Some of the tougher problems in dealing with a mass shooter falls into the action category. Most people have never had a fist fight in their life, and few have ever taken martial arts or combative arts (MA/CA) for longer than a couple of months. What I find strange is how many of those very same people feel like they are capable of defending themselves in any manner whatsoever when a determined aggressor chooses them for the meal of the day. Further still, those that have devoted themselves to martial arts rarely push themselves to exhaustion in its use, and have misguided notions of capability that in reality, are just foolish ideals in self-confidence more than actual skill.
Training for the unknown should be a thought experiment that everyone performs on a regular basis. This does not just apply to martial or combative arts, but to all areas of life. Given the context of this discussion, lets focus on what is going to save lives and some of the concepts and tasks that can make survival not only possible, but likely. First things first, understand that evil can be inside anyone, anywhere, and for any reason. We also must acknowledge that evil does not need a reason to exist, and that it is not necessary for you to understand the motives or reasoning behind it. This is a crucial factor as time after time I see people asking why these events happen, or what the motives were. At the moment of impact it does not matter. What matters is what you do when an attack occurs. Leave the reasons and motives to the police, law makers, and the psychologists. Understanding why at the moment of impact does not help you survive, what it does do is distract you from what is actually important: making things happen. Your job is to do one thing, and that is to survive, preferably without injury. What options you have will be dependent on the situation and how much you have prepared (read: trained, researched, and brain gamed) before that moment.
A while back a close friend of mine wanted to start taking his training seriously and asked my advice on where to start. That was a long conversation because when you are new to this side of life, it can be a daunting task as where to start to get the best foundation possible from which to build all your skills. Should it be a pistol class? Rifle? BJJ or MMA? Knife fighting or Boxing? Verbal Judo? Actual Judo? For me, none of these were the right answer. Violence is the end result of extreme conflict, but its only half of the problem. In order to truly excel and understand violence, we must first learn something that is far more useful: anatomy and physiology. This concept was introduced to me as a teen when a friend’s father had said to her boyfriend at the time that “I know how to save your life in almost any situation, and that means I also know how to take your life in the most efficient manner possible.” This seemed to send the intended point home, but it sparked a fire in me. Violence is not just about inflicting pain and destruction on our enemies, it is about understanding how both the mind and body work. It’s about their function and how to take advantage of their vulnerabilities. In order to do that you must first understand how to save them both.
I sent my friend out and he got his first taste of TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care) and it opened a whole new world for him. Though more knowledgeable and experienced in the darker side of life than most people, training on this level was new. The course he took taught him how to save lives, but most importantly how to do so while in a stressful environment. More on this critical topic later. When he returned, we did an AAR (After Action Report) on the course and identified new concepts, skills, and started picking out weak points in his game. Eventually I asked him what else he learned, though he was not directly taught. The objective here is to read between the lines, to use the skills and knowledge of what we know to be true, and pull new concepts that are related out of that pool of information.
The body is an amazing resilient machine that is incredibly durable in many ways. The paradox is that it is also incredibly fragile and easily dismantled, if you know how it works. Gross motor attacks (what most people perform in any attack) become absurd to anyone who understands anatomy and physiology, and is the mark of someone who has very little valid training or experience. Specific targeting based off of principled techniques and concepts will win the day far more often.
Given the skills he learned in that course, I tasked him with coming up with ways to inflict that damage, instead of rendering aid. Step by step we went from easy (having weapons designed to destroy) to difficult (having nothing on your person but still achieving similar results). It is a mental exercise that requires a degree of creativity and comfort with violence. The point here is not to make anyone a super ninja assassin, but to understand what you can do with what you have to affect the enemy in the most efficient way possible, and you cannot do that efficiently on the fly. You have to train it, plan it, and work it into your training before you can reliably perform it under pressure or in the real world.
Find Comfort in Chaos
One of the most common reactions to any extreme event, be it a mass shooting, a car accident, a bombing, a hurricane, a riot, or anything else that causes distress on a wide scale is a loss of self-control and an increase in anxiety, paranoia, and erratic behavior masking itself as a survival instinct. Typically, these reactions are uncontrollable and can lead to injury or death regardless of intent. I once was a first responder on scene where a Dominican was hit by a car and in shock. I was asking questions, to which he did not understand (he did not speak English well enough in his state of mind, English was not his primary language) and his brother was translating for me. At that point, a pregnant woman thought it was a good idea to lean all of her weight on my shoulder (I was in the kneeling position checking his body for injuries) while screaming in my ear that I needed to do something. I pushed her off of me and her concern changed directly from him to what she perceived was an attack on her and her unborn baby. I stopped, addressed her in a stern but respectful and controlled manner, and explained that she was not helping and needed to leave the scene or be removed by police once they arrived. She lost it, but her husband pulled her away once he realized the situation. Later, she came and apologized to me having grasped her actions and their possible repercussions, and admitted that she had not realized at that moment what she was doing. To me, this is an all too familiar reaction and I do not hold it against her, it was her (and most people’s) natural reaction to a stressful situation.
Why do people act in such a strange manner in stressful, often dangerous situations? Most of the people reacting like this revert to fight, flight, or freeze. What often isn’t considered is mob mentality. This dynamic is usually reserved for crowds of people when they are essentially in control of their faculties, but when the shit hits the fan people will generally follow whoever seems to be in control, the natural leader of the group. Some people are wired as leaders, but most are wired as followers (regardless of their station in life this is how it plays out in stressful situations). This could be a good or bad thing, depending on who is in your group and what they are capable of handling. When you have a sufficient number of people acting in the same manner, it will spread like wildfire. Once the fire has been lit, you can have the most peaceful loving people you have ever met acting out with levels of violence reserved for only the most brutal criminals. When asked what got into them, they can never explain it. On an individual level there is nothing to explain. It is an evolutionary trait, follow the tribe (crowd/mob) in order to ensure survival. Go against the tribe (crowd/mob) and your chances for survival plummet. (Keep in mind this is from a primitive position, our brains are lagging far behind societal/technological evolutionary pace.)
Keeping Calm Under Fire
The difference between people that can perform under stress and those that cannot is simple: those that have been exposed to stressful situations almost always outperform those that have not. Like many things in life, it is all relative to the individual and their experiences in life. This is why the military makes bootcamp and any special unit selection stressful or intense; it weeds out those that are not prepared for what could come down the line. If you cannot handle stress in a controlled environment, how can you be expected to perform in a chaotic environment?
The best way to fix this issue is controlled chaos. We can find training and exposure to perceived stress in many areas of life. Some choose sports, like wrestling, football, hockey, or any other sport than might have spectators. Some choose hunting, which on the surface is not stressful at all, at least until you have your prey in your sights. Others choose sky diving, racing cars or motorcycles, or BASE jumping. All of these are great for exposure to stress, but martial arts / combative arts are in my opinion far more effective at stress mitigation. Whereas the others you have low level problem solving in stressful situations (some injury might be possible, but performing in front of a crowd can be incredibly stressful for many for evolutionary reasons), MA/CA force you to keep a cool mind over time, and in stressful/violent situations we learn to control our minds.
Control in chaotic, violent situations is one of the most difficult things a person can achieve, but they can if they put in the time. Once this has been achieved on a suitable enough level, other types of stress seem insignificant by comparison (personal variables like fear aside). This is part of the reason season Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighters are so humble, happy, and peaceful; they have both been humbled and performed under great stress. It changes a person; it allows them to realize what needs to happen and what is truly important in any given moment.
Keeping control of yourself is the single most significant factor in whether you survive any incident when it is within the realm of possibility to survive through your actions and decisions. When you lose that control, you start making mistakes and falling behind the curve, becoming a statistic that gets lost in the staticover time. Consider this, do you want to have to manage someone that is terrified and useless or work with someone that is ready for action when the time comes? Be the person you want to work together with in those situations. Help never shows up in time, and when they do it is to secure the scene and preserve evidence. They bring tape, body bags, and chalk. Do not rely on anyone to come save you, because no one is coming. It is up to you to leave on your feet, rely on anyone else and you will be wheeled out on your back.
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