The ABC’s of Adrenal Stress Scenario Based Self Defense

Most fights are won or lost before the first punch is ever thrown.

Yet, most Self Defense courses devote a great deal if not all of their training to physical techniques. This is because most Self-​​Defense courses are derived from the Martial Arts. The Martial Arts are technique-​​based systems where one begins slowly and after many years eventually masters various “Martial” movements and forms. These techniques require a high level of physical dexterity and fine motor skills.

The standard Self-​​Defense course is based on applying various martial arts movements to defend against the myriad of ways an attacker may carry out an assault. Unfortunately, arming students with only physical skills leaves out huge chunks of information that are crucial in effectively stopping a fight before it occurs. Add to that the fact that much of the physical skill training taught is too complex to work in a real encounter and the harsh truth is that most self-​​defense training can actually be setting the student up for failure, sometimes with catastrophic results. Sadly, stories abound of an experienced martial artist getting beaten up by a seasoned street fighter who knows how to verbally intimidate and hit with one or two techniques really hard.

After decades of intensive R&D, I have found that for a self-​​defense program to be comprehensive, 3 crucial sets of skills must be taught:

1. Awareness skills

2. Boundary Setting (verbal defense skills)

3. Combatives — Physical Defense.

#1 — Awareness: Awareness skills include identifying external environment, such as the cues that an attacker usually gives before attacking, identifying threatening behavior or situations, and other common sense skills, (like don’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc…).
But we also need to be acutely aware of what goes on inside us preceeding and during an attack. In an altercation we are not only dealing with the aggressor, but with a myriad of mental and bio-​​chemical factors going on inside our minds and bodies that can make dealing with the threat even more difficult.
Examples of Internal Awareness:

We want to be aware of he common mistakes people make which get them into trouble. How do people respond under duress? What are common bio-​​chemical, emotional, and physical responses to a threat? What “triggers” does each person have that can cause a harmful knee jerk response? What personal conditioning has the student acquired that can help or hinder them in an attack?

In our FAST Defense style of scenario based training, we take students through a introspective journey to discover answers to the above. Until these factors are addressed it is difficult to effectively deal with the threat. The trick is to see possible choices clearly while under duress, instead of being caught in old “knee jerk” patterns which could make the situation worse. Through awareness of these responses, the student is able to consciously apply effective tools for an effective solution to the problem (which very often don’t require any striking or physical defense at all).

#2 – Boundary Setting: This is probably the least understood yet most useful and difficult part of Adrenal Stress Response Training. Both men and women can usually talk themselves out of dangerous situations if it’s applied correctly. The problem is that very little training exists on how to handle these common verbal altercations. In fact, much of what we learn from family upbringing, movies, or listening to our buddies, often gets us deeper into trouble. Just think of how many incidents become violent because of some macho tough guy mouthing off? Or the other extreme is the passive freeze-​​up response that often elicits even more violent behavior.

The “missing link” in Self Defense lies in assertive communication skills. Simply put, in the assertive mode one looks for and utilizes an effective verbal strategy to de-​​escalate or deter the attacker as needed. The mind is actively engaged to override dangerous knee jerk responses and the negative effects of the adrenal fear rush. Graduates of such training report that the verbal skills work like magic in the multitude of confrontations people experience in today’s stressed out world. These skills become the “Art of Fighting without Fighting”, and work great for kids right up to adults.

#3 – Combatives — Physical Defense: The effects of the adrenal fear rush are major factors in physical defense. Research and personal experience have shown that typically a maximum of 5 techniques are ever employed in a real fight. Most good street fighters use 2–3 techniques. Even pro boxers use only a handful of techniques in their bouts. The techniques must be simple gross motor skills, as adrenaline inhibits fine motor control.

FAST Defense uses 5 simple techniques proven to work for a smaller person against a potentially larger one. The techniques are taught in a simple but high tech. process using a combination of N.L.P., Biofeedback, Olympic coaching, sports psychology, and martial arts methodologies. Within just a few short hours the students have learned to flip the switch and use the adrenaline rush to supercharge their techniques against the attacker. Think of trying to hold cat who does not want to be held. Who wins that battle every time? The cat is not thinking use claw #4 on pressure point #12. It is thinking you better let me go or I will rip your arm off. That is what FAST Defense students learn to do if they ever have to fight for their lives.

Our main focus in this training is this; Do whatever you can to not have to fight. The last thing anyone wants in this day and age is a physical altercation. Even if you win the fight, you may have to win again when they return pissed off with a gun or 10 pals. And then we often have to win again in court. But if fight we must, it’s not a game anymore, it’s all out survival to see who’s going to survive. Then it’s time to fight with all the heart and spirit you can muster.




  1. Brian Stein says:

    Great post Bill! Awareness and Boundary Setting are essential elements of true self defense so often ignored by most RBSD instructors and practitioners.

  2. Michael says:

    My Krav instructor is always emphasizing the awareness side of self defense. Before many defense techniques are taught, he states that you’ve already messed up your defense by letting the subject get that close to you.

    However, while learning the awareness and boundary setting skills are invaluable, the bulk of a self defense class should be the physical techniques. Awareness and boundaries are something that we can take away from the class and put into practice while at the mall, in the grocery store, on the street, or whatever. We get to practice those skills anywhere, once we have been taught what to practice. So the time in the class needs to be used to teach what the students can’t practice in the world.

  3. Bill Kipp says:

    Michael, well written comment. Your Instructor speaks wisely. Its amazing how many people let their attacker walk right in on them.
    I would say though that although physical techniques are crucial, in most fights they are only necessary when awareness and verbal skills have failed.
    I agree that awareness can and should be practiced everywhere. But the verbal defense skillsets are the crucial missing link in most SD systems, yet they are the most salient skillsets of all.
    Let’s be real that in this day and age the last thing we want is a physical altercation. Not only do we have to win the fight, we may also have to win again hours or days later when they come back ****** off with a gun or 10 pals. And then we often have to win again in court.
    Verbal skills will stop IMO over 90% of altercations before they get physical. That said, physical skills when practiced properly provide the confidence to back up the verbal defense and are invaluable in the event of a random attack or such where a fight is necessary.
    Plus the fight is so damn much fun to train! Thanks for your insights.

  4. OEF0203 says:

    Great insights! I like the focus on triggers. We all have them and self-​​awareness is key to not fooling ourselves. I agree the majority of fights are avoidable but we have to be ready for the ones that aren\‘t.

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