A lesson in situational awareness!

A lesson in situational awareness. #selfdefenceThis article is a lesson in situational awareness. I will use an entry from my personal diary to explain a situation where being aware possibly kept me from being robbed. The idea is to explain to you what being ‘switched on’ is all about.


Yesterday was the time for reflection. As a person, I have times that I am really proud of myself and at times, I feel like I could have done better. Then there are those times when I really don’t know how to feel.

I believe that sticking to your personal beliefs and listening to your gut should overrule all logic as that is truly what makes you a free person.

I do have situational awareness, which came from army training, plus my existing martial arts background has proven helpful when dealing with one or multiple opponents. I have surprised long range, short range, armed or unarmed and even surprise attacks.

However, surprise attacks are one of the most complicated and difficult to counter, even with adequate training as one minor mistake or miscalculation can mean the difference between life and death. This is where situational awareness training comes in handy.

The setting

This incident took place in the local train station after work. The sun was going down and I was tired and pissed off from dealing with my not-so-intelligent colleagues at work. I couldn’t wait to go home.

Being a man who believes in always being prepared, I buy my ticket for the next morning ahead of time to beat the traffic at the ticket machine.

The local station had 3 exits, 1 up North and 2 at the South side. There were ticket machines at three exits but there is one ticket counter located at the South side for transactions that the ticket machines can not help you with.

The distance from the North to the South exits is a 2 to 5 minute walk

Now that you have an understanding of my background and the setup, let’s see what happened.

The setup

Like I said, I was tired and pissy, all I wanted was to go to the one of the three empty ticket machines to get my ticket, go home, work out, take a shower and eat and call it a day.

I had my backpack on my back and I started the process of getting my ticket. I am always aware of my surroundings and I knew I had people waiting behind me.

I take my credit card and my ticket and as I turn around and walk to my left to allow the next person in line to do his job, I realize that the person is actually still in front of me and I can see 2 other people behind him.

The person in front of me is talking with a thick and weird accent but at a really slow pace. I am not sure at this point if he is intoxicated or not. He asks me if I can help him with something.

The Interview

Typically if you were going to get mugged, the 3 people would be in ‘formation’ that would allow them to trap you, and the leader would start what we call ‘the interview’.

The ‘goal’ of such interviews varies depending on the leader and what they want to do with you. The questions can be as simple as ‘do you have the time’ or ‘do you have a smoke or a lighter’ or something complicated and completely unrelated.

The basic concept of these questions is to distract you. If the average person has a reaction of 1 second when concentrated, the reaction time increases if you are distracted which allows even the slowest of opponents to do what they please to you. And most of the time, their intentions are not nice.

Still with me? Good.

After his initial question, I allow him to elaborate on his question and immediately I begin to scan him and the guys behind him. I can see that his eyes are weird.

Eyes can betray intentions. You can see if someone is high or drunk or whatever he is planning to do.

The vibe is off and I can feel my adrenaline pumping however I am not tensed.

The problem was that I was having a hard time following what he was saying, in his very slow tempo. Plus it was weird how the 2 guys behind him were not in formation, in fact they look like they are hiding behind the leader.

One of them was quite old so I felt even less threatened so I still kept my focus on the leader and tried to see where his hands were at all times. Mind you that in some cases, some groups of attackers use such low key people (old men or women or little kids) to do exactly that: make you lower your guard.

However, what the leader was saying was suspicious: Can you buy a ticket for me and then I will give you the money?

This entire scene along with the explanation took him about half a minute.

My brain went into overdrive as I made the following thoughts in nanoseconds: In order to get them tickets, I would have to turn my back to the 3 guys, get the tickets, take out my debit card, put it in the machine, pay for it and then what?

Would they give me the money? Was it in coins? Or some weird currency?

The most suspicious thing that kept me on my guard, was the fact that while he telling me his story, not once did he show me any money in his hand.

If I needed the help of a stranger, one that involved monetary exchange for whatever reason, I would be holding the money in my hand to let the other person know that I am legit. This is something that never happened during my ‘interview’.

My reaction

Were these people dangerous or just needed help? I was confused by all this but I was not going to risk it. Which lead me to one realization. I am NOT up for this.

As he was still going on with his request, which did not sound very legit, while not being very polite nor not rude either, I interrupted him halfway as I stepped away without turning my back to him “I’m sorry but I can’t, I don’t have time’.

By the time I had said this, I was close to the exit already and the leader was not happy at all. “You don’t have time?????”

He didn’t like my answer but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going bargain my life for 3 strangers which not only looked suspicious, but also involved my money and possibly my well being.

The train station was empty at the time and I wouldn’t be able to tell if after they got their tickets, they ran and jumped on a train, or even worse, managed to see my pin, steal my card and even cut me up?

That is not a scenario I was willing to test.

I walked away in a fast paced manner and at times checked to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Had I been followed, I would pick up the pace and try to lose them through the small streets. This is why you should know everything around your neighborhood and how to go through small streets if you need to lose someone. This is about your safety.

I made it home and locked the door behind me and tried to rationalize what just happened. I didn’t feel very good as I felt that I wasn’t human at that point. My self-preservation and survival skills overtook my human side and this happened.

However one might think: what if they were looking for a sucker on that day and you ruined their plans? Maybe this was even their first attempt at this. Had they been able to fool me, maybe they would have tried their scheme on another person as well.

On the other hand, what if those people honestly needed my help but were intoxicated or something along those lines? I believe that compassion is one of the most important human traits and we should not lose it at any given point of our lives. I did feel bad about this incident but even so, I felt like it was the thing to do at the time. And I went through with it.

The moral of this story

The moral of the story is not that you should not help others. It is very important to remain human at all times and to help people in need. Above all, you must always be aware of your surroundings and to follow your instinct. This will at some point, mean the difference between life and death.

Whenever you are not sure about something, follow your gut. If your gut tells you to run, then run. I am not proud of this story at all but on the other hand, it was a good check to see if my ‘street’ perception and situational awareness were still working. I had faced situations where I was surrounded and attacked and lived to tell the tale. But learning the hard way is not the way to go and can be very dangerous.

It’s better to make a mistake and live to tell the story, than be dead or mugged. Your life will never be the same after that.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? What happened? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Also if you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks!

by Nick Sigma


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