If you wanted to summarize Attack Recognition into one phrase it would be as follows: Know what’s Normal for the environment you are traveling through and look for what is Abnormal.
Every place has its own “Norms” as far as activities go and every culture has its own societal norms as far as what behaviors are acceptable in a given setting.
Two of the biggest Pre-assault indicators that you can pick up on by recognizing abnormal activity and behavior are Violations of Distance Etiquette and the closely related Surveillance Etiquette.
There are norms for how close it is appropriate for strangers to get to one another in a given public setting. Shared Space has its own rules and consciously watching for rule breakers will help you recognize when an attack may be developing. Some examples.
In a parking lot if someone comes closer than 15 feet, give or take, it will be perceived as odd and potentially threatening. There is no APPARENT reason for the person to do so if they don’t know you. If there is, they will usually start talking at a distance to tell you whatever it is they need, etc. in order not to scare you. Likewise, a gentleman, if he sees that he is walking on the same side of the travel lane in a parking lot as an approaching woman, will often move to the other side so as not to alarm her. It would also be alarming if someone pulled up right next to you in their vehicle and opened the door when they have a whole parking lot to pick from. Coincidence? Not likely, and even if it is, it’s a violation of the Distance Etiquette.
In an elevator, if people are packed in it is normal to be shoulder to shoulder. However, if it’s just you and I in there and I stand shoulder to shoulder with you, you’re gonna be creeped out and probably pulling away asking me what the hell is my problem. In that setting it would be normal for us to stand on opposite sides of the elevator to maintain proper distance etiquette.
At an ATM, people will generally stand back at least 5 feet while waiting in line. If they begin to come up next to you or stand right behind you looking over your shoulder something is wrong and they have definitely violated the distance etiquette.
Related to Distance Etiquette is Surveillance Etiquette. What is an appropriate amount of time for someone to look at you? Are you on stage singing Kareokee? Well, then someone staring at you as long as you’re up there is normal. Are you walking through a parking lot or other public area? Normal behavior would be to glance in your direction long enough to make eye contact and perhaps nod in acknowledgement. If they stare at you that is a red flag. Does it mean they are a threat? Not necessarily. Are there other indicators accompanying the excessive interest? Are they changing their path to intersect with yours? Are they following you? Blocking you? Do they look away embarrassed that they got caught staring? That’s a normal person’s reaction to being caught. Do they continue to stare at you without looking away? They could have bad intentions. They could be trying to intimidate you in an Alpha Male posturing attempt, or they could have mental issues and normal behavior rules don’t apply to them because they are oblivious to such societal norms. Do they look away sharply and try to overact that they are doing something else? That is the response of a guilty person who doesn’t have enough experience to play it cool. Do they try to play it off as if nothing odd occurred? That is the reaction of someone who was intentionally watching you and is calm and collected and has probably done it many times before. If it’s a guy, he’s likely either acting creepy or up to no good. If it’s a woman looking at a guy maybe she’s just interested. Men will always be viewed as more threatening than women because of our increased potential threat level in general and because of past experience which says men are far, far more likely to commit a violent crime than women are, except in certain very specific situations. Is the girl a gang type looking at a rival girl or one who has slighted her? Watch out. Violence could be brewing.
The point here is that context dictates the level of meaning for given actions. Red flags must always be weighed and interpreted within the context of your environment, how safe or high risk it may be, and what are the cultural norms within that area.
One thing is for sure though, if a bad guy is trying to get into the optimal position to attack / ambush you, he is going to have to violate Distance Etiquette to do so. And, if you’re paying attention, he will almost certainly violate Surveillance Etiquette as well, because a predator wants to keep its prey in sight and will continue watching it or at least periodically Target Glancing right up until the moment he launches his attack.
When you see these things happening, it is time to act – engage in evasive counter movements, prepare a weapon and enforce Verbal Boundaries.
About the Author
After almost 12 years as a Police Officer and Patrol Sergeant, including 3.5 years on a SWAT team, Mike went to work at ACADEMI (formerly known as Blackwater) full time in 2006 teaching High Speed, Tactical and Off Road Driving as well as Hand to Hand Combatives. He has experience in Unarmed Close Protection security work, CONUS and OCONUS. He has been in martial arts for 25 years and currently trains Sayoc Kali and teaches Sayoc classes in Portsmouth, VA. He also teaches Avoiding Violence / Attack Recognition and Use of Force Legal classes. He recently became a contributing writer for Harris Publications and has written articles for Personal and Home Defense, Guns and Weapons for LE and Survivor's Edge. You can contact Mike through his Facebook page: Hard Target Sayoc Kali Training Group where he routinely dissects attack videos for pre-assault indicators amongst other content.