Basic Awareness Exercises

A while back I began looking for some exercises for people to do that could aid them in improving their awareness skills.  While I think it is important to know more specific things to look for regarding criminal behavior, I think these kinds of exercises can still help one begin to sharpen sensory perception, powers of observation, and pick up more readily on anomalies in the environment.  Some people don’t know how to begin the process of becoming more aware, or what situational awareness means.  We could easily be bombarded by sensory data, but the brain gives us a break, not bothering to alert the conscious mind of all the information that is flowing in through our vital contacts with “reality”: visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), and kinesthetic (feel) perception.  Personal experience certainly has a hand in shaping what our minds keep and discard as important or irrelevant.  This, of course, is not always to our advantage and our blind spots can prove detrimental to us.  Some of us just get plain stuck in our heads no matter where we are or what we are doing, thinking about everything else under the sun but what is going in our present vicinity.  This is very advantageous behavior for a nefarious opportunist. 

I gathered some of the following examples from Kristie Kilgore, who spent a lot of time with bodyguards.  I think these are great for anyone, but especially people (and children) who spend a lot of time in condition white (state of cluelessness): 

Simple Meditation—immerse yourself in the now.  Quiet your mind and tune into what the senses are telling you about the present moment.  If your mind wanders, no big deal—just guide it back to the present moment.  Starting with five minutes is probably a gracious plenty for most people. 

Observation Exercise (at home)—observe objects in a familiar room.  Focus on imprinting the room and its contents on your mind.  Have someone remove an object while you are out of the room.  Can you discover what is missing? 

Observation Exercise (variation of Kim’s Game)—observe various objects on a tray.  Get someone to remove one of the objects as you avert your attention.  Can you discover what is missing? 

Sensory Acuity Exercise—feel energy.  Sit blindfolded in a chair.  Get a friend to move around the room, in and out of your personal space.  Instruct them to occasionally reach out towards parts of your body.  Can you begin to feel that presence? 

Sensory Acuity Exercise—work in low light.  Practice some light drills from your particular martial arts discipline in diminished light.  Allow your senses to really get involved. 

Observation Exercise (variation of Kim’s Game)—observe people in a public space.  What do they look like?  How do you feel about them?  What does their body language express to you?  Do you notice anything unusual about their behavior or the way they appear? 

Observation Exercise (variation on Kim’s Game)—observe cars on the road.  Recall details about the vehicles and their drivers, if you can see them.  What are the drivers doing?  How do you feel about the way they are driving?  Can you sense any of their body language, or the behavior of the car they are operating?

These are basic exercises, but I never underestimate basics.  Turn exercises into games until awareness becomes so habitual that you don’t even consciously have to do it—it becomes locked into an unconscious process and part of your intuitive nature.  Inform your sixth sense by giving your attention to what IS so that you may be alerted to anomalies in the patterns of life.


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  1. Interesting exercises…

    Sensory Acuity Exercise- Myself and some other students did a variation of this one. Basically, it’s a man in the middle scenario. One person sits in the center while 4 or 5 sit surrounding the middle man facing him. Blind fold the middle man. It helps to have an extra person not participating who can mediate. Once middle man is blind folded, the mediator points to one of the 5 people and designates them as the aggressor. everyone else close their eyes and looks away or down to redirect their energy. The 4 also try their best to think of nothing. The aggressor will not touch the middle man but direct violent thoughts towards them whether it be punching/hitting/slapping really anything physical. But they should hone in on one part of their body.

    The middle mans job is to determine from what direction the intention is coming from.

    usually, after a few pratice rounds, most people have a high percentage of success determining who the aggressor is.

    • Very cool, John. There is so much to be said for getting in tune with energy, chi, or whatever you want to call it (I spent several years studying Wing Chun). It really helps with reading intention, in addition to other cues. It seems like an esoteric concept to some people, but many of us pick up and act on energy we feel from others without even thinking about it. Thanks so much for your comments!

  2. Regarding observation exercises…a large portion of my job is to validate data. I have to scan through thousands of rows to find discrepancies.

    My basic technique:
    1) just like above, take an imprint of what said data should look like. this would be the positive.
    2) if you can, determine what the discrepancies would look like. this would be the negative
    3) since the positives outnumber the negatives…filter the positives out and filter in the negatives.

    It’s alot like using the remote for your satellite tv. I can fly through the channels scanning because i know what i’m looking for. I’m not reading every single line of every channel at every hour. i’m often times looking for a specific show. Drives my wife wild!!!

    The easiest way to test your skills? any busy parking lot, especially since the holdiday shopping season has kicked in.

    One major discrepancy i’ve noticed…most people park their car and walk directly to the store in a linear fashion. ie- the most direct route to the store. I’ve seen several people “casing cars” and they more often than not walk perpendicular to the store. As in, they have no intention of going in, their focus is on cars. So they walk laterally among the rows in the parking lot while everyone else is walking usually down one lane. The bad guys walk laterally across several lanes.

    …i’m sure they don’t even realize their doing it but I do!!! LOL

    • Yes! What you said reminds me of how psychologists prime participants for certain scientific psych studies. You prime yourself to look for anomalies, or “negatives” that are breaks in the pattern of data. When you watch TV, you prime yourself for the positive match. Back in the parking lot, it is back to the negatives, or what doesn’t fit into the normal range of behavior in a store parking lot. Either way, you are finding the breaks in the patterns. The problem with most people is that they aren’t paying attention enough to even notice the “normal” patterns to be able to zero in on things that fall out of range. They get busy and their minds are tied up with other things. You are obviously very observant, which in my mind is 90 to 95 percent of protecting yourself from crime. BTW, I do the same thing when I am looking for things to watch on TV. LOL. I can immediately tell in a blink whether it is something I want to watch or not. Great comments–thanks so much for taking the time to make them and for reading the blog.

  3. I agree, being observant is a critical part of protecting yourself. It’s difficult to teach though. It seems typical for majority of martial arts to teach everything for when it’s “go time”. My position is not to allow the situation to get there.

    Years ago, one of my instructors was teaching some self defense moves to some more traditional practitioners. He asked them what they wanted to see. One Shodan asked about the full nelson. So he says ok, put me in the full nelson. As soon as the Shodan tried to manuever around to the instructor’s back the instructor would turn and face him. After about the third time of the Shodan not being able to get to his back he frustrating asked if he was going to allow him to get to his back. The instructor snickered and said NO. Why would I? You just told me what you were going to do so why would I let you? Why would I give you my back?

    Lesson 1

    then he says ok ok, now try. so the instructor allows him to get to his back and as the Shodan is slipping his arms in between the instructors he traps them. The instructor is now walking around the room with the guys arms trapped underneath his LOL. The Shodan was reeeeally mad.

    Lesson 2

    I think alot of times we all get in the habit of training for the fight. We’re training to fight our way out of the situation rather than avoiding the situation all together.

    just my humble opinion though…

    BTW- I came across this link couple years ago about identifying threats. I’d be curious what your opinion is…may be worth a separate blog post.

    • You are so right. We work on our fighting skills continuously over the years–doing the things that we would do after all other self-protection measures fail. The question that begins to form in my mind is: how did I get to this point, into this horrific situation??!! How did I let this guy get me into a choke (for example)? (And, our training partners are so obliging to us, too, because we would like to train with them week after week!) Interestingly enough, when we pose this question to others, people often look at us with a blank stare, although sometimes there is an AHA moment. Many of these people are skilled practitioners, but indeed it never occurred to them to ask these questions of themselves or their instructors. Avoidance is the best and most desirable measure. I enjoy hard training, but I am not itching to get into a real fight for my life. Real fights are brutal and chaotic and have no rules of engagement.

      I will check out the article. Thanks!

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