Tri Tier Journeys
Over the years, I've been privileged to receive  knowledge and training on how to blend in and move with light feet, from seasoned individuals, who've worked in various facets of security, military and law enforcement. A close friend, from  the higher echelons of the  close protection world, shared clever  observation drills and how to spot microscopic  details. A detective from Scotland Yard, provided key insights into criminality and how the predators scope for targets. A  friend from the SBS, shared great insights into survival and covering ground in hostile terrain. Another from a well known US intelligence organisation conveyed some of his ways of  assessing suspicious dialogue, from unknown parties. A  friend and associate who served in The Royal Marines who has spent a great deal of time in war zones, as a private security contractor, gave  fascinating tips on cultural awareness and adapting to the unexpected. One other, who is ex RAF,  trained fighter pilots in how to keep a low profile in hostile environments. Those who worked in investigation related roles passed on subtle surveillance skills.
Thinking further back, I recall  my late uncle in Malaysian Police Special Branch and his  radar like awareness. Previous martial art masters, with more ancient  knowledge, conveyed exercises for looking relaxed or assertive- or ways to withdraw or expand one's energetic presence. It's not as esoteric as it sounds! Some of you have met some of these people, in our training sessions and I'm grateful for their generosity in sharing knowledge. Knowledge especially helpful to anyone wanting to keep safe and avoid the wolves.
Some of my teachings on disengagement and blending in, have come out of my own experiences,  travelling to different parts of the worlds, to study the martial arts and, through working in the private investigation and security  field. One small gig comes to mind for various reasons. Era nor location are so relevant here but it was a coastal town, on a particularly rainy, grey night.
The previous one before this, was far more glamorous. It arrived one sudden Friday evening, while I was out with friends in a colourful restaurant, in China town. I left the lovely couple with a baffled look and possibly the bill, to head to some Mayfair cocktail bar for a surveillance job.
This next  request is  relatively straight forward, in comparison to others, and from a professional security company, who do a lot of litigation support and fraud investigation. It's another  surveillance job. The request:  keep track of a certain potentially aggressive individual, who has already hurt people and may do so  again. This one has a short window of opportunity, where the target's imminent nocturnal location are known.
And here's my first Tri Tier tip for you dear reader: Which ever location you're planning to visit or are going to spend time in- if blending in is a priority or the environment is edgy- think about what you're wearing. Crim types will assess you or clock you, if you dress a certain way, that stands out. It isn't just leprechauns that look for the shiny things. Know when and where to wear  that expensive watch or necklace. Fortunately, this particular evening, I'm already in casual, tad scruffy mode so no need to jump into a charity shop for a quick change of jacket!
It's winter so I also have a roll up beanie on me. Hats are good not just for warmth or rain protection. They can help you lose people in a crowd or make you look like you fit in. This proved especially useful one especially cold afternoon,  in a crowded market, in a southern region of Moscow once, where a gang of Caucus origin, were showing intent to cause harm  and I managed to give them the slip. Dasvadanya gents!!
Normally, a surveillance job requires planning. This gives you time to learn about an area, venues and the local inhabitants. Here, we had to move on short notice-  so one has to step into adapt to the moment mode. An arduous train ride and I'm there.
Now for tip two- when you first arrive in a new location and you've been travelling, you can feel tired or you feel the contrast from your usual environments, so you have to adapt your awareness and energy levels accordingly. There are many stories of people being mugged or pick-pocketed upon arrival in a place simply because they were were still moving about, as if  in their familiar home terrain. They didn't adapt to the change of pace. Essentially, wake up and step up your game. How to do this? Here assertive breathing, energertic awareness and posture are key.
I want to share something else on breathing but first, let me  shimmy this anecdote along a bit. So upon arrival, my contact, who runs this security company and has given me the job, rv's (rendezvous) with me for a more detailed brief. We then head  for food and beverages. Awareness is always sharper when one is fed! This gives us time to plan a bit. Then, I am on my own; time to work.
Walking through the lively town centre, I pick up a feel for the area, rather like how a batsman gets an eye for the ball. I enjoyed the previous company with my contact- a bit of camaraderie and  banter.
"Good luck and ....Don't let me down!" he teasingly says, as I depart into the belly of this town. "Hey no need to use that line. I am not Yoko Ono!".  I jokingly reply, in reference to the Beatles song.
Earlier that day,  I'd been listening to the song You Will Never Walk Alone. (Sorry Elvis, despite having your middle name, the Dropkick Murphys version is preferred here.) It's true though, we never walk alone, especially  if we keep our awareness on. Now, I have to wait though. Waiting is a big part of this game.
The target has not arrived but I have to blend in. There's a pub close to the spot where the  target should show. If you have to wait about, look like you belong in that environment. More than that- look like you're comfortable and are interfacing harmoniously, with that environment. Predatory types pick up on fear, nervousness, aloofness and those who look foreign or out of place.  Another point: if you can't look like a local; at least look like you're content and comfortable around them.
Outside, there's a pub near my area of interest. I yap to the two bouncers. We get on. Now got allies and more importantly, I'm getting some local knowledge. Biceps and Goatee look like they could be in  the tv series Peaky Blinders. I've been respectful and now they know I'm alright.
Earlier, I mentioned a list of exceptional individuals who taught me a lot but that said, if you want to get an understanding of an area and be prepared for it, then sometimes, the people who can help you to be aware of an environment, are the locals who live there. I enter this venue, as there may be an hour to wait.
Another tip, if waiting for transport or for friends to arrive-  it's always good to blend in and not stand out - being static on an unpredictable  street can sometimes attract unwanted attention. Some of this,  is relative to where you are in the city, or even your global location. I teach this to the teenagers I train. You often blend in better when you sit down in a place and look comfortable, as opposed to waiting on a street corner. So if you are waiting for your Uber etc then remaining inside, till the last moment, can be helpful. Whether you spend time inside or out- you may be having fun, enjoying the company of your friends but don't neglect the fact, you may still be watched, by interested parties, in or around said  venue.
Predatory types or just curious locals pick up on all sorts of behaviour. Certainly, nervousness or unusual behaviour can put you on the radar or if you look like you don't belong, in that environment. When waiting in a venue, you need to convey you're alert but also relaxed.
There are times when people, even with enhanced training in the security field, get noticed because they look too switched on and too alert.  If you act like Jason Bourne, with over focused, mission ready body language that can also make people scan you. Don't be like 'dog with a bone' . This is not an easy one, especially for those with a determined disposition. As  Harrison Ford's character Han Solo conveyed, in one of the Star Wars film (Return of the Jedi):
"Keep your distance.... but don't look like you are trying to keep your distance..."
I've known security operatives, who without realising, look like the epitome of security; even though they were simply wearing what felt comfortable to them. Baseball caps, sun glasses hanging on shirt and over pronounced observation do get you noticed. You need to adapt your body language to the moment and the venue. Sometimes, yes look assertive and with purpose, so you're not so easy to engage, especially when moving through unpredictable streets. Other times, a natural, easy going demeanour helps one to not even get noticed.I have also spoken before, about observing without showing eye contact - as eye contact can get you noticed or invite uninvited or hostile dialogue.
There's an old Slavic folk lullaby- Bayu Bayuski Bayu..that's sung to young ones. Essentially, as I understand it, saying:  be careful where you lay your head- don't sleep on the edge of the bed...  and to be careful of the grey wolf. Bit haunting!
On another level though,  it's a way to say: keep your awareness up. Here, we could say: choose where you wait or rest carefully. Don't drop your guard, even when you socialise or perch. Sometimes, I train young people, who go backpacking and stay in more humble accommodation. We look at ways of putting measures in place to detect or be alterted to  potential trouble, while one rests. Next time we meet, please ask me about the pigeon incident!
In this venue, hard not to notice a few locals glance in my direction but more out of curiosity than wariness. In fairness, my ethnicity makes me stand out a bit, in this UK region but this is where you must look comfortable. One thing on a subconscious level that can convey nervousness, is tense breathing or roaming eyes. In the book, Way of the Dream Catcher, poet and profound observer of life,  Robert Lax conveys that we can learn a lot, by looking at 'how we breathe'. Let me add to that...we can also pick up a lot, on how others breathe. So keep your breathing relaxed and calm. It will help you to merge with your environment and not be disconnected from it.
Back to the the anecdote- I head back out into the gloomy night; the target will be appearing soon. Outside, I  need to move further down the street, to keep a certain venue in view. It rains heavily for a moment. Feels like Hollywood film-set rain, pouring above you for a set period, then abruptly stopping. I hover around a fast food joint (something my young students normally get told not to do, late at night!).  Just then, a black vamped up car shows up. Nothing connected to this job. Loud tub thumping, aggressive hip hop music blurts out; lots of bodies inside. Hard not to notice.
The vehicle lurks by the curb, in menacing fashion. Hard not to sense the aggression levels. Get a bad vibe from this lot but can't split from the area. When moving or dwelling in an environment, you have to focus on what you're doing, but don't compromise your awareness (or safety) in regards to  other activity. Again, don't go into dog with a bone mode. Many times, I have seen executives or students overly absorbed in their laptops or phone conversations, oblivious to external threats.
Discreetly, I maintain distance, merging into the background, in casual fashion. Sense I am being noticed for a few seconds but I look comfortable here, now. This is going to be a long night. Another good reason for understanding your breathing abilities. Breathing and internal energy can keep you going, especially at times when sleep windows are minimal, at best. Still, on this grey night, the best way to blend in and get by, is to merge into the grey and into the ordinary- be that extra on a film set....
About the author:
Aran is the founder of the Tri Tier tactical training system. He specialises in close quarter tactics, urban disengagement, awareness and resilience. With diverse experience in various areas of the security sector, Aran also works with global security companies involved in investigations, due diligence and reputation safeguarding. Deployed on the ground in numerous cases, he provides intelligence capabilities and profiling.
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