Insights and Training Tips from Tactical Arts


How to be Mentally Ready for a Violent Attack

How to be Mentally Ready for a Violent Attack

How to be Mentally Ready for a Violent Attack

You can’t just hope you will be ready, you have to train your mind to be ready.

One of the keys to successful performance of a self defense technique is repetition, but you can practice a technique a million times, and it will never work if you do not recognize when to apply it.  Your 10,000 hours hitting a target, sparring with a training partner, or pulling a trigger will fail to be enough.  You can have all the physical skills you need, but if you are not aware of your surroundings and mentally ready to act or react, they will not be accessible in time.

If you hope to successfully respond to a threat, you must be aware of your surroundings. You need to know what is around you, who is around you and what they are doing.  This is known as situational awareness, and it is something you can develop. You also must be in a ready mental state prior to the encounter with a threat.   Situational awareness and a ready mental state are critical skills that you must have.

In this article, I will give you some tools to get you there.


What happens when you are not ready and aware?


If you don’t know what is going on around you, then you are going to be caught off-guard when something happens that requires you to respond immediately.  You will be off-guard simply because you will be surprised.  You will be surprised because you saw nothing to indicate that something bad may happen soon.  You did not see the car coming.  You did not see that person in the corner.   You did not see those things because you were not looking for them.  According to expert Tom Givens, “He came out of nowhere” is the common refrain recorded in police reports from victims who were unaware of their surroundings when they were assaulted.  He did not come "out of nowhere."  He made his approach when they were not paying attention.   


If you are not aware when a threat appears, you will be off-guard because you will not have a context for the immediate situation you find yourself in.  You will not have enough information to make a quick decision and take action.   If you are caught like this, then you will not be in the right mindset to respond.  You will be playing mental catch up when you need to be taking action.   


If you are not in the right mindset, then a surprise will likely put you into a panic.  Even if it is only momentary, this state of panic will delay your physical response (if any) until it is too late.   You may freeze while your mind tries to catch up with the changing situation or you may overreact in a way that does not solve your problem and will probably make it worse.   Imagine looking up after adjusting your truck stereo to see that the car right in front of you has just slammed on the brakes.  You may only be able to yell your favorite four letter word while ramming into the back of the car.  Or, you may immediately pull the wheel and turn into oncoming traffic.  Neither of these have good outcomes.


What is the solution?


In 2008, a United Kingdom based phone directory service completed a study of accidents in London that were occurring more and more frequently among people who were texting and walking at the same time.  In 2007, 68,000 people in the UK were hurt while chatting or texting on their mobile phones.  


The study results ultimately determined that people are idiots.  Many people were walking into light posts and suffering head injuries because they were not paying attention.  Part of the study included a survey.  1 in 10 of the people who participated in the survey reported that they had been injured while texting.  Two thirds of them stated that they lost peripheral vision while texting.  Well, yeah.


What was the solution to this problem?  Many of those surveyed asked for special routes marked with lines on the sidewalk that they could follow while looking down and texting.  Ultimately, the company decided to put padding on light posts all over busy areas of London.  They decided that since people are idiots, we have to idiot-proof the city.  Ridiculous.  Unless you plan to lock yourself in a padded room, the real solution to this problem and yours is to develop situational awareness and change the risky behavior.  I hope you will take responsibility for your safety and follow my suggestions below.


How to develop situational awareness and a ready mindset for self defense:


1. Study violent crimes.


First, you should start studying actual crimes.  Read news reports about violent crimes.  Read about the crimes themselves and study how they happen.  Watch videos that show violent encounters.  Read articles from experts that analyze the incidents.  You need to understand the threat and learn to recognize the patterns or cues that lead up to the attack.  Common themes and situations occur over and over.


If you learn to recognize a bad situation early, you will have more time to plan a response. Through your study of crimes and the situations in which they often occur, you will have a reference for what the potential weaknesses are in your current situation and what a potential threat may do. Having this reference will allow you to focus more precisely on what to look for in a similar situation or environment.  You may already know what you need to do to survive.  This will save you time and allow you to respond sooner.  


2. Learn to be in the right mindset at the right time


In addition to knowing about the threat, you must also be in the right state of mental readiness when a violent encounter occurs.  This is mindset and it is a matter of attitude.  If you have the proper attitude, then you have a much better chance for success.  This is true of all things and so of self-defense too.


If you leave the house thinking, “It will never happen to me,” then you will be less likely to respond optimally under stress than if you leave thinking, “Something could happen today, and I am ready.”  


With your training and physical skills being the same in each example, the difference in outcomes between these two attitudes in a violent encounter could be huge.  It could be the difference between living and dying.

Different circumstances allow for different states of readiness.  If you learn to adjust your state of mental readiness based on your situation, you will have much more of a fighting chance when you need it, yet still get the rest you need during times that threats are unlikely. You need to use a system that allows you to assess your situation and adjust your state of awareness accordingly.  There are several options for this including Jeff Cooper’s famous Color Code and the NRA’s system of situational awareness.  I personally like the NRA’s system because it is easy to understand and remember.  It includes the following 4 states:

4 States of Awareness and Mental Readiness

    • Unaware

    • Aware

    • Alert

    • Alarm


Each state has a time and a place and can help guide you to take actions that would help better prepare you before a violent attack occurs.  You will find it much easier to respond to a threat if you have progressed through each state before you must react.  If you have to go from being unaware directly to taking action, then you will be way behind.  However, if you first have gone from being aware of your surroundings, then becoming alert by focusing on a potential threat, and then proactively taking action, you will be much better off.  Pick a system, learn it, and practice identifying when you should be in each.


3. Practice recognizing potential threats and practice making decisions under pressure.


Imagine scenarios


You cannot simply will yourself to have more situational awareness, you need to train it like any other skill.  One of the easiest drills you can immediately start doing is to play a what-if game wherein you imagine different scenarios based on your current location and think through decisions based on those imagined scenarios.  


For example, if you are walking out of a convenience store with a gallon of milk in one hand and a bag of snacks in the other, you could ask yourself what you would do if someone approached you and asked you for change.   Would you stop and talk to him?  Would you go back inside?  Would you shift your bag to free your weapon hand?  You do not physically act on this, you just think through the options while you walk to the car.  


Run this drill during your everyday activities.  You may pull up to the pump at the gas station and see someone standing outside the store.  Time to start the drill.  You imagine what you would do if he walked right up to you while you were filling up your truck.  You could then imagine and think through your actions, adding additional what-if’s and responses to the scenario.  Incorporate ideas from your study of crime and assaults.  Imagine scenarios based on what happened to others in those reports.   


By doing this drill regularly, you will develop your situational awareness.  You will be able to maintain the aware state, and it will become a habit.  You will build experience in making a plan before an assault even starts. If you do this drill in all the different environments you often find yourself in, then you will be better prepared each time you return to that same environment.  


Use scenario training and force-on-force training drills


In addition to training your physical techniques, you can train your ability to make decisions under stress. By role playing scenarios with training partners, you can develop your ability to observe, decide and act.  You will improve your ability to analyze a situation by trying to figure out what the role players are doing.  You can learn to recognize pre attack cues by having role players integrate them into their acting.  You can set up situations that resemble the actual crimes you have heard about.  You can then create several variations on each one.  Not all training scenarios should end up in a violent situation or be the worst case scenario.  You may recognize the situation, but the role players should vary their actions to keep you engaged.  You don’t get to kill everyone in every scenario.


By training in scenarios, you can create a series of memories of “wins” that, though they are only fictional, can be powerful.  Under stress, your mind searches for experiences to guide your responses during a split second decision.  These fictional experiences qualify and they can lead to more informed choices and quicker decision making.  Unlike real life, you can repeat a scenario if you are not happy with your decisions.  You can drill them until you get a “win."  This becomes a way to better ensure you will react the way you want if something similar really happens.


Scenarios range from low intensity with little or no contact to moderate or high intensity with the use of force-on-force drills.  You can drill short scenarios or crucial portions of scenarios using force-on-force drills wherein tactics and techniques are applied under intensity.  Using protective gear and training weapons, you can test your skills as they apply to a larger context than what is usually provided when doing techniques alone. Setup force-on-force drills specifically to apply to a particular situation.  Force-on-force drills should involve role players following guidelines relative to the situation and/ or scenario.    


Force-on-force drills can become a bridge to test both your physical skills and your mental skills together.   Different from sparring drills, wherein the participants compete to best each other, force-on-force drills are designed to add stress and challenge to students learning to apply both their decision making skills and physical skills in a particular context.  If done properly, this can be a very powerful training tool.




As always, the solution to our problems is a combination of education, training and experience.  Using the drills above, you can get both training and useful experience.  Get started training right away so you can be better prepared to defend yourself and defend your family.


If you want some help developing situational awareness, a ready mindset and other essentials of self-defense, consider joining the Tactical Arts Academy Self Defense Program. Not only can we can help you in class with the training mentioned above, but we can also help you stay safe with other self defense training.

Click the button below to learn more about our program and sign up for a free visit.  You’ll learn more about Tactical Arts, you’ll have the opportunity to watch our classes in action, and you’ll discover if our training is right for you.

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