By George Zener
The fight-or-flight response is “a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.” The people who are reading this article likely have plenty of training to ready themselves for a fight.
Many People of the Gun have spent hundreds of hours sending many thousands of rounds downrange. Many of us have practiced our draw until it is butter smooth. We have pored over scenarios and given careful thought to how we might react.
What most of us have not done is to prepare ourselves for flight. How do we break contact and run away? How do we win in the face of brain-melting fear that arises from a sudden attack?
Before we begin, I have two disclaimers to share. The first is that this article is NOT for experienced martial artists, Navy SEALS, or even LEOs. If you are one of these fine folks then you can spend the next few minutes flexing in front of a mirror. This advice is for ordinary people who, like me, want to be able survive an attack.
The second is that you need to see a doctor. The drills that I am going to recommend are pretty intense. If your heart isn’t up for this then you need to try something else
People who want to steal your wallet, your girlfriend, your life, etc. don’t generally announce themselves from a distance. If your situational awareness is switched off for whatever reason (I’m looking at you, Twitter) then they prefer to get up close and personal.
If you want to run or draw your weapon, then you need to break contact and get some separation. At that point, your adrenaline will spike and your brain will turn to mush. That weekend self defense seminar that you took? Gone. The Jason Bourne-like elbow strikes that you always imagined yourself throwing but never quite had the time to learn? Good luck.
Unless you train regularly, your arsenal is going to be limited to basic actions. One of the most basic and instinctive is to push the threat away from you.
The only time that I have been attacked “on the street” was when I was out running in the early morning. I was in the UK so I had no weapons. Three youths stepped out of the shadows, blocked the sidewalk, and tried to grab me. I have had some martial arts training and still hit the heavy bag regularly.
However, the best that my fear-addled brain could come up with was a hard stiff arm to the chest of the closest attacker. This was enough to break his grip and give me about two feet of space. I was able to generate enough power to do this because I still had forward momentum and because I do lots and lots of push-ups.
The push up is one of the best upper body exercises that you can do. There is a reason that your old, polyester shorts wearing football coach used to make you do so many of them. They simultaneously build striking power and core stability. Start doing push-ups daily (or, if you’re middle-aged like me, every other day).
Set a number of total push ups and try to get there by the end of the day. Start at 100 and work your way up from there. You can do this during the course of a workout or bit by bit throughout the day. Once you can do 25 in one set, substitute some clap (or plyometric) push ups. This is where you push off the ground with enough explosive power to allow you to clap your hands together and recover in time to prevent an embarrassing face plant.
Pro tip #1 – do this on a mat or soft carpet the first few times.
Pro tip #2 – wear your holster with an UNLOADED weapon. After you finish a set, spring up, draw, and dry fire. Over time, this will build a reservoir of strength that you can call on when needed.
Running for Your Life
In the story above, I didn’t stop with a strike to the chest of my attacker. I ran like a scared little girl. I ran like a frightened deer. I had no weapons and, as I am not an action hero, stood no chance against three attackers. I would like to say that this reaction was the product of careful scenario planning and a review of all available tactical options. If I said this, I would be a lying POS.
I ran because I was scared for my life. There were no considered actions – only a reaction. Fortunately for me, I can run really fast so these guys did not catch me.
Even in middle age, you can train yourself to run fast for a short time. Try the following training program. All you need is a stopwatch and the great outdoors.
➢ Warm up thoroughly
➢ Run like you are being chased for 30 seconds
➢ Walk at an easy pace until your heart rate comes back down out of the stratosphere. Your walking time will be a function of your fitness level. Start out with 60 seconds and see how it goes.
➢ Repeat until you are too tired to sprint anymore
Running is not always an option. Maybe there is nowhere to go. Maybe your family is with you. How do you fight effectively when adrenaline has turned your mind into jello and your hands into flippers? Practice practice practice.
The first step is to train regularly; which most readers of this blog already do. Drawing your weapon, acquiring a sight picture, and putting rounds on target needs to be instinctive. However, an actual fight is nothing like a visit to the range. Try the following drill to simulate your body’s reaction to a stressful encounter.
➢ Do some arm circles to warm up your shoulders
➢ Set your loaded gun on the shooting bench with the muzzle pointed down range.
➢ Drop down and do enough push ups to elevate your heart rate and make your shoulders burn with lactic acid.
➢ Spring up as fast as you can, snatch the gun off the bench, and try to put a fast double tap on target.
You will find that getting a good sight picture and a controlled trigger press is very difficult. The first time that I tried it I was so amped that I pressed the trigger when I picked up the gun. While this was no big deal (thank you, four rules of gun safety) it let me know how just a little bit of stress will mess with your mechanics. You will learn fast though. It didn’t take too many times through this drill before I was putting out accurate fire.
Pro tip #1 – try this with an unloaded gun a few times before using live ammo.
Pro tip #2 – people are going to look at you funny. Own it.
For bonus points, try doing the push-ups on your knuckles. It will make your hands feel like you just threw a few punches and will make getting a good firing grip even more difficult.
These are just some of the many things that you can do to prepare yourself for a hyper-stressful situation. No matter the training program that you choose to follow, make sure that it keeps breaking contact, running away, and stress shooting as key components.