In my karate classes I have been trained to respond to an incoming strike or kick with an evasion or block (or both simultaneously). The same principle applies in my kobudo training and in the very small amount of ju-jitsu that I have done. Evade and/or block seems to be a universal tactic in martial arts in response to an incoming attack.
To perform this tactic I need to perfect distancing and timing, and to make some quick judgements about what type of punch or kick is coming towards me so that I can choose the appropriate direction to evade and the correct block to use. That's a lot of information for my poor brain to process in a split second! If I get it wrong I will get hit! I have no idea whether I could successfully evade or block a strike in real life because no-one has ever tried to hit me for real.
However, what I do know is that if anyone did suddenly throw a surprise attack at me I would flinch very quickly to block the attack. I know this because the flinch response is hardwired into my brain - it's instinctive, I wouldn't be able to not do it! This is true for all of us.
So what exactly is the flinch response? The flinch response is an unconscious response to a perceived threat. Basically, when the human body perceives a threat, the body responds to ward off the threat through a series of reflex actions. The flinch response is not a true reflex which involves a reflex arc operating purely at the level of the spinal cord and bypassing the brain altogether e.g. the withdrawal reflex where your hand would automatically pull away if it touches a hot object like an iron. The flinch response involves a whole set of autonomic and somatic pathways that pass through the amygdala part of the brain. However it still bypasses the conscious part of the brain and thus occurs much more quickly than if we were consciously aware of it.
Apparently there are three different types of flinch:
1. Push away danger - You may have experienced this flinch as a front seat passenger in a car when you don't perceive the driver to be braking hard enough to prevent hitting the car in front!
2. Head Shield - The hands, forearms and elbows come up to protect the face and head, the shoulders rise, and head retracts.
3. Shield and Turn - This form of the flinch is associated with a threat that is picked up with the peripheral vision. This involves an arm, forearm and elbow shield that is raised to the side of threat with a circular/angular movement down and away from the line of the threat.
These three types of flinch have a few things in common: They generally lower and widen the centre of balance; the arms are placed into defensive positions that cover the mid line of the body and help defend vital points; the eyes focus intently on the threat; the breath is exhaled quickly which is a component of both absorbing shock from an incoming blow and delivering a blow with power, and the fingers are webbed and spread for additional coverage and protection.
The other important thing about the flinch response is that because it is a series of reflex actions that pass through the brain (rather than bypassing it) it can be consciously modified and therefore utilised by martial artists as part of their defense strategy. It occurs almost instantaneously in response to a threat even preceding the adrenaline induced fright/flight response.
So why don't we use it more in martial arts? Relying on our own genetically hardwired self-defense responses has got to be quicker and more effective than training to evade and block an attack in umpteen different ways and then hoping you've chosen the right one!
In fact there are some new and developing self-defense systems that are based around the flinch response. The person who has led the way in this is Tony Blauer who has conducted over 20 years of scientific and empirical research into the flinch response and then developed a new close quarter combat (CQC) system based on this research called SPEAR (Spontaneous Protection Enabling Accelerated Response). In the UK a Martial Arts school in Northumbria has developed a new self-defense system called DFM (Directional Fighting Method) which is also based on the flinch response. You can find out more about SPEAR and DFM by clicking on the links below.
Here's Tony Blauer talking about the flinch response:
So where do you stand on the use of the flinch response - do you utilise it in your martial arts practice?
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