Friday, 11 November 2011

The Startle Reflex: In Defense of the Truth

A few years ago a friend and mentor of mine, W. Hock Hocheim, wrote an article called, A Startling Study In The Startle Reflex. Hocheim used nothing but facts in the article. There were no opinions just true scientific data. This was done to counteract lies that were being told to the public for marketing reasons. There was a lot of bogus information out there about the startle reflex and a lot of people lying about it on purpose to sell courses even though they knew that it wasn't true. To this day people are still lying about the startle reflex to try to get people to take their course and disparage instructors who tell them the truth about it. 

Now, Hock tries to have some diplomacy in his articles, he teaches the public and it's smart not to step on anyone's sensitive toes and burn bridges, I think anyone should be able to understand that. However I teach mainly police and don't care who I p**s off so I'm gonna tell you like it's gonna be and to those that don't like it you can just go in a corner and cry like the sissy’s that you have become.

I'm not going to regurgitate all the data that Hock has already published, you can read all about it in his post. I am however going to shed a little more light on it for you…

Back in the 1930's tests were done to activate the ‘startle reflex’ when the subject was spooked by an audible stimulus. Now, to put that in basic terms I'll give you an example. Let's say you have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. You know how in the winter furniture creeks sometimes due to the cold? So you’re walking down that hall half asleep and you hear that popping sound… It scares you and you drop down and your arms shoot out. We've all done that, me included.

All that this test proved in the 1930's was that you did what you were already going to do when you heard that noise. That was it. It had nothing to do with combat or seeing punches coming at you or anything of the sort.

Fast forward to the 80's: You’ve got some guy going around telling people that his system is better than that of others because he teaches defences from natural reflexes – the ones that you would do anyway. Yup! you’ve guessed it, shooting the arms straight out and diving for it. He did this knowing that data had been disproved in the 70's and that it had nothing to do with visual stimulus but he just lied and taught it anyway.

If someone starts bashing on you, you’re gonna stick your arms out anyway so let's go with it. Now today people claim he never said that and he tries to backtrack on it but he's said it many times and many people including myself have heard him say it.
Now I'm not saying that you won't stick your arms straight out and dive for it. You very well may do that. You may also squat and dump in your pants. You may clutch your chest. You may break out running. You may not do anything at all. You may cover in some way. I've even seen some stiffen up like a board and just fall down. If it's heading towards your head you may swat at it. If it's on the ground you may jump or lift a foot and stomp it.

The simple fact is, and the point of Hock's article, is that nobody and I mean nobody knows exactly what every single individual person will do when startled under every single random condition the almighty God could possibly invent. Nobody has that knowledge. Not me, you, or anyone else for that matter. So for any person to stand in front of a crowd and tell them all exactly what they will do when scared is a joke and a farce. If someone tries to tell you that then run because they are either a liar or they are ignorant.

It doesn't have to be the arm thing it can be any startle reflex. I don't want to just bash a certain group. If someone tries to tell you there's only one possible startle reflex, regardless of what they say that reflex is, they are wrong. If they tell you everyone will always jump....they don't. If they say everyone will punch...they won't. I could go on with this all day.

The fact is people; there is no perfect technique because attacks are so random. This is why concepts are more important than techniques because concepts can adapt to us. You have to conform to techniques and try to make them work and they may not be right for your size, shape, or whatever. However, a concept will conform to you and your needs.

In my 34 years in martial arts I've seen a lot. I've seen people demonstrate a kick to the groin and a follow up when the guy bent over forward from it. I've kicked a couple of people in the nuts and they never bent forward, they actually fell straight backward. I've seen people tell others - I can enter a certain way and slam a forearm to the brachial plexus and it'll knock them out. Then I've seen people take 5 or 6 hard shots to the brachial plexus and never even acknowledge it and fight harder.

People are different and they react differently. There is simply no way to predict it. All these techniques you see against a startle in martial arts classes are learned techniques built into muscle memory. They aren't necessarily natural for everyone, they may be natural for some and unnatural for others it just depends on the person.

My advice for instructors is to pick something simple that makes the most sense based upon the type of system you teach. You have to have a starting point to work from. In what I do we use a cover and level change because it sets up what we do on the entry very well. To some it feels very natural and to others it feels odd for whatever reason. We work it hard and they get it built in then they love it and it works incredibly well for what we do.

If I was you I'd stop worrying about what the big names do and just pressure test everything and find out what works best for what you do there is no magic technique that is going to work for everything, we all just do the best we can to the best of our ability to try and help people.

What works for me may not feel right for you and vice versa but at least that's honest. We didn't get into this to follow someone else's dogma we got into it to be leaders in our community. So put together something great and get it out there and help some people. As far as Hock's article is concerned, it's a great article with a lot of great data. Keep your eyes on the prize and don't take things out of context. Have a good day.

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