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Image by Abhisek Sarda

The Use of Force Spectrum: Self Awareness

The typical use of force spectrum used to show the range of personal protection options generally leaves out the single most important element of use of force. T hat element is ‘you’.  Self awareness, or the understanding one’s self, his skill sets, fitness level, mental and physical responses to stimulus, psychological issues, and a myriad of other factors is critical to being able to protect one’s self and his loved ones.  For example, look at how the individual is involved in every aspect of use of force:

  • Situational awareness:  How effective you are able to perceive a situation and understand the meaning of all indicators in the scenario.
  • Escape and avoidance:  How effective you are able to move away from a person or group via movement or stealth, to avoid contact with them.
  • Deescalation:  How effective you are at talking down an unfriendly person or group who may decide do you harm.
  • Physical force:  How effective you are at martial skills to mitigate physical threat damage.
  • Advanced physical force:  How effective you are at advanced skills and tools used in a physical threat situation.
  • Lethal force:  How effective you are at firearm use or other lethal weapon technique in a physical threat situation.

The ‘you’ factor is not simply a training consideration, but the sum of all skills, responses, physical capability, and psychological response to stimulus.  After seeing how dependent each factor is on ‘you’, it can be seen that vast amounts of study can be done on each situation and response.  Let’s divide up the Use of Force continuum and see how ‘you’ factors into each one a bit more closely.

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.  -Sun Tzu

Situational Awareness

Contributors:  Our physical senses and cognitive ability to understand their input’s significance is what our SA is built on. The ability to sense a person’s motives or intentions can greatly affect situational awareness.  The ability to ascertain a person’s focus is a very effective capability (for instance, if there is a central focus at an event, such as a sporting event, and a person is paying more attention to someone they are observing than the game, may be an indicator he is a potential threat).  Familiarity with an area or scenario can also make it easier to spot abnormalities.  Vision, hearing, selecting effective vantage points, and the trained ability to remain aware affect the success of situational awareness.

Detractors:  In a relaxed mental state, the mind is capable of perceiving a lot of information, processing it fairly effectively, and making the decisions necessary to get through the day.  It has incredible filters and algorithms to process the mundane and highlight abnormalities.  But, add in some anxiety, and the body starts to dump adrenaline into the system.  Some adrenaline effects on situational awareness can include panic, a rush to ‘fight or flight’ decision, the famed ‘fog of war’ effect where actions and reactions are not well understood, inhibited cognitive skills,  tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and interrupted breathing, to name a few.


Escape and Avoidance

Contributors:  The obvious preferable traits here are physical fitness and running. T he ability to move away from a potential threat is usually desirable to avoid confrontation.  Some other useful traits include the above situational awareness, a good understanding of the vicinity, obstacles, barriers, and escape routes available to the locale.  The trained ability in stealth (the ability to hide or understand how to make an unknown contact fail to perceive you) helps when simply out-distancing a potential threat is not available.  In many cases, distance and cover work together to effect escape and avoidance.  Advanced skills like Parkour may help in negotiating obstacles.  Adrenaline response can help physical performance.

Detractors:  Without physical fitness, the ability to run will be diminished.  As the body is taxed in the effort to escape, the other abilities that make up this protective capability are diminished.  It is hard to hide if a person is breathing very heavily due to a short run.  Without local familiarity with the area, the act of escaping is greatly diminished because optimal escape routes are not known.  Adrenaline responses that affect situational awareness, above, will be in effect as well, reducing the ability to make sound and rational decisions on escape and avoidance tasks.  Escape and avoidance is greatly hindered by multiple evaders.


Verbal Deescalation

Contributors:  Verbal deescalation is largely a charisma based skill, where being generally easily likable can help diminish the potential for harm.  Techniques that can be trained include accepting whatever anger is being directed towards you, making the unfriendly contact believe you want to work with them and not against them, displaying sympathy/empathy with the contact’s issues, bluffing the unfriendly contact in some way that makes you not perceived to be the target of their anger, or even overpowering the contact into thinking they cannot possibly defeat you with further escalation.

Detractors:  In many ways, a verbal confrontation is the most psychologically feared altercation type.  Contact has been made, and it is a very real altercation between people.  We can see and hear the people in front of us doing the yelling without a survival response having been applied yet (physical force and more severe altercations can allow a person to filter out significant anxiety, because survival instinct overrides much of the cognitive processes).  All the same anxiety and judgement impairment that occurs in situational awareness continues to inhibit the capabilities of deescalating.  The ego can often get in the way during a verbal altercation, where a person thinks they need to ‘win’ the argument rather than accept blame (real or perceived) at what the argument is about.


Physical and Advanced Physical Force

Contributors:  In physical force techniques, the body reverts to its training; therefore, having good solid training is paramount.  A martial program designed for personal protection, and not sport, is important, since this activity has consequences.  A martial study will help override the body’s negative responses to adrenaline, and generally make all techniques that require gross movement more effective.  Physical fitness again comes into play because a fight is a test of strength, technique, and the ability to outlast an opponent.  The more fatigued a person becomes, the more likely they will succumb to the opponent’s attacks.  Other contributors include weapons and allies.

Detractors:  Detractors include lack of martial skill, poor fitness, lack of allies, lack of weapons, uncontrolled anxiety and more.  The adrenaline response that adds strength and diminishes the body’s response to pain or damage also inhibits fine motor skills, making some advanced martial techniques less likely to be accessible.  Ergo, the instructors stressing fundamental movement practice know that the basics will remain accessible.


Lethal Force

Contributors:  Firearm training is the biggest contributor to lethal force scenarios in modern usage, and, of course, having a firearm available.  Lethal force also includes weapons such as swords, bats, knives, and other weapons where their use is reasonable to cause great bodily harm.  Training in these weapons makes the user more proficient, and in the case of melee weapons, adrenaline response can cause greater strength and effectiveness.

Detractors:  The same adrenaline response that makes melee weapons more effective acts as a detractor to firearms use.  The amplification of gross motor movement causes a loss of the finer movement necessary for effective firearm usage.  For melee weapons, the adrenaline response enhances strength and technique that relies more on force than finesse.


Improving the ‘you’

A response to adrenaline can be tempered and treated with training.  Ultimately, however, the best ‘treatment’ is to reduce the initial anxiety that causes the adrenaline response.  This ultimately comes in the form of familiarity with a situation.  For instance, a kindergartener’s first day of school is an anxious event.  Frayed nerves and fear of the unknown can turn the situation into a difficult one to surmount.  By the time the kindergartener is a couple of months into class, the anxiety has worn off and everything is business as usual.  Familiarity with the scenario replaced the anxiety, and the body issued no adrenaline response.

Training in the myriad of use of force disciplines reduces anxiety by replacing it with familiarity.  In doing so, it reduces the deleterious effects of adrenaline, while simultaneously allowing some of the beneficial effects.  Look at each of the elements in the use of force continuum and identify the training requirements for each.  Look into at least a beginner’s level understanding for them all, if possible.  Take a running class, a performance driving course, and at least a few martial arts classes with personal protection intent.  Replace a day at the range with a day in an advanced class with some stress introduced into the situation to invoke anxiety.

Meditation training is also becoming accepted as a means to improve decision-making skills under stress.  The US Marines have expanded their meditation training and have found that not only does it improve a soldier’s ability to act, but reduces post traumatic stress disorder for those that have undertaken the training.

Therefore, when training in personal protection, one of the most effective ways you can train is through awareness of self.  Those who do not will find that in a protective situation, they fight their enemy as well as themselves.


Image ‘Prayer by the Sea’ by Abhisek Sarda


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About donaldj

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Donald Alley is a black belt in jujutsu with over 10 years of martial experience, he has practiced personal protection training methodology with broad-spectrum awareness. Black belt in Yagyu Jujutsu. Brown belt in Yoshinkai Aikido. Licensed Instructor (rank of Shidoin) in the International Sogobudo Federation. Yutto Jusseki 2012 (top graduate award) ISBF Instructor Training Program. Owner of DJA Applications and the Bu Tactical product line. Program coordinator for Martial Tactical Training of Michigan Chudokai Aikido Federation Kenshu graduate 2006. Primary Member of the US Martial Tactical Association. Level 1 Instructor in the US Martial Tactical Association. NRA Certified Instructor in Basic Pistol. NRA Certified Instructor in CPL (Personal Protection In The Home). Published martial arts and personal protection and emergency preparedness columnist.

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