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Gotta Have Mental Toughness

From USKMA Chief Instructor, Mark Slane.

I haven’t seen Survivor in years but there was a time I wouldn’t miss an episode. One of my favorite challenges each season was when they would see who could be uncomfortable the longest. They would do something like have the group stand on a log and see who would last the longest. This was really nothing hard, just stand there and keep your balance. Well, it was always funny to see that the least mentally tough would be done in an hour while the winner would go on for ten, twelve and even more hours. The most athletic, strongest or even the youngest wouldn’t win. The mentally toughest would. It was most often a woman, which always intrigued me. Here are a few that I found on youtube;

In Laurence Gonzales’ great book DEEP SURVIVAL (highly recommended along with Ben Sherwood’s THE SURVIVORS CLUB) he tells the story of Debbie Kiley. Debbie was on a yacht, the Trashman, that sank at sea. Before the accident happened she told of how the Captain and his first mate were heavy drinkers and actually drunk when they sailed. She goes on to talk of the first mate’s girlfriend and how helpless she acted. The one’s doing all of the work were Debbie and another crew member. After the accident they all got on a small raft that was being severely tossed in the storm. The two who kept control of their thoughts and attempted to think of solutions (Debbie and the hard working crew member) were rescued many days later. The other three died during the ordeal. The difference? Mental toughness.

If you really want to read about mental toughness get some of the books written by the Viet Nam war POW’s. One story I read recently was that of Jim Thompson. After being captured Jim was forced to live in a small wooden cage that he could neither sit up in nor stretch out in. Several months later he was moved to solitary confinement…for four years! Finally he was moved in with other prisoners, but of course the torture and beatings continued the entire NINE years! Oh, and during all of this he managed to escape five times, only to be recaptured and tortured some more. Fellow prisoners at time thought he was a corpse in the next cell as he weighed all of ninety pounds when he finally was released. Other POW’s facing the same treatment didn’t last six months. Jim’s mental toughness was immeasurable! Sadly Jim did die…30 years later, of natural causes, in Florida!!

I love watching the Ultimate Fighter. You can pick the mentally tough ones out early…and the not so tough. They all think that they want to be in the UFC, think they are bad dudes. It seems like the ones who do all the talking about how great they are, how they’ll die in the ring before losing and how losing isn’t an option are the first ones to just stand and freeze in the ring or purposely give up their backs so they can tap out. The mentally toughest usually last the longest in that show and, I would think, in a true violent situation.

I don’t care what techniques, system or art you are learning, if you aren’t building mental toughness you won’t last long when confronted with real world violence. I would bet on a mentally tough person with little training in a horribly violent confrontation way before I would a black belt from any system or art that isn’t mentally tough. This is why you have heard me say many, many times that it isn’t the art, system or techniques that will keep us safe if violence ever finds us. It is attitude and mental toughness. This is why Krav Maga is based on philosophy and not techniques I don’t care what techniques you know if you don’t have the “flinch reaction” of go forward, go hard, go now and go until the scumbag is down. Even if injured, even if outnumbered, and even if afraid for our lives we go off with rage and swing for the fences.

This is why when students in class ask me to slow the class down so that they can learn the techniques better I tell them “no”. Those techniques won’t save them. Learning to keep going with the stress, exhaustion and not knowing what’s coming next in our drills is what will save them. Developing mental toughness is way more important in keeping our students safe than any of those cool techniques! BE SAFE!

IS THIS PERSON RATIONAL?

From USKMA Chief Instructor, Mark Slane.

One great lesson that I’ve learned from the co-lead instructor of the USKMA, Brannon Hicks, is to ask “Is this person rational?” He leads a great RBT class and when critiquing A scenario the question he asks over and over to the officer is “Was this a rational person?” Thinking in those terms helps the officer to make decisions much quicker.

I taught a third-party protection class recently where one of the scenarios was that they were walking a spouse/significant other and a belligerent person came up threatening the spouse. The student playing the belligerent person never laid hands on the spouse but kept coming forward and yelling threats over and over. Because there was no actual contact many of the students were confused on what they should do. After the scenario I would ask them “Was this a rational person?” Would a rational person be belligerent, keep coming forward even though you’ve tried to walk away and threaten to do harm to another person? When the answer was “no, this is not a rational person.” the solution seemed to show itself. It is not rational to threaten a stranger and to keep coming forward as if to do harm. My thought was if I know this isn’t a rational person and I have clearly try to get away and leave the situation and de-escalate, if that person keeps coming forward I probably need to strike first. I can justify in my head, and in a court of law, that I believed this was not a rational person, they were threatening to do harm, and I was not going to wait on them to draw a knife or to follow through with your threat. Again, I would have witnesses stating that I was doing the rational thing. I was trying to leave I was trying to de-escalate I was trying to break contact with this person

SGT Hicks shows a video of a law-enforcement officer who waits way too long to put hands on a criminal. The first thing the officer does is point a taser at the man and tell him to stop coming forward. The man continues to come forward. If this officer would have just thought “This is not a rational thing. I am a law-enforcement officer giving a command and pointing a weapon at this person and yet they keep coming forward”. If he would have decided right then and there that he was dealing with an irrational person and did something about it it would’ve saved him a lot of trouble. It ended up that this criminal drew a knife and stabbed the officer and the officer had to shoot and kill this man.

In my mind setting I tell myself over and over to ask that simple question. Is this person rational? Again, a rational person would not threaten a stranger, act violently, put himself in my face, or any other such thing. Unless we thought about this in our heads ahead of time we may end up frozen thinking “Why is this person doing this, do I know this person? I need to de-escalate this, I need to keep giving orders, keep giving commands, I need to talk my way out of this.” It goes without saying that you’re not going to talk an irrational person out of anything. In my opinion, it is time to go hands-on if I’ve tried to leave, de-escalate, etc. and it’s not working. Any rational person is not going to do the expected. An irrational person is a dangerous person.

In any situation ask yourself that question. Is this person being rational? If they are rational we can talk. If there irrational it may be time to go hands-on. Be safe!

Training the Brain!

From USKMA Chief Instructor, Mark Slane.

“…under sudden life-threatening stress, individuals will likely exhibit behaviour based on past experiences that they will automatically produce without conscious thought. This means [that there is a necessity to] not only [train] officers in appropriate tactics but also [to provide] sufficient repetition under stress so that new behaviours will automatically take precedent over any previously learned, potentially inappropriate behaviours that they possessed before becoming an officer”. Ken Murray

I recently watched a cool documentary on the brain. It was shot at the Navy Seals Special Warfare Command. It talked about how those in Seal training are introduced to chaos from day one because historically mistakes on the battlefield are almost always associated with fear and panic. At this training they are trying to find mentally tough soldiers more so than athletic studs. Each class has 140 men and only an average of 36 pass. They have had Olympic athletes fail while they once had a one hundred and forty pound farm boy from Nebraska who had never seen the ocean until training pass. Needless to say, they take neuroscience seriously.

Researchers have found that a part of the brain no larger than a finger nail called the Amygdala controls emotions, especially fear. The Amygdala instinctly pushes the panic button because this part of the brain gets impulses two times faster than the frontal lobes, which is where our rational thoughts and synchronized activity comes from. When something such as a loud noise startles us the Amygdala has our pulse rising, gets sweat started and has us moving before the Frontal lobes figure out whether it is something that we should be afraid of or not. If we relied only on the frontal lobes we would freeze until we figured out what was going on. The Amygdala gets us ducking, moving and orienting ourselves towards the danger immediately.

The Seal training exposes the soldiers to many scary situations. This helps them to get used to the danger and gives them a been there, done that feeling. This training helps to minimize delay by generating fast and accurate reactions to situations that they will face in combat. For example they fail more candidates in the pool competency training than anywhere else. In the pool competency training the candidates have on their tanks and breathing apparatus. While underwater on air the instructors mess with the candidates for up to twenty minutes by taking their tubes out of their masks and tying them into knots, shutting off their tanks, throwing their masks off of them, etc. They are without air as much as they are on air and must control the fear of drowning as they do the proper procedures to get back on air. When this happens in battle it won’t be nearly so scary as they have been in this position before, many times.

The Seals have a four step mental toughness program that include 1) goal setting, 2) mental rehearsal (mind setting), 3) self talk (they have found that we talk to ourselves by using between 300 and 1,000 words per minute. Those with positive self talk, the “you can do this” succeeded at a much higher rate than those who told themselves “this is impossible”) and 4) arousal control. This is the use of deliberate and slow breathing, especially long exhales. Since they started teaching this the Pool competency training pass rate has gone from ¼ to 1/3.

Watching this documentary had me standing in awe of Krav Maga’s founder, Imi Lichtenfeld. Imi was figuring this stuff out back in the 40’s and 50’s! The drills we do, the way we test and the general thoughts behind Krav training are in line with what the Seals are doing today. We train real, mind set and put students through rough times so that if they are ever attacked on the street they have that “been there, done that” feeling. How cool! BE SAFE!

Run…like Forrest!

From USKMA Chief Instructor, Mark Slane.

When there was trouble Forrest ran! This was a brilliant tactic as it kept him safe (even kept him from being fried in ‘Nam). When I give lectures on self defense the first thing I tell people is “don’t be there…don’t go to stupid places with stupid people to do stupid things”. The second major bit of advice I give is “run”. Run away, run to help, run to pick something up to use as a weapon but just RUN! When I teach knife defense seminars, for example, the first thing we do is practice sprinting away from someone who is going to their pocket. The second thing we practice is punching the dude going for his pocket…and then running. These are the best two knife defenses I have. Running is generally the best thing to do for your safety! If the local paper has me on the front page with the headline KRAV MAGA EXPERT RUNS FROM KNIFE I wouldn’t be offended. I would see that headline and think “a still living, very smart krav maga expert runs from knife”!

But let’s think about this advice. Can you run? When is the last time you did any sprint work? The average violent criminal is a male ages 18-25. Can you outrun a young dude who is still in his athletic prime? I doubt I can anymore. Are we fit enough to not keel over dead after attempting to run thirty yards? Do we just hope that we are attacked only by overweight, slow and lazy people? Hope isn’t a strategy. So, first point of running for safety is to get yourself into shape. This is why we are so physical in our Krav classes. This is why we recommend to our affiliate gyms that they add CardioMMA and Crossfit. Techniques won’t save anyone. Being in better shape than the attacker, going off with rage, going forward and going hard is what will save us.

Next thougt; what are you wearing? Most guys I know, when they go out, are in athletic shoes. Most women, however are in things I couldn’t even stand in, yet alone walk or run in! During self defense for women seminars I talk a lot about this. Those “cute shoes” could be your downfall. How can you outrun anyone in those stiletto heels? Statistically violence tends to happen more often where young men gather and where minds are altered. This sounds like most bars, doesn’t it? If you are going to the bar those cute shoes may not be the thing to wear. How quick can you get them off and run barefoot? The second point is to plan and mind set. Wear things you can fight and run in…have a plan!

Last thought; Where are you running to? Again, have a plan and mind set. When you go into a restaurant, theater, etc. you should not only know where the exits are but also should have put yourself in position to get to them quickly. If outside in a city do you know where you can run to most likely get help? How about out in rural areas. Where can you run to quickly where help is available? In our self defense for women seminars I make the point that a tazer isn’t to be totally relied on. When you taze the guy it will lock him up for thirty seconds…if both barbs got him (happens less than 70% of the time). How far can you run in thirty seconds? When it lets go of him he may well sprint to wherever you are to do you harm.

So the next time you hear someone say “I’d just run (like Forrest)” ask them what shape they are in, what they are usually wearing and, in their plan, where are they running to. Thinking about these things ahead of time gives us a plan. Plans don’t get made up under stress but the plans we have do surface and our training will come out of us. BE SAFE!

A HURTIN’ FOR CERTAIN!

From USKMA Chief Instructor, Mark Slane.

You won’t hear this in many systems but in Krav Maga we let our practitioners know that they can and probably will sustain damage. This can be a game changer! If you rely on both hands to do a joint lock and break one….what do you do then? If you rely only on jump kicks and the attack starts with your ankle being crushed…what do you do then? If we’ve never trained thinking about an injury and then it happens our brains want to freeze because this wasn’t in the plan. We want our practitioners to expect this and train for it. We will go as far as to have the first half of an upper level test be done with the student tying one arm down. They must figure out how to do the choke defense, handgun defense, knife defense, etc. with only one arm working. If this should happen in a real attack they now have a plan!

SGT Sanford Strong, in his great book “Strong on Defense” interviewed many crime (especially rape) victims. The ones who consistently fought back and got out of the horrible situation were those who feared the crime (the rape) more than they feared injury. Injury will happen….tell yourself that right now! The scumbag knows that you fear injury. This is why he will say “Do what I tell you to and you won’t be hurt.” Those who allow themselves to be moved, tied up, etc. on the “promise” of no injury from the bad guy will almost always paid dearly for it. Those who were so afraid of injury that they did nothing but hope and pray the attacker was telling the truth needed to know that the bad guys always lie and they are good at it! Put in your brain right now that the scumbag is there to hurt, torture and probably kill you. Injury is coming. It’s up to you to decide if it’s on his terms or if you are in control. It’s up to you to decide if that injury will come to only you or if it will come with you injuring him back tenfold!!

A great quote from Meditations on Violence by SGT Rory Miller; “This fear of escalation is based on unknowns. The attacker has already decided to hurt the victim and largely how much. The feared ‘greater level of damage’ is only in relation to the level of damage, unknown to you, that the threat has already planned. If he is already planning to torture and kill, the feared escalation is meaningless…the fear of provoking a beating or torture or death will not help you if the attacker has already decided on the beating, the torture or the murder.”

Why Krav? Any class that would include being injured on purpose would be a short lived one! We don’t purposely injure anyone but we do go hard. Our drills don’t cause injury but they do wear us out, make us feel like we can’t go on and cause general discomfort. This is for a reason. We want to know that we can continue no matter what! Krav Maga’s techniques are such that losing the use of a limb, in general, doesn’t affect us. We incorporate no joint locks or fine motor skill movements in our techniques but whole body, gross motor skills that we do in an extremely pissed off stage of mind…..that keep going til the bad guy is done mentality!

If your instructor tells you “do our techniques right and you won’t get hurt, the bad guy will” you probably need to look for another instructor! BE SAFE!