On Christmas Day this year, we decided to do something entirely different. We took our small family, went into the mountains and had a very low-key Christmas. We decided to connect with nature and went on a long hike up the side of a mountain in Monteverde. The oxygen was fresh and pure, the exercise was hard and pleasurable, the time a memorable one that will be ingrained in permanent memories.

That being said, I wanted to do some light informal testing on motor skill and aerobic/anaerobic capacity while there, for a number of reasons. I haven’t trained seriously in over a year, solely upkeep. I’m 46 now and haven’t “taken the car out for a spin” to see what works and what doesn’t – translation: what I’ve lost, if anything. I wanted to do some testing with some asterisks. Here’s what I uncovered along the path:

-My state was a little jittery and off. 2 cups of coffee in the morning, not eating a lot left me shaky and a little dizzy. (could also have been the elevation/altitude – 5,900 feet/1800 meters, double to what I’ve become accustomed to)

-I forgot my running/hiking shoes at home, had only loafers and casual dress-jacket, 2 long-sleeved shirts, and khakis on – I know, tactical fail but, in all fairness, we didn’t know leading-up there’d be such a wonderful nature trail to tackle.

-There were colder temps as it was in the mountains, 10-12 degrees Celsius, cold wind, inevitably it felt like a Manitoba fall day.

-I went on a particularly-difficult stretch of the 3 km trail after doing pretty well exploding on a shorter, less-steep stretch. This one was straight up the mountain with steep ascents and only one short levelling-off stretch.

-I started counting steps about a-third-to-half of the way down and got to 503, so we’ll say there were roughly 750 steps, 1500 if including both directions, up and down.

-I “walked” at maximum pace, as fast as I was capable of exerting and maintaining pace, not pulling back in any way or saving gas for the way down. I stopped briefly for 5 seconds at one point when the path became extremely steep in angle. Think speed-walking but without the uncool little hyper-steps.

-I got “rubber-leg” about a-third of the way back down and had to be a little more attentive about not tripping (long fall down with short/steep steps and minimal bracing points, no railings) or losing my balance. Near the end, I did push harder to see how my coordination and balance were holding up.

-My cardio-system and mental-determination were far superior to my muscle-fatigue/stamina. As the pain started setting in noticeably, and I had to strain somewhat to keep full motion and maintain speed, I noticed my breathing, heartrate, and mental-state were predominantly unchanged. There were the little nagging doubts about current shape, capability, injuries present but they were pushed aside pretty quickly as I remembered prior experience(s) and capability and confidence took over. (The familiar is always less daunting and more conquerable)

-The breathing system I’ve used for years was highly-functional. A solid breathing method may not replace a poor cardiovascular system or conditioned stamina…but it can sure hold it off or mask it for a while. My wife even noted it helped her immensely, to the point she was surprised at how much – how quickly she recovered, how much longer she could go before recuperating, how strong her lungs felt. So that’s some positive reinforcement from someone who doesn’t drink my Kool-Aid. Quick recovery, always in-control of breathing rhythm, measured it with steps-taken, alterations between deep-breathing, slight pauses, panic-breathing depending on exertion, climb-difficulty, and recovery period.

-After finishing the hell climb, I continued at maximum pace and thought I’d test my fine-motor skills, as they seemed to be pseudo-altered from the exertion. While not maximized, I a) practiced deployment (one of the knives I had was a small folder, perfect for fine- and complex-motor-testing) while moving, in-advance of coming up on distracted birdwatchers (and subtly closing it with one hand as well when passing), b) getting off my backpack and unzipping the front pouch to access another blade subtly, and c) getting off my backpack and deploying the folder simultaneously. All while moving and exerting. Some (minimal) fine-motor problems but, all-in-all, achievable. (and noting openly that pressured-stress from exertion from strenuous exercise is NOT the same as pressured-stress from another human being trying to take your head off)

-I found even with the loafers, I seemed to have better weight distribution, balance, and feel for quick changes as needed in foot placement when something gave way or felt collapsible. (I dunno, qi gong/tai chi, FMA, really, not sure, but I do know I’ve many of those same sensations in past TMA training so I’d hazard a guess it did help more than a little)

-In the recovery stage, I’d say it took upwards of an hour to get fully rid of the rubber-leg I felt. Normal fine-motor skill accessibility far sooner, likely 15 minutes after I stopped. My calves were moderately sore a while after the workout, more so the next day but all else was pretty good, noting I used (sometimes exaggerated full-body motions during so that all my muscles were working in-unison) My breathing was never greatly-strained – no panting, no gasping, no hyper-ventilating and I’d say bluntly that that was no small coincidence in performance confidence.

-I think the one major lesson to learn from this is confidence in capability and knowledge of your own maximum limits. As my condition was a little unknown after the last year of relative inactivity, I admit to being a little unsure and self-doubting at the beginning. As the day wore on, the old feelings returned, memory of past limits set in, and I started to test those limits actively more and more. By the end, I became completely familiar with my own maximum exertion capability and relaxed comfort and mental fortitude started taking over. I’d say there’s no small comparison to things combative and martial to be taken from this.

-Physical condition alone, coherence of limits and extent of how far one can push oneself, mental determinaton, and confidence in one’s ability to test further than those limits… are no small things in physical fight capability, formal training or not.

-As a final point, breathing may not increase or improve stamina itself, but it sure does aid in maximizing the stamina you have already built up.


I’m no expert on flow, though I have experienced it on various occasions and in various arenas. To me, it has always been the seamless transition of heightened focus/rhythm/intent/performance to an activity/situation/circumstance. I don’t think I’ve ever hit a point of flow (self-defense, athletic endeavor, training, challenging activity) while exhibiting conscious thought – only ever in circumstances or scenarios where I have prior and deep knowledge and experience. I believe that those 2 being true is no small coincidence, though I do believe high-level thinking and decision-making, unconsciously, are a byproduct of the state. We do make unconscious or rapidly-processed decisions within the state itself. Ironically, some of the times I’ve “lost” the flow-state was due to over-thinking or prolonged decision-making. Once conscious thought and self-doubt creep in, the state tends to be broken shortly thereafter, at least in my experience.

There’s always a combination of high(er)-stakes, high(er)-stress, and/or high(er)-consciousness scenarios with the knowledge/experience/comfort on managing them present and accounted for. There are already clearly-established methods that contribute to gaining that knowledge/experience/comfort, of course, like activity-specific scenario-training, visualization/hypnosis/self-hypnosis/mantras, meditation, prior experience, breathing/body relaxation methods, even neuro-linguistics, not forgetting current state – and these can all definitely enhance its chances of manifesting itself. (maybe the more in-line, the higher or greater chance of flow?) Can it be called up at will? I think that’s the golden goose everyone is searching for…and some of the elements above can certainly give greater chance of it happening. They seem to have tapped into it in the sports and high-performance arenas already, (motorsports/communication/sports/gaming, for instance) but it’s not quite as prevalent in the SD/MA worlds as of yet, for whatever reason, though I believe that’s changing.

It’s also clearly an internal element driven by external stimuli …it comes from what’s innate/well-conditioned, not by chance. (Some examples above: driving, games, sports, communication….all things that are intrinsically a part of our daily lives and that we’re experienced/comfortable in, yet we still don’t have “flow” every time we do them). If your state/momentary capability doesn’t align with your ability, it ain’t happenin’ as to have “flow” insinuates that the activity is ongoing, has some continuity, and is not a single one-time act (that experience/knowledge thing) – that’s not “being in the zone”.

I’d also be wiling to say that there’s the perception of time distortion that goes along with the state when people discuss this, (“it’s as if time stood still”, “I lost total track of time”, “everything seemed to slow down”) showing that there is extreme focus that causes perceived slow(er)-motion of incoming stimuli. (As an aside, time distortion can also be played with in training through various means. Triggering pressure or tension also needs to be present for it to happen as there has to be a threat/danger/loss element but a talk for another time)

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Regarding conflict or combat, flow could be present into the areas of the force continuum as well. Flow with communication (saying the right things at-will, de-escalating efficiently, calm & controlled demeanor maintained), environmental/situational awareness (noticing all surrounding stimuli pre-conflict, highly-tuned OODA Loop processing, seamless adaptability to changing situations), flow with noticing pre-incident indicators/PINs (great peripheral vision, attention to details, on top of everything). It could also be physically-controlling your opponent smoothly and with minimal or only sufficiently-needed damage. (if trained or conditioned efficiently and in-line with human physiological capability and evolution, these things should have minimal consciousness as well…or we fight on instinct, fully unconsciously, with what evolution gave us as survival instinct) 

Developing it (or at least increasing its odds) is based on replicating the stimulus as close as is possible to the actuality of the thing…and “replicating” it only applies to the elements that can be prepared for. (It is extremely-difficult to replicate exact physiological response to high-stakes and real momentary stimuli…in training) Visualization/scenario-training/state-replication/past experience all can attempt to fit that bill, as mentioned. Whatever the case, flow states have something in-common: they are all in arenas that utilize both unconscious action (“system 1”, driving a car daily and in regular traffic), and active decision-making from prior effective conditioning (“system 2”, making a sudden decision on avoiding a potential accident) so have a far greater chance of hitting that particular state. Bringing it out at will, pertaining to real violent need? I’m not sure. Yet.


I’ll share an example of a necessary deviation from mission statement. There are times where one must involve oneself in situations usually one would not choose to. There are exceptions to the rule. Getting home safely, protecting one’s loved ones, focusing on your intended vision of personal protection…all have forks in the road where decisions must be made where to momentarily deviate from mission statement based on need or necessity.

We had a guest at our business who arrived around American Independence Day. He immediately stood out – flamboyant clothing, strong southern-US accent, exacerbated body movements….I called him Elvis to my wife. He registered, snapped his fingers for his wife to come in and start bringing luggage in. They were here for 2 nights. At breakfast the couple were very animated, arguing at the table before finally leaving with plates barely touched. It was a trend we heard transitioning to the 2nd night they were here.

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As guests’ personal dynamic is usually their own and we simply don’t know it, we don’t much choose to get involved, as long as it doesn’t disturb other guests. I’m there to run a successful business, feed & protect my family, and try to make guests have as enjoyable stay as we’re able. That’s my mission statement, and I haven’t had to deviate more than a few times from that mission statement, and only for the sake of the continuity of those 3 previous points. I also wait for proper or sufficient information before making a concrete assessment on a person or their filters, but I’m (as is my wife) pretty keenly-oberservant. Even minimal perception of partner “mistreatment” can sometimes be explainable prior to involving oneself in others’ business unnecessarily. Role-playing. Professional escort. Recent events fully the fault of one of the pair out of our scope of knowledge. These are usually a stretch but worth considering before ending up in an explosive situation not your own.

Last night the arguing hit a peak. Yelling, swearing, condescending and ad hominem remarks, aggressive tone, escalating sound. We had 3 guests here and 2 more arriving shortly. Still, I waited. What finally did it was that she wasn’t an active participant in the conflict, very submissive and transparently trying to calm him down, keep the conflict within the room, and offering up feigned apologies just to cool the atmosphere.

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After the last “Mother fucker, I no longer need you in my life!” I intervened.  We run a family place where some tranquility is expected and offered. As they were inside the room, I control the time, space, and tone of the coming conflict. It’s not like the street. I positioned myself to the left of the door a few steps back. It blocks off any chance for a  right sucker-punch (angle from doorjamb, most people are right-handed and they weren’t out enough for me to see which hand he was), gives anticipatory space for attack (needs to close the gap to strike), and allows me to see if he has any weapon coming out of the door.  (Though this sounds romantic and elite, it’s not…all of it happens in an instant and unconsciously after 25 years in the industry) I knocked and heard a “god-fucking-dammit!” *There are times I’ve had a nervous energy, knowing there’s an inevitable conflict coming. Not this time, I could feel some adrenaline, but generally I was pretty calm and fully-controlled. I chalk it up to being in the right, no inhibitors leading up so full capability to manage violence effectively if needed and escalated by the other party.

He answered the door super-submissive and trying to establish the “bro” connection, which I’ve never fallen for with a guy who’s so aggressive towards his wife or partner. I’m pretty clear on my position and I’m rarely swayed when it’s conflict-driven.  I also talk with my hands, they’re constantly moving in-between myself and other people, a shield to gauge reaction and space from encroachers. I told him I got that sometimes “shit happens” but we have a business to run. My body language was strong and comfortable, immediately a put-off to him. Once I saw his hands I took a step in and said we could hear them from the house, other guests were next door shortly, and asked if they could keep it down. There were glasses of rye and the bottle on the bed table. He started nervously stuttering and mumbling. I cut him off and said “Anyways, I really don’t want to come back again, neither of us needs the bother.” I squinted my eyes so he’d see what I meant out of his wife’s line of sight. He agreed and apologized, saying he’d give a great review and thanked me for being so “understanding.”

Within 5 minutes, the lights were off, the tv off, and there was complete silence from the room. We didn’t see them until the next morning where they skipped breakfast and tried quickly leaving. I called him, caught up with him, and shook his hand ‘very’ firmly with unwavering eye contact and a sly smile, wishing him safe travels. He caught my glance for just a second and then looked down, reaffirming he’d give us a great review online for our top service. (He didn’t, zero surprise, it was a bargaining chip and misdirection attempt) They were gone. No violence. No guest disturbance. No grand display of aggression or machismo. As clearly it seemed he was an abuser, I cannot control the rest of their relationship and her choice as to whether she stays or not. Just a one-night reprieve with subtle message. Now I return to my regular mission statement. But we had other guests present and listening, a child within unavoidable earshot, no ability to leave, a business in operation, and the potential for great escalating violence right in front of our house. Or maybe, if I stretch enough of my perception, it’s not involving myself in other’s potentially dangerous (to me) scenarios as it would be on the street (how many 3rd-party good Samaritans….), but protecting my family, income-avenue, and clients…not to mention alleviating a potentially-violent act on our property before it happened. Mission-statement in-tact. Remember, sometimes the reach of your mission statement is environmentally-dependent and context-driven. It’s up to you to decide the parameters that that pre-analyzed mission statement extends to and what circumstances will dictate a shift in those parameters.


How often do we hear one of these spouted in self-defense classes?

“There are monsters among us.” “Evil is a real thing and innately-evil people exist.” “”He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.” “How can someone do that? It’s subhuman.”  (demonizing)

“They” (the criminals, gang members, bad guys, etc.) are simply different from us. They grew up differently. On the wrong side of the tracks. A different class. Different demographic. Different color. Different nationality. Look different. (trashy, low-class) Act different. (uncouthe, uneducated, lacking manners, swearing) They were born bad. (nature, poor nurture) They had a bad childhood….abuse, violence, crime.  Since they’re different, clearly they’re the enemy. (dehumanizing)

“They” are exactly the same as we are….human. If they’re human, they can bleed, feel pain, be hurt, shut down bio-mechanically, die. (familiarizing)

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So which one is best? Or are any beneficial? Is it circumstantial? Can they be non-beneficial? Is having an “us vs. them” mentality psychologically-strengthening? Ever hear anyone actually go further in-depth than simply selecting their biased view of which one is best for them…and, therefore, you?


Demonizing and dehumanizing are a form of separation, or creating emotional distance between you and another individual or group. If we’re talking purely about the physical, demonizing runs the risk of making your threat seem impenetrable, unbeatable, and something more than what a human is capable of overcoming. It can also, potentially, motivate one to resist and counter that much harder, knowing the threat is of immense challenge.

Dehumanizing runs the risk of you under-estimating your threat, seeing them as a lower form of life than you, lesser of a worthy being, not having your particular blessings…not a match. It can create a disconnect and faulty-perception on the type of threat and your method(s) of managing it. Physically, it can create emotional disconnect and distance from a survival-threat, allowing one to access faculties of aggression and damage one might not otherwise have accessibility to.

Familiarizing, in opposition of dehumanizing, can give one the impression that you and the threat are the same, when nature/nurture, experience(s), environment, religion, social-engineering, state, mental outlook, and exposure to a thing can drastically alter perception, capability, and achievability. However, as mentioned above, in a physical scenario, it allows one to see that the threat can bleed, hurt, fail, or lose.

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All have their benefits…and their drawbacks and, as always, depend greatly on context. However, as with most industry catchphrases, few people actually delve into what they actually mean, how they fit in modern society, and what their limitations are. Violence and conflict dynamics are complex, scenarios/circumstances are dramatically-different, with scaling threats needing to be handled in greatly altered manners for best result. How does low- or mid-level physicality, general conflict, or low-level scenarios alter this? What if the idea is regarding coping mechanisms towards violence, the aftermath or processing of incidents not pertaining directly to us?


Generally, an ongoing study of human behavior, case studies on like types of threat, an ongoing-assessment on context, and case-by-case assessment with as little bias as is possible…are always most prudent and beneficial and offers the best pre-conflict method of accessing situations of their own volition. Couple this study with a grounded, rational, common-sense approach on your own current realistic circumstances while trying to keep your own emotions under-control. (Paying more attention to self and how you deal with stress, tension, anxiety, and fear is more effective than perpetually concerning oneself about the power and danger of others – it goes to our own sanity, capability, and peace)

That doesn’t change the fact that the ideas above can be helpful in our own mindset development to best suit our situation. It also depends greatly on the type and seriousness of threat. Often, on low-level conflict, familiarization has a far greater chance on resolving the issue non-violently and peacefully.

a) Demonization is most often something done from safe emotional distance when something awful happens away from us and we superimpose our own circumstances on top of the misfortune of others. (brutal murders, awful violent crimes, offences sexual in nature to vulnerable victims) It helps remind us of our own humanity and morality and keep distance from our own internal demons.

b) Dehumanization is usually prevalent regarding war/grand-scale conflict/large-scale demographics, but can certainly be seen in regular society as well. To separate and divide based on race, sex, nationality, age. It often runs the risk of worsening situations through elitism, entitlement, and disconnect socially. It, whether “wrong” or “right”, gives the one using it uniqueness, superiority, and comfort in our own personal situation(s).

c) Familiarity is used  when we want to relate to a person or persons. To walk a mile in their shoes, understand their plight, and relate to their circumstances. It gives us empathy and connection, often putting us direct touch with our own humanity. Demonization and dehumanization serve little purpose on the lower-end of things…and let’s be frank, that is the majority of situations most average people will find themselves in over the course of a lifetime. They’re not soldiers or violence professionals.

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For inevitable violence or high-risk threat, however, all 3 can be very beneficial given specific circumstances. Remember, belief is the most powerful of all tools, so if utilizing one of the 3 methods helps facilitate a powerful mentality for dealing with a powerful threat….it can be a great tool to shift perceptions and build resolve. Translation? As long as the adopted perception falls in-line with the reality of the threat, works within the sphere of your arena’s law, and puts perspective to a psychologically-beneficial way towards solving the problem….it’s worth exploration. These perspectives alone, though, are far less valuable than a grounded assessment of each situation of its own volition and a self-study of triggers, inhibitors, states, and mind-frames. Remember, not nearly all situations are grave-enough to justify the emotional disconnect that 2 of these imply, and the 3rd isn’t always achievable or even desirable.  The goal, as with most industry catchphrases and metaphors, is to stop just taking any of the 3 at face-value and creating an all-encompassing persona or method around one in-particular, context-free. Evaluate exactly what they infer given your particular scenario and turn that valuable attention inward. The demons, emotional connectedness, and familiarization might be better addressed internally long-before they are externally.


In situations where enemies are perpetually close and/or sometimes unknown, and violence/physical aggression is not the major concern, the collateral effect on the victim can be very tenuous, and vulnerable innocent people in the mix may make things even more complicated. Enemies, ex-friends, destructive family members, bad/”toxic” neighbors, those generally wishing you unwell…but actively attempting to achieve that goal)

There are some low-level, subtle, and legal psychological warfare/”urban guerrilla” methods that are put into play by victims looking to take themselves out of ongoing anxiety- and stress-ridden situations that take some time off the back-end of life…and they can be quite effective. One can learn a lot that isn’t currently in one’s repertoire and benefit the mental arsenal and mind firewalls immensely. Some that can be so extremely effective that a simple physical-response individual may well have neglected or not seen.

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Giving examples that are often utilized, both on the giving and receiving end:
~Self-isolation to force the varied other parties to turn on themselves.
~Cryptic low-level propaganda via social media that couldn’t be legally-implicating or problematic. (subliminal messaging directed at no one but put out to make minds wander)
~Planting seeds of doubt with timely conversation/misinformation. (misleading conversation with shared or one-sided allies either in direct conversation or within earshot creates confusion and insecurity)
~Separating parties in-question. (the enemy of my enemy can sometimes be my friend if subtly creating division)
~Building walls, literally and figuratively. (dead, flat reactions/emotional deadening/to actual physical walls if finances allow)
~Restriction of information flow/silence.  (no response to the offense can create long-term panic, insecurity, anxiety, and fear – wearing opponents down far more than a knee-jerk physical threat could ever do)
~State (of mind, mood) facades. (misdirection on how you’re actually processing the information or the act itself)
~Unity. (strategic allies can multiply effect)
~Rumors. (spreading intentional low-level misinformation)
~Subtle body/facial intimidation (sometimes creating space is a valuable resource for momentary thought-clarity and peace-of-mind)
~False flags. (leading opponents to believe others are responsible for your actions, covertly – not overtly, through intimation)
~Touching nerves with known/perceived triggers (knowing the opponent well can lead to intentional trigger-arousal, overreaction, or mis-revealing of intent)
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Remember,  study of the criminal side of things, as in actual violence, is always a worthwhile effort to learn about how you, yourself, can be manipulated by the same and develop ways to circumvent it:
For instance,
~we know stalking, in general, from many women’s experiences and having been told by law enforcement that nothing can be done until actual action is taken by the stalker, is “effective”. (pay attention to repeated behavior of those around you, showing up in strange places where you are, tails/surveillance that seems persistent. This one, if you’re one who already pays attention and has a high sense of situational/environmental awareness, will be a byproduct, not a paranoia)
~strategic flirting, even sex, can be used to tear apart alliances and implicate someone in something they may or may not have been the actuality. (keep walls up from distractions and those looking to take you off your game. Remember, even 3rd-party “evidence” in awkward positions and with non-allies can have a greatly-negative effect on various areas of your life)
~property-damage is hard to trace – keying, tire-slashing, break-ins….law enforcement doesn’t have time/resources and you’re not going to retain a lawyer for a car-keying (most often, take it as a will for non-direct confrontation…passive-aggression from someone who either doesn’t want a head-on meeting or wants to create emotional overreaction. Your car is a thing. It’s not your child.)
~tempting known addictions (even collateral stress can cause smoking, drinking, drug-use and other unhinged behavior if kept on at-length – check yourself and your emotions regularly, acknowledge when you’re )
Remember, this is not something you’re going to learn in a martial arts class….this is life. And life can create or break mental fortresses. Steel yours.