By Dennis Lawson
Published on May 13th, 2016

I recently read a thought-provoking Scientific American interview with R. Douglas Fields, a neuro-scientist, whose new book – Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Our Brain - will be of particular interest to Martial Artists. Fields identifies nine specific triggers that generate an immediate rage response in our lower brain.

They are:

Life or Limb – A threat requiring personal defense

Insult – A personal affront

Family – The need to protect your loved ones

Environment – Protecting against infringement on your “territory”

Mate – Protecting a significant other or spouse

Order in Society – Dealing with a perceived issue of social injustice

Resources – Protecting your “stuff”

Tribe – defending your “in group”

Stopped – When you are restrained or imprisoned

Fields uses the mnemonic device LIFEMORTS to identify and remember these Rage triggers. He contends that our primary response (Rage) to these situations is an unconscious reflex response located in the mid-brain. Because this threat detection response does not engage our pre-frontal cortex (the center of our reasoning brain) the Rage response is nearly instantaneous; functioning emotionally below our conscious level.

Our unconscious mind, especially when stimulated by a threat, takes in an incredible amount of information. Some scientists estimate that the unconscious part of our minds can process 20,000,000 bits of information in a second! The conscious mind can only evaluate about 40 of these (information) bits in that same second. As Martial Artists, part of our “Art” is to be able to identify these Rage responses and engage our thinking brain quickly, allowing us to generate rational and appropriate responses to threatening situations. Otherwise, we may simply react, with potentially deadly consequences.

For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of automatically responding with with Rage because of these factors:

Environment – Protecting against infringement on your “territory”

Order in Society – Dealing with a perceived issue of social injustice - or

Resources – Protecting your “stuff”

How much better is it to identify the emotional response, to focus on calming your breathing, and being grateful there was no accident. Likewise, when you can quickly engage your thinking brain, if you’re being robbed, instead of fighting, you may decide to hand the mugger your wallet and simply move on. Additionally, as teachers, we need to pass on this information to our students. Once aware of the unconscious Rage response, they may be more likely to choose than to simply react. Many of our student’s brains are still forming.  Scientists currently believe that the prefrontal cortex continues to develop up until the age of 25 and perhaps longer!

We are all a subject of the anatomy and “wiring” we are given at birth and how it grows and matures in us. But, through training, we can learn to overcome our primary emotional responses and deal more rationally with whatever challenges life presents us. Finally, to quote, Dr. Fields, “There is no one right way to respond. If you conclude that you should never respond aggressively, that’s wrong. In the end, you have to trust your gut.”


Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

Other Articles by Dennis Lawson

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