I recently ran into a discrepancy in the research on the human adrenal response: some sources suggest that the weak-kneed feeling is caused by tons of blood rushing away from your head and core and towards your large muscle groups, preparing you to run or fight, while others suggest that you are literally weak-kneed as blood rushes to your core, far from any limbs or appendages that might shortly sustain injuries like lacerations. I implore any of my readers who know more about the physiology to please post any solid info in the comments section. Until that time, I am left to my own experience and speculations. Here it goes…
In Pt1 I argued that the adrenal response readies one for fight or flight, but that for social reasons (ie not wanting to look weak) I would often fail to increase respiration though my heart was starting to pound. Accordingly, I more easily entered a “panic” state simply due to oxygen deprivation. However, I just read the best book on martial arts and violence that I have ever found: Sgt Rory Miller’s “Meditations On Violence.” Therein, he states that “blood is pooled in the internal organs, drawn away from the limbs. Your arms and legs may feel weak and cold and clumsy,” adding later that “vasoconstriction in the extremities decreases the amount of bleeding from bites to arms, legs, and head.” What to make of this discrepancy? My theory is that humans have evolved two different responses for two very different kinds of violence. We have two kinds of fear and two forms of aggressive. We have a fear of in-group violence, such as play fighting, fisticuffs and even duels, and another one for predatory violence, such as that issuing from a dangerous animal or a hostile tribe. This is obviously an outgrowth of my theory about two kinds of aggression, discussed in a previous post, but it also falls within the paradigm described by Miller, who describes the “Monkey Dance” versus predatory behavior.
The fear of in-group violence and competition is much more about humiliation, being dominated, ostracism and mating rights than it is about the fear of death. That is, it is the fear of the annihilation of “face,” identity or personality, with the deeper fear of resulting ostracism, exposure and death underlying it. The fear of predatory violence is simply about being violently ripped apart, limb-from-limb. Accordingly, we have fear (fight or flight) and we have panic (freeze). The problem is that we so rarely face predatory violence that we easily confuse these two situations and start to panic when our identity is challenged. This is the great purpose of the martial arts in my opinion: educating people about their own feelings so that they can avoid panic as often as possible. So too is this the great purpose of philosophy: not only to prepare one for death, but to prepare one for ambiguity, uncertainty, and assaults on your dignity. Sadly, not only do modern people experience Monkey Dance-type fear when faced with having to sing or speak in public, but they also experience Monkey Dance situations as if they were facing a charging lion. This is not so good for stress levels, immune function, and overall health.
Look at dare-devil behavior and note that though it incites fear, this is experienced as “excitement” and the activity has the effect of enhancing identity, whereas facing down a grizzly bear will likely result in your shitting your pants and questioning your cosmic specialness; fear versus panic. These two modes of response, however, are running on the same physiology, so you basically have fear/excitement up until 145 BPM, with a sweet spot between 115 and 145 BPM as far as performance is concerned, and then panic when heart rate increases past 145 BPM. Miller describes three reactions that are very, very important to distinguish:
Some people get big, red, and loud. Their face flushes; they swell up and try to intimidate with size and voice. They are trying to intimidate, pure and simple. They have more in common with the Monkey Dance than predatory violence. They are usually not a problem.
Small, white, and pale indicates a threat in a pretty advanced stage of adrenalization. His blood has pooled to his center and he is on the edge of panic. If something sets him off, he will go frantically insane. He will hurt you, much like a cornered animal.
Some go ‘flat’ when the adrenaline hits. They seem emotionless, alert. Eyes widen into a thousand-yard stare. In general, they are experienced with the adrenaline state and can and will hurt you. They will retain a large percentage of skill. They make ugly opponents. On the good side, of the three types, these are the ones that can still communicate. You can talk to them.
The guy who is red in the face (the above Diego Sanchez, for instance) is trying to project confidence and intimidate his opponent. Perhaps it works on some, but essentially he is betraying the fact that this is a match, not an assault. The Japanese knew how to do this right and cultivated a state they called zanshin, roughly translated as “awareness,” “remaining mind,” and “indomitable will.” The American corollary is being “cool,” that is cool-headed, cool under pressure, etc. Sadly, ala the theme in a prior post, we have today mistaken the face of intimidation for the true display of projected competence. Though what follows really should be added to a recent post, I must remark that MMA competitions often blur this line between Monkey Dance and predatory violence. Some competitors choose to pick a fight and make it personal so that they can get angry, red in the face, and “excited” for the fight (ie Monkey Dance). Other competitors speak of “going to war,” wanting a “war,” being ready to die, and so forth. Still others don’t say anything, appear entirely calm or even bored (I’m thinking of Gegard Mousassi), and then fight like the devil. Be scared of the last guy. Miller explains that “some people associate the ‘1,000-yard stare’ with shell shock. It’s actually a way to use the eyes to detect movement very efficiently and increase peripheral vision.” Anyway, I suppose this all makes sense, given that one form of human aggression–play fighting and jockeying for position–is ultimately a preparation for the other–group hunting and warfare. It makes further sense because the MMA competition is somewhere between friendly fisticuffs, an honor duel, and the practice of single combat in ancient warfare. Sometimes it pays off to play the “game,” bide your time, wrestle to tire out your opponent out, and then finish him in the end via a war of attrition, but other times a full-on assault-style blitz does the job a whole lot better, despite the fact that most of the effective moves are barred in such a competition.