Awareness involves remaining focused on what is currently happening around you. If you are walking to your car and looking down at your cell phone you are aware of your phone and the virtual world it represents, but you are likely not aware of what is happening nearby in the physical world. This could result in a stolen phone, in an assault, or in something much worse. As a rule, you should not be out in the public without being fully aware of your surroundings and the movements of those nearby.
We are not suggesting you should be paranoid and assume everyone nearby is planning to assault you. Very few would be making such plans. But someday, someone may. You should notice them before they make their attempt. This is increasingly more important when you are operating in unfamiliar surroundings or in places where you suddenly feel uncomfortable. Below are some general things to consider when you are away from home or the office or generally operating in locations that might be considered “out in public”.
Street awareness involves noticing things that are out of the ordinary. If you pass a group of people who are leaning against a wall and they suddenly begin to move in your direction after you go by, you should notice that.
If someone is moving contrary to the way others are moving in a parking lot, you should notice that as well. Most people move from their car to the stores, or travel in the opposite direction. Someone who is moving between rows of cars is not behaving normally and bears watching.
A person who appears to be lingering in an isolated area (perhaps the stairwell of a parking structure or on a dimly lit street corner) isn’t there by accident. You should be aware of their presence and how they are posturing or positioning themselves as you approach.
When you are walking about in public it is wise to constantly look around to see what is going on about you, what may seem abnormal, and generally how others are moving in your vicinity. Not everyone in the world is out to get you, but not everyone is concerned for your welfare either.
Hearing is an essential element of awareness. Naturally if you hear footsteps behind you then you should be conscious of who that person is and how much distance exists between the two of you. You may be able to tell from footfalls if they are getting closer or are moving further behind. You should also be able to tell if they suddenly change their gait.
But other things can be telling as well. The sound of a jacket brushing against a concrete wall in front of you may lead you to suspect someone is concealed in a niche somewhere ahead. You may wish to walk wide of this area to avoid any sudden surprises.
A sudden change in sounds can also be relevant. If you hear the sound of a fan, a bell, or some music behind you that is suddenly muted in some way, then this could indicate someone has come between you and the sound source. This may warrant your attention. And naturally, a sudden sound, even if it is quite muted, may be an indication that someone is nearby.
Whenever you enter into an unfamiliar location you should immediately look for escape routes. This may be exit doors, gates, stairs, fences, shrubbery, or any conveyance that will allow you to quickly extricate yourself from that location. You should not do this out of a sense of paranoia. Instead you should do it out a sense of caution and habit. You will want to use these escape paths in the case of a conflict, but also in the case of a fire, earthquake, landslide, or other threatening event. It is simply prudent to mentally not how you may extricate yourself from a location in case of a sudden and ominous event.
When you feel as though a confrontation may be imminent then you should immediately assess your potential opponent. Here is a quick check of things you might quickly evaluate:
- Height: is this person taller, the same size, or smaller than yourself?
- Weight: does this person have a weight advantage or disadvantage?
- Conditioning: is this person likely to tire easily? Does this person have a strength advantage? Does this person seem to be in generally good or poor health?
- Limb Length: will this person likely want to get inside or stay outside of your normal reach?
- Hair Length: does this person have hair that can be used as a weapon against them? Does the person have facial hair? Does the person have exposed chest hair?
- Clothing: does this person have on clothing that can be used to enhance your grab?
- Odor: does the person smell of alcohol, chemicals, human odors, grooming products, or disease?
- Weapons: does this person appear to have a weapon of some sort? If so, how will you want to move or behave in response to that weapon?
- Shoes: does this potential opponent have on heavy shoes or track shoes? Will these benefit them for running or as a potential weapon? Is the person’s choice of footwear something that will limit his or her ability to move quickly or reliably?
- Posture: does this person stand generally upright or do they lean in any particular direction?
- Mental state: does the person appear to be under the influence of alcohol or some other substance? Do they appear to be thinking rationally? Are they angry, fearful, on edge, unduly amorous, vengeful, or intent on being cruel?
- Limitations: does the person have any exposed limitations of any kind? Is the person missing any fingers, hands or other body parts? Does the person seem to have a balance problem? Does the person have a an odd gate or limp of any kind? Is the person obese? Does the person exhibit any other limitations in how they move, particularly in the hips, lower back, or shoulders?
- Vision: does the person wear glasses? Do they have trouble seeing in bright lights? Does the person seem to have trouble focusing or noticing sudden movements? Does the person notice things in their periphery vision?
Depending on the situation you may not have time to notice all or even many of the items on this list. Consciously make a decision to notice as many as you can. All of these items can assist you in one way or another as you attempt to escape from the situation, thwart your opponent’s attack, or seek to mitigate and destroy your opponent’s ability to continue an attack.
Most of the items in the previous section are detectable through direct visual observation, but they are usually only noticed when you feel a confrontation may be imminent. You should also use your vision as a general awareness tool so that you are not caught by a sudden surprise attack.
Of course you will want to use your vision to see what is in front of you as you walk. But what about seeing who is behind you? Obviously you could turn your head and look back. This is often useful if you wish to notify someone that you are aware of their presence. But this can sometimes be awkward. To avoid this you might also use reflections in store windows, automobile windshields, mirrors, and even polished metal surfaces to allow you to see and watch whomever may be behind you.
If the sun or street lights are in an advantageous position you may also use shadows to indicate if someone is behind you and if they are rapidly closing on you or suddenly acting in an unusual manner.
Watching the eyes of those who pass by you going in the opposite direction can also indicate if there is someone behind you and where they may be relative to your position. They are likely to glance at the person and then quickly divert their gaze. Between these two motions you can generally predict about where another person is behind you.
Peripheral vision is a great tool for keeping tabs on what is going on around you. Every few seconds you may wish to look to your right or left so that peripheral vision can take in a broader view behind you. This helps ascertain the general position of objects and people behind you. Tilting your head forward on occasion will also allow you to see more of what is close behind you and slightly off to either side.
Peripheral vision does not provide very precise images at the edges of your visual field. The vision here is actually quite poor. It lacks in both color perception and definition. But peripheral vision is excellent for noticing movement. If you are engaged in observing a wide field of view you will readily notice even slight movements, if you are intent on noticing them. Performing a general peripheral vision scan from left to right in a periodic fashion can help you detect things that may be out of the ordinary.
Perceptions at Night
At night your vision directly in front of you is severely impaired. This is because the primary central part of your vision is performed by cone cells that are great at detecting detail and color, but are not good at doing either without sufficient light. As light levels decline human visual clarity declines as well.
But peripheral vision is supported by rod cells, which work relatively well in low light conditions, but do not have nearly the clarity afforded by cone cells. As a result you will see things in darkness with your peripheral vision that you will not see with your primary center vision, but the things you see will be lacking in visual clarity.
For this reason it is often possible to see something at night without looking directly at it. If you believe something is present in the darkness then look away from it slightly so that it comes within the field of your peripheral vision. You will have a much better chance of seeing it than if you look at it directly.
As noted previously you lose nearly all perceptions of color in low light conditions. Nearly everything you see, if you are away from city lights, will be in various shades of black, gray, or white. You will find it nearly impossible, without some external light source, to differentiate between blue, purple, green, or red. Even your peripheral vision can’t help you here for it sees predominantly in these same black and white tones, even in good lighting conditions (and you thought you had full color vision).
If you are in a dark environment for some period of time your vision will slowly improve. Your iris will open fully to let in more light, but this is only one of the adaptive changes that occur in low light conditions.
Over the course of six minutes or so the central part of your vision (provided by cones) will undergo a physical regenerative process. This causes the cones to adapt and be more receptive to lower light conditions. The central visual area will reach its maximum effective night vision levels after about six minutes. After 40 minutes or so your rods will reach their peak night vision performance levels via a similar regenerative process. So, after six minutes your vision will improve remarkably, but after 40 minutes you will have achieved your maximum nighttime visual abilities. You will still not see colors, but you will be much better able to detect objects, discern shapes, and detect movement.
If you are now suddenly exposed to bright lights you will find your adapted eyes are not well suited to seeing with so much light. They must now go through another adaptive period in which they adjust to handle the more prevalent light conditions. Luckily this adaptive period is aided by a sudden closing of the iris to reduce light input and a regenerative process that is much shorter in duration. Assuming you have normal eyesight, you will see very well in a few seconds.
So, be aware of changes in visual abilities when you suddenly move from one lighting condition to another. Your vision may need time to adapt to achieve optimal visual performance. If you must escape from a lighted room into the dark realize that your vision will be impaired for at least several minutes. You will need to do the best you can in these reduced visibility conditions to further facilitate your escape.
If you have come from a well-lit environment and step outside only to be confronted by a potential attacker, you may wish to buy as much time as possible in order for your vision to improve. The opponent has likely been in the dark for some time and may have a distinct visual advantage. You should not assume the two of you can see equally well.
Opponent Strikes are History
Students who are on the receiving end of a punch or a kick often react directly to the strike. They perceive the strike as an impending threat. You have been taught to block and no doubt have become quite comfortable intercepting and redirecting punches and kicks. But these are just baby steps. Now it is time to consider a different approach.
When somebody punches or kicks toward you their strike is now ancient history. If you have moved to a new position then their strike will have missed and the arm or leg can simply be ignored (to some degree). It is somewhat analogous to a bullet being fired at you. If the bullet has missed, it is no longer relevant. Looking back and focusing on where the errant bullet has gone is not prudent. You must pay attention to what will come next.
In the same context a strike is not relevant. If it landed, fine. If it missed, fine. What comes next is all that matters now. You must work to ensure the opponent never has the opportunity to strike again. You might use their extended strike to gain control of or disrupt their structure, or you may look for opportunities to use their impending rotation against them. You may decide to check their arm to ensure it does not somehow attempt to strike from its current location. You might decide it is time to explore other scenery. But the extended strike itself is of no concern to you. It is simply a historical artifact. Move on.
If used inappropriately focus can be quite detrimental. If you are so focused on what you are doing that you fail to notice other events happening around you, then you may lose site of the fact that your opponent’s friends are sneaking up behind you. And of course, if you are too focused on what is going on around you it is possible to miss an opponent’s attempt to set up a powerful punch.
Initially you will naturally want to focus your attention on your Uke. It is where you need to focus in order to learn. Over time you will discover that you can reliably detect when and how your training partners will move. You will also find that you can automatically respond to these movements without conscious thought. It is at this point that you should begin widening your focus so that you can train to monitor both your opponent and the surrounding environment.
We have all had the experience of feeling that something or someone, just outside of our perceived senses, is observing us. We are generally unable to identify a direction or location where we think an observer may be stationed, but we have the sudden sense that somewhere, somehow, we are being watched.
Are these senses real? Is there someone really watching you or is this simply a sudden burst of paranoia?
I am unaware of any science that would indicate these feelings are accurate predictors of actual observations. I have seen some documentaries that explored the phenomenon, but I was not convinced that any showed a definitive link between the perception of observation and actually being stared at.
There could be a cause and effect cycle happening in some cases. You suddenly feel uneasy and quickly turn to see if someone is watching. Your movement is detected by someone who looks to see what you are doing. You notice them staring at you and conclude that must have been the cause of your uneasiness.
But I am not going to dispute that there are times when this sense is accurate. Perhaps you subconsciously noticed something that slowly bubbles to your consciousness causing you to feel something isn’t quite right. You are not sure why, but you are suddenly wary.
My advice would be to immediately assume something could be amiss and use your other senses to discretely examine your local environment for other clues. If you feel increasingly uneasy, then you should be very assertive in your behavior to let others know you are aware something out of the ordinary may be occurring. Then seek out a safer location.