By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved
For me reading “Black Belt Magazine” is a guilty pleasure, kind of like how most people feel about reading the “Enquirer” or “Star Magazine”. However, I generally find myself buying it if I see it on the shelves and then once I get home I flip through it once to read any article that interests me, again to look at the ads, and twenty minutes after I open it it either goes in my recycling pile or in a duffle bag to be used during improvised weapons training.
Most things in there are either about “mixed martial arts” or other sporting applications but there is one section that is supposed to be about “reality-based self-defense” and that is the “High Risk” article written by Jim Wagner. Jim Wagner is a former police officer, corrections officer, SWAT team member, soldier, air marshal, mouseketeer, unarmed combat instructor, wrote most of the scripts for “Seinfeld”, was the inspiration for Chuck Norris’s character on “Walker: Texas Ranger”, and I’m pretty sure that he would have had the lead in “Pretty Woman” except he had to go save the world so Julia Roberts stepped in.
My view on Jim Wagner is that he’s basically a little kid who wants everyone to like him. In nearly every article he tells a story that describes what a bad ass he is, what a great instructor he is, or how he is saving
He told a story awhile ago about how after September 11th, 2001 everyone freaked out and some big meeting was held in the Pentagon, or someplace, and the Secretary of Defense, or someone, asked if anyone had any counter terrorism training. Everyone looked around in a panicked manner until good old Jim Wagner standing in the back of the room raised his hand…and thus single handedly saved
99% of his articles are ridiculous but every once and awhile he gets something right and that is what happened in his last article “Somebody’s Watching Me” (April 2009). In this article he talks about a widely used situational awareness technique called “deflection”, “the look away”, “hiding eyes”, “the look down”, or a dozen other names. I learned this technique about 6 years ago and I’ve been using and teaching it since then but I thought that I’d cover it here also.
The basic principle of this technique is that it is not appropriate to stare at people and when we’re caught doing so we get embarrassed, quickly look away, and try to pretend that we were never looking at them in the first place. So if we are at a restaurant and there is a lull in the conversation, we’d probably start looking around at other people in the restaurant. We’d see someone at another table, look at them for awhile, perhaps for no particular reason, and suddenly they “feel” our eyes and look back at us. We quickly divert our eyes and try to look innocent because we were caught.
We use this principle in situational awareness. If I’m walking down the street I want to do three things. First, I want to be constantly looking around me and using any windows that I pass to check reflections. I want to look in front of me, to the side, behind me, and across the street. Second, I want to walk in the middle of the sidewalk and go through the middle of any doorway or opening. Contrary to what they show on TV, you don’t want to hug a wall when you walk down a hallway or road; you want to way stay away from walls, cars, and doorways. The reason is that someone could be hiding in a doorway, alley, or behind a parked car and if you are walking next to these then it is very easy for them to just reach out, grab you, and take you by surprise. However, if you walk in the middle of any path or doorway or just keep 5 or 6 feet between you and the wall, door, corner, car, alley etc. then it is harder for someone to just reach out and take you by surprise. If you keep 5 or 6 feet between you and the object of concealment then at least you’ll have time to react if they jump out.
Also, in the movies it shows people going through buildings with guns and they’re hugging the walls and doorways. This is ridiculous. First, it doesn’t really give you any more concealment then walking in the middle of the hallway. Second, if you’re by the wall then you’re in prime position to be hit by a ricocheting bullet that bounces off the wall if someone was to shoot at you. Third, most walls are made of plaster and sheet rock and any bullet will go right through it and when it does it will spray plaster and sheet rock through the air. So if you’re standing by the wall and someone shoots at you, you stand a good chance of getting plaster and sheet rock in your eyes and lungs. Fourth, being so close to an object of concealment makes it very easy for someone to hide around a corner and then jump out and take you by surprise.
The third situational technique that you should use is to casually try to make eye contact with everyone around you. Criminals want to take you by surprise and if you make eye contact with them they usually feel that the element of surprise is lost so they pick someone else. Also, if you look someone in the eye and they quickly look away like they’re acting as if they were never looking at you in the first place then that is a pretty big sign that they’re up to something that involves you.
I don’t do security work very often anymore but when I do this is one of the main things I use, and its something a lot of other professional security personnel do. Look around, try to make eye contact with as many people as possible, and if someone does the “look away” you go talk to them because they’re probably up to something.
If you’re out and about having a good time and you do see someone do the “look away” when you look at them then you should take notice. They might be a criminal who has targeted you.