Knife Defence Highlight #8
Note: I wrote an entire book on knife defence called “Watch Out For The Pointy End” so these are snippets and highlights only.
#8 Operant Conditioning
We act out of habit for much of our day. Habits are responses to cues. In one famous study a man who had a brain injury could not tell the researchers where in his house the bathroom was but when he needed to use it he automatically got up and walked directly to it.
In self defence we want tactical habits. One tactical habit that is known to anyone who drives is where something flies out in front of your car and you response (without thinking it over) by swerving around the object.
The cue was the object flying in front of your car and your tactical habit was to move the steering wheel so that you avoided the object.
But how did you get that habit?
Previously something may have appeared in front of your car and not swerving meant hitting it (negative reinforcement) while swerving around it meant you did not hit it (positive reinforcement.)
There is an added factor of the adrenaline dump when something flies in front of us while we are driving that enhances the incorporation of a successful habit into what we want to recall in a similar situation.
In training to respond to a knifing attempt you must have built in responses because they are fast, and they are brutal. You need to be doing something productive immediately.
How do you train this?
The first thing you need to do is determine what the cue for you to respond will be. There can be no habit without the cue to kick it off.
In my book I look at the cue being the first contact by the bad guy. Hopefully the first contact will be them grabbing you so they can stab you; therefore, you need your response to be off that first grab.
Unfortunately, the first contact may also be the first stab and you need to train that as cue as well – any contact be it a grab or a stab needs to kick in your response.
I’d love to be able to train everyone, including myself, to have Spiderman’s’ warning sense but the reality it that the first sign you may have to know you are been knifed is the actual knifing.
Now, here is where I feel some get distracted. Because there is a likelihood that we may get taken unaware and stabbed and there is nothing we can do about that does not mean we give up. We need to response to try and prevent multiple stabs. The negative approach that THERE IS NO WAY TO STOP THIS ASSAULT may be factually correct but preventing the follow up assault may be something we can do something about.
Yes, if you are stabbed in the heart and die then it was a bad day but if the first stab didn’t and wouldn’t kill you why give up and not train to prevent the next stabs.
You need to set up drills to try and fake a real assault, with real intensity and real intent to stab and then work to move off the cue and work to have a simple similar response to that cue that gives you a chance to survive a really bad situation.
When you operantly condition you are no longer in the learning zone where thinking, analysing, discussion and teaching takes place. Look back to the start of this post. There is the cue and you respond. If it went well – super recall that. If it went badly – redo until it goes better. No teaching. It went well or it did not.
A few points:
1. No teaching in Operant Conditioning drills – the experience is the teacher (if there is no success return to the Learning Zone.)
2. Never end on a failure. Yes, go back to the Teaching Zone but return to the Conditioning Zone and call it a day only after success.
3. We all tend to mull over and focus on our failures far more than our successes. This is wrong for operant conditioning. If you are thinking and focusing on your failures, then that is what you are driving into your brain – how you failed. I’m not saying you don’t think during the drills about your failures but afterwards focus on what went right. Think those experiences over. Focus on those experiences and what made them successes. Drive into your brain what worked, not what didn’t.
In my opinion no self defence training is complete without operant conditioning, so figure out your cues, figure out your response and then work them.