Scenario Based Self Defence Training

The boxer Mike Tyson famously said, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’ The good news is that there is a way to vastly reduce the chance of you being caught off guard.

Situational awareness

Effective situational awareness is the balance between conscious attention to our surroundings and our natural instinct for danger. It enables us to stay attuned to our environment and ready to react to the signs of trouble. By remaining in control of a hostile situation we can often de-escalate it.

This article summarises 5 proven steps for taking the heat out of a conflict.

If we look at a scenario where are unable to cool a situation down. Situational awareness gives us precious seconds in which we can identify escape routes.  Where necessary, we can locate and grab weapons to defend ourselves with.

The age of mobile technology threatens to undo millennia of evolution by distracting us to the point of oblivion. Take this article seriously and you will always have a plan when faced with a tricky situation.

The conscious component of situational awareness

This article could be the most important you ever read. It could be what stops you from stumbling into a dangerous situation with your head buried in your smartphone.

Many people, when asked what effective situational awareness is, will give the wrong answer. They assume that it involves paying attention to every little detail in your environment. Trying to do that is like attempting to illuminate a dark alley with a laser pen.

Preparation and pattern monitoring

People who are paid to have excellent situational awareness, such as professional bodyguards, know that even the most flexible attention span is unable to achieve that feat.

That’s why they carry out a recce beforehand when arriving at any location with their protected asset. They will already know from where danger is most likely to come and where the escape routes are. Additionally, they consider what could be used as cover.

The rest of the job is mainly about pattern monitoring. Yes, they are using their conscious attention to check that everything is happening as expected. Cars are moving normally; people are walking where you would expect them to walk. They are behaving as they would usually behave.

There is no practice run for the rest of us

Without the luxury of a practice run, we have to assess our environment and monitor patterns on the fly. We can do this in much the same way as when we cross a busy road. We look and listen to the left, look and listen to the right, and repeat. But instead of looking out for approaching vehicles, we are identifying potential escape routes, hiding places, and weapons. We are also assessing whether people, vehicles, and other actors in our surroundings are acting normally.

The different levels of awareness

This doesn’t mean we have to walk the streets in a state of paranoia. Jeff Cooper, a former marine and gun specialist, invented a colour code system to illustrate the different levels of awareness. He used white to represent obliviousness, and yellow to stand for soft awareness. From there he used orange for awareness of a specific threat and red for ready for action. (For more information read more here).

We should aim for the yellow range when going about our day-to-day lives. We train ourselves to sketch a map of our environment so we can act on autopilot if we need to. At the same time, we are educating ourselves on the patterns around us.

This method helps us become sensitive to the baseline patterns of our environment. Furthermore, you will find it easier to pay attention to the signals of a break in the pattern. And that brings us to the unconscious aspect of situational awareness.

The unconscious component of situational awareness

It is usually not too difficult to spot a tiger in a zoo. Their rich, orange coat stands out against most backgrounds. Likewise, a loud bang on a quiet street would make most people startle, perhaps seeking a safe place to hide.

However, if you were to visit an Indian jungle, the tiger’s stripes would blend in with the tall grasses and trees. You would probably fail to see it until it was too late. Likewise, a gunman might get away with discharging several shots unnoticed. This is especially true in a busy town on New Year’s Eve or Guy Fawkes Night.

But if you are hyper-aware of the patterns around you, the subconscious mind will alert you to breaks in that pattern. Especially if this involves movement or sound.

Our base reactions

The ancient part of our brains has evolved to react instantly to motion and noise. This came about before we developed protective social systems, agriculture, and a market economy. In fact, the only humans who survived were attuned enough to spot and catch prey and notice and avoid predators.

These basic building blocks of survival are still part of our brains today.

Signals and patterns

While we focus our minds on the past and future, we still flood our senses with digital signals. With distractions from our mobile devices, what hope do we have of noticing these other signals?

As explained in the previous section, situational awareness is not about attending to every movement, every sound, and every behavior. It is about learning what is normal in our environment. In this way, any change to the status quo stands out like a sore thumb.

By focusing our attention on recognizing patterns around us, our subconscious will alert us to that tiger in the thicket. Therefore, we notice the gunman in the alley or the person acting unusually in the park.

Successful de-escalation in 5 steps

Situational awareness not only helps us to spot and react to active threats. It can also alert us to a situation that is in danger of becoming hostile.

Bear in mind that it is always best to defuse tension and avoid conflict where possible. Here are five proven steps to take the heat out.

  1. Make yourself non-threatening. Most humans are skilled at recognizing the body language and facial cues that signal hostile intent. Recognizing these in yourself is the first step toward reducing tension. Avoid clenching your fists and teeth. Don’t jab at people with your finger or objects. Try not to approach them and stay on the same height level where possible. Towering over an opponent will provoke defensiveness.
  2. Speak calmly. Use a calm, even tone when speaking and take deep breaths to keep adrenaline at bay.
  3. Acknowledge and accept the person’s feelings. Ask them how they are feeling and tell them that you understand. Avoid making judgments about their emotions. You might feel they have no right to be angry but if they feel anger, acknowledge that fact.
  4. Listen more than you talk. The Greek philosopher Epictetus gave us the following pearl of wisdom: ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’ Active listening involves making an effort to understand the other person’s point of view and reasoning.
  5. Be solution-focused. In an argument, it is common to focus on the past and attribute blame. To move away from this situation, strive to look at solutions. Now is a good time to apologize for your part in the conflict if that is appropriate.

Of course, sometimes a person or group is so intent on attacking you that no amount of de-escalation will work. Here is where your training comes in.

When de-escalation doesn’t work

There are two components to surviving a hostile situation. We have already covered situational awareness. The second element is effective action.

The effect of ‘fight or flight’

The ‘fight or flight’ response has helped our species to survive for millennia. We recently covered this topic in an article on adrenaline. Unfortunately, it has one major drawback. As blood is diverted to manage our physical responses, it leaves the planning part of the brain starved of energy.

We experience this as a reduced capacity to think straight which, in some people, can degenerate into a ‘red mist’. In Cooper’s awareness level system, this would equate to black or breakdown. We need to avoid this response at all costs and focus on making every action count.

Counteract it with preparation

This is why self-defence arts that focus on effective, easily deployed movements save lives. Drilled in these techniques, the target can defend themselves and incapacitate their attacker long enough to make their escape.

People can make it a habit to scan their surroundings for weapons and entry/exit points. In this way, they can immediately switch into autopilot mode and live to fight another day.


Ideal situational awareness involves making mental notes of our environment and the objects and people within it. We look to establish escape routes, identify weapons, and check everybody around us is behaving as we would expect. This is in contrast to adopting a state of paranoia and fearing a threat around every corner.

Instead, we should focus on holding a soft level of awareness. We can then rely on our subconscious to alert us to movement or sounds that may signify danger.

By combining situational awareness with a knowledge of how to de-escalate a conflict, we can often avoid unpleasant surprises. When attempts to defuse a hostile situation fail, a well-drilled self-defence student can prevail. Combining their situational awareness with simple, effective defence skills gives them the upper hand to survive.

Ready to begin your krav maga journey? Find out more about our Introductory Sessions here.