In some recent reader feedback it was called to my attention that our website sometimes seems to be aimed at “the strong American male” and often neglects or seems to downplay the value of the strong American female. Additionally, the observation was made that some of our articles addressing outlook, tactics, personal defense and more sometimes seem aimed at the males and neglect, to some extent, our female readership. The emailers point was this: Preparedness and a patriotic outlook are not the sole purview of MEN. Quite often, women would benefit from preparedness and personal defense skills MORE than the men in their lives. Having sat back to contemplate that feedback I realized that the reader was right. When I’m writing it is frequently done from the mental position of “talking to the boys” or, when citing someone else’s words, “what one of my brother warriors said.”
So, first – I issue an apology. That certainly wasn’t anything I intentionally did. The large majority of what I write is equally applicable to both genders – but I understand the presentation can make it seem like it’s male-specific.
Second, I offer this article (and probably several others) that I feel will address specific needs and concerns of women in the firearms and personal defense arenas.
Third, I will make every attempt to address both genders equally moving forward.
That all said, this won’t be a typical “rape awareness & avoidance” article pandering to “scared women” who are afraid of “being sexually targeted for dominance.” Instead, as I have always done when teaching self-defense programs, I will focus on ALL personal crimes of violence (not just rape or the attempt thereof) and the outlook I believe all people must have to successfully avoid becoming a victim.
Now, bear in mind: I don’t believe you are a victim unless the crime is successfully committed. That means, to me, that if someone tries to rob you the crime is only successful if they get away with some piece of your property, currency, etc. If they go away empty handed or get apprehended thanks to your efforts, then they were unsuccessful and I don’t view you as a victim. Many databases and reporting systems will still count you as a “victim” because you were the TARGET of that crime. We are all targets of various things every day: rude comments, unwanted sexual advances, insults, marketing schemes, etc. Being a TARGET doesn’t make you a VICTIM.
With that distinction made I believe it’s important to approach personal safety from a particular point of view. The military have an acronym: S.E.R.E. It stands for:
“Survive” is pretty straight forward. Don’t get killed. Only you, moment to moment, can determine what you have to do to survive a violent encounter. It is my belief that submission is rarely going to increase your chances of survival – unless you are “submitting” in the tactical sense while your opponent has the upper hand, and you use that opportunity of their potentially lowered guard to increase the chances of your successful counter-attack.
Evade is also straight forward. Avoid the attack to begin with. We will discuss this more in depth farther on.
Resist: Each individual must decide what level of resistance they are willing to offer, and there are different kinds of resistance. Minimum levels of resistance may include simply not obeying orders from your assailant or pulling your arm away if someone grabs you. Comparatively, higher levels of resistance would include telling the attacker where to put their orders or counter-attacking to cause injury when someone grabs you. Where resistance is being offered against a physical attack the counter-attack must include a HIGHER level of physical violence (typically) to overcome the attacker’s intent. If the attacker is willing to grab you, you must be willing to hit him (or her). If the attacker is willing to hit you, you must be willing to hit your attacker in such a way as to cause disabling pain or injury. As you commit any act of violence that involves physical contact between you and your attacker, if you can – at the same time – secure DNA of the attacker (pulled hair, scratched skin, etc) to turn over to the police it is helpful. For some reason, people who fight back against violent crime and do so with the complete intention of taking away bits and pieces of their assailant seem far more comfortable with the idea of physical resistance in general.
Escape: Unless you are a police officer, even in states with a “stand your ground” law to protect you legally, I believe your ultimate intention should be to escape the attack. The longer you stand toe-to-toe with your assailant the greater the chances are that something will happen to give them the upper hand. If you find yourself the target of a crime attempt, I believe that you should vigorously resist until such time as you have a sufficient opportunity to escape. Of course, as you escape you should always call 911 to let them know you were attacked and how, describing the attacker in as much detail as you can. If you’ve injured the assailant it might also be a good idea (to cover yourself legally) to call an ambulance to request assistance for an injured citizen. It’s important in that phone call – that will most assuredly be recorded – that you don’t describe how the person was injured or that you injured them. Such recordings will be used later in court if such legal proceedings occur. The content of the phone call should be, “Hello, 911? I’d like to report a person suffering from (pick your injury) at the corner of 9th &Main Street. It looked like he needed an ambulance or medical assistance.” And then you hang up. No law requires you to give your name. They WILL have the number you call from and if it’s your cell phone number then you can later prove in court that in spite of being an intended victim, AFTER you successfully defended yourself, you performed your civic duties by 1) reporting the crime immediately, and 2) seeking medical assistance for the poor fool who was dumb enough to choose YOU to target.
Now, let’s go back to the EVADE part of SERE. The best and easiest way to avoid becoming the target or victim of a crime is to not be in a position to be targeted in the first place. Avoiding such circumstances is a combination of two things:
The easiest way to assess your awareness is using Col. Jeff Cooper’s Color Codes. They are easy to understand; easy to remember and easy to reference as you consider yourself and the approach you take to self-defense. They are:
Condition White: White is the lowest level on the escalator. In Condition White one is unaware, not alert, oblivious. This state can be characterized as “daydreaming” or “preoccupied”. People in White tend to walk around with their heads down, as if watching their own feet. They do not notice the impending danger until it literally has them by the throat.
Condition Yellow: This is a relaxed state of general alertness, with no specific focal point. You are not looking for anything or anyone in particular; you simply have your head up and your eyes open. You are alert and aware of your surroundings. You are difficult to surprise, therefore, you are difficult to harm. You do not expect to be attacked today. You simply recognize the possibility.
Condition Orange: This is a heightened state of alertness, with a specific focal point. The entire difference between Yellow andOrange is this specific target for your attention. Your focal point is the person who is doing whatever drew your attention to him. It might be that guy standing by a column in the parking garage, instead of going into the building, or getting in a car and leaving. It might be that you have been in five stores at the mall, and saw this same guy in every one of them. His actions have caused you to take note of him, so you must assess him as a potential threat.
Condition Red: In Red, you are ready to fight! You may, or may not, actually be fighting, but you are MENTALLY PREPARED to fight. In many, or perhaps even most, circumstances where you have gone fully to Red, you will not actually physically do anything at all. The entire process of escalating from Yellow, toOrange, to Red, then de-escalating right back down the scale as the situation is resolved, occurs without any actual physical activity on your part.
If you have any intention of surviving, evading, resisting or escaping from being the target of an intended crime, you need to conduct yourself in Condition Yellow at all times while in public. Awareness is the first step in self-defense and if you’re living in Condition White you aren’t even aware of your surroundings beyond the next block of concrete in the sidewalk you’re walking on. You MUST have your head up, your eyes open and be focusing on your surroundings instead of head down, eyes open but your mind seeing the contents of your refrigerator as you plan a meal later in the week.
Simply being aware, however, will not prevent you from being targeted. You must use the information you gain through awareness and observation, to make decisions on how you will act; what behavior you will demonstrate. To fully understand this we have to briefly discuss another military officer’s theory on human decision making. Col. John Boyd (deceased) was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam era and he is credited with being the first person to properly document the human decision-making cycle we now refer to as Boyd’s Cycle or “OODA Loops” (said udah loops).
Boyd’s Cycle or the OODA Loop is an on-going ever-repeated cycle that all of us experience thousands of times every day. We just normally don’t think about it or even recognize it. OODA stands for:
Note that the cycle starts with OBSERVE – something you can’t do in Condition White. So to even successfully start a decision cycle you have to be observant of your surroundings; everything in the environment that will or can impact your behavior. After you’ve observed your surroundings you have to
ORIENT yourself to those surroundings. This may be something as simple as feeling cold because the temperature has dropped, or noting that there is an increased amount of traffic at a given intersection you drive through every day on your way to work. By orienting yourself to what you’ve observed, you figure out how your surroundings can potentially impact YOU and you
DECIDE what to do as a result. That chill in the air might mean you decide to put on a jacket. Extra traffic might mean that you decide to slow down and give extra distance between you and the car in front of you. Once you’ve made a decision based on your observation and orientation, then you
ACT on that decision. You perform whatever action you’ve decided is necessary based on your observation and orientation. Immediately upon performing this action, how you relate to your surroundings will change so you have to start the loop over again. Hence the term “OODA Loops.”
Now, let’s put this all in perspective using a partial example from the listings of awareness color codes above. You’ve just spent the day at the mall with your significant other. It’s been a pleasant afternoon as you’ve window shopped, bought a few items, had lunch in the food court, watched a matinee and then stopped at the coffee shop before deciding to head home. Taking the escalator down to the parking level in one of the anchor stores of the mall you notice a man loitering just outside the elevator / escalator lobby on the parking level. Because you are in condition yellow and you’re observing your surroundings, you note that the man has both hands in his pockets, and as you step off the escalator you see him look over at you, then quickly look away; he looks back a couple seconds later and then quickly looks away again.
You’ve OBSERVED and now you have to ORIENT.
First off, someone in Condition White either wouldn’t have even noticed the guy or wouldn’t have paid attention to his existence. They for sure and certain wouldn’t have noticed his behavior or had any suspicions about it.
Because you’re in Condition Yellow and have OBSERVED you not only noticed his presence but his behavior which you deem suspicious. OBSERVE more. Look around. How much traffic is there? How many other people are there? Is there anything that stops you from turning right back around to get on the up escalator and notifying the store security or calling the police to report a suspicious person? Having taken in virtually all of the data about your surroundings as you can you have to ORIENT yourself to them.
Do you feel threatened? What do you expect will happen if you step out of the lobby area and are closer to this man? Is your significant other as aware of the situation as you are? Are both of you prepared to defend yourselves? What weapons do you have? What weapons might that man have?
How all of these questions are answered (and more) will determine how you orient yourself so the circumstances that surround you. Once that’s done you will DECIDE on a course of action. One decision might be to get on the up escalator and go notify security. A different decision might be to reach into your handbag to get your hand on your TASER X26C or your can of OC Spray so that you are prepared to offer resistance if this man does indeed prove to have mal intent.
IF you have noticed something suspicious and IF your significant other isn’t brain dead, you’ll likely get the question, “What’s wrong?” in short order. I can’t begin to tell you how many times my wife has asked me that when we’ve been out somewhere and I’ve noticed something that made the short hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It is important that you communicate your concerns to the person you’re with. It’s the perfect moment for an “aaawww…” interlude as you stop to hug or give a quick kiss, taking advantage of the closeness to communicate your observations and concerns. If your significant other is on equal level with you were personal defense is concerned then you make a mutual decision on how to proceed. If not, then YOU make the decision and they follow along.
The few moments pause you take is sufficient time for the circumstances to change, and any change in conditions triggers a new OODA Loop. If a car comes driving through the garage at a speed that will allow them to be in view long enough for you to leave the lobby and get into your vehicle then it changes the circumstances in your favor. Most criminals don’t like to have witnesses so they avoid committing crimes when there might be one – but that’s no guarantee. If six more people come down the escalator behind you and you’re leaving the lobby as a pack to go into the parking area then it’s less likely you’ll be targeted by that suspicious guy. If he sees that you’ve seen and taken notice of him and he decides that you don’t look like a tasty or easy victim then he may walk away to circle the parking area and come back looking for an easier mark. In such situations it’s my belief that you have a civic duty to report that suspicious person to, at a minimum, store security and possibly to the local police.
Once you’ve jumped through all those hoops:
Being in Condition Yellow.
Then you ACT on the decision you’ve made. The moment you do, your action changes the circumstances so you restart the OODA Loop again.
By being aware of your surroundings and properly orienting yourself to your observations, you empower proper decision making and (therefore) intelligent actions. Let’s for a moment consider incomplete observations or incorrect orientations.
Using that same example of the suspicious man in the parking garage, let’s assume that once you’ve seen him you stop observing your surroundings. You and your partner are both well versed in self-defense tactics and you do have your hand on the TASER in your purse. So you decide to head out into the parking lot confident that you can deal with whatever threat that suspicious man might present.
The problem rears its ugly head when the man’s partner – unobserved because you stopped observing once you saw ONE potential threat – steps from behind another concrete column and changes the threat presented. Now, quite involuntarily, you’re not only in a worse position than you originally thought you might be, but your OODA Loop has been involuntarily restarted as well. This is a huge concern. Anytime someone else can reset your decision making cycle you are automatically “behind the curve” in the conflict.
While YOU have to observe, orient, decide and act all over again, it’s likely that the two people confronting you have already observed, oriented, decided and ARE acting. In any conflict situation if your opponent is performing predetermined action while you are still in the observe or orient phase of the OODA Loop, chances are that the opponent will win that immediate short term conflict unless you can do something to reset their loop and thereby gain the upper hand.
So we see that it is imperative to remain alert; vigilant; to constantly and continually observe even as we act on previously completed decision making cycles. Failing to do so puts us at risk of performing irrational actions based on quickly out-of-date data.
To EVADE that potential crime would be a simple matter – even if slightly inconvenient – of going back up the escalator to notify security, or to come back down with a larger group of people. Many of us have a problem with that because in doing so we feel it makes us weak or we’re embarrassed to admit that we feel threatened by a given set of circumstances.
I’ve known some truly brave people in my life. Virtually every one of them admits to being scared and/or nervous in certain circumstance. Virtually every one of them will freely tell you that they’ve paused to further observe before committing themselves to action. Virtually every one of them will tell you that their buddies have picked on them or made fun of them for “being skeered”. Those same buddies backed them up 110% and thanked them for having been observant enough not to act irrationally or too quickly. As one combat veteran told me: “I’d rather be 50% embarrassed rather than 100% dead every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
The key things to remember are:
Don’t go out in Condition White. That’s a good state to be a couch potato in or to sleep comfortably in your bed. It is NOT a good state to be in out in public.
Don’t waste your time being in Condition Yellow by not integrating the knowledge gained through observation into your decision making cycle. Make your decisions based on how what you observe relates to or affects you.
Understand that even as you act you change the circumstances that supported your last decision thereby jump starting a new decision making cycle. Never assume that THIS action is the LAST action – it NEVER is.
Finally, remember that YOUR safety is YOUR responsibility. If YOU fail ultimately YOU will pay the price.
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