Defending Yourself Starts from Afar

women's self defense

You're short a little cash, and so you pull up to an ATM machine to get out a couple of twenties. You wait for the man that is using it in front of you. Being the martial artist that you are, you naturally look him up and down to see if he is a possible threat or not, and you determine that he is not based upon the totality of circumstances.

After completing his transaction, and walking away, your hunch is confirmed that he is harmless, and then it's your turn to withdraw your money.

Be honest. Is that extent of your situational awareness at an ATM machine? You observe who is standing there, and then you determine in your mind, Friend or foe? If this is the case, it's certainly a good ending, but not a good start.

Whenever you are going to go to a place where you may be attacked, which can be practically anywhere nowadays, from an ATM machine to the front door of your home, you must always "think tactically," and that means that your situational awareness begins from afar. Distance equals reaction time, and reaction time means survival. Therefore, you need to start developing the same good habits that street cops have when they go to crime in progress calls, and it all starts when they are in route to the scene.

When a police officer receives a crime in progress call from the dispatcher, a bank robbery for example, he or she starts running through their mind the possible scenarios they may encounter, also known as "war gaming," before arriving on scene. They're not thinking, I wonder what I should have for dinner tonight?" but tactical thoughts such as, What will I do if I see a getaway car speeding away from the bank? What happens if I see an armed bank robber coming out of the bank just as I am approaching? Where's the available cover? What if the dispatcher wasn't given all the information, and there's multiple suspects inside instead of one? Where am I going to position myself if the robber barricades himself inside the bank and takes hostages? There's a lot of considerations to think about, several of which could literally be life or death.

The bank in question is in the officer's patrol beat, which means that he or she already knows the "lay of the land," and therefore the officer knows what the possible escape routes are, along with the defensive positions the bank robber may take.

Once the police officer arrives on scene, he or she will maintain a heightened situational awareness, make a threat assessment of anyone they come in contact with, and rely on their training and experience to properly handle any situation that may arise.

Jim Wagner Self Defense

Jim Wagner with the Costa Mesa Police Department

For instructional purposes, I want you to imagine going to a familiar ATM machine near you, your "patrol beat," and I'll bring up some situational awareness pointers you'll need to know along the way.

First of all, most robberies happen at night. So, right off the bat, it's generally not a good idea to go to an ATM machine during hours of darkness. You're just increasing the odds against you if you do. It's like taking a swim in the ocean in California, where I live, at dusk when great white sharks like to feed. You may not get eaten, but you're taking a greater chance just by the time you selected. However, that does not mean you completely drop your guard if you go to an ATM at daylight. It is still a "high risk location."

Day or night, before getting anywhere near the ATM machine, you need to begin scanning the entire parking lot and surrounding area for suspicious vehicles and persons as you're making your way to it. To use a military term, you start making your observations once you enter the "Area of Operations (AO)." Perhaps a criminal is lying in wait to rob someone, any "soft target" that happens to come along, but he's nowhere near the ATM machine. To remain undetected the robber may actually be doing surveillance on the "point of attack" from several cars away or from the corner of an adjacent building. When the unsuspecting victim walks up the to the ATM machine, and doesn't perceive a threat, that's the time the robber may suddenly pounce on his victim. Knowing this criminal tactic, if you were to see someone "waiting in the shadows" from afar off, then you're obviously not going to continue with your errand, and you will exfiltrate yourself out of there. You must follow your gut instinct, and you don't take a chance. Better safe than sorry.

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On the other hand, if you do not see anyone lurking about in the area, and you make it all the way up to the ATM machine safely, you must do what every infantry soldier learns while on foot patrol where there may be hostiles around, and that is to STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. To use this in a civilian application, just before withdrawing your money, you'll STOP in front of the ATM machine. Before inserting your card into the machine you'll LOOK at everything behind you and LISTEN for a few seconds. You're listening for any noises that indicates someone moving up on you: footsteps, brushing along the side of a car, the racking of a round into the chamber of a pistol. Criminals are human, and they are prone to making mistakes like everyone else, like not having noise discipline. If the coast is clear, then quickly do the transaction and leave. You want to minimize your time in the attack zone. However, if it takes you a little bit longer than you thought it would, and there's been enough time for conditions to change behind you, then do another STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. Obliviously, this is also not the time to have your earbuds in or be on speaker phone with someone, which will distract you and diminish your senses in this tactical situation.

As you leave the ATM machine you must look for possible ambush points from there to your car, or along the projected path if you're on foot. After all, you now have cash in your hand, which makes you an attractive target.

Again, I used the ATM machine as our training example, but situational awareness starts from afar for all locations you'll be visiting, and you need to start putting into practice what I just taught you at the next place you have to go to. You'll have to consciously think of what you're doing for a while, but eventually it will become second nature, which in copspeak is muscle memory.


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CLICK HERE for a complete German translation of this article, courtesy of Jörg Kuschel.

CLICK HERE for a complete Italian translation of this article, courtesy of Fabrizio Capucci.

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