soldiers will often find themselves in dangerous situations, and part of their training teaches them to recognise threats and make the correct decision as to what to do about them. They are taught to look for their enemies’ strengths and weaknesses and formulate a course of action. Here you will gain some insight into how to assess people in various situations and predict their responses. The most dangerous situation in which you will ever find yourself will probably be those rare instances when you are faced with a violent confrontation. The most common and yet most difficult situations that you will encounter will be having to deal with aggressive salesmen or onerous officials. In all of these situations, the ability to correctly interpret ‘body language’ will give you a hidden advantage.
Most incidents involving physical violence can be avoided. Self-defence begins with recognising threats and potentially dangerous situations and taking action to avoid them.
Stay Alert: In the military, we are taught to scan the ground ahead. With practice this becomes second nature.
First scan the ground immediately ahead of you, from right to left. Immediately raise your eyes and begin another sweep a little higher than the first. Finally, your gaze should sweep across the middle and far distance.
Rapid scanning covers a lot of ground with very little effort. If during a sweep you notice something suspicious or odd, look closely until you can decide whether it is just something unusual, for example an open door, a group of kids loitering on a street corner, a couple of down-and-outs on a bench, or a possible threat such as a figure in a darkened doorway, a group of youths blocking the pavement, youths who are paying you a lot of attention or aggressive drunks on a bench.
Check Your Back: On military patrols, it is the job of the ‘rear scout7 or the last man to check for danger behind the patrol. In the street, this means much more than just occasionally turning around to check behind you. Streets are full of totally innocent people going about their business. The sudden appearance behind you of a scruffy individual in a darkened street may seem threatening but this may simply be your perception of the situation. Take Evasive Action: Cross the street or detour along an alternative route and see if he continues to follow you. The chances are that he is innocent. Work Out An Escape Route: Just in case, look for an immediate place of safety, such as shops, other people or a house where the occupants are obviously at home. Escape routes are another Army technique which will help you avoid confrontation. No matter where you find yourself, plan an escape route. Really, this is just common sense. The crew of a commercial aircraft or ferry are required by law to ensure that all the passengers are informed of the whereabouts of emergency exits. In hotels, cinemas and other public buildings you should locate the fire exits or service doors for yourself. Disasters only happen rarely, but when they do, those first few precious minutes can make the difference between living and dying.
Route planning is about avoiding areas where you can be easily ambushed. Where possible, avoid open ground, poorly lit streets, alleys, under-passes, and areas of town known for violence. Stay on well-used thoroughfares and mingle with crowds. As far as your personal protection is concerned, other people provide camouflage, concealment and are a potential source of help. Major routes also provide a variety of escape routes such as shops, police stations, cinemas and public houses where you can obtain help.
To minimise the risk to your safety, behave confidently and purposefully. Walk with your head up and keep your hands free. Avoid eye contact with strangers. Youths, particularly, may take eye-contact as a challenge to their ‘respect’, while the profiles of many violent men mark them as unusually paranoid. Glance in their direction and then look away. Never look down at the ground since this is a very submissive gesture. If in some crowded place such as a train or a pub you find that somebody is staring at you, turn your body away from the pest, fixing your gaze in the middle distance, while keeping them in your peripheral vision. This avoids confrontation, allows you to keep an eye on them and forces them into a game which they cannot win! Bags and cases mark you as a target for muggers. If you really do not have to carry one, then leave it at home. When carrying a case or bag in the street, transfer it to the inside shoulder or hand and walk close to the wall. Force people to walk around you on the outside. If faced with passing a youth lounging against a wall or shop front, transfer the bag to the outside and give him a wide berth.
Carry an old wallet crammed with paper cut to the same size as bank notes. Equally, an old purse can be filled with foreign coins or metal washers. If confronted by a mugger, quickly hand over the ‘dummy’ wallet or purse. He will probably cover a considerable distance before checking his haul! Wear a stout but comfortable pair of lace-up shoes so that you can make a quick get-away.
Criminals, particularly those who abuse drugs, cigarettes and alcohol are not exactly ‘track star’ material and can be easily out-distanced by the young and vigorous. Stout shoes also bring a little something extra to a good kick, if you find yourself in a tight corner. If feeling particularly threatened, you might consider carrying a walking stick or umbrella to fend off an assail-lant. Loose, comfortable clothes are less restricting in a confrontation. If you wear a tie to work, take it off when you leave or replace it with one of the clip-on varieties. Ties can so easily be grabbed by an attacker and your body pulled into target range.
If confronted by an aggressive or angry person, try and stay calm. If you panic, you simply place yourself at your attacker’s mercy. Slow, regular breathing will help control your emotions. Look for escape routes but, above all, remember your self-defence training.
Self-defence in the gym and in the street begins with the concept of ‘personal space’. Imagine you are standing in the centre of a circle with a diameter of just over 1 m (4 ft). This is your personal space. By the very term ‘self-defence’, we understand that the person defending themselves will not attack first. The defender retains a considerable advantage because, to attack you, your assailant will have to enter your personal space. In making the first move, your attacker enters an area of space protected by your arm and leg strikes. Stand in a disguised guarding position. Your body should be side-on to your attacker (it makes less of a target). Your arms and hands should be ready for action and yet guarding the head and ribs. Your right leg (if you favour the right side of your body) should be slightly behind your left leg and ready to launch a powerful kick if necessary!