Saturday, September 7, 2013

Zhuge and Fight-or-Flight

Zhuge Liang (181-234) is a famous Chinese military strategist. His reputation as an intelligent and learned scholar earned him the nickname 'Wolong' (litearlly: Crouching Dragon). Zhuge is an uncommon name and has become synonymous with intelligence and strategy in Chinese culture. He wrote:
Those who are skilled in combat do not become angered, those who are skilled at winning do not become afraid. Thus the wise win before they fight, while the ignorant fight to win.
Most martial arts would subscribed to this view, however, there is more to this than initially meets the eye.

Anger and fear and their accompanying physiological response were selected for in nature because they conferred a survival advantage on an individual. It's better known as the fight-or-flight response (which is the subject of my article in Blitz this month). Back in the first century, Zhuge is suggesting that these emotions have become maladaptive and now confer a survival disadvantage on an individual.

Before Zhuge was Sun Tzu. He advises that 'in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger.'

The berserker warrior tradition is a 3,000 year old, cross-cultural phenomenon whereby warriors deliberately enflame their emotions to rage to fight.

Many women's self defence courses teach to turn fear into anger.

Major Greg Mawkes OAM wrote that the SAS are taught to have controlled aggression. Aggression, according to Plutchik, is a combination of anger and anticipation. Anger is a negative emotion and anticipation is a positive emotion.

In Osama Bin Laden: Shoot to Kill, an ex-Navy SEAL explains that the SEALs would have experienced an adrenalin surge, but never fear. The adrenalin surge suggests and emotion is being experienced. Which one? Possibly aggression.

Aggression and violence are often divided into emotional and instrumental. Instrumental violence involves no emotional arousal. It is a well establish phenomenon in the natural world.

No emotion means no physiological response which prepares the body to fight or flee (among other behaviours). The SNS activation and hormonal cascade increases speed, strength, endurance, blood clotting abilities, and pain tolerance. Zhuge's approach, instrumental violence, does not obtain the survival advantages of these physiological responses that accompany emotional arousal.

The above are examples of fighting traditions that are not entirely prepared to forgo the survival benefits that nature bestowed upon us.

Nature's survival mechanism involves emotion, physiological reaction and instinctive behavioural responses. Fighting traditions teach tactics and techniques that are learned behaviours, but they have to be supported by an appropriate emotion and physiological reaction. What emotion do you train for, and why?

1 comment:

  1. Ugh...THANK YOU! I get so tired of people spouting off platitudes about how "true martial artists" can't be riled up. It is one thing to repeat something your sensei says while you're right there in his dojo but why don't people reexamine what they say afterwards?!


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.