In today’s world, self-defense methods are getting more and more popular. Traditional martial arts are being adapted to the street reality and new defense methods are being created too. People feel the need to be able to defend themselves in dangerous situations. Many schools and federations have answered this demand by claiming to teach “realistic self-defense”. They make you practice techniques again and again until you can perform them perfectly.
Unfortunately, the reality is quite different than the secure and reassuring environment that is your dojo. There are some things that techniques can never teach you. Specific exercises like stress drills can help you be prepared. In this article, we won’t discuss what you can do but rather what can happen to you. Here are a few things that you should absolutely work on otherwise all your training might be useless if a real life situation.
Fight or flight syndrome
The fight or flight response a physiological reaction to an immediate threat. It prepares our body to fight or flee when we experience an excessive stress. For instance, when someone is attacking you with a knife to rob your wallet, you see and hear the threat. Your senses perceive a danger and send a signal to our brain. There’s a clear threat to your safety. The area of your brain in charge of processing the message is called the sympathetic nervous system. It is in charge of decrypting what’s happening and to trigger the physiological response needed for your survival. At this point, your body has three options to take action: fight, flight or freeze.
What will decide which response is taken depends on many variables: training, mindset, stress control … Freezing is clearly not recommended. Controlling this reaction is one of the goals for self-defense. Under such state, you might not think clearly and make the wrong decisions. This is because all your mental powers are focused on the survival mechanism. Self-defense training will prepare your mind to deal with such situations and to control the excessive stress.
The adrenaline is a hormone produced by our body in case of an immediate danger. When a fight-or-flight signal is sent, the sympathetic nervous system immediately alerts the rest of your body of the situation. Adrenalin is then released directly into the bloodstream and takes a few seconds to reach all our the differents parts. This is why there’s a slight delay before its effects are total. More specifically, it increases the blood flow to our muscles and releases sugar into our blood. All of this results in the improvement of our performances such as speed and strength. We can also observe a decrease in the feeling of pain. Although it seems a complete bonus, an adrenaline surge also comes with several drawbacks such as increased heartbeat, increased respiration and tunnel vision.
Proper heart rate is needed to deliver blood effectively to your muscle and organs. Your heart is in charge of pumping blood throughout your body. Training tends to lower your pulse because it also trains your heart to pump a higher volume of blood at each heart beat. At the contrary, if you lack training, your heart will compensate by increasing your heart rate. A normal resting heart rate ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute. During an effort, it can easily exceed 200 beats per minute. When you stop what you were doing, your heart rate will progressively return to your normal rate. But if you reach your maximum heart rate for too long, you might feel some undesirable effects effects like pain to the chest or feeling dizzy.
In addition to your heart rate, a stressful situation can affect your respiration. We won’t talk about how to manage your respiration now but rather the undesirable effect of it. Proper breathing is a key to ingredient to performance. It affects every system of our body such as cardiovascular system, nervous, digestive and much more. Thus, working on your respiration is all to your advantage. Mouth breathing, upper chest breathing, frequent sighing, exhaustion are all symptoms of bad breathing. Of course, stress will make breathing harder because of the continuous pressure and exertion. The bad reflex is to hold your breath at first or worse, to panic breathe. Preparation will teach you to relax under pressure and control your respiration. Regular exercise will also improve your breathing capacity during an effort.
Another thing about breathing, have you ever wondered why you must exhale while punching or kicking? The first reason is to tighten your body as you strike. The second reason, the one that interests us the most here, is to not leave air in your lungs. Being punched in the chest or falling down while inhaling feels like being hit by a lightning. You will be momentarily unable to breathe, gasping for air and so, not able to defend yourself properly. For these two reasons, it is important to exhale at each punch, because your hand is attacking and not protecting your solar plexus.<
Tunnel vision and hearing exclusion
Under a highly stressful situation, we have a tendency to focus only on the threat. This results in the temporary loss of the peripheral vision. This phenomenon is called the tunnel vision due to the constricted circular tunnel-like field of vision that only remains. Many factors such as alcohol, sleep-deprivation, or blood loss can cause this symptom. But in our case, it is the fear and stress of the life threatening situation.
The same thing can happen to your audition. Your brain focuses only on one source of sound resulting in the exclusion of all other sources in your assessment of your environment. In some extreme situation, the hearing exclusion phenomenon can lead to a complete loss of hearing abilities. Fortunately, this is temporary.
These two symptoms are closely related. All of this is due to an increase of the stress-related hormones that arouse the brain which has difficulties processing all this information. That’s why it tends to focus only on what seems the most important while putting aside the rest.
In a self-defense situation, the consequences can be severe. Without a good assessment of the situation and analysis of the environment, you might miss some vital information: your aggressor’s friend barging in to help him, obstacles that might make you fall …