Posts Tagged street reality

Breathing for Life and Combat

A short extract from my last book Volitional Attention Training, hope you enjoy.

Sensory Acuity

Sensory acuity Acuity occurs when individuals train certain senses and behaviour to a degree of expertise, defining what makes an expert in a certain activity is difficult as the parameters for measuring expertise are vague. Time and experience, might be one measure, however I have already discussed the possible errors that can occur in teaching and training behaviours that could be seen as maladaptive to your field of expertise. In general, sensory acuity requires training in a particular field and can involve all five basic senses within the human body. A chef hones his ability to define taste and can distinguish the difference between many different ingredients; a perfumer has the nose to sniff nuanced fragrances and a superlative sense of smell, providing the individual with the ability to identify scents with precision. A musician has the ear to create orchestral masterpieces; a blind person the ability to decipher a closely arranged multitude of dots on the surface of paper and interpret them into words, and an artist has the ability to see colours and composition, to create a visual masterpiece. Today, modern scientific understanding of the human body and the 5 basic senses has expanded the number of senses within the body, there is now no longer just the big 5 and depending upon what you read, the new number of senses range from the standard list of 5 senses to 14 and 20 different senses. A short definition needs to be understood in order to provide us with an understanding of why this number has now been significantly increased. To be able to sense something both within our bodies and in our environment requires a sensor of some description and depending upon its function, will mean it has either one specific job to do or it gathers a multitude of incoming stimuli. For example, your eyes detect light through two different types of sensors, ‘rods’ work in low-light and detect light intensity ‘cones’ require intense light and detect colours, there are three types of cones, one for each of the prime colours. So although sight falls under one category, there are two senses that make up the one and one of those is subdivided into three. Our skin is the barrier between ourselves and the world around us and as such is one of the main sensors to incoming stimuli and has five different types of nerve endings that are independently sensitive to heat, pain, itch, cold and pressure, they are responsible for providing us with a sense of temperature, pain, touch and itch. Our sense of smell can bring on a flood of memories that effect our emotions and moods also known as our olfactory system and is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area associated with memory and feeling. Smells can evoke strong and vivid memories that are capable of activating the body’s reflex system to protect itself, it’s just like the wild cat with its nose in the air detecting its prey and any potential danger from smelly humans. Within your muscles and joints, there are sensors that provide you with awareness information as to where your body parts are within space and time. These sensors also allow control of movement and tension that enables complex locomotion and co-ordination skills, this internal sensor system is discussed in greater detail within the chapter on Neuromuscular Programming. Having the ability to be mindful of your internal and external states will provide a degree of self-regulation over your body, training particular sensory acuities will also allow for a heightened awareness in certain situations. As a professional, either in the field of security, police or the military, training a heightened sensory acuity that enables faster responses to potentially life threatening situations should be on the list of required skills to perform your job effectively. This method of training will help enhance your ability when exposed to real time encounters. Volitional Mindful Attention is a skill that should be trained alongside any practical skill set, the difference is that you need to pay attention to sensory acuity to help you survive and respond to violent and aggressive encounters and not, as with most meditation practices, relax you to a state of stillness within the mind and your body, although this is not a bad thing, as long as it’s done within the correct context, going into a relaxed state may not be ideal when having to deal with an armed aggressor.

Training our attention

There are specific regions of the brain that research has shown to be active during meditation. “Buddhist monks who do compassion meditation have been shown to modulate their Amygdala, along with their Temporoparietal junction and Insula, during their practice. In an FMRI study, more intensive Insula activity was found in expert meditators than in novices. Increased activity in the Amygdala following compassion-orientated meditation may contribute to social connectedness” Wikipedia (2013) Amygdale. Here we find evidence that science has been able to bridge the gap between mystic meditation by monks and the actual effects that this type of self-regulation has on the brain, let’s look at some of the practical methods of meditation. Methods of Practice, Pranayama. Certain types of meditation and yoga practices use Pranayama breathing; they advocate the practice of volitional breath control. This type of breathing requires a practitioner to inhale, retain and exhale quickly or slowly. Yoga experts consider this type of breathing to be an “intermediary between the mind and body”. Previously I identified the word ‘prana’ and referred to it as the ‘life force’ or energy that all humans and indeed many would argue, all living organisms have. Breath is responsible for the intake of oxygen, which then via the blood stream disseminates this energy containing substance to all parts of the body, depending on the consumption requirement. The brain requires approximately 20% of the total energy of the human body which compared to its size is a very large amount. There is a direct connection between the ‘prana’ or energy of breathing and its effects on energy in the body. Cellular metabolism (reactions in the cell to produce energy) for example, is regulated by oxygen provided during breathing”. Yoga practices a slow control over the breathing process in order to generate a greater feeling of energy and relaxation throughout the body, to control the body states, to focus and clear the mind and to become aware of the internal working of the mind and body. “Pranayamic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to contribute to a physiologic response characterized by the presence of decreased oxygen consumption, decreased heart rate, and decreased blood pressure, as well as increased theta wave amplitude in EEG recordings, and increased parasympathetic activity accompanied by the experience of alertness and reinvigoration” Jerath (2006). Jerath also states that pranayama breathing has been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders. Investigations regarding stress and psychological improvements support evidence that pranayama breathing alters the brain’s information processing, making it an intervention that improves a person’s psychological profile. This evidence points to a clear process that can be trained, enabling individuals who are exposed to difficult fear producing situations, to control both psychological and body states that could severely impact on performance.

Tactical Breathing

This method of breathing is not unlike any other, its name however “tactical breathing” is synonymous with combat and high stress situations, Asken (2010) talks about tactical breathing as being useful in managing the arousal or stress of a mission, he cites Siddle (1995) ‘ we would argue that breath control should be a mandatory component of survival stress management”, powerful support for the activity of mindful meditation. There is no real big secret here, it’s just paying attention to breath, meditating, being aware of your own body and mental state. One method of tactical breathing is described by Grossman in his book On Combat (2004), this he describes as the ‘four count’. Begin by breathing in through your nose to a slow count of 4, which expands your belly like a balloon. Hold for a count of 4, and then slowly exhale through your lips to a count of 4, as your belly collapses like a balloon with its air released. Hold empty for a count of 4 and then repeat the process. Remember that part of this whole process is to create a more focused mindful state, to control any stress or fear that may well be beginning to take hold of your thought process. This is not about taking five minutes to calm yourself and relax, it’s about creating an anchor mechanism attached to a thought process that allows you to manage the high emotional situation you find yourself in and do not think for a moment that this can be done ‘just like that’! It’s going to take some time and effort on your part to train this type of mindful breathing. It’s important that we remember that what we are doing here is taking control of our autonomic nervous system and using this control to self regulate our mind and body states, for the majority of the time our bodies are on auto pilot, the reason for bringing meditation into this subject is due to the fact that you cannot be at your best unless you have control over your self, breathing is your bridge between the somatic and autonomic nervous system, Grossman (2004) puts it well “ Tactical breathing is a leash on the puppy. The more you practice the breathing technique, the quicker the effects kick in, as a result of powerful operant and classical conditioning mechanisms” One thing is for sure no longer is meditation relegated to the realms of the Buddhist monks. 


Asken, M, J. PhD & Grossman, D Lt. Warrior’s mindset (2010) Warrior science publications.

Wikipedia (2013). Amygdala. Accessed on 09/07/2013 @

Grossman, D. Lt. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. Millstadt, Il: PPCT research publications.

Jerath, R. (2006). Paranyama breathing. Published online at Accessed on 01/10/2013 @

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Choice Reaction Time – are we really that simple?


Recently I received a link to a post regarding Reality Based Self Defence (“RBSD”).  The post covered areas that are usually used by this specific area of martial arts to support the techniques that they use, it also covered areas of science and how it relates to human movement and behaviour stating Ockham’s Razor, Hicks Law and Power Law of Practice (“PLP”) to support underlying technique.   Having recently introduced a RBSD method myself I feel it appropriate to write something.  This has been an intention of mine for some time. The book that I am currently writing delves into this topic in a great deal of depth. I would first like to clarify my approach to my own combative training vehicle, Volitional Attention Training (“V.A.Training”), as it is important that the reader can place the information into context.

V.A.Training is not a self-defence method, period.   It was not conceived to be and does not in any way teach a defence form of tactics, quite the opposite, if asked to define it I would say, “it teaches a method of Self Preservation”. Although it has limited scenario based techniques it’s main aim is to develop stimulus-based responses. This method has been pitched at a very specific category of violence, that of A Social level and not the every day social violence that we encounter 98% of the time. I use this high percentage to get across my point that this is not for your every day classes that teach self defence, and therein lies one huge psychological problem, because the majority of RBSD methods believe that what they teach will allow an individual to manage and cope with A Social violence, using different situations in different environments to convince individuals that what they teach is the real thing!   The “real thing”? according to whom?


Ockham was a 14th century English philosopher who first proposed the principle that “plurality should not be posited without necessity” and its from this very unobtrusive start that we later arrive at Hick’s Law and then subsequently we find RBSD instructors advocating that human movement, within a combat situation, should be trained only to a very limited amount of moves.   According to Jeffery’s and Berger (1999) it’s unclear as to what was meant by this statement, as it can be interpreted in many ways.  However, later versions were clear and here is an example given by Jeffery’s and Berger:  “entities should not be multiplied without necessity” or “it is vain to do with more what can be done with less” and finally, a more up to date rendering, “an explanation of the facts should be no more complicated than necessary”.  Over the years, many noted individuals have used this theory to reduce complicated ideas to a simple more logical theory and this is all well and good when it relates to simple ideas and is used as a rule of thumb. However, humans have made great leaps forward since the 14th century, in our understanding of DNA for example, not a subject where corners could be cut to aid understanding and it’s therefore easy to see how those with a limited arsenal would want to use such terms to build a self defence system upon.   This theory was then backed up years later by Hick and then followed by PLP.

In fighting and in sports, we all know action beats reaction.   If you are reacting to an attack, as the good guys generally are, you are already behind the action curve. Just how behind scientists have labored intensely to discover over the last 60 years, and like splitting the atom, they have split the single second into one thousand parts to do it.   So what did Hick prove and what was the benefit to human movement?   Basically Hick experimented with reaction time and the decisions that occur during this process.    To be very accurate his research centered on Choice Reaction Time (“CRT”) and it’s the “choice” which has been conveniently dropped from most of the writing surrounding this law, which according to Hick slows down as the decision variables increase.   In other words, there is an increase in choice reaction time with the logarithm of set size, or put another way, the more choices you have the longer it takes to choose. There are some statistics around that state that it takes 58% more time to choose between two choices.  That’s a staggering amount of time when real time life and death decisions are needed, right?  Hick’s Law explores the interference that occurs during retrieval from declarative memory, it also goes on to state that there are occasional savings in response time due to stimulus response repetitions, this is covered in detail within my new book.    Just looking at the words being used here will give a clue as to what is going on, ‘choose’ and ‘stimulus response’ are two examples that are key to understanding the implications of this Law when applied to behavioural based method s of self defence. The message that is relatively clear here is that there is a significant change in data, with practice and stimulus response repetition.

Here is an extract from my next book concerning memory, which will help spread some light on the confusion that has occurred;

A stimulus that brings forth an episodic memory will also bring with it the ability for the mind to pay more detailed attention to that particular thought. Episodic memories are those that are encoded into the mind through an emotional experience.   These experiences are capable of coding in the time, place, feelings and details of the event, they are far more real to the mind than attempting to memorise an event to which you are just a passive observer. Semantic memory is generally concerned with knowledge of the world that we live in, there is a difference between knowledge that is factual and personal experiences that have encoded knowledge and understanding with a greater grounding and meaning.   Both semantic and episodic memory deals with long term, rather than short-term memory.  A key difference is that episodic memories encode the actual acquisition experience and the context in which the memory occurred.   For any combative or martial art technique to become efficient and effective, the coding process will need to support the intended action.  Techniques will have to become linked to procedural memory. Declarative memory deals with facts and data gained from learning. “declarative memory serves to “chunk” or “bind” together the converging processing outcomes reflecting the learning event, providing a solution to the “binding problem” for memory, Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1975).   The sea is wet and the sun is hot are example of long-term declarative memories. Procedural memory is concerned with long-term memory including complex motor skills. These skills are first coded into the brain and over time become second nature; you do not have to use a cognitive thought process to access the skills. Playing a musical instrument, driving a car, or combative/martial art techniques, are all examples of procedural memory.

Its important to understand the context in which the original research was conducted and to also get a grips on what is happening when the human brain is being programmed by the type of reactions that it will default to in times of stress. I know that some of the research and the terms used are a little complicated, but bare with me, in order to support the information here, it is vital that I validate the theories, so apologies in advance for some of the writing….

There has been plenty of research into the area of reaction time; one particular piece was done by Schneider and Anderson (2012).  Their research explored past research on Hick’s Law and its interpretation in terms of information theory, which they based on the Adaptive Control of Thought-Rational. Their model produced a set-size (number of stimulus response alternatives) that closely resembles Hick’s Law.  They also account for changes in the set-size effect with practice and they explain the stimulus response repetition effects, which together challenges the information theoretic view of Hick’s law. The original research conducted by Hick was carried out in 1952, he used a computer test, to measure the time it took to decide between options and came up with the equation RT=a+blog2 (n). In basic terms his research confirmed that when faced with choices it takes longer to choose and the more choices that you have the longer it takes and it is from this very simple thought process the up to date reality based methods of teaching were born.     Are we humans so very simple?   Is the way the human brain works so simple?   Does it take a long, slow, encumbering amount of time to make decisions that could, put life at risk, for example?  For some, the answer is a resounding YES and as a consequence they misinterpret this information or worse, still do not have the knowledge that allows for an intelligent exploration of human behaviour.

Research by Schneider and Anderson (2012) found that when practice was allowed the slope of Hick’s Law tends to decease as the number of trials increase.   There have also been mathematical calculations done that estimate that after about one million trials the CRT will be independent of any set size.  So there it is, one million repetitions and your reaction time will be down to zero!    Lets remind ourselves what Hick found.   Using CRT   experiments, response was proportional to log (N), where N is the number of different possible stimuli.   In other words, reaction time rises with N, but once N gets large, reaction time no longer increases so much as when N was small, as the number of stimuli rise so the RT decreases.

Kosinski (2010) created a literature review on reaction time.   Within the review he discussed practice and errors and what he found would at first seem to support Hick’s Law in that, when participants were new to a choice reaction test, they were predictably slower.   Once they had time to practice, the reaction times increased.  Again very predictable, and too most a logical progression.   The results also found that when errors were made, RT slowed, they also noticed that practice time stabilized the reaction time for up to three weeks.   If a system was teaching a limited amount of moves, it would certainly see results based on these facts as the practice that was repeated would have embedded itself for a reasonable amount of time and if further practice was undertaken then the results would bounce themselves on for another period of time.   There is no distinction here with complicated routines, if volitional practice occurred, reactions and movements would soon start to get faster with less mistakes.

Now here is the real important part Stimulus Response and Hick’s Law!   What Schneider and Anderson (2012) also found is that the slope of Hick’s Law can be close to zero for highly compatible stimulus-response combinations.   The type of responses that were researched covered vocal and manual responses to manipulated stimulus types.  Without going into the detail, the explanation given for the close to zero stimulus-responses combinations were highly compatible and that much more pre-experimental practice had occurred prior to test as a control less compatible combinations were also tested (Brainard et al., (1962); Davis et al., (1961); Fits and Posner, (1967); Longstreth et al., (1985); Teichner and Krebs, (1974); see Morin, Konick, Troxell, and McPherson, (1965) cited by Schneider and Anderson (2012).    This evidence supports the age old adage of practice makes perfect or a more up to date term might be, perfect practice done slow and accurately programs the brain to respond fast! In the above tests the stimulus responses were chosen for their compatibility with natural behavior.   However, the real point is that it’s not a good idea to take what seems to be a logical statement, warp it out of all context and then sell it as the answer to all the problems.   It takes long enough to get to grips with any movement, let alone maladaptive ones.




Jefferys, W H. and Berger, j O. (1992) Ockham’s razor and Bayisean analysis. American Scientist. Vol. 80. No 1 (January-February 1992), pp. 64-72. Published by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.


Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd.


Darryl W. Schneider, John R. Anderson Cogn Psychol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2012 May 1. Published in final edited form as: Cogn Psychol. 2011 May 1; 62(3): 193–222. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.11.001


Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom, Paul S., “Mechanisms of skill acquisition and the law of practice” (1980). Computer Science

Department. Paper 2387.


Kosinski, R, J. (2010) A Literature review on Reaction Time. Updated September 2013,. Accessed on 17-02-2014 @

Silva, C. Cid, L. Ferreira, D. and Marques, A. (2011) Attention and Reaction time in Shotokan Athletes. Published Revista de Artes Marciales Asiaticas (2011), vol, 6 issue 1, p141 16p. accessed on 17-02-2014 @

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Good the Bad and the Ugly

The year past and a new one to begin.

2013 was one of those years when you take two steps forward and one back, it did have some great highlights though. This blog is more about some of the things that have happened in the past year and a look into the future. American Kenpo (AK) still remains a focus point for me and in February 2014 will see my 33rd anniversary in the art of AK. For those that have never experienced the art of AK, I would strongly suggest you take a look. During the year I read a quote by someone who considers AK a weak system. Most of us that have been around for a while understand that any chain is only as strong as its weakest link and AK is no different. Over the years so many people have started to teach AK that in some camps it now looks like a distant copy of an even worse copy, which again is no different from any other martial art. However such a broad statement of a system that has been around for the length of time that AK has is not justified, there are different variations of instructors, but the way the system was designed has yet to be matched, which is my opinion. It was designed to evolve which to many instructors is an excuse to teach what they want, but that’s not the essence of what the evolution of AK should be like.

During the past decade there has been an explosion of reality based combative arts and I have added to that myself with Volitional Attention Training which I will discuss later, for now I want to cover a problem that a lot of these instructors have in these reality based arts and that is the question of how to teach a combative art that has to be completely variable and be able to adjust to the ever-changing environment of a fight. Let’s face it how do you teach individuals to know how to change to a void of different techniques that nobody can predict? or just teach a few moves and hope you do not get attacked in a way that is not covered in what you teach!

Well that’s the difference between a method of teaching something and to be honest, just winging it!   To help anyone understand how this can be achieved all I need to do is take you back to when you were a young child learning to get to grips with communicating to your parent. You start at a very early age usually between one and a half years old and three, before you can talk yourself you begin to understand language and meaning, you learn the meaning of simple words but have no ability to talk. So how do you start? You learn the good old alphabet A through to Z and you start with simple Phonetics “Aaaaa, Baaaa, Caaaa” and so on.  Eventually you are capable of putting short words together, then sentences and so on until eventually you are able to write. Now once you have achieved this ability your are able to write whatever you want as long as it makes sense, others can read it, and it follows the rule of your particular language. Well that is exactly how any movement based combative art works as well, or at least it should do, you have to know basics, once you have them and are capable of putting them together in a pattern that follows the rule of fighting then you have your method, if you do not follow this procedure then what you have is chaos and your students will soon fail at following your mind.

During the year I had the honour to teach at a few events where students from other arts were present and the one thing that stood out was their ability to be open to learn, even though some of the techniques were not what they were used to. What was evident was the students and their instructors were not held down or tied to a process that restricted them and that’s the way it should be, sharing and learning from different people and different arts. Eddie Quinn and his group were a prime example of this, along with others, such as the Sacred Springs Group, GIMA, and my High Wycombe guys, Steve and Julian and their students and not of course to forget my good friends in Holland.   It is groups like these that make the journey worthwhile. Closer to home everyone in the BKKU contributed to an excellent year. Over the years one thing has become apparent and that is that getting a Dan grade within the art that I teach is not an easy path, with only one Dan grade moving up in 2013 Mr O White from 1st to 2nd and no Dan grades.   It’s been a quite year, plenty getting to Black to start the long road ahead of consolidating and training to test for 1st Degree Black – I am looking forward to seeing what happens in 2014.

In October 2013 I launched Volitional Attention Training (V. A. Training) this has been something that I have been working on since the early days when Rapid Impact Combatives was launched, the trouble was the title did not encapsulate where I wanted to go with it and as expected there are now people in the martial arts world that say I am no longer teaching AK, again nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that AK does not hold all the answers, as the animal which is violence is a massive one. Ed Parker Jr for example has launched what he calls Paxial Arts, a method designed to teach primarily children how to “not get caught up in a physical confrontation” how to take the aggressive movements and not return them with hard strikes or kicks, it’s not Kenpo but it’s still very effective for that very specific part of violence and I personally believe that it has its place right at the bottom of the social violence ladder with a cross over into some areas of higher intended violence. However as you begin to climb this ladder the aggression and violence changes. The bottom rungs are your low-level bully tactics that involve violence that is threatening, with an escalation to strikes. What we then have is everything in between that is not A Social violence, this includes all martial arts and sport applications, maybe a project for 2014 should be the categorisation of this ladder of violence! unless it’s already been done. A social violence is at the top and primarily includes WAR and situations when an individual is actually trying to kill you, period!   It’s this level that V.A. Training is designed for, right at the top of the ladder of violence. It seems logical that to cover all areas of violence you will need knowledge that would take several lifetimes to achieve.

There two areas that are lacking within the combative arena and these are psychology and body control procedures, all to often what I see is a concentration on physical technique. I am not saying before anyone gets on their high horse that technique is not important, as quite obviously it is.  What I am saying is that physical techniques make up for maybe 50% of what you should be training in, it could be as low as 30% with the rest of the 70% divided between psychology (mental training) and internal body control (breathing). there are some arguments that the majority of the time should be concerned with mental preparation rather than physical, today most have it about-face with the majority of time spent on physical application of techniques. In the future once individuals really understand this, I predict a massive change of focus. In 2013 I really started to push the psychology behind weapon training and the negative loop mechanism, just about everyone that understood it, got it!  Let’s see how long it takes to filter into the mainstream. What was great to see is that groups that have taken this on board in the past have now altered their training procedure to reflect positive training loops that support spontaneous reflexive actions. V.A. Training is all about creating this balance and ensuring that the training uses the most up to date processes with regard to psychology and internal control systems. In 2014 I will be licensing V.A. Training out to instructors of other arts who have already gained experience and knowledge in what ever their style is, as V.A. Training only deals with the top of the ladder violence.

Looking forward further into 2014 will see my second book on the shelves, the next one is a step up from the last and covers the in-depth knowledge that V. A. Training is based on, check out a couple of the last blogs in 2013 as they will give you a flavour of the material to be covered.

If there are any areas that readers of my blog would like to see featured next year drop me a message and thank you to everyone who has visited this site and taken the time to read my material.



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Mental Force Training

Short extract from the material used as a structure for Volitional Attention Training, this provides information on memory, attention and the pitfalls that should be avoided at all cost.


Evolution also plays a part in our understanding of mental force and the benefits derived from possessing it, with a direct link to Darwin and survival of the fittest. Imagine a history where humans did not possess these types of abilities, would we have ever dragged ourselves out of the primeval world that we occupied? There are mental processes that have to be overcome in order for any individual to live a life, to find a mate, reproduce, to survive! To enable this process, not only does the mind have to be mentally fit, also the physical body has to be healthy and fit. As humans we are constantly under threat from our mind’s activity, we therefore have to understand what is happening when certain moods take over the dominance of our minds, or when we create thoughts that are not congruent with our mental direction. Maintaining the physical body has to form part of this process, if an individual suffers from a physical impairment, is obese, sleep deprived, lacks nutritional balance, inputs substances into the body (drugs), then the consequences of this, result in a human organism that is not in balance, the body and mind do not work as one. If the mind was mentally tough and capable of survival and the body was not, it would not take long for one to adversely affect the other, or vice-versa. Therefore physical conditioning should be equally as important as mental conditioning.


Bringing these ideas into attention earlier in this discourse creates an understanding that attention has to be thought about. A stimulus input into the brain creates a mechanism of mental processes, that in turn leads to an amount of mental attention being applied to that stimulus, how long attention is maintained will depend upon the amount of mental force that the individual is capable of bringing to bear upon the stimulus. A stimulus that brings forth an episodic memory will also bring with it the ability for the mind to pay more detailed attention to that particular thought. Episodic memories are those that are encoded into the mind, through an emotional experience, these experiences are capable of coding in the time, place, feelings and details of the event.  They are far more real to the mind than attempting to memorize an event to which you are just a passive observer. Semantic memory is generally concerned with knowledge of the world that we live in, there is a difference between knowledge that is factual and personal experiences that have encoded knowledge and understanding with a greater grounding and meaning.   Both semantic and episodic memory deals with long-term, rather than short-term memory, a key difference is that episodic memories encode the actual acquisition experience and the context in which the memory occurred.   For any combative or martial art technique to become efficient and effective, the coding process will need to support the intended action, techniques will have to become linked to procedural memory.  Declarative memory deals with facts and data gained from learning “declarative memory serves to “chunk” or “bind” together the converging processing outcomes reflecting the learning event, providing a solution to the “binding problem” for memory, Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1975). The sea is wet and the sun is hot are example of long-term declarative memories. Procedural memory is concerned with long-term memory including complex motor skills. These skills are first coded into the brain and over time become second nature; you do not have to use a cognitive thought process to access the skills.   Playing a musical instrument, driving a car, or combative, martial art techniques, are all examples of procedural memory, “procedural memory enables organisms to retain learned connections between stimuli and responses, including those involving complex stimulus patters and response chains, and to respond adaptively to the environment” Tulving (1985). There is no defined limit to long-term memory, providing that the correct coding procedure occurs then complex motor skills that involve, combative and martial art techniques can be built up. Continued repetition of these movements will lead to a stable procedural memory, which ultimately leads to spontaneous movement, this is arguably the aim of any person engaged in this type of activity.   It is important to remember here that any human movement can be learnt in a manner that is not congruent with natural movement, it is maladaptive.   Continual repetition of techniques that do not follow this premise will eventually cause damage to the organism.   Occupations that involve high stress and the potential for deadly force encounters are particularly exposed to incorrect episodic memory imput, and again, if continued exposure to this type of maladaptive behaviour, could have disastrous consequences, “in the blink of an eye, the officer snatched the gun away, shocking the gunman with his speed and finesse. No doubt this criminal was surprised and confused even more when the officer handed the gun back to him, just as he had practiced hundreds of times before” Grossman, D. (2004). This is a good example of incorrect coding of a maladaptive procedural memory, the officer involved continually practiced this disarm, until he had coded it into his mind, in doing so creating a spontaneous response, it had become second nature to him, I term this “negative loop coding” (NLC) which should be avoided for obvious reasons. The disarm in itself was never the problem, in fact over time several episodic events could have occurred in this officer’s life, for example he may have already been associated with lethal force encounters, he may have had colleagues die in the line of duty, any of these high emotional states would have led to an episodic memory. Once the officer had started to pay attention to this training loop and began to practice the disarm in all sorts of situations, both at work and at home, he had started to encode procedural memory, the only problem with the training was the handing back of the weapon! to do it again and again, and again!   A key point in this behavioural pattern is volition used to pay attention. Once attention on the training pattern had begun his brain would have been firing neurons at a fast pace, to start the encoding, drawing with it greater amounts of mental force, enabling focused thoughts on the reasons for the practice to be thought about, in other words the officer was undertaking, mindful attention.



Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd

Tulving, E. (1985), How many memory systems are there? American psychologist, vol. 40, April 1985. Printed in USA.

Grossman, D. Lt. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. Millstadt, Il: PPCT research publications.

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Performance under stress..


What is stress?

Can we still perform while under stress?

Walter Cannon first coined the term “fight or flight” in 1915, since then it has become linked with combat arts, door supervisors and just about every martial artist. Most know and teach an understanding of the adrenal dump and the effects that this has on the human body when in a fearful or stressful situation. Being stressed and in fear are two different psychological and physiological responses. Stress is something that is hard to put your finger on and can come in varying degrees of severity. It is linked to Homeostasis. The concept is that it’s a system that regulates itself and the human body is one such system, it has controls and mechanisms in place to maintain the ideal operating environment within. Anything that affects the balance of this system can cause stress, for example, you find yourself getting hot, and are unable to remove clothing, your body temperature spikes and you start to feel stressed, not fear. Fear is an emotion, one that is experienced when danger is perceived. This would usually mean an individual being in immediate danger of attack or death. This emotional response leads to two basic choices, stand and fight, or turn and run. It is at this time when the stimulus causing the fear could be so intense, that it triggers a freeze response rather than a flight one. All very natural protection mechanisms that the human body has at its disposal to protect itself. There is also a precurser to fight or flight, posturing and submission, I have already discussed these a little in previous blogs.

Experiencing either fear or stress, is a state of arousal, one that can have a significant effect on performance ” Learning the psychological techniques to manage stress not only reduces discomfort but can enhance performance, (Asken, (2010) page 51). An understanding of these states of arousal can help an individual to identify the cause and cope with the effects. Training in specific methods can reduce these effects and is something any serious martial artist should consider. There is a long list of stress/fear symptoms, these could be categorised into three basic areas.

  1. Internal mechanism disruptions, these include; raised heart rate, perspiration, increased breathing rhythm, loss of bowel control, sensory inhibition, these are only a few, I am sure that you can think of more.
  2. Physical disruptions, these include loss of body coordination, vision, hearing impairment, death grip and freezing.
  3. Mental disruptions, including increased anxiety, slow down in mental problem solving, loss of environmental awareness.

There are many more than those listed above, however they give a clear understanding that the body is subject to a cause and effect relationship to certain stimuli. All this has an overall effect on the bodys performance levels. The next question should be, if this is the case how can we counteract this? Experience is nothing more than a constant exposure to stimuli and circumstances, that leads to knowledge of what may happen and has happened in the past. This said, coping with a state of arousal is no different, the more you are exposed to it the more habituated you become. Every time you experience high stress you draw from episodic memories, these are the ones that you do not forget easily, even though you may want to sometimes. To enable you to start to cope with these feelings and emotions you need to train in techniques that will help to level out the experience  “Semantic and episodic memory together make up the category of declarative memory, which is one of the two major divisions in memory. The counterpart to declarative, or explicit memory, is procedural memory, or implicit memory. The term Episodic Memory was coined by Endal Tulving in 1972. He was referring to the distinction between knowing and remembering. Knowing is more factual whereas remembering is a feeling that is located in the past” (Wikipedia (2012).


Techniques for managing a high state of stress/fear.

There are a great deal of techniques that can be used to manage stress. These range from the most common, breathing techniques, to visual imagery, mental associations, word association. Taking the time to learn to use at least one can be of great benefit to performance under stress. For hundreds of years there have been meditative techniques used to calm the mind and control the body. By taking a breathing technique and renaming it to something more adapt to modern combatives, allows for practitioners to accept it as part of the training required to increase and control performance while in a high state of arousal. Hyperventilation is a state when the body is going into shock over something it perceives as a threat. If while in this state the person experiencing the shallow increased breathing can be settled and encouraged to concentrate on their breathing and relax, to take in oxygen, in slow deep breaths, often they come down and control both the physiological responses as well as the mental ones. As well as there being adverse effects that help protect the human organism, there are also natural responses that heighten the body’s reflexes and senses, its important that these are also understood. This usually happens when the body receives a stimulus that is sudden, unexpected and severe. Increased auditory awareness, Visual clarity, quickened perception and awareness, slowing of time, mental processing increase, all seem to increase the body’s ability to move and survive. What we see here is a clear difference in the bodies reactions to stress. In research conducted by Leavitt (1972, 1973) he linked heart rate to performance, at 115BPM he noted deterioration in fine motor skills, 145BPM deterioration in complex motor skills and at 175BPM a catastrophic failure in cognitive processing capabilities. Relying on this research would lead to a conclusion that once heart rates reach 175BPM it’s all but over, however recent research has shown that rates of this amount and higher, have been recorded while individuals are involved in a high stress encounter, they have been able to process exceptional perception and show increased physical capabilities. ” stress induced heart rate increase in the area of 145 bpm, there is a significant breakdown in performance. But this is not true for everyone. Apparently, if you have practised the skills extensively, you can ‘push the envelope’ of condition Red, enabling extraordinary performance at accelerated heart rate levels” (cited by Grossman (2004) page 34). The difference between the two groups is marked, the latter group able to perform at the highest level of stress. What is it that allows individuals to cope and perform at these high levels? put simply its experience. Experience within this type of environment means continued repetitive exposure to the stimulus that creates the high level of arousal. Do not however fall into the trap that a job automatically gives experience, take any job where exposure to high stress stimulus occurs, for example, police officer, prison officer, army soldier. It’s not hard to imagine that these jobs will result in high stress exposure, why is it then that, so many  individuals in these types of occupations fall victim to physical and cognitive shut down? Its experience! or should I say lack of repetitive exposure to direct experiences of the stimulus’ that creates the ability to perform at high levels of stress and continued repetition of the skills required during a situational occurrence. Even though you may have an occupation that is high risk, unless you have constant exposure to a high stress stimulus, you will fall foul of high heart rate stress disorientation. In other words experience is gained through constant repetitive exposure to stimulus that create stress.

Having put forward the ideas above and the effects of experience, we need to transfer this to the training that occurs within any discipline. Creating experience is therefore very important.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a fairly recent disorder first diagnosed in soldiers returning from war. If however we look at this disorder from another angle, what we may find is, that PTSD is more common than we may think. For example take  the term ‘traumatic’ this is an event that effects someone emotionally creating a long-term episodic memory. This can be any event in an individual’s life that they perceive as traumatic, children are much more likely to experience an event that causes trauma than an adult, adults trauma is usually much more heightened. Post this event the individual feels stress whenever they are exposed to situations that recreate the original traumatic event. Add the disorder label and we now have PTSD  from events that could be seen as normal daily occurrences or an evolutionary mechanism designed to protect the human organism, heightened in some creating fear and stress. For example take any fear or phobia, lets say the fear of spiders! every time a person sees a spider, they get so stressed that it creates very real feelings of fear, are they experiencing a form of PTSD? having at some time in their past had a traumatic experience with a spider or is it an evolutionary adaptation, or maybe a little of both, learned and inate.

Understanding the reasons for stress/fear and the effects that it can have on performance, should then give us the knowledge to train in a manner that encourages constant exposure to stimulus that induces stress. This is not as easy as it seems, it may be easy for some that are more inclined to heightened experiences, however experiencing real danger is hard to replicate in a normal training environment.

The most reliable way to avoid the effects of stress/fear on performance is to create experience, in doing so we also have muscle memory, muscle memory is spontaneity of movement, not having to think about your responses to certain events. This has to be engrained so that performance at high levels of stress induced heart rates can be maintained.

Can the human body perform under stress? Imagine yourself captured by terrorist, tied to a chair in a room, a team of special forces explode into the room guns blazing, life in the balance, do you want them to spray the room and hope for the best or pick their targets, in doing this action do you think they are operating under high stress? What makes them capable of these actions? and why can’t you have similar control? Do you lose motor and mental control? Yes, if you are not trained and experienced! and there in is the key, trained and experienced.


So how does this help the mainstream martial artist?

Mindset and understanding are two of the hardest elements to teach within the arts. There is a saying ” you react in the street, the same way you train in the school” or something similar. Training realistically and in a manner that creates reactive spontaneity, is a key to effective defence. Experience is something that needs to be obtained, experience of efficient repetition, experience of your own emotions and feelings, experience of dealing with internal and well as external mechanisms. Knowing what your body is doing and why is the first step to creating coping strategies, which will enable effective and controlled responses when performing under a high emotionally induced stress situation.


Asken,M,J,phd & Grossman, D, Lt. Col.  Warriors mindset (2010) Warrior Science Publications.

Grossman,D,Lt.Col. On Combat (2004,2007,2008) warrior Science Publications

Wikipedia,, updated 4th December 2012 at 19:54. Accessed on 06-12-12.

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Psychology of Confrontation – Part II Startle Reflex and the surprise attack.


Startle Reflex and the surprise attack.

In the previous blog I discussed some advanced thought processes, with regard to some of the interactions of the mind and the body when engaged in a violent encounter.     In this article, I want to look at some of the physiology that occurs as well as the psychology.  By physiology I mean bodily reactions that can be predicted. Firstly I want to examine our body’s natural protection mechanism, the “Startle Reflex”. Startle Reflex is one of the body’s first physiological responses to a surprise stimulus “startle reflex, refers to bodily reflexes that occur involuntary in response to an unanticipated external stimulus” Chapél (1991).

We know from research and experiments carried out that the body has in-built protection systems designed to protect the body from harm. One of these is the Startle Reflex, also referred to as a “Flinch”.   All humans will respond in a certain manner when a startling stimulus occurs, for example; blinking, upward movement of the shoulders, head tucking in and down, bending of the arms and their withdrawal into our core, bending of the legs and their withdrawal into our core, as well as several facial expressions and various twisting of the whole body and limbs. In the majority of Martial Arts schools there is no inclusion of this within the training of self-defence techniques. Techniques usually start from a punch, grab or kick scenario.

So why try to understand this type of reflex?

How is it produced?

What happens to the body when startled?

Firstly if you teach reality-based self-defence techniques and exclude this from your curriculum, you are not giving your students all the knowledge possible to enable them protect themselves.    You must however remember that the startle reflex only occurs when you are startled, this may be an obvious statement, but it is very important that a clear distinction is made between: being caught off guard and completely by surprise with no awareness of the impending attack; and being attacked, responding in some kind of trained manner, to a confrontation that has already begun, a preamble or pre violence dance has occurred.

When you are startled it is due to stimulus being received via your eyes, ears or touch sensory system.  These can be categorized as Auditory Startle, Visual Startle and Sanatoma Sensory Startle. The first thing to understand here is that this reflex cannot be trained out!  The increase in our body’s reaction to startles is called “sensitisation” where as a decrease is called “habituation”. This means that the body will habituate to a certain point when it continues to receive startle stimulus. For example in the film “We are Solders” with Mel Gibson, when the journalist first appears on the battleground, the explosions startle him.  However, during the end scene when others turn up after the battle, his startle reflex had been habituated, to explosions, the new journalist all startle.    After a period of time the body will return to normal reactions to this stimulus and the habituated response will become extinct. What this tells us is that we can habituate being caught off guard when attacked and to a degree we can train down a startle reflex. However we would have to be continually training in a method that created a startle all of the time, as soon as we suspend this type of training the reflex will re-initiate itself.

When the body enters a startle reflex it moves in a manner that is faster than any other type of body movement. It simply cannot be reproduced by any conscious thought process. Any idea that you can train in a way that uses a flinch or startle response as part of your initial conscious thought process to respond to an attack is unrealistic.    The reason is due to the physiology of the body.


Another factor to be considered with regard to being startled and the severity of the startle is the situation and environment that you are in at the time. If you are in a dark alley and are alone at night, then the intensity of the startle may well be greater than the same alley during daylight hours. The key areas to consider with regard to Startle Reflex and Martial Arts are; can we train a response that can be used? Can we move intentionally at a speed approaching Startle Reflex speed?

There are recorded accounts of people who have trained intensively reacting to a startle stimulus in a trained response manner, while under extreme emotionally charged situations. This would indicate that although the reflex cannot be trained out, it could be substituted for movements similar to self-protection moves that you have trained for.   I am not talking about full on blocks or attacks. I am talking about shielding moves of reflex hand swipes across the face – i.e. programming a response that will help protect you if surprised.

With regard to moving at the same speed, we have to understand the physiology behind the reflex. The neurons that fire during the reflex action, never reach the conscious parts of our brain. The body has to switch off all the prime mover, fixator muscles and instead use the fast twitch muscles, known as our Antagonistic muscles. Typically the empirical evidence indicates that the body parts that are moving during this action first move back towards our core “The head retracts, shoulders hunch, arms bend and retract, knees bend and our legs withdraw to our core” Chapél (2006), briefly wanting to return to the fetal position. Knowing this and understanding the body’s natural reactions will allow us, as Martial Artist, to prepare our students for a stimulus based trained response to a surprise attack. What comes next is the dump of a chemical cocktail into the blood stream to enable the body to cope with the impending violence. At this stage we will also enter a state of mind that will either help or impede our survival. It’s also important to remember at this point that the attack is a surprise! Your attacker could be lying in wait for you, or stalking you ready to attack at a moment of their choosing, when they perceive you to be at your weakest. There is unlikely to be any verbal warning that the attack is coming, therefore coping strategies for a verbal encounter should not be much of a concern, with this method of attack. This is very much about prior knowledge of your body’s natural protection mechanisms and the simple fact that your only chance of a response during this surprise attack, is to train a stimulus based, programmed response. There is a distinct chance that you may even be shocked into a freeze state, one in which you are incapable of any response. Now we are entering the realm of our body’s physiology and the adrenal dump. What this will do is send the body into a high state of emotion, knowing what this feels like and understanding it, is the first step to coping with the effects on the body. To clarify, this is a surprise attack! First we enter a startle reflex and then the body goes into some type of fight or flight response, due to the adrenal dump. When the situation is changed to a perceived encounter first then the Adrenal dump will come first.

Early in this article I spoke about the need to have a very limited response against a surprise attack. We need to look at this in a little more detail here. How are we going to be surprised? As a martial artist, one of the first things that should be taught is awareness, awareness of your environment, the potential dangers and how to avoid them. Lets face it with today’s technology how many times do you see people walking down a street with ear phones in and music blasting out, or they may be totally engrossed in a phone conversation. Colour coding awareness levels has been put forward before (Cooper 1989), with awareness levels running from white to black, white being totally un-aware and black being in the middle of combat. It’s simply not possible to be totally aware at all times, we are all capable of being surprised. Even if we are expecting an assault we can still be startled. So what type of shielding moves of reflex hand swipes should we train.

As far as possible they need to mimic the movements that would be made during a startle reflex, it’s no good trying to programme in something that is far removed from the actual moves. We know that both hands will work in a symmetrical manner, this means that they will both retract together. This then can be used in our favour, bringing both hands in back, then up to cover the face, would be one example of a shielding movement. Another could be just one hand being swiped across the face, as if trying to swat a fly away. Both have to be programmed into the responses. We must remember here that these moves are only our initial reflex responses to being surprised; we have yet to respond in a significant way.

What I have done within this text is create a clear divide, between being surprised and going into an involuntary startle reflex. I have explained the reasons for this reflex. As our reflex’s are part of our body autonomic nervous system there is not a great deal that we can do, other than train it into an habituated state and one that will need constant re-enforcing to prevent extinction. In the coming chapters a lot of the above information will cross over into other areas, as we delve into the workings of our body and mind. The whole area of knowledge is contained within “Psychology of Confrontation” Chapél (2006).  An area of training that I also mentioned above is stimulus training as opposed to scenario based training. This is where training a response to a stimulus takes priority over knowing what the attack will be, what’s key here, is how this type of training can be started and then progressed so that true un-known attacks can be handled effectively by any student, something for later.


Chapél R, phd, (1991) course book S-101 V-9.9.8

Cooper J, (1989) “principles of personal defence” Paladin Press

Chapél R, phd, (2006) seminar teaching notes

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Psychology of Confrontation – Part I The assumed attack.

Psychology of Confrontation – Part I The assumed attack.

“Psychology of confrontation” Chapél (2006), (“PoC”) is a very large subject and one that will take more than two articles to convey.  However I will make a good start here. This subject covers every aspect of human conflict. I will limit this article to the interactions between two people, one of whom is intent on inflicting violence on the other. Even this very simple start has its problems. The subject of interpersonal violence is a massive one and applying psychology to it makes it even bigger! The ways in which two people interact are also numerous. Let us consider for a moment the different ways that you may be attacked.   These can be broken down into two very basic categories.

1 The surprise attack and

2 The anticipated attack.

Both of these will bring with them their own specific psychological differences and the type of responses that anyone is capable of applying. Due to the nature of the description the surprise attack means exactly that! It’s a surprise! This will illicit from the victim a startle reflex in some manner. Whereas the anticipated attack will not, due to the fact that a verbal or posture warning will pre-empt an attack.

Within the martial arts we have a continuing battle to justify the techniques and conflict scenarios that we teach to students. There are as many different ways to teach a technique, as there are different arts. Some arts teach principles and others teach scenario-based syllabi.  We have arts whose teachings are based on traditional techniques handed down through time and arts that work more on a stimulus basis, however the last type is few and far between.

In American Kenpo, the self-defence moves are based around conflict scenarios, with the addition of principles and theories. At the higher levels I also introduce stimulus based trained responses. All of this helps the practitioner to analyse the techniques in some depth. The hardest area of all is that of effectiveness of your technique and the reactions that could, with reasonable efficiency, be predicted from your attacker.    In the most part, you can be logical in your thought process, but the application of logic is only as good as the foundation that you base your ideas and thought processes on.   There is a saying within the field of human endeavour “practice makes perfect”.  This in itself is a reasonable saying with good sound logic! The more you practice the better you internalise the moves and the greater the understanding you will have.  All sounds very plausible right? So what if you are taught a move, leave the school, go and practice what you have been taught again and again, until you know it without thought and then return to the school only to discover that you remembered the moves slightly differently then you were originally taught and for the past few months you have been practising incorrectly!  Sort of blows holes in the old saying!  It would be better to say, “ Perfect practice makes perfect”.   The trouble is how do you know what is perfect! Teachers in the arts base their understanding on their own experiences, or that of their instructors, once these thought processes become engrained its almost impossible to accept that there may be knowledge and information out there that could help expand your techniques and understanding. The best you can really do is to apply a sound logical thought process to your art. The next real question should be where do we start?

So lets start with assumptions! You have two basic choices.

  1. Assume that each move that you make will have a very limited affect on your attacker and they will move in an un-predictable way; or
  2. Assume that every move you make is most effective and your attacker reacts to each move within a degree of predictability. The techniques that you use are at their most effective.

Each of the above assumptions brings its own problems and the psychology required to analyse each of these is different, we have to delve into the mind of both participants in this violent encounter.

In assumption 1 it can be read as saying “your moves are ineffective, so you need to have a lot of techniques ready” – this is making an assumption that your moves fail in some degree. You therefore need back up after back up. Consider the psychology of the student at this point, you are in some way teaching them based on a premise of failure!   On the other hand you are teaching them a large amount of techniques and skill to defend themselves against a huge amount of changing variables. Which one is the most efficient? Teach a student to have the mindset of a warrior? Or the ability to be over skilled? Well the answer is both together and if you agree with this, then mindset and psychology should be part of your teaching and training the mind should be more important than technique.

In the second statement above, there are no variables and you are making the assumption that every move you make works and the attacker will then react in a way that can be predicted. This in itself brings its own very specific problems, namely, if your technique hits the correct target with the right amount of force, then you need to have knowledge of the body’s reactions, the psychological impact and the physiological effects that will occur. The only real problem here is that you are teaching a process that does not allow for variables.

To enable a sound-learning platform, lets take the second statement and look at this in the context of an attack. The first thing to clear up here is that I am starting from the point of the attack and not the lead up to the attack, so all of the fight foreplay has happened and you find yourself faced with a guy that for what ever reason has decided to attack you! This is not a surprise attack. There are a couple of real important points here.

  1. The person being the aggressor, that has decided to hit you, has no clue, unless you have told him, that you are a trained fighter. He has made an assumption that you know nothing and feels he has the ability and the advantage to take you on!
  2. The likely target that has been chosen is your head.

These two points also give a clue to the psychology of the attacker.

Lets now look at the thought process of the attacker. Again I have moved on from the preamble, I am at the point where the decision has been made. What I really want to look at here is the innate non-cognitive thought process, not the conscious thought! That’s already been done. He forms his fists, raises his hands and punches towards your head. If he knows nothing it may be a swing. If he knows a little it could be direct. If he is well trained then a distraction may come first. Whatever the training, the attack’s on its way!  Unless the attacker knows your level of training, and for this section I will assume he does not, he is already expecting consequences to his actions. The first is contact, his mind knows what is coming, and it will have already prepared his body to receive force. He will also have perceived exactly where the target is in space and time. Most of the intake for the senses will be received via the eyes. Just like a lazer guided missile it is locked on target. Due to bilateral symmetry, at this point being in an autonomic process he will have two fists formed. From the initial contact a second strike may well have also been pre-programmed into his attack. As the fist makes contact with a head the sanatoma sensory system will relay information to the brain and automatically make adjustments to muscles that are backing up his force.   In several surveys carried out among door staff it was found that the right punch was the initial choice of weapon in the majority of street encounters. It also showed a nearly perfect choice of target was the head. So why a right fist and why the head? To answer these questions we have to look at how the brain and the body are wired. Suffice to say here that the head is always the focal point, its what we use in the majority of our communication skills – it’s the mind that is the attacker, not the body. The body is just the tool used by the mind to perform its required actions. The mind is therefore the core root of the problem; it’s where the computer is stored.


If we analyze this very small section of the attack and consider alternatives to this action we may well discover some very interesting points. What would happen if all of a sudden there were stimuli so great that it stopped the mind’s work right at that point where he was swinging? Would the mind have the ability to make adjustments? Or would it have to reset itself, just like our computers need to be rebooted due to an overload?  What would happen if the defender were very skilled, had already perceived that the attack was on its way and was waiting for the trap to be sprung? Yes they could make a pre-emptive strike. It has been scientifically proven that action beats reaction! But don’t forget that the reaction is against an unperceived attack. There are recorded cases of slowed time…ok it’s not slowed time but actual increased perception and sensory recognition on the part of the brain. This usually happens when a critical situation is occurring and the body is in autonomic mode. This mode occurs when the heart rate is at 115 to 145 beats per minute and the situation is critical. At this point it has been documented that movement that is usually not recognised is seen with pure clarity. Bullets can be seen, muscle contractions, the smallest movements are detected. This is not some super human ability; this is the basic body function that is engaged to protect the organism. While in this state the body is also capable of movement at great speeds, faster than any conscious movement, almost as fast as a startle reflex. For an untrained person there is the other side of the coin to consider. Loss of gross motor skills, freezing, tunnel vision, auditory shut down and a host of other physiological reactions. Coming back to my point, if you have trained correctly there is no reason why you should not be capable of moving fast enough to interrupt your attackers movement as long as the attack is not a surprise, you must also have correct trained programmed responses ingrained into your mind and body. If this is the case and you meet his swinging punch, somewhere in between the start of the movement and contact with your face you will have managed to interrupt the innate thought process that is occurring within their mind. Their arm will be stopped prior to the perceived contact point.   At this precise moment in time the attacker’s mind will suddenly have had a different stimulus occur, they will have to reboot, create a work around and then throw another punch with the other hand. This reboot is like an eternity in the middle of a violent encounter and will give you more than enough time to beat his action. The biggest problem is that this state of mind, is the hardest area to train and that is why the Psychology of Confrontation is so important. There is also the fact that if you are well versed in this type of critical event you will be able to send indicators to your attacker that will tell them that you are being submissive rather than confrontational. Again this sets their mind down a false path of perception; this is perhaps the most valuable of tools. Training via different mediums using the mind is of great importance, using mental imagery training, adrenal control breathing and stimulus based responses will go a long way to giving you the edge.

It is obviously the case that within any violent encounter the reactions of your attacker to being hit will be highly variable, however if you constantly analyse this interaction and develop a good understanding of the psychology and physiology of the human mind and body, you will be gaining very valuable tools. These tools are not often covered within the majority of schools; I intend to start to look at a few of these interactions and responses in more detail within my next article along with looking at a surprise attack and the bodies reactions.

To contact the author please call 0560 3319 558 or visit


Chapél R, (2006) Personal seminar teaching notes.


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