Fear and the Flight or Fight Reflex – Part 6 of 6

By Jim Harrison (Originally Published By MA Success Magazine)

Obviously, I can’t go out looking for street fights to prove my martial arts skills are effective. That would be contrary to the self-defensive nature and philosophy of peace practiced throughout the martial arts. So how will I know if my skills will work in real life?

Today, we are rarely allowed to even protect ourselves physically because of decisions made by people who control our rules, laws and courts. We must “turn the other cheek” even if it kills us. Further, because of the senseless violence, misuse of weapons and the cowardly “gang mentality” prevalent in today’s society, it’s extremely dangerous to defend yourself.

I strongly recommend avoiding most confrontations. There are simply too many inherent dangers – physical, legal and civil – to justify fighting nowadays. If, however, you are attacked, you are not only justified to fight back but are forced to. If you wish to live and / or avoid injury, you have no choice.

When that happens, you can rely only on your martial arts training and ring experience to carry you through and help you survive an attack. If that training has been tough, practical and realistic, you will, more often than not, prevail. Remember, however, your attitude is more important than your skill.

President Theodore Roosevelt once stated – so poignantly – “It’s not the size of the boy in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the boy.” Truer words were never spoken.

Here, I speak strictly for myself, and not for anyone else reading this. If I’m personally confronted with a serious threat, I invariably take appropriate and aggressive measures to protect myself – regardless of whatever potential legal or other consequences may result. I can worry about any of that later because, if I don’t win that encounter, I may not have to worry about anything since I could be crippled or dead!

Suppose I’ve trained in the martial arts mainly for fitness and health. Does that mean my skills might never work in a real self-defense situation – because I might or might not freeze out of fear? How can I know?

You can’t! Like the student skydiver who climbs into the airplane, like the rookie fighter pilot who takes off on his first sortie, or the beginner boxer climbing into the ring for the first time – they never knew if they could perform effectively, if at all, that first time. However, most do; and few completely freeze.

For one thing, you won’t have any choice in a street confrontation. If you cringe and cower when attacked, you may very well be killed. Therefore, your only chance will be to go for it!

Secondly, understand that you will not normally perform in a real fight as well as you did in practice. Fear does cause us to be uptight emotionally and, consequently, hinders or restricts our ability to think quickly and accurately. Fear also tightens us up physically and makes our moves – in this case, punches and kicks – stiffer and slower than normal.

However, there are a rare few, natural fighters who actually “turn on” in real and serious fights or in battle. But even these rare types also draw on their previous practice and experience.

Fear-driven stiffness is totally unavoidable. Only experience will allow you to loosen up. Often, however, as a real fight progresses, you’ll find that you will loosen up, too. Further, the sum total of your training sessions and ring experience will promote self-confidence, which leads to a more relaxed attitude in combat. The less you think about what can happen to you, the more you can focus on what you have to do to defend yourself.

And finally, when another person picks the fight with you or assaults you, he’s the one in the wrong. You are right! And being right, especially feeling right, empowers us immensely. So, in any attack situation, give yourself a big dose of “righteous indignation” and go for it. Don’t lose your temper. Keep cool, calm and collected. And explode into action.