The natural reflex to stop pain, or to withdraw from the source of pain, can be harnessed to react to threats. (source)
The Nervous System, Reflexes and Krav Maga – Part 3: Withdrawing from Stimulus, Audio by Jonathan Fader

This is the third part in another series about connecting the system of Krav Maga to your nervous system and day-to-day life; specifically your nervous system and your reactions. (See Part 1, Part 2 and the previous series on the Awareness Colour Code, The Nervous System & Mental Health)

Now that you have an idea of how the body and brain work, and how basic skill development functions, let’s start connecting these ideas to the nervous system for maximum efficiency.

One of the basic principles of Krav Maga is to work with the body’s natural reactions as much as possible. There are always some exceptions, such as the instinct to post your hand when falling from standing (Do NOT do that, defeat your instinct by learning to BREAKFALL!) but this is why Krav Maga principals are just that, principles, and not hard rules. This means the principles, like using the body’s natural responses, apply most of the time, for most people, in most situations.

I would like to connect this Krav Maga principle, as well as training and self-defense strategy, to a concept from the medical field known as the Glasgow Coma Scale. The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is a simple way to assess the state of a person’s brain and nervous system following a traumatic incident. With a few simple tests it assigns points based on Eye Movement, Verbal Response, and Motor Response. Depending on your overall score medical professionals are able to establish if you are faking it to get out of work or if you need to be rushed for immediate life-saving surgery. If, for example, you fake slipping on a banana peel at work, pretending you hit your head hard, you better know the scoring system so you can accurately act your way to some nice benefits. (I know someone who did this and actually got away with it. Obviously you shouldn’t do this because it’s fraud and if you get caught you may end up with a low GCS after you have a bad run in with your cellmate, Big Bubba, in prison.)

Ok, so how does a medical neurological test relate to you, your body, and your training? In case it wasn’t immediately obvious, the connecting factor is your nervous system. As this is not a medical sciences lesson I will be sticking to the Motor Response part of the GCS to show you how Krav Maga and sports fighting use these reflexes to enhance our ability to defend ourselves and, if necessary, to fight.

The Motor Response Scale is established by testing the patient as follows:

  1. Obeys commands for two part movement – 6 points
  2. Purposeful movement in response to painful stimulus above clavicle – 5 points
  3. Withdraws and bends arm at elbow rapidly in response to pain – 4 points
  4. Abnormal elbow flexion in response to pain (decorticate posturing) – 3 points
  5. Elbow extension in response to pain (decerebrate posturing) – 2 points
  6. No response – 1 point

This means if you can move your body as per the two part commands given to you, that’s right, it’s 6 points for Gryffindor. Of course, if you are that guy who faked a banana peel injury, then you would want to fake it around the 5-3 points response (which would, of course, be awarded to Slytherin).

Number 2 response would be trying to get the thing causing pain (usually tested by applying a “trapezius pinch“) to go stop, by pushing it away. This is usually not a severe reaction as a person is still relatively calm. Though if it was a ex coming up behind you to jab you in the ribs, you may not remain calm. In a more practical comparison in a training or combative perspective think of this like someone trying to set up their grips in Judo/BJJ/Wrestling, as they go for it you adjust and attempt to grip fight so they cannot continue.

Number 3 is where you pull away from the pain or stimulus in an attempt not to have it again, or to avoid further damage. From a self-defence and strategic perspective, this would indicate you are probably in mental code Orange and/or are implementing the strategy of Avoidance. Though the GCS refers to the literal response to actual physical stimulus for the purpose of this comparison I am making it a little broader, in the sense of “what is your nervous system and what you do as a response to a perceived or real threat be it potential pain or literal pain.” At this stage, you are probably still able to make very conscious strategic decisions about what to do and you still have your wits about you. Perhaps you saw that ex coming and you ran away from the emotional pain as a response. Or it is a velociraptor and you run knowing your friend, who didn’t listen to you about their weight/cardio, gets eaten first as you sacrifice them for the greater good of your survival (referential joke from previous posts).

Or the response could be more literal; as you are getting hit, or in the process of getting hit, your movement response kicks in and you shift away just enough not to take the full impact of the blow so you can move and counter. This example starts to work in the training methodology. If your combat skills are sufficient due to training, and you find yourself in the Conscious Competence or Unconscious Competence stage, you will start using footwork and head movement to avoid strikes so that you can either run to safety or start to impose your will. This indicates that, similar to the GCS, the individual’s nervous system is in a state in which it can still reasonably function, both operationally and strategically. Though you are clearly in color code Red, due to your training and effort your nervous system is not overwhelmed and you can comfortably or reasonably think and execute your training and techniques without things sliding down the scale.

Of course, many of you may have seen a professional competition or street fight where the skill and physical capabilities of a particular fighter are considerably better than their opponent, and that fighter is able to dance around the attacks of the other, avoiding most of the potential hits and “rolling” away from others that do land. If you are on the other end of this situation you will increasingly feel more and more helpless as your nervous system slips to the lower levels of the GCS (though you are still very much conscious); your nervous system and body are starting to panic and move down the scale of operations in order to increase your very survival. This, again, may very well be a situation where you wish it was the velociraptor, as that is a way cooler way to go out than to be made a fool of in a fight you clearly shouldn’t have been in the first place.

This is why good training, regardless of style, doesn’t just train you to go forward offensively like a meat-head (though it is very much necessary, as the next post will explain), as, if you are able to, you should practice proper avoidance in both technique and strategy so that you always come out on top. By working with this natural nervous system mechanism you can hone it through things like footwork drills, head movement drills, and keeping your body in shape so that you can reasonably execute your plan should you ever need it.

Of course, that is until you run into a Mike Tyson looking Motherf–r, at which point you are reminded of his famous quote “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” You learn this through experience as they are continuously resetting your ability to execute the PAFA/OODA loop, over, and over, and over (like some kind of tortuous Doctor Strange time loop), at which point you may actually be experiencing some kind of out of body situation just so that you can mentally survive. This is probably what is happening if that ex is in the situation, because, let’s be honest, it’s probably akin to being pummeled by Mike Tyson repetitively until you are begging for mercy, at which point you hope the velociraptor comes and kills you both.

If you find yourself in this situation, then you better hope your brain and nervous system are operating correctly, that you’ve maintained your body, and your training and strategies kick in. Because now (if you are in the street) you have very quickly moved from a fight to self-defence. Now your plan is out the window and your own nervous system is changing gears into the more serious survival responses.

But that, of course, is for the next post.

Written by Jonathan Fader.

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