Train to un-train

Another piece from a few years back.

-Ian Daniels

Lately I’ve been thinking about physical reactions and how generally your first natural reaction is wrong. Example: As a front seat passenger in a car, you see someone speed out in front of you and you know you are going to hit. What is your first natural reaction? Probably 90% of us would automatically put our hands out straight, groping for the A-pillar with the right hand and generally trying to brace yourself with your arms straight out.

It’s the classic “Oh S–t” move. Welcome to two broken arms and a face full of glass ,or if youre lucky, an air bag deploying at 200 miles per hour.

What is the better action to take? Immediately cross your arms over your chest like you are trying to grab the opposite shoulders and put your chin to your chest. This is the classic injury prevention/reduction crash position, so why do we automatically go into a position that will actually provide more opportunity for injury?

Answer: I honestly don’t know. It’s just a physical reaction that you made a habit out of somehow a long time ago. The trick is that you do know the better process, so you have to train yourself to do this. But first, you have to un-train the bad habit you already have.

How do you do that? I don’t know. Repetition is the best way to learn and create a natural response, but that doesn’t mean you should go park your car at the top of a hill, set the e brake, fire drill to the passenger seat, then release the brake and hold on.

So why am I writing about traffic accidents? I’m not. I actually have noticed this first reaction phenomenon when running through the what-if drills I constantly do, and then comparing them to what I have done in other actual situations.

About a year ago I was riding as a passenger with my girlfriend in her car. I was holding her damn yappy little dog so it would be a good passenger too. We came to a stop at an intersection to the highway and while waiting for a good time to go (busy highway), we feel a jolt.

It was one of those little, “what the crap was that even though I know exactly what it was” type jolts. We both look behind us and there is a big middle finger and an incessant waving for us to go. Well that wasn’t going to fly. I pass the yappy dog off and step out to see what the issue is.

As I’m coming around the back of the car to see if there is any damage. At this point I still think/hope it was just a little mishap type traffic accident. And then I see the finger waver. Its an irate fat guy who throws open his door while screaming at me with every swear word you can think of and yelling for me to get back in the f-ing car.

First reaction? I am absolutely flat-foot flabbergasted that this giant piece of crap is exploding at me after he hits us. I mean, I am so surprised I could barely react. Thats not to say I couldn’t, I just didn’t. Now Ive been yelled at by the best of them. A father with anger issues, people I supremely respected,  bosses with more money then God and less tact than the devil… I can take a yelling, mostly because it doesn’t impress me.

So I check out to see that there isn’t actually any damage, exchange a few words regarding his demeanor, scan his plate and as I take another step into his direction, watch him zoom into traffic around our parked car, nearly hitting two other vehicles coming at highway speed. Of course he’s going our way, and we pull out to continue on.

At this point I’m starting to react in a still shocked, but starting to get pissed off, type of way.  I call it in to 911 just to make this guy’s day a little worse, and as I’m talking with the 911 operator, she quips how I did the right thing because “you never know who has a gun” She tells me.

Here is my no s–t/oh s–t moment. I of course had a Glock concealed on my belt, but was so flatfooted that even with all the training and mindset I nearly pride myself on, the weight of it never once crossed my mind.

Obviously over this issue as it was I wouldn’t have reached for my gun, but as I remember it, even if he had have come at me wanting to make it a physical issue, I don’t  think  a pistol would have been needed.

I would like to think that if he had have produced a weapon, well then I would have as well, but I really  hate the idea that I would have been so behind in my OODA loop that it would have nearly taken rounds down range, and me finding cover, to get my gun into action. Pretty sill of me right?

“This guy sucks, why am I even reading his stuff? Im way better off then he is at this” Isnt that what you’re saying to yourself right now? Well let me introduce you to the one story a month at least that I read about conceal carry permit holders (some of them certified badasses too) getting robbed, beaten up, shot or stabbed, who never had a chance to defend themselves. Im sorry to tell you but the real life version of you is not as good as the “what if” version of you.

Incidentally, the responding officer I talked to was a great dude and said the guy is a documented jerk and probably panicked when he saw big ole six foot four, two hundred twenty pound dude come out of the girls Honda he was trying to bully. I still wish I had have just gone over and beat the living hell out of him as soon as he got out spitting his bullcrap. Some people seriously just need a punch in the face to realize they are in the wrong; nothing else gets through.

This incident really (finally) sparked the idea on battling first reactions with the right first reactions. I know a lot of martial arts trainers and even some firearms trainers are now teaching how to use your first reaction, your flinch, to an advantage, but this put the concept home for me. And its more than the physical immediate response.

Now I think of what is the better move when seeing a possible threat on the sidewalk walking towards you. Do you get a hand on the knife or pistol in your pocket, or do you keep both hands visible (and accessible) in hopes of not sparking some latent ‘prove myself’ thoughts of the other tough guy walking around? The example is a bit off, but the philosophy still works. Or how about getting off the X when being attacked? All gun fighting theory, logic and history say to MOVE NOW! So why the hell is your first reaction to hold ground and fight where you are?

Again, I don’t know.

These are just a couple examples I have come across of when your first reaction does nothing more than tries to get you killed. This is the reason that mindset and then actually training it in real life is so important. Many people have the idea that they will just do the right thing when the time comes. Well the time has come. Every time you have ever said “I wish I had have done that differently,” you have just seen where your first reaction was a non trained reaction.

More and more at the range I am working on my reactions to get off the X and make the decision if a head shot of body shots need to be taken. Heck if you think of it like a boxer, you have to choose where your next punch is going to land and where it will be most effective, not just because an uppercut would be cool if you get it right. Two and one is a good movie idea and works in some situations, but when fighting for your life are you going to fire two at center mass and one in the head? Or are you going to empty your mag at the threat? Or are you going to make a proper combat decision? 2 and 1 isn’t always right, but neither is only one, and probably emptying your gun in a panic is not the best option either. A person needs to train their mind and body in as many different ways and scenarios and possibilities you can think of, and then get your three friends to think of more.

Ask yourself “what if?” all the time. What if that guys comes at you with a knife? What if you hear a shot in your direction when out in the woods? What if, what if, what if! First what should you do, then what would you probably automatically do? Sometimes the answers are the same, and sometimes it really sucks to realize the truth.

Use it.

Ironically where my first reaction was inaction, many people’s would have been overreaction. I say I wish I had have slammed the fat guys head through his own car window, and I do, but how many people would have had that be their first reaction and it had have been the wrong one? Different personalities and different tempers are possessed by everyone, but try to think of your first reaction when you see that car about to t-bone you on the road. Do your arms automatically shoot straight out, or do you assume the best possible position?

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3 thoughts on “Train to un-train

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