Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Situational Awareness: The New Talisman

I posted something on Facebook that looked a lot like this:

Situational Awareness
Okay, so it's a phrase, not a word. You get the point.
People got all bent out of shape,  jumping to the conclusion that I am against situational awareness. I challenge anyone to find evidence of me recommending people walk around with their heads firmly planted up their butts.

It's not that I don't like situational awareness. In fact, I love it! It sparks interesting conversations. It allows you to enjoy your environment. It keeps you engaged. It can even save your life.

Situational awareness is a really good thing. It's just being mishandled. Or misrepresented. A lot of weight is being put on its shoulders. Instead of being another great tool, it's becoming something of a talisman that people are pulling out and using as an excuse to berate, to not train, to have sloppy carry methods, etc.

Situational awareness is the ability to scan an environment for items or actions that could be potentially dangerous. It allows us to alert to those items and behaviors and activate one's capacity to make intelligent decisions and actions in regards to that data based on one's training and experience.

Situational awareness does not make the untrained and unprepared better at responding to that data.

If he'd had better situational awareness, that wouldn't have happened.
News flash: people get hurt. They get victimized. Sometimes there's nothing that can be done to stop it.

Yes, there are legitimate cases where having better situational awareness could have at least let someone be aware that danger was close. In regards to people who walk into traffic, down flights of stairs or into fountains because they weren't paying attention, there's not much lacking but situational awareness. It doesn't take a lot of sense and training to walk around a fountain instead of into it. 

In the realm of self defense, however, seeing the potential attack does not mean the outcome would be different.

If you see the truck or the rapist of the burglar or the axe-wielding maniac and you don't have any capacity to do anything with that data and change your situation you'll still get ran over, raped, burglarized or chopped to pieces.

Situational awareness is only as good as it's ability to alert you in addition to activating your capacity to do something with that information.

I use situational awareness. I don't need to keep one in the chamber (or carry a gun, or know hand-to-hand skills, etc) because I'll always have time because I'll always see it coming.
We've discussed what situational awareness is and what it isn't and what its limits are. Now we have to admit to ourselves that situational awareness is not infallible.

We will not (cannot) always see it coming. We do not have eyes on the backs of our heads. Our eyes are only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. We also are capable of misreading any number of situations. Even when we recognize those situations as being dangerous we don't always allow that data to activate our capacity to do anything about it via a nifty little trick I like to call DENIAL.

Let's go back to capacity, however. Let's say you see the danger but don't have the capacity to respond to it. That capacity might be because of mechanics--your arm is pinned, shot, broken, protecting your head and you cannot physically put a round in the chamber; your gun is stuffed so far down your pants in ubber-deep concealment to the point it is inaccessible; you are getting your head pounded into the pavement because you tried to go for your gun and got punched in the face and your draw stuffed and now have no idea how to get out of that situation and the lights are dimming.

That capacity might also be because of time--it takes you 2.5 seconds to draw, rack and fire but the guy who's fighting you is going to kill you in 2 seconds.

You don't always see the danger coming. Even if you do, if you lack capacity, you may be no better off with that knowledge.

In short, situational awareness is not a substitute. It is not a substitute for good equipment. It's not a substitute for common sense and it's certainly not a substitute for good training and practice.

Use good situational awareness! But give it substance to fall back on.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Self Evaluation and Goals

It's not quite the end of the year but that's not stopping me from starting to highlight my road map for the future.

I decided about a year ago that I have no greater passion (as far as a vocation is concerned) than that of self-defense, be it armed or unarmed. I also have no greater passion than to share that with others, be that through writing or via instructing. I have made it a goal of mine to become an advanced firearms instructor.

Some life destinations are easier to map out than others. If I wanted to be a doctor I know which degrees I would have to get, the system is pretty well set up. Firearms instructing is a little more fluid. There's no set standard to what makes someone advanced, nor is there clear agreement on what it means to be advanced. Is it high shooting scores in competition? Is it a training resume a mile long? And where do I fit into it all? How far have I come so I might be able to find out how far I need to go?

People have a tendency to over estimate their own skills and abilities and rank in the scheme of things. I'm a regular person. But I'm not a dumb regular person. So, to more accurately gauge my own standing and becomes I'm a very visual person, I made this graph:

I figure myself to be somewhere on the precipice between beginner and intermediate, feeling much safer to assume myself lower in skill than above. Probably because lower is exactly where I am.

Why am I not further along? Because I haven't practiced the lessons I've learned.

I have a lot of head knowledge that is serving me very well in theory but I've not gotten out there and worked the work enough for it to be recalled as "second nature."

A perfect example was my Extreme Close Quarters class. One year ago this month I took that class fully expecting to be able to glean the knowledge, take it home and work it until I couldn't get it wrong. I was in a perfect place to do so as well. Both my husband and my martial arts instructor took the class with me. We could all go home and be on the same page. We could all work the skills over and over again until they were ingrained. I was so excited about working the work and taking that work to force-on-force scenarios in classes, and even out into competition.

And the day I got home from that class I found out I was pregnant with our youngest son.

Having to drop out of martial arts and any other aggressive force on force work shortly thereafter hit my retention of that class hard. I have more of the theory still in my head, not a lot of the practice.

The same is true of my room clearing skills. Having worked them only a select number of times I still make errors on my drop outs and use of cover. I also have to take far too long to recognize blind spots and favorable angles for clearing obstructions.

I'm not even going into my team-work.

These are all classes I've taken and learned so much from, but learning without practicing really isn't much of an advancement. It's more of a baby step.

Working those skills combined with simply running the gun as fast, aggressively, accurately and smartly as I can, combined with more education in the legal aspects of self defense, less-than-lethal and empty-hand and I feel like I'll be on my way to something similar to my goal.

Truth be told, my plan-old gun work could use some serious fine tuning from time to time.

What I Don't Know I Don't Know
The other reason I evaluated myself as being somewhere in the bottom is because I still don't know what I don't know. And that can account for a LOT. It's really easy to think you're on your way to some place great but once you achieve your first level of success you realize the mile hike you thought it was going to take to your destination just because a double marathon.

I don't know all of the skills I'm missing. I don't know what kind of experience will help me on my goal aside from the obvious experience in classrooms, competition and more classes and practice. I don't know what I don't know.

And nothing beats experience. Do I have experience teaching? Yep. Quite a bit, but not enough.
Do I have experience competing? Yes. But not enough.
Do I have experience carrying a gun? Oh yes. But many would say it's still not enough.
Do I have experience using the techniques I've learned? Not so much.

One thing I didn't put on that graph that I think is vitally important is evaluation. It's really easy to think you're good in your own eyes compared to no particular standard. It's something else entirely to submit yourself to the evaluation of those you consider to be in authority on the subject.

Over the past few years I've been blessed to have connected with some amazing people in the industry. I've been able to get frank feedback from them and will continue to look to them for guidance and honest evaluation.

I've been grateful for every word of honest feedback and criticism. I want those people to know every word they've said to me has been taken to heart. Some of them have put me through true tests of my skill. Some I have passed, others I have not. But it has given me more goals to strive for.

So, what will 2015 be? We'll see!! I'm optimistic. A lot of it might be repeat.

Finding a way to fit training and parenthood together has never been easy but my hope is that I will be able to return to combatives soon and work hand-to-hand again. I have my first pistol match since Feb coming up this month and then a handgun class in November. I'm hoping that 2015 Feb will see me back at Rangemasters for their conference for more head knowledge and a host of other refreshers as well.

Above all, I'm hoping that 2015 sees me on the mat, with trainer guns in force-on-force scenarios, at the range and competing again.

Another baby step towards my goals.