How To Deal with Fear in Self-Protection

Kelina Cowell

Kelina Cowell

You have just finished training and you are on your way home. You had a good training session and you feel great. You are also really hungry because you haven’t eaten since lunch, so you decide to take a short cut in order to get home quicker. Usually you take the long way around the block, but today you decide to take that short cut through a dimly lit and quiet street. Halfway through this street three guys steps out in front of you.

How do you react? Do you want to run away? Do you freeze and do nothing? Do you feel fear? Do you feel stressed? What if they just want to know what time it is? Is that likely? Do you think of where to position yourself so that not all three will be able to attack you at once? How many thoughts go through your head at this time?

In 490 B.C the Chinese martial artist and philosopher Sun Tzu stated:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles”

Regardless of whether you are experienced or not in martial arts, there are many techniques you can use in order to become better at handling a self defence situation (or any stressful situation for that matter). These techniques are based upon the improvement of your mindset.

This series of articles will hopefully give you some answers on how to develop a functional mindset. Hopefully it will help you to understand how to cope with fear and stress and to function better both in training or if you unfortunately find yourself facing three guys in a dark street one evening. But before I go on, just want to say – no matter how hungry and tired you are, taking the short cut through the dodgy area is not worth the risk!

Improving Your Mindset

Within Apolaki Krav Maga we have a well-developed system for how to improve your mindset. When we talk about developing mental skills, we usually think of five mental training strategies. These are visualization, goal setting, positive self-talk, combat mindset (confidence, courage, determination, aggression) and relaxation.

All these mental skills will help in reducing the effects of fear you might otherwise experience in a self defence situation. As a bonus effect you will be better at coping with general stressful or difficult situations in your life, as your brain will more deal with them more productively.

It should be very clear that regular self defence training contributes significantly to improving your abilities to handle a confrontation. This is due to the fact that while we are training physically, our minds is being trained too. However, in addition to this regular training and in order to further improve ourselves, there needs to be drill included that are especially designed to enhance your fighting spirit and mental abilities.

In his book “Condition to Win”, Wes Doss makes the following important point:

“Greater than any other calling, the life of the warrior requires mental skills in combination with physical or mechanical skills. Yet, mental training is an area which has been long neglected in the fields of conflict management and force application”.

Apolaki Krav Maga is a system that has incorporated mental training into every aspect of our training, although you may not be aware of it at first. When you first start training with us, many of you think a simple beginner level drill such as doing 30 seconds of press ups, 30 seconds of burpees and then 1 minute of bag sprints (running on the spot and striking a punch bag) is simply a cardio fitness drill. In a way it is, but if you think about it beyond the superficial, it is actually a mental drill. You have to keep going until the instructor calls time. There is no stopping, there is no rest. You keep fighting through the pain and fatigue until the job is done. This is developing your fighting spirit right from your first class. Within the Apolaki Krav Maga syllabus we focus upon developing the mental, tactical, physical, and technical aspects of self defence and instilling a proper combat mindset through correct conditioning.

There have been tons of studies on athletes and mental training and this can easily be found on the internet. The basic principles of mental training are the same regardless if you are a Apolaki Krav Maga practitioner, a soldier, a martial artist, an athlete, Joe from the accounts department…anyone! The key point is adapting the techniques to your own environment.

What is Stress and How Does It Affect You During a Violent Confrontation?

Stress occurs from social, physical, or mental stressors. Social stressors are your thoughts on what other people might think of you. Physical stressors are for instance that you are too hot or cold, in pain or overly tired and so on. Mental stressors are caused by your thoughts about what can happen or what to do about it.

Stress is caused by an activation of what is called a “stress reaction”. The activation of the stress reaction is caused by a person’s perception of the situation as threatening. What Psychologists coin as “Psychological Resources”, an individual’s belief in optimisim, control and so on whilst assessing a situation. How many times have you been very stressed about something that a friend sees as not as stressful? This is because their phychological resources towards the same situation is higher that yours. Therefore people with a high degree of psychological resources towards a violent altercation will perceive a situation as less threatening than people who have a low degree of psychological resources.

This is one of the reasons that you should include mental training, that is, to gain more resources to deal with a stressful situation, into your self defence training. To be able to function during a self defence situation, you need to raise your psychological resources.

The Fight or Flight Response

The fight or flight response has 7 possible outcomes. These are: Fight, flight, freeze, posture, submit, choking, and the death grip.

  • Fight-response: your reaction to a situation is to fight, you defend yourself and/or fight with your opponent or opponents. Fighting here not only refers to physical fighting but also to standing your ground and confront your opponents verbally.
  • In freeze-response: you experience temporary paralysis, meaning that you are not able to move or do anything.
  • Posture-response: you stand up to your opponent using both verbal and body language and pretend that you will fight your opponent if needed, in the hope he/she will back down. If this fails it is often followed by…
  • Submit-response: you surrender in hope that your opponent will stop attacking or hurting you.
  • Choking-response: you feel that you are not able to swallow or breathe, like somebody is actually choking you.
  • Death grip-response: you hold very hard on something for instance a door-knob or someone’s arm or jacket but fail to do anything else beyond that.

My Own Experience of Fear (Pre Self Defence Training)

When I was 16 I was out clubbing with a friend, we had an argument and I decided to go home. 3am stood alone on a quiet street waiting for a taxi to pass by. This was my main mistake – too lazy to walk to the taxi rank. At that age with a lack of personal saftey awareness and clouded by my anger towards my friend I chose to wait somewhere nearby the club where taxi regularly drove past but was deserted.

Within minutes a group of older teens found me and took the opportunity. I was shoved against the wall and a knife was put to my neck. Why? Because they didn’t like my heavy metal fashion and purple hair…yes I had purple hair…don’t judge me!

Now at the time I had muay thai training, which got me through all the high school bullying. I always reacted with a fight response, I had a high level of psychological resources to deal with fists, kicks and hair pulling in school. I was stronger and more skilled than the school bullies and they quickly learned to switch to verbal abuse instead. But this was bullying on a whole new level. I was drunk and pinned up against a wall in the middle of the night with a knife to my throat.

I found myself in a mix of mental and physical stress. My drunken adolesant brain was trying to process a huge amount of data:

“Who are these people?”

“Why are they doing this?”

“How am I going to get away?”

“Is she going to cut me?”

“I can’t feel my hands, how am I going to punch her?”

“Should I punch her or grab her knife hand?”

“How do I get the knife away from me?”

” My left leg is numb and my right leg is shaking, how can I kick her?”

“If I get her off me how am I going to run away if my legs don’t work?”

“If I can run what if my knee dislocates?” (I had recently gone through 18 months of physiotherapy for a severe knee injury)

“If I fight back are her friends going to jump in?”

“Do her friends have knives?”

All these questions where running through my brain at the same time as trying to listen and respond. All I remember is this girl spitting “You think you’re better than us, not so cool now are ya” into my face and her friends shouting “Cut her, Cut Her!” I was reduced to a mumbling, stuttering wreck which they found highly amusing.

Lucky for me a passer by, who knew one of the group stopped and started to diffuse the situation. I don’t know if it was what he was saying or a matter that they were bored of the game they were playing. But she let go of me and joined the rest of her group in conversation. I managed to stumble away and into a taxi nearby. It was front that point that I decided I needed to look at self defence training beyond striking skills.

My Experience with Fear (Post Self Defence Training)

Since training in Krav Maga I have been in a few violent situations, the last one was over a year ago when I was approached by a junkie outside my flat in Stockwell, South London late at night and he lunged at my stomach with a box cutter. At the time my training kicked in and I handled it as if it was a drill in class. No hesitation, no fear, no questions, just action. I don’t remember thinking anything. I just remember watching his hands and reacting when he pulled out something shiny. It wasn’t until I got inside and slammed the door behind me that I noticed my heart was pounding and my hands were shaking slightly with adrenaline. A vast difference in response compared to 17 years ago with that knife against my throat – and I owe that to my training.
Join me in Part 3 where I discuss the hippocampus and amygdala parts of your brain and how quality self defence training can re-programme your pre-programmed responses to fear.

By Kelina Cowell

Apolaki Krav Maga & Dirty Boxing Academy

Reposted from her blog: Self-Defence and Dealing with Fear Parts 1&2

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For more information about training in Krav Maga Self Defence in London, please contact Chief Instructor Kelina Cowell:

apolakicombat@gmail.com

020 3695 0991

www.apolakikravmagalondon.com

Apolaki Krav Maga & Dirty Boxing Academy,

KO Gym Arch 186, Bancroft Road, London E1 4ET

Apolaki Krav Maga & Dirty Boxing Academy is a full time self defence school in Bethnal Green, East London. Contact us today for a free trial class.

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