Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Physics and Fear

Physically, personal combat can be pretty simple. If I can be more efficient than you- get power to the right place faster than you can- I will prevail. That becomes a very complex simplicity very quickly.
If I am better at generating and delivering power, I have the advantage. If you know how to disrupt balance and can do it at the right time, you can neutralize my advantage in power. If I can keep the encounter at a range where your tools are ineffective, I have the advantage. If you can control how I perceive time and opportunity, the advantage is yours. There's a lot there, but the actual physics of it is pretty clean. Simple.

That's the baseball bat problem. The problem of someone swinging a bat at your head isn't that complicated. The closer you can contact to his shoulders (hips, technically...) the less force you need to absorb or dissipate. The bat can only move along one plane and each plane has specific dead zones. The momentum of the weapon in a committed attack gives you certain gifts and the constrained momentum of an uncommitted attack limits the damage you will take. It's not hard, physically.

But mentally and socially, knowing what to do is a far cry from doing it. In the last post, there were some good comments, especially from the BTDT. Uncomfortable... pressure to succeed... concerned... PISSED... cold and very, very focused... Some speculation that it is probably the same chemical, but interpreted differently. I would go so far as to say the hormone is properly used instead of taking over. LawDog says something to the effect that the hindbrain has the authority to take you over.

A very, very primitive part of your brain has the power and the inclination to shut down the sophisticated parts of your brain, including your martial arts skill, and revert to an animal or child, a screaming monkey or passive victim hoping mommy can save you.

So we get past that. All of the BTDT regular commenters have done it. The question is , "How?"
Anonymous speculates that adrenaline junkies get the same thing, so it might be a training issue. That sounds wrong. The trouble with chemical reactions is how to tell if we have learned to deal with it or we have desensitized to it. That's a profound issue, because if it is a purely desensitizing process, there truly is no substitute for experience and training in complex skills will not help you at all until a certain threshold number of encounters. If it is a training issue, it can be taught...

Evidence- Mark brings up that in my one operation where I was assigned as shooter, I got a lot of the adrenaline effects that didn't occur anymore in hand-to-hand stuff. Tunnel vision (which actually seems to help with accurate shooting); time dilation; extraneous thoughts and new after-effects. All true. But I broke through it faster and was operational almost immediately. So it appears (aware that a sample of one isn't much for statistical purposes) that breaking the freeze can be learned or modeled as a skill. That's good to know, and might give us the crack we need to teach it.

It's also clear that BTDT people don't feel the fear the same way. Or so it seems. There may be no difference between "Oh my god I'm gonna die!!" and "This isn't going to end well." The only difference may be the words. You can't measure what is in someone else's head.
It may be as simple as having done it a hundred times without anything too bad happening. Maybe it is simply unknown territory for some and less so for others. It may be the difference between singing in public for the first time and a professional performer.

Or it could be a difference in wiring. I was raised in rural eastern Oregon. Some of those ranchers and loggers were tough. But when it got down to it, did they handle pain better (using will to ignore it) or did they feel it less (just insensitive nerves)? How would you tell?

So- deal with fear better? Or feel it less?

I'll think more on this. This emotional aspect is what I fear is missing from most training- or worse, students are simply told that it won't happen to people trained in X ("because we meditate" or "Because we practice self-discipline" or "because mushin will take over," or....)

And this is just one emotion- fear. And just one way- fear inside yourself. A panicked animal is a different animal to fight than a rational person, even if the animal is human. Incoming rage seems to trigger a monkey-minded fear in most people. And a truly cold killer, someone who can take your life or simply, coldly, put you down and put the cuffs on without engaging any emotion at all is another thing entirely.

Lots here. Consider the surface barely scratched.


SM said...

Who are the BTDT?

Vaughn said...


The above address has some information that may connect to this topic. Specifically, when he talks about the amygdala and the amygdala highjack.

Steve Perry said...

"The amygdala highjack?"

Wasn't that an episode of Star Wars? Where they kidnapped the princess of BooBoo?

jks9199 said...

BTDT = Been There Done That, I think.

Lots to think about here. A very interesting series of posts, Rory.

I've got something circling in my head that just won't quite land yet... Something about a balance of exposure, training, experience, success as well as examined failures... Familiarity shaping response and responses shaping experiences, too.

shugyosha said...

From limited experience, I believe part of the thoughness is the acceptance. If you know something bad (pain...) is coming, you don't have to deal with the surprise and/or the breaking of your model. So it's easier.

Keep well. Ferran.

Bram said...

" Or it could be a difference in wiring. (..) Some of those ranchers and loggers were tough. But when it got down to it, did they handle pain better (..) How would you tell? "

If a city boy moves out to the country and works with and among the 'rough and tough' does he, over time, handles pain like they do? If so it would be more a matter of conditioning than wiring. Or maybe the mindset needed to live in those areas has something to do with it.
Just a thought.

Jeff said...

Vaughn, thanks for posting that youtube link. That was a very interesting talk, and does indeed seem to be relevant here. Daniel Goleman says that you can indeed strengthen the part of the pre-frontal-cortex that filters out the amygdala's response and keeps in control. Surprisingly, by meditation.

So, I'm sure there is no substitute for direct experience with violent situations(of which I've had little), but it is good to know there is _something_ that one can do that will possibly help.

I think shugyosha's comment is right on too, and I wonder if that is one step towards keeping the left side of the pre-frontal-cortex in control instead of giving in to the amygdala's response.

this post's captcha: cutsc (seemed relevant to any topic on violence)

Master Plan said...

It's a complex tangle for sure.

How do you tease out "handling fear" versus being "desensitized" to it if the emotions come after the acts?

Is it possible that the identifying ("feeling"?) of the chemical response AS fear makes it harder to handle?

If fear comes after the fact as an emotion then to what extent are folks freezing out of fear because they are thinking about it too much? (trying to put a name to the feeling, instead of worrying about that shit LATER)

To what extent then might training reduce the experience of fear because you don't have to think about things, instead you've actually got something to DO and nothing at all to do with stress inoculation?

Of course if the training experience itself is stressful (which to some extent seems desirable) then maybe you can get that benefit (stress exposure\desensitization) in addition to the training benefit at the same time.

Rory said...

I think everyone is dead on. It's not simple. JKS- very interested in seeing what settles when you are done thinking.

Vaughn- That sucker is an hour long. Downloaded, I'll see when I have an hour. I'm a little familiar with Golman's stuff.

Ferran- I think acceptance is huge. The understanding that it may not work is a big piece of distinguishing a tool from a talisman. Or, rather, the other way around- the blind insistence that what you have is 'it' can turn a good tool into a mere superstition.

Bram- That's one of the things. For most traits you can get born there, you can work to get there, or you can be put in an environment where 'there' is the result... but the results may or may not be subtly different and achieving them through training is different. I can't train you to 20:15 vision, but I can probably teach you to observe in such a way that you _see_ more than someone with better vision. With subtler stuff, like courage or will, it is harder to figure what was learned, what was conditioned (similar but different) and what was genetic.

MP- Absolutely on the thinking too much. Humans tend to interpret their own internal state rather than acknowledging or using iot. With some people I like to say, "You've worked all your life to be a good person. Now I'd like you to be a good animal. You're a perfectly good animal."

Vaughn said...

I put the video on in the background, while I was doing other activities on the web. When something caught my attention, I noted down the time, and later went back to pay more attention to the 'highlights.'

Scott said...

As an urban kid, I did a lot of San Francisco down hill skateboarding (wheels were bigger and faster in those days). Pretty much lost my fear of high speed, nearly getting hit by cars, and the pain of hitting the ground hard.

Facing down a tough guy in a monkey dance never seemed as dangerous as riding a skateboard.

But walking in the wilderness one time with two women, we were charged by two 150lb Doberman Pinchers. The owner sat up in his sleeping bag (it was early) yelled "halt," and the dogs froze in their tracks. About 6 feet from us. It was only at that point that I realized I had positioned the two ladies in front of me.
Had I trained for that situation, would it have been different?
I don't believe I had time to make any decision, much less "think," or "feel scared," my response just happened.

I'm for the argument that people are just different. To the question, "Why are you so great?"
Charlie Chaplin answered, "Because, every time, before I go on stage, I'm so scared my entire body shakes uncontrolably. By the time I go on, I'm relaxed."
Vaslav Nijinsky answered, "I step off one foot into the air and pause there for a moment before coming down on the other foot."