Sunday, 25 August 2013

Why we freeze during an assault - the fear response

We've all seen it: a car comes racing down the road, a deer is in the middle of crossing, and rather than run to safety, it simply stands there, watching as the car gets closer to it. And...well, we all know how the story ends. 

Fear is an evolutionary survival mechanism, though it causes us to do some weird things, including freezing during violence. Chances are, it will probably happen, which makes sense because most people's last response is to fight.

  There are many reasons why people freeze though, so let's go through some of them: 
  • Too many stimuli - your brain is taking in so much information at a rapid rate that it is unable to process what it is seeing effectively. Because most people have never been in anything even approaching a self-defense situation before, your brain has no reference experience, and because of that, it takes your brain time to find its bearings. Unfortunately, in the time that it takes your brain to do that, you can sustain some serious damage. 
  • Disconnect between 9-5 brain and combat-brain - unless you are in the military or in law enforcement, very few people train themselves to be able to shift from their 9-5 brain into combat-mode at the drop of a hat. It sometimes takes some time to shift between your day-to-day mindset into combat mode. Unfortunately, the longer this takes, the longer your freeze will be, and the higher the likelihood that you could sustain injuries from your attacker. 
  • Ethical struggle - this is especially common in martial artists/military/law enforcement people. You may have trained for years, though capacity and capability are not mutually exclusive. Just because you've gone through the motion of how to break someone's knee over and over doesn't mean that when it comes down to actually doing it that you can go through with it. This ethical struggle often causes trained people to pause before defending themselves. An assault is not the time to work out your ethics; spend time well beforehand thinking about what you could or couldn't do in any given situation. Have a few go-to techniques that you feel comfortable relying on, and that you know that you could perform in the heat of the moment without the slightest hesitation. 
  • Evolution - running away from a predator can often trigger the chase-reflex in them. Part of the reason that you freeze is that this survival method helped our cave-dwelling grandparents survive some pretty terrifying predators, and this trait has been passed down to us. Your brain is on autopilot during a high-adrenaline state, and the only thing it tells itself during a freeze is, "this hasn't gotten you killed yet, so keep doing it." This type of behavioural looping pattern can also be seen during other phases of an attack, particularly when you continuously punch an attacker in the arm, for example, even though it's not doing anything to them. Again, your brain is simply saying, "this hasn't gotten you hurt yet, so just keep doing it." Unfortunately, behavioural looping can also get you killed if you fail to break out of the loop and do something different. 
Ways to break a freeze: 
Yell loudly to break a freeze and get the attention
of people nearby who can help
  • Talk yourself through it out loud - paramedics often do this in the early stages of their career, and talking yourself through what you are trying to do can be the trigger to ground you back into the reality of the situation: "Strike to the face hard, strike to the sternum", etc. 
  • Yell, move- Loudly vocalizing or moving parts of your body (like in kicking) can sometimes bring you back to the present moment and out of the freeze. You'd be surprised how conscious you can feel during a freeze, so tell yourself to do SOMETHING! Yelling, of course, has the added benefit of hopefully drawing attention to what's going on, and having people either come over to help, or at least call the police. 
Further reading: 
Miller, Rory. Facing Violence. New Hampshire: YMAA Publication Centre, 2011. 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Improvised weapons for self-defense

Following my post on which weapons are legal for self-defense , I thought it would be a good idea to discuss how to improvise your own weapon for self-defense purposes. Let me state that for any of these items to work in a self-defense scenario, you need to be brutal in your strikes, and hit like you mean it. You are in charge of your own safety, and you may not have many chances to strike or use your improvised weapon, so you need to make them count. 

Purses are both fashionable and functional
Improvised weapons: 
  • Your purse/backpack/briefcase- use your your bag to hit your attacker. It can help create space between you and him, and you can get some good momentum behind your swings. Can also be used as a makeshift shield against knife attacks. 
  • An umbrella - a fairly common item that many people have with them on occasion. Not only can you swing it around like a baseball bat, but you can always use it like this, too:

    • Throw things at your attacker's face - purse contents, loose changes, garbage, etc. It won't do much damage, but it can certainly be a great distraction and hopefully deter further attempts to engage you.
    • Rolled up magazine - Not only can you strike someone with the rolled up magazine, but the end of it makes a great weapon. When a magazine or newspaper is rolled up, the ends become quite hard and makes a formidable improvised self-defense tool. Use it to thrust into an attacker's throat, his temple, his xiphoid process, etc. 
    • Chairs, trash bins, etc. - pick them up and point them towards your attacker to create space between the two of you. If he comes forward, strike him with the object. Alternatively, you can always knock over things that are around you to create space and hopefully slow up your attacker if he's chasing you.
    • Your drink - whether it's a scalding hot cup of coffee from Tim Horton's or a cold water bottle from the gym, your drink will not only act as a good distraction, it could potentially really harm your attacker (scalding coffee to the face probably doesn't feel too great).
    • Ballpoint pen or a pencil - the sharpened end can be thrust into soft tissue 
    • Books (especially hardcover) - can cause some serious damage. Strike to the face, smash into the nose, etc. Bonus points if it's this book you're using:

     Consider carrying the following:
    • A kubaton - developed in Japan and popularized by the LAPD, kubatons are legal, non-lethal and can really pack a wallop.They're relatively inexpensive, and can be found on amazon, ebay and other places online, as well as in some martial arts supply stores. They are lightweight, attach to your key chain and are used easily by anyone. The point provides penetration to soft tissue spots, though there are other uses for the kubaton, as well. If you take a self-defense course or kubaton course, you'll learn that you can use the shaft of the kubaton to roll across joints and cause some considerable pain. You can also use the shaft of the kubaton across joints to get control of the attacker, or to help with takedowns, among other uses. Lastly, if all else fails, you can even just hold onto the kubaton and hit your attacker with the keys at the end.
      Kubaton key chain
    Further suggestions for improvised weapons are always welcome below! 
    Stay safe.