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Keep Your System Simple! Self-Defense And The Science Of Stress Performance
“There Are No Superior Martial Arts,
Only Superior Martial Artists”
I’ve read, heard, repeated and written that phrase so often I can’t even remember where it came from. The reason I like it so much is because it’s true!
This article is not another effort to debate the merits of one self-defense system over another. Nor is it to argue about which style will or won’t work “on the street.” All martial arts have components within them that are powerful fighting techniques. It’s important to know which ones they are!
Self-Defense Systems Differ,
But Self-Defense Principles Don’t
On the surface, martial arts and self-defense systems seem different. However, if they are legitimate and effective, the principles underlying them are the same.
Principles are the rules about the way things are. They are inarguable, non-negotiable and unchanging. They have nothing to do with the way we think things are or the way we want them to be. Like the laws of physics, they just are.
As “Martial Scientists,” our goal is to explore, discover, test and confirm the operative principles that define and influence the reality of combat. Your ability to produce a desired result, in this case to effectively defend yourself, is a direct result of how well you understand and apply the principles of combat and human performance.
What Do You Know About
Performance Under Pressure?
This article is about how fear and stress affect fighting performance. Whether you consider yourself a seasoned martial artist, a self-defense enthusiast, or a self-taught “ham & egger” who just wants to stay in shape and boost your confidence, this information is important to know. If you are training for self-defense, you need to select and develop skills that will be effective in the chaos of a violent conflict. This article will help you in that process.
FEAR, STRESS AND SELF-DEFENSE
Stress Is Good, But Only If It
Works For And Not Against You
Stress is our response to a real or perceived threat that we inherited from our ancestors. It was, and is, essential for our survival as a species. That survival mechanism, often called the “Fight or Flight Response,” is a good thing. If properly managed, it can be a powerful force in fighting off (fight) or escaping from (flight) a violent assailant. However, if ignored or misunderstood, stress can impair our mental and physical performance and compromise our effectiveness in a fight.
What Is “Self-Defense Stress?”
Stress, as it relates to violence, is the response to a perceived discrepancy between a threat and your ability to control it under conditions where the outcome has the potential for death, injury or physical degradation.
The Symptoms Of Stress
Stress causes a variety of psychological and physiological changes. Without getting into the specifics of those changes, the affects of intense stress on performance fall into three categories:
1. Perceptual Distortion – loss of peripheral vision and depth perception, hearing may be impaired, changes in pain sensitivity, etc.
2. Cognitive Impairment – the emotional centers in the brain become predominant and creative or logical thinking is impaired.
3. Motor Skill Deterioration – the ability to perform certain physical actions is impaired by stress. However, other actions can actually be enhanced by stress.
Each of these categories could form an article (or book) of their own. However, for the purposes of this article, I’ll confine myself to information pertaining to the selection and performance of physical skills.
THE KYSS! PRINCIPLE (Keep Your System Simple!)
Why Do Black Belts Get Beat Up?
Why is it that so many martial artists get beat up? I’m sorry to burst your bubble if you thought otherwise but the fact is that many people, even after years of training, have been thumped by “unskilled,” intoxicated adversaries. How can that be?
Often people train with a distorted mental map of what it’s like to be in a real, knockdown, drag-out, anything-goes street-fight. They confuse sparring with fighting and find themselves hesitant, overwhelmed by fear or attempting techniques that just don’t work.
The more clearly you understand the realities of a “fight” and the affects of being in one, the better you can prepare yourself for the chaos of personal combat.
Motor Skills Classification
Motor Skills is a fancy name for physical actions or techniques. They can be divided into three categories:
1. Fine Motor Skills – are actions involving small muscles, dexterity and eye-hand coordination. The ability to perform fine motor skills deteriorates at low to moderate levels of stress.
2. Complex Motor Skills – are actions that link three or more components in a sequence that requires timing and coordination. At moderate to high levels of stress, the ability to perform these skills is also impaired. Many martial arts techniques are complex motor skills. This explains why techniques that may work fine in low-stress training fail in a high-stress street-fight.
3. Gross motor skills – are simple, large-muscle group actions like a squats, pushups and push/pull-type movements. This includes basic fighting skills like a straight punch, a hook punch or a Thai boxer’s knee strike for example. Unlike fine and complex motor skills, gross motor skills DO NOT deteriorate under stress. In fact, they are enhanced by the affects of fear and stress.
Obviously we want to rely predominantly on gross motor skills when designing a self-defense response system.
The “Less-Is-Best” Theory
Some self-defense and martial arts instructors believe in the “More-Is-Better” philosophy. They think that learning a high number of techniques will increase the ability to respond effectively to a wider variety of situations; that the more elaborate the fighting system the more adaptable it becomes.
If you hold this philosophy yourself, please forgive my bluntness but…YOU’RE WRONG!!! The More-Is-Better approach does not withstand scientific scrutiny. Complex or elaborate techniques don’t work in a real fight. It’s as simple as that.
In contrast, the “Less-Is-Best” approach is more practical, realistic and consistent with what science tells us about the way we perform under stress. Here are a few of the benefits of keeping the number of techniques to a minimum.
Faster Reaction Time
As far back as the 1800’s, researchers knew that the more responses you have to a stimulus, the longer it takes react. In 1952, a researcher named Hicks confirmed that for every response choice added, the amount of time required to react doubles! This is widely known as “Hicks Law,” and has been repeatedly confirmed by subsequent research. In a self-defense situation, the longer you take to respond to a threatening action, the more likely you will be injured and defeated.
Fast Results With Minimal Training
Another issue that supports the idea of keeping your inventory of techniques to a minimum is the amount of time you have to practice and the time it takes to build technique competence. (remember: competence builds confidence which reduces stress!)
Imagine you work on 20 techniques and you train for an hour per session. That means you have 3 minutes to invest on each technique. If however, you reduce the number of self-defense techniques to three (just an arbitrary number), you invest 20 minutes on each technique, conceivably investing 600% more time and repetition on each one. What technique wouldn’t be improved by six times more training?
The Brass Knuckle Effect (Cognitive Clarity)
Imagine you knew you were about to be attacked by a large, strong, psychopathic assailant. There is no way of avoiding the fight. Let’s say your self-defense system consists of 20 different techniques. In the stressful moments preceding the encounter your mind is reeling; trying to figure out the most appropriate course of action.
Keep in mind that your cognitive abilities are impaired by stress. Stress-related “brain damage” prevents you from forming a logical or creative solution to your predicament. What will you do?
Seeing your dilemma, a good friend (if he wasn’t before he is now!) discretely passes you a set of brass knuckles. What do you suppose has just happened to your thought process?
I’ll hazard a guess that the mental fog begins to lift, your stress decreases and your objective becomes clear. It’s now a simple matter of taking those brass knuckles and slamming them repeatedly into vulnerable parts of your opponent’s anatomy. Seems simple now doesn’t it?
The potential of you winning the encounter has been significantly enhanced. That same affect can be achieved without the brass knuckles by sticking to a limited, yet adaptable, inventory of dependable fighting skills.
THE SCIENCE OF STRESS POINTS TO THE NEED TO SPECIALIZE
Virtually all accomplished fighters are known for specific techniques that they excel at. However, if you ignore their “bread & butter” techniques, most of them would be considered “average.” Those fighters excel because of their ability to simplify their system and build on their superior techniques.
Knowing what you now know about technique selection and stress performance, what do you think about the merits of “specializing” in a core set of fighting skills? Here’s how to get started.
Explore Your Strengths
Don’t just latch onto a fighting tactic arbitrarily. Evaluate your existing skills and select a strike, a kick, or a finishing hold that seems like a “good fit” for you. What technique to you consistently land or apply when sparring? What is your best or favorite technique? What technique do you feel you would resort to under pressure? Answering these questions will get you started with the specialization process.
Having as few techniques as possible doesn’t mean that you limit your ability to respond to a wide variety of situations. The idea is to take that specialty strike, kick, joint lock or choke and train it in as many different ways as possible. Learn to apply those basic skills at different ranges (striking, clinching or on the ground), against different partners, against different apparatus and in as many drills as you can think of. Learn how to set them up and follow them up. Strive to learn a lot about a little, not vice versa.
Train to Momentary Exhaustion
A good way to see how well a technique holds up under stress is to train it to extreme fatigue. You can bring on the physiology of intense stress by exerting yourself. I call this “blitz training” in the heavy bag article: “There’s nothing like a swift kick to the bag.” on my site at:
Blast out a technique or combination repeatedly for a specified duration or until you can’t do it any more. I can guarantee that gross motor skills will be the only ones conducive to this type of training.
Keep in mind that you wouldn’t do this training all of the time. You need time to recover between intense workouts like this.
Obviously you must be healthy and in good physical shape to do in this training. Refer to my disclaimer page for precautions before following this advice.
Simplicity Is Not Inflexibility
A final note in keeping things simple is that the process of specialization doesn’t mean that you stop learning, experimenting or that you abandon your existing training program in lieu of a “bare-bones” self-defense program.
If you are proud of your traditional martial arts system stick with it. If you love to jump up, spin around and kick things, then by all means, go for it! Just don’t confuse techniques that will work in a street fight with those that won’t. Apply the science of stress performance by adding specialty training to the degree that you want to develop practical self-defense skills.
SO WHAT? HOW TO USE THIS INFORMATION
Using The “KYSS! Principle”
To Evaluate A Potential Specialty Technique
Now its time to put this stuff into practice: Based on the priority you place on “fighting skill.” (there are several other benefits and reasons to train) Take a good, hard look at the skills you have in your inventory and the amount of time you plan to invest in training.
Decide on what proportion of your training you want to dedicate to self-defense. Design your system based on the following “KYSS Criteria.”
=> is the technique a “gross motor skill?”
=> do you have confidence in your ability to perform the skill under pressure?
=> What technique is most successful for you in training sparring or competition? (however don’t confuse those activities with fighting)
=> Is the technique applicable in a wide variety of situations, at different ranges, in different environments, ring clothing that you were during your day-to-day activities?
=> Are you able to construct a wide variety of training drills to build adaptability and flexibility in your chosen techniques?
=> Are there techniques that you’ve selected that are redundant?
=> Do you understand the underlying principles and biomechanics of performing and applying the skill with optimal efficiency?
Stress in a combative situation is a given. Expect it. It’s going to be there. Your performance is the result of how confident and well prepared you are in addition to how well designed your self-defense response system is. Attack the problem of stress performance this way:
=> Simplify your system through specializing in a handful of effective and adaptable techniques.
=> Artificially create stress in your training sessions to inoculate yourself to it to some degree (more on this in future articles) and…
=> Select gross motor skills that will be efficient under stress.
Knowing what you now know about stress performance isn’t it obvious that the “KYSS! (Keep Your System Simple!) Principle” is worth incorporating into your training? Scrutinize and evaluate your inventory of fighting skills and select those that meet the KYSS criteria and you will improve your performance in a combative situation dramatically. The bottom line of what I want you to take away from this article is that if you are training for self-defense Keep Your System Simple!
Take care, train smart and stay safe,
============== Self-Defense Quote =================
“There are no superior or inferior martial arts, there are only warriors and non-warriors”
“Each martial art is based on doctrine, a set of broad and general beliefs. People who study a single doctrine tend to shut out ideas from other sources and convince themselves that their’s is the one true way of fighting. They become slaves to the very doctrines they profess.”
Forrest E. Morgan, Maj. USAF
Living The Martial Way
A Manual For The Way A Modern Warrior Should Think
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