We’ve spent six weeks looking at the different aspects of both armed and unarmed self defense. Now I’d like to come full circle and write a little bit about fitness.
You might be wondering what fitness has to do with self defense. A lot actually. Your fitness level sets the upper limit of what you can do, and how long you can keep doing it.
If you are sedentary and out of shape, your reaction time is going to be much slower, and your ability to effectively mount a defense is severely compromised.
I’ve had people tell me that they don’t have to be in shape to pull a trigger. But actually you do. In extreme situations, with your life hanging in the balance, you’ll be under extreme stress.
Your heart rate will be pounding. Your blood pressure will spike. Your ability to process information and make decisions may be compromised too. All but the most experienced operators can be affected this way.
Noted author and combat scholar Dave Grossman wrote a book called “On Combat” with former police officer and author Loren Christensen. For the book, they interviewed dozens of military and law enforcement survivors of lethal force encounters.
The best predictor of successful performance was experience in similar situations. The authors found that veterans of repeated encounters were cooler and calmer the second time around. By the third time, they were in charge of the scene, and directing newer officers or soldiers. They became experts at managing their stress under fire.
Grossman and Christensen coined the term “stress inoculation” to show how officers and soldiers could prepare for this by adding stress to their training. Like a flu shot protects against the flu virus, “stress inoculation” protects against mental and physical overload in serious encounters.
This is why elite forces train non-stop, under varying and even stressful conditions. Do it in training, and it’s less of a surprise when it happens for real. Sure, it will be worse, and you’ll still have the physiological adaptations, but you can deal with it.
To help you replicate this, try incorporating some mental drills into your training. Add decision making, like shoot or no shoot to your practice. Some trainers have you do simple math problems while engaging a string of targets.
Once people have some basic proficiency and have proven themselves to be safe, I like to add complexity by directing: “target left, target right, low ready, left, shoot, right, no shoot, reload, low ready, scan,” etc. It’s amazing how quickly our abilities degrade as we reach mental overload.
One way to see how things change, is to go through a scenario with multiple targets, hostages, decision making, moving from cover to cover, tactical reloads, and so on. If you’ve done it a few times, it becomes second nature. But the first time through, I’ll see and hear their breathing increase, an outward sign of the inward changes that are occurring.
Another way to see the detrimental effects of stress on your shooting, is by doing some physical activity first, like some jumping jacks and push-ups, or running 50 yards to the firing line. Do NOT do this with your weapon out. Wait until you get there to draw, and then do it slowly. Make sure you follow all the basic rules of firearm safety, especially muzzle direction and trigger finger discipline. Have proper supervision.
I always try to add at least a level or two of stress inoculation to every training session, whether it’s for armed or unarmed combat. Then it comes down to lots of repetitions to build muscle memory. Next week, we’ll finish with a look at how physical fitness can help you defend against some other killers. Until then, train safe and train often.