People training in martial arts or other training systems notionally based on “real fighting” need to consider whether they are addressing the problems they wish to confront. MOST training systems address a simulacrum of violence, one created through inherited wisdom and assumptions of violence. Most of these systems train in a “gym” or “range” environment where things are controlled, safe, and well supervised. Obviously from a safety perspective this is a good thing, however it does not reflect reality.
When police officers qualify on their weapons (pistols for example) they do so on a flat range, on a line with other officers, and shooting at two-dimensional paper targets. This does not reflect the reality of a likely shooting engagement. NYPD statistics from 1994-2000 show their officers achieved a hit rate of 38% at zero to two yards. The average urban pistol engagement range is 2 yards (6 feet). Trained officers miss at this range 62% of the time. However, on the shooting range a miss at this distance would be extremely uncommon. A standard pistol qualification for law enforcement would range from 50 yards in to 0 yards and require 50 rounds fired spread out across these distances. The passing score would be a 70% hit rate (an embarrassing score, less than a 90% and you will receive a great deal of grief from your colleagues, in law enforcement myself and my colleagues in our unit routinely shot 100% while enduring untold verbal abuse the whole time). Most of the 30% of rounds that are misses will be at longer and not shorter range. So, the question is why is there such a poor correlation between qualification scores and real-world performance? The answer is simple, the qualification is not at all based in reality, it does not simulate any of the environmental or internal physiological factors that will make the LARGEST difference when it comes time to perform. Yes, being able to shoot accurately and perform the mechanical functions of combat shooting are important but doing it while your body works against your training is more important.
When you are engaged in a critical incident (I define this here as a situation where, without warning, the subject is forced into a use of force conflict where the outcome is likely fatal) there is a major change in your brain chemistry, with a single heartbeat massive amounts of adrenaline is dumped into your system. Blood begins pooling in your torso and internal organs, hands will shake, legs will become weak, and a series of physiological responses will take over, and you will have control over exactly none of those. Your fine motor skills will be reduced to nothing, shooting accuracy will suffer, hand to hand combat skills will break down, and anything requiring complex motor skill will be useless. These chemical changes will also affect how you think, and we will address this in a separate post. So, don’t count on your brain working through this haze for you, it will be a hapless passenger on this ride.
The specific physiological processes will affect people differently, it will affect men and women differently (yes, adrenal responses differ by sex). What is certain is that you will not rise to the occasion but rather fall to some failing semblance of your training if you are lucky. The critical incident favors the initiator, the attacker can choose the time and place while managing his or her heart rate and mental state to achieve a desirable level of adrenal readiness (there is a sweet spot for adrenaline output). The victim will not have any of these benefits and the adrenal response will leave them with little to no advantage.
So, the question is, what can be done about this? The answer is that experience doing it for real helps, meaning people experienced in this kind of interpersonal violence will have an advantage and a growing physiological immunity to the chemical reactions in the body. However short of engaging in street violence as a weekly training method, what is there to do? The answer is to consult a professional in the matter of combat training for reality, and develop a training protocol for yourself, your training partners, or your gym/range. There are certainly ways to recreate these physiological and chemical responses in a training environment, and to do so safely. If you would like to attempt to develop a training protocol to better inoculate yourself or trainees to the REAL threat, then let us know by leaving a comment or contacting us directly!