Knowing how to turn your attackers on, or off, is actually pretty important! So let's start with the back story...
The effects of adrenaline in self-defence situations are well documented.
What most of us know is this:
As soon as we detect danger, we experience the 'fight, flight or freeze' response. Adrenaline floods into our system, we become stronger, faster and feel less pain. We also tend to experience tunnel vision, loss of spacial awareness, time warps, auditory exclusion, etc., etc. A big part of self defence training focuses on getting oneself used to that experience, functioning effectively through it and managing it, to the extent that this can be safely done in a training environment. Still, we know that the adrenal response can be a huge disadvantage in many cases and severely limits the way we think and fight.
One thing is often left unsaid though. The person who is attacking you, or is about to attack you... Do they experience this? If so, how can you use it to your advantage? If he/she is not experiencing adrenal dump, how can you trigger it in them in order to tip the conflict in your favour?
Geoff Thompson, in his excellent book 'Dead or Alive' (which I believe everyone should read), offers some tips and tricks to identify and trigger adrenal response in the opposition.
Before we discuss this though, let us discuss something else. Is adrenaline always a bad thing? The answer is no. Miller (2008), in his book 'Meditations on Violence', identifies several levels of adrenaline response in the body, as follows:
1. Normal – this refers to your every-day mind and body, when one is often unprepared for an intense violent encounter. When we get hit with a sudden rush of adrenaline in this state, the response is often to freeze, while the mind tries to cope with what is happening and decide on a course of action. Unfortunately this takes precious time, especially if the attack has already begun and you are taking damage.
2. Optimal – this is when we are alert, engaged and physically ready for an altercation. A good example of this is when you prepare yourself to spar in training. You are alert, and this will usually provide the best reaction time, as well as the ability to plan and make tactical decisions as options present themselves.
3. Past optimal – in this case we have gone past the optimal state, and will often result in similar symptoms as previously mentioned, with serious impairment to physical and mental skills.
4. Pessimal – absolute loss of control, both physically and mentally, which often results in total freezing, and even loss of bladder and bowel control.
An interesting anecdote that Miller (2008) points out, is that untrained people often fight better than they normally would under adrenal response, while trained people often fight worse. This relates to trained martial artists often trying to apply fine motor-skill and complicated techniques in situations where making them work is very hard. It also relates to the fact that when you have many techniques and options to choose from, it will take more time to decide on a course of action. Ask yourself now - do I block, evade, cover, counter, kick, punch, elbow, knee, head butt, throw, lock, grapple, choke, etc.? just reading that sentence took you a few seconds, and making a decision and executing it will take a few more! Unfortunately, time in those situations, is often not on your side. This indicates that if your 'autopilot' is not properly programmed – in other words if the correct responses are not rehearsed to an instinctive level – then your chances of survival in sub-optimal adrenal response conditions are drastically reduced.
So how does one identify, or even trigger these in an attacker?
Let's look at what we already know in terms of the visual signs that someone is being affected by adrenaline. These include sweating, shaking, posturing, clenched fists, closing distance, flaying of arms, pale skin, difficulties in verbalising thoughts, etc. An indication that an attack is imminent is often that the attacker will stop using whole sentences and will revert to single words and/or syllables. Being aware of these signals will give you a handy clue that something may be about to happen.
Now is the time to make another decision. Do you want to turn the attacker on? Or maybe you prefer to turn them off?
We have two options here in order to control the opponent's adrenaline response:
1. To lower the adrenal response (turn them off)– by being submissive, the opponent's adrenaline flow may reduce as the perceived danger is lowered. This may allow you to get them to lower their guard in order to escape or strike first. This is best done when you have no other alternative but to fight.
2. To increase the adrenal response (turn them on) – Thompson (1997) identifies two ways of doing this. One is by becoming overly loud and aggressive, the other is by acting cool and uncaring as if you have been in this situation a thousand times before. The idea in both cases is to create hesitation and fear in the other party, by making them believe that they are likely to get hurt if they attack. This will often send their adrenaline past the optimal level, and may bring about a flight or a freeze response.
So how do you train something like this?
I think this depends a lot on the environment in which you train, but the best way for me has been by simply trying this out on unsuspecting training partners! They prepare to attack me during a routine drill, but instead of doing the technique I will simply try to distract, talk them into doing something else, or yell at them at the top of my voice... But another option is by using scenario training, where you don't know what the final outcome is. In other words, the people who are the 'bag guys' in the scenario may decide to attack you, or they may not, depending on how you react. This teaches both training parties how to manage their adrenaline and gives different ways of solving the problem before actually getting to the physical stage.
Stay tuned, stay safe.
I would like to explain the importance of understanding and dealing with ‘adrenal dump’ in the performing arts, as well as the business world, and explain why I believe it should be an important part of the curriculum of any arts and business school.