Freeze, Fight, Flight and Martial Arts Training #2

The first post about the stress response described the physiological events triggered when threat or danger is perceived by humans. This post continues with the theme that the response is an essential part of evolutionary survival. We can think of the stress response as being responsible for surviving external threat, while the immune system counters internal threat.

In both cases the objective is to protect the system from threat by rearranging resources as appropriate. While an internal threat may trigger a withdrawal response when not feeling well, the external threat of a predator spied in the distance may evoke a freeze response, as movement is easier to detect in peripheral vision. Whatever, the desired outcome is survival of the system.

Omari Roberts

All charges against Omari Roberts dropped

In terms of self-defence the stress response plays a key role. If attacked it renders us better prepared to respond as intended by evolution, with enhanced strength, speed or power. Undoubtedly, for Omari Roberts, returning home for lunch only to find burglars in his mums house, the stress response kicked in, he fought for his life and managed to survive. He went with nature.

In society there can be a mismatch between the drive for survival and the Law, which only allows the rather ambiguous reasonable force. If Roberts had worried about the consequences of overstepping reasonable force he may not have survived the attack. As it was one of the bad guys died in the struggle and eventually, Roberts was arrested and charged with murder and assault. The case was withdrawn before the trial commenced.

In another recent case Munir Hussein and his brother ended up chasing and beating a burglar who had held the family hostage while ransacking their house. Clearly, evolution does not account for reasonable force, just survival. In anyone’s book the severe beating the brothers gave the burglar was NOT self-defence, nor simply survival for that matter. In this instance going with nature led to prison for Hussein as he went too primitive for societies liking, well the Judiciary ‘s liking anyway.

It seems that the whole thing can fall apart when a situation does not work out quite in line with evolution. If a person finds him/herself in a threatening situation it may not be appropriate to fight in the first instance, there are occasions whereby doing so would land the person in court, see above. Flight, although not always possible, would hopefully result in survival. This option might well achieve survival at the expense of the ego which is a small price to pay.  The consequences of an inappropriate freeze response could be much worse. There’s an almost limitless list of situations that could trigger an suboptimal freeze, fight or flight response, not least faulty appraisal of a dangerous or threatening situation or tactics from an experienced, ruthless attacker to name two.

Ground and Pound

Previous experience of surviving situations that cause the stress response to kick in is to the external survival system what surviving illness is to the internal survival (immune) system. For example, an experienced police officer is more likely to successfully deal with a violent confrontation than a receptionist, while a fireman is likely to deal with a fire disaster better than a librarian. If similar useful life experience has not been gleaned it is essential for a martial artist to build the equivalent into their training. Otherwise years of training could be rendered useless by the incompatibility of evolutions survival system with the foibles of modern society. The consequences of this could be dire.


6 thoughts on “Freeze, Fight, Flight and Martial Arts Training #2

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  3. “it is essential for a martial artist to build the equivalent into their training.”

    Absolutely agree.

    Whilst it isn’t popular, and for some ‘experts’ it’s very over-rated, I think a ‘stint on the door’ can be a very useful addition to MA training. Even a well organized gym session cannot produce the same ‘real’ sensation of FFF ( albeit there are some excellent courses/training available). IMHO dealing with a modicum of stress and psychological trauma within a ‘real’ potential hostile environment…

    Nice article follow on Jon – keep the coming! 🙂

  4. Hi Jon,

    Just wanted to say you’ve got a great blog here and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to find it. Spent the morning catching up on reading and there’s still a lot more to do! I’ll be sure to stay posted 🙂

  5. At our Wausau martial arts training facility we practice stress drills on a daily basis. You really have to so you don’t freeze up and get all stressed out. Most martial artists get messed up the first time they see some action so it really is a necessity to practice stressful MMA drills.

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