Re: How to get past the stress response?
I've been learning lately about responses that lead to trauma in human beings -- there being, in the wild, plenty of life-or-death situations but remarkably few examples of animals being traumatized by them -- and so I offer this information. I'm paraphrasing from a book titled "Waking the Tiger" by a Dr. Levine.
First.... humans have, in effect, three "brains", or three levels of consciousness. There is the instinctive "lizard brain"; the emotional and memory-based "mammalian brain"; and the cognitive, analytical brain, which is uniquely "human" (as far as we know). Our lizard brain carries our instincts; our mammalian brain will associate emotions and memories with various events, so that we can learn; and our human brain will try to analyze, catgorize, and judge the overall experience.
Moving on... There are three instinctive responses to a threat: "fight" or aggression; "flight" or escape; and "freeze". It's important to remember that these things are genuine *instincts*, which is to say, we don't think about how to respond, we just do. The path our instinctive reptilian brain will choose depends on a number of factors, and one of those factors does include an awareness of the tools (or lack of tools) at one's disposal with which to face the threat.
What a lot of people tend to not realize is that all three responses have good, valid biological reasons to exist. Fighting is pretty obvious; running away is also pretty smart when fighting doesn't work. Freezing is often a last-ditch effort when escape is impossible. There are animals who are famous for just dropping and playing dead until the threat goes away -- that's not something that they do consciously. Their bodies literally shut down in response to a threat, and gradually "reboot" after a certain period of time. Usually, by then the threat is gone. If not, well, a side benefit of shutting down is that the body feels no fear or pain.
I'm generalizing, but it seems to be that we tend to get in trouble -- in other words, start to set up conditions where we can become traumatized -- when we start to place judgments on our natural instincts. Someone who fights is brave, someone who runs is regarded less highly, and someone who freezes is often labeled a coward.
Now, we have that upper-level brain so that it can judge and analyze things. There's nothing wrong with trying to learn from an experience, *except* that we often apply judgments to things that are just plain wrong We set ourselves up for dysfunction and trauma when we do this, because we're basically using our brain to tell our brain that our brain is wrong. (Think anorexia - people starve themselves because they've managed to completely screw up the instinctive response to hunger!) It's like a feedback loop. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is caused in the same way.
Now... to take this back to the topic of martial arts... the more tools you have at your disposal, the less likely your instincts will lead you to freeze; those tools include the physical, like martial arts technique, and the emotional. A five-year-old can be traumatized by being left along in a dark room; an adult is more likely to hit the light switch, or to wonder where the fusebox is.
So I'd suggest, based on the above, that the more martial arts awareness you have, and the more confident and natural that practice feels to you, the more likely you will be to respond with martial arts in a threatening situation. I'm not saying it's a magical protection -- even seasoned police officers have been caught off guard and assaulted -- but it's one tool to add to your box.