Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Fifth Circle

If you get hit by surprise, you are going to freeze. How long you will freeze will depend greatly on your training and who you are, but the freeze will happen.  I get the feeling that someone will want to argue that, so I will state it as simply as I can. If your head was someplace else, digging for your keys in your pocket or looking for your car in the lot or scanning the crowd for a friend and something slams into the side of your head it will take you a measurable amount of time to switch gears. You may have to deal with other things, too, which will lengthen the freeze.

Remember that the circles both work together and prevent each other. IF you were paying attention at level two, you avoided the situation altogether. If you missed avoidance but saw it coming on and had a chance to escape or de-escalate (level 3) you either avoided it, averted it, or at minimum knew it was a possibility and hopefully could engage on your terms. If you failed or missed those two levels, you got surprised, already have been injured or grabbed and you will need to switch gears.

That's one of the beauties of the fourth circle, by the way. If you have conditioned properly you will still freeze, but you will freeze after your counterattack. Hormone-induced freezes happen at the speed of blood. Social freezes happen at the very, very slow speed of conscious thought. A conditioned response happens at the speed of nerve.

So if level four works the threat has to deal with the freeze, too. Whoever unfreezes first has the advantage.

So here is the fifth skill you need for self-defense. The ability to break the freeze. Skills and strategies for making yourself move despite some issues of hard-wiring and social conditioning.

All aspects of violence are hard to research.  Wiring people to sensors is a pretty good indicator that something is about to happen and the true surprise aspect is off the table.  Modern ethics in human experimentation means that the feeling of danger won't be quite real.  Self-reporting of what people remember and experience is notoriously unreliable.  A few have been exposed enough to write reliable reports after the fact and at first glance they would seem like good sources, but that much exposure to violence definitely causes some changes in thought and personality.  The best sources may be useless for generalizing to other people.

I wrote a little about this long ago. My best stab so far is a short paper on types of freezes. It will be part of a book someday, probably.  Just in my own experience (direct and people I've trained or counseled) I've identified five different general types of freezes and eighteen sub-categories.  Eighteen different reasons for standing there while you get pounded or stabbed.

Sounds like a lot, I know.  But we've already talked about how simply switching gears is a measurable freeze- and that assumes someone who knows a bit about fighting and has something to switch to.  That's a different freeze than not being able to figure out what you are facing- something so novel that you don't have a reference point, like being shot with a magazine; or something so incongruous that your brain won't wrap around it like a flying blue shark with glasses. Or the very common freeze of wanting to know 'why' or the sudden desire to make a plan when damage is already coming in.  Five different ways to freeze there, but all largely mental.  There are physiological freezes, too, and socially conditioned ones and freezes that cross borders.  Once I started thinking about it, eighteen didn't seem that far off the mark.

Some of the freezes are prevented in training.  The more you are exposed to, the fewer things will trigger the novelty freeze.  What you learned about level two will prevent or mitigate the 'why' freeze.  OC, as far as I know, can't be conditioned as complex responses to changing stimuli but you can train, or merely make it a habit, that if you are being hurt you are fighting.

Some freezing can be prevented or mitigated by giving students a realistic understanding of violence, giving them permission to separate who they are in the civilized world from who they need to be when bad things happen.  That doesn't mean to pretend that laws and ethics don't apply (see the first circle) but to understand that violence and violent people are fundamentally different than debate or a friendly sparring match.  Most people know that intellectually, but when stress hits the human animal has a tendency to look for an equivalent and go with what worked then- even if it was a family argument.

Prevention is good.  I will happily spend five hours in training now, while I have five hours, to save a half-second when I really need it.

But you can't prevent them all. You also have to learn to break out of a freeze.  Breaking a freeze is hard.  Freezing works more often for more prey than running or fighting.  The old part of your brain knows this.  It doesn't have a lot of faith in any of this new-fangled training.  Breaking the freeze directly pits your will against your hindbrain.

This is back-engineered. This is how I remember breaking out of my own freezes and meshes pretty well with others who were aware enough of what went on internally to talk about it.  It also points up  some things that were very common in people who stayed frozen.

1) Recognize that you are frozen.  It's harder than it sounds. Sometimes a really bad freeze feels...nice. Warm and floaty. Crystal calm.  You can feel completely aware of every detail around you and even compliment yourself on how clearly you are thinking and how calm you are.  You might even have very logical reasons for doing nothing. Here's a clue- if you or someone you care about are taking damage, you are frozen. Recognize it and act.
1a) There's another form of freezing, too. I call it the adrenaline loop. It is freezing in action. Doing the same thing over and over even though it is not working or you can see death on the horizon.  This is a direct will vs. hindbrain contest.  Remember how the hindbrain doesn't trust that new-fangled idea of training? It's also not big on the idea that you can think ahead. It can sense death and all it knows, all it accepts, is that what it has done so far hasn't gotten you killed. It will vote to stick with the plan.  Catch me at home or a seminar and I usually have a very ugly video of this in my bag.

2) This is the part I get handwavy about. Once you recognize you are frozen, you make a conscious decision to do something- almost anything- and you do it. Scream. Hit the guy. Something.  This is handwavy  (everyone gets that, right? the one step in a complicated process where everyone just hopes that things work out and the person explaining waves hands around in an attempt to distract you from the fact that he really doesn't have an answer?). I know what I've done. I know this can work. I have no idea if telling you is enough. I have no way of inspiring terror to the point of a freeze in students and then coaching them until acting is a habit.  I can tell you you must take conscious control of your body, but I look around and see how few people seem to have conscious control of any aspect of their lives and I lose a bit of hope.  If you are frozen, act.

3) Do it again. This may be personal, maybe pretty universal. This is deep in that area that is hard to research. In my experience, I tell myself to do something, do it and I'm still fighting the hindbrain. Do it twice, however and the hindbrain accepts that the change hasn't gotten me killed and lets me get to work.

That's the pattern for me. Recognize the freeze. Make myself act. Make myself act again.  Then I can enter the sixth circle.


shugyosha said...

If your video is Dpt. Dinkheller's, I've seen it online sometimes. Want me to check?

Jason said...

This essay comes at a perfect time for me. I froze yesterday--safe and sound in the dojo while practicing face contact.

I closed my eyes tight and tried to put (hide?) my head on my opponent's chest. It was completely involuntary.

I snapped out of it, but I don't know how. I would have been long dead if my opponent wanted to hurt me.

I remember thinking "Matt will see that I'm frozen and stop hitting me." What a horrible sensation. It's something to work on.

Kai Jones said...

This helped me find the place in my pattern that I need to change, because what worked when I developed it (in response to a particular repeat predator in my household) will be contra-survival to most other predators. Well done!

jks9199 said...

Those "floaty freezes"... they're the ones that are sneaky, because they can be very hard to recognize.

I remember the first time I responded to an officer in distress call. I'm the first to get there, the newest guy on the squad, and not long out of FTO. The most experienced guy on the squad had been jumped by a drunk, and barely got the SOS out. I get there, and the drunk is pinned by my squad mate and a citizen. I just stood there, until my squad mate yelled at me to cuff the drunk. If you asked me right afterwards -- I wouldn't have recognized that I'd been frozen. I didn't feel frozen -- but I was.

Steve Perry said...

I've seen the Dinkheller video, starting with the first thing the deputy said to his eventual killer. It was obvious the deputy was stuck in some kind of loop, but I'm not sure if that qualifies for a freeze. It took a little poking around, but eventually I came across the information that both men emptied their weapons at each other -- and reloaded.

Dinkheller managed one hit on his killer, in the stomach. Apparently, he also fired first.

Andrew Brannan, the killer, hit the deputy ten times, out of what was supposed to be thirty shots fired, aiming for places where there wasn't any body armor and finishing him off with a round to the eye. A Vietnam vet using a .30 carbine.

I didn't see what Dinkheller's handgun was or how many rounds it held.

jks9199 said...

Deputy Dinkheller, in my opinion, did experience a sort of freeze, tied in part to something called "presumed compliance." Police can get so used to people complying and obeying that when someone doesn't -- they kind of vapor lock.

That's kind of what happened to me (described above) -- and in a moment, I'll share a much clearer story of that sort of thing. In the story I posted earlier, I remember thinking things like "wow, he's fighting!" and "what do I do now?"

Another war story... I'm backing my partner (who happened to be female) up on a domestic dispute. The line between a dispute and an assault can be hair-thin; in this case, the husband/father was drunk, and scaring the family, but hadn't hit anyone yet. Turned out he was a guy my partner had arrested in the street a week or so earlier, and I'd backed her then, too. He'd been meek as a lamb in the street...

Well, this wasn't the street; it was HIS living room. We both missed several cues (conspicuous ignoring, blading, and more), and as he's ignoring us talking to him while he's on the phone -- my partner goes in to tap him on the shoulder. He backfisted her in the chest, knocking her back. She froze when he struck her; I flew around the sofa, and, with notable velocity and rapidity, introduced the guy face first to said sofa and cuffed him. (The only reason he got the sofa was because it was in the way... otherwise, it would have been the floor.)

It's real easy to get used to people doing what you say as a cop; after all, most of the folks we deal with do. Some may mouth off -- but they comply. Sometimes, when they don't... cops vapor-lock or freeze, trying to figure out why. Especially if, as happens in a lot of training scenarios, the bad guy plays along and complies if you say the "magic words" for the exercise.