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People mistake intensity for truth.
                 Sgt Rory Miller

Adrenal Decay

On this page:
 
Are you adrenaline's butt-boy? | Adrenal Decay | GIGO | A Mathematical Lie | There Are NO Short-Cuts

Hopefully you got to this page from the adrenaline page, which is an important precursor.

There are all kinds of so-called reality based self-defense 'experts' who will tell you all about how, 'under adrenaline,' your fancy martial arts are going to fall apart.

What we will tell you is we have an overwhelming urge to bitchslap people who both promote and parrot this idea.

This goes double for people who have drunk the Kool-Aid that: Adrenaline will totally destroy any and all sophisticated training, fine motor nerve coordination and any logical thought process.'

Ooooh, why don't we all run around like scared monkeys and claim it's training?

The idea that an adrenaline surge is an unstoppable juggernaut is incorrect.

That's a lazy and ignorant approach to a complex subject. What's more is it's has been turned into a a marketing tool to promote some ultimate fighting system. A system that is usually based on physical conditioning and a shitty, macho attitude. The underlying message of this kind of training is: Why bother to train in anything that doesn't rely on strength because it's not going to be there anyway?

Well, how about ... Because that attitude will get you hospitalized or gutted like a fish when you run across someone who DOES know how to maintain effective and subtle movement under adrenal stress. Is that a good enough reason to sit back and actually think about this issue?

  • Yes, human beings have 'default' primate conflict behaviors that tend to be activated under adrenaline.
  • No, you are not a slave to 'having to' follow them.
  • BUT, if you lack training in or experience with other strategies, you WILL default to these primate strategies under adrenaline.
  • The problem with these default strategies is that if you are smaller, weaker and less aggressive than the other person who is using the same strategy you WILL be over-whelmed.

That's one thing these so-called experts of self-defense WON'T tell you. There's three others, but we'll save those for later.

Why do we feel so strongly about this?

  • First, is is what we've already said. The adrenal juggernaut is a lazy and ignorant approach to a complex subject.
  • Second, the sound bites that you have been told about the subject are advertising NOT facts.
  • Third is most of this so-called 'information' is a thinly disguised excuse to let yourself go off emotionally and go ape shit.
  • Fourth is you are staking your life on advertising.

Is adrenal decay of fine motor skills a factor? Yes. Is altered perception under epinephrine real? Yes. Is it difficult -- for the average person -- to perform small subtle movements under adrenaline? Yes.

Are you adrenaline's butt-boy?
Well that kind of depends on how much work you've done on learning how to control yourself and function while adrenalized. This especially applies to NOT resorting to primate conflict behavior that relies on size and strength.

Oh and did we also mention that includes keeping yourself emotionally under control? Because emotions and adrenaline ARE very closely tied into together.

The fact is, for the average person, adrenaline will destroy their attempts to function on a high level. Except for one thing, that's what training is for!!!

It is so you CAN still function even while adrenalized.

If that isn't happening, the problem is with the specific training regime, NOT the whole idea of training to perform effective movement.

That is a subtle, but important difference, because you can't judge the whole issue of training because some folks are dropping the ball.

The spin-doctoring about how much 'things are going to fall apart under adrenaline' is usually to promote some ultimate fighting system. Usually a system that promises you fast results in minimum time because they claim they've figured out a way to get around this problem. Figured out a way to teach you how to function under adrenaline.

After all isn't that what the military does? And isn't that why these systems are used BY the military?

Well three problems with that. When we group them as sides of the triangle, they form the 'second thing 'you won't be told by someone trying to sell you their ultimate system.

First is the fact that most of what military 'combatives' are for aren't about killing, but instead allowing soldiers to compete for social dominance without hurting each other.

Second -- and I guarantee you, you won't hear this -- military combatives are NOT self-defense. Hell, they aren't even good self-defense training. The higher levels of military combatives are for killing. You are going in with the intent to kill, not to defend yourself.

That's what they go for. And most importantly for you, the soldier doing it is considered EXPENDABLE. That is to say in a high risk situation, the kill is more important than the soldier's survival. That is because if the soldier doesn't kill the enemy the enemy will kill others. Although it is the least acceptable outcome, the soldier dying with the enemy stops the enemy from killing others. That's defense of others, that's NOT self-defense.

Even if what you were being taught was the actual combative system, if you go into a self-defense situation with that strategy, you're going to end up dead or in prison.

Third, what YOU are being taught is NOT the high level stuff. You're not even being taught what is being taught to the recruits (the social dominance stuff). What you're being taught is sports based Mixed Martial Arts ... which rely on size, strength and a willingness to engage.

There you go again staking your life on advertising.

Okay so by now you might be wondering: Who am I to say these things about these deadly and effective under adrenaline fighting systems?

Unlike the gym rats and coaches -- who base their expertise on sports techniques and a lot of experience in the safety of the ring (with referees) -- I've been in the 'big bad.'

While some people call where I grew up 'the streets,' the proper name is 'situational poverty.' That means because of my family's reduction in finances, I grew up with people in what is known as 'generational poverty.' We were poor, but these folks grandparents had been poor, their parents were poor, they were poor ... and now, their kids are poor. And violence was a tool, so too was crime.

I had a name for your worst fears about crime and violence. I called it "Saturday night."

Oh yeah, and did I mention that I am only 5'8"? Being a small, smart, loner white kid in a mixed ethnic neighborhood, but me in the middle of a LOT of violence. On top of spending decades studying violence on security recordings, I have been in -- and personally witnessed -- 100s of violent encounters.

So when I tell you 'IF you're smaller and weaker and if you revert to the default primate conflict pattern that these people are encouraging, you're gonna lose,' I ain't blowing smoke.

I've seen the strategies these instructors are promoting both work and fail in their much touted 'street fights.' And when two people are both using the same strategy, it's usually the bigger and stronger guy who wins.

And the further you get into your adrenalized monkey brain, the MORE you're going to revert to the default, primate conflict behavior.

I'm alive because I was able to function, strategize and perform a multitude of effective movements -- not ONLY in fights and different kinds of violence, but while someone was trying to kill me!

Until these trainers, coaches, self-defense gurus and super-studs can truthfully say the same thing, they are risking YOUR life on what they are selling.

And if you buy into their advertising, then YOU are risking your life. You are basing your safety and freedom on what is -- instead of a martial art fantasy -- both a gym fantasy and a well crafted marketing campaign.

One that, incidentally, will have you throwing yourself headlong against a bigger, stronger and equally committed attacker. That's the third thing they won't tell you.

Adrenal Decay
Before I tell you why reality based self-defense Kool-Aid drinkers and the ' mixed martial arts = self-defense' crowd are wrong about adrenaline, there are two things you need to know about physical training...

First: Effective training works on MANY levels.

Second: There is NO such thing as muscle memory.

Point two is especially important. Your muscles do NOT have brain cells in them. Therefore they are incapable of 'remembering' anything. So that term, while easy to understand, is a total misnomer.

What muscles DO have is nerve pathways that run through them.

The 'firing' of these pathways are how your muscles contract and relax. It is the contraction and relaxation of your muscles in an ordered sequence that allows for movement.

Try this: Put your hand on the table and then tighten your arm muscles. You've just fired those pathways. When you stop, your muscles relax.

Do it again, but keep your arm tense. When you do that, you're not only sending the message, but you're keeping them firing. When everything is firing at once, you can't move any better than when nothing is firing.

When you lift that same hand to scratch your nose, you are firing those same pathways. But this time in a specific sequence that causes different muscles to tense and relax at different times. The muscles tightening and loosening in an ordered sequence is what causes movement. The 'firing' sequence travels through these pathways

These pathways can be strengthened and enhanced. This what allows us to perform movements quickly, effectively and smoothly.

Think of a river that digs a river bed. The more water that flows through it, the more entrenched the river bed gets. The more you perform an action the bigger and deeper these pathways are 'carved' into your nervous system. AND the more effective you become in executing the move THIS WAY!

There are literally millions of possible pathways. But through repetition and practice you ingrain certain ones. These pathways, become 'how you move.'

Want to know the most obvious example of how this works? Try a baby learning to walk. Walking is an amazingly complex series of actions. One that it takes time to develop the pathways for.

Once these pathways ARE developed you can walk under a wide variety of conditions. And yes, that even means while drunk. You may not do it as well, but you can still do it! Even though your central nervous system is under the influence of a depressant the pathways still exist.

Here's a shocker, you can also still walk under the grips of adrenaline. In fact, you can even run -- which is a much harder act to perform. Again, that's because the pathways are so well ingrained.

Let me say that a third time, because it is important: Because you have ingrained the firing sequences of walking and running so deeply in your nervous system, you can do it effectively while adrenalized.

Not to get too persnickity here, but that fact blows out of the water, not only whole lot of what these folks pretend they know about the subject, but also what they're selling.

Why do we train to move a certain way? So we can do it UNDER adrenal stress. Of the many things that repetition does is it develops, ingrains and enhances the neural pathways that allow you to function under a wide variety of circumstances -- including adrenaline.

Yes there will be decay. Yes you will not be able to function AS well as you can when you are calm. BUT when those pathways are there, you can function very well under adrenaline.

But you ain't gonna get there over night.

In case you missed it, that last bit is important. It also brings us back to the first point that training works on many levels. Practice ingrains different type of movement, understanding and knowledge.

GIGO
Having said that, we can borrow a term from the computer world: GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Practice doesn't make perfect. It just makes it ingrained.

Another way of saying that is "Practice doesn't make perfect, it just makes it permanent." If what you are ingraining is effective, it will be effective -- even under adrenaline.

However, if you are ingraining weakened, watered-down, ineffective and sloppily executed movement, then that is what you are going to do when you need to deliver force into your opponent.

But at an even more decayed level.

In fact, it's easier to ingrain bad and ineffective movement into your nervous system than it is to ingrain effective movement. That's why so many people do it and then tell themselves how good they are. Hell, we even have a saying "That person is well trained in a bad system."

To throw a bone to the MMA/RBSD crowd, people ingraining this ineffective movement  is the basis of their criticism and badmouthing the martial arts -- especially their blanket contention that the MA are 'ineffective.'

The MMA/RBSD/Adrenaline pimps are -- technically speaking -- correct in the assessment in that what-is-being-taught-as-martial-arts-won't-work-in -most -fights. Yep, ineffective movement is ineffective movement.

However, they are wrong in their reasons and judgment as to WHY it won't work. In other words they're half-right, but for the wrong reasons(1). Their conclusions however, are totally off base.

Their conclusion is twofold.
One they've found a better way.
Two they've found a faster, easier AND more effective way to teach you how to 'fight.'

The reason I say this is when it comes to ineffective movement, that is a sin that they themselves are also guilty of.

However, it is less obvious because they mask the same problems they condemn the ' traditional martial arts' about, behind physical conditioning and aggression.

This is NOT a solution, it is what we call a patch. And patches tend to fail when you encounter someone who is bigger, stronger, faster, equally aggressive or has a weapon.

So, as long as you are the bigger and stronger person carefully select weaker, smaller opponents to fight, this strategy will work pretty well. Oh wait ... isn't that called ' bullying?

Changing tracks here. Boxers are generally feared on the street. The reason is that while boxing only has four basic strikes, they're REALLY proficient at them. And this includes understanding the importance of range to deliver maximum power of each blow. Boxers are also masters at controlling the distance to constantly keep you where he can do the maximum damage(2). Fighting a boxer, even a mediocre one, is an unpleasant experience.

The reason boxers are such masters of range and power delivery is because inherent in their training is the ingraining of how -- and at what range -- to throw an 'effective' punch. In other words, they DO what I have been talking about when it comes to ingraining pathways.

Let's take 400 hours of training. That means for each kind of blow the boxer has spent 100 hours ingraining the mechanics, range and applications of that particular blow into his neural pathways. When it comes to these moves, this guy has dug the Grand Canyon into his nervous system about effectively executing these moves (3). He can effectively deliver power under a wide variety of circumstances and conditions.

And this finally brings us to why people -- who gush about how your martial arts training is going to fall apart under the evil and dreaded juggernaut of adrenaline -- are missing the point.

A Mathematical Lie
When it comes to teaching science Terry Pratchett has a term " Lies To Children." One of the better summations of the idea is:


"A “lie-to-children” is a statement which is false, but which nevertheless leads the child’s mind towards a more accurate explanation, one that the child will only be able to appreciate if it has been primed with the lie."

"Yes, you needed to understand that” they are told, “so that now we can tell you why it isn’t exactly true


The model I am going to use is exactly that. It is NOT accurate, it is NOT scientific, it is NOT <begin celestial chorus> the ultimate truth about combat < /end celestial chorus>.

It is however, a simple and easy way to get an idea across.

Let's say that that you're going to need a minimum of a hundred points to 'win' a physical conflict.

Let's also say that the average person operates around 80.

Let's also add that while adrenaline can add 20 to your strength and speed, usually what is going to happen is it will cause a subtraction of 40 -- especially if you're scared. This -40 is because of adrenaline eating away fine motor nerve control.

So for the average, untrained and inexperienced person the formula is going to look like this: 80-40 = 40 (defeat) 80 + 20 = 100. 100 - 40 = 60 (defeat) It's important to realize that with the +20 boost, the person might have succeeded. But the -40 got him.

But, what if the person is big, strong or aggressive? Well we can give that person a bonus of 40. 80 + 20 + 40 - 40= 100 (possible victory) This is without any real ingraining of neural pathways. This incidentally is what you will see most often. Someone with this number regularly defeats people ranging between 40 and 60.

And yes, these people DO pick their targets.

Now let us add in that the person has some training, even in a physically ineffective system. Give him a 20 point bonus. 80 + 20 + 40 + 20 -40 = 120 (victory)

But, here is where the average person -- who has been trained in a commercialized martial arts school -- is taking a risk. While he or she does have the +20 of some training, he or she doesn't have the + 40 of being big strong and aggressive. 80 + 20 + 20 - 40 = 80 (defeat)

That person is still going to lose to the big, strong and aggressive opponent (100). And lose even worse to big, strong, aggressive and some what trained (120) opponent.

However, someone who has ingrained effective movement into his neural pathways gets a 70 point bonus. And this doesn't have to be a big person either. 80 + 20 + 70 - 40 = 130 (victory even against someone who has 120)

This is why a smaller, well trained person can often defeat a larger, less well trained individual, especially if the smaller person doesn't try to fight the larger person's fight. (Specifically the headlong charge into your opponent)

You can keep on doing the math, but the point is the more you've focused on ingraining effective movement patterns, the better ingrained these pathways are in your body.

Not only does this mean you're going to be more effective, but it offsets the decay in physical acuity that is going to be brought on by adrenaline.

Someone who is average sized and strength, but has ingrained these pathways is sitting there drinking coffee at 150. And this is BEFORE all the adding and subtracting of adrenaline, strength and conditioning. When you start adding in extra size and strength the numbers get REAL ugly.

YES, you are going to lose physical acuity under adrenaline.

But, that is why you NEED to start out at a higher point level. And that is what you get -- not by just training -- but training in a manner that allows you to develop neural pathways for effective movement.

First, ingraining effective movement into your neural pathways offsets adrenal decay.

  • This is NOT a matter of you just 'knowing' a fighting system or being in good physical shape. I'm talking about creating a physiological change in your body's neural pathways.

Second, effective training includes countermeasures to adrenal stress.

  • Not only 'inoculation' (scenario training), but actual counters. For example, crouching jamming your weapon (or arm) against your body to stabilize it while you change clips/magazines. You do this because you're probably shaking under the adrenaline from being shot at. You ingrain this kind of stabilizing movement by doing it so often and consistently that you can do it whether under adrenal stress or knee walking drunk.

There Are NO Short-Cuts
Here's the bad news of all this though. There is NO shortcut to ingraining these neural pathways.

  • There is no ultimate fighting system that will magically make your dick grow to your knees.
  • There is no 'pill' you can take that will suddenly imbue you with this knowledge of range, structure, body movement and kinestetic awareness.
  • Pumping up your muscles and engaging in ' aliveness' drills does NOT ingrain effective movement (in fact, it usually ingrains sloppy, ineffective movement, but you don't know that because you're using muscle).
  • And just because you're sticking your fist or foot out doesn't mean you are punching or kicking effectively.

What creates these pathways is focusing on ingraining the components of effective movement into your body. And doing it until they don't just become habitual, but are automatic.

There is a word for that. It's called: Repetition.

More than that, it's not just sticking your arm out and waving it around. It IS focusing on the proper sequence of muscle tension and relaxation that constitutes effective movement. Learning how to move effectively takes TIME and PRACTICE.

This is why the marketing claims (that these systems can teach you -- in an incredibly short time -- how to overcome adrenal stress) are a lie.

It's not a lie to children, it is an outright falsehood. There are NO shortcuts to physical competence.

Oh yeah, just for the record. How long have these guys who are so good at these systems been doing them? Or: How much time does the guy spend EVERY DAY in the gym? Time and practice. That's why the 'masters' of these short cut systems have actually spent as much time training as the traditional martial artists.

But what about all the claims that this adrenaline based training works faster?

We can start with the fact that what you're learning can -- and will -- help you win your next college bar fight. Hey, it might even work in a honky-tonk bar. Run of the mill violence and conflicts ARE indeed usually won by the most aggressive fighter.

While we're at it, an unexpected and fierce resistance can also cause the average date rapist to back off as well. He's there for sex, not getting a beating.

While that may be your idea of self-defense, 'fights' are only a small spectrum of the kinds of violence that are out there. Not everything can be resolved by the same tactics you use in a fight.

The fact is what these adrenaline pumping systems encourage is exactly the strategy that 'wins' most fights. AND they instill in you the confidence to apply it with gusto. But fighting is NOT self-defense.

What these system also do is introduce you to the effects of adrenal decay through scenario training. And that is a good thing. But remember the quote at the top of the page "People mistake intensity for truth."

Many martial art styles have indeed lost the 'functioning under adrenaline' aspect of their training. Just as they have also lost the methodologies for ingraining the neural pathways for effective movement. THAT is why they fall apart under adrenal stress. Even if they come from a system that still has effective movement, they've never tried to do it under adrenal stress.

Welcome to an incredibly high failure rate.

But, remember I mentioned there are four things adrenal and scenario based instructors WON'T tell you? Here's number four ...

Once someone who has ingrained these pathways learns how to function under adrenal decay ... they are FAR, FAR more effective fighters.

And that is directly from the lips of one of the pioneers of adrenal stress training. From his lips to my ears, sitting there with beers in our hands he told me that the quantum leap people under went their second or third time through the program was so great that ... and I quote ... "I'm not sure I could take these guys."

That's because adrenaline and scenario based training ALONE do NOT ingrain these pathways. What ingrains them is all that repetition, drilling, time, effort and focusing on moving correctly.

Then, when adrenalized, those skills are there. Now you have training AND adrenaline.

But that isn't what the sales pitch will tell you.

The sales pitch of adrenaline and strength based training is simple. After the first catastrophic failure due to a combination of a) adrenaline, b) a padded attacker c) a VERY experienced attacker and c) one who know how you're going to counter attack is to sell the idea that your previous training is 'useless.' That's why you 'need' to come to this new training.

And here's the trick, after you bought that line, MAN DO YOU EVER IMPROVE!!! There's your stable data. You HAVE become a fire-eater after you shifted to this new system!

While that is true...

The question is: Is it the new training or something else that's causing the quantum jump?

What you're not seeing is what happens with your 'old' system when you've been through the scenarios a few times. What happens AFTER you've had time to learn how to adapt to the new circumstances. Again still using your 'old' system

Consider this: Even good martial arts can fall apart the first time someone is under adrenaline. BUT, come the fifth or sixth time that person undergoes adrenal stress that's where the jump occurs. It's the combination of ingrained patterns AND adrenaline make for a devastating combo!

So questions that arise are simple, but well worth asking.

  • Is it the new 'fantastic' training that suddenly made you a meat eater?
  • OR is it the fact that all the ground work was laid previously, but the adrenaline inducing scenarios were the catalyst?
  • A catalyst that couldn't have happened without the other training?

Because if it's the latter points, then the short cut systems are taking credit for someone else's work. By repeatedly putting you into the adrenalin producing scenarios, they AREN'T giving you new skills, they're just bumping up pre-existing skills to a functional level.

Which mind you IS a good thing, but they aren't the reason those skills are there in the first place.

The truth is you do need

  • Ingrained pathways
  • Experience functioning under adrenaline
  • Alternative strategies than just attacking straight ahead with great ferocity -- especially if you are smaller and less physically competent.

Is adrenal decay real? Yes. But isn't a simple issue that can be solved by studying a particular ultimate fighting system. So don't mistake advertising for knowledge.

Return to top

1) The instructors of most commercialized martial arts schools do NOT perform effective movement. But they've been doing bad movement for so long that they're good at it. They are ' patching' the move with size or speed. In other words they can make the move work because they're big or fast. That does not mean that someone without those same attributes can make it work -- especially in a violent confrontation. This is the source of so many stories of 'martial arts failing in real fights.' The problem with the RBSD/MMA crowd's judgment about 'traditional martial arts' is three-fold.
First is they categorically dismiss ALL martial arts. While it is true that commercialized and watered down 'sports based' martial arts are the overwhelming majority of what is taught, there still exist branches of martial arts that are EXTREMELY effective. Not because of physical strength or aggressiveness, but because they still have effective physics. They have NO problem delivering brutal force into an opponent.
Unfortunately, both groups refer to what they are doing as 'real' whatever. This is what lead me to the statement of "When you say 'karate' do you mean the 97% of watered down, martial sport that will get you killed in a self-defense situation or the 3% that will snap someone's spine?" I've seen both kinds, which is what cause me to stop doing blanket statements about 'martial arts.'
Second, the MMA/RBSD have fallen into the same trap. Most of what they claim as 'street effective' is, in fact the same watered down sports-style fighting they denigrate. They just execute them more aggressively. Their moves are equally lacking the components for effective physics. That means they will fail just as miserably for ANYONE who isn't fit and aggressive. Victory is not brought because of effective movement, but because of being stronger and more aggressive than a lesser trained opponent.
Third, like the commercialized martial arts they disparage, most RBSD/MMA programs do NOT spend the time repeatedly drilling and working one technique enough to ingrain the neural pathways that would allow the move to be correctly and effectively executed under adrenal stress.
But you don't see this because it's hidden under size and strength. Return to Text

2) When you're in this range he'll automatically throw that punch, when you're in this range, he'll throw another one. He knows this so well he doesn't even have to consciously think about it anymore. Where ever you're standing, he'll know what to throw. Return to Text

3) Contrast that same 400 hours spent training in mixed martial art that includes punching, kicking, grappling and elbow strikes. Still the same four punches, let's say five kicks, twenty grappling techniques (including take downs) and three elbow strikes. That's 13 and half hours on EACH technique. While that may sound like a lot, it's NOT. It especially isn't enough to ingrain the neural pathways. Think about it this way, if you did something for one long work day would that make you a master of it? This is especially true if the next day you did a different job. And the day after that ... Return to Text


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