SA (Situational Awareness), personal safety, planning, paranoia and the mine field of socially acceptable conflict preparedness

I’m going off topic today and sliding into another field, I am going to provide some diatribe on an exceptionally important skill, an attribute that people should improve, an ability whose importance is ever increasing and one that for the most part is severely lacking.. that of Situational Awareness, or SA form here on in.

SA is simply the knowledge and understanding we have of what is going on around us in relation to the circumstances and surroundings (our situation), and the application of this knowledge to the level of focus we have and our perception of this situation or fact (awareness) with the potential for generating an appropriate plan.

A bit long winded but in essence being ‘switched on’ to our surroundings.

For those that have ready Grossman, you will be familiar with the concept of sheep, wolves and sheepdogs.

I am not going to go into this concept here but briefly the majority of todays society and the sheep… those that plod along in daily life, living in blissful ignorance of what is going on around them and the potential threats that exist.

Then we have the wolves, that element of society that have embraced the predator’s mindset to achieve their goals, they don’t play by the rules that we count on to keep us safe, they don’t adhere to the general concepts of ethics and therefore seem more ruthless by our standards… One of the most dangerous things we can do if dealing with the wolves is to apply our social filter, our personal code or the societal rulebook, to these encounters… sorry digressions…

Finally we have the sheepdogs, now the most obvious sheepdogs are those in society that have made the conscious decision and sacrifice to defend the sheep, the Solider, sailors, Police Officers etc. those how allow “People to sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf” to quote Mr. Orwell.

These Sheepdogs have combined their training, ethics and mental toughness to create a combat mindset, they are aware of the importance of SA and practice it daily as an aspect of their employment.

They generally have the ability to scale their focus and attention up and down depending on the perceived level of threat, as a result of enhance SA and this is where we are going with this blog… sorry it took a while to get there…

Now I think that anyone willing to “the right thing” is a sheepdog and what we are doing here is describing how we develop our SA and apply it.

Unfortunately, the sheep don’t see SA as something necessary and what we perceive on a daily basis can be regarded by some, as being paranoid or being on edge, but that’s ok, they can afford this lack of focus because others in society have it, so we accept our role, smile and move on.

The system we are going to discuss is the colour code system.
There is much speculation about where this originated, but in essence we have 4 levels of awareness and each corresponds to a colour. Each colour in turn triggers the level of focus, planning and preparation we apply to the situation.

The coulours are:

WHITE: blissful ignorance, unaware, switched off, powered down…

YELLOW: Relaxed Alertness, chilled but aware, switched on

Orange: Focused Alertness, aware and ready, more switched on!

RED: Action ready, here we go! bring it on…

So as I move through my day, week etc., my condition changes, based on what I perceive through my SA. There is little outward sign, nothing dramatic, but I am constantly analyzing my surroundings and adjusting.

Factors that get applied are everything from the location, to the time of day, if you are travelling it changes, if you are with family it can change, the factors are endless and something for you to think about as home work.

Condition White: Blissful Ignorance.

The next time you’re out, have a good look at the people around you. What are they doing and what do they notice?

Do they notice you paying attention to them?

What you’ll begin to see is that most people are completely oblivious to their surroundings.

This is Condition White.

Whether they are sitting at a cafe engrossed in a book or walking along texting, or headphones on, their attention is drawn somewhere else and they have no idea of their situation… and have very little awareness, hence no SA!

In essence they are VULNERABLE and for the most part, what is a major factor that any predator uses in target selection? Vulnerability… it works in our society, animal kingdom, military planning, professional fighting… everyone looks for their opponent vulnerability. Couple this with the fact that in real life situation, the predator doesn’t want the target to know they are the target and that makes them even more vulnerable… imagine playing a game and you don’t know you were someone’s opponent in the first place?? Make it harder to win … of course!

So condition white is zero SA and to be avoided… even when relaxing at home you should still be aware, to a degree, of sights and sounds… I love watching my dog sleep, snoring away, paws in the air… but his ears are still moving and I know that a distant footstep on the gravel, a change in the ambient noise and he is awake… so even here, in his sleep, he stays away from Condition White.

Generally we cant do that when we sleep. Unless we have been trained, or have spent time is environments that force this habit we sleep in condition White, and I wouldn’t espouse anything different (other than get a Milionis ) I am just illustrating WHITE before we move on.

Part 2, Condition Yellow…..

Playing The Long Game

When you step onto those mats for the first time, I think very few realise just how long the road ahead is. Or just how much of an emotional roller coaster the journey will be. I have found as people progress, the tendency is to be come very short sighted regarding their development, sometimes at the expense of our training.

At 10 years + for the Black Belt, that is a lot of hours on the mat and it doesn’t all go our way. We train well and we train poorly (always embracing the good days, yet perpetually beating ourselves up on the bad). Life gets in the way, family commitments, passion waxes and wanes and then the is the dreaded demon… injury.

As one who has been plagued by injury for my entire training career and one that has been told by medical professionals on more than one occasion that I will not train again, I have developed a somewhat stoic perspective.

As I type this I have my hand in a thermo cast for another 3 weeks and then may face surgery. I have been off for 8 months with shoulder reconstructions and have had countless training injuries. But at the end of the day in a life long pursuit, 8 weeks off is a drop in the bucket.

Yes, you will lose some timing, not skill, generally, and if you do it comes back quickly and some degradation is un-avoidable in time off. SO we can see this as an obstacle and stress and fret while we are off the mat, inevitable try to come back too soon and re-injure. Or we see it as an opportunity to research, watch and try to find other aspects we can look to improve. We can continue our presence at the gym, supporting our community and enjoying the support of the crew, or we can take the easy option of removing ourselves from the temptation and stay home.

It seems that most BJJ practitioners are fairly hard on themselves when it come to that time off and the feeing is that if we aren’t back as soon as possible, then we are deteriorating, which creates increased anxiety and the feeling that we need to train harder, which in turn, induces that tendency to re-injure and so commences the downward spiral….

Another and more sinister reason for pressuring ourselves is Ego… yes there is that word in relationship to BJJ again… but here I am suggesting that people will return to training too soon, or put unrealistic expectations on themselves and their improvement, just because they don’t want to their place in the hierarchy change.

We must be realistic about what is keeping us off the mat, really analyse how that makes us feel and honestly deal with it as objectively as possible. There are always others around us that have been through it and they are there to console and advise, assist and counsel, so use them to good effect.

Nobody like taking time off, or seeing their improvement slow, or sometime deteriorate. But we have to take the good times with the bad, the progression with some regression and the inevitable fact that life will get in the way of training. Treat this as another challenge, another guard to pass and the true test is how we deal with this obstacle… do we let is slow us to the point of quitting, or do we smile, persevere and try to see an opportunity to challenge ourselves and improve in a different manner.

Welcome to Struggletown

“This is not an easy sport”.

That was a favourite saying of a former coach of mine. I can’t say I disagree with him. We’re not standing 7 feet 9.25 inches from a dart board with a pint in hand. We’re here getting our ego checked, and facing failure every time we get on the mat. That’s very confronting.

As I have said many times before “Every time you get on the mat, you can and will be tested”.  It doesn’t matter how practiced, how skilled, how long you have been training, you can and will get caught, sometimes by training partners you’re not supposed to lose to. A friend of mine who is a brown belt, was visiting a club and was having the last roll with a white belt, the only pair still rolling while everyone looked on. The white belt caught a submission and the brown belt tapped. It wasn’t supposed to go down that way, but that is how it goes some time.

Everyone has their struggles with Jiu Jitsu. Not necessarily the same issues. Not necessarily all the time.

It’s not just a case of getting caught when you’re not supposed to. Maybe you have a lot of things in your life, demanding you attention. Work, family, other activities and commitments. You can’t train twice a day, every day, as a world champion or a teenager living at home might be able to do. You might be struggling just to make it on the mat twice a week.

Maybe your frustrated with not getting the results you want, or progressing as fast as you would like. Or maybe you are injured, and can’t train with the level and focus you desire. It could be that your general fitness isn’t where it needs to be, and that makes everything harder.

Perhaps you have a fear. A fear of failure, a fear of losing, a fear of getting injured, or a fear of other people thinking you don’t deserve your grade. Maybe you training partners are younger, faster or stronger, and you find it hard to even believe you could ever achieve victory over them.

As Chris Haueter says in ROLL: Jiu-Jitsu in SoCal “It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left”. This is a war of attrition. Just making it on the mat one more day is an achievement.

Enjoy the good times, when it all comes together, and you can do no wrong. Equally you need to weather the tough times, to be able to make it to the next patch of sunshine. These tough times are where your ego will get checked and your character will be built. These are the only rewards you can count on in Jiu Jitsu, not stripes, not belts, not gold medals.

This is not an easy sport.

The struggle is real.

You are not alone.

Welcome to Struggletown.