How Closely Can You Simulate Real Terror in Effective Self-Defense Training?
I get this sort of question a lot:
“Although I have been studying Aikido for almost 18 years I never felt confident that I would be able to deal with the initial surge of adrenalin from the realization of actually being attacked. It is kind of like being told you have cancer and are going to die next month. How do you simulate something like that in a safe manner? Can you scare the whatever out of someone and get them to react properly in a training environment?”
To answer your question quickly NO. There is no completely safe environment where we can train a person to overcome the adrenaline response without the possibility of psychological damage. Even under the safest of conditions, to put the mind in a true fear state the inducement of that state can cause some PTSD in some individuals.
We used to work with some of the brain-washing hypnotic methods for placing a person in a state of absolute fear to see if they can overcome it and have found that some of the folks had nightmares and other panic symptoms for some time after the training.
Fear Response Without the Fear
One of the best methods of dealing with the potential of an attack is to constantly practice the fright reaction drills. Having the proper physical response trained into your hard wiring can place you in a far better place than just hoping for the best.
The fright reaction uses your body’s natural, adrenaline-fueled response to sudden shock and fear. Ever been attacked by a swarm of bees? Ever had a firecracker thrown in your face or heard a gunshot? What did you do? Your whole body instantaneously and instinctively dropped its center of gravity, your back curved out protectively, your head sank low between your upraised shoulders, and your arms and elbows came up around your face and neck. Dropping your center of gravity in this way strengthens your stability and adds to your power and balance. Lowering your head, hunching your shoulders, and raising your arms protects vital areas (especially your throat) from strikes and rear-approach strangling attacks. And you tend to do all this naturally without any training (provided your instincts haven’t been smothered by some bogus martial art). The fright reaction is an ideal defensive position and should not be substituted with some stylized kung fu stance.
What you do immediately after the fright reaction is critical, and it must be simple and focused. Turn toward the attacker and hit like a banshee. Jab his chin, chop his neck, and spear your fingers straight into his eye sockets. Train them all so they can be delivered like a buzz saw when you need them. Eye strikes are especially nasty and hard for the enemy to block. If you’ve ever been accidentally poked in the eye, such as in a basketball game, imagine how devastating a purposeful strike could be. There is an entire series of drills explored in our book involving this principle but for our purposes here, understand that you can invoke the body’s natural fear “response” and train that without inducing a state of howling terror.
If you are then suddenly attacked with only a slight warning you will go into the physical response you have drilled into your system. The trouble arises when you have too much time to think. Here your linear brain or ego will see or hear a threat and start to think what to do. Since the linear mind has had little or no experience with a serious attacker, the ego will go through a litany of useless cogitation which usually will paralyze a person before the fight starts. Many criminals depend upon this response to intimidate a victim so that they cannot mount a proper defense.
Translation to Reality
If you are alert to your surroundings and can focus on a destination at the same time, a criminal will usually look for a less aware target.
If you have practiced attacking the attacker under various conditions you will have a chance to respond to an attack with your own attack.
If all is working properly, during a real attack, you will feel all of the physical/psychological phenomena that adrenaline will produce. Having the adrenaline response is actually a good thing. At first you will feel immobilized by the event but if you have trained for a good while your response will come at the first real touch by the attacker. If you are really well practiced in the forward attack or the side step attack you will usually fall into place and perform almost automatically because you don’t know any other way of defense.
Getting Your Mind Right for Survival
Ask yourself this question. If my child, wife, husband, parent or sibling were being attacked in front of me would I come to their aid? If you answered yes then you have the proper mind set to react along with hard core training to save yourself.
I remember times where fear seemed to freeze me solid or so it seemed. It usually took someone to strike me before I could react and strike in response. This was when I was already trained to some degree but I had a built in aversion to violence in my teen years. I learned to properly apply the attack-the-attacker modality (coined by Brad Steiner) and this changed in a few weeks. I now had a way to go. Somewhere to let my adrenaline dump go.
Some of my fellow officers are able to just get into the mix without hesitation. They were often not really trained but just fought instantly. I, on the other hand, found it difficult to strike another human being without, what I believed to be, just cause. I was wrong in these instances. The other officers were able to stop aggression before it could get out of hand. Often, because I didn’t attack in time, the fight would become somewhat protracted and awkward. Sometimes the bad guy would get all brave and fight harder until I had to get seriously violent. Not Good!!
If you have fear of getting hurt then you will get hurt if you allow the wrong picture to enter your mind. The only picture you should see is where you are able to overcome the adversary. You can practice envisioning toppling the attacker from every conceivable position. You can imagine the loud threats of an attacker as just sounding the bell to fight and you see yourself chomping at the bit to get at him.
Many of us have been conditioned at a young age by adults who punished or controlled us by loud screaming or physical pushing or strikes. We were not allowed to react violently against authority. This is one of the reasons that we freeze when under the onslaught of some loud-mouthed bully.
Diligent realistic scenario-based practice of all the fright reaction drills as well as attacking the attacker drills (which we don’t have space to go into here) will go a long way to helping you when you may find yourself in harm’s way. Learning to side step before the attack actually happens is important. This allows for a nonviolent way to get out of the way of the first strike. After you have dodged the strike or grapple you will be more able to take control by striking or controlling the opponent with the various weapons you have either built into yourself or carried to the scene.