The Science Behind Readiness

I got the idea for this article shortly after seeing a video clip on youtube of a recent hijacking that took place in Jhb CBD. I was wondering to myself how would I have reacted, what would I have done, what can I do when I find myself in a similar situation, and how, if possible, can I prevent such an incident to happen to me?  Don’t misinterpret my questions. In no way am I suggesting that should I be faced with this exact situation I would be able to defend myself, I think that you will need exceptional skill and experience for this one. But maybe we can all learn something from this to help protect ourselves and the ones we care for.

So what did I learn? I found the answer by observing a world class trainer, my mentor and great friend. No matter what the time of day, no matter what the situation or where he finds himself, it always seems like he is ready. Ready to act to any situation that he might face, whether it was briefly anticipated or a sudden threat. He just always seems ready. I will refer to this state of mind and the ability to respond instantly to danger situations as “readiness”.

How does readiness apply to combatives and your response time? Well, when we are suddenly faced with danger, we might get startled, and there are a couple of physiological and perceptual effects which makes us vulnerable in these circumstances.

  • Firstly your heart rate rises. When this happens you might experience an initial increase in gross motor skills (which involves movement of arms, legs or entire body), coupled with diminished fine motor skills (small movements that occur in hands, wrist, fingers, feet, toes). Combative techniques are designed to ease duress dysfunctions by requiring far less precision making it a reliable form of self-defence, this consequently improves reaction time and effectiveness.
  • You will also notice auditory exclusion and tunnel vision. This happens because when you are suddenly under attack, your eyes and ears fixate on the source of stress. Your brain receives too many signals which it simply can’t process all at once; hence your brain ignores all other stimuli (sights and sounds) in order to gather as much information as it can on what it believes to be the real threat, i.e. your attacker. The problem is that all other information is equally important, especially when there is more than one attacker. For this reason, make sure you incorporate ‘breaking tunnel vision’ into your training.
  • It is not uncommon for a person’s heart rate to race at more than 200 beats per minute when under severe stress. You might suffer from uncontrollable and unintentional shaking of one or more body part, and your cognitive processing deteriorates. Studies have proven that physical tasks that require precision, like shooting a gun, are exponentially harder to achieve with a heart rate above 175BPM.

In a recent article I read, it was mentioned that stress is a perception. Your level of stress in any situation is based on how you perceive your level of danger and your ability to handle it. It was noted that if you are exposed to stressful situations over and over, eventually they will become less stressful. As we cannot put ourselves in harm’s way just to “practice” to handle stressful situations, we need to adapt our training. The more realistic your training is, the less “excited” you will become, better equipping you to handle deadly confrontations.

Now that we have established the relationship between readiness and outcome of an attack, I would like to highlight a few points on how I think readiness can be attained:

  • Situational awareness of your environment, especially around hotspots, i.e. ATM’s and traffic lights. This awareness will enable you to recognise any odd or unusual circumstances. Remember that criminals need to physically occupy space before they attack, so don’t be preoccupied and miss those pre-attack signals. The sooner you see trouble coming, the more time you have to prepare to act.
  • Obviously the best course of action to take is to try to avoid the confrontation as soon as you recognise there might be a potential threat.
  • If an attack is unavoidable, try to keep control of yourself and your breathing. This could help you overcome the startle response and enable you to handle the situation.
  • It has been noted that people who had taken the time to think about what they might do in the event of an attack, or visualised scenarios in their head, better equipped them to take immediate action. This, in my opinion, is why the correct training is vitally important

In conclusion, I believe that readiness is a primal skill that will enable you to react quickly in imminent danger. This will dramatically decrease the initial startle stimulus and thus significantly reduces the physiological effects when in danger situations. Train as close as possible to real-life situations and establish motor memory through correct repetitions of a drill. Be aware, be prepared, and be ready!

Regards, Thelmarie

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