As part of the SAFE International self defense curriculum we address the topic of safety elevators. The question of whether to stand or not stand in front of the buttons always gets discussed with people having pretty strong opinions on both and why they think one is safer than the other. Well, as always, both are possible alternatives, but the reasons behind each one are quite different so one needs to not only look at the structure of an elevator to determine which is better for them, but also look more at their mindset and how prepared they are mentally and physically to react in the event of a possible confrontation or attack.
But first let's analyze what happens before you get on an elevator because rarely does violence occur without some level of warning, even if seemingly very small. Now many factors come into play, but let's pretend you are in a hurry in your apartment building, the doors open up and there is man dressed casually on the elevator by himself. As you are about to get on, your intuition hits you in the gut, but without any obvious reason. Do you get on, do you not get on, what do you do, what are your options? Now everything happens with decisions being made in a split second so I am the first to say it is easy to go through all the options here in a blog, but let us look at some options:
Simply do not get on! Now when I ask people if this is an option, most agree, but I can see from the looks on their faces that it's an option they might hesitate to make for a number of reasons. One reason I hear is, "But they know I was about to get on, so if I don't, I will look foolish." We often think that only teens get caught up in thinking the world is watching every move they make, but the truth is that regardless of age most people to some level get caught up in thinking that people are constantly judging us minute to minute for extended periods of time. Truth is, they aren't, and quite frankly, "WHO CARES!". Do you think if you don’t get on that elevator and walk away that they are thinking of, and asking themselves why you did not get on? Would you really spend more than a few seconds worrying why someone did not get on with you or would you think, "hmmmm..." then carry on with your day? If it REALLY makes you uncomfortable to just walk away, you could offer a reason why you did not get on. You might say something like, "You go ahead, I forgot something." But regardless, I highly recommend you do not get on if you get that gut feeling or unease that might seem unexplainable. Better to be wrong, but be safe than have something happen because you doubted your intuition.
Self defense instructor and friend Richard Dimitri has an excellent way of explaining the difference between intuition and paranoia because many mistake one for the other which can result in poor decisions being made. Paranoia starts in your head where you see someone like the man on the elevator in this example, and you start to come up with reasons why you should be scared thus creating the feeling of unease in your gut. Intuition starts in your gut with a feeling of unease that might seem unexplainable at first, but then your mind comes up with the reasons based on a number of factors like environment and its' factors at the moment. Don't get me wrong, regardless of which you are experiencing you are better to err on the side of caution and exit the scenario as quickly as possible, but you might want to spend time thinking of scenarios similar, how you felt and if in hindsight you feel you were showing signs of paranoia or if it was true intuition.
You might decide to get on the elevator, but where do you stand? Should you distance yourself as far as you are able to in the close confines of an elevator, stand in front of the doors or focus on standing somewhere in particular like in front of the buttons, doors, or in the far corner? There is no one definite answer, but there are reasons why one might be better than another, but that is based on the person and their mindset.
The majority of people who SAFE International teach are first timers to learning self defense, so knowing that I generally instruct them they may be better advised to stand in front of the buttons while maintaining awareness and alertness to where others are on the elevator. If their intuition kicks in and they feel unsafe, I suggest they press the buttons for one of the upcoming floors or mash as many as possible if the situation has escalated and they want the doors open as soon as possible in an effort to escape. Why do I suggest this? Because for the most part they have not learned yet the ability to identify or notice the pre-contact cues of possible violence as well as someone who has been training for a while. Does it mean they should not consider my next suggestion? Of course not, but my experience tells me this first one is best for beginners to self defense.
Now someone with some prior self defense training who has learned how to identify pre-contact cues may be better advised to stand away from the buttons. Reason being if someone is going to attack there is a high probability they will want to press the stop button of the elevator so they have the isolation they require to attack. So imagine a guy gets on the elevator stands in front of the buttons. They may appear a bit nervous, anxious or fidgety. If they go to press the stop button, I suggest you swiftly attack them first before they can begin their attack. Now many people may ask or say, “But you can’t attack someone who has not done anything to you yet!” Well as far as I am concerned there is zero reason, absolutely none, why they would or should be stopping the elevator with alone with them. If it is a repairman they would never do that without first telling you, and even then they would wait till you were off the elevator. So why don’t I suggest this option to the beginners of self defense? Well for the most part because to make the jump from just standing there quietly to attacking them first even if they have not done anything takes a particular mindset and preparation in what to look for in pre-contact cues without doubt in taking action.
So in the end, both are viable options and one may use one strategy, but teach their friends or family the other.
As always, feel free to agree, disagree, or to offer additional thoughts.
Managing Director, SAFE International