Thursday, October 13, 2011

Impact, Pressure and Stress: The Force Triangle

In my experience as a self-protection and combat sport coach I have noticed that there is one major, multi-level quality that, when well developed, greatly enhances our chances of survival in the street and our performance in sparring or fighting; It's our ability to Cope.  Specifically our capacity to cope with Impact, Pressure, and Stress, what I call the Force Triangle. This skill also translates directly to our daily life in dealing with unexpected events and family and work relationships.

How We Cope

Cope is a word often misused and underestimated in its power. The dictionary defines it as follows:
a : to maintain a contest or combat usually on even terms or with success
b : to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties

There is power in this definition so let's break it down. In the Functional Edge System and Mixed Martial Edge Core Principles, coping is an essential skill.

The first relationship between the definition and our philosophy is that it refers and applies to both "a contest or combat". In our context, contest refers to sport and combat to self protection; but both in essence mean a form of struggle for superiority.
The next important point is "on even terms or with success". This shows that, when we "cope" our goal is , at a minimum, to hold the enemy at bay; but also it gives us the room to succeed and win. Another cool point is that if we are training to cope, it means we do not cave in, give up, or fail!

The second part of the definition," to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties", implies Action! We are not merely passively waiting for the attack or crisis to be over, we are physically, psychologically, and emotionally moving to improve our circumstances. In summation coping is intimately related to the Functional Edge System's Survival Attitude.

What We Cope With

In daily life, combat or contest there are three major types of forces we must learn to deal with and overcome. They are Impact, Pressure and Stress. They rarely ever show up individually, rather, these three forces act together in different levels of intensity during the aforementioned daily life and conflict hence in the Functional Edge we call this the Force Triangle. Let's examine each part of the Triangle separately first and then see how they work in concert. Later we will see how to train to cope with the Force Triangle.

Sudden Impact

 Again let's look at what the dictionary says about Impact and build a relationship to our events.
a : an impinging or striking especially of one body against another

This is nearly self explanatory this addresses the collision between you and your opponent's body. More importantly it points toward acute rather than chronic trauma. In combat or sport this could be represented by punches, kicks or strikes of any kind. In daily life the sudden loss of a loved one or a surprise confrontation with a coworker can represent impact.

b : a forceful contact or onset

Here we see that contact that may result in damage is implied. Simply stated impact happens fast, is hard, can hurt, and may cause dysfunction.

Under Pressure

The definition of Pressure also gives some clues to its effect on us.
a: the application of force to something by something else in direct contact with it
Here we begin to see that Pressure is exerted on us by something that we already have contact with. In the Functional Edge and Behavioral Self Protection, pressure comes in the form of bear hugs, headlocks, chokes and grabs.

b : the action of a force against an opposing force

Pressure may not cause immediate damage or pain but over a period time (in a street fight this may be mere seconds) may affect our balance and our ability to respond. Pressure is chronic. When unchecked, pressure may cause dysfunction.
In daily life pressure comes from delayed deadlines, or horrible bosses and co-workers.

Let Me Stress This

In the Functional Edge System we refer to Stress as the Physiological, Psychological, and Emotional result of Impact and Pressure on our Bodymind System.
a: a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation

Not having the ability to cope with the stress presented by an immediate self-protection need, an MMA match or sparring session, or a workplace confrontation can lead to rapid onset as well as  "slow burn" problems. In a fight response time may be delayed leading to us receiving more Impact and Pressure and starting a steep downward performance spiral. It may also cause doubt, hesitation, or even worse, failure to act; a sure recipe for disaster.

b : a state resulting from a stress; especially : one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium

Stress may also put us off-balance or in bad positions making it more difficult to survive, or deal appropriately with certain situations. Outside of the combat arena Stress, may cause us to respond in a harsh, volatile manner that causes rifts in interpersonal relationships and negates our ability to reach resolutions.

Resistance To What Is S.A.I.D.

After the breakdown above it seems that the Force Triangle is a formidable enemy with no weaknesses, but the good news is that the Functional Edge System provides a double edged sword to fight this seemingly unbeatable foe. This sword has been around for a long time but is often neglected or misused. As coaches we must go into our weapons locker and clean, polish and subsequently wield the sword of Progressive Resistance and Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand or S.A.I.D. for short.

As coaches its important to remember that our students have different physical compositions, psychological make ups, and emotional baggage. What seems like no resistance to the former high school athlete, may be insurmountable strain on the kid that was consistently beat up in school by bullies and then at home by dad. The amount of resistance is determined by the students ability to cope. The surest measure of Coping as defined earlier is SUCCESS.
If the student is consistently succeeding in the problem presented, it is time to increase resistance.

The other side of our blade is Specific Adaptation. This means that if we are preparing our students to Cope with the Impact, Pressure, and Stress of an assault; the resistance( Imposed Demand) we present must replicate that assault. In example, if I am training somebody for self protection, Impact comes in the form of predatory striking patterns such as a grab with the non-dominant hand and repeated dominant arm looping punches to the head. Pressure can come from the violent motion of the grabbing arm or perhaps a subsequent headlock. Stress comes from the ferocity of the attack and the amount of surprise involved.

When we intelligently apply the above principles, we take our students through a "Hero's Journey" of sorts. They are presented with challenges, obstacles and problems which make them rise to the occasion. As they progress we can even put them in bad positions which represent a "dark night of the soul" and watch them emerge victorious on the other side. At every training session our students perform small acts of heroism that will enhance their ability to survive dangerous encounters in the street, the ring or cage, and daily life.

Tony Torres

Copyright Tony Torres

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