Friday, 11 November 2011

The Startle Reflex: In Defense of the Truth

A few years ago a friend and mentor of mine, W. Hock Hocheim, wrote an article called, A Startling Study In The Startle Reflex. Hocheim used nothing but facts in the article. There were no opinions just true scientific data. This was done to counteract lies that were being told to the public for marketing reasons. There was a lot of bogus information out there about the startle reflex and a lot of people lying about it on purpose to sell courses even though they knew that it wasn't true. To this day people are still lying about the startle reflex to try to get people to take their course and disparage instructors who tell them the truth about it. 

Now, Hock tries to have some diplomacy in his articles, he teaches the public and it's smart not to step on anyone's sensitive toes and burn bridges, I think anyone should be able to understand that. However I teach mainly police and don't care who I p**s off so I'm gonna tell you like it's gonna be and to those that don't like it you can just go in a corner and cry like the sissy’s that you have become.

I'm not going to regurgitate all the data that Hock has already published, you can read all about it in his post. I am however going to shed a little more light on it for you…

Back in the 1930's tests were done to activate the ‘startle reflex’ when the subject was spooked by an audible stimulus. Now, to put that in basic terms I'll give you an example. Let's say you have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. You know how in the winter furniture creeks sometimes due to the cold? So you’re walking down that hall half asleep and you hear that popping sound… It scares you and you drop down and your arms shoot out. We've all done that, me included.

All that this test proved in the 1930's was that you did what you were already going to do when you heard that noise. That was it. It had nothing to do with combat or seeing punches coming at you or anything of the sort.

Fast forward to the 80's: You’ve got some guy going around telling people that his system is better than that of others because he teaches defences from natural reflexes – the ones that you would do anyway. Yup! you’ve guessed it, shooting the arms straight out and diving for it. He did this knowing that data had been disproved in the 70's and that it had nothing to do with visual stimulus but he just lied and taught it anyway.

If someone starts bashing on you, you’re gonna stick your arms out anyway so let's go with it. Now today people claim he never said that and he tries to backtrack on it but he's said it many times and many people including myself have heard him say it.
Now I'm not saying that you won't stick your arms straight out and dive for it. You very well may do that. You may also squat and dump in your pants. You may clutch your chest. You may break out running. You may not do anything at all. You may cover in some way. I've even seen some stiffen up like a board and just fall down. If it's heading towards your head you may swat at it. If it's on the ground you may jump or lift a foot and stomp it.

The simple fact is, and the point of Hock's article, is that nobody and I mean nobody knows exactly what every single individual person will do when startled under every single random condition the almighty God could possibly invent. Nobody has that knowledge. Not me, you, or anyone else for that matter. So for any person to stand in front of a crowd and tell them all exactly what they will do when scared is a joke and a farce. If someone tries to tell you that then run because they are either a liar or they are ignorant.

It doesn't have to be the arm thing it can be any startle reflex. I don't want to just bash a certain group. If someone tries to tell you there's only one possible startle reflex, regardless of what they say that reflex is, they are wrong. If they tell you everyone will always jump....they don't. If they say everyone will punch...they won't. I could go on with this all day.

The fact is people; there is no perfect technique because attacks are so random. This is why concepts are more important than techniques because concepts can adapt to us. You have to conform to techniques and try to make them work and they may not be right for your size, shape, or whatever. However, a concept will conform to you and your needs.

In my 34 years in martial arts I've seen a lot. I've seen people demonstrate a kick to the groin and a follow up when the guy bent over forward from it. I've kicked a couple of people in the nuts and they never bent forward, they actually fell straight backward. I've seen people tell others - I can enter a certain way and slam a forearm to the brachial plexus and it'll knock them out. Then I've seen people take 5 or 6 hard shots to the brachial plexus and never even acknowledge it and fight harder.

People are different and they react differently. There is simply no way to predict it. All these techniques you see against a startle in martial arts classes are learned techniques built into muscle memory. They aren't necessarily natural for everyone, they may be natural for some and unnatural for others it just depends on the person.

My advice for instructors is to pick something simple that makes the most sense based upon the type of system you teach. You have to have a starting point to work from. In what I do we use a cover and level change because it sets up what we do on the entry very well. To some it feels very natural and to others it feels odd for whatever reason. We work it hard and they get it built in then they love it and it works incredibly well for what we do.

If I was you I'd stop worrying about what the big names do and just pressure test everything and find out what works best for what you do there is no magic technique that is going to work for everything, we all just do the best we can to the best of our ability to try and help people.

What works for me may not feel right for you and vice versa but at least that's honest. We didn't get into this to follow someone else's dogma we got into it to be leaders in our community. So put together something great and get it out there and help some people. As far as Hock's article is concerned, it's a great article with a lot of great data. Keep your eyes on the prize and don't take things out of context. Have a good day.

To find out more about Stonewall Tactical Defense Systems visit

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Nothing works all the time, Everything works sometimes...

"Nothing works all the time, Everything works sometimes" - W.Hock Hocheim

It's a very profound statement if you think about it. It's simple....but profound. It's the way a good technique should be if you really think about it. It has depth and can be used for more than one purpose and mean many things. I remember the first time I ever heard it in Decatur, AL a couple years ago at a clinic taught by Hock Hocheim, a mentor of mine. He says it at the start of all his seminars. Now I'm one of these guys that think a lot, probably too much. If I come up with a tactic I then try to come up with a counter; then a counter to that until I can't even think of a counter anymore. This statement means a couple different things to me and I think everyone should learn it and understand it. Below I'm going to list a few ways that I apply this statement in my career and hopefully enlighten some to the value of it.

1. It’s just flat out true - You take the craziest most unrealistic technique you ever saw and you can find someone on YouTube being knocked out by it. However, just because it works for one person doesn't mean it will work for everyone. As a police trainer I see this stuff all the time. I see some of the worst courses you could think of with the craziest things. However, you can go on the websites for these courses and there will be all kinds of testimonials from officers that used that system and it worked for them.

As trainers and coaches if we are striving for the safety of those we teach it's best to use tactics or concepts that are most likely to work for everyone consistently. That's our job. When people use these high risk low reward systems and they work it can keep bad systems around and make it harder to convince departments to upgrade to a better system even if that bad system is failing for everyone else. In a way for them it's about perspective. I had a meeting with a police chief locally a few months back. He had done one of these big national courses that in all honestly most departments are abandoning because of its low success rate in the field. However he loved the course because he'd used a couple of tactics from it that had saved his life in his career. He's spent 40 hours in that class and learned 4 or 5 really good techniques.

Now to my ears that's evidence of a bad course not a good one to spend that much time in a class and 4 or 5 useful things is all you got but he was convinced. He was convinced because nothing works all the time, everything works sometimes and those times it worked for him. You may run into people sometimes that think they see a flaw in your system because of something in their background. If that happens and it will; remember that statement and don't blow it off.
Maybe what they are saying is unfounded but maybe since they came from a different background they see something that you missed. It could be a chance for your system to grow and have more depth so when someone else thinks they see the same flaw you'll have an answer for them. Then again they may be full of crap but you should at least think about it.

2. It’s a warning to the arrogant - The reality based self defense community can be filled with the most egotistical arrogant people in the world. They know the real truth about everything, but they are the only ones that know....yeah right. It would take 100 RBSD instructors to change a light bulb. 1 to actually do it and 99 to say they could've done it better and they'll have scientific studies to back it up too. They could go on for hours about how you should've tilted your hand more or applied more force when you pushed up and they'll make sure to unknowingly be as condescending as humanly possible when they do it. They just seem to have conveniently forgotten to never say never.

The technique everyone seems to jump on is high kicks. Now I personally am not a fan of high kicks and I don't teach them. With my background being Jujutsu when I see that leg in the air I'm thinking their balance is mine. In the confrontations I've been in I make sure I stay too close however so I'm not in kicking range. That's my perspective but it doesn't mean they could never work. I think for the average person it's too high risk of a technique because of the position it puts you in. However someone like Bill Wallace could kick you in the head all day.

I've grown to hate threads on boards and face book groups. I rarely post in them anymore just for the simple fact that people love to take things out of context so they can jump on them and make themselves look more intelligent than others that are trying to do the same thing. It's transparent and it makes me angry. Throw a discussion about high kicking into one of those threads and it's like dumping blood in a shark tank. I would caution them to remember this statement. It'll keep you honest before you open your mouth. We preach all the time that attacks are random and we don't know who the attacker will be. If you preach it then you should apply it to all your logic. Once again high kicks have a very very low success rate but that doesn't mean that someone couldn't kick your beak around like Daffy Duck.

To think that it could never happen is ignorant and could someday be your downfall. Not because someone might kick you in the head but that dismissive attitude will affect how you build your courses and how you apply your concepts as well as how you prepare others. Before you get on your lectern to pontificate remember the statement. Then remember that you’re not as smart as you think you are..

3It's a disarming and diplomatic tool for trainers - I teach people from all kinds of backgrounds. Sure when I was younger I had a short sighted view of things like a lot of these other guys around. However I always tried to be honest with myself and put the people I'm teaching first. When I go to teach a seminar I don't know the background of everyone that's in there. If I go in there with a dismissive attitude about certain martial arts bashing them and silly things like that and how this and that is BS then I'm blowing an opportunity. If someone from that style is there they are just going to shut down and tune me out. I'll never get through to them. You can't just go in there and talk to people that way and tell them something they've worked their butts off in is crap. If someone had done that to me the first thing I'd think is this guy doesn't have much teaching experience he's too immature.

You open your seminar with the statement it's diplomatic. You allow them to clutch the thing they hold onto and by not taking everything away from them you get their ear. If you have a better way and you’re a good teacher they'll find it on their own you don't have to say that stuff. Be diplomatic when they ask questions about how it fits in with the thing they do. Always be positive and helpful. Build....don't tear down. This gets back to the negativity and dismissive attitude sinking you. If you still want to be negative and are thinking well I don't want those idiots in my class... then you’re the idiot. You shouldn't be teaching because you don't care about the people you only care about your dogma. Remember the statement.

I want to thank Hock for making that statement and I hope this short article even though I probably went to deep and over thought it will enlighten some of you in a small way. Thank you for your time.

To find out more about Stonewall Tactical Defense Systems visit