Emotional content in training.
Emotional Content Blog Post(1) Humans are emotional creatures. It’s an essential part of our existence. The more stressful the situations we find ourselves in, the more emotions tend to take control of your actions. In self-defense, we’re inherently dealing with some of the most stressful situations you can imagine. Life and death are determined in what are often very violent encounters with other human beings. They can be a benefit, certainly so for our normal functioning in our everyday lives. They’re a large part of what enables us to interface with and understand other living creatures. They also get us into trouble. When emotion takes over in social interactions – more specifically, confrontations – rational thought gives way to fear, anger, conflict and violence.
When our goal is defending ourselves against violence, emotions are both a benefit and a hindrance. For example, without fear, we cannot process the concept of a threat. Let fear take control, however, and you risk panic, freezing and many other unproductive behaviors. Aggression is nowadays considered essential to surviving a violent attack, yet rage can cause us to use force far beyond the realm of self defense. As much as many of us like to pretend that we can push our emotions aside, they’re always with us. Many traditional martial arts will have you believe that you can fight off an aggressor with a calm, zen-like state of mind. For a highly trained person with a lifetime of experience, perhaps it’s possible. For the average person, it is highly unlikely. It is thus essential that we incorporate emotional content in our training. Aggression is emphasized, but that’s only a small piece of the puzzle. We cannot face every situation with aggression. To prepare yourself to fight your way out of every encounter is a foolish strategy at best. For a complete self-defense strategy, we also need to be able to de-escalate, which cannot be done in a highly aggressive state of mind. De-escalation only works if you remove energy from the encounter, not when you add to it. Unfortunately, it’s not very common to see proper integration of emotional content in training, even in the reality-based self defense field. Most of the time, techniques are practiced in a calm, mechanical, “dead” way. Certainly, there is a need for practicing techniques in a calm state in order to learn the mechanics. But once technical proficiency is achieved, it’s essential to stress test what you’ve learned. Stress testing is often misunderstood as simply performing techniques while physically drained. You’ll perform an certain amount of physical exercise prior to a drill and be expected to apply the proper solutions to the problems you’re presented with. But that’s about as far as it goes in most cases. Once again, that’s only a small piece of the puzzle. Ask yourself, how often do you practice your techniques against an aggressive attacker shouting insults and threats at you in a convincing way? How often do you start the encounter at the pre-fight stage and have to deal with trying to de-escalate the situation? It’s not easy to add convincing emotional interaction to your training. You need to be able to take the training seriously and put yourself into a state of mind where you feel the actual emotions you can expect to feel during the real scenario. In other words, you need to be able to ‘role play’ All too often, self-defense practitioners will develop a ‘training mindset’ and try to isolate themselves from their emotions, but in order to be able to react productively to a real attack, one has to have practiced the solutions under ‘real’ stress. If not, there’s a very high chance of freezing when confronted with the real thing. One also needs a training partner who can provide that stressful stimulus in a convincing way. If both participants end up bursting into laughter while ‘role playing’, you’re simply wasting your time. If you need extra time to prepare your mindset between repetitions, then take that time to get serious. Watch a video of a violent attack, visualize yourself in that scenario, do whatever it takes to get yourself into the state of mind required for genuine psychological stress. This type of training, while essential, is not something you’re likely to be able to perform day after day, rep after rep, mechanically, like technical practice. Aside from needing preparation, it takes a psychological toll to put yourself into these vulnerable states of mind. You need recovery time from any kind of stress, whether physical or psychological. If you’re just starting out and take stress testing too far, something will eventually break. If you haven’t prepared for the psychological aspects of self-defense, you haven’t really been practicing self-defense. A common misconception is that self-defense is just about fighting. It isn’t. It’s about everything from when you get up in the morning to when you go to sleep at night. The fighting is just a piece of that, and to omit the rest is to not be prepared for the real world at all.