Awareness Concepts In Self-Defense


“Anyone who is aware of their environment knows that the peril of physical assault does exist, and that it exists everywhere and at all times. The police, furthermore, can protect you from it only occasionally.”

-Col. Jeff Cooper {The Father Of Modern Pistolcraft}

Awareness is the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact; to be concerned and well informed about a particular situation or development.

Astute is defined as having or showing an ability to accurately assess situations or people and turn this to one’s advantage.

If you have ever read practically ANY self-defense literature or taken a class for personal safety and protection, rest assured you have heard the terms “awareness” or “situational awareness” countless times. Most experts agree that awareness is one of the most important and preventative aspects of self-defense methodology, but I feel there is more to the overall concept that most instructors and courses fail to address. Situational awareness and general awareness of your environment is unquestionably important, but a thorough knowledge of criminal psychology and a solid understanding of how, why, where, and when criminals attack, holds critical significance. Let’s do a quick exercise to illustrate what I’m referring to, and please take a personal inventory of your answers to the following questions:

  • What are the strongest body language indicators of a violent attacker?
  • Where, when and how are sexual assaults most likely to occur?
  • What are the top 3 reported characteristics criminals look for in a victim?
  • Do verbal deescalation techniques work against serial rapists or stalker?

The answers to these questions are specifically linked to criminal psychology and hopefully it becomes increasingly evident that an instructor who merely teaches you to “be aware of your surroundings” is providing insufficient ideology and inferior training. When you can decipher and predict criminal psychological behaviors such as, how a murderer selects a his victims, or why a thief targets a particular housing complex, or where an attacker prefers to conceal weapons on his body, you will drastically enhance your astute awareness and decrease the likelihood of experiencing or succumbing to a violent attack.

To further clarify why I prefer the term astute awareness rather than situational awareness, it is largely due to the actual definition and meaning of the words. If you look back to the opening paragraph of this publication you will see that astute is defined as having or showing an ability to accurately assess situations or people and turn this to one’s advantage. In terms of self-defense and personal protection ideology, the language in that definition is remarkably relevant and suitable. Specifically the part about accurately assessing situations or people, and to a greater extent, turning the assessment into an advantage. This is an important point to digest and one that should not be forgotten. After all, an advantage is a condition or circumstance that puts one in a favorable or superior position. It is critical for the defense-minded individual to not only be aware of situational circumstances and their environment, but also to understand the psychology of human behavior (especially the deviant, deranged and psychotic members of society) and assimilate that information in way that creates a safer more secure world for you and your loved ones. On the most basic level, we will use our astute awareness to create a preventative and reactionary advantage over potentially dangerous individuals.

In my humble opinion, the entire purpose behind awareness training is essentially to provide an individual with an opportunity to secure an advantage over a potential adversary or threat. What this really boils down to is threat recognition and reaction time. There is an incredibly important and reputable training exercise, known as the Tueller Drill or Tueller Principle, that has established respect and notoriety within the law enforcement, military, and armed civilian communities. For those unfamiliar with the exercise, it was a drill created by former police Lieutenant and renowned firearms instructor Dennis Tueller. While conducting police recruit draw-and-fire training drills from a distance of seven yards, an important question was asked by one of the academy recruits- how close is an armed attacker (e.g. knife, club, crowbar, machete) allowed to approach before the use of deadly force is justified to stop the assault?

From previous distance-time shooting evaluations, it was established that the average time required to draw a pistol, acquire an object, fire the weapon and hit the target at seven yards, was approximately 1.5 seconds from an external belt holster. To adequately address the use-of-deadly-force question posed by the new police recruit, an experiment was set up to calculate how much time it took a potential armed attacker to cover the same distance, seven yards. The analysis consisted of one officer playing the role of the “bad guy” and another recruit playing the role of the “startled officer”; they were positioned 21 feet apart (seven yards), and the timer started from the very instant the role-player bad guy initiated movement and the timer stopped when contact was made with the startled officer. As Sgt. Tueller revealed, “I was quite stunned to discover that the time was roughly 1.5 seconds!” The same stopwatch exercise was executed with all recruits from that class (e.g. younger, older, larger, smaller, male and female) and all of them could sprint that seven yards distance at an average of 1.5 seconds. Sgt. Tueller’s conclusion is enlightening,

“What we found was that if you’re ready and if everything goes perfectly, you might get the gun out and get a shot off before the bad guy role-player makes contact. That is not good enough! Shooting does not stop the action.”

So what exactly does the Tueller Drill have to do with awareness training and helping you survive a violent street attack?

First, seven yards is significant distance and in a large portion of documented and realistic physical or sexual assaults, you won’t be afforded the luxury of a 21-foot warning or alert. According to a reputable and thorough analysis performed by Tom Givens (Owner & Instructor at Rangemaster), it was found that data collected from 58 actual civilian self-defense shooting incidents reveals that 89.6% of the conflicts occurred at a distance of LESS THAN 5 YARDS! In fact, 86.2% took place in the 3-5 yards range {9 to 15 feet}. By objectively examining these numbers and envisioning a 9-15 foot circle of safety around your body, hopefully you will understand and accept the fact that on a daily basis someone could be close enough to violently attack you, without you ever being aware of their presence. For example:

  • Entering and standing in an elevator at work, a hotel, a government building, or an apartment complex
  • Waiting in line at a restaurant, movie theater, sporting event, grocery store, gas station, or a bank
  • Attending a parade, walking through the local farmer’s market, visiting historical landmarks

Second, as Sgt. Tueller astutely pointed out, shooting does not stop the forward progression, action and lethal ability of a charging attacker. For instance, envision a dangerous and violent assailant wielding a razor-sharp knife, that threat is still capable of inflicting potentially lethal stab wounds if your defensive measures do not incapacitate them immediately. There are several enlightening articles and published studies that document the surprising survivability of gunshot victims {e.g. Kenny Vaughn, shot 20 times; Joseph Guzman, shot 19 times}. In a study entitled Penetrating Cardiac Injuries, conducted by the Harborview Injury Prevention Center, of 41 cardiac gunshot wound victims that remained alive long enough to be transported to a trauma center, 29.3% of them survived. A key point to consider is that 41 people who received gunshot wounds to the HEART, still had the ability and time to continue a potential attack and survived long enough to be transported to a hospital.

Third, how you choose to carry your defensive weapon (e.g. inside the waistband, outside waistband, ankle holster, shoulder holster, purse or bag), will significantly affect your weapon deployment and utilization time. The recruits in the Tueller study were specifically trained how to use their sidearm, they were drawing from an exterior and easily accessible belt holster, and their average time was 1.5 seconds. If you don’t extensively practice drawing from concealment, incorporate dry-fire drills with trigger reset, include moving while drawing or reloading, and integrate simulated stress scenarios, that 1.5 seconds will most certainly be exaggerated.

In regards to the Tueller drill and the 21 foot principle, there are a vast number of internet articles and YouTube videos that analyze, breakdown and either support or challenge the Tueller findings. Regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with the findings and principles derived from the Tueller drill, there is one indisputable truth- the sooner you recognize a threat, the more distance and reaction time you will have to react; the more reaction time you can procure, the better chance you will have to defend and survive an attack.