead your subconscious takes over the role. You still have the same awareness it is just being maintained by the more efficient subconscious.

Practice awareness development as often as possible. Treat it as a game, if you like, there’s no reason why it can’t be fun. I often use the methods described to alleviate the boredom and monotony of walking to into town.

It’s only a twenty minute walk but it flies by whilst I’m doing my awareness training or playing my awareness games. The added bonus is that not much escapes my attention, as an indirect consequence, I will see all the good things as well. You can be aware of the thorns and still appreciate the rose.

Hopefully you can now see why awareness is so important to you personal protection. For danger to be avoided or action taken to reduce the level, then you must first be aware of the potential danger in the first place.

Awareness by itself does aid your self-protection, but the biggest contribution comes when you combine it with the other aspects of Self-Protection, much of which will be covered in later topics.

by Drew Guest

Many thanks to Drew Guest for allowing me to print such a good and informative article.

Drew has worked in the security industry and has over 25 years experience in the martial arts he has ranks in such arts as Muay Thai, Zen Do Kai - freestyle karate, Senshido, Judo, Australian Freestyle Tae Kwon Do, GymGari freestyle, Iaido, Aikido, Goju Ryu Karate, Wing Chun, Boxing, Kakusa Ryu Ninjutsu, and many others.

Drew also runs his own Reality Based Self Defense school,

"Toowoomba Self Defence"
Reality Based Self Defence (RBSD) in Queensland.

Drew's website can be found here