Stress Training…

I’m a big fan of stress training.  And when I say stress training, I mean a range of various training modes from light stress such as using a timer with people watching, to full-on adrenalized force-on-force with weapons, significant energetic verbal interaction, and additional special effects to simulate reality as close as possible.

Recently, there was a request from someone to actually talk more in depth on this topic, so here’s a brief discussion on the general concept:

Multiple studies over time have clearly shown that stress creates physiological changes in the human body that effect our abilities to perform physical and mental actions.  The level of stress felt by the individual (which is NOT the same thing for all people in the same situation) can occur along a huge range, and thus can create physiological reactions that range from minor to (extremely!) major.

So, the First Statement of stress reactions and training:  Nothing is an absolute.

What happens to a person physiologically depends on the perceived level of threat/stress, which is a function of immediacy, proximity, experience, and understanding of the situation.  It can also be effected by duration of stress, but that isn’t something we normally consider much in terms of citizen self-defense situations, though it IS something that needs to be considered for people whose jobs involve repeated stress events like law enforcement, military (on deployment), fire fighters, and some other first responders.  (Stress is cumulative and seems to be more geometric than additive.  In other words, stress over time ramps up quickly.)

Second Statement of stress reactions and training:  The most common physiological reactions felt by people under significant amounts of stress/adrenaline are, in no particular order:  tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, time dilation, increased speed and strength, and a decrease of physical control and precision.  (There are more, but those are the major ones.)  After the event has occurred, the “crash” that accompanies the stress response cycle (not only the adrenalized feeling that still occurs afterward, but the body’s reaction to that adrenaline going away) sometimes includes inability to speak coherently, tendency to babble, inability to remember time sequences and events in a precise and correct manner, shaking, nausea, light-headedness, and shock.

An example of these first two statements in use:  The first time a person is involved in a potential life-threatening self-defense situation (and realizes it), the stress is huge and crushing, and the person experiences significant tunnel vision, doesn’t hear anything around him, feels like he’s mired in mud and everything moves incredibly slowly, and his ability to do things seems stunted because he’s incredibly clumsy.  Afterward, he is shaking and can’t stop himself from talking, and his recollection of the details of what happened and in what order are significantly different from a video recording of the event.  He feels weak and sick to his stomach.

He then decides that this will never happen to him again.  He takes training that includes stress-training and force-on-force.

He then gets into another life-threatening situation—but this time it is a car crash.  The circumstances do not match what he has been training for.  His stress level is significantly high, but the practice he has done has made him better at dealing with the physiological effects.  He still feels them, but not quite to the same extent, and performs better (with a better ability to think and respond effectively) based on his experiences with stress.

Later in his life, he experiences another life-threatening self-defense situation.  (He’s not having a good year.)  Several things are in his favor:  He recognizes the situational type of attack, and has trained for it, therefore his stress level is significantly lower.   In addition, his training has prepared him for acting during high stress events.  As such, not only does he have less tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and self-discipline issues (the physiological reactions are significantly less serious), but his ability to handle said issues and react effectively is significantly better.

Afterward, he still feels some of the effects of the adrenal crash (though it is much less since he was less stressed than the first time this happened to him) however his ability to mitigate the affects is much better, AND his training tells him to shut up and not babble things that may not be correct.

For any person, the amount of stress that occurs is based on the perceived level of the situation—so the same situation may cause extremely different reactions in two different people with two different levels of training and experience.  Reactions to stress are NOT absolutes, so if someone says “This WILL happen to you, you WON’T be able to do this other thing” then there is a problem, because it doesn’t happen that way.

Sure, if you are untrained, have no experience with stress and violence, and are taken by surprise, the stress levels you will feel will probably be such that your ability to respond will be close to nonexistent.  But we train for a reason—and training both lowers perceived stress, and helps you handle the physiological reactions that occur.

So—sure, under stress you will want to stare at the attacker (or turn your head away completely), bring up your hands (perhaps in front of your face), and not pay attention to anything else.  If you have no training, experience, or practice in dealing with stress, that’s probably exactly what you are going to do. (If you can do that much.)  WITH practice, you CAN handle a firearm, aim using the sights, maintain situational awareness, move, and react effectively.  Among other things.

Violence, stress, and physical reactions are not absolutes—and they aren’t simple things.   The good thing is that you don’t need to be able to diagram the neural pathway and list the neurotransmitters engaged when stress stimulates the the hippocampus and amygdala…  (which again, is a simplification of what occurs in your brain and body)  …you can simply get good realistic training that increases your ability to handle stress, and then get training that realistically simulates self-defense situations to enable you to understand them—which will lower your perceived stress in self-defense situations.  The combination of those things WILL make you more capable of doing what you need to do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

More to come in a later article regarding specifics of what you can do for “stress inoculation,” which is a commonly used term describing training that 1) increases your ability to control your body and deal with the reactions caused by stress in general, and 2) reduces perceived stress during altercations by adding experience with those situations.

 

Some additional reading, if you want more.  The following is more phrased to apply to unarmed self-defense, but really is about all self-defense:

Marc MacYoung’s No Nonsense Self-Defense Page
(Warning:  Marc has a unique writing style.)

Killed in the Streets again…

“This is likely to be my last post. This morning I was told in no uncertain terms that using the sights is slow and I should point shoot ‘cause the fight will be less than three yards and I won’t have time to use the sights and shooting competition will likely get me killed on the streets and fine motor control…”

…such was the post from a friend of mine the other day on Facebook.

(Jump to the end for the TL;DR version, but first make sure to watch the video in the middle.)

Leaving aside the research on actual engagement distances for citizen self-defense situations, the research on sight usage (and the resulting effect on the various police departments that have updated their training methodology on sighted fire and have statistics on hit ratios that far exceed the national norms), our beyond-grade-school-level understanding of what the terms “gross motor skill” and “fine motor skill” actually entail, plus the many easily-found examples of using the sights at great speed….

….leaving ALL that aside because even a CURSORY search by anyone with Internet access could find those and therefore wouldn’t tell my friend anything that stupid…

….I thought I’d address through a simple example the “shooting competition will likely get me killed on the streets” section of that particular pile of nonsense.

On Saturday, August 22nd in Grand Island at the Heartland Shooting Park, the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association (NFOA) had their annual meeting, which among other things included informational presentations by various trainers and content-area experts in the morning plus a number of training sessions and shooting opportunities in the afternoon.

One of those opportunities was an almost-Steel Challenge stage, which I ran for anyone who wanted to give it a try. The stage was roughly Roundabout (for those who know SC stages) and centerfire pistol shooters could either run the stage from a holster or if they didn’t have a sufficient holster, from a table. Given time constraints (plus ammunition constraints on the part of the shooters) we only ran three strings of fire. We threw out the slowest run and added the other two together for score.

I of course shot it with my USPSA Production equipment setup—dropped/offset holster, BOSS hanger, CR Speed belt, Production-legal Glock 34. Other shooters (most of which had never shot a competition stage before) shot whatever handgun they had brought, from whatever holster they had.

After everyone got done, it occurred to me that here we had an opportunity to check how much competition shooting practice would get me killed on the streets. I would think that no matter what stupid ideas someone has about self-defense, we can all at least agree that with respect to CCW and self-defense, the primary handgun skillset is the ability to draw and get accurate shots on target quickly.

…and that’s what a Steel Challenge stage is all about—a good draw, and hitting those steel targets as fast as possible.. So, I grabbed a couple of people, and had them time and record me shooting the exact same stage, but this time with my actual carry gun from concealment. (At the end of the day, I had changed into different clothing to drive home, and was wearing my normal, everyday concealment rig, which meant I was using the gear I would be carrying “on the street” when my competition shooting would get me killed.)

Here’s the video:

…let’s make that really clear. Here were the times for the three runs using my USPSA rig—competition holster, belt, and gun.

1st Run: 3.70 2nd Run: 2.88 3rd Run: 3.40

My three runs with my carry holster/gun:

1st Run: 3.77  2nd Run: 4.32 3rd Run: 3.36

You can see that my first and third runs were effectively the same between my competition rig and my carry rig. The difference was in the second run, in which (with my carry rig) I forgot how to aim and had to take three makeup shots because I’m an idiot. With my competition rig I actually shot the second run correctly.

Out of the 37 entries in the centerfire pistol division of this stage, I won first with my competition gun. I got an unofficial third with my carry gun shooting from concealment, losing 2nd place by only 0.05 seconds to an A-class USPSA shooter using his competition gear. Another way of putting that: the nearest a non-competition shooter got to my CCW score was almost enough time for me to do an additional full string of fire. (The top three official shooters were competition shooters.) 28 of the 36 stage scores more than doubled my CCW score.

2015-PRT-SCscoresI participate in USPSA, IDPA, Steel Challenge, and Multigun shooting competitions. The vast majority of my practice time is with my competition gun from my competition rig. And yet, with my carry gun from concealment, I was faster and more accurate than a random sampling of 34 other shooters who care about firearms ownership, who shot whatever gun they wanted, without concealment. (Some of whom, I’ve heard, say that competition shooting will get you killed on the street.)

I’m curious: What part of competition was going to get me killed there? The part where my shooting practice caused me to be faster and more accurate than almost everyone else except for the other people who shoot competitions and thus work on being better shooters?

 

TL;DR version: I shot a steel challenge stage with my carry gun from concealment almost as fast as with my competition gun from a competition holster, beating almost everyone else. 95% of my practice is with my competition rig. What part of competition shooting is going to get me killed on the street?