Critical Distance

Lady staging beside her vehicle in a parking ramp

He was a sniper, and a darn good one. He did a pair of tours in Afghanistan and another two in Iraq. Today, he is a competitive long-range shooter. It’s safe to say Jim Gilliland has seen some things in his life—things many of us will never see. Combat along with intense training during his time as an Army Ranger has taught his to sense danger before it happens. You need to train your mind and body to follow suit.

If you can sense danger before it happens, you give yourself time, and time, according to Gilliland, is your best friend in a self-defense situation. Of course, he understands that no one has a crystal ball and that not everyone has had his training. Still, his advice is to learn to live life in yellow.

The Color Code

“Think of your situational awareness like a color scheme,” he says. “You have white, yellow, red and black. White is carefree. You’re at your breakfast table in the morning sipping coffee or walking through the park with your ear buds in and the music up on a beautiful spring day. That’s where most humans are most of the time. They live in white. They have zero awareness of any danger.”

Gilliland preaches that yellow is where we need to be most of the time. We develop a plan for the day and have a slight sense of urgency. We realize time is unfolding and we need to take action for the day. We might have work to do or an appointment to keep.

Red is when we forget about the appointment and then rush to the car and the battery is dead. Time is gone. We are in a situation that causes panic. Not good. We no longer have plan. Action is required and you need to do something instantly.

Black is sensory overload. The mind can’t mentally metabolize all that is going on and the brain simply shuts down and we pass out.

“Live in the yellow,” Gilliland says. “You pull up to a parking lot at night to grab some groceries. Get off your phone. Stop texting. Take out the ear buds. Quit scrolling through social media as you start your walk toward the supermarket door. Take a minute and have a look around. Be in the yellow. Have a plan you can execute should something bad happen. When you make a plan, you build time into it. Time is your best friend. You don’t want to go from white to red in three seconds.”

Man and Woman walking their dog through a tunnel with a guy looking at them from the shadows

Gilliland recommends thinking like a new mother. A new mother has a plan for everything and a backup plan to that plan should something go awry. New mothers are great operators in a sense that they develop plans that allow them to stay in the yellow, and if a situation jumps them to red, they can react quickly and without a ton of panic.

21-Foot Rule

The more distance you have between you and a threat, the more time available to you. According to Gilliland, people with the best reaction times in history are at or just under one-quarter second. This is a top-tier operator. It will be much slower for others, and this is why distance is so important.

Have a friend or a spouse with a timer tell you to “go.” Once you hear the word “go”, draw, press out and aim. See how long the act takes. Next, have the timer record how much ground you cover in a single second at a brisk walking pace. Then have them record the ground you cover in a second at a running pace. Knowing these things are important. If an attacker is coming at you, you need to know the time it takes your brain to tell your body to draw, press out and aim. You can use the gathered data from the tests to figure out how much time you would have in a self-defense situation.

Man pulling a gun from under his jacket standing by his car in a parking ramp

“There is something called the 21-Foot Rule,” he says. “This is the distance the typical law-enforcement officer needs to take action before an assailant can be on him. Twenty-one feet seems like a long way. It’s not when you have a threat moving on you. This rule is currently under review. The goal is to increase the distance beyond 21 feet to give law-enforcement officers more time. If you can build space between you and a threat, you build time, and time allows you to react and take advantage of what you have at your advantage.”

Gilliland suggests that along with the color scheme, each person lives “on the left side of bang.” If you draw a straight line in the sand and label the left side the past and the right side the future and the middle of the line bang, you want to be to the left of bang. Why? Because bang is right now. You want to mentally live in the moment before something bad happens. To do this, you need to add space to any situation. Space gives you time to plan and react.

What If

You’re living in the yellow and striving to stay on the left side of bang. Awesome. That doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself in a flee or fight situation in an instant.

“Things happen,” he says. “If you find yourself without space or time, you have to go as violent as possible for as long as necessary. You’re either going to get violent so you can fight or get violent so you can flee and gain space, but make no mistake, serious violence is necessary if you find yourself in the red without warning.”