- You walk up to your car with a trolley full of groceries, stuff to clean the mildew from your shower and your kids throwing green snot at each other. You leave the trolley next to the car while you put the kids into the car, get grabbed by the shoulder and spun around and see a pocket knife the size of a broadsword. Your kids might get kidnapped! You parry the knife hand, step past him and alien* the back of his skull into the ground. (* – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_tjXcGnfPw)
Your mission in life
Our mission, every day, is to get home to our families in one piece. One of the ways we do this is by minimising split second decisions. We don’t want to be confronted with split second decisions. An immediate/emergency decision means that something went wrong. Situational awareness exists for the purpose of preventing the need for snap calls – to buy us time to make decisions and act to avoid any BG’s. Our layered defenses at home exist to serve the same purpose while we relax (into code white for all you Cooper fans). (Your mission and your purpose are different things)
Self defence isn’t about split second decisions. It’s about awareness (yes, even I use that over-used under-defined, never-elaborated-upon sound bite). Hopefully you were paying enough attention to consciously take note of what the BG did to indicate that he’s a BG (Intent); that’s he’s targeting you (Interview and Positioning); that he’s got the Means and Opportunity to attack you; and that you couldn’t preclude yourself (i.e. you were alert enough to be looking out for escape and evade options – there just weren’t any).. To put it another way, hopefully if it gets to the point that you have to shoot/stab/hit someone (or run or scream) it’s the result of a long list of observations about the BG, his actions, and your options.
Let’s walk through two examples:
- You walk up to your car with a trolley full of groceries, stuff to clean the mildew from your shower and your kids throwing green snot at each other. You leave the trolley next to the car while you put the kids into the car, get grabbed by the shoulder and spun around and see a pocket knife the size of a broadsword. Your kids might get kidnapped! You parry the knife hand, step past him and alien* the back of his skull into the ground.
- You walk up to your car with a trolley full of groceries, stuff to clean the mildew from your shower and your kids throwing green snot at each other. You wipe the snot from your face that you didn’t see coming because you were looking behind you at that guy. The young looking one with broad shoulders who looks like an athlete. And his friend with the saggy pants who keeps fidgeting with something stuck down the front of them. The same ones who were standing next to each other looking around at people (not each other, their phones or girls) when you came out the shops. The same ones who then happened to be walking behind you in the same direction as you a short while later – looking at you, not at their phones, and not at wherever their car was. The same ones that went left with you for ten metres then back to the right when you were establishing if they were following you or just on their way to their car. Fortunately when looking around you saw there was a small group of people walking the other way one row over, so you were able to speed up, hang a U-turn around a car and walk behind the group back into the mall.
Split second decisions usually suck. If the situation wasn’t totally screwed you probably wouldn’t need to make one. You’d have time to make a pro/con list. Somebody tells you a gigantic spider’s about to crawl onto your shoulder, you jump away (and scream in an embarrassingly high-pitched voice) – a split second, emergency decision. You see a gigantic spider on the back of your couch as you walk into the room, you can then take the time to decide if you can risk using a shoe (can the monster jump?) or getting the super-killer spray – awareness buying you time and options.
OK, hands up who else had to check behind them? (I’m sitting on a couch while typing this).
Split second decisions aren’t
Split second decisions usually aren’t. Something that requires a snap call (for example, an unexpected knife) will usually invoke your lizard brain. Your lizard will take over for you and try get you out alive. So basically an emergency decision isn’t really a decision, it’s your lizard brain picking what it thinks will get you out alive. Training and conditioning exists to try give your lizard brain some hopefully effective responses that it trusts. Split second decisions are actually made years before the incident, during your training. This includes if your instructor makes you feel small for hitting your partner too hard (your lizard now knows to pull your punches for you).
Articulation checklists and the “GO” switch
Gut check time: Do you have a “GO” switch?
Does your “GO” switch look like this: “If I get attacked I’m going to Kelly McCann his ass and fucking DETONATE into the strike!” If this is your switch then it’s insufficient. It’s liable to result in a split second decision. Does your “GO” switch include, specifically, how to know it’s a bad guy? How to know he’s about to attack? The switch isn’t a “if I’m attacked I’ll…” it’s not about what you’ll do, it’s about his actions. See, the thing about switches is we don’t live with our fingers on them. Ideally we should#, but most of us don’t. So in order to press the switch we have to get off the couch, walk across the room, find the switch, put your finger on it, and then decide to press it. Likewise, when you’re walking down the street you’re not on a hair trigger, waiting for someone to unload on. Rather as you walk down the street you’re mentally sitting on the couch (hopefully not, but let’s face facts). Then you see someone walking in your direction when he doesn’t have an obvious reason for doing so (or something else not normal for the area you’re in) – so now you’re mentally off the couch. If he’s looking at you more than the norm you take a few mental steps across the room. Maybe he’s walking a bit stiffly (like he’s adrenalized) or maybe you try a tester direction change and he tracks your change in direction – so now you’re across the room with your finger on the switch (he’s given himself away). At this point you have all the info you need to know you should run. Let’s say that circumstances dictate you can’t evade and get somewhere with lights and noise (i.e. people) – actually I can’t imagine what would prevent you from ducking into a shop, or running away at this point (Aha! Having kids might prevent the running part – I figured something out). But anyway, let’s say he gets closer. He’s shown he has Intent, and now he’s developing Opportunity (and him walking over to you indicates he has rudimentary Means at least). So (finger on switch) you put up a fence (à la PESTS/MUC) and try deter the BG. But if he tries to close into attack range you’ve got articulable reasons why you hit him first. You didn’t attack first (he began the process of attack and got through quite a few steps – Intent, Interview, Positioning – one short of Assault), you just used physical contact at this early stage because doing so allowed you to end the situation with less violence than would’ve been necessary if you’d waited a few seconds for the assault to begin.
So the “GO” switch is less a switch, and more a checklist of actions that tell you that you’re being set up for an attack. If this, this and that happen, then hit the dude. Because an attack can occur in many different ways this isn’t something set-in-stone. Putting analogies aside, it’s a list of actions you know to mean A) you’re being interviewed; B) the BG is positioning himself to launch the attack; and C) that allows you to determine what level of force is appropriate to use. So what does your “GO” switch look like? Have you learned the different interviews and positioning tactics used by BG’s. Have you visualised them happening and walked yourself through many scenarios? Are you actively watching for these actions during your day?
This is how you avoid split second decisions. Not so much awareness as much as alertness combined with awareness of the BG’s tactics. This turns a possible split second decision into something else. You’re not a victim, but rather a hunter lying in wait. The BG’s working through the steps of trying to rob you and you’ve had him clocked from the beginning. So now, instead of him surprising you, he’s the one who’s going to walk into a well prepared ambush if he doesn’t give up on trying to mug/rob/attack you.
* – alien – a term used by Marc MacYoung, taken from Peyton Quinn, to mean what Rory Miller calls controlling the spine
# – (code yellow and all that) (And I really do appreciate Miller’s point that code yellow is merely living life, looking around and smelling the roses while you go through your day, instead of living in the conversation inside your head; but the vast majority of us don’t. Every instructor in the land preaches about the importance of awareness. Very few specify what to be aware of.)