Sunday, February 16, 2014

Beyond Fight or Flight

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

It is commonly taught that when an organism is threatened it will respond with one of two instinctive reactions: fight or flight. In other words, when an animal or a person is threatened it will instinctively stand its ground and fight or it will run away.

I’ve never bought into this thinking. Fight or flight is hogwash and I realized that when I was 7 years old and I was in a car with my mother when we hit a deer at night. The deer saw us coming and it didn’t run away nor did it attack, but rather it stood there like the quintessential deer in the headlights.

There are actually 3 different responses an animal can give and a human is capable of at least 5. An animal will instinctively fight, run away, or freeze in fear and be killed. A human will either fight, run away, freeze, surrender, or comply.

Fight and flight are pretty easy to understand so let’s look at the others.

When a person gets attacked it is usually by surprise and they simply don’t know what to do. While those trained in self-protection will have a plan for when an attack occurs and will have rehearsed their response numerous times in a controlled environment, the average person will not have a clue of how to respond. First their mind will try to wrap itself around the situation; they will think things like: is this really happening? Am I really being attacked? Maybe this is a joke? Maybe there are cameras around and that Ashton Kutcher guy will jump out? Next their thoughts will progress to accepting the situation is happening but not knowing if they are in real danger; they will think thoughts like: is he really going to hurt me? Things like this don’t happen to me, they happen to people you see on the news. What is he going to do to do me? He can’t kill me because I have to give that presentation to the PTO next week. After that they will try to think of appropriate responses and debate with themselves whether they should resist.

While they do all of this the attacker will have a frozen victim to do with what they see fit. Often an attacker will rob a victim and flee before their victim fully realizes what just happened. A criminal knows that if he attacks correctly his victim will most likely freeze rather than resist and that is what most criminals count on.

Next you have surrender. Let’s say a masked gunman runs into a bank full of people and orders everyone to lie on their stomach. While there might be an initial reaction to freeze, most people will go right into a response of surrender. They realize the threat and their thought process says, “ok, if I just do exactly what he wants he won’t hurt me.” That person immediately abandons all notion of resistance and their life now solely in the hands of the gunman. Whatever the gunman says they will do and if a debate of whether to resist or not was to come up by the other hostages they will normally take the side of the gunman in hopes of not being hurt.

Lastly you have comply; in that very same bank all the customers were ordered to lie down on their stomach when the gunman rushed through the door. While some responded by freezing and most responded by surrendering, one or two people had some training and they responded by complying with the gunman. The difference is that man with training assessed the situation and made the decision that it was too dangerous at that time do confront the gunman so he makes the decision to be compliant and do what he is told. However, while the surrendering individuals basically stare at the floor or shut their eyes and hope for the best, the man who complies does what he is told but also observes the situation and waits for an opening to act.

Another example of compliance is that you’re coming home from work and you get out of your car when suddenly you’re grabbed from behind, pushed against your car, and the muzzle of a gun is shoved in your face. They tell you not to make a sound and then they turn you around and you see two men both pointing guns at you. You assess the situation and you don’t feel there is anything you can do at the moment. They push you to your front door and take you to the living room. While you walk in you carefully watch their shadows to try to determine where they are and listen to what they say. Now you’re standing in the living room and you can hear a man standing behind you but then you also hear someone run down the hall towards your bedroom. You now know they have split up and you glace over and catch a reflection in a window and see that the gunman behind you is looking around the room trying to decide what is valuable enough to steel. You quickly turn around, disarm the gunman, knock him down, and then run out the front door towards a neighbor’s house where you lock the door and call the police. If you had surrendered you wouldn’t have even known they had split up.

Pre-Assault Body Language Indicators

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

Violence has been thoroughly studied by the FBI and other groups and what has been found out is that most violence attacks don’t happen out of the blue, but rather there predictable things that happen before hand. If we know what things tend to happen before an assault occurs we can notice them and act at that point to prevent the situation from developing into violence.

Here is a list of eight things that a person tends to do right before they attack.

Walking with their arms out of sync with their feet. A normal person will not only swing their arms when they walk, but they’ll coordinate their arm with the opposite leg. So, if they stepped with their left foot they’d swing their right arm forwards and vice versa. A normal relaxed opposite hand-foot stride in the natural way to walk and keeps us in balance. A person who is planning on attacking someone will often lose this coordination and end up either moving their feet while keeping their hands and arms frozen in place (no swinging of the arms at all) or they will tend to walk by moving the foot and arm of the same side.

Lowering of their body. Before a lion or other predator attacks their prey they will lower their body and drop their heads to get more stable; someone about to be violent will often do this as well. Typically they will slightly lower their chin, lean forwards slightly to move their shoulders over their toes, and bend their knees slightly. If you see someone do this as they come up to you it is almost a certainty that they will attack.

Evasive eye contact. Someone who is planning on attacking you will almost always want to look you over first. People who do this tend not to turn their head completely towards you but rather move their eyes to look out the corners. If you notice someone looking at you in this manner, especially continually, be aware. If every time you look at them and they look away quickly that is an indicator that you caught them doing something that they didn’t want you to see.

Rapid or heavy breathing. When someone decides to attack someone else their body prepares for this by increasing heart rate and releasing adrenaline into the blood stream. A person breathing heavily or rapids but not doing anything physical at the moment is either sick, in very poor physical condition, or getting ready to do something.

Effects of adrenaline. As stated above, a person planning on committing a violent act will release adrenaline into their bloodstream beforehand in order to get ready for the crime. If you notice the effects of adrenaline you can spot this before anything violent occurs. Be on lookout for someone who isn’t physically exerting himself but starts to breathe heavily or rapidly, sweat, or fidget. In most people their hands (especially their non-dominate hand) and their knees will begin to shake. They may also fidget, “pump” their hands open and closed, and repeatedly touch their face, hair, and body as if they’re nervous.

Something that deserves special attention is if you see someone lifting their heels and lifting up on the balls of their feet. This is a very common fidgeting maneuver by people getting ready do something physical. This is often seen done by athletes just prior to performance. Another effect of adrenaline that deserves special attention is pacing. Quite often a person will pace back and forth before suddenly turning and throwing a punch or attacking with a weapon. This pacing is another way a person will try to burn off adrenaline before they do something physical. If you notice someone starts to pace back off and give them a lot of room so if they do attack you can see it coming.

Someone “Quartering Off.” Quartering off basically means aligning their lower body in sort of a fighting stance. A lot of the time people will have natural tendency to put one foot slightly in front of the other and turn slightly to the side before they attack. This is not a traditional fighting stance as most people with their hands up, but rather a relaxed slight turn of their body and placement of their feet. If someone is confronting you and you see them start to assume a quartered stance this is probably a subconscious way of them telling you that they are about to attack. You should either move in and attack first or back up and give yourself more room and reaction time.

Raised, hidden, or busy hands. While you should never watch a person’s hands to see when they are going to attack, you should be aware of what their hands are doing while they are at a distance because if they are going to attack you chances are it will be by using their hands. If you can’t see their hands because they are in their pockets, behind their back, just not visible this can mean they are grabbing, or are already holding onto, a weapon. A person with busy hands either digging in their pockets or playing with the bottom of their shirt or jacket could be accessing a weapon. A person who is planning on throwing a punch will often raise their hand first, not in a fighting stance but in a relaxed ready position. If a person nears you and they have their hands in front of their body and you see them start to slide their arms up the front of their body above the height of their belly button that is a good indicator they are getting their arms ready to throw a punch. This also includes crossing their arms because this also puts the arms above the belly button. You may also see clenched fists or someone may quickly open and close their hands as if they’re getting ready to make a tight fist.

Playing out the attack beforehand in their head. Something that often happens before a person attacks is they play the situation out in their head beforehand, even going through a conversation they may have with you. You can often see them looking down at the ground fully engaged in their mental activity and often you will see their lips moving and maybe even their head shaking “yes” or “no” as they play out the conversation. As they do this you may notice their hand move slightly as they mentally punch or you may see them touch their clothing where a weapon is kept. This mental rehearsal might be a very subtle thing or they might be psyching themselves up and their moving may be dramatic. A lot of times you can see this behavior in fighters right before a boxing or wrestleboxing match. If you notice this behavior it is a good idea to leave the area.

What Martial Art Style Do I Recommend?

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

Most of my teaching now is done by seminars so one thing that I get very often is afterwards people tend to come up to me and ask questions like, “this has made me want to start taking martial arts lessons, what style or school do I recommend?” I get asked for recommendations on martial arts schools and styles quite often and I have two responses that I typically give.

The first response is I ask the person what they want to get out of their martial arts training. That should only make sense. Martial arts not only teach self-defense but they provide a social outlet, an opportunity to study a different culture, a way to compete and win trophies, fitness and flexibility, mental wellbeing and stress management, and of course a way to social climb by earing belts.

Once they know what they want it gets easier to make a recommendation. If they want to earn trophies I might recommend Taekwondo and if they want stress management and to develop inner calm I might recommend Tai Ji Chuan. If they want to further their study in self-defense I make a little different recommendation.

I tell that that any teacher, school, or style can be great. However, when it comes to defending yourself principles are more important than techniques; the principles that have proven themselves over and over again is that when you are faced with someone who wants to seriously injure or kill you it is best to go right at them, fight back as aggressively as possible, and focus on striking the vulnerable areas of the human body. As long as you do that there is a good chance you’ll come out ok.

My recommendation, therefore, is that is doesn’t matter so much what style you study. Just find an instructor who teaches that approach. Find someone who teaches you to lower your head and aggressively go in and cause as much damage as possible and it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it with sidekicks, palm strikes, elbows, or a tiger claw; this approach is what works so just call your local schools and talk to the instructor and pick out a few to visit and then watch a class or two. Talk to the instructor and maybe some students and if this is the approach the instructor teaches you’ll probably do just fine.

Why You Need Permission to Defend Yourself

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

In all my years teaching one thing that I see over and over again is that women (girls included) often hesitate before responding to being attacked. Sure, guys do it too, but I’ve noticed that guys do it less and when they do hesitate they get over it much faster. It used to really bug me until I sat down as talked to a bunch of girls and asked them why they were so hesitant to attack someone who was trying to hurt them. It all became clear when one woman said, “Well, you’re not supposed to hit people, it’s against the rules.”

When we’re little we have rules ingrained in us and we all learn that certain things are just not done. We don’t hit each other, we don’t take things that are not ours, we don’t break things on purpose, and we don’t yell or make too much noise. Now, for a boy it is a little different. Sure we learn these rules too but some of these are natural behaviors for boys. Fighting, for instance, is a natural part of development for a boy. A human is a predator and every predator fights with their siblings and other males growing up, nothing is more natural. Boys accept the rules in front of the parents but then go off get in fights and scream and yell and that is exactly what they should be doing (in my opinion at least) but for girls it is not the same.

I think that is why men tend to hesitate less, because growing up they were more involved with fighting and they learned that in certain situation it was ok. Girls on the other hands tend not to learn the same thing so I’ve learned that they have to be told.

When I work with a class that has women in it, or a class of kids, I take the time to give this speech:

“I want everyone to realize that it is very important to follow the rules that society has set down for us. They keep us safe and make sure that people don’t harm us or take things from us. However, there are certain times when it is ok to break the rules. Any time someone is trying to hurt you or take you someone by force it is ok to break AS MANY RULES AS YOU NEED TO in order to stop them. If that happens, you have permission to break the rules. You have permission to yell as loud as you can, swear, bite, punch, kick, and hit as much as you want. You have permission to hit them in the groin, poke them in the eye, and hit them in the throat. If you’re being taken somewhere against your will it you have permission to steel things if it will help you get away or will draw attention to you. You have permission to grab the steering will and drive into parked cars. You have permission to break whatever you need to, to do whatever you need to, to get away and keep yourself same. I promise you that is someone is trying to harm you and you break the rules and do anything that I’ve just mentioned that nobody will be mad at you and you won’t be in any trouble. In fact, people will probably be proud of you. Does that make sense?”

What I have found is that when I say that at the beginning of a class people’s hesitation goes away and they just let themselves go. They yell louder, hit pads MUCH harder, and are much more aggressive than before. Many people just have be told that it is ok to break the rules in certain situations and by doing so I’ve notice kids, women, and even men acting much more positively during the class.