Two off-duty police officers eating out on date night observed a masked man and saved the restaurant from a robbery, CNN reported. The married Kentucky couple followed the armed thief out of the restaurant, stopped him, and held him until additional officers arrived on the scene. Their alertness and training were key.
According to the CNN article, Nicole McKeown and her husband, Chase, were dining at Raising Cane’s in Louisville when the robbery occurred. Both spouses are police officers and they saw a man enter the establishment in a ski mask. An employee’s hands went up in the air and, according to Nicole, their training kicked in.
“The McKeowns, officers with the Elizabethtown Police Department, drew their weapons and chased the suspect out of the restaurant,” the article said. Chase said the suspect “cornered himself” and the couple “kept the suspect cornered until other officers arrived a couple minutes later,” according to the article. Being aware of your surroundings and having the will to defend yourself can save lives.
“Affordances”: When a Chair Isn’t Just a Chair
To demonstrate awareness of your environment, think about one of the chairs in your living room and what it can be used for. Obviously, you can sit in the chair, sleep in it, or stand on it to reach the smoke detector and change the batteries, but what else?
“If it’s made out of wood, you can break it down and burn it for heat, or light, or to cook over,” said Dr. Tammy Yard-McCracken, Owner and Chief Instructor of Kore Self-Defense and Krav Maga. “If there’s fabric, you can tear it up into strips and that gives you a tourniquet. The stuffing could be used to pack a wound.”
Dr. Yard-McCracken said that what you see in that chair depends on your “affordances,” a key concept in self-defense.
“Affordances describe how you see a thing or a person, and how you see controls what you can do,” she said. “If the way you see people and your environment is defined only by how a socially responsible person sees things, then when you encounter someone with a broader sense of affordances, you will be at a remarkable disadvantage.”
Why We “Freeze Up“
When faced with danger, our brain often decides whether we should defend ourselves or run from the danger before we’ve even had a chance to think about it. This is called the fight or flight mechanism. But in recent years, a third response has been increasingly observed: freeze. Sometimes we’re paralyzed with shock or fear, unable to act. To understand why, Dr. Yard-McCracken explained the events leading up to it—all of which can occur in a fraction of a second and are called the “OODA loop.”
“The phrase OODA loops refers to observe, orient, decide, and act,” she said. “This is a decision cycle developed by United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Violence happens fast—faster than most people are accustomed to—and there is a ton of information coming at you from multiple sources: the threat, the environment, other people; in the midst of this chaos, your job is to figure out what’s happening moment by moment.”
Observing is the first step, in which we see what’s happening but haven’t yet thought about it. When we orient, we figure out what it is that’s happening; we process it. Deciding is the internal commitment to do something about it. Finally, we act. As an example, the brain might observe a fist growing larger in the field of view. Then, it orients itself to realize this means the fist is coming towards the body as a threat and will hurt. Then the brain decides whether to move out of the way or try to block the fist. And finally, a decision is made to put the plan into motion.
“The idea of the freeze in our fight/flight/freeze mechanism is that we get stuck bouncing back and forth like a pinball between observe and orient, never getting to decision or action,” Dr. Yard-McCracken said. “The ability to see the chaos, choose the useful information, and move on it is a primitive evolutionary skill all modern-day humans have. The Homo sapiens who weren’t very good at it didn’t survive long enough to pass on their genetics.”
Being mindful of your surroundings and having the ability to adapt to fast, changing scenarios are two key components in survival—even if you’re on a date.
Dr. Tammy Yard-McCracken contributed to this article. Dr. Yard-McCracken is a certified expert Krav Maga instructor with Krav Maga Global (KMG), and she holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Illinois State University, a Master of Science in Professional Counseling (LPC) from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and a Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) from the Eisner Institute for Professional Studies.