Combat Stress

Have you ever thought about how your body will react under the stress of real combat? Few martial artists have actually thought this through. Thinking about fighting or training does not prepare you for the drastic changes that occur in your body under the stress of combat. Sparring, although valuable, may not really prepare you for an extreme situation. Not being prepared for the sheer panic of a life-or-death confrontation can get you killed.

Let’s look at what happens to your body under stress. Imagine you are walking out to your car after work. You are thinking about going out to a movie and deciding which one to see. Suddenly you see a thug approach you with a knife in his hand. You will instantly experience the “fight or flight” syndrome, and it is completely beyond your control.

Your body will dump massive amounts of adrenaline into your system. The following are the symptoms of adrenaline rush and the implications for them:

  1. Tunnel Vision. You will focus exclusively on the mugger with the knife in front of you. You may not see his accomplices, and may not hear other sounds. (People who have fired a gun in these circumstances will often report that they never heard the shots!) The sooner you can eliminate the threat of the knife attack, the sooner you can begin to look for other threats. You need a self-defense system that can drop an attacker with one shot.
  2. Pain Resistance. You will feel less pain, but so will your attacker. If you are planning on stopping your opponent by causing him pain with a light stick, you will fail, especially if your attacker is drugged up. When Malcolm X was a street thug, he always did drugs to get him “up” for a robbery, which is common. You need a self-defense system that uses heavy, incapacitating strikes that disable an opponent, such as by crushing his skull or breaking his arm.
  3. Increased Sweat. I have never seen anyone mention this, but your hands will get sweaty, making it more difficult to grip a stick. Under stress you need to have both hands on the stick, and a weapon with a handle, or you’ll lose it.
  4. Increase in Strength and a Loss of Coordination. This is the most important symptom of the fight-or-flight response. Imagine someone is holding a gun to your head. If you are trying to dial a number on your cellphone, you will have a hard time, because your fine motor skills –the ability to use precise movements– go right out the window. On the other hand, if you have to throw that phone, you will be able to throw it farther than ever.

    Under stress you do NOT want a system that uses complicated, exact movements, which are typical of many martial arts. You need a self-defense system that relies on power and strength, as well as gross motor movements, which is exactly the foundation of the many of the big stick methods. This is why I think Thai boxing is more likely that kenpo to be successful under high-stress crises.

If you are planning on defending against a real knife attack by blocking, checking, and counter striking with a precise attack to the opponent’s wrist or temple, you may be unable to do so. In the panic of the moment, your natural defenses will take over, and you will find yourself swinging wildly.

On the other hand, if you have trained to use your whole body to strike in a straight line and crush your opponent, you will find that rather than diminish your abilities, stress actually enhances your abilities, so that you hit stronger than ever.

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