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A Warrior Awareness Drill: The Top Down Inventory – By Mark Hatmaker

American Indians, scouts, and indigenous trackers the world over have been observed to survey terrain/territory in the following manner.
A scan of the sky overhead, then towards the horizon, and then finally moving slowly towards the ground.
The reason being that outdoors, what is overhead – the clouds, flying birds, monkeys in trees, the perched jaguar – these overhead conditions change more rapidly than what is at ground level.

It has been observed by sociologists that Western man whether on a hike outdoors or in an urban environment seldom looks up from the ground or above eye-level. (I would wager that today, he seldom looks up from his phone.)

For the next week I suggest, whether indoors or out, we adopt this native tracker habit. As you step into each new environment (or familiar ones for that matter) scan from the top down.

I find that this grounds me in the awareness mindset.

For example, I step into my local Wal-Mart (or an unfamiliar box store while traveling) starting at the top, the ceiling with its rigid lines of girder, roof panel, and trailing conduit, allows me to realize the scale of the building I am within. This already provides a valuable set of clues as to where exits might be without even looking for signage. The Top-Down Scan alerts me as to where I might find the nearest fire extinguisher or fire alarm, usually located on upright support posts—again located without signage.

One more pragmatic use of the Top-to-Bottom scan for my outdoorsmen and for those who want to judge whether or not to grab a jacket before heading to work.

Overnight, heat radiates out of the ground and the air closest to the ground loses its heat as well. In the morning, there will be a thick cool layer of air upon the ground up to a few dozen meters in height-this layer of thick cool air is known as laminar flow.

The sun will soon warm this up, but until then this thick laminar flow will be somewhat insulated to winds and we can mistake ground level conditions for a calm day. In the mornings, it is wise to use the Top-to-Bottom Scan, look to the clouds and tall trees for what might be true wind conditions and what to expect as the laminar flow warms.

So, my Warriors, for at least the next week, scan Top-Down, then eyes forward and keep that peripheral vision alive!
Click Here For More Instruction From Mark Hatmaker

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31 thoughts on “A Warrior Awareness Drill: The Top Down Inventory – By Mark Hatmaker”

  1. It is wise as well to scan from above first to put ourselves in mind of our final goal of Heaven, then to draw our eyes down to this miserable world, no matter its beauty, so full of sin, hatred and violence, in order to see how much love is lacking in this valley of tears and what charity we are called to offer.

  2. I learned this through my course in Feild Bo. Science class in high schools nd also being a boy scout third ascent scout master.

  3. Great advice. Remember hunting with relatives, how you needed to be aware of conditions. Look foward to nect article.

  4. Very interesting article, I have done this in the past as I an ex Army Ranger. As my time out of service, I guess getting comfortable an losing practice of the habit of doing this. I have used this method less on a daily basis. In the past I used my sight top to bottom distance zan sweeping left to right or vise versa.to a closer object then back. I also use to use my sight along with hearing, as well as smell. Then when I felt safe enough I’d use all an finally using my sense of touch or feeling.

  5. It’s funny u mention this but I alwas do being in a wheelchair gives me a different perspective of the world and my surroundings thank you though I have noticed it more often that people don’t look up

  6. I usually am pretty aware of what goes on around me, but I rarely do the “look up” bit unless I’m fishing, hunting, or hiking and I’m concerned about the weather or incoming storms. Never thought about using it in a Walmart or box store, even though I’m often forced to look up to find the aisle signs.

    Really good tip.


  7. This could be nicely expanded to include the concept of Critical Space. In the martial arts we teach varying levels of attention to detail, beginning with a 10 foot radius sphere around the person where one knows as much as possible everything that can do damage or conceal a weapon. As the distance increases less detail is necessary but at all times each area must be considered to house threats. Just sayin’ …

  8. This is good advice and something my Dad told me a long time ago. I had pretty much forgot. Thanks for reminding me.
    Ed McMunn

  9. Maybe I have been to suspicious of people or not , I have been in the security industry for three decades and one thing that has always given me an edge is not only studying my surroundings but nervous people tend to give off a vibe and you can feel it change wherever you go . Body language and environment smells and sounds has always given me and edge wherever I am and especially as you get older you tend to rely on these skills but they need honing and tweaking from time to time

  10. I have looked EVERYWHERE trying to find a technique to make me more tactically aware and this was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you guys so much!!

  11. Although the purpose is different, Tom Brown writes of a technique he calls “splatter vision” which is to look around, but not to focus your eyes specifically on the ground or straight ahead, but to just allow one’s eyes to move and to look at everything.
    While it does provide greater visual clues it also enhances awareness that is lost to people whose focus is narrow and specific. It’s like people at a theme park. Some just see the attraction and others look up, down, from side to side and even walk around things, touching, smelling and really trying to learn and experience everything.

    This “top down” approach is logical and easy to follow. And I know it works in stores because they even post signs in my local Walmart way up to help customers find the price checking machines, restrooms and departments. Of course that’s useful for daily living, but in any building or environment we want to know where there are exits, places of concealment, shelter, cover, the location of resources , fences or obstacles or windows that may pose a danger or method of escape.

  12. Thanks for the tip. I’ve always tried to be aware of my surroundings. Many people today spend WAY to much time looking at a screen,indoors,outdoorsetc.The younger they are, the more they don’t see.

  13. I also spend time in the wilds of Arizona. Fishing, camping, hunting. The environment in the wild can be very unforgiving. Always think two to three steps ahead in terms of your survival.

  14. Excellent information and insight. I am trained in TaeKwonDo and learned to always scan my surroundings. Never, ever take your surroundings for granted as a safe zone. Always remain vigilant. There is evil that walks this earth. More so than ever before.

  15. Interesting i remember as a kid that was probably the first thing i did , more times than not and for no particular reason . Instinct i guess but i grew out of it. It seems logical and all , i am going to have get it back , it seems like a smart thing to do .

  16. This was a good reminder. I am sure most people walk looking at the ground. You know thats the way to walk and avoid eye contact

  17. I do the top down scan when I am in a strange situation, but I haven’t thought to apply it to ‘ll situations.

  18. I agree completely with the “top down” approach to watching your surroundings. As a former Vietnam Recon Marine, starting with the elevated areas and working your eyes downward, was paramount in survival. The higher threats were far more worrisome to us (i.e. Snipers) The mid level threats were obvious and the ground threats (wires, pits etc.) were equally important. Top down scanning was a routine that was (and still is) a way of life. Scanning the horizon or anywhere above eye level can be done while stationary or in a defensive position while eye level and below should a continuous endeavor. These times, in which we live, you don’t need a declared war event to need to be aware of your surroundings. Bad people can be anywhere! I would urge everyone to pay close attention to all that is around you. Start from the top, work your way down and never lose sight of all that is around you (and the ones you care for). In this age of evil, paying attention is primary.

  19. This is a similar principle of learning/knowing your surroundings that I learnt while in the defence force here in Australia. I grew up in the country and attended boy scouts (my mum was the local leader) and when I started learning my bush craft, top to bottom scanning was one of the first things we learnt. Now I’m a keen hunter and outdoorsmen I still adopt the same techniques I learnt from my father (a great hunter and sporting shooter), my mother through scouts and my military training. ??

  20. In the past when working in primitive or wilderness type of enviroments, I would often(and still do) complete a full site scan of my enviroment. This included an examination of the clouds, wind direction and wind speed to estimate what the weather would do in a ten to twelve hour period. After this I would always study the birds, and any squirrels in the area. These animals will often sound warning calls in regard to the presence of other humans, and predators. Actually many times I have been out tracking, or stalking game, and ended up with the squirrels ratting me out. To the rest of the animals in the area. They are a very good early warning detection if other people or large predators are in the woods.