Fight Or Flight?

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Sep 19th, 2012

We were genetically built for Fight or Flight. Our bodies were “constructed” a.k.a. evolved, to deal with a saber-toothed tiger around the corner. Although most of the primary stressors experienced in modern life are not as immediate as a saber-tooth tiger attacking; being pushed around in a crowd or walking down a deserted street at night will still trigger the instinctive urge of flight or fight. The fight/flight reaction is generally considered “negative” because of what prolonged stresses do to our bodies.

Yet, we also need positive stress to properly function. The stresses of an invigorating workout, a relaxing swim, or a first date, are good for us. This concept of eustress, or positive stress as opposed to distress, was first developed by Dr. Hans Selye. In The Nature of Stress one of his final papers, Dr. Selye created an “operational definition” you may find useful. Stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand, whether it is caused by, or results in, pleasant or unpleasant conditions. Stress as such, like temperature, is all-inclusive, embodying both the positive and negative aspects of these concepts. So how can we transform our negative stressors into something more positive and motivational?

Martial Arts training is a wonderfully effective method for turning experiences usually associated with negative stress (distress) into a positive, and often, exhilarating experience. Training in Martial Arts allows the student to gradually desensitize herself to being grabbed, pushed, punched at, etc. When this training occurs in a safe, respectful environment, experiences normally associated with distress can be dealt with effectively with no more physical discomfort than one might experience in a “pick up” basketball game. Even though colleagues take turns pretending to attack each other with malice, this engenders a sense of give and take as they exchange the roles of attacker and defender. The positive stress of training allows the student to “reframe” threatening experiences and enjoy the workout, increased heart rate, even the body contact.

When training beginners, be specific when coaching, control the speed, intensity, force, etc. of an exercise, especially when training unplanned or unfamiliar movement. For example, a beginning student may benefit from a freestyle session with relaxed timing, little or no body contact, etc. As that student becomes comfortable with this level of stress, the exercise can change to limit boredom and accelerate skill development. As the beginning student progresses the freestyle experience can be intensified by varying timing. Using DECEPTIVE TIMING allows us to effectively feint and mislead our opponent allowing us to score, unbalance him, reposition for better control, etc. This simple change in rhythm will increase the stress of the beginner’s workout, gradually challenging the student to do her best.

Consider using this kind of variable timing when training Self Defense techniques, as well. There is often a “studio timing” for technique work that allows students to cooperatively learn a pattern of motion. Yet, if we continue to train without consciously attending to timing, intensity, power, etc. training can become more dance-like, lacking realism. Varying the speed of the attack is an effective way to determine whether a student has a specific pattern of motion internalized or merely memorized.

As a student grows, the intensity (increased stress) of her training should accelerate, as well. If not, Martial Arts study can devolve into light workouts with lots of studio camaraderie, but limited realism. For real progress to occur, training variables must change with the student’s progress. This allows the student to increasingly become desensitized to heightened stressors.

The information age is an information glut! Much of the pressure (distress) we feel in modern life comes from being informed about circumstances, in two minute sound bites, about which, we can do --- Nothing. Martial Arts training is an excellent way to take charge, develop a sense of control, get physically fit, and, as I can attest, develop lifelong friendships. The ability to reframe our daily distress into eustress or, at least, something more neutral and limited in its effect; is the great advantage of training, increasing our Emotional Fitness and sense of well being.

Filed under Techniques and Tutorials

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.

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