FLINCH RESPONSE(S): I’d like to leave this here as I’ve had the same belief for a long time. So many are stressing the importance of THE startle flinch response when, in fact, it should be made very clear that we have startle flinchES. There is no universal flinch response we all have to every given surprise stimulus, despite the claim of many self-defense experts. Do some people-watching. I’ve seen people scared from surprise heavily increase breathing while grabbing their heart. Getting burned by a hot stove causes an explosive pullback and often a grab of the burnt body part, but not raising the hands up in front of the face. Tripping and falling forward causes an outward/forward-moving and often double-locked arm extension but torso doesn’t retract back, for obvious reasons. (that falling thing) I’ve seen someone getting salt or sand in our eyes recoil back, not with an arm projection and body jerking back response, but with an “elbow shield” covering the eyes. Blinking without any other reaction at something light and non-damaging coming towards our face. (How does the brain distinguish?) Someone pulling your chair back at a party causes a flail or “spasm”, desperately looking for a way to regain balance. A great idea is learning to re-focus quickly on “the target” or cause of the initial surprise and at least training your brain (hitting one’s significant other from having a water fight is not recommended) to think of immediate counter-offense.

Image result for flinch response

So, to summarize:

  1. As stated multiple times, there is no one universal flinch (even for the same person at various times of the day/different mental states/daily intangibles/different stimuli) Watch America’s Funniest Home Videos, When Animals Attack, or any number of “Fear Factor”-like videos on Youtube for confirmation.
  2. It cannot be weaponized (we can dictate what comes after, not during) To weaponize the flinch itself would come from prescience. With not knowing any of the stimuli mentioned above until  that moment, repeated prepping/training for multiple different flinches still presents a lag in selection, rendering “weaponization” moot.  The minute anything is altered, whether by experience or training, it is no longer unconscious, reflexive, or evolutionary…it’s familiar/experiential or trained. A flinch, by its very design, is a reflex (the “startle reflex”). Conscious response to known stimuli is not a flinch, it’s a conscious response projected outward.
  3. Not every scenario draws a flinch. Sometimes some people, or some people in some scenarios, simply don’t flinch. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time.



A close friend happens to be a chef and over the years we’ve found that many of the knife safety rules of proper usage that apply with cooking and knife management for self-defense cross-over seamlessly. It’s an often neglected part of teaching knife as a tool for self-protection. Specific to self-defense purpose: safe carry, safe/fast/protected deployment, dropped blade protocol, accessibility, no showing off, no fancy handling for demo, blade AND point awareness, knife etiquette (handling of others’ tools, perceived but unknowing threat display), multi-uses to justify daily carry for potential legal consequence, vision to notice signs of carry in others, clean cutting over the multi-cutting flash we often see on Youtube. It’s a far cry using a blade within the art than it is practicing it for isolated and specific purpose. Whether teaching, or at least practicing for personal use, an important part of understanding and implementing proper blade use. Attached is a very simple, basic document pertaining to cooking but you can see some transferable elements already: 


In the knife community, here’s what we mean by “successful presentation.” Many tell me “Then what? What if he calls your bluff?” It’s more than this. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada we have the largest Pinoy population in Canada. (As an aside, this is where I grew up in my combative martial arts youth, surrounded by quite gifted weapons folk, which I benefitted from being surrounded by sometimes 4-5 times a week) There are a lot of Pinoys here that can take care of themselves…FMA, boxing, street smarts, predisposition to violence…many 1st generation immigrants so they grew up in PI. In high-school, we had a group of guys that were always heavily into bodybuilding, steroids, aggression that always went out to the bars to fight and intimidate, etc.

Image result for knife deployment

Now this is a second-hand story but it was confirmed by the individual in question, to me directly at a later date. Roid rage with alcohol can be a very dangerous combination, often for those around the individual as they become very unpredictable and aggressive. One of the gents that I know was looking for trouble outside. He saw a short Pinoy gentleman standing outside the night club having a cigarette, minding his own business, as most Pinoys do until provoked…a target. He approached the guy and started getting in his face (easy mark: small, seemingly peaceful, not looking for trouble, having a cigarette) Face-to-face, a couple inches away, frothing at the mouth, threatening, finger in face. Next thing he knows the gentleman has a knife to his throat, pressed up against the wall, asking politely and with total calm “I’m sorry, I didn’t fucking hear you the first time, could you repeat, please.”

Image result for knife deployment

Turns out that while my acquaintance was beaking off, the other man had been deploying his blade while finishing his cigarette with the other hand. My acquaintance started whimpering and apologizing, actually shedding a few tears, seeing his life pass before his eyes. Naturally, the Pinoy let him go. Upon asking the guy the next time I saw him what had happened, he filled me in on these exact details, admitting he filled his drawers. He told me “Isn’t what you do FMA and knife?” I nodded and he said “Respect. Never again. Total calm and I had no idea where that weapon came from.” This is what successful blade presentation can accomplish coupled with calm, subtle deployment, surprise and the perceived will to use. It’s not just showing it as a deterrent. (Of course, legal consequences always omni-present, as usual)


I’m going to post this in response to a couple of requests on the OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) Loop. There are some I know have/can explain this with greater precision than I but I’ll get the post going and they’re welcome to add, subtract, multiply or divide. First of all, someone tried to tell me the other day that the “LOOP” is solely linear and in-order. (No, no it’s not. Webster’s can help greatly with this) Context is imperative in the processing ability of the orient and decide phases of the loop. The more context available, the better the ability to process the level and type of threat and decide on A (a, not “the”) correct action, or no action, sometimes also a completely valid response, context-dependent. How we process internally is a combination of what I call/use as “I foresee” (or i4c): a mix of *intuition (from previous like experience of similar/relatable stimuli that transfers) and external stimuli including *congruence (what’s actually happening vs. your perception/accurate previous experience, etc. – are you over- or under-reacting), *culture (prevalent here for me, what the cultural norm is in one place is not in another and will stand out), *context (the 5Ws and appropriation of the 5 – do they fit into the given context – person, activity/action, location, time-of-day, reason) and *clusters (usually more than one signal presents itself to give you growing information to validate course of action)

Image result for OODA loop

These can be pre-influenced internally by a number of things as well: religion, upbringing, previous training, experience, belief structure, etc. and processing speed is based on the above)
Now, this all is great outside of the ambush or surprise attack where situational/environmental awareness is a hugely beneficial tool. In my estimation, this circumstance has one fall back on an instinctive combination of proper/correct previous training and innate survival response coupled with self-control and the ability to push forward from the point-of-reference, which far too few work….knife already in stomach, on-ground being kicked, having taken a big shot, etc. etc. etc. (Another post but keeping it simple for the sake of post-length)
Though complex, all this takes a far shorter time than it takes to explain to someone else. As they’re infinite, I’m not going to delve into specific examples. As usual, the more this is researched and understood, the faster one comes to understand what happens cognitively.


While I realize this is a controversial topic, even among high-level experienced fighting exponents, I’m an advocate in training of learning not to divulge important information to your opponent on pain tolerance or threshold. Learning to control screaming/yelling, minimizing facial reactions, controlling body language under pressure, testing limits of tolerance (the maximum level of pain you can withstand, within reason or hitting a safe tolerable level) AND threshold (when you start to acknowledge pain), extending “time ’til tap” or eliminating “submission” training altogether (even the term infers of learning to submit to a superior opponent when things get tough, which can lead to bad neural conditioning), extending past your believed maximum limit in cardio, etc. Up to and including pain-conditioning itself. These elements build both critical areas of mindset and self-control/resilience mid-physical training. Stacking both simultaneously leads to faster and correct conditioning.

Image result for sparring


An example of an implementable specific breathing program that I worked on over the last few years and use for my own training. This can be for a 30-, 45-, 60-minute jogging session I go through during the week, working both aerobic and anaerobic capacity. 4 minutes at pace (whatever pace-of-the-day dictates), 1 minute bursts, 35-40 second recovery time; I tend to go late morning or early afternoon when the sun is at its hottest here, making it more of a battle of attrition and suffering, but that’s personal choice.

Image result for breathing

AT PACE – breathe in (mouth closed), out through mouth blowing, breaths in rhythm to 4 steps. (inhale for 4 steps, exhale for 4)

EXPLODE – breathe in (as with a cold, runny nose – quick “inhalations”), blow out hard (a “shhh”, as in trying to shush someone when loud, obnoxious, or disrespectful – like a misbehaving child), following the “every 4 steps” idea but with increased breathing as there’s an increase in steps.

RECOVERY – panic breathing (quick inhalation), quick exhalation (as in blowing out candles). Panic breathing puts you back in-control faster than stopping/deep breathing/abdominal breathing can and while moving-replicating stress response far more accurately, much faster recovery time

MONITORING: All the while, I’m using “autogenics” or “moving mindfulness” (paying close attention to my body’s responses: lightening steps for foot impact, knees tightening up from heavy footfall, muscles tensing, shoulders down…go up-and-down body acknowledging and fixing what’s not)

Image result for breathing

LEVELS OF BREATHING: find comfortable level (chest, mid-level far more accessible under physical exertion than the always-recommended abdominal variety). As you move into your cooldown, start moving down with your breathing until it becomes controlled abdominal/meditative breathing. (where most do yoga, meditation, qi gong, etc.)

In tai chi/qi gong we’re explained the difference in Taoist (breathe in/chest expands) vs. Buddhist (breathe in/abdomen expands) breathing but never “when” to use them. (regarding the Japanese kiai as well) For any who’ve fought, abdominal breathing during is almost impossible, which usually “internal” stylists have never done or simply don’t have a reference point. Keep your gaze up while running, pulling in details, working situational/environmental awareness under stress/close inoculation replica. (Harder than you think, often the tendency when participating in heavy exertion is to look down)This kind of breathing expunges any excess CO2 from lungs and immediately fills them with fresh air without any leftover CO2 so at their maximum capacity.  A “sigh” can be used either directly before the panic breathing or momentarily thereafter . Sometimes this is involuntarily and will happen after the burst but still acts as a calming mechanism to help keep your breathing on-line.

Image result for breathing

The goal is:  a) to start forming an anchor from walking/movement/steps to breathing. This can be transferred to daily movement as well, timing your breaths to your pace of walking, running, wheelchair rotations…whatever preferred.

b) to control your breathing throughout the activity, never having to gasp, pant or hyperventilate, over the length of the run, thus learning to correlate your movement with your breathing. I’ve noticed, since implementing this into my training regimen, a far greater stamina in activities related to combat (grappling, clinchwork, boxing, stickfighting, knife sparring, etc.), a far shorter recovery period and a greater explosiveness during training.”


To add, while I agree with much of the attention paid to the idea of “being gray” (blending in, #3 in the “On Concealment” article), I think it’s often harder than many give it credit for. It’s not just solely “being gray” but being truly adaptive and improvisational to the social circumstances dictated (in another culture, for instance), where prying eyes or different orders are often watching within those same circles. I had to alter some adaptation methods that work very well in Canada to acclimitize here in CR as they simple failed and exposed me to some situations that I otherwise would have avoided easily.

Image result for the gray man

Here overlying societal and traditional stigmas can sometimes cause someone foreign to stand out in a greater way than they even imagine and I’ve seen it countless times with North Americans living here. (and poor patterning, cultural awareness and lack of transferable skillsets to the new environment are big drivers here and often go unrecognized) And it’s most often them that become targets for low- and high-level criminals. It’s sometimes a very profound element when living abroad. Me blending as a white, blue-eyed, North American in transparent ways is simply not achievable but dress, language ability, colloquialisms, acceptance of certain cultural aspects and ability to blend with both lower-, middle- and upper-classes (that have very different stigmas and I have times where I’m accessible to all, sometimes in the same day) give greater tools.

For me, here, #3 is a far greater ability of equal value to the other two whereas, for others on the page, it may have far lesser value. (Intra-state, intra-province holds minimal need for big changes and can be adapted to fairly easily, granted and admitted)


Cover, camouflage, and concealment….often go hand-in-hand. Just a quick note on concealment. There are usually 3 areas of focus when talking about “concealment” in this industry that I refer to, only 2 of which are usually acknowledged. Concealment via hiding one’s true intentions or identity….the ability to play down one’s true capabilities and skillsets. Concealment via carry: blades, firearms or any primary, secondary or tertiary weapon on-body and protected from public view, including the ability to subtly deploy those tools under specific circumstances. The final is concealment by blending- crowds vs. individual interaction, dress for context, fitting into different classes with different mannerisms/dialogue, environments and types of people (work, personal, social), cultures (I can attest to this one) and social groups within class. Adapting to the daily scenarios of life and becoming “chameleonic” in the ability to shape-shift and fit. This is the one most neglected: hiding in the open… you have preferred niches or are you able to merge with any group dynamic to become diverse….

Image result for concealment


I’ve heard instructors mentioning 3 times now in the last week how they’re “not freeze or flight guys.” I think there is some misunderstanding, misconception and misinterpretation about the fight/flight/fright response. One can be experienced and not freeze Monday through Thursday but still freeze on Friday. Nobody is a “freeze guy” or “fight guy” or “flight guy.” It is circumstantial, no one is immune (some are better at managing it but not immune to it, that escapes no one) and can be affected by any combination of a number of intangibles: mood, state, scenario, coherence, time-of-day, wakefulness, current physiology, past experience, hell…whether you had breakfast or not that morning.

Image result for flight fright freeze

Are there ways to get the neo-cortex back online upon freezing? Yes, but not the scope for this post. It’s not a choice in that one decides the day before, “Tomorrow I’ll have a conflict and I’m going to decide to flee.” The point is that constant vigilance needs to be paid and no one is universally one or the others. Education helps one understand this biological process. One can freeze, one can fight, one can flee based on circumstance, need, ability, training and experience, among others…just as one can have these effects dictated by the reverse: circumstance-controlled, inability, lack of training or lack of effective training and inexperience. Often the correct choice is made for us and that gives the greatest chance of survival by our evolutionary internal wiring, helped along greatly by our ability to stay calm, manage ASR and understand the process itself. And, while so many mock freezing and fleeing, they can be of huge tactical/strategic benefit in the survival process. If “fight” is the only response you’re blessed with, you may best do some self-evaluation and consider a paradigm-shift in thinking. Great toolboxes have innumerable tools inside with which to handle an indefinite number of varied problems.


Many often neglect or acknowledge potential internal inhibitors within themselves or their students that prevent the ability to utilize violence when and if needed.

These, even after many many years of training, can have a dramatic effect on one’s ability to implement needed physical skillsets under duress. Most of the time these are innate or time-conditioned and need to be addressed. Too many times I’ve seen martial artists who “failed” or froze in a self-defense scenario and blame their training on this calamity instead of looking at the real cause. Even instructors are forever telling their students such bullshit as “You need to put more hours in” or “This is a matter of training harder” or regurgitating statistics on Hick’s Law and the number of times repetitions need be made to condition something to reflexive use. If these inhibitors aren’t addressed, NONE of that matters as it will be overridden and manifest itself in the worst times of duress.

Some of these inhibitors we’ll address below. Granted, this is a glossing-over  and a general overview as in-depth issues are not within the scope of a short article.

  1. Morals/value of human life (nurture-nature). Pre-disposition to violence. Exposure. View on the need for violence and its stigma. Home environment and views of both parents, siblings, extended family. Morals, ethics and values as pertaining to other areas of social constructs.
  2. Lack of experiential/3-dimensional training. It needs to replicate as close as possible to the real thing. If your training looks nothing at all like what can be seen regularly in real life, social media or statistics readily-available, there’s a gap. This also goes back to the 3-headed monster of fallible traditional training: single committed attack, static opponent post-initial contact, non-dynamic follow-up. Other elements are stamina, pressure,  broken rhythm/pace-changes, hard surface, environmental factors and a host of others.
  3. Self-control including emotional triggers, breathing & heartrate management, physiological responses to adrenal stress-response. If you have no trained response to the effects of adrenaline, you have no switch to turn on the light bulb, regardless of how innately powerful the rays of that light may be.
  4. Martial arts/ego. Branching off from #2, if your training is based on elements from a far-away culture, from a time long since dead, from a system irrevocably lost in time, to practices within these constructs that are outdated and don’t match modern research on physiology, sociology, legal and ethical entities, historical clothing and type of battle….they will not transfer to modern violence. I get the response regularly that “violence/crime hasn’t changed for thousands of years! Violence is violence!” Simply not true. The modern criminal tactics, knowledge base, mindset and strategies have evolved. Modern technology (weapons, computers, vehicles, communication) has come a long ways from 15th Century Japan. The myth of the universally-stupid criminal or single-type general criminal should be long dead. Unfortunately, they’re not.
  5. Religion/spirituality. Restrictions on using violence, pacifism, guilt, shame, social perception, place within that religion/church, post-life concerns, judgment from above. I made a personal mistake years ago with a student. I had taught him knife and other weapons for over a year before he finally admitted he’d really never be able to use these skills “for real” as he was a Christian and  it went against his belief structure. We had a to have ongoing discussions on context to overcome this for a long time, which brings me to the next point.
  6. Context. Context is king, quite simply. Without context, a universality or generalized training will run smack dab into often multiple of these inhibitors. Context gives clarity, specifics and appropriate response for given stimuli. Martial arts is filled with generalizations and, with this being statistically the most peaceful time of human existence, the need to truly find out workability is low so often one can go through one’s life without having need to delve into these. However, this element coupled with the most over-saturated time of misinformation known to humankind, and added to that lack of need for empirical proof of functionality due the period of history with which we live, we have a perfect cocktail of functional questionability. To put it succinctly? If ever needed, even 25 years of training can come crashing down in a heartbeat.
  7. Visualization and mission clarity. If you haven’t gone over what your mission is and what lengths you’re willing to go to maintain that mission, your training is vague and cryptic. Why are you training? Do you know? Do you understand what constitutes a justifiable response? What’s worth conflict and what’s not? Who will be affected long-term by your actions? Who’s present with you when making these decisions and does that factor in? If your goal is to stay safe, protect your family and live a relatively-comfortable life, does training lethal knife factor into this mission or is the mission flawed? Is it of necessity due to other intangibles – culture, location, employment? All questions that need be asked before, not during or after. Visualization is a tool that often clarifies many of these and puts them into clear perspective.
  8. Poor self-talk/will to survive. If you go through life in fear, with self-doubt, low self-esteem and a negative perception of self, it will affect your ability to achieve your mission. Self-mindfuck is the ultimate enemy, far greater than any physical threat you’re likely to run into as your ability to deal with said threat will already have been decided by you prior.

Now, these are not always so easy to discover in students, moreso in one’s self with self-reflection and an honest assessment of where your own personality factors in here. To help with this, I often use the logical levels template to uncover certain internal restrictions. If there’s resistance, either seen or sensed, it will always fall on one of these platforms. The higher the resistance, the likely the higher on the pyramid and more work needed with which to overcome it.

Image result for logical levels

*There may be other inhibitors, admittedly, but these are the most frequent I tend to come across.


Translate »