A little background: With the exception of rookie officers I rarely teach rank beginners. At the occasional seminar there will be some new people and sometimes I'll do a hands-on class for non-martial artists. The awareness-based paradigm works pretty well for that, so it's okay. But most of the people I work with already know how to move and how to fight. They have the skill.
What usually happens is that we wind up fishing for glitches. Expose him or her to the common attacks and see if they are still on familiar territory. Show ranges of intensity and power and mindsets and see if they panic or choke. Increase the complexity- of terrain, of number and type of threats, of weapons. Hold them to legal standards. Let them deal with darkness and slippery stuff. When they choke- and sometimes it is just a fraction of a second of hesitation or a tightening around the eyes- we work on that, dig it out, see what it is and where it came from. Then we see if it can be dispelled or must be worked around.
Some of them can't be dispelled. Some people can't eat larva no matter how hungry they get and some people can't take a life or blind. Training to do something you know you can't make yourself do is a waste of time.
And here's the rub- most people have no idea of what they can or can't do on the extreme edge. They think they do, they build elaborate stories about their prowess and bravery and what they will do if...
Here's the real deal- I've put a man through scenarios, a big, tough jail guard with probably a hundred fights under his belt and he could not point a real gun at another human being. He wasn't even aware that he wasn't doing it. I've seen another who curled up and 'died' when hit with a plastic bullet. I've seen the 6'4" former marine who ran and hid from inmates and the 5'2" single mom with no training or experience who fought like a tiger. And the blackbelt with a roomful of trophies who still freezes though no one could ever call him a rookie. What you believe about yourself, all the stories, all the logical progression (I've been training for this for ten years, I've been hit by blackbelts, surely I won't freeze!") doesn't have a whole lot of bearing on how you will perform. That sucks, but there it is.
It ties back to the last post. The catastrophic failures come from glitches, they come from choking. Mental errors. Thinking when you should be moving and seeking to understand when you should be escaping. Stuff like that.
The denial hits hard, here. You froze and got your ass kicked. Train harder. You got ambushed and pushed down some stairs. Better switch styles, obviously the first was inadequate. It doesn't apply to me. I visualize. I won't freeze, we train against fully resistant opponents*.
When you step through the looking glass, it's not just that the world has changed or the rules have changed. You have changed. In ways that you can't know from this side. Those changes may go both ways- there may be things that you believe you can and should do that you can't. And there may be things that you do in panic or rage that you never believed you were capable of. And hear this well- the psychic damage to you doesn't come from what you did or didn't do. It comes from the parts of your identity, the story you've been telling yourself, that turn out to be lies. All the things that you pretended that you knew about yourself that failed to be true.
Some of you will be braver than you think. Some more cowardly. Most will be stupider but a few will have a clearer head than they though possible.
But too many will just pretend it won't happen. And as long as they can stay in their nice, clean dojo and kwoons and get pushed, (but not past the real mental limits) they can believe any damn thing they want. And they will believe what makes them comfortable.
Be aware of your glitches. Just as you don't get to choose what bad things will happen to you, you don't get to pick who you will be when they do. That is a you that must be discovered. Start with the glitches.
*Which are something of a myth, anyway.