Monday, January 9, 2012

Fear and Defence

I am not alone!

Recall from the last couple of blogs that I'm looking at whether or not our evolved fight response in Cannon's fight-or-flight is associated with fear. Cannon associated fight with anger, but those activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter (e.g. military CQC, law enforcement physical methods, martial arts, self-defence, and in particular women's self defence) who refer to fight-or-flight tend only to refer to fear. This should not be surprising given they are referencing the work of the stress discipline to inform their understanding. Stress is associated with anxiety (a close cousin of fear) and fear, either as a stimuli or a response, or as a stimuli, part of the stress process, or the output of the stress process.

While researching today, I came across a book review by Dr. Sergio Pellis, Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He reviewed FEAR AND DEFENSE, edited by Paul F. Brain, Stefano Parmigiani, Robert Blanchard, and Danillo Mainardi. London: Hawood Academic Publishers, 1990.

Blanchard distinguishes between two types of attack behaviours: defensive attack and offensive attack. Defensive attack is associated with high levels of fear, while offensive attack is associated with anger.
Where does fear fit into this schema? Clearly, the implication in the title of this book is that 'fear' and defense go together and that such systems should be differentiated from aggression. ... But do you really have to be afraid in order to defend yourself? This question is rarely asked and is never adequately addressed.
This question is precisely the question I'm asking now. I would have to agree with Pellis though, it is a question that appears to never be adequately addressed.
Nonetheless, the question of whether it is necessary to be afraid in order to defend yourself remains unanswered.
Yes it does remain unanswered, however, at the very least I'm researching the question and bringing the issue to the attention of those who use fight-or-flight in a practical way - to better prepare a person to survive a violent encounter.

Interestingly, Pellis is an aikidoka (aikido practitioner). I obviously have a background in martial arts. Does this background predispose us to apply the theoretical to the practical and ask: is our evolved fight behavioural response associated with fear as many, academics and non-academics, would suggest?
Again, in reference to martial arts, the vast amount of training is designed so that defensive movements become automatic responses, in that they can occur independently of autonomic reactions and thoughts characteristic of fear. That is, you can block a blow that comes to within a few centimeters of your nose without having your heart thumping like crazy. I can certainly imagine that no matter how effectively I defend myself from a street mugger, I would certainly experience 'fear'.
Certainly experience fear? Sergio, my Beyond Fight-of-Flight investigates the fight-or-flight concept based on my attempt to understand why I did not experience fear when I was attacked by a knife-wielding attacker on a train in the south of France. It investigates why I didn't experience fear, nor any of the physiological responses that, according to Siddle, would cause catastrophic deterioration of my motor and cognitive functions, which decrease my combat effectiveness. Do not immediately assume you will experience fear when involved in an aggressive or violent encounter. I had only 3-4 years training when I had my knife attack. Don't be so sure you would have experienced fear - trained or untrained.

Why bother? I can hear that question being asked by the very same people who will refer to this knowledge to provide support for their own methods. Grossman, in On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace, states that 'just as a fireman has to know all about fire, you have to know all about violence.'Agreed! But does focusing on fear-based responses allow you to know all about violence? Good God no. This fear-based understanding is obtained by one of the blindmen who are attempting to describe an elephant by touching just one part of the beast. That blindman is the stress discipline: Each in his own opinion, exceeding stiff and strong, though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!In Beyond Fight-or-Flight, I'm trying to gather all the blindmen's observations and present a more complete picture of the violence/combat elephant.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks John for the great posts on this subject recently, its certainly provided plenty of food for thought and discussion.

    I was having a discussion with a couple of training partners just the other day with regards to your work in this area and we came to a couple of interesting questions where your expertise would be very welcome:

    The first was the condition of shock - shock is obviously a debilitating reaction, sometimes even deadly, and has physiological effects on people that are wide ranging - where do you fit shock into your understanding of responses people have when 'the sh@t hits the fan'?

    This leads once again to the question of training methods - will your work once it has outlined a model for what may be / is happening to people at these critical times go on to use this to improve the outcome for people at these times - do you see value in any singular or combination of training methods that can improve peoples ability to deal with things?

    Lastly, and reflecting on the stories and statistics you recount in your last few blogs, and especially WSD, people obviously react in different ways - do you think an individual is prone to act in the same way? What I mean by this is for instance, if someone freezes at a critical point, will they usually freeze or is the response a lottery - are responses a bit like allergies - should you test for your predisposition to certain response types and modify your training accordingly? And at what stage do you think these are programmed - is it a wiring issue we a born with, do we settle on a response type in childhood etc - these questions could have a lot of ramifications in terms of targeted training, and depending on how these responses are programmed, identify critical early training times for children / young adults.

    As always John keep up the great work, its so sorely needed - looking forward to buying these books one day!


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