Threat Recognition and Situational Control

Full-spectrum personal self-defense involves four interconnected realms: threat recognition, situational control, physical engagement and aftermath management. In this issue of Black Belt, I’ll cover the first two.

Threat recognition is the foundation for employing effective self-defense measures to ensure your personal safety. What does this initially entail? In a word, awareness. Situational awareness is the bedrock of self-defense. Without it, you stand little to no chance of proactively or reactively protecting yourself from danger, whether actual or potential.

So what exactly is awareness as it pertains to self-defense? It refers to being alert to and observant of your immediate surroundings and all those who occupy that space. It means not being thought- or task-fixated — for example, playing or FaceTiming on your cellphone, myopically searching in your car trunk for an item, being lost in thought on a contentious issue, changing a flat tire on the side of a road and so on — to the point at which you’re oblivious to your surroundings.


With that said, you don’t have to be so vigilantly attentive that you’re bordering on paranoid, spinning in circles while you walk so you can keep track of everything around you. You simply need to be actively watchful and attentive with respect to everyone who’s nearby.

Who and what should you be on the lookout for? Anyone or anything that’s suspicious or out of the ordinary — like a person who’s loitering in a parking lot or a man who’s wearing a trench coat on a hot summer day. Usually, when people leave their homes, they do so for a specific purpose such as going to a grocery store, restaurant, gas station or gym. So when you’re out and about, just take note of who is around you in a conscientious way so you won’t be blindsided by anyone whether the person has good

intentions or not. No one should be able to approach you unaware.

Situational awareness also includes being mindful of cover (any object that can hide you and serve as a protective barrier if bullets start to fly), concealment (anything that can hide your presence but won’t stop bullets from penetrating) and escape routes (viable paths out of a danger zone). These elements are more crucial in active-shooter situations, which I’ll address in a future column, but I mention them here to give you the big picture with respect to awareness.

How does awareness work in the scheme of personal self-defense? When you’re out and about in public and you spot a real or potential threat, it can be as simple as going the opposite direction and, if you deem the threat serious enough, leaving the area to proactively avoid a problem. What’s “serious enough”? That’s up to your personal judgment. Often, it’s obvious. However, when it’s not and you’re caught momentarily unaware …

If you don’t recognize a real or potential threat and a person approaches you and you can’t — or don’t think you need to — leave the area, this is when situational control comes in.

Situational control starts when someone approaches you, no matter if it’s in a casual, innocent manner or a threatening way. With that said, there are three general reasons a person might approach you.• To make a request: When a stranger approaches in a good-natured way, it’s usually to ask for something. Common reasons include getting directions, begging for money, borrowing your cellphone, asking your opinion about something and making small talk.• To express ego-based indignation: This describes a stranger who approaches in an assertive or aggressive manner to address a slight he or she believes you’re responsible for, whether real or not.• To commit a criminal act: The assailant approaches in an innocuous way or in an aggressive manner, randomly or premeditatively, before initiating a criminal act. Those acts include battery, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, kidnapping and murder.

Whatever the reason a stranger has for approaching you and making contact, this is where the “fence” should come into play. It enables you to proactively control the interpersonal situation you’re in. So what is the fence?

The term was coined by my mentor Geoff Thompson to denote an innocuous protective stance you can use when interacting with strangers. It’s a platform from which you can proactively assess, de-escalate and, when necessary, pre-emptively attack an adversary as a last resort.

In short, the fence is the bedrock of physical self-defense and, in the next issue, I’ll cover it thoroughly.
To order Lito Angeles’ best-selling book Fight Night! The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts, visit shop.blackbeltmag.com.

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