Fight Flight or Freeze

August 7, 2023, Israel

People love conventional wisdom. They love saying "They say", without knowing who "They" are, or what the source is. It is easier that way. When it comes to Krav Maga there is a great deal of conventional wisdom that is taken as a "given", to use a mathematical term. Given is a term used in math to indicate something that is assumed to be true or known. It is often used as a starting point, a basis or springboard from which to begin a process of reasoning or proof. 

In Krav Maga such givens include, "All blocks are also strikes". I completely disagree and could easily tear apart this "given". Other givens are the infallibility of knee kicks and eye gouges, again I disagree. But the Holy Grail, is when faced with a violent attacker one reacts with Fight or Flight response.

This is based on a study of how animals respond to attacks or threats. It is described as...The fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, refers to a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying, either mentally or physically. The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety.

Many apply this to human beings facing danger, but they make a crucial mistake, in my opinion. The Fight for Flight might make sense when seeing a threat, but when an attack actually happens, without warning, this model has not proven to be true. In fact, a different process takes place. It is not Fight, or Flight, it is Freeze. 

The human brain recognizes patterns, identifies familiar images. If we see a creature jumping in the street, our brain will tell us it is a dog, or a cat, or a rabbit, but it will not identify it correctly if it is a mutant creature, or an alien just landed from outer space. We are programmed to recognize the familiar. 

This is how we learn something new, a new language, a musical instrument. At first the sound of a new language is totally bizarre, we can't grasp it all, but gradually our brain recognizes sounds, patterns. Take for example a veteran expert interrogator, he will pick up on subtle clues that we might miss. He can detect if a suspect is nervous, agitated, hiding something. We might ask, How did you see that? But he is trained, he has experience, he sees patterns, and he sees behavior that breaks the pattern and offers a clue. 

When are faced with a totally unfamiliar situation, we have no patterns to guide us. When we see an alien creature crossing the road, we have no frame of reference to judge it, so we use what we already have in our program, it was a cat, a rabbit etc. When we are confronted for the first time with a violent, vile, angry attacker, we have no program to identify this. We are like the guy who says, I can't open the file you sent me, I can't view the video, something is wrong.

Nothing is wrong, you simply are less computer savvy than even myself! The answer is you do not have the proper software, you don't have the program to open this file. You need to download it. And this leads us to our approach to Krav Maga, Self Defense. 

There are many very well-trained martial artists, there are great athletes, well-built and super talented, but they are not ready for real life violence. They have not downloaded the correct program. And therefore, when the attack happens, their computer freezes because it does not recognize the program just as the actual computer does not recognize the VLC video because it has not downloaded that program. The result - it does not open. The result, brain freeze.

Our task is to download the correct program, to train your brain to respond correctly to violence, otherwise you will freeze in the moment of truth. 

Recently there was a terror attack in Israel (many in fact, but I refer to one that I am familiar with in detail). The first person attacked, did not respond, despite the fact that he, like all Israelis, served in the military, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), and yes, he took the "Military Krav Maga course", which is of very little value despite the fact that it sells all over the world to naive foreigners. 

I was frozen

Here are his actual words, translated into English, "Be vigilant because I really wasn't' alert to the situation; I was frozen, and I didn't understand what I could do." So much for IDF Military Krav Maga.

My point is that physical training is not enough. We focus on psychological preparation on the highest level. We reenact real - life violent situations, and once the student has mastered the necessary techniques, they must apply them under pressure of a real attack, as it took place. We prepare your body and your mind. When the attack takes place, your mind will not go into Freeze mode but rather it will recognize the attack and say, "Been There, Done That, I am Ready, I know what to do."

We are waiting for you, the next step is yours....


Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.

Understand the Israeli Fighting Mentality - Israel a Nation of Warriors by Moshe Katz


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