Think you know about situational awareness? Play this game.

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Want to improve you situational awareness, control presence and shadow dancing? Then you want the Chalk Game. I’ve talked about the Chalk Game a bit in the Shadow Dancing post, but it’s so much fun it deserves its own post.


What’s one of the main problems with attack drills in the dojo? It’s wooden, stilted, fake. There’s no real desire to hit the other person. At best everybody’s trying to act and pretend they’re a bad guy. More often than not they’re just going through the motions and you’re really only pitting your skills against half-arsed “attempts” to attack you. Wouldn’t it do so much more for you to work against an opponent that’s really trying to get you? Imagine a training partner/attacker with a vested interest in stabbing you. Someone who’s going to be devious, sneaky, creative and treacherous in attacking you. Imagine getting to train (effectively) during your everyday life, and getting attacked by your training partner when you’re least expecting it (as opposed to the training partner/attacker “surprising” you at the dojo). Imagine how much faster you’d learn, how much faster your skills would develop. Imagine how many things you’ll earn that you weren’t even aware that you didn’t know. This is where the Chalk Game comes into things. It’s the only training drill I know of where the “attacker” can truly take you by surprise, and where the “attacker” will very accurately simulate what a real attacker might do. It’s also the game that best teaches you how to control and enforce your boundaries (and doing THAT is a great way to send a signal to every BG watching that you are NOT safe to attack).


Great, but how much does it cost?

Short of offering your dojo training partner 100 bucks for every time they hurt you, the Chalk Game is probably the best way to simulate being attacked. You give some friends or coworkers a piece of that big kid’s chalk (a.k.a. sidewalk chalk – make sure it’s “washable”), and they have to try and get you with it. You can block the attempt or evade it with movement, but that’s it (no hitting the guy – you’ll quickly run out of people willing to play). They can sneak up on you, bullshit their way close, or even give it to someone else to get you with it. Just about anything goes from the attacker’s point of view (sound familiar?). Once they attack and you block or evade or whatever, the game resets, you don’t practice follow-through’s and they don’t keep attacking. This is both a safety mechanism, and a way of stopping people from “gaming” the game. If you prevail then cool, but if the attacker gets you, then you have to pay a penalty. Find something that your friends would enjoy, and something that you don’t want to pony up the cash for. Anybody that tags you with a chalk gets a bag of chips (if you’re a varsity student); you have to sing an embarrassing song in front of a crowd; or buy them a burger at McDonald’s; maybe you have to miss an episode of your favourite TV  series; heck, buy them a steak dinner for every time you lose if you can almost afford it. The key here is almost afford it. It’s got to be something that hurts to have to do (financially, socially). If you hate karaoke, then do that. If you don’t have much money, then buy them something. The more it hurts to lose, the quicker you’ll learn from this game. They’re not stabbing you with a knife (a safety feature inherent in using chalk), so losing has to hurt in other ways.

But what if the boss won’t let us play

Well shit, you’d better give up. I mean, come on. If the boss wouldn’t approve of you playing this with a few co-workers then if you guys did play, your co-conspirators training partners would have to worry about other people seeing. There might be witnesses to keep an eye out for. They’d probably have to restrict themselves to attacking you in so-called fringe areas. It might make them nervous and act slightly out of character (like moving as if they’re full of adrenaline). We wouldn’t want this happening. Let’s be realistic, they’d be acting like true Bad Guys. We wouldn’t want that in a training partner now would we?


The Chalk Game kicks ass

There are many aspects to this game that you will learn from as you play. This is because there are many things you have to master to not get stabbed with the chalk. The really good news is that none of this requires lectures or studying. Just about everything you need to know in order to prevail is already built-in. Having spent just about all your life as a human (maybe not the teenage years) you have an incredible set of instincts. None of which you have to learn, mostly you just need “permission” to use them. Some of the things that have an effect on winning are:


Body language

You’ll quickly notice that some of your friends are really good at poker faces, and some are so bad you just end up laughing at them (and you don’t need to study body language to know this – though it’s probably a good idea anyway). The Chalk Game will afford you the opportunity to see people being trying to be deceptive, just like a mugger. And to see just what that looks like in a person’s facial expressions and body language (albeit an inexperienced mugger). If you get stabbed on the street, you’ll be dead or in hospital, not reflectively analysing what went wrong and how you could do better next time (e.g. by reading body language better). Getting nailed in the Chalk game doesn’t have the distracting knife wound, so you get this chance to replay the event in your mind while it’s fresh and without the memory fogging adrenaline (well, less of it).


Shadow Dancing

Shadow Dancing isn’t something you actually need to learn, it’s incredibly instinctive. You’re unlikely to need to consciously think of what to do. As long as you are mindful of the game going on, the first time you see someone that you gave a chalk to walk up to say “Hi”, you’ll find yourself Shadow Dancing. You’ll be taking a step back the moment he comes one step closer than your lizard brain remembers him usually coming. You’ll notice that he isn’t focused on his own personal universe, rather he seems awfully focused on you (or even focused on ignoring you a bit too much). You’ll suddenly notice that the chair next to you will have much better feng shui if you go stand on the other side of it. You’ll probably become very aware that “X marks the spot”, and you’re standing on it, so moving sideways is probably a good idea. And turning your back on him won’t seem like a bad idea because it just won’t enter your mind as a possibility. And when approached in an obstruction free area, standing with one foot against the wall behind you will seem like a better idea than standing with both feet next to each other and texting.


Situational awareness

How often do you find yourself actually paying attention to the people walking into the room with you, or walking past you? Or even the people already in the room you‘re walking into? Well now if you don’t, you’re buying someone a steak dinner. Do you currently pay especially careful attention to the people who walk closer than a couple metres to you? Do you find yourself naturally tuning to face people directly, including turning your chair, to prevent someone from flanking you? Do you check behind doors when you walk into a room (or at least drop your gaze to increase your ability to see behind you)? Glance around corners in the room? This is all the stuff you know you should be doing, the stuff people preach about, but probably don’t do themselves. The Chalk Game provides the desire and the drive to do all this. You want to know what situational awareness really is – go play the Chalk Game. Play for a day, play for a week, play on an ongoing basis until everything becomes habit. Just make sure you play it.


Limitations and safety flaws

Any training you do for self-defense has a safety flaw built in (otherwise you’d run out of training partners very quickly, or drop out yourself). There are also usually various limitations with drills as well. For the Chalk Game these include:

– If the penalty for losing isn’t harsh enough you can get complacent about losing. Put another way, you can condition complacency and lack of caring when you see someone coming close to stab you. You don’t want to condition yourself to be apathetic when somebody’s trying to stab you (train like you want to fight ’cause you’ll fight like you train and all that – “Well, he looks like he’s going to do something, but whatever, it’s just a chocolate” is not where you want your head at).

– Lack of follow-up: If you elbow your work colleague (who was kind enough to help – by stabbing you with chalk true, but still, he is helping) then he won’t want to play anymore, so you purposefully have to restrict your desire to elbow him in the throat. The important thing is to do the block/swerve/jump back and then ACTIVELY look for you next move, and then stop. What people will physically see happen is ambush-evasion-game stops. But that isn’t where the game stops, it’s actually ambush-evasion-follow-up chosen (OOD from OODA)-game stops. Two OODA loops, one loop to evade/block/back away pre-stab, one loop almost completed for the follow-up (e.g. you pick the door you’re about to run away through, point your feet, and stop just shy of the running and screaming bit).

– Doing this in a U.S. school could go sour if you’re not careful – think Zero Tolerance idiocy Bullshit Policies, think stupid indoctrinated moron standing there frantically dialing 911 instead of running away from the apparent danger.

– There is a limitation to the situational awareness. It’s very easy to only focus on dodging the shot and stopping there. When I played this I found myself not looking for escape options. This was partly due to laziness, and partly due to the environment – it would’ve been somewhat distracting to everybody else if I ran around screaming. I also found myself spending less time than (in hindsight) I would have liked in just backing out the room when someone with chalk came in. Also, the guys I played this with didn’t ever try handing the chalk to someone not involved – so I mostly only shadow danced with the guys directly involved. I did notice though that when I Shadow Danced with non-players they were completely unaware of what was happening and didn’t notice me moving myself into better positioning, but when I did this with the players they often smiled at me knowingly.


Lessons learned

You can already gather some of the lessons I learned. I only played this for about 2 weeks. But never before or since (thankfully) have I been attacked by a knife wielding thug 20 times in 2 weeks (with chalk). I’ve been looking to play it again ever since (and I’m trying to decide if I should involve my boss or skirt around that issue). Sometimes I got nailed, sometimes I did well. Or maybe the other guy did badly – not sure. The one guy couldn’t keep a straight face. It was usually easy to tell his intentions. However, he eventually adapted and started hiding behind things. Another one was overly calm. He’s usually pretty animated, so whenever he looked blank I started getting an inclination something was up.


It was good to see hands moving around waists and pockets and behind backs, but I think I needed more time to really internalise some of the lessons.


I learned a couple things about myself too. The Chalk game is a great diagnostic tool. I found that I didn’t have to think about what to do in order to shadow dance. I found that I naturally went for a follow-up strike. I also learned that it was far too natural for me to pull my punches in the follow-up, so I now doubt whether I’d actually hit the dude – too much mainstream sparring. The other thing I picked up on is that I’m not naturally in the habit of actively searching for exits. All things to work on.


In truth there are plenty of games and fun drills to do that will help prepare you, the Chalk Game just happens to be able to take you friends and co-workers and give them an incentive to reproduce BG behaviour for your benefit.(as realistically as possible).

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