Having just spent the last week studying with the Force Science Institute, I can tell you with certainty one thing about self-defense: Everything takes time.
There is reaction time. There is movement time. Combined, those two elements make up response time. But even before that, you have to perceive the actions of another, understand those actions are a threat and decide what it is you must do about it.
Each of those steps has a measurable amount of time associated with it. The typical number is .25 of a second. That is 25/100ths of a second. Some steps take a bit less time; others take a bit more time. But those quarters of a second add up pretty quickly, which means you can end up pretty far behind when you try to respond to the actions of an attacker. And remember, self-defense, is, by definition, responding to an attacker.
What really stuck out in my mind during the five days of class was the fact that everything presented was backed up by outstanding, peer-reviewed, repeatable, scientific research. Slow-motion video showed, frame-by-frame, exactly how people moved and reacted. The studies were done by using hundreds of test subjects and monitoring every result, analyzing every movement and calculating the averages, standard deviations and other mathematical stuff that went well beyond my understanding of combining integers to plot whole numbers on a graph.
The folks at FSI work to help those involved in or investigating use-of-force incidents to understand how the human body responds to such incidents — and they back up their claims with solid science.
When a thug decides to make a sudden and brutal assault, we know that, from about 5 feet, it takes him less than half a second to strike. We also know that if you are not expecting the assault, you can expect to take about a full second to react. That leaves you in a tough spot. What are the good guys supposed to do?
The first thing to note is the phrase, “…if you are not expecting the attack.” Those words give you some great insight about things we have talked about in the past: situational awareness and conflict avoidance. If you work on being vigilant and actively try to anticipate possible trouble, you can cut your reaction time down considerably. If you avoid the situation, you remove the need for any reaction time at all.
Too often we think self-defense is something defined by rules, policies or laws. Laws simply allow others, those who were not involved in the attack, to determine whether the actions of those actually involved were “justified.” In truth, self-defense is defined as the physical abilities of the person engaged in the defensive action. We are faced with biomechanical truths. We cannot deny them. We cannot rationalize them.
Once we realize that everything takes times, it becomes much easier to understand why we all need more training — why we all need to hone our skills — and why we all need to teach ourselves it is perfectly fine to respond to a perceived threat with as little hesitation as possible.
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