Friday, June 21, 2013

Fight Or Flight?

By Dave Dargo

"The notion that the only alternatives to conflict are fight or flight is embedded in our culture, and our educational institutions have done little to challenge it.  The traditional American military policy raises it to the level of a law of nature."  - Richard Heckler, In Search of the Warrior Spirit
The concept of fight or flight is so embedded in our culture that most just accept it as truth with no challenge to the underlying concepts that may drive an individual's response to mortal danger.  The fact is that the immediate reaction that any animal has to such a danger comes from a much larger menu of choices and, often, the animal will choose multiple options in varying sequences.

The likely responses when faced with danger:

  • Freeze
  • Submit
  • Posture
  • Fight
  • Flight
Some people may have multiple responses such as freezing as one slowly realizes what's happening and then switching to another response.  Some people stay in their initial response-mode whether it makes sense or not.  Conditioning, as opposed to training, can help build the desired response pattern.

Conditioning often starts with training such as how we teach our children to respond to fire alarms through fire drills in their schools.  When our children get to first grade and hear that first fire drill bell they often freeze and look around wondering what the noise is about.  By the time our children get to later grades they simply react to the stimulus, we hope, and simply get up and exit the building.

Self-defense training is filled with many of the same types of training in order to condition the appropriate reaction.  In fact, sometimes we have to fight the conditioning we receive.  When I'm training with turning targets and the exercise is over the instructor will say, "Do not react to the targets!" as he prepares the targets to face us once again to score them.  I laughed the first time I heard that but as I trained more and more I had to find myself resisting the urge to react to the targets because of the conditioning I received.

When working with partners we learn to shout something as part of the stimulus response.  I've heard people shout all kinds of words, "Threat", "Red", "Gun" or "Knife".  The idea, though, is to condition oneself to shout the threat as not only a response to the threat but as a stimulus to initiate an appropriate action for our partner.  Through conditioning one will start calling the threat as part of the draw sequence.  Some condition themselves to start barking commands at the threat as part of the draw sequence, something along the lines of, "STOP, I HAVE A GUN, I WILL SHOOT!"

We condition ourselves to threat stimuli in order to better practice our desired response under extreme stress.  We must remember, however, that we may want to exercise a different reaction than that which we practiced.  Conditioning ourselves to work under stress actually gives us the time we need to change our response because it takes less time and is easier to change a plan than to invent one.

As with all things, having a plan is critical to success.  Those without a plan will have one of the five responses without understanding why or knowing what to expect.  Those with a plan and proper conditioning will already be aware of what they will do and will be prepared to execute their plan or change their plan.  The prepared person will always have the advantage.


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