campus safety Personal Safety personal safety tips Self-Defense

Personal Safety: How close is too close?

Examining boundary setting and understanding the concept of personal space with North Park University incoming freshmen class. August 2016
Examining boundary setting and understanding the concept of personal space with North Park University incoming freshmen class. August 2016

In a series of Self-Defense workshops at several High schools and universities, which included North Park University, Loyola Academy, and GCE Lab School, we discussed the concept of personal space. I asked volunteers to come forward and participate in a demonstration of what personal space means to them. In each case the volunteer walked toward me and stopped approximately 2 and a half to 3 feet away from me. They had selected their personal space in what was a safe environment. I then entered that space, in effect breaking the boundary they had set unconsciously. In each case the student would either lean away or retreat to maintain, what they now understood to be their personal space.

We continued the exercise with all the students standing about 20 feet apart.

How close is too close? What boundary distance would you set between you and someone you don’t know

I asked one group to walk toward the other until their partner located across from them put their hand up indicating they would like them to stop.

In the first scenario they were asked to imagine that they were in the middle of campus on a warm, clear day, with plenty of people around who appeared to be fellow students. I asked them how much personal space they would want between them and someone they didn’t know.

How much space would you want between you and a stranger?

You can see that under that scenario the personal space required by the students is rather close. The same might be expected of anyone in a similar scenario, such as walking along a busy street with a number of retail stores or a shopping mall.

In the second scenario the students were asked to imagine they were walking alone along a street in the evening with mostly closed businesses and apartment buildings. Coming down the sidewalk was someone they didn’t know. They couldn’t tell if they were good or not. They were asked how much apace they would want between them and the stranger as they passed on the sidewalk. In the group below the distance chosen was approximately 6 feet.

in the evening it is just you and a stranger passing each other on the sidewalk. How much space do want between you and them?

How much space would you want? Most sidewalks won’t even allow 6 feet of space while passing someone. What would you have to do to if you wanted more space? The easiest way to create more space is to cross the street.

What should be your response to someone entering your personal space?

That would depend on the environment and the circumstances. If you are walking along a busy street in a shopping district, standing in a crowded bar/restaurant, or taking public transportation during rush hour your ability to maintain your preferred space is going to be hard, if not impossible to do. This is where you need to raise, not lower, your awareness of who is standing or walking nearby you. Pick pockets love to work these types of environments.

The major takeaway here is that when you establish your personal space you have set a boundary. If you allow someone to break that boundary they may feel empowered to take further liberties, such as putting their hands on you.

You are at greater risk of physical injury when alone and a stranger attempts to get too close and breaking the personal space boundary that you have established. Stepping back into a bladed, or guarded stance, with your lead hand extended in front of you as demonstrated below, can in many cases, taking this guarded stance can dissuade a potential attacker from continuing their advance into your personal space. If it doesn’t cause them to stop at least your hands and body are positioned to protect you and to strike if necessary.

Lead hand should extend out away from the body at eye level with the rear hand slightly in front of your face as a 2nd line of defense.

Understanding personal space and how it relates to your personal safety is just one step in the journey to improving your personal and situational awareness and to avoid becoming another crime statistic.

Thousands of adult men and women as well as high school and college students have learned how to improve their personal and situational awareness and to physically defend themselves using a wide variety of Martial Arts techniques.

Self-Defense Classes for Adult Men, Women and teens age 14 and older are taught Tuesday, and Thursday evenings 7:30pm – 8:30 pm.

You will learn how to identify and avoid potentially dangerous people, places and situations at work, school, home and on the streets.

You can sign up for Act in Self Defense classes at:

If you are interested in a Personal Safety/Self-Defense Class for you, your child’s high school, college, business, or organization contact me at

Ed Kress
For over 40 years Ed Kress has been an instructor and student at the Degerberg Academy of Martial Arts, named "Best Overall Martial Arts School” worldwide by Black Belt Magazine. Master Fred Degerberg awarded Ed his 7th degree Black Belt in 2015. Growing up on Chicago’s Southside, Ed learned early in life to pay attention to his surroundings in order to avoid potentially dangerous people and situations. With the help of local law enforcement officers and directors of campus security, Ed developed a program focused on personal safety on the streets, and as it relates to the high school and college experience. Ed has trained thousands of adult men and women as well as high school and college students to improve their personal and situational awareness and, when necessary, how to physically defend themselves using their brains and a wide variety of martial arts techniques.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.