You know what it’s like when you’re walking along, phone in hand, trying to send that quick text message or read the one that just came in – you’re engrossed, head down, and you accidently bump straight into someone else! A quick apology, you carry on walking and that’s usually the end of it.

Or when your friends say “did you just see that…?” then need to explain what you have missed (again!)?

Well if either of the above does ring true, you’re not alone. It’s more common than not – but if so, you’re perhaps moving around in a state that may walk you head-first into trouble, and without the time and pre-emption to react appropriately and keep yourself safe.

Within self-protection we must of course practice the physical tools needed to come back from disadvantaged or reactive situations – should the innocuous bump into someone turn into anything more, or you simply don’t spot soon enough that gang of lads crossing the road and falling into step behind you – but unless it’s some sort of angry Gandalf popping up in your path, there should be few of these situations that take somebody who is also aware, wholly by surprise.

Sadly, awareness seems no longer to come naturally to most in an age of almost enslavement to hand-held distractions, ever-busier lifestyles, and one of the relative safe society most of us live in.
But that lack of awareness may be exactly what those with malicious intent look for as an indicator for a suitable target.
Being aware of your environment and the people around you, and tactics for managing yourself within it, are inseparable from the physical combative tools whenever we consider self-protection.

We should definitely have physical tools to resist violence and overcome threats or aggression, but to truly protect one’s self we must take a holistic approach – one where we can deploy these skills in conjunction with a comprehension of the immediate and wider environment: What can I foresee as a potential problem here? What is my exit strategy or escape plan? What is around me that I can use to my advantage? What else is around me as a possible further threat?

Awareness is, to shamelessly pinch from Wikipedia; the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns.
That Awareness for our purposes – the reading of environment and the persons in it (and importantly, the modelling of that within training) – lets you choose your course of action early on (evade, pre-empt, improvise?), rather than be forced down a path of re-action and potentially restricting your options to physical solutions, with the obviously increased risks.

A neat little phrase keeps cropping up lately: “Expertise in self-protection is not measured by how many fights you’ve had, but in terms of how many you haven’t had”. A perfect summary – but you’ll only avoid them if you see them coming!!

Knowing what to look for and making sure you’re looking for it, are skills that can be learned and developed, just like punching and kicking. Honing your awareness – then training that awareness into understanding, and understanding into action – will help you make informed decisions when it counts, and give confidence in your choice of action to resist violence and stay safe.