Transitional Spaces: Tactical Strategies

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Transitional Spaces: Tactics and Strategies

When talking about fighting and defensive encounters, we often visualise ourselves in a certain type of scenario. We typically see ourselves defending against one opponent that we were alert and prepared for, in an open space, with a flat surface and in an environment that is well lit. While there is nothing wrong with this mental schema of how a violent attack might take place and it’s always better to have some sort of mental rehearsal vs none at all, it would be a disservice to ourselves and our personal safety if we didn’t address the concept of Transitional Spaces. What are Transitional Spaces and why are they significant in the context of Self Protection and defensive encounters?


Have you ever envisioned yourself in a defensive encounter in an environment like this?

Defining Transitional Spaces

Not all environments are created equally. This is especially true for Transitional Spaces. So what are they? A Transitional Space is, essentially, any location or environment in which we are transitioning from one environment to another. Furthermore Transitional Spaces allow for the attacker to utilise the element of surprise and to have a quick escape route because most people do not think of Transitional Spaces as locations where defensive encounters can occur. The danger of Transitional Spaces is that we are in highly vulnerable positions usually in less-than-ideal conditions to defend ourselves either due to uneven surfaces, being in a physically awkward position, close quarters, low lighting etc.


Dark parking garages have multiple concerns. Besides lighting, there are corners to hide behind as well as other vehicles which can be used by attackers to strike from between 2 parked cars.

Examples of Transitional Spaces are endless, but some more common ones we talk about often are: stairways, elevators, alleyways, parking lots/garages, vehicles (i.e. getting in/out of your vehicle or sitting in a stopped vehicle), doorways/lobbies, hallways, and public transportation (defending yourself on a bus/train). Have you ever mentally rehearsed a scenario involving defending yourself in one of these types of locations?


Dark parking lot, low lighting and multiple hiding places makes this an ideal place for an assailant to strike


Tight stairwell with blind corners

Tactical Considerations

When discussing why Transitional Spaces are important as they pertain to Self Protection it’s important to understand how our tactics change. Our environment is going to completely dictate our tactics. This is true for defensive encounters generally, but even more so when we are in a Transitional Space. It makes sense when you think about it. A Tornado Kick is probably not going to be a viable option in an elevator, or most kicks for that matter. A better option might be using close range strikes such as knees, elbows, headbutts, hammer fists and some tighter punches like hooks or uppercuts. That awesome jab-jab-cross-hook-uppercut combo you’ve been working on would be difficult to execute on a stairway as you’re going up or down. Your goal if fighting on a stairway is to get off the stairs and onto flatter ground, so you might want to consider disengaging. As I said, your environment dictates your tactics.


What are some options you have if attacked in an elevator?


Stairwells are particularly tricky. Get to the flat ground of the landings as quickly as possible

Strategies for Transitional Spaces

Transitional Spaces are a fact of life, they are unavoidable. On any given day you can easily find yourself in a multitude of Transitional Spaces all which can require slightly differing strategies for surviving a defensive encounter within. So it would be ridiculous for me to say try to avoid Transitional Spaces, because you just can’t. What you can do however, is pay attention.

Transitional Spaces are another layer to your proverbial Self-Defence onion in that the best defence in a Transitional Space is realising that you are in fact in one! By being aware and being in Condition Yellow (coopers colour code, see here) it helps you to react to a threat. However what you should also be thinking about is what your options are when entering a new environment, even if that environment is a transitional one to another. This mental rehearsing helps cut down on your OODA Loop and react more quickly and effectively. You can’t know when you will be attacked, if you could you wouldn’t be there in the first place. Your next best bet is being alert and aware of your environment and knowing what your options and limitations are.

Look inside that elevator, is it empty? Are there unsavoury looking characters in it? Don’t worry about being rude, if you feel unsafe, take the next one, they’ll get over it. Look down the stairs (or up) as you enter a stairwell, does it look clear? how close/far are the nearest landings and exits? Before you get in your car, do a quick 360° visual scan of your environment. Do the same when exiting your car. Check your mirrors when stopped in traffic.


Does this stairwell seem safe enough to pass through?

Do a visual environmental scan when getting in/out of your car. Notice how physically awkward of a position you are in, not ideal for a defensive encounter.

I could go on forever, the point is that information and intel are your friend. What can you learn about your environment? Look around, establish a baseline. Be cognisant of Transitional Spaces and what your options for defending yourself might be. Be cognisant of what your limitations are too (such as that tornado kick in the elevator, or being inside a car).


Understanding Transitional Spaces and being aware of the heightened risks they present in the context of a defensive encounter can help us to be more aware if we are attacked in one and to have an idea of what strategies and tactics might be available to us. Hopefully in reading this post it has gotten you thinking about Transitional Spaces and has started you mentally rehearsing about what you might do if attacked in some of the environments you commonly find yourself in. What are some other examples of Transitional Spaces you can think of? What are some strategies you can employ if attacked in one of those spaces? Leave a comment below!