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Situational Awareness – being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations – is something you will hear a lot in your Krav lessons but do you really know what it means and why it is important?
Is Situational Awareness a skill; is it a mindset; is it a decision-making aid or is it a combination of all three? In my experience it is the latter; a combination of all three. It involves practical skills such as observation, threat identification, risk and impact assessments but it also provides essential context for making important personal security decisions and requires the right mindset to be effective.
In order to understand how Situational Awareness informs the decision-making process, one needs to understand United States Air Force Colonel, John Boyd’s, OODA Loop Decision Cycle.
He based his theory on his air to air combat experience during the Korean War. OODA stands for: Observe; Orientate; Decide; Act. His idea, in simple terms, is that decision making is a recurring cycle of Observe; Orientate; Decide; Act and therefore anyone who can process the cycle faster than their opponent gets “inside their decision-making process” and will usually win because they are able to act before their opponent can react.
Situational Awareness is created by processing the first two elements of the cycle: Observe and Orientate. Observation provides the raw information on which decisions and actions are based and Orientation provides the context for decision making i.e. what does it mean to me and how will it impact me and is usually based on circumstance, previous experience, culture, traditions, heritage etc.
Together they create Situational Awareness, which informs the decision-making process and is therefore an essential part of decision making. The correct mindset for good Situational Awareness requires an individual to make a conscious effort to approach it in the right way.
In order to recognise emerging threats, it requires a general acceptance that threats to an individual exist, that bad things can happen to them and an acknowledgement that you, as an individual, have a responsibility for your own personal safety and security.
Part of this mindset is also recognising that our subconscious mind is very good at intuitively picking up subtle signs of danger that our conscious mind doesn’t always recognise. This so called “gut reaction” to danger should not be ignored.
Having an awareness of one’s surroundings and an idea of the risks they present now and in the future is incredibly important in a self-defence context.
An understanding of these potential risks and their impacts enables you to prepare strategies to manage them. It means that you are much less likely to be taken by surprise when you are at your most vulnerable and least prepared to defend yourself.
In self-defence, the best strategy is always to avoid the risk wherever possible because this is the safest and most sensible thing to do. However, an individual must first be aware of the risk and the potential danger it presents to them before they can take the necessary action to avoid the risk altogether.
This is why Situational Awareness is such an important concept, without it you are much more likely to be blindsided by a violent confrontation and caught at a significant disadvantage. With it, you will have an awareness of the risks around you as they develop and have time to prepare mitigation strategies including avoidance if at all possible.
You will also be more able to manage the high levels of stress involved in a violent confrontation because you won’t have been taken by surprise and will be ready to act, which will result in a more effective self-defence response and successful outcome.