What is the Greatest Defensive Skill?

A proper defensive strategy requires a unique skill we must strive to develop.

posted on October 14, 2021

We can’t see what’s happening behind us, which makes the need for heightened awareness all the more critical. Be alert for anything out of the ordinary.

You can say what you want to about your favorite defensive school or those advanced-fighting techniques you learned, but the greatest defensive skill that a person can develop is simply awareness. I will freely admit that developing effective awareness is anything but simple, but being able to spot trouble before it is close enough to get in your face will certainly save you from a lot of trouble and possibly even some pain and grief.

Whenever I talk about being aware about what is going on in one’s immediate vicinity, I always hear from a few folks who inform me that they are always aware. Now, I don’t want to hurt any feelings, but those people either don’t understand the concept or they are just trying to sound tough. None of us are as aware as we should be, and none of us are as aware as we are capable of being. But, it is a skill that we can improve on if we are willing to work at it.

Hunters might consider the whitetail deer. It is one thing to sit in a box and ambush the deer as it walks by. But, just try getting out in the woods and walking up on that same deer. Even when they are feeding, deer are continually raising their heads and looking all around, checking out their immediate location. You can walk up on a whitetail deer—I know because I’ve done it—but you won’t do it very often and you will certainly have to work at it.

Those who don’t hunt might consider the family house cat. Now, there’s another animal that is quite difficult to surprise, and for the same reason. Cats pay extremely close attention to what is going on around them. The citizen who is concerned about their own personal defense is wise to do the same.

We need to be concerned about what is going on behind us because criminal attacks often come from that direction. At the same time, we need to be watching for people and situations that just don’t seem to fit. We need to spot trouble as far away as possible. The farther away it is, the more options we have to deal with it and the more time we have to prepare for it. We may take cover and prepare to fight, or we might just use the closest exit and leave the scene. It is another example of distance being our friend.

None of us are as aware as we should be, and none of us are as aware as we are capable of being. But, it is a skill that we can improve on if we are willing to work at it.

Too often, we drop our guard in places and situations where we feel safe and comfortable. In our home, our church or the friendly neighborhood restaurant, we may feel some sense of security. But, violent attacks have occurred in all of those places. Here is a skill check for you: The next time you sit down in that restaurant see, without cheating, if you can describe the people who are sitting at the table behind you.

One of the biggest problems I have regarding awareness is I live in a small town where nothing much goes on. I can’t even remember the last time we had an armed robbery or a home invasion. But obviously, the next one could happen tomorrow, and I might be the intended victim. I have to continually remind myself to keep my head up and my eyes open—not just looking but actually seeing and evaluating—what is going on around me. Most of the time I get that done because it has become a commitment on my part.

A great way to improve our awareness is if our spouse or partner understands the concept and is willing to work with us to improve our skill levels. We can remind each other when one of us is not paying attention. It can become sort of a little private competition, and can often turn the work into fun. We gain points any time we are able to approach a friend without him being aware and we lose points any time that happens to us. You would probably have to lose quite a few points if you don’t see the police car until it is behind you with its lights on, for example.

This state of awareness is what Col. Jeff Cooper called Condition Yellow. And, as he pointed out, the more we practice it, the less stress it creates. When we work at being aware of our surroundings, we can maintain that state for long periods of time. The more we work at it, the more it becomes a habit and a way of life. Drawing on his military experience, Cooper said, “A commander may be forgiven for being defeated, but never for being surprised.” If we are truly observant and aware of what is going on around us, I submit that the defeat will most often go to our attacker. May it be so.



Hornady Earns ISO 9001:2015 Certification

ISO 9001 is the internationally recognized standard for quality management.

First Look: Langdon Tactical Tomcat RDO Pistol

.32 ACP and a tip-up barrel meets modern-day pistol technology.

First Look: DeSantis Holsters For The Smith & Wesson Equalizer Pistol

Three new holster options, all designed for everyday carry.

Skills Check: Return to Sender

Work on muzzle control for faster follow-up shots.

First Look: PHLster Holsters for the Beretta 80X Cheetah

More carry options for a new compact .380 ACP pistol.

Spare Mag Storage Solutions

What do you do with all those spare magazines?


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.