Jim Armstrong, Dean of Raw Combatives, deals with the vagaries of combat described by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman in his seminal books On Combat and On Killing.

Grossman devised a scale to chart the way in which an individual’s motor control deteriorates when the heart rate becomes accelerated by the stress of an impending human conflict. While all accelerated heart rates result in a deterioration in performance, psychological stress is a different stimulus that brings a unique set of problems.

Do you have to train for the same activity differently, depending on the stress, even if the skills you employ are the same? Grossman says you do, the US military believe him and this is what Jim Armstrong thinks about it.  

Do you warm up differently for sports as opposed to self-defence training?

Definitely. Plenty of fighters are good on bags and pads, but once they’re under stress, they go to pieces. [That’s because] a lot of them aren’t true to themselves. They think, ‘I can do that; I’ve put in the rounds, I’ll be fine.’

Some people go to pieces, both in their bodies and their minds. They might be really fit; they have skills, but [are lacking] the mental part. Not enough people do training in it, unless it’s specific to what they do as a job (police, fire, ambulance, armed forces). As long as you’re effective, that’s all that matters under high stress.

I have a training pyramid that I use: ‘train, test, own’. For boxing, you learn the technique, then you spar and fight, then you own it. That isn’t the best system for most people. They have to get to the truth of how they feel under pressure. How bad it makes you feel. Once you get that under control, away you go.

How do you elevate a heart rate to invoke the stress of being attacked?

First, you give them the truth of it; how it makes them feel. You have to train with people for a while [to become intimate]. Then you give them scenarios to play with in their mind. Ask them, ‘Pretend you’re scared. I’ll attack you really slowly, and do what you think you’d do.’

I had this guy once who responded with this really crisp technique. Then, I told him to close his eyes and when he opens them, to imagine I’m covered in shit. Once he’d done that, his technique fell apart. Once I’d closed distance, we saw saw the skill he could [effectively] use. Skill and mentality are closely linked.

I often use visualisation. [Get them to] bring their breathing into chest, clench and unclench their hands, move from foot to foot while I’m telling a story to invoke that feeling of stress. Then, we perform the drill. If it doesn’t start in truth, you’re just playing.


Jarrod Boyle

Leave a Comment