Monday, July 23, 2012

Confidence and Self Defence

Advanced Aikido, 2006, Phong Tong Dang and Lynn Seiser, Part 4: Advanced Applications: Taking Your Practice To The Next Level, Chapter 13: Self-Defence Techniques: 'It is false confidence cultivated through unrealistic training that leads to many injuries or deaths in self-defence.'

These types of statements concerning the realities of combat are common within the martial arts. It could also be argued that these types of statements are also forms of false confidence.

One of the definitions of confidence in the Oxford Dictionary is: the state of feeling certain about the truth of something. Dang and Seiser would have absolute confidence in the truth of their statement. Many martial arts instructors would likewise have absolute confidence in the truth of the insights they espouse. Dang and Seiser's statement is clearly unsupportable. The same can be said for many of the insights espoused by martial arts instructors.

Siddle (Sharpening the Warrior's Edge 1995) suggests that developing confidence in training should be the primary goal of survival instructors. He explains that confidence implies a mental state which is void of fear, anxiety or self doubt.

'Confidence' is a tricky thing. Another definition of confidence is: a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities. Based on this definition, it could be argued that a warrior needs to lack confidence if they are to be courageous.

The U.S. Army's Field Manual 7-21.13 (Department of the Army 2007) lists courage as one of the Army Values and personal obligations of every soldier. It explains that courage is not the absence of fear, but it is the taking of positive action in spite of the fear. Thus fear has to be present for courage to be present.

I have written before about a concept I've developed - the survival process. It refers to our evolved survival mechanism. A stimulus is appraised and based on that appraisal a feeling and physiological response may be elicited. The feeling leads to an urge to action which may or may not result in a behavioural response that is intended to deal with the initiating stimulus.

The appraisal process is made up of three parts. (1) initial appraisal - irrelevant, benign-positive, stress. If appraised as being stressful, it is then categorised as harm, threat, or challenge. (2) An initial appraisal of harm, threat, or challenge leads to a secondary appraisal which is an evaluation of the resources and abilities to deal with the harm, threat, or challenge. (3) The final component in the appraisal process is reappraisal which is constantly in action and is based on changing circumstances in dealing with the harm, threat, or challenge.

Confidence arises from the secondary appraisal; the evaluation of resources and abilities to deal with the harm, threat, or challenge. If we do not believe we have sufficient resources or abilities to deal with the harm, threat, or challenge, a feeling of anxiety or fear is elicited. Fear can only be present if we do not believe our resources and abilities are sufficient to deal with the harm, threat, or challenge. That is to say, fear can only be present if we lack confidence.

As I said before, confidence is a tricky thing. False confidence and over confidence are two sins that are often referred to as being dangerous by activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter. I have read and heard many 'knowledgable' martial artists express the view that women self defence courses are dangerous because they instill false confidence in their trainees. Ditto in relation to many martial arts that do not engage in some sort of 'reality'-based training (see above).

How can a person have false confidence? Confidence is a belief. If a person believes they have the resources and/or abilities to deal with a threat or challenge, they believe that. And the mind and body act on that belief, which can result in positive action.

A person believes they have the resources and abilities to deal with an appraised threat. This appraisal can either elicit a fear feeling of lesser intensity, or no fear feeling at all. This means the physiological response (fight-or-flight/stress response) is reduced in intensity or is absent altogether. Siddle's thesis is that the physiological response that accompanies fear leads to a catastrophic spiral in motor and cognitive function which is deleterious to survival and combat performance. False confidence prevents those deleterious effects.

False confidence may lead to a reappraisal of a threat to that of a challenge. This elicits a feeling of anticipation and a physiological reaction is experienced which prepares the body to meet the challenge. Anticipation is a positive emotion which broadens cognitive abilities, including problem solving abilities, rather than narrowing cognitive abilities which negative emotions such as fear does. The anticipation feeling leads to an approach behaviour rather than a withdrawal behaviour. The person will commit to their defence, and that commitment itself can produce a positive outcome in a violent encounter.

Over confidence is an interesting concept. A person 'over believes.' In reality, over confidence is a form of false confidence. Over confidence is often the quality of leaders, and survival (martial arts, self defence, combatives, etc) instructors. Over confidence instills confidence in their trainees, as well as in soldiers on the battle field who look to their leaders for confidence. Over confidence enables, or possibly encourages, one to advance forward in whatever activity. Motivational professionals are often not about developing a realistic assessment of a person's resources and abilities, but rather about instilling a belief regardless of the individual's resources and abilities.

The colloquial terms used in association with confidence is often judgemental and reflects the perceptions, beliefs, and agenda of the speaker. The more accurate term might be warranted or unwarranted. Confidence is belief, and that belief may be warranted or not. But whether that belief is warranted or not does not mean that confidence can be any less effective.

Confidence of any description is our first line of defence. The actual resources and abilities are the second line of defence. They are interrelated but they are all separate components in the survival process, as are all the components in the survival process. Rather than simplistic opinions, an understanding of the survival process enables us to better understand the realities of combat and the methods designed to survive a violent encounter. It enables to better understand the role that confidence, of whatever description, plays in surviving a violent encounter.

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