It is a lesson learnt over and over again. We can prepare for an emergency, prepare for a possible street fight by training and honing our technique, and find that the real problem is the panic and stress in the moment of crisis. All the technique in the world is wasted if we freeze up at the moment we need to fight.
Individuals react differently to the adrenaline we experience in a crisis. Literature has been referring to the fight or flight response for generations, these being two completely different ways to handle a threat – escape of fight. Yet there are also individuals who physically faint, become emotional and burst out laughing, or who fight competently for 30 seconds before collapsing. This reaction is unpredictable; mentally strong people sometimes handle a sudden crisis poorly. How we deal with long term issues and a sudden surprise attack are very different things. Some individuals can master one without being able to deal with another.
Military warriors from all traditions had rituals that helped them prepare for battle. These were largely to deal with adrenaline issues. Meditation and other practices would not stop the adrenaline hit, but they helped the individuals deal with it positively. We can use the strength from adrenaline; it is part of our biology for a reason.
Of course, this only works when we know we are preparing for battle or competition. We are unlikely to anticipate a street confrontation, and will not be given time to practice deep breathing. So how do we prepare for the unexpected?
Martial arts training need to include competition. There is a certain amount of adrenaline in competition, and this steadily teaches us to deal with the physiological and psychological aspects of adrenaline episodes. Some sports, like abseiling, can have a similar positive influence.
Those who do not compete, or at least expose themselves to some adrenaline inducing situations, are only receiving part of the training they need. Being able to handle ourselves means being able to handle the emotions of a crisis. Regular competition is a step in the right direction.