Fear! The Fight or Flight Response

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
11 Apr 2009


Have you ever been in a situation where you knew you either had to fight or give up something? Most you you that have learned a martial art have been there – maybe the reason for learning. I had one experience when I was in the 7th grade walking to the store on a nice summer night.



I was approached by a couple of kids asking me where I was going. I told them I was going to the store. They asked if I had any money and I said no! They approached menacingly and I ran the rest of the way to the store! I will finish this story as well as talk about what fear is and how to deal with it. As you know if you are frozen with fear – you will not be much good in a fight. I found this picture entitled, “Fear of the dark” here.


Fear! Fight or Flight



If you have never been in a fight before it can be a frightening experience because you probably do not know what you are doing. You might not think you can win because the other guy is bigger or meaner looking. You probably feel butterflies in your stomach and have a very rapid heart beat. You are experiencing an adrenaline rush that your body is providing to give you a much needed edge so you can either fight or run.


What if you are an experienced fighter in a martial arts school but you have never been in a fight? Sorry – you will still experience the butterflies because you have not experienced fighting and winning before on the street. The one exception I can think of is in the case of full contact training of some type… you will already know what it is like to take and deliver powerful kicks and punches… a real street fight will probably be no big deal to you.


Fear is a good thing because it allows your body to instantly supercharge and get ready to react! How can you get used to feeling fear? By repetition such as taking the hard fights in the karate school… learning how to deal with adversity from different opponents. If you take karate lessons but do not push yourself as you attain rank – you might end up becoming a kata (forms) champion (a noble endeavor) but be lacking in your fighting skills. That would be bad. Here is one video of a rapid onset self-defense situation where the guy had to channel his adrenaline into a physical response!



The guy walking down the stairs had no time to formulate a plan or get away!


Did you notice that the victim was watching the mugger? Even though this turned bad fast, the victim was able to use his fear and turn it into an effective counter attack! That is often times the way real fights go down. You find yourself in it before you really have a chance to think… all you can do many times is count on your training to pull you through.


What happens if you don’t react? NO – it will not go away. Waiting for the mugger to have a heart attack or be struck dead by the odd bolt of lighting is not a great strategy. If you do not fight or run, you will be a victim! Whatever the mugger, rapist, murderer wants to do with you – he will! Unfortunately some people cannot face their fears and they end up allowing the bad guys to win.


How can you learn to fight back or run? I think you need to take a martial art of some kind and/or carry pepper spray, a stun gun or whatever other legal weapons are allowed in your area. But the most important thing you should do is practice! Yes if you decide to take karate – get out on the mat and practice fighting when it is offered to you. You need to have the experience of what it feels like to be in a altercation. Here is a short video of a self-defense training school that has a bare bones method of getting women and girls some training.



I have always said if you end up getting in a fight, it will be when you are sick, injured, drunk or otherwise incapacited so your training had better pull you through! Now for what happened to me when the muggers caught with me in the store? I thought I was safe because the store manager came up beside us and was observing. The smaller kid tried to punch me but I pushed him away but then the bigger guy came at me and I froze!


What do you thing happened? Because I did not have confidence in my fighting ability at the time – I did not engage the bigger guy that I reasoned could probably take me… so guess what? He punched me in the eye  and knocked me down. Then the guys ran off, leaving me to try and figure out what when wrong with my plan.


I figured I would be safe if I ran into a store and when the manager came up – I thought he would protect me and chase the gang members out of the store. I depended on everyone else but me! My flight response worked well but not my ability to fight back! That night forever changed me because I never wanted to experience that sickening feeling again that I was in over my head… the feeling of impending doom!


Anyway I learned karate and have never looked back in my life. I have fought and won sport karate tournamentsand took a job as a bouncer at a tough bar for a couple of years. I’ve been in more real street fights then most people and I know what I can do with karate. The good think I discovered is most bullies cannot fight their way out of a paper bag. The real fighters generally are not the trouble makers in life.


To be sure there are some bad men that are also great fighters but I found that not to be the rule. What I am trying to say if you take karate, judo, boxing, akido, muy thai, or jui jitsu, you will be more prepared that most bad men or women (I did not want to exclude the ladies)! If you take even a short term self-defense class – be sure to practice on family and friends so you can feel confident that you can apply the methods in the real thing!


So remember to use the fear – fight or flight response to your advantage! You can successfully defend yourself with some training and practice!


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3 Responses to “Fear! The Fight or Flight Response”

  1. TheTraveller001 Says:

    Very well put together. Getting proper training and putting in the “practice time” are key factors.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks the traveller001. Never enough said about being prepared.

  3. “Fear! The Fight or Flight Response,” by John W. Zimmer Says:

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