Why situational consciousness could be your greatest self-defense

Clearly, you shouldn't rely on anyone to protect you or your loved ones. As parents, that responsibility rests squarely on our shoulders. Therefore, it is important to be prepared for the eruption of any kind of chaotic situation. Today, it should be as much a part of your daily routine as exercising.

As a black belt in jiu-jitsu and an academy owner in Indiana, I've learned and trained to assess my surroundings at all times. I know how to mitigate the worst case scenario and defend myself and my family. Often you realize that trouble is coming, but there are times when you are completely unprepared.

Unfortunately, there's no place where a potential confrontation is impossible, from the city's subway, to restaurants, to parks, to a place I once thought was completely off-limits — a kid's Easter egg party.

I've learned that a kids' party shouldn't be a throw-down place, but it almost happened. Luckily I knew how to react. And the last thing I want - and want to avoid at all costs - is to look for a physical confrontation. Oftentimes, though, keeping your eyes open can help you avoid many potential threats.

Here are some situational ideas that I have learned that everyone should at least be aware of in order to avoid or minimize potential confrontational situations.


Keep your head in limbo

When it comes to protecting my kids, rule 1 is to always put my phone away. I'm not usually the anxious type, but I'm always prepared. My eyes always stare like a sheepdog. Sometimes too much.

In the spring my children and I were at a large family reunion for an Easter event. Even at gatherings like this, I'm constantly observing the area like a lifeguard, looking for possible trouble from someone who looks belligerent or is acting aggressively. Being aware of the situation around you is one of the most important elements - I learned that through my martial arts training.

You can never be too sure. With reports of violent crime dominating our news, I knew the most common form I would face would be assault. If I thought anything other than assault was going to happen, we would have skipped that and gone to the movies instead.

Before this little riot broke out over a golden egg, it was very polite. We all gathered around a small fenced off stable that was only for 3 to 5 year olds. The announcer informed us that no parents were allowed to enter the cordoned off area. Only for children. When I'm in crowds this big with my kids, I make sure not to look down while I'm on the phone. Children can quickly disappear, especially in a crowd.

Then it happened.

Be prepared at all times

The announcer started the countdown for the kids to go out and get as many eggs as possible. A golden egg was the key here. Those who found it were rewarded with a special prize. But was the chaos worth it? Apparently it was like that for some parents.

The kids all entered the ring and after about three seconds I watched curiously as a couple of parents jumped the rope and started cramming eggs into their kids' buckets. Before I knew it, a few parents turned into a whole herd of parents.

And within moments my son disappeared into the chaos! So I jumped out and made my way through this mosh pit.

I was pushed from behind, bodies lay on the ground while the children cried. It is still hard to believe how quickly this situation escalated.

I had one goal: to rescue my 4-year-old son who was about to be trampled on in the middle of a failed Easter egg hunt.

4 defense areas

Again, avoiding confrontation should always be your first instinct. However, when a combat or defensive situation becomes unavoidable, there are four areas you can "attack" from.

When talking about which martial art is best for self-defense, you could name the martial art that teaches all four areas. It prepares you for all scenarios. The most important thing is to practice martial arts or defend yourself. This will teach you situational awareness so you can anticipate a situation and respond appropriately so you are not caught off guard.

Bruce Lee developed this idea back in the 1960s and developed his own system called Jeet Kune Do. This style focuses on pure self-defense for the streets. Covers all 4 areas.

  • Long range: This is often referred to as the kicking range. That's where you'd most like to be if you had a starting position because you can see your attacker's intentions more clearly. I wasn't in that area.
  • punching area: This is a dangerous position and should be avoided at all costs. Never allow anyone to get that close at the start of an argument. There's a reason they coined the term "a puncher's chance." Almost anyone can create mind-blowing power with one punch. The hand is quicker than the eye, as they say in magic. This also applies to combat. An untrained person has the potential to take down a fighter from this distance if they have the element of surprise.
  • Catch/Clinch Area: Shoulder to shoulder, other people pushed me to find a golden egg while stepping on my son to get it. This range is deadly as you can throw elbows and knees and take out your opponent. That was about the distance I was at.
  • Range grappling/ground defense: In 1993, the first UFC came out on pay-per-view and presented Gracie JiuJitsu to the world. Also known more commonly as Brazilian Jiujitsu. Young and slender, Royce Gracie easily ripped through other fighters, taking them down and dominating them with JiuJitsu. He defeated wrestlers, kickboxers, and boxers like they were his little brother after a Thanksgiving dinner in the living room for fun.

I didn't think my day would end up relying on these self-defense techniques. Most people in such a situation would say the same thing. Luckily I train every day and was prepared. I knew that standing side-by-side with potential threats meant I couldn't use my long-range tools, like kicks, that I had trained. We were too close.

To avoid being knocked down myself, I steadily lowered my center of gravity so that as I pushed through the people next to me, I could rest my shoulder on their ribs to knock them down with ease. There came a point when a man was too big to do that to him. He was a pretty sloppy 250 pounds, I competed in weight classes so judging people was my forte.

Instead of shoving him, I had to perform a judo kick while pulling his shoulder to send him backwards. I really wanted to come to my son.

Standing side by side with so many people I was definitely in the clinch to grappling realm. With so many people, you don't want to be struggling on the ground. It's way too dangerous.

I found myself in the middle of an Easter egg hunt with a crowd of parents as I searched for my son, also being careful not to step on others. At the same time, I had to be aware that I was being hit in the head, attacked, or that someone was gripping my head in a headlock.

Since most people are right-handed, you need to be careful not to get too wild with a swing on the right. If they're not a puncher or you've hit them, they'll either resort to grabbing your head like a headlock or make a half attempt to throw you to the ground. An untrained person will swing their fists at the fences or "cover their face" and bury it in you for their safety and get close so they don't get hit. Those are basically the only two answers you'll get.

Things to keep on your radar

After struggling through adults to get to my son, I pulled him up. He had a footprint on his back, mud on his face and blood dripping from his nose, but luckily otherwise he was fine. Parents do everything for their children - fighting over a golden egg should not be one of them. It made me act like Jason Bourne that day to fight my way through a crowd and protect my son who was about to be trampled.

Luckily my radar was active, as yours should always be. It's hard to imagine that the result could actually have been worse. I can't tell you what I could have done differently in this situation to avoid it, other than not showing it. In this case, the event was overcrowded and understaffed. While it's not the norm, it's unfortunately becoming more and more common. Scrolling Facebook that same day, I saw news articles about similar things happening in two other states besides mine.

one came to save my son that day - it was me. It's time to take personal responsibility and get access to tools that protect you. Staying aware of your surroundings at all times should be the first step in preventing – or quickly stopping – the potential danger of chaos spiraling out of control.

James O'Connor is a Brazilian JiuJitsu third degree black belt who owns an academy in Chesterton, Indiana. You can find him on social media:

Instagram: @teamjamesoconnorbjj
Facebook: James O'Connor
TikTok: teamjamesoconnorbjj

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