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What are the majority self defense systems missing?

posted Jul 27, 2011, 6:32 AM by Simon Flack
What are the majority self defense systems missing?
Many self defense systems leverage technique and tactics as the primary solution to the majority of violent scenarios. The scenarios presented in some systems are completely out of date or simply the result of inexperienced instructors with too much imagination. The Reality Based Self Defense (RBSD) movement has improved things a great deal by moving the focus away from scenarios that match the techniques to techniques that match the scenario. In this way the events or “reality” of today are shaping the techniques and tactics of tomorrow.

Although this is a great leap in the right direction, we at SECA believe that the most important element, which is lacking in most systems, is to understand and consider the effects of adrenalin and the “activation” of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS).

SECA poses the question: What good is a great technique or tactic if the practitioner is paralyzed with fear and unable to act?

Having a “black belt” or being good in the ring does not automatically mean that you will be able to react if suddenly confronted with a potential lethal assault. The military understands this concept and it is driving force behind modern military training. A soldier that can shot well on the range will not be a good soldier unless he is unable to perform the same task under fire.

Self defense is the same. A self defense practitioner must be able to physically perform their skills in order for them to be of any use. Simply practicing these techniques without the addition of psychological training does little to insure that this will be the case and hence is providing them with a false sense of security.

What is all this talk about adrenalin and SNS activation?
When a person is suddenly attacked or threatened the brain perceives a "threat to survival" and it activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) resulting in an immediate discharge of stress hormones to prepare the body for fight-or-flight.

The activation of the SNS is automatic and virtually uncontrollable. It is a reflex triggered by the perception of a threat. Once initiated, the SNS will dominate all voluntary and involuntary systems until the perceived threat has been eliminated or escaped, performance deteriorates, or the parasympathetic nervous system activates to reestablish homeostasis.

When SNS activation occurs neural processing is "high-jacked" from the "conscience mind" anatomically located in the "forebrain" and redirected towards the hypothalamus located in the "midbrain" where the 3 main "human" reactions (love, rage and fear) to external stimuli reside. From this point onward all stimuli is processed in the "midbrain" which is now purely and absolutely focused on one thing: survival.

The activation of the SNS also causes the release of adrenalin. If you have ever been in a fight, a heated verbal confrontation or any extremely stressful situation. You have probably experienced the negative effects of adrenaline including an inability to think rationally or speak effectively, a loss of fine motor skills, tunnel vision and auditory exclusion.

So whats the problem?
The problem is that a person cannot choose how he will react once his conscious mind has been “hijacked”. The person will react within 1 of 3 ways. He/She may:

  • Run. The flight response is very effective at keeping us alive. This is primary caused by the person experiencing fear. This may not be the desired effect if you need some soldiers move forward to attack a position.
  • Attack. The fight response is also a natural response to a threat that is caused primarily by the person experiencing anger.
  • Freeze. This is the worst of the 3. Somewhere between experiencing anger and fear we become paralyzed and unable to react at all.
So what can we do about it?
Studies have shown that we can “tune” a desired response to a given threat. This means that by training is a specific way we can increase the likely hood of a person experiencing anger and aggression as apposed to fear and anxiety when confronted with an assault.

SECA aims to decrease the student’s likely hood of “freezing under fire” by reducing the level of SNS activation experienced during an attack. Lower activation levels result in more conscience thought for use in applying tactics as well as reducing the physical symptoms of stress, such as loss of fine motor and tunnel vision, enabling the student to better apply physical techniques. SECA also aims to “tune” students to react aggressively when threatened so that they will fight back even when experiencing extreme stress.

SECAs model for self defense training is based on the 6 primary factors that influence SNS activation.

  1. The degree of malevolent, human intent behind the threat.
  2. The perceived level of threat, ranging from risk of injury to the potential for death
  3. The time available to response.
  4. The level of confidence in personal skills and training.
  5. The level of experience in dealing with the specific threat.
  6. The degree of physical fatigue that is combined with the anxiety.
By understanding these factors and we can try to counter-act some of them.

The degree of malevolent, human intent behind the threat.
Knowing the motivation behind an attack influences the way in which we react to the attack. If we believe the person only wants to push us around it does not effect us as badly as when we believe the person wants to do us serious harm.

The perceived level of threat, ranging from risk of injury to the potential for death
The way in which we perceive a threat also has a great deal to do with how we react to it. If we believe a persons attack to be relatively harmless it will not effect us as badly as in the case where we may believe a person is able to do us serious harm.

Factors 1 and 2 are very similar but at the same time warrant being separated. The first factor is what we believe to be the attacker’s motivation and factor 2 is about how much of a threat we perceive this attack to be. For example a drunken man may want to kill us. Even so, we may not feel that his attack presents much of a threat.

The time available to response.
Now we are talking about the element of surprise. The more time we have to react to a threat the better we are able to handle it. This factor is used heavily in the military and can be seen taken into use in the “ambush assault”. In this tactic a military unit will attack the enemy without warning when they least expect it. The attack results in confusion and high SNS activation among the enemy making them easy targets. So if somebody attacks you by surprise you will be more affected by the attack than if you saw it coming.

The level of confidence in personal skills and training.
Many martial artists discuss the effectiveness of their chosen arts. In most cases more questions are asked than answers provided. At SECA we believe that a student, after learning a technique, should not need to ask if that particular technique will work in a given situation. We expect them to know based on their own experiences putting the techniques to the test against a fully resisting opponent. By having allowed the students to test the techniques themselves in this way we help instill the confidence that will reduce SNS activation during an attack. Confidence in one self’s ability also negates how one perceives a given threat (factor 2). So if a person is confident in their ability to react then they will perceive an attack as less of a threat which will also result in lower SNS activation.

The level of experience in dealing with the specific threat.
Having experienced a similar threat will greatly reduce the level of SNS activation that person will experience. This is one of the main reasons why soldiers on their second or third tour react better under fire than new arrivals on the battle field. At SECA we try to introduce students to as realistic scenarios as possible in an attempt to give our students as much experience with real threats and real violence as possible in order to help decrease the level of SNS activation they experience during an attack.

The degree of physical fatigue that is combined with the anxiety.
Anybody who has ever been really afraid can tell you how physically demanding experiencing real fear can be. The rate at which a person fatigues during an attack also influences the level of SNS Activation. This is why we at SECA promote the need for complementary physical training in addition to self defense training. Techniques and tactics will be of little use to a person who is too exhausted to be able to execute them. This will only be worsened by the increased SNS activation as a result of the exhaustion.

What about techniques and tactics?
Even though SECA’s approach to self defense training aids in lowering the degree of SNS activation, the defender will still experience the effects of adrenalin. Because of this SECA takes these effects into consideration in the following ways:

The inability to think rationally or effectively.
SECA teaches simple keyword based tactics like STOP, DROP, ASSESS and RESPOND that don’t require complex analysis in order to be put into use. We also employ a concept known as Technique Funneling that reduces the number of techniques needed to be remembered in order to be effective.

The inability to think speak effectively.
SECA offers training in how to communicate while under stress and introduces concepts such as controlled breathing to reduce the effects of adrenal stress.

The loss of fine motor skills.
SECAs technique base, the SECA-System is based on gross motor and reflex type movements.

Tunnel vision.
SECAs tactics and techniques focus on the primary threat. We teach our students to look in the direction of the primary threat during training and use helmets that limit peripheral vision to simulate this effect. Our students do not need to adapt their techniques or tactics to deal this effect.

What does all of this mean?
Basically we at SECA believe that we are offering the most realistic form of self defense available. We believe that we can give students both the physical skills and the psychological training they will need in order to prevail in an attack.