Don’t Get Ambushed

Don’t Get Ambushed

Drills to Increase Your Situational Awareness to Ensure That You Stay Safe by Shihan Martin Day 7th Dan

In the exciting world of Martial Arts and Self Defence I hear and read about techniques, techniques and techniques; what is the best technique for this and that attack/defence situation.

You Tube and other social media sites have lots of action under ‘Techniques’, have a look and you will see what I mean.

So, let’s place techniques to one side for the moment and look at what I believe is the most vital and important part of martial arts and self defence training.

It all depends on your knowledge, skill set and application of the principles which equates to your ability to progress to a higher skill level in your chosen system of training.

Principals are the key.

Let’s cover one of the first principles in our training.

It’s situational awareness:

Situational awareness is about planning and implementing precise actions if you are under threat of being attacked.

One scenario is if an aggressor is “In your face and invading your personal space” and is getting ready to bash you.

Firstly, using situational awareness, you must limit the distance the attacker needs to be in order to move in and injure you.

The ideal position the attacker wants to occupy in order to attack you is CLOSE RANGE.


Well, it’s because they are in ideal STRIKING range.

Action beats reaction so there’s near to no chance that you can block a determined strike at close range.

I don’t care how long you have been training.

A determined attacker will succeed in destroying you every time if you allow them to move into close range.

There are other ranges which we all need to know about to stay safe; bearing in mind that the more distance you have between you and the attacker the safer you are because…

You have time to plan and implement (React).

The second range we are looking at is:


This is about a pace and a half away from you and again you are potentially in striking range of the attacker, however, they must move in and close the distance first and as I said earlier, this distance gives you more time and space to react as opposed to a Close Range attack.


This is the safest position for you to occupy as you have much more time and distance to assess and react to the attacker who wants to injure or kill you.

I define long range as two paces or more away from you.

They can’t kick you from this range and any other action they use will be useless unless they move in closer.

You, of course are definitely not going to allow that to happen.

Bear in mind as well that whatever the range the attacker occupies it may be a set-up (Distraction action).

It could be a planned method of distracting you whilst the attacker’s mates attack you from the rear or side without warning whilst you are focused on the attacker/person to your front.

Again, the vital point here is that it’s all very well using techniques in your training but they are rendered useless if you don’t incorporate the training principles starting with situational AWARENESS.

This is the first and most important principle I teach my Combat Self Defence and Filipino Kyusho students here in Australia as does Grand Master Angelo Baldissone 8th Dan.

All of us at Combat Self Defence belong to GM Angelo’s UK based worldwide martial arts organisation Filipino Kyusho Association (FKA).

GM Angelo is the only instructor I know that teaches principles before techniques and as with me, my Combat Self Defence students and indeed other martial artist around the world, he has opened our eyes to the fact that we must incorporate principles into all of our training.

Thank you to GM Angelo.

Back to principles, not techniques:

Your situational awareness against a potential threat of violence is your greatest asset/skill.

It is your most important defence and offence to ensure that the attacker does:

  1. NOT take you by surprise, so don’t get ambushed.
  2. NOT control the distance by moving into close range.
  3. NOT catch you with your mental and physical guard down.
  4. NOT use a distraction action like asking a question or an accusation or anything verbal. Anything to focus you on words and not actions.

So how do we learn to be aware?

The answer is “By practice and conscious thought.”

We need to carry out effective, efficient and repetitive training drills in this and other types of threat scenarios.

Before I go through some training drills have a look at this example of situational awareness and distancing/ranges by me recounting the situation I was involved in just the other week in Tewantin.

After parking my car and posting some mail at the post office I decided to walk across the road to the park to take in the views overlooking the Noosa River for a few minutes.

It was a perfect sunny hot day and as I sat down on a bench, I quickly scanned the area for any potential threats and at the same time organising in my mind good exit points from the park and my chosen route to my vehicle or a “Safe house” in case of any trouble.

This is a habit of mine taught whilst I was serving in the British Army and even though I have been out of the army for a long time this habit is still with me.

As I scanned the area I noticed a children’s play area with parents sat on seats watching their children to my left and to my right was a park bench positioned under a large tree.

The bench was in the shade and I could just make out a middle age man drinking from a bottle whilst sprawled on the bench.

I made a mental note of this guy and kept an eye on him without making eye contact.

Don’t know what happened but I knew it and sure enough, this guy made a beeline for me… well, sort of as he was finding it difficult to walk in a straight line.

I saw him coming and realised that he had drank too much and as he spoke to me I confirmed that was indeed the situation.

Alcohol breath and slurred speech…

He said he had left his reading glasses at home and he had a missed call on his mobile and could I tell him who called.

I thought this is a possible distraction technique set-up so I actioned the counter that I teach to my students.

He attempted to move into my personal space (close range) so I stepped back, keeping an eye out for other activity in case he had colleagues in the area ready to have a go whilst I was distracted.

This could have been a classic “distraction” technique.

I also made sure that I was standing side on to him with my lead arm held into my body with the hand open and grasping my chin with my hand in a v shape position whilst my other, rear arm held my elbow of my front arm indicating that I was in a non-threatening position to the guy. But I was ready to strike.

My lead hand just needed to flick out a jab to his eyes if he made an aggressive attacking move towards me.

This (My) hand would be closest to many targets on his body.

We all need to protect our vital areas before, during and after an assault.

Additionally, from this particular safe position which I call “Self Defence position 2” the lead hand can be used to control distance by pushing the aggressor back if he tries to get into close range.

So, I kept this guy at medium distance as he thrust his mobile phone toward me.

I said “Sorry mate I’ve got to go and my eyes are bad as well and I’m late for an appointment good luck with the phone. Better ask someone else.”

I then exited the area via the exit route I had noted earlier paying attention to everything going on in the area.

Maybe nothing would have happened if I had checked his phone for him, however I wasn’t willing to take the risk of what could have happened as I was looking down at the screen of his phone.

I did not want to take that risk. Would you?

So how do we train in awareness and distancing drills in the classes?

During my Army career we trained in ‘Contact drills’ all the time with live rounds and blank rounds.

The aim of these contact drills was to get the soldiers to instinctively react and carry out contact drills and actions to defeat the enemy and or escape the situation.

By reacting instinctively to this, it allows the soldiers and the commander on the ground to assess the enemy and make a plan (Situational Awareness).

The key point is that these contact drills need awareness in order to be successful.

Army FCO (Fire control) drills usually start with “Contact wait out” on the radio to HQ.

Whoever sees the enemy gives directions to where the enemy fire originated from such as “Contact left, 100 metres, prominent tree left side, enemy, watch and shoot.”

Obviously most of you reading this are not soldiers, however I hope that you have understood the point I am making and that you are able to incorporate awareness in and out of training.

Other examples of drills include the distraction techniques whilst you are partnered up with two or three fellow students.

Asking students about what they observed as they made their way from car to class.

Testing students when they are in a public area to see if they are aware by moving up to them from behind whilst they are in the street, sat a table, shopping and so on.

Keep back though if you tap them on the shoulder as you might get thumped!

If you are smothering your natural senses then expect trouble.

Get into the habit of observing people and how they are behaving.

Are they staring at you, are they angry, are they vocal?

Keep away from them, don’t make eye contact, cross the road and conduct yourself with purpose and confidence.

Commit yourself to thinking like a predator when you are out and about and see how many potential victims you can see.

Lastly, rely on your gut feeling and do what it is telling you.

Al of this linked to awareness, distancing and practice will ensure that you stay safe.

All the best.

Shihan Martin Day