Home > Karate, Martial Arts, Self -Defense, Training > Common Sense Self- Defense Lesson VI: Breaking The Ice

Common Sense Self- Defense Lesson VI: Breaking The Ice

Note: This post covers some rather extreme training

It happens. It has happened to all of us at one time or another. We are faced with a situation and we suddenly freeze up. A stimulus of some kind is introduced and for just a moment we are paralyzed. You are driving down the street. You are doing the legal speed limit. Suddenly someone runs a stop sign or traffic light and is barreling straight toward you. You automatically… slam on the brakes. The on-coming car crashes into you. The entire thing could have been avoided if you had only floored the gas and gotten out of the way. Some people call this the “deer in the headlights” effect.

This effect is the result of sudden and unexpected fear. In most cases FEAR takes two forms:

Scared. Of the two forms, scared is the most common and the least prohibitive of the two. We have all been scared. It is natural and happens to everyone. Being scared is not being frozen. You experience fear and being scared is like a feeling in the back of your mind. You know it’s there and you accept it. Your brain processes it. In most cases when you’re scared you have time to deal with it and react.

Terrified. This is the bad one of the two. Being terrified is a lot different from being scared. When something happens to terrify you it usually happens suddenly. When terror strikes you, you have no idea how to react. Your brain almost slows to a stop and refuses to process. This is when the freezing up happens.

Of course TIME is a huge factor in both of these and plays a huge role as to how you react. You will react differently if you are SCARED and have NO TIME to react. You will react totally differently if you are TERRIFIED and have TIME. Why? Your brain is reacting differently to different circumstances and stimulus. Certain chemicals are being released into your system and effecting your reactions. The major hormone released by the brain is adrenaline. The way this affects the individual differs a bit from person to person and there are four levels of stimulation.

• Normal. This is the day-to-day function of your brain. You’re not at all prepared for an attack. You don’t even entertain the thought of it. You aren’t anticipating any form of attack and should one occur, your brain freezes for a while attempting to understand what is happening and how to deal with it.

• Optimal. This is where you are operating at a heightened level. You are aware and alert. You are mentally prepared to meet a challenge. Your skin may take on a pink or red color (flushed).This frame of mind is like that of a boxer getting ready for a match or a karateka preparing to compete in a tournament.

• Bad. This goes far beyond the Optimal state. You may feel some of the things you would feel in the before mentioned levels but your mental and physical skill degrade seriously to the point of freezing up. Your skin may go pale.

• Horrible. The worst possible of all four. You freeze mentally and physically. Some bodily functions are lost such as bladder or bowel control.

I had actually planned to go through those in a future post but decided they fit pretty nicely on this subject so I went ahead and added them.

We are going to look at this from the absolute worst combination case scenario. TERRIFIED – NO TIME – HORRIBLE. You are attacked. You seemingly have no time to react. Your brain freezes. Unless you mentally think to act, you do not act. Some people will freeze in a situation but when the attack comes they flinch which breaks them out of it and they react. In this situation you do not even get a flinch reaction.

I don’t think I have to actually put into words that this combination is the toughest to train for. It is hard to respond to something when you don’t even have the flinch reaction to snap your brain out of the cycle your hormones have induced. But you can train for it.

Your training partner is a critical factor in your training. You need someone you can totally trust yet at the same time be very forceful and unpredictable. You want to do the best you can to bring on the combination and put yourself in the state. You want to do everything possible to trigger that state. You don’t want to “try” to trigger it. You don’t want to simulate triggering it. You need to actually bring it forth so you know and recognize how it feels. You cannot do the same thing over and over again to trigger it because your mind and body will get used to it or expect it. This training will HAVE to be extreme. You may want your partner to slap you when you don’t expect it or shove you hard from behind , really trying to put you on the floor. If you feel this is too extreme then spar. But do not spar lightly. Glove up and have your not-so-nice-best-training-partner in the world go HARD on you. Trust me, your matches will not last very long but you will learn to feel yourself moving into the state of mind that reflects a real attack. While you’re doing this training consider introducing a knife or gun into the scenario, you should NOT plan this. It is not knife -defense training. You want the weapon to come as a complete surprise. No attack is even needed if the weapon is introduced in this manner. Remember, it’s the FEELING you are trying to trigger.

Once you get to the point that you recognize the feeling you can begin to do things to break the freezing up. You see, in all of this, recognizing the state is the goal. Once you do and you can try little things to break it. Breath. Move. Flinch. Throw your arms up. You goal is to get your body to do something, anything, that your brain is telling it to do. One of the best things you can do is quite simply YELL at the top of your lungs. A scream can break your mind out of the freeze and the rest of your body will follow suite

Admittedly this is not typical “karate” training. You have to be willing to admit that you NEED to do this. You can practice repetition all day long for years and years. Repetition will do you no good at all if you freeze. Freezing is a natural reaction. To defeat it, you have to train like you do with anything else. To train to beat it you have to recognize the feeling itself AND things that trigger it. You can’t recognize it if you never feel it so you have to practice putting yourself into the state.

  1. February 1, 2012 at 2:27 am

    I have to tell you that while reading this a few situations came up in my mind I’ve been through and I’m familiar with these stages. They were from real attacks … we were talking yesterday at work about how I don’t like to spar because I’m not angry at the person I’m sparring with. Your scenario, as a guy who was a bouncer and an instructor once told me, he was glad I told him I’d snap at a particular point. I didn’t understand why at the time, now I do… aagh 🙂

    See? I learned something new today. In someone’s training she’s undergone they ask her who she hates to pair her up with. So she can let loose, and this is probably why, yes?

    It feels like all hell breaks loose emotionally … not a good place, but definitely a good thing to acknowledge and learn how to react. We had a guy years ago stalking my house and looking through the windows. I got my German Sheppard and went out side (it was pitch black save that one street light WAY over there which made everything really freaking looking at night) and my dog was looking very pointedly in a direction across the street, a “kiss” sound was made by this @!$! person and I was completely frozen. I could not move for a good … 2-5 seconds. My only saving grace was that I had my dog … we went back inside and until we caught the guy (we did catch him one day) it was entirely unnerving to be home alone. Because you knew this guy was there…

    Makes me angry just thinking about it now… you know? How dare he …

  2. February 1, 2012 at 5:44 am

    Thank you for your comments MC. You had some good observations. The thing is, training like this will very seldom happen in a “normal” martial arts studio. It is simply too extreme for most people to gamble their insurance on.

    You’re right though in a wat. You found your “snapping point”. It’s not the same point I was talking about exactly but it is a point that is valuable for you to personally know about yourself.

    If I were you, I would attempt to spar with everyone and anyone. The tougher they are, the better you become. Keep the thought in your head that is all about training and not personal.

    • February 1, 2012 at 11:35 am

      I know how it feels … not very good. And I know how it feels to be terrified too and how it feels to be attacked and then start thinking. It’s like gears start turning and you go from one end to the other in what you can do. I may not be saying it right but insofar as reacting to something.

      I hear you about sparring. SOON as I find a class, put money aside we’ll see how it goes for me.

      The truth is, I think it sucks that we have to know any kind of self defense things at all.

      • February 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm

        I 100% agree with you that it sucks that we have to worry about self-defense. I think that the alternative of not thinking about it is worse though.

        I’m a peaceful guy. I work a lot with old people and children. We do a lot of Community Service at the dojo. It bothers me to bring “that person” that I have had to be inside of the walls out into public. Yet, there are times when I have to. No, I’m not talking about becoming that person but having to use that mind set to teach others how to defend themselves. The society we live in forces all of us to have to think like that at times. We had a guy here in town, I’ve posted about this, a few months agao who was breaking into homes and terrorizing women. Others here in town started a Women’s Self Defense Course and CHARGED almost $100.00 per person for it. I couldn’t bring myself to exploit people’s fear to make money. So I did my courses, as I always have, for free.

        I truly hope that some day we no longer have to. So I share those thoughts with you

  3. February 1, 2012 at 5:45 am

    As a side comment; I had a German Sheppard for a long time. Best darn dog I’ve ever had.

    • February 1, 2012 at 11:09 am

      They are amazing dogs. I wuved my boo’ber soooo much 🙂 He was black with blonde legs and this gorgeous face. His name was Buster Boi Brown. They are SOOOO smart! sigh… I miss him.

  4. February 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I hear you on wanting to be all calm and everything and the alternative of NOT being aware is no good. I know. I get upset over things and others poo poo them and I”m like … You are kidding me right? With them not being aware of certain things. I mean, we don’t wish these things, of course, on anyone but it exists.

    That’s messed up that they started charging 100.00 for the courses. Well that was very nice of you sir to continue to offer them as you always have. OH! I hadda guy from a karate school have me fill out a card as to what I wanted my daughter to learn at their school. One of the things was confidence.

    When it was time to discuss the fee they were massively overpriced. I told them it was too expensive for me and know what they did? Ooooh man I was angry.

    The one guy, black belt person there says to me… as a “marketing” tactic mind you…

    “you know, you said on your card that you want your daughter to have (I was pissed instantly I gotta tell ya) confidence… what are you willing to pay for…”

    Boy, I assure you, he was small when I was finished with him. I mean how dare he use that to manipulate me into spending money on his damned classes?? Tiger Shulman, that’s who it was… I could not believe that boy was trying to manipulate me. I’m sorry? Ethics go out the window Sensei?

    Ya. Me too… (as to no bad people)

  5. February 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Read my post, Wear Your Tie Or Tie Your Obi
    I think you’ll see that I know just what you’re talking about.

  6. February 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    i had an uncle ( my mother’s brother, now deceased ) who was a black belt in judo… one night, he found himself walking alone at night ar some seedy residential part of the city ( A friend of his lived there somewhere)…. 2 guys tried to rob him ( they both had knives ) he saw only one guy , his judo training kicked in and in one sec, the bad guy was on the round… he got the knife… but….. he saw 2 more running to aid the bad guy, he assumed… my brother ran off…. he said prudence is the better part of valor… ha ha ha. he kept the knife as souvenir.

  7. February 2, 2012 at 4:39 am

    Reblogged this on MysteryCoach and commented:
    I’ve been following this fella in blog world and thought I’d share the love by reblogging some of his posts… well, this one for now. Hope he doesn’t mind. What he’s doing deserves some recognition.

  8. February 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    I saw this blog post from MC.

    You’re talking about the extreme end of the continuum of the fight-or-flight response and how adrenalin diminishes fine motor control, moves blood to the right places for fighting (hence the loss of bladder/bowel control), etc.

    My experience in the past is NOT that the experience itself is necessary for training. There’s no need to specifically try and create the feelings to prepare for this. Although I suspect there is some benefit in that it helps you to avoid *feeling* terrified. If you can keep the adrenalin rush down, you’re optimally prepared to fighting (like the boxer you mentioned).

    Instead, it’s a very different kind of fighting that you need to train for. In these , you cannot circumstancesaim accurately for a strike to the throat; you cannot execute a round-house kick precisely; you cannot block a punch that normally would be easy to swipe away.

    Fighting in these extreme conditions requires full-body actions like rushing or simple swinging kicks at knees. Most other techniques come unglued in your accurate definition of “TERRIFIED – NO TIME – HORRIBLE”. (Or running, of course, never forget the obvious option as there’s no guarantee you’ll beat an attacker.)

    • February 2, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      Thank you for your reply, Separated Dad. I appreciate your input. You disagree with me on bringing on the experience. I respect you opinion but feel that we should agree to disagree on this particular thing. I’m not being argumentive with you at all. If that is what works for you it is what works for you. I do, on the other hand, believe that this training is extremely helpful and important. To argue the point would put us on a level like Tae Kwon Do is superior to Kung Fu. It would be futile and achieve nothing.

      I agree 100% with your last two paragraphs. You brought up something that I wanted to touch on in the post but felt like I had already rambled enough. It is true that under the circumstances of an attack, your skills are severly diminished. It is even said that an unexperienced fighter has a much better chance at winning becuase he will resort to pure instinct such as wild rushing, swinging, and striking.

      Once again my humble thanks for your opinions and comments.

      • February 2, 2012 at 5:23 pm

        Thank you for your reply. I’m happy to have the friendly discussion and value your undoubted overall experience over mine.

        For your patient response, again, thanks.

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