Let’s say you are coming out of a restaurant in an area that you are unsure of or you are on vacation exiting out of a hotel. If you did your advance work, you gathered some intelligence on the people, culture and criminal activities in the area and you believe in being safe rather then sorry. You want a way to protect yourself without it being to obvious or overt, you want to employ what I term “defensive grooming actions” or DGA’s.

DGA’s are simple unarmed defensive and at times, pre-emptive actions that can serve to deter and possibly prevent an individual from simple empty handed hostile actions. Simple, practical and easy to do and which most anyone can add to their personal security habits.

My first thoughts of defensive grooming actions date back to my high school days when I saw a bouncer walk outside a door at a very crowded club. While he was exiting, a man with a knife in his hand on the other side of the doorway quickly stabbed the bouncer in the stomach. The action was so quick that the young man thought he was punched in the gut, that was until he looked down and saw that he was bleeding profusely.

In any case, it made me think extensively about what steps he could have done differently to change the outcome. Of course certain events and incidents during his evening at the club were the revenge motivation for the attack, but I kept thinking what would I have done differently if it were me walking out of that door?

The first thought that came to my mind at the time was increased situational awareness and this should have played a role considering that particular club had many fights during any one evening. Of course his involvement in breaking them up and perhaps “ousting” those individuals should have alerted him to the possibility that one or more of those angry individuals just may have wanted a piece of him at some point.

As a teenager back then my second thoughts were to figure out a way to protect myself walking out of any door. I knew it had to be with my own body parts since any overt display of a weapon would not be acceptable or legal within that environment.

Especially in light of the fact that I would be doing something as a protective measure without specific justification. That is the assumption was to develop some type of defensive posturing that would serve a two-fold purpose: 1). To protect in an unarmed fashion in the event I encountered some type of hostile action while exiting the door that would not give the appearance of a defensive posture. 2). To prepare myself protectively as best I can for the “unknown” factor.

Over the years and in different environments, I worked out and ingrained certain specifics of tactics and procedures that I would employ in the way of defensive grooming actions for a multitude of situations. These “DGA’s” became part of my behavior. And eventually extended beyond doorways and into hallways, elevators, stairwells, public spaces and streets.

At some point because the environments and situations I faced became more and more hostile and volatile I added a physical tool element to the defensive grooming actions.

The element I often added would depend on if I had time to pre-plan items or acquire something on the way to a meeting or deal. Many times it was a ball point pen back then or a rolled up magazine in my reactive hand.

In later years it transitioned to a low profile tactical pen. In some instances, I employed both my hands simultaneously to scratch my head, protect my mid section or other areas depending on where I was and the threat level. If the threat level was that high, which it was at times, I pre-planned for weapons such as firearms or edged tools.

Remember though the idea here is to first develop tactics that utilize your own body parts. Get into the habit of doing defensive grooming actions first and then if needed or wanted, add the second element of a normal everyday item that is unassuming and that would fit within the context of your environment.


Here is a list of potential defensive grooming postures that I have employed over the decades:

Scratching my head or forehead

Running my fingers through my hair

Scratching my nose

Stroking my beard or overgrowth on my face

Itching my shoulder

Rubbing my eye

Scratching my chest


Here is a partial list of items I have employed in conjunction with the DGA’s:

Ball pens


Magazines (especially rolled up magazines)

Tactical Pens



Restaurant Silverware Rollup Paper

Paper Clips

Dental Floss

Water Bottles



Defensive grooming gestures are great defensive techniques for when you aren’t sure about the environment, a particular circumstance, situation or even during an escalating verbal exchange in which you do not want to give away your intentions by making more overt gestures.

Additionally, they can be used in situations in which you are being approached in public or in a confined space by an unknown or unknown individuals that are pointing at you or gesturing toward you and as they close in on your position, you quickly move to a DGA as a protective measure. This satisfies the need to cover up some vital areas in case the individual is planning to attack and does so without any blatant overt defensive action in case it is just someone out for a nightly stroll on the town.

Anyone can employ a defensive grooming action while out and about in a public environment. For example, you are in a restaurant and you are entering or exiting a restroom or you are exiting that same restaurant or even a building.

You may be transitioning between two points such as your job or office and a parking garage or lot and as you get closer to your vehicle you habitually take a more defensive grooming action. It could be when you exit your vehicle everyday for work or even when leaving your residence or apartment building.

If you are going to employ a DGA in lieu of a possible attack against yourself because you have identified a potential threat, then do so when the UNSUB is within your sterile zone (that is they are within 5 feet of you). In this manner you can close the distance in a more protective manner. Make sure that once past the individual or group to maintain your 360-degree situational awareness in the event they decide to surprise attack from your “six” or behind you.

The point is defensive grooming actions are employable in a variety of places and circumstances and by their nature are seemingly innocuous and within normal behaviors so as not to alert anyone to your true intention.

To the normal passerby, it simply seems as though you are raising your hand up to scratch your head or rub your chin. These covert movements blend easily into most environments and as I said earlier fit within the parameters of behavioral norms.


The point of using a DGA is as a hide in plain sight defensive technique. By employing it you are in a ready posture should you need to use your arm or hand to defend an incoming punch, strike or attack.

With your hand or hands up, it can also serve to quicken your reaction time to counter, check or strike the attacker. To this extent it can also act as a deterrent to a potential hostile that is looking to target you.

For example, a group of youth considering the “knockout game” or other similar criminal actions may change their mind about you as a potential mark simply because your hands are up at that moment and so they may choose another less prepared individual to perpetrate their activities upon.

Bottom line is that it subtly and naturally ups your defensive quotient and is a very simple way of making you a harder target in a Jason Bourne-like manner.

So if your worried, concerned or your primal instincts kick in that you are being singled out or targeted and you don’t want to raise suspicion, employ a defensive grooming action and perhaps have a tactical pen, flashlight or other non-threatening tool in your other hand and be ready for anything!

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