Effects Of Adrenalin & Self Protection

This is a subject that to be honest I’ve avoided writing about up to now because it’s already been written about in so many other places. However, as I aim to make this website one of the internet’s most useful one-stop resources for martial artists, I decided to cover it for completeness.

Any martial artist who is interested in real world self protection (rather than just sport or the artistic side of martial arts) should know about the effects of adrenalin and how it might affect them in a real life confrontation as adrenalin (sometime spelt adrenaline) has both negative and positive effects.

First of all, what is adrenalin?

It is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands on the kidneys in response to stress. The stress can be something as simple as being stuck in a traffic queue whilst late for an appointment. In this case adrenalin is really a completely inappropriate response from our bodies, but society has evolved much faster than we have as a species. Our bodies still respond as per our cave man ancestor’s “wiring”, to modern problems that did not exist when evolution first put that adrenal response in place. In fact much of our adrenal response is the same as many animals so it pre-dates even our caveman ancestors!

What is an adrenalin dump?

When something very dangerous and/or scary happens to us, we tend to produce large amounts of adrenalin very quickly. Another stress hormone called Cortisol is also released as is a whole cocktail of hormones and chemicals into the bloodstream. This chemical cocktail has both positive & negative effects which we often refer to as preparation for “flight or flight”!

Below we look at some of the effects of an adrenalin dump. Although many things can cause adrenalin to be released, being a martial arts website we’ll be looking primarily from a self protection point of view. It should be noted that these will vary from person to person and not everybody will react the same. Some people will have several or even most of these effects whilst other (normally experienced people) may have very few of them.

 

Blood Goes To The Major Muscle Groups Of The Body

If you need to either defend yourself (fight) or run away (flight), your muscles need a lot of oxygen, which is of course transported there by the blood. This often causes the limbs to shake as they receive more oxygen than usual. Shaking is often seen as a sign of fear or sometimes even cowardice, but it is more accurately a sign of the body preparing itself for action. The extra oxygen will increase the levels of strength and speed.

 

Blood Goes Out Of The Brain

The blood rushing to the major muscle groups does so at the expense of the blood supply to other parts of the body including the brain. This means that the rational thinking part of the brain tends to shut down. When this happens, we tend to go by experience, “what did I do last time I was in a similar situation”. If the last time you were in a similar situation you cowered and begged for mercy, then that is what you a likely to do again. If last time you fought back, you are fairly likely to fight again this time! This is not a hard and fast rule, just the most likely outcome.

In more extreme cases (panic) we may resort to what is often referred to as the “Lizard Brain” which in evolutionary terms is the oldest part of our brain. This deals with survival and rhythm and has no logical capability. This is like the drowning person pushing even loved ones down so that they can get just one more breath of air.

 

Loss Of Fine Motor Control

With the major muscle groups pumped full of blood and the brain functions depleted, we tend to lose some of our co-ordination and fine motor control. Big easy techniques such as punches and kicks that do not require much accuracy tend to work better than say locks or pressure point grabs that do require accuracy. If the limbs may be shaking they may be strong and fast, but the shaking will affect accuracy.

 

Tunnel Vision/Hearing

Another possible effect is that you fixate on the threat immediately in front of you. You get tunnel vision and you tend to block out sounds coming from the sides or behind you. Your most trusted friend could be shouting to you with a solution to the problem and you may well not hear them. You may lose your peripheral vision, which leaves you open to an attack by an accomplice of whoever is the immediate threat in front of you.

The antagonist may also appear bigger than they actually are.

Emptying The Bowels

Sometimes your bowels and bladder want to empty; hence that expression that somebody “was shitting themselves”. Now going back to our caveman ancestors, this could be useful as it gets rid of any excess weight which we don’t need if we’re running away from a sabre tooth tiger. However, it’s not so useful if we’re fully dressed and then have to carry it around with us inside our clothing. Potentially very uncomfortable and distracting!

It’s another example of our society evolving much faster than we have as a species.

 

Throwing Up

Digestion takes up a lot of energy, that’s why we usually feel sleepy after a big meal. When we are about to run or fight for our lives, we can’t afford to waste that energy, so that body gets rid of it fast, allowing us to divert all our energy into the more pressing needs (running/fighting).

 

Freeze

Most people normally quote “fight or flight” as the main response to adrenalin. However, it is more accurate to say “fight, flight or freeze”. Freezing again goes back to the dear old caveman and beyond. The eyes pick up movement quicker than they pick up shapes. So if our good old caveman ancestor stepped out of his cave one morning and spots something huge, furry, with enormous sharp teeth (before it spots him), then freezing could be useful (no movement, big tooth might not recognise the shape). Many species still do this today, and we have the phrase that somebody was like a “rabbit caught in the headlights”. Of course the rabbit doesn’t realise it’s a cars headlights; all he knows is that he’s tasty to other animals and this could be one of them.

However, today (with very few exceptions) we don’t really have any predators that actually want to eat us. So the freeze response which is still hard-wired into us is totally and completely useless when somebody makes that impolite inquiry that we all hate to hear, “who the f**k you looking at”?

 

Pain Resistance

Somebody who is heavily adrenalised does not feel pain in the normal way (similar to somebody who is high on drugs or very drunk). This is obviously an advantage to you as you can endure more than you usually would and keep going. However, your attacker will likely be adrenalised as well (even if they started it), so they may not feel as much pain as usual either. This is why it’s important to make the first strike count.

 

Immune System

This doesn’t really relate directly to self protection, but I’ll add it for general interest. In simple layman terms, there are 2 main parts to your immune system. They are the antibody’s which fight invading germs and viruses; and the white cells which clear away damaged unhealthy cells within the body.

Now if you are unfortunate enough to have to fight/defend yourself, you risk injuries. Injuries such as cuts or any wound that opens the skin are vulnerable to infection. For this reason, when adrenalised, the body boosts antibody production, but slows down white cell production. So somebody who is under long term stress, even if it’s nothing to do with self protection, will have the white cell production depleted for a long period of time. This is why stress contributes to many illnesses where the body goes wrong from inside (including cancer), rather than from infections.

 

Aftermath

When we have been in altercation, or even threatened with one, the adrenalin can stay in our bloodstream for many hours afterwards. So your brain remains partly shut down, yet you suddenly have an urge to talk about it like you just entered the World Talking Olympics! This can get you into a lot of trouble if you have to make a statement. The police are used to the bad guy getting the best of an altercation as the bad guy normally selects people he/she knows they can beat. So if you’ve been in a fight and won you may be viewed with suspicion however justified you were in defending yourself. Check the law in your country, but in most country’s you can get a lawyer before making a statement. In the UK, you don’t even have to make a statement straight away and can defer till the next morning when you’ve had a chance to calm down.
Well I hope you’ve found this useful. If you can think of anything that I’ve missed out, please leave a comment below and let me know.

 

Fighting Is Not Self Defence

I read the following post on Facebook today by Kevin O’Hagan, one of the Worlds best teachers of Reality Based Martial Arts.  It sums things up so well that I thought I’d share it with you:-

“I read alot of posts on facebook these days about the age old question,’What is the most practical and effective fighting system.  I hear shouts for Krav Maga, BJJ, boxing, Thai etc etc.

One of the things we must take into consideration is fighting is not self defence.  Fighting or having a fight is about two participants agreeing to engage in mutual combat.

Self defence is about one party minding their own business getting on with life when unfortunately violence comes their way unexpectedly.
These are two totally different things.  If you are prone to fighting in the street you will have a very short shelf life.  You will either be spending a good percentage of your life behind bars or eventually six feet under.
Self defence can be split into two distinct areas.  Confrontational and ambush.  That’s it.  A match fight is not in the equation.

In self defence if the situation warrants physical response and isn’t dealt with in 3 seconds it will deteriorate into a type of match fight but that is a rarity.  Normally the first person to land a shot wins.

Self defence isn’t about sparring up and feeling out your attacker before you launch your deadly attack, it is about somebody sucker punching you in the head before you even know it, or pushing a glass in your face or a knife in your guts.  There will be no posturing and twirling of the weapon or any bad ass dialogue before this happens.

It is about somebody grabbing you around the neck whilst you are checking your Iphone.

It is about being chasing down and having a pack of animals kick ten bells out of you.

In the world of match fighting it has been proved beyond doubt the big boys that stand up under pressure are boxing, wrestling, Thai and BJJ/submission wrestling. Why?  Because they are mainly practised as combat sports.

Self defence is situational and scenario driven.  It is a totally different world.  Its not to say these combat arts can’t make the change over but they need to be adapted greatly.  This is a huge topic on its own.

Having a row outside the chip shop or pub isn’t and never will be self defence if you have willingly engaged and not tried to find another solution.

Teaching self defence and teaching fighting are not the same thing”.

If anybody is interested in real world self defence, I’d highly recommend that you “like” Kevin’s page to find out when he runs his seminars.  I might well meet you there!

Self Protection: A Lesson From My Student

After teaching my Karate class tonight, I was talking to my students about the difference between a fight and self protection.  A fight being where you agree to participate (even if seriously provoked), whilst self protection is where you are given no choice and are literally forced to defend yourself.

My new student, Paul, who is in his late 30’s relayed a recent incident that happened to him whilst shopping with his mother.  Some large young thug stole a ball from a nearby shop.  A couple of elderly ladies admonished the youngster.  To Paul’s surprise and dismay his mother joined in admonishing the thug, so Paul was obliged to stand by his mother.  As even many thugs don’t like to hit old ladies, the thug squared up to Paul instead.

The thug was much bigger and younger than Paul and towered over him.  Paul didn’t really fancy his chances.  However, with calm thinking and good presence of mind, Paul said to the young thug (words to the effect of):

“OK you’re going to hit me.  There are CCTV camera’s all around us.  What’s your best side for the courtroom”?

The thug realised that he may win this physical altercation but had little chance in court, grunted and backed off.  I congratulated Paul and told him that’s the type of result we want.  Far better than all the punches, kicks, throws, etc.  He got the thug to back off without a single blow being exchanged.

Good man!

 

Teenage Martial Artist Fights Off Would-Be Mugger

I was surprised to see in one of my regional papers today a story about a slightly-built unassuming 15 year old Taekwondo exponent who got the better of a would be mugger.  So I thought I’d share it with you.  The following story is reproduced from the Bristol Post:

WHEN a would-be mugger approached slightly-built teenager Henry Watts determined to steal his wallet and phone, he got much more than he bargained for.

The criminal, who grabbed the Staple Hill teenager on the Bristol to Bath cycle path and aggressively demanded his possessions, had no idea his potential victim was an expert in the martial art taekwondo.

 

Instead of handing over his valuables, Henry, 15, put his self-defence skills to good use. And in a scene straight out of the movie The Karate Kid, he freed himself from the mugger’s grasp and punched him in the face.

But rather than bragging about what he had done, Henry carried straight on to school, where he did not tell anyone about his unusual start to the day.

It was only that evening when he told his dad, Paul, what had happened. Mr Watts then contacted the police. Henry told The Post: “I usually walk to school with my younger brother Josh but was running a little bit late, so was on my own.

“I saw a man walking towards me with his head down, but suddenly he had hold of my jacket and was asking for my phone and wallet.

“I used an arm lock move to get his hand off my jacket – it basically involves getting his arm and twisting it around – and then I punched him in the face so that I could get away.

“I got off the track and ran up some stairs onto the common before carrying on to school.

“I didn’t really think much of it until later in the day, and then I felt quite shocked.

“I didn’t really want my dad to tell the police at first but he said what if it had been my brother, who is only 11?

“That made me realise that what had happened was quite serious.”

Henry wholly credits his twice-weekly taekwondo lessons for his quick-thinking reaction.

“The whole thing didn’t take longer than 15 seconds,” he said.

“It never crossed my mind to hand over my things.

“My first reaction was to defend myself, and I think that’s because of my taekwondo lessons.”

His mum Alice Watts, 41, a finance officer, told The Post: “Henry is quite slight for his age and was wearing headphones.

“I think the man might have thought he was an easy target, but didn’t realise that he knew how to defend himself. He’s been doing taekwondo on and off for about five years and obviously used some of those moves to defend himself.”

Andy Davies, chief instructor at Black Belt Academy in Staple Hill, has been Henry’s taekwondo teacher for around 18 months.

Henry, who is in Year 10 at Mangotsfield School, is graded a green belt, which means he knows around half the skills needed to be awarded the elite black belt.

“We teach a mix of taekwondo and kick boxing using a range of oriental weapons,” said Mr Davies. “The biggest thing that we try to do is to keep things simple and practical.

“Henry is a very diligent and quiet person – he’s the last person I would have expected to do what he did.

“But it shows that he had the confidence to use the moves he’d learned in a real setting to defend himself.

“It’s that confidence that we really try to instil in people.

“That takes time and training – the moves have to be practised and repeated over a period of time.

“We try to teach martial arts as a way of life and I am very proud of Henry and what he did to defend himself.

“I would like more children to learn the skills that martial arts teaches so that more can learn how to defend themselves in these sorts of situations.”

A police spokeswoman told The Post that no arrests had yet been made but an investigation continues into the incident.

It happened between 8.30am and 8.40am on November 6, on the Bristol to Bath cycle track near Rodway Common in Mangotsfield.

Police are looking for a man aged 20 to 30, with a pale complexion, who is about 5ft 7in tall and skinny, with green eyes, a goatee beard and light brown scruffy hair. He was wearing a grey or blue hooded jumper at the time of the incident.

Anyone with information about the attacker should contact the police on 101.

 

Well done Henry Watts, huge respect to you  🙂

Truly Inspirational Karate Bunkai

Just seen this on another blog and had to share it.  It features Sensei’s John LiButti and Allan Acosta, (not sure which is which) of the U.S.Kodokan Federation demonstrating some Karate bunkai.  It just goes to show what can be done when the mind is set to it.  You can’t help but to respect this guy, what an example to all of us.

Turning To The Dark Side And Mama Bear!

OK, the title may sound a bit bizarre, but bare with me and all will become clear.  I hope.

Why is it that although martial arts are supposed to make us better, calmer, more relaxed people; that some of us actually enjoy practicing violent applications that can hurt, maim or possibly kill another human being?  Is it some deep down psychopathic instinct that some of us just can’t overcome?

The fact that some of us enjoy practicing the violent applications does not mean that we are violent people.  However, to enjoy practicing them and to be able to apply them effectively, one must be able to dig down into the darker part of our human nature.  We must delve into that part of us that is prepared to hurt, cripple and destroy another human being.  This is what I (tongue in cheek) loosely refer to as “turning to the dark side”.

I must emphasise that there is an enormous difference between being prepared to harm another human being (depending on circumstances) and wanting to harm another human being.

So why, when we are striving to become better people, do we actively look to engage and develop this “dark side” of our human nature?

Firstly, whether you are religious or not, Western society is dominated by Christian values and doctrine.  As such, so much of our behaviour is considered right and wrong, good and evil.  Basically it is a culture of opposites, you must be one or the other.  However, Eastern philosophies and even our own pre-Christian Pagan philosophies would often see things more as two sides of the same coin rather than opposites.  A balance.  Yin and Yang.

By engaging the “dark side” of our nature, we are actually more able to avoid confrontations by our outer confidence, as well as being more able to help others in distress.  To quote from Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”.  The flip side is that you cannot assume the great responsibility if you do not have the great power.  Spiderman’s ability to help and save people in danger (light side) came from his enormous strength and his ability to beat the living s**t out of the bad guys (dark side).

Now I’m not suggesting that we will become superhero’s by practicing martial arts and save people from marauding villains.  However, along with our increased ability to defend ourselves (do violence to some b******d that seriously deserves it) comes a special kind of confidence.  A confidence which ironically will sometimes allows us handle situations more assertively, so that we actually don’t have to resort to violence.

When training in the nastier applications, even in a friendly environment, many people still find it difficult to delve into that dark part of their nature and hence find it more difficult to make the applications work properly.  As a youth, I was very timid, so I’ve been there.  Now at 40 something years old and with years of Karate training, it comes much more naturally to me.

For somebody who is (for want of a better word) “timid” or uncomfortable with these applications, I would like to make some suggestions.  When you look at a thug trying to intimidate someone, there is a big display of “peacocking”, sticking their chest out like Dolly Parton, jutting their head forward, arms loose from the sides like a cowboy about to go for his gun.  That part is not too important.  What is more important is that typically they invade the other persons personal space to intimidate and emotionally control them.  The victim will typically respond by drawing back, pulling their arms into their body and making their own personal space as small as possible.  This is actually quite a key tactic that thugs use instinctively.  Why?  Because it’s effective.

When practicing self defence techniques, experienced martial artists will happily move into their training partners space; whilst the more timid people will tend to pull back.  It is because the more timid person wants to get away, whereas the more experienced person will seek to take control (just like the thug/victim scenario above).

Using a bunkai/Chi-na example, imagine an “attacker” grabs the “defenders” wrist with a cross grab (right hand to right wrist – or left to left).  The defender traps the attackers grabbing hand with their own free hand, then moves both hands in a circle to apply the lock.  The more confident “defenders” move slightly forward as they perform the technique, circling their hand near to the attackers body.  This locks both the “attackers” elbow and wrist at right angles, making the lock easy to apply.  The more timid people tend to perform the technique by circling their hands much closer to their own body.  This resulted in both the “attackers” elbow and wrist not quite reaching the 90 angles and the lock being more difficult to apply.

The “victim” way of thinking, is simply to pull back and escape.  It makes the self defence techniques more difficult to apply and less effective.  I would suggest to anybody struggling with this, is that you have to think “control” before you think “escape”.  If you escape, but have not put your opponent out of action, they will simply chase you.  Think like the street thug, go into your opponent’s personal space and control them.  Then your escape will be much easier.

Having said that, how does a small or timid person actually manage to access that “dark side”, in order to move in and control somebody?  How do you turn your fear, dread and longing to escape into the will to move in and take control of somebody who is bigger, stronger and intent on hurting you?

Well if I can focus on women here for a minute, they are often told, “imagine somebody is going to rape you”.  I would respectfully suggest that this can be a bit counter-productive as any woman faced with a would-be rapist is just going to want to get away even more, rather than to invade his personal space and get closer; which unfortunately is what is required for many self defence techniques.  I would suggest a different image.  Imagine that your child (or niece, nephew, friends child) is in danger and you are the only one there to protect that child.  Now you have to go in rather than run away.  Nothing in the world is more ferocious than a Mama bear when somebody messes with her cubs.  To learn self defence against bigger, stronger men, sometimes you have to bring out the “Mama bear” in a woman.  Even professional burglars will avoid breaking into houses with kids, because they know that mothers will fight to the death to protect a child.

As much as your instinct may tell you to draw back, escape and run away when you are threatened, you may need to disable your opponent before you can run so that they don’t run after you.  That means you have to find your dark spot inside your soul, you have to access your inner “Mama bear” and you have to be prepared to go into your opponent before you go out.  And as mentioned above, training like this leads to confidence, which leads to assertiveness, which in turn can defuses a situation before it kicks off.

Although many senior instructors are very proficient in their martial applications, you can see by the way that they teach their students that many of them have a very nurturing and caring side to their natures.  Despite years of Karate training, I consider myself to be a very gentle person.  Some people may consider this to be contradictory.  Those who have trained for many years will consider it a natural consequence of our training.  That’s the paradox.  These traits are not opposites, they are the balance.  The Yin and Yang.

All martial methods come with a code.  The knights of old had their chivalry, to protect the weak.  The ancient Samurai would sacrifice themselves without question for their master or their masters family.

Many of today’s martial arts from Japan and Korea end in “Do” (Judo, Kendo, Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, No Can Do etc).  The “Do” means “way”.  And by “way”, they mean a way to self development, self improvement and even self enlightenment.

All of these codes mean that although the individual develops fighting skills which can potentially destroy other human beings, they are better people and better members of their society.  One might argue about the brutality of the Samurai (who would not hesitate to kill women and children of an enemy clan), but in the society that they lived in, unquestioning loyalty and total obedience was expected.  They were therefore, very good members of their society.  In today’s society, the “Do” expects you to be a more altruist and caring person.

It is the balance.