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Registration date : 2007-06-27




This interview took place during the LFI-2 course organized by Richard Law at the SRA Training Centre in Wales, June 1994.


DEN: When discussing survival of the stressful encounter, it is essential to understand what happens to the body under intense stress. You were the pioneer of analysing the Psycho-physiological aspects of violent encounters, when you formulated your STRESSFIRE system so can you discuss these aspects?

MASS: Basically, what we did with StressFire was to recognize that certain techniques that were being taught, both for unarmed, and armed, combat, were breaking down in real situations. They would work exquisitely well in the dojo; they would work superbly on the range, and they would fail against a determined aggressor in the street. The bottom line was there was a missing factor in the training. What had been absent on the training range, absent on the floor of the dojo, was fear. The fear that I'm going to die, or be mangled for the rest of my life. So a lot of this keys in to fear control and understanding what fear does.

Perhaps you would explain the mechanisms of fear control?

Sure, fear triggers in the human mind and body the intense body alarm reaction; the precipitous increase in pulse, blood pressure, respiration, and, what the layman calls collectively, the adrenalin dump. This occurs much more intensely in the highest form of body alarm reaction, the fight or flight reflex. We know the adrenalin dump is going to give us great strength, literally superhuman strength. We know it will make us virtually impervious to pain. We also know it is going to make us grossly clumsier....and this tells us whatever the form of the technique, armed, or, unarmed, we need to go toward more simple gross motor skills that will feed off strength, and go away from extremely complex and flowery manoeuvres that will break down because they are so co-ordination intensive in a moment when co-ordination goes out of the window.

In martial arts terms can you give use an example of a gross motor skill and a fine motor skill?

Sure, a simple wrist lock in Aikido, for example, strikes me as a gross motor skill. Trying to do a multiple combination of techniques, forward, back etc. has got to be a complex motor skill and will probably fail. We don't need to break all the bones in the opponent's body and throw him across the room upside down, it suffices for use to destabilise his balance, take him off his feet, break a limb if necessary, and render him incapable of continuing the assault. We don't need to use a jump spinning back kick, when a low front kick, or even a reverse punch will do the job for us

Complex, or....
… direct]

.We've all seen techniques which, in a no-contact bout win the most points, used in a full-contact bout go completely out the window and fail, and the guy who bored in straight and simple would win over the more flowery "master".

Staying with fear control, because I know you have a book THE DARK PLACE: CONCEPTS IN FEAR CONTROL planned as a future project. We all feel fear when threatened. Can we eliminate fear, should we even try to eliminate fear?

We should never eliminate fear, we just need to control it. To eliminate fear would be like eliminating pain; sounds like a great idea until you realise both are warning systems that we critically need to survive. It sounds great never to have pain, but probably within a week we'll be cooking dinner, smell something burning, look down and realise we've fried our hand because nothing told us to get our hand from the stove.
If you are truly fearless you are truly doomed, because you will go where angels fear to tread, you will take on more than you can handle, and inevitably you will be destroyed. In our country the equivalent to your Victoria Cross would be our Congressional Medal of Honour. If you look at the history of that great medal of valour probably 70% received it posthumously. They were awarded it for great courage....if great courage equals 70% likelihood of death I'm sure it's a very noble thing but it has nothing to do with what I teach, which is survival. Courage is saying "this thing will destroy me, but I will do it anyway out of a sense of duty".

[The chaos of battle]

I admire that, but I cannot teach that, because I teach survival, and by definition they will not survive.
What we can teach, what is within all our reaches, is fear control. First you have to quantify what your dealing with. Ask the student what he is afraid of. If he is afraid of pain we'll give him pain. We'll teach him that pain is transitory, pain can be coped with, but defeat is forever.
Are you afraid of being crippled? If so, we'll show you blind Karateka, we'll show you one armed and one legged Judoka. We'll show you that the body can still adapt, and that these men in many ways emerged stronger than they entered from the conflict that left them physically handicapped or challenged.


Are you afraid of humiliation? You'll find that humiliation is often a greater motivator than pain. Many of those men who won those great medals did so for the reason that they could not bear the shame of being seen as cowards among their peers.
Ask yourself first, what is it you are afraid of? Coalesce and quantify the fear. Once we've coalesced it, it's no longer a floating anxiety instead it's a quantified fear and can be dealt with. Whatever that fear is, humiliation, pain, death we can cope with it, because whatever we fear is going to come under one, or both, of two criteria: we fear what we don't understand, we fear what we cannot control.

Okay Mass, having quantified the fear how do we control it?

First, we understand what it is we are facing...what is the pattern of does a punch, for example, begin. The punch that we had once feared without knowing really why we feared it. Can we see it coming in time to block it, and if so now we go to the controlling mechanism, we learn to block that punch. We learn to take off his feet and put flat on his back the man we once feared.
If we feared being shot we learn to recognize the cues, to be quick enough with our gun that we can neutralize the attack, and destroy the thing behind the gun before the trigger can be pulled on us or those we protect.


Because now we understand where it comes from, now we have the mechanism to control it. We still have the fear of it, and that fear is a reasonable fear, but it's no longer a debilitating fear, it's a fear that we can control. The fear is going to be what gives us that superhuman strength we mentioned earlier. Absent fear there would never be flight or fight reflex, and absent flight or fight reflex we would be without that superhuman strength, superhuman speed and imperviousness to pain.

So, essentially, we use the fear?

Exactly. We don't throw it away, we channel it. We turn the fear first to anger, which is a normal response, let that flow, let that happen. A great many martial artists are already teaching that, but they have to go one step beyond. Their students, like mine, will be judged in court for their actions, and in all civilised nations the law says "where anger comes, in reason goes out". And only absent reasonable fear, physical force against another is not warranted. In a state of anger, or of rage, reasonable fear, by definition cannot have been "reasonable". So we channel the fear into anger, and then immediately turn the anger into a fuel and channel that into the programmed dispassionate response that the training has created.
We can shake afterwards, we can tremble afterwards, we can go to the pub afterwards. Later is time for the fear, later it's time for the anger to express itself. Now everything has been channelled correctly, and we've done our job as well as it can be done under the circumstances.

And this has to be done, obviously, during training?

It's go to be done beforehand, there will never be time to do it all during the fight. The fight is far more complex than it seems. In the dojo, on the street, with guns, with batons, or, empty hands. We have to have determined beforehand what our responses will be; and given stimulus "A" I will perform response "A". And once that decision has been made, at least you are ahead of time, like a General plotting his battle before he enters the battleground, instead of just saying "Oh Hell, let's just go to the Fields of Philippi and see what happens". Then we'll prevail, then we'll be able to study why we prevailed, and go on from there.

The martial arts, and firearms training, both have sporting, as well as street aspects. Are there any lessons that we can learn from the sporting arena, that help with the mental preparation for the street?

Yes, a great many. First the confidence in the skill learned in the sporting arena, in competition as opposed to observation. We're seeing your black-belt champion, not the man who might have gone to one of the "Macdonalds of martial arts" franchise dojos in the United States, and gotten his worthless black-belt in two years without ever hitting a man or being hit. Rather, the person who has been in inter-disciplinary contact fighting tends to dominate in street fights as well. He probably has more experience than your average street fighter. He certainly has more skill, and he bloody well knows he has more skill. He's not afraid of being hit. And the street fighter, who usually tends to pick on an easy victim suddenly experiences acute failure of the "victim selection process" which may well become his cause of death.

THE MASSAD AYOOB INTERVIEW: FEAR CONTROL Knife%20escape%20front-2_zpss2mioql2
[Training on our Valkyrie Program]

We've found in the United States that the police officer who qualified better than the other on the police qualification/testing range might not necessarily have a vastly greater survival quotient than an officer who passed at an average level. The officers, and the citizens, who were competitive combat shooters, once involved in a gunfight, tended overwhelmingly to dominate that gunfight. Again, they were used to being under pressure with a gun in their hand. The Karateka who had fought competition, rather than just going through the forms, was accustomed to being under pressure as he performed these techniques. Pressure had become the norm, and instead of breaking under pressure now he was in his element, and by definition, dominated the other man.

Mass, you have debriefed countless survivors of lethal encounters. Are there any specific mental aspects that you regard as absolutely fundamental?

Yes, you never want to get to the stage where you want to die, or, you don't care if you die...but you must be ready to die. So many men have frozen because the first time they faced death, their first "intimation of mortality" just froze them. They had not really coped with it, it has to be coped with beforehand.
Dr Walter Gorski, the great police psychologist in the United States, has an exercise with his officers that I call "The Ghost of Christmas Future". He says to pretend that last night you died, today you are at the funeral. What are they saying? Are your children saying "I never really got to know him", are your parents saying "he never really seemed to be a good son"? Because all those things are going to be in your mind at the moment of the crisis "My God I can't leave now, I haven't told my Dad how much he's meant to me....I can't leave now my children won't be taken care of", and while your mind is occupied with all that, your mind is incapable with dealing with the solution, and now your defeat is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Deal with it now, and if you know at that moment of crisis "I hate to leave, but my children are provided for, because I've put that in place....I hate to leave with all I have left to do, but I've put it in place that others that I trust, that I've personally supervised will pick up where I've left off and carry the torch...I've told everyone I need to tell that I love them and they bloody well know it". Now your mind is free to deal with the problem at hand, you will probably deal with it, and you will probably never have to leave.

That sounds like the Samurai concept of using Zen principles to face death. They didn't welcome death, but because they resolved their death they didn't fear it, and so, paradoxically, they had more chance of staying alive.


You can be pragmatic, which is good, without being a fatalist, which is bad. Being a fatalist, being ready to die will eventually become "Gee, I'm ready now". Be prepared. Instead of being ready to die, be prepared to die. Then you probably won't have to until that final moment when you do it from old age, or, in your case or mine, Dennis from dissipation!

I certainly hope so! You have given us great insights into preparing for the thought of death, what about the mindset needed to cope with severe injury during a confrontation?

Sure, you and I have both seen men fall to the ground quivering, vomiting, or, unconscious from blows that never should have harmed them. We've seen cases of men who've collapsed screaming from a gunshot that missed them. Because they've been programmed that if this ever happens, whether it's the blow, or, the shot, I will fall down and die

Does some of this programming come from the influence of Television?

It comes from watching television, from the movies. We both live in a society where the entertainment media is not only increasingly violent, but increasingly unrealistic, if fact you could probably do a series of articles on that alone.
The person who has the determination," I will prevail, I will survive," will sustain a literally lethal wound and keep going. The young police officer Stacie Lim, in Los Angeles, shot through the heart with a .357 magnum, the only cardiac gunshot wound survivor of a cartridge of that magnitude on record. A woman 5'5" tall she described the impact of the shot as being hit with a baseball bat and a white-hot javelin being run through her chest! The size of the exit wound on her back was the size of a baseball.

[LAPD officer Stacie Lim; a true warrior]

She didn't fall down...she returned fire. She shot her opponent, charged towards him hitting him four times out of four shots fired, and killing him at the scene before she collapsed. Eight months later she returned to full duty with the Los Angeles Police Department. Contrast that with men who have taken a punch in the mouth and have gone to the ground whimpering "don't hit me again"
Don't let them win. Make up your mind that you are not going to die and let these scumbags get your wallet and the keys to your house, where they can prey on your wife and children. Instead, determine to fight, win and stay alive to go home to your loved ones.

Mass, your training has allowed countless good guys to do just that. Many thanks for passing on so much hard won information to our readers

To train with Mass, contact him at The Massad Ayoob Group

Check Six,
Dennis Martin
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