FREEZE! Don’t move! Stop right there! Hypervigilate! Okay, I made that last one up, but the other three I’m sure are familiar to you. We have all seen that cop movie, you know the one; where the good guy is breaking the rules in order to enact “justice”. When he finally catches up to the villain, he uses one of those three aforementioned cliches; the bad guy stops and turns slowly only to make a move and wind up losing the fight.
This style of drama serves to captivate us, what it does not do however, is reflect reality. Both the good and bad guys are cool as cucumbers in the midst of a deadly encounter, hardly factual. Let’s talk about reality and facts for a moment then shall we?
Fact: It is not rare for a solider in combat or an officer in the streets to lose control of bodily functions during a deadly encounter. This is no reflection on them, it is a bodily function that is not controllable. As our sympathetic nervous system goes through the roof, our parasympathetic nervous system pitches in to help, and stops doing the non-vital functions like, holding your bladder and sphincter muscles.
Fact: When our heart rate goes above 140 BPM, we exit our frontal lobe processing, and enter Parietal lobe processing. Our speech does not come as easy, our complex motor skills deteriorate, our sense of touch goes us, and smell goes down. There are all manor of things that our body does that drastically affects and effects our body and thought process.
Both of the facts above, along with a host of other areas, contribute to our response in moments of extreme danger. One possible response is “hyper-vigilance”. In layman’s terms, freeze, or stop moving. In the south we have a saying for such an action: Deer in the headlights. For anyone who has driven country roads at peak active times for white tail deer has seen the look and knows what I am talking about. You come around a corner only to see a deer in the middle of the road, just staring at you, not moving.
I was a conversation with a fellow instructor and trainer friend of mine about hyper-vigilance. He described it like this: “Think of your brain as a Rolodex, each experience is logged away on a card. When you encounter something familiar, you go to that card and respond using the data found. Everyday functions are easy to find, rare functions may take a minute to get to. But, new experiences are not found, you just keep scrolling through trying to find an appropriate response, but keep coming up empty.” Thanks Fred. That is what is happening when we freeze.
The danger of freezing is obvious. If we are in a deadly force situation, we may get killed or seriously injured. If we are on stage, we look foolish and become embarrassed. So, we need to move, to act, to do something! I have heard said: “Do something, even if it’s wrong!” Now, I caution against this in the context of self defense as the wrong thing may end with criminal charges. However, tactically speaking we have plenty of options, even “wrong” ones.
Law Enforcement has a phrase we will borrow here: “Get off line” This means basically be somewhere other than where you were when the bad guy made his move. “Get off of X” is also popular.
Not being where you just were is important; as the threat knows where you were, but not where you are going. If you take a big step to the left or right, you now have a slight advantage, as the threat is still going where you expect, but you are not where he thinks you are. This serves two purposes: 1) Hopefully you are now so far “off line (off of his line of movement)” that what ever tool is being used will not make contact with you immediately and buy you time. 2) The assailant is now exposed in a way he is not prepared for. At his side you have a host of options available to you.
The natural reaction to freeze is nothing to be ashamed of, but is something you should train against. By training with scenarios, creating stress, and making things as real as is reasonable and safe, you begin to fill your Rolodex. A full Rolodex will help keep you from searching for a response, you will simply react to a threat. I close with the immortal words of the greatest tactician in history:
“Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected” – Sun Tzu
What can we learn?
Hollywood misses the mark here. Surprise surprise.
MOVE! Do something, just get off the “X”
Train and practice. Fill up your Rolodex so you can respond without thinking, you won’t be able to think.
You can train to overcome fear and natural response, but you have to train!
Read Sun Tzu. It is a bit dry if you are not into such literature, but is is n absolute masterpiece of tactical literature. Still used today around the world as a training aid in the most elite military, law enforcement, and private groups in the world.