STRIKE BACK Part 3
MENTAL CONDITIONING FOR SELF DEFENSE
By Mark V. Lonsdale
In this paper the STRIKE BACK series will explore some of the less physical, but equally important, aspects of self defense as it relates to such street crimes as assault and rape. There are several steps involved in the mental conditioning of an individual if he or she is to be able to handle a violent confrontation effectively. The first step, and foundation of all others, is acceptance that “it could happen to you”.
Now that we are in touch with reality, the reality that city life can be hazardous to our health, we can begin a process of mental and physical preparation. The physical aspects will be adequately covered in future parts of STRIKE BACK, so today we study the psychological and mental dynamics.
Once we accept the realities of violent crime and that we do not intend being a helpless victim, we must also accept the right to defend ourselves with whatever force is necessary to stop the assault. No one has the right to touch, hurt or violate another individual, family members or loved ones ‑ and the very thought of such an action should trigger a fierce determination for self preservation within us. Unfortunately these primal instincts to fight back are often buried by many layers of “civilized conditioning,” to the point that many individuals cannot find the right trigger mechanism, or are afraid to use it. The survival instinct must then be relearned, cultivated, flexed and exercised. This can only be done through realistic and effective self defense programs where the student is confronted with a variety of simulated assaults. These “assaults” should trigger all the human responses including shock, fear, anger, and righteous indignation.
Fear is a healthy defense mechanism, built into the human psyche, which can save us from injury, especially when confronted with activities or incidents beyond our abilities. A classic example would be the fear of approaching the edge of a cliff and therefore avoiding the possibility of falling. From a self defense viewpoint this could be equated to staying away from rough neighborhoods and lowlife bars, thereby avoiding a nasty confrontation.
Unfortunately fear can have both a positive and a negative effect on human performance. Fear can help us to avoid danger or supply us the added strength & adrenal rush to fight for our lives. On the negative side, fear has the ability to totally paralyze an individual causing panic and confusion in the face of imminent danger. The increased pulse rate, nervous tension, tightening of the chest, the hot flush, and the acute awareness are all indicators that the increased adrenalin output is taking effect and our body is going into the “fight or flight ” response mode. Under these conditions the human body is capable of great feats of speed and strength ‑ as long as one does not freeze in fear.
To overcome, or at least control fear (primarily of the unknown), avoid panic and react effectively, we must understand more about how assaults occur and how best to defend oneself. The whole self defense process is not just learning some fancy moves but the study of actual assaults, the counters, and then being subjected to realistic simulations. When the student begins to recognize some of the common points in the assaults, and then realizes that he or she has the power and ability to disable the attacker(s), a new level of confidence and strength is born from within.
Anger is another emotion that can have either a positive or negative effect on one’s performance. It can cause blind illogical behavior or, on the up side, it can add power and determination to a counterattack. A potential rape victim has every right to experience fear and anger when assaulted, but these two strong emotions must be harnessed into righteous indignation and fierce determination, and then coupled to a series of crippling counterattacks.
Individuals not used to dealing with violence can be frozen into inactivity by the surprise of the initial assault. This must be immediately countered by some form of positive, assertive action that will trigger physical defense mechanisms. In the very popular Model Mugging programs taught throughout the United States, the students are conditioned to shout “NO!” in a very strong, authoritative voice as the prelude for defensive/offensive moves.
Once the decision to fight back has been made, and there is no avenue of escape, the victim must become the aggressor. The counterattacks must be swift, violent and effective.
This controlled aggression or violent counterattack does not come easy for many people, especially women who have been conditioned by society to be caring, loving and gentle by nature. It is not unusual to have a female self defense student that believes she is incapable of the aggressive techniques required of her, for example; eye gouging, groin kicking and head stamping. The student may even go so far as to worry about the attacker’s safety and well being.
This is where it is up to the instructional staff to graphically explain to the student what could happen if she does not fight back; to document the brutal assaults on other women; and then expose them to several simulated attacks, with class and staff encouragement. Often the fear to fight back is rooted in a belief that “it is hopeless” or “I couldn’t win any how!” One reason the Model Mugging program is so effective is the strong support group environment in which the students train. It is not unusual to see some students breakdown and cry, or to have old emotional scares first exposed and then healed. All the while the students are building new inner strengths and becoming more confident in their ability to strike back effectively.
The instructors who role‑play as “attackers” in the self defense program must be schooled to imitate, verbally and physically, actual attackers and rapists as much as possible within the training structure. These “attackers,” when fitted with protective gear, must also be taught to react realistically to the counterattacks launched by the students. In this manner the students are exposed to the crude language and violent behavior that will accompany the assault, and not find the experience so shocking should they be confronted by the real thing. In addition, students will experience the confidence building that goes with not only surviving but winning.
Role playing and simulated assaults will also teach the students to evaluate the attacker and seek out the most advantageous time to launch the counterattack. Perhaps when the rapist is distracted or fumbling with his pants, or when the mugger reaches for your wallet or purse. The whole role playing process is to take the mystery, and with it some of the fear, out of street violence or even domestic abuse / assaults. Remember, it is the unknown that we fear most.
After a little training the students must be taught mental rehearsal of theoretical attacks and counterattacks. These are called the “what ifs?” Even soldiers and experienced law enforcement officers use the same technique. As they patrol the streets, approach a disturbance, or enter a suspect location they will run a series of “what ifs?” through their conscious thought process. This could consist of: “What if someone is waiting around this next corner..?” “What if he goes for a weapon as I approach him…?” “What if I am walking into an ambush…?” “What if I hear gunshots..?” These are mentally answered by plans to go for cover, draw a weapon, return fire, retreat, call for assistance; etc.
The average citizen can do the same thing as they go jogging in the park, pass a group of rough punks on the street, find themselves in the sub‑way with a suspicious individual, enter a parking garage, or hear a noise in the house at night. By consciously rehearsing your contingency plans, to escape, call 911 or fight, you are conditioning the subconscious to react correctly under stress. When and if the assault comes you are already one step ahead of the attacker. This is not a sense of paranoia but more a common sense approach to street survival.
With the decision to fight, one must also accept a degree of pain and the possibility of injury. This is especially true when knives, broken bottles and sharp instruments are involved. The probability of getting cut is very real. Even in a confrontation where no weapons are involved there will still be bruises, scrapes and falls. Shock, anger, fear and adrenalin will mask much of the discomfort, but when one experiences pain one must try to block it and continue the counterattack with vigor and determination. A little pain while fighting off the assault is preferable to permanent physical and psychological injuries or even death.
With the acceptance of reality and some effective training comes a new confidence and awareness. The student is more capable of identifying and avoiding potential trouble spots. Recognizing some of the pre‑indicators of an assault may give the individual time to escape, seek assistance or better prepare for the confrontation. If the assault comes as a total surprise the victim will have well ingrained conditioned responses that should kick‑ in automatically without the need for the slower conscious thought processes. During the fight the potential victim will become the aggressor with a small but effective repertoire of crippling counterattacks, blocks, strikes, kicks, throws and escapes.
For those that already bear the emotional and psychological scares of being raped, molested, assaulted or abused, there are several excellent counseling groups through‑out the United States who will show you that you are not alone; that they truly understand the feeling of violation you experience; that it was not your fault; and that there are effective remedies. One of these remedies, praised by clinical psychologists and counselors, is self defense programs such as Model Mugging where one can face one’s personal demons and exorcise them. Graduates leave with a new sense of personal power and confidence to face the world.