Years of dedicated martial arts training have resulted in a condition where my footfalls are nearly silent. This has led to some IPS problems. Specifically, the fact that people often jump when I "appear" in the room

When walking behind lone males on the sidewalk late at night, I've taken to scuffing my feet on the pavement to signal to the person in front that there is someone else on the sidewalk behind them. (This relates to "coming up on someone" from behind being often interpreted as hostile--anyone who has ever been "jumped" will know what I am speaking of.)

I also tend to walk more quickly than most, even using normal strides, so I tend to pass a lot of people on the sidewalk.

Question: What is the proper etiquette for making one's presence known, non-verbally, so as not to startle people when entering a room or when approaching from behind on the sidewalk at night?

[Note: Coughing can be considered non-verbal communication since verbal implies actual words.]


2 Answers 2


Unfortunately (or not), much of the responsibility for avoiding this falls on your own shoulders, s you can't force other people to become more sensitive to your presence, nor is that a reasonable expectation in a public venue. I have much the same problem, due to the same type of training (martial arts) that you have.

When I am at work, I take care when approaching a blind cubicle opening or other "surprise" potential area, to make some noise when approaching. If I am walking down a carpeted hall, I will walk on the opposite side from anyone that I might be following/overtaking, and as I get a little nearer, I scuff my shoes a bit or make some other noise. That way they are aware, and I am not directly behind them which also removes some of the threat perception.

I take much the same precautions when I am out, in that if I think I might be surprising someone by my presence, I will try to make that presence known before I'm suddenly "there". Especially in public, where you have no idea how someone may react.

You may still forget, or there will be people that are so oblivious you could be juggling tambourines and they won't notice you, but taking a little precaution to make some noise on approach will be very gratefully received by everyone around you.

  • This is consistent with my experience, especially in regard to the late nights on lonely sidewalks. Scuffing or jingling keys alerts any individual aware of their surroundings, and they generally acknowledge so that a détente can be established for passing. As you note, that first signal can also establish if the individual being alerted should be avoided, allowing one to change course or make a wide circle.
    – DukeZhou
    May 25, 2018 at 16:26
  • "there will be people that are so oblivious you could be juggling tambourines and they won't notice you" 😂
    – justhalf
    Apr 23, 2023 at 12:21

Same happens to me, a light variation of fox-walking is at play here, maybe because martial arts or who knows, it's a hard to beat habit, a personality feature I'd say, and your shoes might be wearing down in strange ways; side of heel, side of the sole at the ball area, etc. There's a funny scene on one of the Ocean's movies which offers a wink onto what happens to your shoes.

The solution totally depends on context: any non verbal signal you offer will be a good fit for etiquette if you are congruent with the environment.

  • Parking lot? Play a bit with your keys
  • Cafe or store playing soft music on the background? Whistle or hum along
  • Public office spaces? Clear your throat before you are too close
  • Avoid approaching people from behind whenever possible

Or you can simply hug your inner kid who always wanted to be a ninja.
Best of luck.

  • All great techniques. (Excellent link to the fox-walking. I first came across that concept in Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, long before I began serious study of the martial arts. The animal stalking technique--super slow and requiring perfect balance and ability to hold still for long periods--was probably the best preparation, especially for the arts that are deemed "internal".
    – DukeZhou
    May 25, 2018 at 16:28
  • Correct. And the thing is that, mastering those techniques leaves muscle memory imprinted on your feet and lower legs, you naturally walk silently now because of that, it maintains your tendons strong and keeps your articulations from suffering damaging impact from the otherwise "stomping" style of walking many people execute. Efficiency = Silence
    – J A
    May 25, 2018 at 23:13

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