Closing Distance: Personal Space and Body Alarm Response - ITS Tactical
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Closing Distance: Personal Space and Body Alarm Response

By Bryan Black

Yesterday morning while stopping at a gas station to put air in my tire, I was approached by a stranger. The first words out of his mouth were to ask “if I was from around here,” immediately sending me into condition orange.

It’s interesting to note that this happened just a day after I sat through a CHL (Concealed Handgun License) renewal class, where we got into a good discussion during the class about muggings, vehicle thefts and how you’d react during those situations.

We all have our preconceived notions of how we’d react in a violent encounter, but the truth is that we’ll never truly know until we’re put in that exact situation.

Cooper Color Code

I’d like to explain my statement earlier about condition orange and provide a brief example of the Cooper Color Code here for reference. We’ve previously mentioned Colonel Jeff Cooper here on ITS, in regard to his carry conditions and firearm safety rules, but he is also known for advocating a color code to describe a person’s state of mind. Not so much in regards to a level of alertness, but purely the mental state.

The following comes from his book, Principles of Personal Defense:

  • Condition White – You are unprepared and unready to take lethal action. If you are attacked in White you will probably die unless your adversary is totally inept.
  • Condition Yellow – You bring yourself to the understanding that your life may be in danger and that you may have to do something about it.
  • Condition Orange – You have determined upon a specific adversary and are prepared to take action which may result in his death, but you are not in a lethal mode.
  • Condition Red – You are in a lethal mode and will shoot if circumstances warrant.

Condition Orange is definitely what my body kicked into when presented with this stranger that approached me in the parking lot of the gas station. I’d like to explain one more principle of what occurred to me though, before going into the rest of the story.

Body Alarm Response

The body alarm response is what naturally happens to your body during an elevated state of awareness and the adrenaline dump that comes along with it. This is typically referred to as “fight or flight,” but more appropriately described as BAR.

During a body alarm response, the characteristics exhibited are rapid heart beat and it’s counterpart, rapid breathing; tingling of the extremities, degradation in fine motor skills, tunnel vision and that sinking sensation in your stomach. You should embrace these characteristics as your body’s early warning system and be glad they’re working, not let them control you and succumb to the “fear” you might think this means.

As blood is drawn into your core from your extremities (that tingling sensation and possibly numbness), you may recall the smallest of details during this heightened level of awareness. Blood being drawn away is also what can cause loss of fine motor skills, which aren’t as “fine” as you might expect. Check out this article on ITS for more on the loss of fine motor skills.

There are ways to control body alarm response through, meaning that through training and preparing yourself, you can mitigate it’s effects. One of the most powerful training tools is embracing it.

My Experience

Now back to my story. What happened is, as I was walking inside to get change for the air pump at the gas station, I was approached by a cleanly-dressed stranger. He had come from the direction of a nicer vehicle that was parked alongside the convenience store building of the gas station. I immediately assumed that it was his vehicle, but I quickly flipped through a memory of just a few seconds ago where I’d noticed him floating around a gas pump.

As he approached my path to the convenience store entrance, my plan was to ignore him and keep walking inside. This plan quickly went out the window, as he encroached rapidly while asking the question, “are you from around here?” That particular question, along with the quick approach into my personal space, immediately sent me into condition orange.

My first reaction, even before answering him was to look at his hands and start walking backwards. I’m actually really proud of myself, as this is what I’ve been over and over with in my head, “watch their hands, watch their hands.” I’ll ding myself on walking backwards rather than stopping prior to when I did, but I think a lot of that is how we realistically encounter people every day.

In a perfect world, I’d like to say that I follow the 21 ft. rule, which was highlighted by an article in SWAT Magazine in 1983 called How Close is Too Close? In that article, it states that a healthy adult male can cover the distance of 7 yards (about 21 ft.) in 1.5 seconds. Coincidently, the study also showed that took about 1.5 seconds to draw a sidearm and put two rounds center mass on a human-size target at 7 yards.

You make that quickly approaching adult male an armed attacker and you can see why it’s called the 21 ft. rule. Realistically, we allow people within this 21 ft. perimeter each and every day; for me this day was no exception.

Putting distance between myself and this stranger was also something I was proud of, although moving backwards is never a good thing. Just like the guy in the movie Snatch say, “whenever you’re in reverse, things come from behind you.

As I put distance between myself and the stranger I answered yes to his question. At this point he continued to approach with his hands down by his side, while stating “Do you know if there’s a Petsmart around…” I cut into his statement, putting up my left hand and saying “Just wait right there and I’ll answer your question.” My right hand also moved backwards towards my gun. I never placed my hand on it, or gave away its position, I was just cognizant of where I was moving my hand to.

His immediate response was to put both his hands up and say “Ok, I was just trying to find the Petsmart… I found the Petco, I just can’t find the Petsmart.” By now I think he realized that I didn’t like him invading my personal space and he finally seemed aware of me putting distance between us.

I gave him some simple directions to Petsmart, but was very short with him, continuing to watch his body position. After he said thanks for the directions, he turned around and walked off as I walked closer to the building’s door. I noticed him walk right past the car I had assumed belonged to him and round the corner behind the building. After getting change for the air pump, I exited the building.

Ensuring to keep my head on a swivel all the way back to the air pump, I didn’t see the stranger again. I brushed off the encounter until I was back in my vehicle and on the road. It was then I really took stock of what happened and the indicators that warranted my elevated condition. I truly feel that my actions prevented me from becoming a victim, or at least made me appear to be a hard target. I think the stranger was up to no good and my reaction to his closing distance made him rethink his battle plan.

I wanted to share my story with you today, because I think it helps to reinforce how important it is to listen to your body and an example of how your conditioning can take over, even when you don’t plan for it to. I think that If I hadn’t mentally rehearsed this scenario thousands of times in my head and been exposed to it during my training, the outcome would have been dramatically different.

If you’ve got a similar story to share, post it in the comments, I’d be interested to hear of situations like this that might have happened to you.

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