This was the first of a series of articles originally published by the now defunct online magazine MMA Unlimited. Its part of a series of articles, and while my knowledge in these areas has vastly increased, it hopefully makes interesting reading. Perhaps I'll do appropriate updates later in my blogging.
I was also playing with my writing style, so perhaps you can take note of the language patterns and the intent behind them too.
The Limbic System and Fighting – An Introduction
Have you ever felt nerves and wondered where they come from, the reasons why those feelings are there and what they are? Ever wondered why some people just seem to fold under pressure during a fight? Wouldn’t it be great to know what your opponent is going to do, when, how and with what? And how you can play your opponent so you can know when and how to attack safely and effectively without risk?
If you have never studied the limbic system this series of articles will be a journey of discovery in how you can read your opponent accurately, and induce the exact behaviour in your opponent you desire.
Now, I’m not going to give you all the answers – I’m going to leave that for my seminars and future books. But what I am going to do is give you all the base information you need to know where to look to study further and develop your skills. And I will be giving lots of practical advice as to how you can apply this knowledge to becoming the best fighter you possibly can be – and you want to be that, don’t you?
So what we are starting with is the ‘science’ behind the practice. If you don’t understand the ‘why’ you won’t understand how to apply the ‘what’. So bear with me and as you read through the following imagine yourself applying your opponent’s natural reactions to your advantage – literally manipulating them how you want – and without them being able to do anything about it.
My knowledge in this field has come from my studies for NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and hypnotherapy. As I moved further into the business consultancy world, and in coaching and personal change work, I needed to be able to ‘read’ people better through non-verbal methods – I needed to know exactly what they were really saying through their physiology. Most important was to know when they were comfortable, and when stress was being induced. And this led to my extensive studies of the limbic system.
As you read on you will start to envisage ways that you can use this knowledge not just within fighting, but to every other area of your life where you communicate with yourself or others. That’s your entire life then! Whether working in security or police work, daily pressures of work or life, coaching and mentoring, or just having a row with your significant other, understanding how and why bodies react to stress is the first stage of realisation. So imagine the control you can achieve on yourself and others when you understand the stress reaction, recognise the signs of stress, and know how to induce and control it.
I’ve been ‘experimenting’ with my methods on my sparring partners, some of whom are professionals to international levels, and have been enjoying dramatic results! When applying the methods I can hit without being hit. I control the fight totally, much to the frustration of my partners. And I also have been working with them to teach them the methods, so they can recognise them, and know the ‘antidotes’ to stop them falling for my simple manipulations.
From the above you may think that my claims are far-fetched? But let me assure you that you, yourself, can experience these same results. All you need to do is to understand and practice. Remove any limiting beliefs; this is the application of pure science. And it is all based around how your body handles stress.
All of your behaviour, whether at a conscious or unconscious level, is controlled by your brain, with the exception of some minor involuntary muscle reflexes. The human brain has developed throughout evolution and has been described as having three sections:
Reptilian Brain (Stem Brain)
This handles the body’s basic maintenance systems such as the cardiovascular, digestion, and reproduction.
Mammalian Brain (Limbic Brain)
This is the limbic system and includes emotion and coordination of movement, together with the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS – more on this later!). It is a part of the brain that reacts reflexively and instantaneously, without thought, to the world around us. It is responsible for our survival. The actions of the limbic brain are hardwired into our nervous system and are therefore very difficult to disguise or eliminate. This is the part of the brain we will use to our advantage.
Primate Brain (Human Neocortex Brain)
This is the most recent phase of evolution and is the cerebral cortex, responsible for solving problems, language use and development, memories, and creativity.
In this article we are concerned about the mammalian brain, the limbic system, and the effect on the body that it produces under high stress. When a threat is perceived the stress levels rise in the body and hormone production increases with the onset of the cortisol cycle. Here the adrenal glands start to respond to the stress by producing cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline, preparing us for the GAS response. And this can all take place in milliseconds. And it is the body, not the mind that decides what systems are needed for the perceived threat.
There is a cycle that takes place in the mind during this process. The sympathetic response creates the agitation in the body preparing it for the GAS response. The parasympathetic response calms the body back down again. The sympathetic system switches the stress response on, and the parasympathetic system switches it off again.
When the brain detects a perceived threat the limbic system fires into life. Almost instantaneously the body reacts, unconsciously.
The heart is elevated and blood is redirected to where it is needed. Blood is moved away from the face and skin and into the muscles. This results in your skin feeling cooler yet your core temperature rises significantly. Blood is redirected away from the digestive and reproductive systems, and this leaves you with a shortage of blood and fluid for the stomach, resulting in the butterflies in your stomach, often accompanied by a sick feeling. Blood is moved to the reptilian and mammalian brains and away from the primate brain. This enables your primary survival systems to operate at the expense of conscious thought and memory, regressing you to a primitive state and allowing your emotions to come forward.
The liver rapidly produces glucose to provide energy for the GAS response. At the same time the respiration is increased to fuel the muscles with oxygen. This makes the heart beat faster to push the glucose and oxygen around the body to where it is needed. This causes your heart and lungs to race. The additional energy in your body can cause your legs, and sometimes your arms, to shake.
Your primitive brain responds to the threat by seeking more information as to the nature of the threat. Your focus narrows and your hearing becomes directed to the target.
The waste system of the body is switched off, meaning that it is hard to contract the bladder. I’ve been drug tested after fights many times, and find that the stress of fighting results in me not being able to pee for ages! Sometimes it’s been up to four hours after my fight before I could produce enough urine to fill a bottle.
Once the threat has passed the parasympathetic system produces other hormones to bring your body and mind back to a normal state of relaxation. The blood is redirected, and the waste from the cortisol cycle starts to be processed through your body. Your body and mind revert back from a primitive state to where it is under more normal circumstances.
The effects of the adrenaline and stress hormones coursing through your body take some time to pass, as the hormones and all the waste materials need to be cleared. Your kidneys work overtime and your bladder often fills quickly. Your mouth may be dry. Your hands, legs and arms may shake as a result of the increased glucose and adrenaline.
Now, let’s get back to the General Adaptation Syndrome, or the GAS. This has developed to save us from threat and has been essential for our survival, and we have retained our animal heritage in this respect. This reaction is also known as the ‘freeze, flight and fight’ response.
When we have a perceived threat and we enter a state of high stress our limbic system fires into action and when the stress reaches a critical point we respond with the freeze, flight and fight response. It is important to realise that we react, always, in that order. When the GAS is invoked freeze will always come before flight, and flight will always come before fight. It can occur instantaneously and the transitions between can often be very fast.
So the first strategy for our survival in limbic response is the freeze reaction. Movement attracts attention, so we developed the ability to freeze under a perceived threat. We go still, often accompanied by a cowering or an attempt to make ourselves smaller, reducing our exposure. The freeze response allows us to avoid detection by dangerous predators or in a dangerous situation and gives the ability for an assessment of the threat situation, allowing us to take the best course of action. This is our first line of defence. In fighting it happens instantaneously, and in daily life it happens with much more subtlety.
As the stress levels increase, or continue, the limbic system enters the second strategy for our survival which is the flight response. This is used to escape the threat and to get away. We instinctively distance ourselves from danger.
The final strategy in our limbic defence is the fight response. This is the aggression, the fighting back, the last resort when freeze and flight have failed. This is where fear can turn into rage, and in fighting the response is to hit back.
One of the most important things to remember about the GAS response is that if stress is induced to the right levels, every person, and I mean every person, will respond in this way. It is part of our genetic make-up. We can’t do anything about it. And with this knowledge can come the application to our advantage, our manipulation, to achieve our desired outcomes.
Now we have covered the bare basics you need in order to use this knowledge to your advantage. Of course, to use this to the best of your advantage requires further reading and study, and hopefully you will do this. But for the purposes of these articles you have the information you need.
In the next article I will look at nerves in the context of fight sports, what they are, what produces them, and most importantly – how you can bring them under control and use them to get you in the best mental and physical fight state.