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Situational Awareness: Getting Off Your Phone

There are a lot of aspects to self-defense, some of which have nothing to do with throwing a punch or kick. . . .  For example, last night I was walking my dog along a dark, dimly lit portion of road. This particular area had a lot of unoccupied land for my dog and me to walk, so we did. Along the way a young man came around the street corner, head-phones on and staring into his mobile phone.  (Some people call them “smart phones”. I’d like to believe we’re the smart ones. They’re just storage devices for accessing things of our interest. Anyway, . . . )

nature animal dog pet
Photo by Pixabay on

Along the way, it became clear to me that if we continued on our courses we would cross paths.  Now, my dog is far from intimidating or mean, but he is a dog, and some people aren’t comfortable with them. I didn’t want to startle the guy. He, obviously, was unaware of us. So, we settled down where we were and waited for him to pass. Well, he changed course.

This guy changed course so as to pass ten feet from us. Despite my saying hi and my dog’s peaked interested in him, he passed by us unaware.

Imagine if we were dangerous.  What could have happened to him?  And easily!

This example is one we all can see everyday in restaurants, on sidewalks, in parks, shopping malls, . . . you name it.  And it is one that increases risk to those who partake in this behavior. And that’s what led me to write this blog on situational awareness.

According to Richard Gilson, in his preface to his march 1, 1995 research publication in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Safety, the concept of situational awareness was identified during the First World War by Oswald Boelke. Mr. Boelke realized:

… the importance of gaining an awareness of the enemy before the enemy gained a similar awareness, and devised methods for accomplishing this.

Mr. Boelke’s concept did not receive much attention in the technical and academic literature until the late 1980’s, after changes in society began to lead researchers into cost-related interest in the subject. This research sought to understand the growing risks to humanity, beginning in the aviation field and further into other occupational safety fields. What quickly became apparent was that system designs (i.e., those systems set up for us in our work places for productivity) were no longer being optimized for human operation. As Richard Jensen put it, in his November 13, 2019 article entitled The Boundaries of Aviation Psychology, Human Factors, Aeronautical Decision Making, Situation Awareness, and Crew Resource Management, this condition has “overstepped the human’s capability to keep track.” 

woman wrapped in tape
Photo by cottonbro on

For martial artists, like me, that’s an unacceptable condition to self, a self we’re bound and determined to train to defend.

So, how do we deal with this issue of overwhelming systems of life in which we are taking part? And, what does this have to do with the subject of situational awareness?

Let’s start by answering the second question first:

When we look at the man in the example that I first gave you, we can easily see the object of distraction and the operation this man is partaking: (1) the mobile phone and headphones are the devices, (2) his use of them in relation to his other activities (i.e., walking down the street) and environment.  His system of performing these things was overwhelming his ability to be aware of his surroundings; consequently, my dog and I (nor the beautiful landscape around us) were never present to him.

Now to the first question. . .  Let’s take this man’s overwhelming situation and see if we can change it so that he could be better situationally aware. What are some of the things you’d do differently?  Let’s look at some suggestions:

  1. He could have prepared his mobile phone for use prior to leaving the house, so he wouldn’t have to engage it during his walk.
  2. He could have left the headphones at home, so he could hear his surroundings.
  3. He could have left both devices unused during his walk.
  4. He could have defined his underlying desire for the walk and device usage and prioritized his behavior in a way that removed the risk of self-harming factors (e.g., automobile traffic or assailants).

As a student of self-defense, whatever self defense system you’re learning, you want to seek out your own weaknesses in this area and prioritize your behaviors and equipment for optimized human (i.e., yourself) and material resource. The thing about conflict is this: If someone wants to do you harm, seriously, they will seek out the most opportune time and method at their disposal to do so. It’s called the sucker-punch. If you want to avoid the sucker-punch, you must exercise your situational awareness, just as Mr. Boelke understood during the First World War.

Empower yourself to life!™

©2020 Yost Wing Chun Academy. All Rights Reserved.

If you have a question or subject you’d like to see me address on my blog page, or if you have an interest in learning self-defense in or around Tallahassee, Florida, write to me at

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