Fear is a natural human emotion that causes a person who’s facing imminent danger to have one of two completely opposite – but mutually instinctive – reactions. You either run away from the danger to totally avoid it, or you confront it head-on. This is the “Flight or Fight” reflex.
Fear is a subject of particular importance to martial artists, yet one that has been inadequately addressed. No matter how much martial arts you learn or how proficient you become at it, if the time comes to face a genuine life-threatening situation, you will experience the two-edged sword of fear – fight or flight – and will be forced to exercise one or the other. When a person thinks they are being threatened, typically the person’s heart pounds like a jackhammer, and one becomes short of breath, sometimes almost to the point of hyperventilation. There is nausea, often described as “butterflies,” in the stomach. Some individuals experience an inability to control their bowels. The degree of emotional and physical intensity varies with the person.
As undesirable as all these powerful symptoms may sound, they are actually indicators that the body is ready to perform at its highest level. World-class athletes and people who freeze from terror under stress both experience the same series of physiological reactions. What determines how successful the outcome will be is how rapidly the individual is able to either retain or regain control. Fear is stimulus-specific.
There are people who manifest few, if any, of the usual biochemical reactions, as cited above, to what are traditionally considered life-threatening circumstances. They are considered “fearless.” Yet what would be considered overwhelming stress varies drastically from person to person. Although considered fearless by most of the world, some Navy SEALs readily admit to being scared before every mission, gunfight, firefight or battle.
So what exactly is fear? The dictionary defines fear as “an emotion of alarm and agitation caused by the expectation and realization of danger.” However, a topic as important as fear requires a far more technical elaboration. This technical analysis is essential to your full understanding.
A medical dictionary informs us that fear is “a somatic (part of the body) disturbance or expression of anxiety (stress), neurosis (nerves) or an anxious psychotic (mental disturbance), which may stimulate hyperthyroidism, an excessive condition of glandular secretion by the thyroid. This includes an injection into our system of a hyperadrenal, another glandular secretion of hormones, chief among which, and this is important, are norepinephrine and epinephrine – “flight” and “fight” adrenaline, respectively. This common human condition is what is known as the “Flight or Fight” reflex (or Flight or Fight “Instinct” or “Response”).
In the upcoming series, we will explore the many aspects of fear in a question-and-answer format and how to train to overcome it.
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