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Kelly McCann: How Fast Do You Process Threats and Responses?

Kelly McCann: How Fast Do You Process Threats and Responses?

How fast is your processor?

No, this isn’t the place to find information about personal computing — but it is the right place to talk about personal confrontations.

I’m asking how fast you recognize potential threats and process threat information.

A lot of people evaluate their “street readiness” based on their hard-skills prowess and allocate far less training time to developing the “soft skills” that are so useful immediately before an attack.

The most obvious soft skill, of course, is situational awareness. It’s a cumulative alertness to threats, environment, movement and anomalies. Those anomalies are called pre-incident indicators, the visually unlikely circumstances that collectively indicate an attack could be imminent. Being adept at quickly determining threat potential — without looking like you’re about to implode — is invaluable on the street. It’s one of the few things I (grudgingly) use the new-age term “empowering” to describe. Gawd.


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All right, no epiphany there, but what about in the seconds preceding an attack? Having used your situational awareness to identify a developing threat, what the hell are you supposed to do? What’s the most efficient use of your time when you can’t avoid a physical confrontation and find yourself tensing up and saying, “Uh oh, here it comes”?

How good are you at multitasking? Let’s go by the numbers to make this easier (and it’s not easy).

Kelly McCann’s Threat-Processing Tips — #1: Avoid Paralysis

Don’t be a deer in the headlights. A biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources suggests, “They (the deer) don’t know what to do, so they do nothing.” Truly, if you’ve ever seen this happen to someone, it’s amazing — the word “dumbstruck” comes to mind.

To avoid this, think about (and embrace) the fact that you could be attacked. It’s not too hard — people are attacked every day, so why not you? Second, visualize yourself successfully dealing with an attack. Not obsessively, mind you, but you should internalize, visualize or just own that you will defend yourself and think about what that means in some detail.

If you don’t, look for a salt lick instead of venturing out on your own.

Kelly McCann’s Threat-Processing Tips — #2: Profile the Potential Attacker

Yeah, I said it. Profile the threat (potential attacker) for weapons. And quickly.

How? Find his hands … anything in them? Is either hidden from view? Notice any unsightly bulges? A weighted windbreaker pocket? An outline under his T-shirt? Any of these might add up to a much bigger issue for you.

Knowing or suspecting that an attacker might introduce a weapon into a physical altercation is critical to your success — whether it drives you to get the hell out of there, act pre-emptively or pull out all the stops if it does go to blows.

Kelly McCann’s Threat-Processing Tips — #3: Position, Position, Position

Where are you in relation to the attacker? Take immediate action to put yourself in the most tactically advantageous position relative to escape avenues, improvised weapons, and physical obstructions you can put between yourself and him.

If you’re this deep into feeling threatened, you obviously don’t need more information, so don’t wait for it. You don’t necessarily have to attack at this moment, but you certainly need to move into the next mindset:

Kelly McCann’s Threat-Processing Tips — #4: Become the Predator

Assume the predatorial mindset and run through the if-he-does-this-I’ll-do-that scenarios in your head. You’re much more likely to take effective action when you’ve visualized it before an attack — even if it’s only milliseconds. Shut out the distraction of hope and don’t think you can wish yourself out of the situation. It’s literally up to you at this moment.

Kelly McCann’s Threat-Processing Tips — #5: Pre-Emption

If you know it’s coming (applying the “reasonable man” standard), waiting any longer just means the attack will fully manifest and your opportunity to disrupt it will be lost.

This is tricky. You’ve got to feel that you’ve seen enough to warrant the pre-emptive use of force in self-defense and that you’re in fear for your life. The time to startle your attacker and derail his momentum is now. Don’t half-step. Your initial attack will define the threat he feels and trigger his own fight-or-flight response. Make sure he feels the need to flee.

None of this is formulaic. None of it is absolute. You’re always at risk of making the wrong call.

To minimize the chance of that happening, spend as much time thinking about the circumstances in which you may have to use force as you do thinking about the use of force itself. Incorporate it into your training by devising drills with ambiguous triggers. Become an expert at discerning reliable pre-incident indicators.

Perhaps most important, remember that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.


About the Author:
A former officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, Kelly McCann has studied and taught combatives for 25 years. His company, Crucible, provides training to U.S. government, law-enforcement and military personnel. For more of Kelly McCann’s hard-hitting combatives instruction in print and on video, check out these best-selling products:

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  1. james says

    As always, McCann as nothing but practical and useful information for real life training. I incorporate many of his tactics and ideas into my teaching for those that are serious about survival. Would love to train with this guy one day to learn and increase my teaching abilities.

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