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It’s not fight or flight. It’s fight, flight or freeze. Of the three, the freeze response is the most likely. I’ve seen countless videos in which an attacker brings a gun to bear on innocent civilians and nobody does anything. They stand like statutes. Or, more precisely, they freeze like a deer in the headlights.

It’s the “can’t get to the end of the OODA loop” problem. I’ve experienced it myself. And, hopefully, trained myself out of it — by always moving when I draw and taking force-on-force training which “inoculates” you to paralytic stress.

How about you? Have you ever frozen in the face of danger? Will you, can you react quickly and decisively when attacked?


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  1. I don’t know, and I work consciously both (a) never to find out, and (b) be equipped mentally and physically to defend myself if I fail at (a).

    • It’s not advertising, it’s reflex training. Maybe I should turn off my ad blocker and see what I’ve been missing.

    • Touché! And you had actual awareness of the ad, which is admirable.

      If a guy comes into a store to do a robbery disguised as a web pop-up, I probably in all honesty won’t even know that I shot him. /;–D

    • Another possibility: Its Brazil. Undercover cop, moonlighting as a hit-man approaches target, pulls gun and yells freeze! Guy follows instruction, gets capped.

      • Cops, especially in Brazil, go around cocked and locked. So unless the first shot was a missfire, always a possibility, then this guy hadn’t chambered a round before he killed the other guy. I found it shocking that the victim just stood there while the guy racked his slide.

  2. I can see someone freezing in response to active gunfire, but to someone who was fiddle-fucking around after just attempting to shoot you point blank?

    I really hope I’d be able to OODA to the A in that situation. It almost looked like the victim was about to start helping.

    “Still jammed? Dang. Here, let me just- oh hey, you got it, grea– *bang* what the hell, man? I thought we werebuddiesi’mnotfeelingsogoooood…”

  3. “Have you ever frozen in the face of danger?”

    No. Well, I did at my first wedding, but after that I learned to run.

  4. I have frozen under confusion before (even if not most of the time). To address that, my daily drawing and dry-firing practice includes moving and I am always looking for escape routes and cover everywhere I go.

  5. The first time someone shot at me, my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn’t open the feed tray cover to load my M-60 – and I had performed this task thousands of times.

    Conversely, I distinctly remember my buddy calmly putting his cigarette down in a safe spot before he saught cover.

    The fact is you don’t know what you’re going to do. I think training helps but if you’ve never been terrified or shot at, it’s almost impossible to relate.

    Honestly I hope nobody ever has to experience that.

    • A) Thanks for your service.
      B) If you were in a hostile environment, why the hell wasn’t your weapon already loaded?

      • He most likely was following the orders of the Sgt: “Don’t load that SOB until I tell you to!”

        Was shot at while hunting before I joined so my reaction the first time after joining may have been more subdued than some…..still scared the $**t out of me but I did what I was supposed to.

  6. I could see freezing or failing to react in a gray situtation, one with many possibilites or options, but a scenario like this one is pretty black and white – A is trying to kill B, B must stop A or die.

  7. Some people worry too much about this, I think. I didn’t “freeze” or run or anything in my only self defense encounter. I just pulled the trigger. My attacker wasn’t armed with anything but very large hands… but if confronted by an armed attacker, I suspect I’d go to cover first, if possible.

    Of course, I’ve had experience as a triage nurse in an ER… that probably helps. 🙂

    • Absolutely. As a trained medical pro, you know you’re often the only person in the room who can help someone, so you’re programmed for action. Those of us who aren’t professional or volunteer first responders usually assume someone else will take care of the problem.

      • Indeed, Rokurota… but I suspect that a little EMT or other rescue type training would be as good or better than a “force on force” deal. Even keeping current with a CPR certificate will give you some help that way.

        Medical and personal emergencies happen far more often than gunfights… and if you prepare for the first one, chances are you’ll be able to get past the freeze for the other. 🙂 Not everyone is geared or physically fit enough to be a combat warrior. And the truly surprising thing is how many accounts we read where untrained, elderly, disabled and youngsters manage to do what is necessary and even prevail.

        I was one of them. I had no actual self defense or gun training at all the day I had to shoot a man to save my life. 🙂 I just did what I needed to do.

        • Seems like that happens all the time. We had a report about a year ago of an old guy, seems like he was over 80, who fired a gun for the first time in his life, killing a home invader attacking his wife. Most important thing is to have a gun, but every bit of training is going to help.

  8. I’m convinced civil society removes us from dangers experienced hundred/thousands years ago. Freeze is a natural evolutionary response to danger. The only way to break its hold is train. Force on force, close combat, if you don’t you die.

    • Depends on the animal. For those that depend on camouflage, movement is counterproductive since it attract the predator’s attention. Others react with instant flight. A spooked horse is an example of the latter.

      I suspect that freezing during a criminal attack is a consequence of unpreparedness. The person is assessing the threat and trying to develop an appropriate response. Of course, the bad guy isn’t going to give him time for that. The benefit of training, even if it’s just fantasizing about a hypothetical situation, is that it lets you do your thinking before the event rather than during it.

    • I was going to say it is a learned response. I think “evolutionary” is a bit too far. I think people see what guns do in movies and TV and rationally think “I have no hope against a bullet”. Prior to three years ago before being a “gun guy”, I may have frozen in the face of an armed BG. Now, after seeing how hard it is to hit a target with a handgun from beyond ten yards, forget moving targets, and learning how low the lethal level is from a handgun caliber projectile (no offense to .45 guys), I’m going to fight, or run, dive, shift, dodge. Knowledge is more important than genetics. Unfortunately, the general public is ignorant on guns.

  9. This is why I continually harp on the notion that you should train to perform a specific action, like immediately move in one particular direction, or immediately draw and fire, no matter what, and without thinking of your options.
    Not only do those options dramatically slow you down (each option exponentially adds time to your response), but once you start considering those different options, you tend to keep considering. Analysis paralysis is a real thing, and the most common reaction. It’s not really cowardice, it’s just trying to figure out the perfect response, when really any response is better than standing there thinking about it.
    Yes, there are some people who can fluidly consider options and respond appropriately during combat. Those combat savants are extremely few and far between, and it’s not what anyone should assume they really are.
    Assume you’re an idiot. Then assume you’re a bleeding idiot. Then decide what are the very few things that a bleeding idiot can accomplish, and train to that.

    • “Bleeding idiot”

      Ralph to comment #1503 for an ex-wife joke. Ralph. Please report to comment #1503.

    • Any particular response may be perfect in one situation and a disaster in another. For example, if you see someone collapse on the street, you shouldn’t initiate CPR without establishing that his heart has stopped. If you hear shooting, you shouldn’t automatically open fire on the first person you see holding a gun. If a terrorist begins shooting inside a building, he may have accomplices waiting to shoot down everyone who runs outside. Don’t run toward the scene of a bomb blast so that you can aid the injured. There may be a second bomb to kill first responders. Never react without thinking. The advantage of training is that it enables you to think faster and better.

      • “The advantage of training is that it enables you to think faster and better.”
        No, you think only as fast as you think. It doesn’t get faster with training. In fact, the benefit of quality training is that it teaches and reinforces behavior, allowing you to think less, not more.

  10. I was holding my toddler at an event when someone passed out next to me. I stepped back to give them room to fall and just stared at them for a second before I realized what was happening. By then, a more helpful person was already tending to the fallen. Afterward, I realized I was just like the mom in that Super 8 motel robbery. That made me mad enough at myself to swear it wouldn’t happen again. Later, I did act when everyone around me froze. I yanked a woman’s arm out when it got stuck in the door of an airport subway tram. Everyone else in the car just stared dumbly, then complimented me later. I am always amazed how many people, myself included, are either too frightened or too mentally stuck to take action.

  11. Last fight, flight, or freeze moment I had was a mild earthquake. It lasted a few seconds and I don’t think I moved until it was over…

    • Having been through a few earthquakes, I’ve seen that most people freeze waiting to see whether it is going to get worse before it stops, and wondering when the ceiling is going to drop on their heads. It is a good 30 second freeze. I have yet to see anyone dive under a table.

  12. Standing there like “statutes”? Oh, I don’t know. Our Florida Statutes are constantly changing. 😉

  13. [trade ya stories on the ‘next’ time, ’cause, GOD knows, right?]

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
    ― Frank Herbert, Dune

    IF, you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run – Rudyard Kipling.

    F/F training for everyone, and do some cardio

  14. I was crossing an intersection a few months ago when some idiot came through with a fast left turn, with people still in the intersection (the walk sign was still on). Tires screeching got my attention. The idiot managed to keep it under control and not hit anyone (barely). Anyway, I froze momentarily and oriented to the car before I moved. The best response would have been to move immediately and get something between me and the road. I think if someone started shooting, and I had a similarly low level of situational awareness as I had then, I’d probably freeze before moving.

    That said, I’d like to think I wouldn’t just stand there while someone was attempting to correct a malfunction after they just tried to shoot me.

    • To be fair, he was not aware the guy had just tried to shoot him, since the guy was behind him at the time.

  15. I know from experience that I’m not the type to freeze. Training, personality, a combination? I don’t know. I just know that I don’t freeze.

    Something that I do think helps is “war gaming”. When you walk into any place, movie theater, restaurant or a store, scope out the exits. Look at who’s there and what’s going on. Look for suspicious behavior first and then establish a baseline for how people are acting in that location.

    Now, take 30 seconds and imagine everything goes to shit two minutes from now. Run a couple scenarios. That old guy in the booth across the room suddenly has a medical emergency. Then run a second one where an armed robber comes in waving around a gun. What do you do? Think through it as you’re getting seated or grabbing a can of tomato sauce off the shelf then go about your business like normal.

    Do this everywhere you go and it becomes a habit. It also conditions you to act appropriately. You can’t cover ever possibility because they are endless but you can cover the most likely shitty scenarios you might encounter. For example that armed asshole is going to come through a door, not bust through the wall like the Kool Aid Man (OH YEAH!), so you have a pretty good idea of where he’s going to come from if you know where the doors are. Look around, what here will stop bullets? Anything? What will cut his line of sight to you so that you can, if appropriate, deploy your weapon and make sure it’s ready to spit lead before you point it at him/reveal your presence (if this is possible obviously)? Where are the exits and where are the people who might get in your way?

    Yes, people will look at you funny if you wander around like this in a new location or a place that’s been remodeled because to staff your behavior is odd (not baseline behavior). If they say something just tell them you’re looking for the restroom and they’ll tell you where it is and proceed to ignore you.

    • Almost everyone can be trained to master a situation where one thing goes all screwy.

      It becomes exponentially more difficult where everything goes screwy all at once.

      You can train for the latter situation, but you have to be very lucky or have a lot of friends with you in order to survive.

      • You raise a valid point.

        However, those are quite low probability events and you just have to accept the fact that if you’re caught in one you can do everything right and still be fucked. Half a dozen hajis with AK’s and S-vests like the Baticlan isn’t something you’re likely to experience. If you do get caught in such a situation a pistol and a boo-boo kit likely aren’t going to get the job done. At that point, really, the best you can hope for is to trade your life for the lives of those getting out while you distract those peaceful Muslims. Sure, you might prevail and come out on the other side but the chances are close to 0.

        With explosives there’s not much to shoot at.

        You’re much more likely to be grabbing a bottle of water at a 7/11 when some crackhead with a sawed off shotgun comes in or, like yesterdays video, be in a grocery store.

        As I said, “You can’t cover ever [sic, my typo] possibility because they are endless but you can cover the most likely shitty scenarios you might encounter.

  16. August last year a man all bowed up came at me carrying a baseball bat raised to strike. I drew my CCW without consciously deciding to do so. He left. When the Adrenalin dump backed off some, I did the same, maybe a minute after him. I had trouble putting my gun away. My finger was tight on the slide and wouldn’t fit into the holster. Duh.

  17. This seems to demonstrate a lack of situational awareness more than failure to move. He was caught at a state of rest and even if he could instantly accelerate to 10mph he will move about 0.5″ before the bullet arrives. Even a mediocre shot like me will drop him before he finishes his first step.

    Amatuers think rules, professionals think context.

  18. When I was 10 years old, I was out climbing trees in our neighborhood. Back then, only one in ten yards were fenced in and all the kids played outside everywhere. I had a rope with me and it was a pretty thick rope coiled up in my hand when I was viciously approached by a large Doberman Pinscher. As he ran toward me, I though about running. Then I realized I could not run that fast. I froze. I stood my ground and held the rope in my right hand ready to swing at the dog’s face if he pounced. When I did not run, he stopped three feet from me and continued growling. I did not move a muscle. I stared him in the eye. Don’t know if that was the right thing to do but I wanted to read him. I didn’t blink for ten minutes. Felt like 30 minutes. I stood there like a statue thinking how to get out of this. I thought about swinging the five pounds of natural fiber rope so hard against this beast’s head that it would disorient him long enough for me to make the 100 yard sprint back to my house. I’ve seen dog attacks and in every situation, the human prey was running. I stood there ten minutes more. Seemed like a half hour. Then, the dog lost interest. Got thirsty or hungry or bored. It turned and trotted back to it’s own yard. I went to find another tree.

    • Predatory animals are hardwired to respond instantly to movement. Cats, who typically hunt from cover, have eyes that see things as vertical lines, and when something moves across those vertical lines, they attack. And their reaction time is typically much faster than a human’s reaction time (not all of us can be Miculek). Dogs, who often hunt in packs on open ground, chase anything that runs, so if you run, they will run you down from behind, attacking the back of your neck or your hamstring to take you to the ground. Both are confused when you do not move.

    • I used to train dogs and you instinctively did all the right things, as the results proved.

      The dog may have been hot, but he was untrained and was just checking you out. Had you run, he might have taken a piece out of your leg or your ass. By standing your ground and staying as tall as you could, you told the dog that you weren’t a good candidate for an attack.

      A trained dog could have taken you apart. Then again, a well-trained dog wouldn’t have challenged you in the first place since you were no threat to him or his.

      • Well like I said above regarding freeze being ingrained or learned, I had seen dogs in action and all the people were running when bitten. I’m going to escape when 51% likely and I’m going to fight when 51% likely to win the battle vs. human or animal…or in your case, woman.

  19. Almost any martial arts training will teach you to get off the “X” because they teach you to react to movement without thinking about it first.

    • Interesting thought.

      While not exactly the same, this article, the video in particular, had me thinking of the times fencing when I was able to successfully land a blow when moving within my opponents guard and thus outside of their weapons range.

      The video got me to thinking about this because of how counter intuitive it is to move towards a threat like moving towards the epee instead of away and how closely that seemed to apply to this situation. I think only a great deal of experience and/or training can help you over come that, but combat sports and martial arts are a few of the things where you learn to do just that.

  20. In my youth I was confronted with a head on situation in my first car. Without thinking I steered up into a entryway to a parking lot and onto the sidewalk. Down the sidewalk I went and off the curb at the intersection and back into the flow of traffic with no damage.

    My buddy, who was riding shotgun, finally found the ability to speak a couple of blocks later. He said he didn’t know I could drive that good. I told him I didn’t either.

    I’ve been confronted with hostile people, hostile animals and near disaster type accidents. I’ve always managed to hold it together til the danger was past.

    Then I fall apart. Genetics? Luck? God protecting fools?

    • Not to be all braggart here but you just reminded me of a situation that happened to me recently. I drive to work before sun up. One morning I was rapidly approaching an intersection awaiting the glow of the stop sign to know when to slow down. It wasn’t there this day. I’m at the intersection doing 45mph. Without thinking about it, I hook a hard right even though my normal route is a switchback left. I maintain the right lane and avoid crashing in the ditch across the street. Someone took out the stop sign in the middle of the night and I was almost a victim were it not for my quick thinking. Braking was no option. Can’t stop an F150 in 20′ going 45mph. Can’t hook a 45 degree left turn. In a split second, I took the best option to go right which was a slight turn and only affected one lane in case of crossing traffic. One of the few moments I am proud that I reacted so well. I called 911 and advised of the downed stop sign.

  21. “getting off the X” = generally a good idea.
    I’m too big and too slow for that to be an effective strategy for me. I train to take that first hit and still be able to return fire.

    Am I more likely to end up dead than you with your strategy? Probably but it’s a better strategy for me.

  22. Who can know, till they’ve “been there”?

    My general reaction to big crisis moments so far in life has been that time seems to slow down, my feeling is pretty much “This is interesting”, and then I decide what to do about things. For me it seems to take seconds, but friends have reported that I seem to respond before they even realize the actual problem. That sure served me well as a lifeguard!

    But lately my anxiety disorder/PTSD has been interrupting this and the analysis step goes on for noticeably long periods of time on occasion So how I would react would depend on a lot of things, among them how recently I took my last dose of cannabis, which serves to push PTSD problems to an emotional distance an does the same for crisis moments (yes, contrary to the drug-hating bigots here, marijuana is actually useful for aiding in making rational, quick decisions); another would be location, because thanks to those haunting disorders I think and respond faster in places with less visual ‘busy-ness’.

    Though I doubt I’d respond like a professor of mine at college who, when someone pissed at the grade his GF had received came after him with a pistol, looked it over and asked, “Is that a real gun? Can I look at it?” and did it so disarmingly that the guy actually handed him the gun!

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