In poker you often hear players talk about “tells” an opponent gives off unwittingly that indicate they have a strong hand or whether they are bluffing. In football, defensive linemen read the color of an offensive lineman’s fingertips in the context of their weight distribution to look for clues to whether the opposing team will pass or run. In the world of physical confrontation, aggressors often give off exactly the same clues before acting.
These are “Pre-Assault Indicators” and they are part of an overall training strategy that provides tactical advantage and often the element of surprise as discussed by Fred Leland of Law Enforcement & Security Consulting and an overall training system developed by Imminent Threat Defense Systems, Observation on Demand, and Winning Edge Training. The pre-assault indicators—those body postures and movement patterns we often observe but ignore—are essential pieces of information that can provide you with additional response time and clues to how a scenario is about to “play out.”.
John Demand, from Observation on Demand, a pioneer in maximizing threat reduction through pre-action skills development, has constructed a program of Rapid Threat Recognition, which trains the eye to observe and discern threats versus non-threats at a faster physiological rate. This means you have the ability to begin the OODA loop process at an earlier starting point, thus enhancing your response time—that is of course if you understand what you are observing.
This ability to understand is part and parcel of the Orient phase of the OODA loop. What is their balance point – does it indicate a defensive, offensive or neutral intent? Did their hips shift to provide weapons clearance in a draw or position themselves better to surge into you? Are their feet directed which would allow for aggressive action or are they crossed showing no offensive intent? Are the shoulders back and chest out in a social display of dominance or are the shoulders rounded with the head down and chin tucked indicating imminent threat? Where are their hands? When they walk is their stride off a little indicating an ankle holster? Did they reach to adjust their waistband after sitting or exiting a vehicle? Are they focused with social vision, looking at you in the eye ready to engage you in dialogue/ listen to what you say, or are they focused using their peripheral vision, indicating an asocial posture where they are targeting and waiting for a cue or opportunity to attack? And all of these are only clues that must be considered in the context of the situation.
What observations like this allow you to do is build an operating database in your brain that will eventually heighten your ability to see, understand, decide and then act upon deviations from normal human behavior as you see them. It allows you to see motion that is out of the ordinary and movements and positioning in order to know where it is potentially weak at any given moment of its passing through your area of influence, that place where it could hurt or threaten you and you can respond to its potential should it act. This goes back to programming your brain for the high stress of a physical encounter that could be potentially deadly.
And the necessity for this aspect of training is far from psychological; your ability to process is such information in moment of truth situations is deeply hindered chemically. In high stress settings we enter mid-brain thinking. In this state you can’t bring in new information to organize and understand it, your brain can only relate it to something it has seen or thought of before. This is why we should constantly OODA loop and rate the potential of individuals around us as threat. The faster your eyes and brain can see and interpret the data it is collecting, the faster you can decide whether it is a potential threat.
Which translates into a simple axiom: the more people you watch in your day-to-day doings, the better. Familiarity with the full spectrum of normal human behavior is the only way to improve your ability to read the nuances of any particular folk’s mannerism’s and target movement or whether it is threatening or innocuous. And in conjunction with this, the more scenarios you play out in your head, the greater the reserves of information your brain has to compare incoming high stress information with and the better your ability to choose a course of action and act.
The question hence becomes, “What to do once we’ve decided to take action?” The greatest detriment you can have in a physical encounter, be it with hands, edged weapons or firearms, is the distance between yourself and the aggressor. Unless you are behind a substantial cover your attacker cannot penetrate, close proximity is your best friend in a fight. Mostly, this is because you have an enhanced view of the pre-assault indicators and body mechanics. If you are close to an individual in a position that allows you to act immediately upon their body, you may have the opportunity to disrupt their ability to draw in the event the imminent attacker reaches for his weapon. On the other side of the coin, if you were to step back to draw your firearm upon identifying a move for a gun on the attackers part, you’ll inevitably be behind the curve as you cannot react faster than they can act. You will win this fight only if they are incompetent or you are lucky because the delay between recognize, decide and act is too great to make up.
If you step into the person and trigger reflexive reaction by specifically attacking a point that creates reflexive response (like the trauma of an eye gouge), the bad guy’s action sequence is interrupted. You can then drive through them, knocking them into a balance reaction—putting them in this state means they will not be in control of their bodies as they are knocked off balance. You can then, if required, draw your firearm and engage as necessary.
We can enhance our eye’s ability to perceive, and our brain’s ability to interpret and react appropriately only if we take the time to develop them. This can be done as you go through everyday life. Each time you pass someone you can observe their gait, their posture and how the body posture changes in good versus bad exchanges. Each time you can then orient this to yourself and play out scenarios like “what if/then I would”. Doing this keeps you sharp and alerts you to all the information people give off about their moods, dispositions, and intentions as they pass by everyday. And if you listen, watch and learn, you begin to understand how their “tells” can make you safer. My dad used to say “you have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth because you should see and hear twice as much as you ever think about speaking” and once again, I have to say he was right.