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Getting Intimate with Violence

  • OK, there is some repetition here frm the Connecting the Dots articles, but stay with it as it expands into new concepts.

    Getting Intimate with Violence

     © James Barnhart 2009
    There is a lot of discussion on the subject of tactics.  That word, tactic?  It’s used A LOT!  
    A tactic, as defined by, is: a plan, procedure, or expedient for promoting a desired end or result. Tactical is the word used to describe the nature of something used in a tactic or set of tactics.  This can range from tactical thinking to every product under the sun the promoter wants to create an air of adventure around, i.e. tactical boots, tactical slings, vests, eyewear, etc. 
    By definition, an exotic dancers’ go-go boots could be considered tactical boots since they are used to entice customers to pay money to the wearer because of physical attraction; a definite establishment of a tactic to generate revenue. Yes, I have even seen a tactical cigarette lighter. In this discussion, however, we are not lighting tactical cigarettes.  We are talking about how to survive a lethal attack. This is the desired result we want to achieve with our response.  To effectively defend ourselves with a response, utilizing tactics developed from our knowledge, experience and training.  I coined the term “Defensive Intelligence™ ” to describe the software side of defense, which is the foundation of all things on the practical side of the subject. 
    This takes up about 40 hours of my full curriculum, so it is obviously more in depth than we can go here, but I want to open this up for discussion here because there is much discussion about what to do to get your weapon out quicker to get the first shot off or stop them before they cut you or which stance allows for quicker target acquisition, best holster, etc.. But, there is a lot to be done to mentally be in the fight, sooner. You will not react, and react properly, until you are truly, mentally, in the fight.
    To do this, we have to get to the root of what we’re talking about here.  It’s violence, plain and simple.  We can train extensively in tactics and gain great proficiency with our weapons of choice. But, to truly be efficient you must remove any mental deficits pertaining to understanding, recognizing, countering and be totally at ease with using the utility of violence for self defense. When we have to rewind back in an attack scenario, before the use of the weapon and drill into violence itself, we can condition ourselves for the practical application of tactics.  You may be smooth on the range or in the Dojo, but understanding and being comfortable with the duality of violence is the key to true efficiency and surviving a violent attack.  It's at the root of the question, "will I be able to do it when I need to?".
    Once you get through the origins, history, neurology, psychology and physiology of violence you have to deal with the “neural tripwire” that sets the practical aspect of your defense into motion.  No matter what the situation or your choice of fighting style or tactic and weapon, it’s the initial fight or flight response to initiate those courses of action that begins your success or failure.
    While working with group formerly known as Blackwater USA, I attended an instructors’ training course that, as part of learning the fighting system, had an element of the training designed to condition that neural tripwire I spoke of earlier.  However, they were not fully aware of what (in a neural and anatomical sense) they were conditioning.  The founder of this course is a retired special operations “Sailor”, and the fighting system they use has been the adopted “Close Quarters” defensive technique for Naval Special Warfare communities for more than ten years now.  This fighting system, or any other system/style/discipline, is irrelevant to what I’m targeting with this discussion. What is important is what they were accomplishing with their training technique, and that was the conditioning of the part of the brain called the amygdala. 
    This one part of the brain, in the limbic region, is responsible for the entire initial reaction in a fight or flight response.  It is the basis of the initial reaction no matter what you choose to do or use. Now, this is covered in the very final portions of my Defensive Intelligence™  curriculum, but for initial hand to hand or weapons employment, it is the last step backwards, preempting all physical aspects of defense, before the entry into the purely neurological aspect of the defense realm.  When you get to what is usually the origins of tactical response discussions, you are normally in the discussions that include; fastest holsters, best carry position, best draw techniques, fastest sighting systems, best hand to hand style, initial fighting postures/stances, etc.  All of these are for the gaining of leverage or advantage as quickly as possible.  Whom ever strikes first has a better chance of winning, right? Absolutely! 
    So, let’s say you have the perfect hand to hand technique to repel the attack if it is too close to get your weapon on them first, or maybe you are unarmed and have no weapon.  Whatever the case, let’s assume you have attained efficiency in the most effective martial technique known to man.  And, if armed, you have the absolute best compromise in holster design for speed of use versus retention and or comfort.  You also have the best new technocratic sights or sight system known to modern man mounted on the certified best and fastest shootin' iron a human can wield.  All debate, as the “Gore” would put it, would be pointless. Except, that little almond-shaped part of your brain that gets an initial survival signal from your sensory organs before the other, slower, part of your brain (the prefrontal lobes) that applies reasoning? Well, it’s responsible for taking all your stored memory, experience, nuance, personality, fear, denial, etc. and manifesting it in an initial, physical reaction at the millisecond you are suddenly faced with imminent death or at least great bodily harm.  You know this instance as the FLINCH.  It can get you killed because it can be sloppy, but it can also be conditioned and has successfully been so for a few years now with very perceptible and measurable results.
    This is the link between the knowledge of what you want to do and the commission of those acts.  It is also responsible for many other aspects of violence on both sides of the ethical line.  But, for the last little bit of split second advantage that can be rung out between the sometimes dichotomous relationship between mind and body, pertaining to self defense, the amygdala IS the link.
    To get control (relatively speaking) of the amygdala, you first have to understand what it does.  To do that, we have to talk about memory.  This will be a greatly simplified example to keep the word count down.
    A memory is a registering of emotion.  Whenever you see something you’re brain sees it and then if it is something of enough significance, relative to your personal life experience, you will feel something about what you just witnessed.  This “witnessing” can be realized via any of the external senses or in the intellect.  Some people remember mundane items of academics for tests by associating them with something else that has emotional significance.  For example, if you were sitting at a red light a week ago and watched a green Dodge truck drive in front of you on the cross street, you probably would not remember it by the end of the day.  But, let’s say that green Dodge was on fire and slammed into the utility pole on the corner.  You’re gong to remember that for years to come. So, how does it happen? Why does that Dodge have to be on fire and wreck to “imprint” on your memory. It boils down to what kind of a response it solicits from your amygdala.
    When something is witnessed the signal first goes to a part of the brain called the thalamus.  The thalamus then acts as a middleman or switchboard, so to speak, and fwd’s the signal to the neocortex or “thinking” part of the brain.  There the signal is processed and this is then fed to the amygdala and a “feeling” is registered about what is being “witnessed”.  Then a signal about the feeling is picked up by the neocortex again and this is processed and sent back to the amygdala.  You just had a feeling about a feeling you had.  An example of this would be getting mad at yourself for being intimidated in a situation you feel you should have been more assertive in.  Or, seeing something in a painting that makes you feel a certain way and then being embarrassed when someone else notices your reaction. 
    The neocortex is what separates us from lower species.  The limbic system alone is what I call the lizard brain.  Alligators, for example are very much without the benefit of a neocortex like humans possess.  They react according to instinctual impulses with no regard for the outcome as it pertains to consequences for themselves or (obviously) their prey.  They will lunge into a situation based on the feeding instinct and not reason it out as to whether it may be for their own good and selectively avoid acting on their hunger.  They also employ tactics that have been engrained in there memory by instinct and previous success.  They are lucky enough to be of such physical resilience to be able to endure their unsuccessful attempts and learn from their mistakes.  As humans, our lives are too fragile to engage in this trial and error tactic and so we must train with as much realism as possible in order to try and make an educated guess as to what is successful based on training scenario outcome. Sometimes, however, we use this lizard brain as our primary control circuit.  Grossman refers to this in his book “On Combat” as the “puppy” breaking through the screen door.  The screen door is your neocortex and prefrontal lobes and they serve to temper and regulate the actions the amygdala call upon to be carried out by applying reason.  Crimes of passion or rage occur when the amygdala hijacks our emotions.
    So when a signal is sent to the amygdala, it issues a reaction by causing the secretion of different chemical combinations in the brain.  These secretions effect the exchange of signals between the differing parts of the brain.  This secretion can be replicated when we later witness something similar and this will cause the recollection of the original event.  One very strong one for me is banana pancakes.  My Grandmother made the best banana pancakes I have ever had.  Anytime I smell banana pancakes being made it transports me back to my Grandmothers kitchen.  It’s like I’m right there.  I feel emotions I had then and I remember things I normally do not think of. The olfactory region (part of the brain that processes smell) by the way, has a concentration of synapses (neural links) to the amygdala and neocortex that is unrivaled by any other portion of our brains makeup.  Hallucination can occur if the trigger is sufficient to cause the recreation of the original volume of secretion, or if the original secretion was extremely large.  A good friend of mine is a Vietnam veteran with many confirmed kills.  While viewing a popular Vietnam war movie, he was overcome with emotion and had to leave the theater.  The realism of the movie triggered a secretion by the amygdala that was as strong as secretions he had while in active combat and he was able to smell things and feel like he was right back in the battle.  The fear, anxiety, rage, excitement, sorrow was as though he was in action right there in the 5th or 6th row back from the screen.
    When we train, how ever we train, we are causing the secretion and subsequent imprint of small synapse pathways in our brain.  The more you train and refine your training, the more the cumulative effects of these pathways are manifested in our actions.  They control the brain signals which control the signals to the muscles which control the use of our weapons.  In training, we use reasoning to fine tune our actions and hone our skills to as close to perfection as possible.  This is very important and to avoid training scars you have to train the right way or your liable to call up the wrong response if you haven’t imprinted the correct reaction enough for it to be called up by the amygdala when you need it. But, in a real life and death situation, we sometimes cannot take the time to reason and have to just react or die.  Your amygdala will scan for a memory to use to control your reaction.  If you have trained for the situation it will call up your training and repeat the secretion mixture and volume you created in training.  The more realistic your training, the more relevant the secretions created during that training will be to the real situation.  This is the key to controlling the flinch reaction.
    Dr. Joseph Ledoux PhD, discovered the key to conditioning the original fight or flight response, though he didn’t know it, or at least didn’t take steps to develop this use for it as far as I know.  Much of my research has uncovered discoveries that would directly benefit training for defensive purposes but is not used out side of military training for reasons that are political and/or social, I’m sure.  Many of the essays and published works of these neuroscientists have made overt statements that more than slant in an anti-gun persuasion.  A few have even written pure fabrications in regards to gun statistics.  They are easy to spot, there will be no reference for them in the bibliography.
    Here’s what Ledoux found out.  He took a lab rat and exposed it to an audible tone.  Along with this tone he gave this little vermin a healthy dose of electric shock.  So, for obvious reasons, the little rat became very fearful and agitated when he heard the tone because he had learned that it meant he was about to experience something very bad.  Even when there would be periods of omitting the shock, the rat would still show to be very fearful and agitated by the tone. Then the good doctor did a little brain surgery.  He removed the rats auditory cortex, the part that processes your hearing, and rendered the rat “brain deaf”.  It couldn’t hear anything.  But, when the tone was again sounded for the rat, it became very fearful and very agitated even though there had been no shock.  Something else in that rats brain “heard” the tone.  It was the amygdala.  Here’s why.
    All sensory input is processed and sent to the neocortex and prefrontal lobes via the thalamus, but what Ledoux found out was that the amygdala receives a signal first.  As much as .012 seconds before the rest of the brain gets the signal from the thalamus, the amygdala gets a signal to evaluate for survival and will issue immediate secretions based on the experience associated with the signal.
    You open a drawer and see a snake.  You immediately flinch and reel back from the surprise.  Then you see that it isn’t moving, there are seams from the rubber mold and the color is not right. You relax, but then are embarrassed or may laugh at being “had”.  You flinched for two reasons. 1. Your amygdala got a snake signal before the neocortex and prefrontal lobes reasoned away the threat and ; 2. Another part of your brain called the hippocampus, responsible for adding context to the signal, said the snake would be able to strike you.  Then your neocortex and prefrontal lobes caught up and reasoning took over to bring you back from fight or flight.  If the snake had only been present in a photo, it still may have startled you a little, but the hippocampus would have attached the context of it only being in a photo to your initial reaction before your neocortex and prefrontals. After your reasoning sets you at ease, the amygdala then issues secretions about how you feel about the fact that you were tricked.
    This is also what happens when you are sleeping and hear a strange noise.  Even though you are asleep, your brain is still on guard.  In your house, the normal sounds of YOUR house are well recognized by your amygdala.  But, when something out of place makes a sound, it wakes you up.  The amygdala says “this is new and may be a threat”.  This is why you may have trouble sleeping in a new house or when in a motel.  All the sounds are new and the amygdala isn’t comfortable with them yet. Even sounds that may be familiar can cause a sleep issue because the hippocampus knows that this is not in your normal context.
    This also is the cause for the slow motion phenomena experienced while in combat.  The amygdala is reacting in real time.  You are shooting and moving and engaging at top speed.  But, your neocortex and prefrontal lobes are what are feeding you your perception.  They are slow in comparison to the amygdala’s pace and so only perceive the action in what seems like stop action photography.  In my shooting, I felt as though I couldn’t pull the trigger fast enough.  Every round I sent downrange into my attackers seemed as though it took everything I had to get the shot off. I couldn’t pull the trigger fast enough.  But witnesses said it sounded like a staccato burst from a machine gun.  I got off twelve rounds with ten hits in about 7 seconds.  My amygdala was taking care of business while the rest of my brain was “watching” the show.
    To condition the amygdala, you have to amp the realism through the roof and make it happen in a totally random and immediate nature.  This is what we were accomplishing at Blackwater.  First off, you have to train with people who are not afflicted by the phobia of interpersonal human aggression that Grossman writes about in “On Killing” and “On Combat”.  This is important because if you know your training partners are hesitant to issue you a pain penalty, you’ll not be as fearful of the scenario as you should be.  My former training partners were all from various SEAL teams and were getting certified to go back and be the licensed instructors for this system in their respective teams.  They weren’t newb’s and had been selected for their aggressiveness.  They had no problems with “engaging” you.  The second aspect of this is that we were training with “live” ammo.  It wasn’t lethal, but was a brand called FX Simunition.  This is a live round, with a very low powder charge, that shoots a paint projectile out of live firearms.  When hit, it raises a large welt, can cause minor blood loss and feels like getting shot with a very capable air rifle.  So this brought a very heightened state of realism to the training as well.
    We were brought into the room blindfolded.  After we were placed on our spot, a hood was lowered from the ceiling.  It was made of heavy black cloth that you could not see through and even though it was not used in any active part of the training, it was heavy with the odor of sweat because of the stress level of those who were placed under it. All the while you were being set up, there was a deafening sound that resembled bricks in a spinning clothes dryer.  This was to mask the sounds of the people getting ready to attack you. Sometimes immediately and sometimes as long as 3 minutes after being placed under the hood, the hood would be yanked away by a rope and pulley and you were “on”.
    The first time my hood was yanked up, a guy stuck a sign in my face that read “airport”.  He was going to ask me for directions.  But, since he had pulled the sign from his jacket pocket, my amygdala reaction was sloppy and I shot him in the chest.  There was no time for reasoning before I pulled the trigger.  Then after others were sent through it was my turn again, the hood was raised again and I was grabbed from behind and two guys about 3 feet in front of me attacked.  The guy on the left delivered a good jab to my left cheek and the guy on the right swept me to the floor with a kick to my right thigh. From the ground I was kicked repeatedly, but was able to get my gun out and engage.  After all three were shot, I got up and looked around. A new guy stepped around a corner, raised a .357 and fired.  It was a live gun loaded with blanks.  The muzzle flash was very big and this shook me to the core.  My second round under the hood had gone better than the first as far as my reaction, but then I was broke down to the point of freezing by the introduction of the .357.  I had no idea this was going to be used.  The previous weapons had been semi-auto’s.  We were allowed to inspect them and all ammunition to verify they were, in fact Simunition.  But the introduction of the .357 shook me hard.  I had no idea if it had been inspected and if the ammo had been verified to be blanks only.  The realism was off the charts and so was an amazingly accurate test run of our amygdalaic response.
    This went on over several days.  Sometimes you were engaged with a plastic knife, sometimes you had to start from the floor, on your back with your eyes closed and couldn’t react until you were kicked. One time three drunk guys tried to get me to go to Denny’s with them. They were actually intoxicated and it was very interesting.  Over time, we began to see the conditioning.  We were able to start responding instantly.  The flinch was turned into the initiation of the draw or the first motions of our hand to hand technique. We were able to restrict the response when no true threat was presented, although we were still very aggressive in stance which would serve to deter any would be attackers who may have been evaluating us as possible targets.
    This was harshly gained conditioning and can not be fully replicated in a civilian environment except by a closed group of people who always train together and are absolutely in agreement on the parameters they will train under.  But, it can be done.  And, it can save your life by giving you the edge of not reacting the way they count on you reacting.
    Many times, when a scientist or researcher bungles an experiment or study, it's because they began their process setting out to prove their own theory instead of letting the evidence convince them of the facts.  With our objective, however, you have to wade through the research and findings of these predominately liberal and anti-gun scientists with the predisposition of understanding it all for the successful use of a gun in self defense.  They never make the effort to take it there for you so you can benefit from a pro-gun standpoint.
    What you will also find is that many authors simply research a topic for many months or years, interview those with relevant experience and then write a book about the cumulative body of their research without having any practical experience in the subject at all.  This causes them to not always present it in a point of view that lends to the armed American citizen because that concept is a foriegn ideology to them.  Lt. Col. Grossman even mentions the availability of assault rifles and pistols in our society as a negative aspect on page 326 of his book "On Killing" and that he believes there needs to be a modernization of our firearms laws to control them.  I attribute this to his life as a military officer who may believe that armed authority belongs to those in positions of "authorization" to have technically advanced weapons versus the common citizen.  He even states that he considers arms of post-flintlock design to be technologically advanced enough to fall in this category of possibly needing more control.  Maybe, as he openly divulges in his books, it's because he has never been in mortal combat, especially as a private citizen victimized by a violent criminal.  But, that didn't seem to bother him enough to restrict active CCW practitioners from contributing to his wealth by attending his seminars.  Is he an opponent of the 2nd Amendment?  Possibly.....At any rate, his research and eloquence is solid, as well as entertaining, and should be studied for beneficial use in our own training.  
    Let’s dial into some violence....
     One of the biggest obstacles to self defense is the fact that you have to commit some form of violence against another human to stop a violent attack.  For 98% percent of us, this poses some sort of issue.  I consider myself a non-violent person.  That is, I prefer to settle almost any imaginable confrontation with a peaceful collaboration, or even a compromise if I don’t have to betray any moral convictions as part of the compromise.  I have frequently walked away, even though it may have appeared to have been submission.  Choosing your battles is never submissive.  As Richard Marcinko, founder of SEAL Team Six, stated in his literature; “Action is always better than inaction, and not acting is sometimes the boldest action of all.”
    But, there may come a point when non-violent dispute settlement is out of the question if you want to prevent becoming injured by physical attack.  This is when we face the question; “Can I do it? Pull the trigger and cause a bullet to penetrate another human being?”
    In a situation such as war, there is a lead up, in most cases, to the violence.  At the very least, you will knowingly be in a hostile environment and have time to ponder the issue.  A boxer sits and looks at his or her opponent for several moments before the fight, thinking about what is coming.  This is where the phobia to interpersonal human aggression is most seductive.  Why?  Because, you can relate to the other person.  You see them as the humans they are, which is very much the same thing you are.  It’s called empathy.  Empathy, for the most part, is what prevents you from easily performing acts of violence.  So how can an empathetic, wholesome type of person like us law abiding Americans become OK with the use of violence?  I believe that when you know the natural history, neurological, physiological and psychological aspects of violence, you can become much more accepting to the necessity of its use.  When you see it for the natural tool it is, instead of some Draconian act of evil that will damn you to the realm of wickedness like the criminal element of our society, you can be more confident that it can be the right thing to do. 
    Nature is inherently violent. You cannot demonstrate a single species, with a nervous system, on this planet that does not use violence in some manner.  Even the caterpillar commits an act of violence by devouring the leaf.  What’s that you say? Plants cannot be considered in a discussion on violence?  Tell that to the last insect consumed by the Venus Fly-Trap species of plant.

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  • DEFCON Cyclefish members in my area get the training for $18 Go to for more info.