Monday, July 30, 2012

Emotional Skills and The Survival Process

The Opals are the Australian women's basketball team competing at the 2012 Olympics. Liz Cambage is an up and coming star of not only the Opals but women's basketball generally. Given what I've been writing about in this blog and a proposed article on the survival process, a news article reporting on their win over Great Britain caught my eye.
Once again Cambage was struck with foul troubles. She had two inside the opening two minutes and then when she finally reappeared midway through the second got another one which was enough for coach Carrie Graf who benched the centre again.

But the coach has backed the young gun to bounce back.

'She definitely was nervous and that impacted her focus,' Graf said.

'One of her (pre-match) goals was to breathe. I think that indicates where she was with her emotions.

't's good for Liz to get that one under her belt. Now she can buckle down and play basketball.

'She's young, but her emotional skills are still a work-in-progress.'
The 'survival process' is a term I've used to refer to our evolved survival mechanism which is embedded in a survival process. It is evolutionarily designed to promote our survival.

The survival process is comprised of a stimulus that is appraised. If appraised as harm, threat, or challenge, a feeling response is elicited which motivates an urge to action that a physiological reaction prepares the body for. The behaviour associated with the action is intended to cope with the initiating stimulus. All of the components of the process are interconnected. Affect one and you can affect another or them all.

I've written previous posts about tactical breathing. Voluntarily controlling your breathing is intervening in the physiological component that can affect all the other components. Cambage's pre-match goal of breathing is an example of tactical breathing at work. It appears Cambage gets anxious before a game which has deleterious effects on her performance. Controling her breathing controls her anxiety feeling and her appraisal of the situation, which in turn modifies her physiological response (and produces gold for Australia).

Graf's comment regarding Cambage's emotional skills is very telling. Stress training (stress inoculation training and stress exposure training) is described as being training that is designed to counter stress effects. How does stress training counter stress effects. By managing emotion. That fact is obscured by the reference to the ambiguous concept of stress.

Miller (The Mystery of Courage) insightful explains that military training is directly or indirectly a set of fear-management techniques. He suggests that training is the 'grafting of a new set of reflexes onto the more cowardly ones of flight and freeze that nature equipped us with from the start.' Miller has focused on the heart of the issue - emotion. Stress obscures the heart. When you focus on emotion, you immediately go to behaviour which is the initial interest of survival activities. When you focus on stress, you go to the physiological response and possibly the cognitive effects, and their effect on survival and combat performance. The physiological and cognitive effects are of secondary interest. Their is no survival or combat performance if the warrior has fled, become comatose, fainted, or refuses to fight.

While martial arts, etc. tend to focus on technical proficiency, they should understand and pay attention to the emotional skills with equal emphasis.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Confidence and Self Defence

Advanced Aikido, 2006, Phong Tong Dang and Lynn Seiser, Part 4: Advanced Applications: Taking Your Practice To The Next Level, Chapter 13: Self-Defence Techniques: 'It is false confidence cultivated through unrealistic training that leads to many injuries or deaths in self-defence.'

These types of statements concerning the realities of combat are common within the martial arts. It could also be argued that these types of statements are also forms of false confidence.

One of the definitions of confidence in the Oxford Dictionary is: the state of feeling certain about the truth of something. Dang and Seiser would have absolute confidence in the truth of their statement. Many martial arts instructors would likewise have absolute confidence in the truth of the insights they espouse. Dang and Seiser's statement is clearly unsupportable. The same can be said for many of the insights espoused by martial arts instructors.

Siddle (Sharpening the Warrior's Edge 1995) suggests that developing confidence in training should be the primary goal of survival instructors. He explains that confidence implies a mental state which is void of fear, anxiety or self doubt.

'Confidence' is a tricky thing. Another definition of confidence is: a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities. Based on this definition, it could be argued that a warrior needs to lack confidence if they are to be courageous.

The U.S. Army's Field Manual 7-21.13 (Department of the Army 2007) lists courage as one of the Army Values and personal obligations of every soldier. It explains that courage is not the absence of fear, but it is the taking of positive action in spite of the fear. Thus fear has to be present for courage to be present.

I have written before about a concept I've developed - the survival process. It refers to our evolved survival mechanism. A stimulus is appraised and based on that appraisal a feeling and physiological response may be elicited. The feeling leads to an urge to action which may or may not result in a behavioural response that is intended to deal with the initiating stimulus.

The appraisal process is made up of three parts. (1) initial appraisal - irrelevant, benign-positive, stress. If appraised as being stressful, it is then categorised as harm, threat, or challenge. (2) An initial appraisal of harm, threat, or challenge leads to a secondary appraisal which is an evaluation of the resources and abilities to deal with the harm, threat, or challenge. (3) The final component in the appraisal process is reappraisal which is constantly in action and is based on changing circumstances in dealing with the harm, threat, or challenge.

Confidence arises from the secondary appraisal; the evaluation of resources and abilities to deal with the harm, threat, or challenge. If we do not believe we have sufficient resources or abilities to deal with the harm, threat, or challenge, a feeling of anxiety or fear is elicited. Fear can only be present if we do not believe our resources and abilities are sufficient to deal with the harm, threat, or challenge. That is to say, fear can only be present if we lack confidence.

As I said before, confidence is a tricky thing. False confidence and over confidence are two sins that are often referred to as being dangerous by activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter. I have read and heard many 'knowledgable' martial artists express the view that women self defence courses are dangerous because they instill false confidence in their trainees. Ditto in relation to many martial arts that do not engage in some sort of 'reality'-based training (see above).

How can a person have false confidence? Confidence is a belief. If a person believes they have the resources and/or abilities to deal with a threat or challenge, they believe that. And the mind and body act on that belief, which can result in positive action.

A person believes they have the resources and abilities to deal with an appraised threat. This appraisal can either elicit a fear feeling of lesser intensity, or no fear feeling at all. This means the physiological response (fight-or-flight/stress response) is reduced in intensity or is absent altogether. Siddle's thesis is that the physiological response that accompanies fear leads to a catastrophic spiral in motor and cognitive function which is deleterious to survival and combat performance. False confidence prevents those deleterious effects.

False confidence may lead to a reappraisal of a threat to that of a challenge. This elicits a feeling of anticipation and a physiological reaction is experienced which prepares the body to meet the challenge. Anticipation is a positive emotion which broadens cognitive abilities, including problem solving abilities, rather than narrowing cognitive abilities which negative emotions such as fear does. The anticipation feeling leads to an approach behaviour rather than a withdrawal behaviour. The person will commit to their defence, and that commitment itself can produce a positive outcome in a violent encounter.

Over confidence is an interesting concept. A person 'over believes.' In reality, over confidence is a form of false confidence. Over confidence is often the quality of leaders, and survival (martial arts, self defence, combatives, etc) instructors. Over confidence instills confidence in their trainees, as well as in soldiers on the battle field who look to their leaders for confidence. Over confidence enables, or possibly encourages, one to advance forward in whatever activity. Motivational professionals are often not about developing a realistic assessment of a person's resources and abilities, but rather about instilling a belief regardless of the individual's resources and abilities.

The colloquial terms used in association with confidence is often judgemental and reflects the perceptions, beliefs, and agenda of the speaker. The more accurate term might be warranted or unwarranted. Confidence is belief, and that belief may be warranted or not. But whether that belief is warranted or not does not mean that confidence can be any less effective.

Confidence of any description is our first line of defence. The actual resources and abilities are the second line of defence. They are interrelated but they are all separate components in the survival process, as are all the components in the survival process. Rather than simplistic opinions, an understanding of the survival process enables us to better understand the realities of combat and the methods designed to survive a violent encounter. It enables to better understand the role that confidence, of whatever description, plays in surviving a violent encounter.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Should You Teach Your Students To Swear?

I recall training a woman and a man for one of their gradings in the Jan de Jong jujutsu grading system. The grading involved free fighting where one candidate is unarmed and the other armed with a stick. The stick is a tightly rolled up newspaper that has been completely taped. While training, the male struck the female across the thighs hard enough to produce a bruise on both her thighs. The woman proceeded to run laps around the dojo swearing like a trooper. Little did I know, at that time, that she was using an effective pain suppression technique.

Richard Stephens and Claudia Umland, School of Psychology, Keele University, have demonstrated that swearing in response to pain produces a pain lessening effect for most people. They suggest that swearing may provoke an emotional response in the speaker - possibly aggression or anger - mobilising classic fight or flight mechanisms leading to increased pain tolerance. This, they suggest, would be in keeping with the well-known stress-induced analgesia (SIA).

Stephens and Umland published a follow-up study in The Journal of Pain this year: 'This article presents further evidence that, for many people, swearing (cursing) provides readily available and effective relief from pain. However, over-use of swearing in everyday situations lessens its effectiveness as a short-term intervention to reduce pain.' The reason for this is that people who swear a lot become 'habituated' in that the emotional response becomes weaker with use, resulting in a weaker effect as pain relief.

Was the swearing the stimulus that elicited the feeling response of anger with its physiological response resulting in SIA? Or was the swearing an expressive response of anger that was elicited by the pain stimulus? Given the pain stimulus was present in both cases, it can be argued that the swearing was the stimulus that elicited the anger response. This is another example of adaptive (i.e. increasing survival) emotional manipulation.

Many women's self defence courses teach their participants to turn fear into anger. Often it is suggested that they think of the worst think the attacker can do to them and their children in order to turn fear into anger. This, of course, runs the risk of changing fear into terror when they think of the worst thing the attacker can do to them and their children. The above study suggests that another way to turn fear into anger is by swearing. This method does not run the risk of turning fear into terror.

Of course the females participating in these courses will have to be instructed to reduce their habitual swearing so they gain the survival benefits of swearing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Happo no Kuzushi and Kuzushi

Happo no Kuzushi is commonly translated as being the eight directions of off-balance. It is often seen as being the pinnacle of kuzushi theory.

The US Marines Close Combat manual, along with many others in the martial arts and other activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter, refer to the happo no kuzushi concept. People; happo no kuzushi is simply a device to indicate direction when explaining kuzushi techniques. It is a compass. A watch is a little more precise than the happo no kuzushi compass. And a watch is just as insightful into kuzushi as is happo no kuzushi.

Kuzushi is commonly referred to as unbalancing or off-balancing. It is not. Even though The Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary (Farkas and Corcoran) refer to the happo no kuzushi concept in their definition of kuzushi, they quite rightly translate kuzushi as 'breaking' or 'upsetting.' It is not the 'destruction' of balance as the term is so often translated.

What is balance? McLester and St Pierre (Applied Biomechanics: Concepts and Connections 2008) explain that balance implies coordination and control, and that balance is a neuromuscular reference whereas stability is a mechanical term. The reference to 'mechanical term' is a reference to a number of physical variables that can be varied to increase or decrease the degree of stability and mobility. Knudson (Fundamentals of Biomechanics 2007) explains that balance is the control of stability and the ability to move. The ability to move is the definition of mobility, so balance is the control of stability and mobility. Carr (Sport Mechanics for Coaches 2004) explains stability in terms of how much resistance a person 'puts up' against having their balance disturbed. The resistance is against destabilising forces.

Technically, unbalance refers to losing control of stability which means falling to the ground. Kuzushi is not designed to cause an opponent to fall to the ground. Nage waza (throwing techniques) and taoshi waza (takedown techniques) are designed to cause a person to fall to the ground, but kuzushi is not. Kuzushi is a facilitator. It faciliates the execution of techniques, including nage waza and taoshi waza. It facilitates the execution of techniques by destabilising the opponent, not by unbalancing them. Kuzushi applies forces to cause the opponent's centre of gravity to move outside of their base of support, but not irretrievably so. This is a subtle but important difference between kuzushi and unbalancing.

Jan de Jong and his instructors would often, as many others do, describe the 'direction of unbalance' as being the direction described by the right angle of the centre of an imaginary line drawn between the heels of both feet. This is simply the direction where the least amount of force has to be applied in order to move a person's centre of gravity outside of their base of support. A person's centre of gravity may be moved outside of their base of support in any direction. It simply means that more force has to be applied in that direction if not applied in the direction of least resistance.

Then there is the three dimensional element that the 'dynamic sphere' theory of aikido attempts to overlay on the happo no kuzushi theory. Not only are the forces applied in a linear direction, they are also applied in a three dimensional direction.

If the martial arts and all activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter are to advance their theoretical understanding of their methods, they have to move on from the naive and simplistic happo no kuzushi concept. The mechanical concepts of stability and forces provide that advancement.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Nature vs Nurture: Fighting vs Fleeing

In a very interesting meditation on courage (The Mystery of Courage), Miller suggests that military theorists assume the fearfulness of men rather than their courage. He explains:
The fearful person is not just left to his biologically determined reflexes or to his own pathetic devices. Soldiers are trained, and what is training if not directly or indirectly a set of fear-management techniques? Training ... [is] grafting a new set of reflexes onto the more cowardly ones of flight and freeze that nature equipped us with from the start.
Nature is selfish. Nature only cares about an individual's survival. In the murderous campaign that was the Western Front in WWI, nature was screaming at the combatants to flee. Fleeing promoted survival, staying and fighting promoted anything but. The powers that be did not want their combatants to flee, rather they wanted them to stay and fight. How did they deal with nature's selfish survival instincts?

All activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter (military, law enforcement, correctional services, martial arts, self defence, combat sports, collectively 'survival activities') all deal with this issue. Many different ways have been developed to get their trainees to stay and fight when nature screams at them to flee. These ways can be better understood with an understanding of the survival process.

The 'survival process' is a term I use to refer to the mechanism that was selected for in nature because it conferred a survival advantage on an individual. A stimulus is appraised as being a threat (or not) which then elicits a subjective feeling and physiological response, and associated urge to act which may or may not result in a behaviour designed to deal with the initiating stimulus.

Flight behaviour is associated with the emotion of fear. Where can you intervene in the survival process in order to prevent the flight behaviour and promote the fight behaviour?

What are the options? (1) Impose will to fight despite fear-motivated flight. (2) Reduce the intensity of the fear feeling. (3) Override the fear feeling with another feeling. (4) Replace the fear feeling with another feeling. (5) Replace the fear feeling with no feeling at all.

What is the first thing you get from this analysis. All survival activities are concerned with the manipulation of the emotions of their trainees.

(1) Imposing will to fight despite fear. A uniquely human feature of emotion is that the feeling and its action tendency are decoupled from the behaviour. A stimulus may be appraised as a threat eliciting fear and an urge to flee, but we don't necessarily flee. Scherer refers to the decoupling of instinctive stimulus-response contingencies as providing a latency time during which to choose from a large repertoire of possible responses, but at the same time automatically preparing particular action tendencies to allow adaptive emergency responses. Trainees are not taught to manager their emotions per se, but the behaviour associated with the emotion by taking advantage of latency time.

(2) Reducing the intensity of the fear feeling can be managed in a number of ways. The tactics and techniques, and training thereof, are designed to increase the trainees resources and capabilities to deal with a threat. This affects the secondary appraisal in the appraisal process (see the No Fear post for details on the appraisal process). Even though the stimulus is appraised as a threat, the trainee believes they have the resources and abilities to successfully deal with that threat thereby reducing the fear feeling.

Stress training (e.g. stress inoculation training), which is training designed to counter stress effects aims at reducing fear in a number of ways. By providing information on stress effects and by exposing the trainee to stress environments and their effects, it reduces negative reactions (i.e. fear) by enhancing familiarity, predictability, and controllability.

Tactical breathing is designed to reduce the intensity of fear. It does so my intervening in the physiological component of the reactions which, due to the interconnectedness of all of the components in the survival process, reduces the intensity of the fear feeling.

(3) Override the fear feeling with another feeling. The tried and tested method of promoting the man-made concepts of honour and comradeship is designed to promote the feeling of dishonour and letting down your comrades as a greater fear then the fear elicited by the threat of injury or death by the enemy.

(4) Replace the feeling with another feeling. Women self defence often teaches turning fear into anger. Many survival activities adopt the same approach to replace fear with anger thereby replacing the flight tendency to a fight tendency.

A documentary on the killing of Osama Bin Laden contained comments by ex-Navy SEALs. One explained what the SEALs involved in the mission would have been feeling as they approached the target. He said when he went on missions, his body was coursing with adrenalin but no fear, never fear. The adrenalin tells us he is experiencing an emotion, but it's not fear. The primary appraisal of a stimulus can result in it being appraised as a threat or a challenge. Threat elicits fear, challenge elicits excitement. The Navy SEALs, and all special forces, are trained to appraise combat as a challenge thereby changing the primary appraisal and elicited feelings.

(5) The last post described the adoption of the Japanese Samurai of Zen Buddhism in order to change their primary appraisal of a threat. By studying Zen they changed their view of death and the value of their lives so that a physical threat was not seen as such thereby eliciting no emotion at all. Of course no emotion means no access to the survival benefits provided by nature.

If fearfulness is the assumption, and fear is considered deleterious to survival and combat performance, then there are many ways that have been developed to manipulate trainees' emotions to deal with fear by survival activities. The above is just a brief look at these ways.