Getting Intimate with Violence: Part 1

Getting Intimate with Violence: Part I

Getting Intimate with Violence: Part I

There is a lot of discussion on the subject of tactics. That word, tactic? It’s used A LOT!

A tactic is a plan, procedure, or expedient for promoting a desired end or result. Tactical is the word used to describe the nature of something used in a tactic or set of tactics. This can range from tactical thinking to every product under the sun the promoter wants to create an air of adventure around, i.e. tactical boots, tactical slings, vests, eyewear, etc.

By definition, an exotic dancers’ go-go boots could be considered tactical boots since they are used to entice customers to pay money to the wearer because of physical attraction; a definite establishment of a tactic to generate revenue. I have even seen a tactical cigarette lighter displayed at a gas station check-out counter. In this article, however, I’m not lighting tactical cigarettes. I’m talking about how to survive a lethal attack. This is the desired result we want to achieve with our response. To effectively defend ourselves with a response, utilizing tactics developed from our knowledge, experience and training. I coined the term “Defensive Intelligence™ ” to describe the software side of self defense; the foundation of all things on the practical side of the subject.

This takes up a considerable amount of my full curriculum, so it’s obviously more in depth than I can go here, but I want to get into this because there is much discussion about what to do to get your weapon out quicker to get the first shot off or stop them before they cut you or which stance allows for quicker target acquisition, best holster, etc.. But, there is a lot to be done to mentally be in the fight, sooner. You will not react, and react properly, until you are truly, mentally, in the fight.

To do this, we have to get to the root of what we’re talking about here. It’s violence, plain and simple. We can train extensively in tactics and gain great proficiency with our weapons of choice. But to truly be efficient you must remove any mental deficits pertaining to understanding, recognizing, countering and be totally at ease with using the utility of violence for self defense. When we rewind back in an attack scenario, before the use of the weapon, and drill into violence itself, we can condition ourselves for the practical application of tactics. You may be smooth on the range or in the Dojo, but understanding and being comfortable with the duality of violence is the key to true efficiency and surviving a violent attack. It’s at the root of the question, “will I be able to do it when I need to?”

Once you get through the origins, history, neurology, psychology and physiology of violence you have to deal with the “neural tripwire” that sets the practical aspect of your defense into motion. No matter what the situation or your choice of fighting style or tactic and weapon, it’s the initial fight or flight response to initiate those courses of action that begins your success or failure.

In 2005 I attended an instructors’ training course that, as part of learning the fighting system, had an element of the training designed to condition that neural tripwire I spoke of earlier. However, they were not fully aware of what (in a neurological sense) they were conditioning. The fighting system they use has been the adopted “Close Quarters” defensive technique for Naval Special Warfare communities for several years now. But the fighting system is irrelevant to what I’m targeting with this discussion. What is important is what they were accomplishing with their training technique, and that was the conditioning of the part of the brain called the amygdala.

This one part of the brain, in the limbic region, is responsible for the entire initial reaction in a fight or flight response. It is the basis of the initial reaction no matter what you choose to do or use. I detailed this function in my previous Defensive Intelligence™ articles. This is covered in the very final portions of my Defensive Intelligence™ curriculum, but for initial hand to hand or weapons employment, it is the first step backwards, preempting all physical aspects of self defense. It’s the entry into the purely neurological aspect of the self defense realm. When you get to what is usually the origins of tactical response discussions, you are normally in the discussions that include; fastest holsters, best carry position, best draw techniques, fastest sighting systems, best hand to hand style, initial fighting postures/stances, etc. All of these are for the gaining of leverage or advantage as quickly as possible. Who ever strikes first has a better chance of winning, right? Absolutely!

So, let’s say you have the perfect hand to hand technique to repel the attack if it is too close to get your weapon on them first, or maybe you are unarmed and have no weapon. Whatever the case, let’s assume you have attained efficiency in the most effective technique known to man. And, if armed, you have the absolute best compromise in holster design for speed of use versus retention and/or comfort. You also have the best new sights or sight system known to modern man mounted on the certified best and fastest shootin’-iron a human can wield. All debate, as the “Gore” would put it, would be pointless. Except that little almond-shaped part of your brain that gets an initial survival signal from your sensory organs before the other part of your brain (the prefrontal lobes) that applies reasoning. It’s responsible for taking all your stored memory, experience, nuance, personality, fear, denial, etc. and manifesting it in an initial, physical reaction at the millisecond you are suddenly faced with imminent death or at least great bodily harm. You know this instance as the FLINCH. It can get you killed because it can be sloppy, but it can also be conditioned and has successfully been so for a few years now with very perceptible and measurable results.

This is the link between the knowledge of what you want to do and the commission of those acts. It is also responsible for many other aspects of violence on both sides of the ethical line. But, for the last bit of split second advantage that can be rung out between the sometimes dichotomous relationship between mind and body, pertaining to self defense, the amygdala is the key. But the commission of violence, even for self defense, can be a trip hazard for many.

To get control (relatively speaking) of the amygdala, you first have to understand what it does. To do that, we have to talk about memory and empathy.

A memory is a registering of emotion. Whenever you see something it is seen by your brain and then if it is something of enough significance, relative to your personal life experience, you will feel something about what you just witnessed. This “witnessing” can be realized via any of the external senses or in the intellect by simply reasoning about something. Some people remember mundane items of academics for tests by associating them with something else that has emotional significance. You are much more likely to remember something that causes you emotion than something that is just there, with no impact on your life at all. For example, if you were sitting at a red light a week ago and watched a green Dodge truck drive in front of you on the cross street, you probably would not remember it by the end of the day. But, let’s say that green Dodge was on fire and slammed into the utility pole on the corner. You’re gong to remember that for years to come. So, how does it happen? Why does that Dodge have to be on fire and wreck to “imprint” on your memory? It boils down to what kind of a response it solicits from your amygdala. You can relate to the person in the truck. It could have been you. You think about the impact they felt, the chance of them being burned alive in that fire. You fear for them because of how you know you would feel in that same situation. You then think about your loved ones and then about their loved ones and how their demise would affect the lives of their family.

When something is witnessed the signal first goes to a part of the brain called the thalamus. The thalamus then acts as a middleman or switchboard, so to speak, and forward’s the signal to the neocortex or “thinking” part of the brain. There the signal is processed and this is then fed to the amygdala and a “feeling” is registered about what is being “witnessed”. Then a signal about the feeling is picked up by the neocortex again and this is processed and sent back to the amygdala. You just had a feeling about a feeling you had. An example of this would be getting mad at yourself for being intimidated in a situation you feel you should have been more assertive in. Or, seeing something in a painting that makes you feel a certain way and then being embarrassed when someone else notices your reaction.

The neocortex is what separates us from lower species. The limbic system alone is what I call the lizard brain. Alligators, for example are very much without the benefit of a neocortex like humans possess. They react according to instinctual impulses with no regard for the outcome as it pertains to consequences for themselves or (obviously) their prey. They will lunge into a situation based on the feeding instinct and not reason it out as to whether it may be for their own good and selectively avoid acting on their hunger. They also employ tactics that have been engrained in there memory by instinct and previous success. They are lucky enough to be of such physical resilience to be able to endure their unsuccessful attempts and learn from their mistakes.

As humans, our lives are too fragile to engage in this trial and error tactic and so we must train with as much realism as possible in order to try and make an educated guess as to what is successful based on training scenario outcome. Sometimes, however, we use this lizard brain as our primary control circuit. Grossman refers to this in his book “On Combat” as the “puppy” breaking through the screen door. The screen door is your neocortex and prefrontal lobes and they serve to temper and regulate the actions the amygdala call upon to be carried out by applying reason. Crimes of passion or rage occur when the amygdala hijacks our emotions.

So when a signal is sent to the amygdala, it issues a reaction by the firing of synapses and causing the secretion of different chemical combinations in the brain and commanding physical response. These secretions affect the exchange of signals between the differing parts of the brain. This secretion can be replicated when we later witness something similar and this will cause the recollection of the original event. One very strong one for me is banana pancakes. My Grandmother made the best banana pancakes I have ever had. Anytime I smell banana pancakes being made it transports me back to my Grandmothers kitchen. It’s like I’m right there. I feel emotions I had then and I remember things I normally do not think of. The olfactory region (part of the brain that processes smell) by the way, has a concentration of synapses (neural links) to the amygdala and neocortex that is unrivaled by any other portion of our brains makeup.

Hallucination can occur if the trigger is sufficient to cause the recreation of the original synaptic event and resultant volume of hormonal secretion, or if the original synaptic event was extremely large, much less of a trigger is needed. The more traumatic the initial event; the lower the threshold for the emotional trigger. A good friend of mine is a Vietnam veteran with many confirmed kills and many harrowing experiences while in Vietnam. While viewing a popular Vietnam war movie, he was overcome with emotion and had to leave the theater. The realism of the movie triggered a secretion and synaptic response by the amygdala that was as strong as secretions he had while in active combat and he was able to smell things and feel like he was right back in the battle. The fear, anxiety, rage, excitement, sorrow was as though he was in action right there in the 5th or 6th row back from the screen.

When we train, however we train, we are causing the subsequent imprint of small synapse pathways in our brain. The more you train and refine your training, the more the cumulative effects of these pathways are manifested in our actions. This is known as Hebbian Plasticity and is how the brain learns with repetition. These pathways enable the brain signals which control the signals to the muscles which control the use of our weapons. In training, we use reasoning to fine tune our actions and hone our skills to as close to perfection as possible. This is very important to avoid training scars.

You have to train the correct way or you’re liable to call up the wrong response if you haven’t imprinted the correct reaction enough for it to be called up by the amygdala when you need it. But, in a real life and death situation, we sometimes cannot take the time to reason and have to just react or die. Your amygdala will scan for a memory to use to control your reaction. If you have trained for the situation it will call up your training and repeat the response you created in training. The more realistic your training, the more relevant the secretions created during that training will be to the real situation. This is the key to controlling the flinch reaction.

Dr. Joseph Ledoux discovered the key to conditioning the original fight or flight response. Much of my research has uncovered discoveries that would directly benefit training for defensive purposes but is not used outside of military training for reasons that are political and/or social, I’m sure. Many of the essays and published works of these neuroscientists have made overt statements that more than slant in an anti-gun persuasion. A few have even written pure fabrications in regards to gun statistics. They are easy to spot, there will be no reference for them in the bibliography. Rarely will you find these findings being used to help people employ the utility of violence for good.

Many times, when a scientist or researcher bungles an experiment or study, it’s because they began their process setting out to prove their own theory instead of letting the evidence convince them of the facts. With our objective, however, you have to wade through the research and findings of these predominately liberal and anti-gun scientists with the predisposition of understanding it all for the successful use of a gun in self defense. They never make the effort to take it there for you so you can benefit from a pro-gun standpoint.

What you will also find is that many authors simply research a topic for many months or years, interview those with relevant experience and then write a book about the cumulative body of their research without having any practical experience in the subject at all. This causes them to not always present it in a point of view that lends to the armed American citizen because that concept is a foreign ideology to them. It would be using their findings to help the use of violence. Many of them don’t like violence regardless of its application.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman even mentions the availability of assault rifles and pistols in our society as a negative aspect on page 326 of his book “On Killing” and that he believes there needs to be a modernization of our firearms laws to control them. I attribute this to his life as a military officer who may believe that armed authority only belongs to those in positions of “authorization” to have technically advanced weapons versus the common citizen. He even states that he considers arms of post-flintlock design to be technologically advanced enough to fall in this category of possibly needing more control. Maybe, as he openly divulges in his books, it’s because he has never been in mortal combat, especially as a private citizen victimized by a violent criminal. Is he an opponent of the 2nd Amendment? Possibly…..At any rate, his research and eloquence is solid, as well as entertaining, and should be studied for beneficial use in our own training along with the discoveries of other anti-gun scientists and researchers.

All of this foundational information serves to prepare to understand violence, or more specifically, understanding what enables violent actions for aggressor and intended victim alike. Like many would-be boxers who can’t bring themselves to pummel another person, one of the biggest obstacles to self defense is the fact that you usually have to commit some form of violence against another human to stop a violent attack. For 98% percent of us, this poses some sort of issue. We certainly don’t want to wrongfully use violence against someone if it is not warranted, so we tend to hesitate to prevent overreacting.

I consider myself a non-violent person. That is, I prefer to settle almost any imaginable confrontation with a peaceful collaboration, or even a compromise if I don’t have to betray any moral convictions as part of the compromise. I have frequently walked away, even though it may have appeared to have been submission. Choosing your battle is never submissive. As Richard Marcinko, founder of SEAL Team Six, stated in his literature; “Action is always better than inaction, and not acting is sometimes the boldest action of all.”

But there may come a point when non-violent dispute settlement is out of the question if you want to prevent becoming injured by physical attack. This is when we face the question; “Can I do it? Can I pull the trigger and cause a bullet to penetrate another human being?” And also understanding why the potential aggressor is willing and able to use violence for personal satisfaction. I’ll get to that later, but that is important to keep us from having false hope in the belief we can reason with someone who is set on violent domination.

In a situation such as war, there is a lead up, in most cases, to the violence. At the very least, you will knowingly be in a hostile environment and have time to ponder the issue. A boxer sits and looks at his or her opponent for several moments before the fight, thinking about what is coming. This is where the phobia to interpersonal human aggression is most seductive. Why? Because, you can relate to the other person. You see them as the humans they are, which is very much the same thing you are. It’s called empathy. Empathy, for the most part, is what prevents you from easily performing acts of violence.

So how can an empathetic, wholesome type of person like us law abiding Americans become OK with the use of violence? I believe that when you know the natural history, neurological, physiological and psychological aspects of violence, you can become much more accepting to the necessity of its use. When you see it for the natural tool it is, instead of some Draconian act of evil that will damn you to the realm of wickedness like the criminal element of our society, you can be more confident that it can be the right thing to do.

Nature is inherently violent. You cannot demonstrate a single species with a nervous system on this planet that does not use violence in some manner. Even the caterpillar commits an act of violence by devouring the leaf. What’s that you say? Plants cannot be considered in a discussion on violence? Tell that to the last insect consumed by a Venus Fly-Trap plant. That plant has some type of system that detects the presence of an insect and triggers a reaction to close its “jaws”. No emotion or cognitive reasoning; just pure, genetically programmed reaction.

Click here to read Getting Intimate with Violence: Part 2

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