Chapter Three – Fear Control — The Definitive Self-Protection Handbook

Dead or Alive by Geoff Thompson

Copyright © Geoff Thompson 2004
The right of Geoff Thompson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, nor transmitted, nor translated into a machine language, without the written permission of the publisher.

'When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result isinsubordination.'
Sun Tzu

'Courage is grace under pressure.'
Ernest Hemingway

'This is where it's at, this moment before engagement when the adrenalin, the fear, reached its pinnacle and felt like hell, gathering in the cavity of your chest like a burning fire ball of negative emotion that makes you feel like breaking down in a crying quivering heap of jellied shit. It rises from your chest to your nasal passage like toxic gas, gnawing away at you like caustic, tempting you to crack, daring you to fight, questioning your ability to "handle it" telling you to flee, to run, to hide, to GO! GO! GO!'
Watch My Back

This, from my book Watch My Back, talks about the fear of a real confrontation and the negative effects of the same. If I, as a veteran of hundreds of fights, struggle with adrenalin, it goes without saying that people with less experience and knowledge of conflict will also struggle. As formerly stated, you cope with fear through the knowledge that it can be a help rather than a hindrance. Mental strength is also a pivotal element of fear control.

Many people practise technique after technique in their bid for physical competence. They become bag punchers and mirror watchers, convinced in their own minds that they can handle themselves. Whilst developing power on the bag and building a sinewy, beach physique in the gym, they ignore the most important factor: the mental physique. This is, of course, not to detract from the physical training formerly mentioned. It is very important, though not nearly as important though as the old grey matter. A strong mind can and will take you, if properly trained, safely through the adrenalin build-up, stress and pain of a physical encounter and the ever-present aftermath that can crush you flatter than a shadow.

Understanding the mechanics of adrenalin greatly lessens its impetus. The shock factor of adrenalin can be scarifying if you do not understand or expect it, rendering many frozen in the face of an ensuing attack.

This unpleasant, strong emotion often causes terror immobilisation, or the freeze syndrome, in the recipient. The key with adrenalin is don't panic. Easy to say, I hear you cry, and you are right; it's not easy, it's very hard. That's why so many people, trained and untrained, baulk at the obstacle of a real fight. The adrenal syndrome needs to be understood and addressed so that it can be harnessed.

Adrenalin is a little like fuel injection in a sports car: action, fight/flight, the metaphoric accelerator.

The car: by engaging the clutch and pressing the accelerator you will utilise the turbo, and the car will move at speed. However, if you sit at the traffic lights pressing your foot on the accelerator without engaging the clutch, there will be no movement and fuel will be wasted.

The human: by engaging action (fight/flight) you will utilise the turbo drive of adrenalin and trigger spontaneous response.

However, if action is not engaged and panic sets in, energy will be utilised negatively.

Body Accelerators


Your positive body accelerator is action. When you act, adrenalin is utilised positively, adding power, speed and anaesthesia to your response.


Your negative body accelerator is panic, caused when the reasoning process mistakes adrenalin for fear. Adrenalin is utilised negatively, leaving the recipient drained of energy and often frozen in the face of ensuing danger.

If you find yourself in a confrontational situation and do not or cannot act, the adrenalin may be gobbled up by increasing panic, this dissipating your turbo blast needlessly and fruitlessly. Like the car, you will be pressing the accelerator without engaging the clutch. Nothing is gained and all is lost.

In the gap between confrontation and action, adrenalin can be controlled with deep breathing and knowledge, and the look of fear hidden from your assailant with the duck syndrome (detailed later).

In primeval days when man (and woman) had to fight to live and eat, the feeling of fear was an everyday occurrence that would have felt as natural and as common as eating or drinking. In today's society, which is very tame by comparison, adrenalin is no longer needed in our everyday lives. In fact some people go through a whole lifetime without ever experiencing it fully. So when a situation arises that causes the adrenalin to flow, we are so unfamiliar with it that we naturally neither welcome, use nor like it. We panic. Psychologists call it the fight or flight syndrome. In moments of danger the body injects chemicals (adrenalin being the best known of these) into the blood stream, preparing the body for violent action, making it stronger, faster and sometimes anaesthetised to pain. The more dangerous the situation the bigger the build-up and adrenalin release. The bigger the release the better you perform (run, fight), but by the same count, the bigger the build-up and release, the harder it is to control.

However, fear has many disguises that also need to be understood. I have formulated what I call the Adrenal Map to help people better understand the disguises of fear.

It is my belief that we as human beings are far better designed for flight than we are for fight, this is why we feel the innate urge to run away from confrontations rather than meet them. Against many of our early enemies who only attacked prey that moved, the freeze syndrome would also have been a good thing. Unfortunately with today's enemy it is not such a good thing because if we do not move we get attacked more readily. The instinct however is still there and has to be overridden if survival is our aim.

In self-defence terms the innate urge to run is a good instinct. I always recommend flight above fight but the grey areas in this syndrome seem to be in abundance and confusion is compounded by a multifaceted society where confrontation, more often than not, demands neither fight nor flight. A run in with the boss, an exam or arguments with the neighbours all bring on the adrenal response but none demand a fight or a flight so, understandably, instinct has become a redundant commodity. We also have a moral dilemma in a paradoxical society where both fight and flight can be simultaneously unacceptable. You fight too often and you are seen by your peers as a thug; you run away from confrontation and you are seen as a coward: a man (or woman) who does not face up to his problems is looked upon as weak. In a way the adrenal syndrome has become antiquated and as a consequence instinct cupboarded; the natural bodily reactions associated with fight or flight, are so misunderstood that they are now seen as signs of cowardice.

The brain, it would seem, cannot distinguish between differing forms of confrontation and so releases adrenalin, carte blanche, for most forms of confrontation, even where life is not threatened. Actors freeze (stage fright) on stage because of adrenalin and over anticipation, kids go blank on exam day because blood is drawn away from non-vital areas of the body (those seen as non vital in fight or flight), one of these being the brain. What we have to do is learn to recognise when instinct is right and when it is wrong. It is right to run away from a violent encounter – that's survival – it might not be right to run away from intangible confrontation because problems have to be met and overcome.

In a long-winded way, what I am trying to say is, don't feel like a coward because your instinct tells you to run away from a violent encounter. That is good instinct, but, if it is impossible to run and you are forced to fight then use the adrenalin to aid you in fight. It takes a strong will to overcome the natural instinct to run away; that can be developed by correct training in self-protection.

If you misread the signs and allow confusion to enter the equation you may well find yourself frozen with fear. Knowledge dispels fear – read on.

Some of the following may seem a little peripheral for self-protection, but there is of course a natural overflow into things in our everyday life so either way the knowledge should help.

The Adrenal Map


The fear of fear itself

Often you may not know why you feel fear, so you look for the reason or the logic behind your anticipation. Basically if you know why you are scared it can help you to deal with the problem. For instance, if your fear was of consequence (prepost-fight fear) you could, in theory, look at the worst case scenario of confronting your fear (whatever it might be) and accept that you will handle it. 'If I stand up to the bully and he beats me up, I will handle it.' 'If I fight Joe Bloggs and he brings his three bruiser brothers down to get me, I'll handle it,' etc. If however you cannot pinpoint why you are feeling scared then there probably isn't a reason other than natural anticipation. We all feel it in confrontation, so don't bother trying to look for logic in something where there is no logic, because all it will do is add confusion to discomfort. Confusion causes indecision and indecision in the face of ensuing attack can cause capitulation and/or defeat.

My wife would spend two months building up to a karate grading; she hated them and always experienced think-fight fear that caused her a lot of discomfort. She got so bad that she often felt like giving up karate and never grading again. She'd spend hours trying to analyse why she felt so scared but could never find a reason. The concentration made her very tired and mentally weak because although the brain only weighs 2 % of the bodyweight it can, in times of worry and concentration, use up to 50 % of your oxygen. That's why a champion chess player may lose 7lb in weight over one week of a tournament.

There was no tangible reason for her fear other than natural anticipation, which should be expected in martial arts gradings, so I instructed her to analyse no more and, instead, channel her energies into perfecting her grading technique. This she did and she now holds a fourth dan.

If there is no reason for fear, don't try and look for one, because if you do you'll be wasting valuable energy that could be better employed in fight or flight.


Anticipation of confrontation

When you anticipate confrontation you may experience slow releases of adrenalin, often even months before a planned confrontation, and often over a long period before. The slow release is not so intense as the fast release but, due to its longevity, it can wear and corrode the recipient. This is not just in combat; things like the anticipation of having to talk in public, an exam, a big sales meeting, a forthcoming karate competition, a planned confrontation with the husband/wife/neighbour/boss etc. will cause slow release.

If my confrontation is not for another week, then although the adrenal release acts as a warning signal that anticipation is imminent, we do not really need that adrenalin until nearer the time. If I am having a fight next Saturday and today is Monday then I do not need fight or flight for another four days. So for four days I am getting adrenalin that I do not want or need. In a week of anticipation that adrenal release is going to take away my appetite, my sleep, in fact, my life is going to go on hold until the confrontation is gone. During that week of anticipation I am going to be like a bear with a sore head and hell to live with, because the adrenalin that has been released but not utilised (don't forget the fight is not until next Saturday) has got to come out somewhere. It will and does find its own way out in the guise of temper tantrums, irrational behaviour, road rage etc. This is why so many doormen and policemen end up in the divorce courts because their spouses just could not live with their irrational behaviour, the mood swings, the impatience.

Adrenalin is a physical syndrome that needs a physical release. If you have a week to confrontation but are getting daily releases of adrenalin, then release the adrenalin on a daily basis. Go through a kind of psychological de-sludge, with a long hard run, hit the bag or swing a golf club. Get it out of your system. Once utilised you will feel the appetite returning and sleep easier. Over a long period anticipatory adrenalin is a metaphoric monkey on your back and monkeys have a habit of getting fatter and heavier by the day. Think-fight fear is responsible for more 'bottle drops' than you would believe. Understand it and deal with it.


Anticipation of consequence

When you anticipate consequence (aftermath), before a confrontation even begins, there will be fear of that consequence whether it is being killed, raped, beaten up, come-backs, police involvement, etc. and this often forces the recipient to abort. Many women capitulate in rape situations because they are afraid of the consequences of fighting back. 'I was afraid to fight back just in case it angered my attacker more and caused him to really hurt me,' is a common statement from women who have been raped. I once watched the Midlands boxing champion get beaten up outside a nightclub by a criminal who would not have come to scratch with him in the ring. He got a terrible beating off this guy and didn't even try and fight back. Why? Because he was frightened of what might happen after the fight if he fought back and won, as the criminal was renowned for revenge attacks on anyone that angered him.

What the boxing champ failed to understand was, that by not fighting back he got battered anyway, which was all he was worried about if he had beaten the guy, who then decided to come back on him. I was faced with many name fighters in my time and most of them got their reputations by initiating revenge attacks. In the end they rarely had to fight, as people were so scared of the consequences of fighting them that they simply didn't fight, and got battered or intimidated because of it.

The best way to deal with pre-post-fight fear is, and this is what I always did, accept the consequences before you fight. Look at the worst case scenario and say to yourself 'yeah, I can handle that.'

In many cases, the consequences of not entering the arena and bottling out are the same as entering the arena and losing, except when you do enter the arena at least you have a chance of fighting back. If you bottle out you are just a punchbag, another victim. I'm not trying to tell you what you should do in a self-defence situation, I'm just trying to make it clear that supplication is not a guarantee of a painless encounter – you may and usually will end up getting battered anyway.


No anticipation or fast escalation

Psychologists call this 'adrenal dump'. It is what Jim Brown (bodyguard trainer and security consultant) calls 'The WOW factor.' Pre-fight fear generally occurs when anticipation is not present (when the victim is in code white), or a situation escalates unexpectedly fast, or the recipient feels completely out of their depth – this causes adrenal dump. This feeling is often so intense that the recipient freezes in the face of confrontation; the reasoning process mistaking it for sheer terror. Adrenal dump is the most devastating of all adrenal releases.

It often occurs when a confrontation arises that one was not ready or prepared for, usually the same scenarios as those that cause slow release but with no prior notice.

When I interviewed some soldiers for my book on fear, they all said that they had never experienced adrenal dump and this was because they were all constantly in anticipation of confrontation (code yellow). So to avoid this devastating release, that's the place to be.

Because most people in society are switched off to the realities of real attack ('it will never happen to me'), most encounters will be unexpected and therefore cause adrenal dump. Avoidance comes from being constantly aware of both the attack ritual and bodily reaction to confrontation – if you are switched off on either count then adrenal dump is likely to occur.


The double tap

Before, during or after a confrontation, unexpected occurrences, things that you hadn't accounted for, can cause a secondary kick of adrenalin as the brain, sensing your unpreparedness, gives you a secondary release of adrenalin that is nearly always mistaken for fear. It tends to happen when you think that a situation is resolved and instead of going from code red back to code yellow, you go into a celebratory state: code white. When the situation that you thought was resolved re-emerges, you get an unexpected kick of adrenalin that forces you to freeze. If you think that a situation is over and you drop your guard you will be left wide open.

My advice is no matter how safe the situation may seem and no matter how sure you are that it is over, go straight back to code yellow and retain your awareness. It is like the story of the guy that got attacked by a mugger and beat the mugger up. He was so pleased with himself that he dropped his awareness; after all, no one gets mugged twice in one night! He did. He was so surprised by the second attack that he completely lost his bottle.

My other friend had a shotgun pulled on him at the door of a nightclub. He fought with the gunman and managed to get it off him and gave the chap a good beating. He was so pleased with himself, everyone agreed that he was a brave SOB and he went into a celebratory state, code white. Later in the night a little 'nobody' started trouble and when my friend tried to stop him the guy offered him a 'square go' (a one on one fight) and my mate dropped his bottle because he mistook adrenal dump for fear. It wasn't because of lack of courage that my friend lost his bottle, it was because of lack of awareness. So, no matter how often it 'kicks off ', stay switched on or pay the price.


When awareness is tunnelled

Often people get tunnelled in their awareness – that is they are so indoctrinated into expecting an attacker or an attack to fit a certain place or type, that they are completely taken by surprise when an attack/confrontation occurs outside of their expectations. Awareness needs to be 360 degrees. What also happens a lot in reality is an attacker works with an accomplice who 'pincers' you whilst your awareness is locked onto him. In simple terms, one person grabs your attention whilst the other attacks from the periphery – simple but effective, especially because once a situation becomes threatening you will be experiencing tunnel vision (a by-product of adrenal release) so are highly unlikely to see an attack that is launched from the periphery.

Tunnel vision is a natural extension of the adrenal release and cannot be controlled so should therefore be managed. The best way to manage it is to keep checking around you when being approached menacingly from the front, just in case. If you are facing multiple assailants, keep moving your eyes from one to the other – it is not always the one in front that initiates the attack, rather it is one of those at the side, so beware.


In-fight anticipation of consequence

Unusual this, but, I have seen many fall foul of it, bottling out within a confrontation because they suddenly think about (or if the assailant is a clever one, they are reminded of) the consequences of their actions. This often occurs at a crisis point within the conflict; perhaps you have been pinned in a bad position or taken a heavy blow in-fight. Thinking about the possible consequences of fighting back can cause doubt that triggers adrenalin, and this is mistaken for fear and leads to capitulation.

Many people I spoke to (I also witnessed this syndrome many times myself) said that they had initially tried to fight back against their attackers and were told (by the attacker) that if they persisted in their resistance they would be 'hurt'. This triggered 'in-post-fight fear' and immediate capitulation. A girl that initially fights back against her attacker is punched hard in the face and told 'you try that again and I'll fucking kill you'. This consequence causes adrenal dump and the girl freezes, she becomes so scared and so controlled by her assailant that even when the chance presents itself, she does not try to escape. Victims have been known to have pointed a gun at an attacker and then handed it over to him when told that they will be killed if they do not.

Why is all of this important? Because knowledge is power and if you do not understand your own body and its reactions to conflict you will lose the fight from the inside out. In-fight releases of adrenalin are there to help you, but if you misread the signs they can cause capitulation.

I worked with one chap who used pre-post-fight fear to beat nearly all of his opponents. Before the fight he would tell them that, win or lose, he was going to find out where they lived and come to their house when they were having tea with their mum and bite their nose off. In all the years I knew the guy I never knew him to throw a punch, let alone bite a nose off, but he beat over a hundred opponents by telling them that he would. He threw pre-post-fight fear at his opponents like a heavyweight boxer throws a right cross.


In-fight pain or danger

Generally, once you have made the commitment to run or fight the adrenalin is utilised and that horrible caustic feeling disappears. However, quite often during fight you may experience pain, exhaustion or panic if things are not going to plan (or even if they are). The brain, again sensing in-fight danger, offers a second (or third or fourth) kick of adrenalin as a turbo drive or anaesthesia, to help you out. This offering is usually misread for fear, and panic ensues. That's why, so often, people 'bottle out' in-fight, because they do not understand their own bodily reactions to pain and panic and mistake the feeling of adrenal release for terror. An experienced attacker will quickly club down any one who tries to fight back because they know that, more often than not, it will cause intense panic in their victim, which will lead to mass compliance. As I have already said, a victim who struggles with his assailant will get a quick punch in the nose backed by very aggressive dialogue: 'try that again and I'll break your fucking neck for you!'. This is also known to be effective in causing adrenal release followed by capitulation.

Recognise that the adrenal release is there to help and, although unpleasant, it will add vigour to your response.


Aftermath – anticipation of post-fight consequence

After confrontation, whether successful or not, the body often secretes slow releases of adrenalin, this being brought on possibly by the stress of 'scenario overload', when confrontation is so traumatic that it forces the body/mind into overload, leaving the recipient mentally and physically weak, and so vulnerable.

It is also brought on by post-fight anticipation, when the brain senses/dreads another confrontation or a repeat of the earlier confrontation and it again releases adrenalin to prepare the body. Aftermath can cause many sleepless nights. Again this should be dealt with in the same way as pre-post fight. Look at the consequences and accept that you can handle them, and don't forget the long runs and bag work to get rid of the adrenalin that is released. You have to get it out of your system.


Pre-, in- and post-fight release

Those working/living in a stress related environment like the Stock Exchange, business or security may experience a combination (combo) of all the releases. Slow release because they constantly anticipate confrontation; adrenal dump when situations unexpectedly occur in their environment; pre-post fight because they constantly have to recognise the threat they face for reasons of personal security; and aftermath, in relation to situations that have already happened.

At once the recipient may experience a concoction of all adrenal releases and, if not checked, this can have a devastating effect on their health and personal life. The most important thing is to recognise what is happening to your body; explain to the people in your life what you are feeling so that they do not think you 'impossible to live with' and make sure you release the stress on a regular basis. If it all gets too much, pull away from the arena and give yourself a good rest, mentally and physically.

Fear Adrenal Map


The fear of fear itself

Anticipation of confrontation
(slow release)

Anticipation of aftermath
(slow release)

No anticipation or fast escalation
(adrenal dump)

Peripheral interactions
(adrenal dump)



(slow adrenal dump)



Overload/aftermath or anticipation of consequences
(slow adrenal dump)


In confrontational moments, when adrenalin is released, the recipient will experience physical reactions that need to be hidden from the assailant; if not hidden they allow the assailant to see that you are scared and struggling to hide your fear. Hiding the fear is a technique I like to call the duck syndrome.

If you watch a duck it will glide through the water very gracefully with very little outward movement, however under the water, where you can't see, his little webbed feet will be going like the clappers. This is how you should learn to control the adrenalin. On the outside you should show no signs of the way you feel inside; this way the opponent cannot get a measure of your emotional state, even though, on the inside, the adrenalin is going mad. Very often, if the attacker thinks that you feel no fear because you are hiding it with the duck syndrome, he will naturally feel that you are not scared. Quite often this will force him to capitulate. After all, no one wants to fight a fearless opponent. When you understand and can control the adrenal flow it is possible to hide adrenal reaction by appearing unmoved and calm.


These are the expected bodily reactions to adrenalin:

Pre-fight shakes

Your legs, and possibly other limbs, may shake uncontrollably. In fight or flight, blood is taken from the non-vital areas of the body and pumped to those that are seen as needy for a physical response (running or fighting). This makes the major limbs, especially the legs, shake. It's a little like a motor car sat at the traffic lights with its engine revving, waiting for green. Your body is revving, waiting for action.

I control leg shaking by tapping the heel of one foot, as though tapping to the beat of a song, as I engage in verbal dissuasion. This conscious leg tapping gives the effect of an unperturbed person who is so in charge he is even tapping his heel like a cool thing.

Dry mouth

Your mouth may become dry and pasty. This is not outwardly noticeable so needs no concealing.

Voice quiver

Your voice may acquire a nervous and audible tremor. This is a bad one. It is hard to sound confident when your vocal chords are doing the bossa nova. A quivery voice says to anyone, in any language, that you are scared; this needs to be controlled or it could be your downfall. Many people actually become monosyllabic; that is they cannot speak coherently or they fall into single syllables or very short sentences.

This is because blood is drawn away from certain areas of the brain, again those that are seen as non-vital in fight or flight, in order to be pumped to the major muscles. In days of old, when fighting the sabre-toothed tiger, the voice was an absolutely non-vital commodity. In effect, and to make a long story short, the voice box cuts off. We have to reverse this syndrome. With today's enemy and in today's confrontational moments the voice is not just a vital commodity, it is also a valid and effective weapon that, with the right choice of words and aggression, can cause an opponent to capitulate.

The best way to learn voice control in confrontational moments is to step into any arena that brings on adrenalin, such as the boxing ring, animal day or public speaking, and practice speaking. Before you enter the boxing ring to spar, talk to your opponent and learn to control the quiver and hide the feeling of fear. It's hard, as when facing adversity instinct wants us to run, it does not want us to have a conversation. It is doubly hard because very few people are able to force themselves into an arena that brings on an adrenal release. It will take courage in bagfuls, but then so does fighting in the REAL arena, so it will be good practice all around.

Tunnel vision

On the positive side, tunnel vision enhances visual concentration. Its negative byproduct is the blinkering of peripheral vision, which is not seen as vital in fight or flight. Background and bystanders are lost to cortical perception. The potential attacker appears closer and larger due to the optical illusion caused by the effect of tunnel vision. To widen the peripheral field it is wise to step back a little, but this is not easy because the aggressor automatically makes up any distance you retreat.

If facing more than one opponent, keep glancing from one to the other sporadically. The moment you lose peripheral vision is the moment that you are likely to be hit from the side. Being aware of the fact that you will experience tunnel vision and of its dangers is the important thing.

Sweaty palms

The palms of the hands often sweat profusely. In fact you tend to sweat all over the body, which is why the arms often splay as though you are carrying rolls of carpet under your arms to allow the sweat glands to open and release sweat to cool down the body. Soldiers patrolling in volatile areas like Northern Ireland will often sweat away 7 lb in body weight in 4 or 5 hours of patrolling due to the constant release of anticipatory adrenalin.


Adrenalin may cause vomiting or the feeling of vomiting. Undigested food is seen as excess baggage in fight or flight so the body will try to throw it up to make you lighter and more efficient.

Bowel loosening

The recipient may experience loss of bowel or bladder control. Again digested food and drink is also seen as non vital to fight or flight so will be discarded. Working as a doorman in the nightclub, it was not uncommon to see the toilet full of doormen, emptying the bladder when they thought that a fight was going to 'kick off '. In a karate or full contact competition the toilets will also be full of competitors getting rid off 'excess baggage.' It is common and natural. However, it is not socially acceptable in this society to urinate or defecate on the pavement before a confrontation so we have learned to control the instinct. Unfortunately all these natural feelings are now very often seen as signs of cowardice. It's not cowardice, it's natural.

Adrenal deafness (auditory exclusion)

Sometimes the threat becomes so overwhelming that concentration is greatly enhanced, so much so that peripheral noise, even as loud as a scream or gunshot, is completely cut out and not recognised by the recipient.

Fugue state

The adrenal exposure, particularly adrenal dump, can cause the recipient to become anatomic, even robotic in verbal response; sometimes these responses are not remembered after the event. This is partly due also to the memory loss or distortion associated with 'dump'. Sometimes terrifying aspects of a confrontation may be completely blocked out and yet, paradoxically, trivial things loom large in recall, also the sequence of events or words may also be altered in the memory.

The black and whites (amaurosis fugax)

Due to the amount of blood drawn from the brain in fight or flight the recipient often sees whole situations in black and white, and all colour disappears as if you are watching a black-and-white TV.

Total acquiescence

If misunderstood and/or not controlled, the adrenal syndrome, and certainly adrenal dump, can evoke feelings of helplessness and abject terror. Fear of death and/or rape may bring on an extreme feeling of depression and foreboding. Tears and often hysteria may also occur. Many women submit to their attacker because of this overwhelming emotional explosion.

Astral experience (excorporation)

Often the recipient of the adrenal syndrome experiences an out of body experience, a feeling as though they are outside of themselves watching the action like a spectator.


It is very common for the recipient to experience, especially after a situation, the compulsion to verbally justify their actions with non-stop and very fast speech.

Denial response

In extreme circumstances the recipient can be temporarily psychologically unable or unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions, for example 'I didn't stab him, he ran onto the knife!' etc.

Time distortion/time loss/memory distortion/memory loss

Many attack victims reported that their assault seemed to last an eternity, when in reality it may have only lasted a few minutes or even seconds. During physical attack time can appear to stand still, one minute often feeling like one hour. Paradoxically, in retrospect, victims of muggings and assaults often say, 'It all happened so fast.'

When interviewing James, the victim of an unsolicited assault, he initially told me that he was attacked without warning. After talking to him at some length it turned out that, in between first seeing his attackers and the attack itself, there was a time lapse of 11 seconds, these being lost to time distortion and memory loss.

After confrontation, memories of the event can become distorted ('my attacker was seven foot tall and 17 stone', whereas in fact he was only five foot eleven and 14 stone) or even lost; this is also partly due to tunnel vision. Sometimes, after a certain period of time has elapsed, the memories might gradually come back though sometimes they never return. So if you find yourself being interviewed by the police, post-fight, don't rush into your statement. If you are not sure don't make a statement at all until you have a professional at your side who can better advise you. You may not remember what happened too well and end up saying things (or having things suggested to you) to fill in the gap. The police do a great job and we all admire their work but they do, from my experience, like to get things tied up as soon after the incident as possible, and may gently push you to complete your statement ASAP. There is another reason for this: if they don't get their statement straight away you might change your mind and decide, for whatever reason, not to make a statement at all. That will leave loose ends and they don't like loose ends. What the police often say is they like to get the statement while the incident is still fresh in your mind; in reality the situation is more likely to be fresher the next day than it is directly after confrontation.

Don't forget you are convicted for what you say and not what you do. You may legitimately defend yourself and then make a statement that absolutely hangs you. I have many friends that have done just that and gone to prison for it, so don't be rushed. Understand what might be happening to you, regarding the latter, postfight.

All of the aforementioned feelings are usual, accept and recognise them; they are all part and parcel of adrenal reaction and, though unpleasant, quite natural. The feelings do lessen in intensity as you become more exposed to them. If needs be, prepare for them, especially in the aftermath when a police statement might be all that stands between you and a loss of liberty.

The ugly handmaiden of adrenalin is the omniscient Mr Negative; General Sun Tzu called him the inner opponent. That little man who perches on the shoulder of your mind's eye and tells you that you're frightened, scared or that you 'can't handle it' (the situation). The inner opponent is, basically, the voice or instinct that tries to warn you of the dangers that you face and the possible consequences of your actions. In general the inner opponent will advice you to run when danger rears its ugly head.

This is, of course, generally a good thing, and natural instinct should be followed whenever possible. However, in many situations the option of flight does not/ may not present itself or is lost and we are forced to fight. We have no option, and yet the inner opponent still keeps nagging away telling us that there is danger and that we should run and that we cannot handle the situation. In effect he takes over the run of your head, forcing you to bottle out. You lose the fight from the inside out. This is not a good thing.

So whilst we should listen to the voice and allow it to point out our options and the inherent dangers we face, we should not let him take over, which he will if you allow him to. He is, if you like, an advisor to the King and, if we are not vigilant he will take over the kingdom. Listen to his advice once, maybe even twice. After that shut him up or he will talk you into supplication. I want to know the negatives of facing adversity but I don't want it repeated again and again. This may cause the self-doubt that starts the downward spiral to my demise, which in the long turn will lose me the altercation. The inner opponent is an advisor not a conversationalist, so 'kill the conversation'. By controlling the inner opponent – in effect controlling your self – you take charge and the voice becomes an ally as opposed to an enemy.

Training in adverse conditions and learning to confront and conquer your own personal fears is a very good way to draw the inner opponent out in to the open so that he plays his best hands, and you can learn to defeat him. This stallion needs to be broken if you want to be in control of your own destiny. Left to its own devices the mind can be a self-detonating time bomb of negativity that will spiral you down into ever increasing misery. If you allow the inner opponent the run of your head he will often force you into capitulation; you will, as they say, lose the fight in Birmingham. Let me explain.

There was a wonderful old wrestler in the beginning to middle of this century called Bert Asarati. Unfortunately he is dead now, but in his day he was a monster of a wrestler with a fearsome reputation for hurting his opponents, even in a show match. He was seventeen stone at only five foot six. When he sat on a train or a bus he took up two seats; he was a big man whose reputation preceded him.

The story goes that there was another wrestler of repute who was travelling down by train from Glasgow to fight Mr Asarati in London. All the way down on the train journey this Glaswegian kept thinking about the arduous task that lay ahead of him and every time the train stopped at a station his inner opponent would advise him to get off the train and go back to Glasgow. At every station his inner opponent reminded him of the prowess of Mr Asarati, and of how Mr Asarati was going to 'hurt him' when they got in the ring. At every station the inner opponent got louder and stronger; the wrestlers' bottle going more and more until in the end he could take the pressure no longer. At Birmingham station he got off and went back to Glasgow on the next available train. He sent a note to Bert Asarati saying, 'Gone back to Glasgow, you beat me in Birmingham.' His inner opponent had beaten him 100 miles before he even got to the fight venue. This is what often happens to people in street situations. They don't lose to the guy that they're having trouble with, they lose to themselves.

One thing I always like to advise people is don't feel bad if you feel like running away. Our natural instinct is not to stand and fight; rather it is to run. The fight or flight syndrome is geared more to running than it is to fighting. As prehistoric men and women our enemies would have probably been sabre-toothed tigers or grizzly bears, far more fearsome fighters than us, so instinct would indeed have had us running for our lives and only fighting if cornered. Unfortunately, as stated earlier, the adrenal syndrome has not evolved very well and confrontation today is more likely to be a boardroom meeting or an exam – neither demand fight or flight – so instinct (i.e. to run away) cannot be relied upon any more. When you feel like running away from a confrontation don't feel like a coward because that feeling is your heritage and very natural. What we do have to learn though is that, if flight is not an option, we have to override the inner opponent and actuate a physical response, even if it is only to save our skins.

If flight is not an option and fight is on the cards then the voice of reason has to be shut up or, as I said before, he will destroy you and you'll lose the fight in Birmingham. There are three ways of dealing with this tactician of corrosiveness if he gets out of control.

Thought rejection

Reject the negative thoughts by completely ignoring them. Not listening to anything that the inner opponent says, thus leaving him no mental ledge on which to perch.

Thought counter attack

Counter attack every 'negative' thought with a 'positive' thought. This is the method that I practise.

'You're scared.'

'No, I'm not scared.'

'You can't handle this situation.'

'Yes, I can handle this situation. I can handle anything.'

And so on. By doing this you can erase the negative thoughts with the positive.

This is an important factor because each negative thought that penetrates your psyche may, and usually does, erode a small part of your 'will' until eventually it, and you, are defeated. I work on the premise that 'negative begets negative', begets defeat. As a parallel, 'positive begets positive', begets victory.

Your greatest enemy in times of adversity is often your own mind.

Repetitive mantra

Block out the internal conversation with a repetitive mantra. Any will do as long as it is positive and not negative.

'I can handle it. I can handle it. I can handle it. I can handle it. I can handle it. I can handle it.'


'I'm not frightened. I'm not frightened. I'm not frightened. I'm not frightened. I'm not frightened.'

This is a very inspiring extract from James Clavell's best selling book Shogun that explains the Samurai way of dealing with inner conflict:

'To think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world. If you leave your mind to itself it will spiral you down into ever increasing unhappiness. To think good thoughts, however, requires effort. This is one of the things that training and discipline are about. So teach your mind to dwell on sweet perfumes, the touch of silk, tender raindrops against the shoji, the tranquility of dawn, then at length you won't have to make such an effort and you will be of value to yourself.'

By understanding your own body, by understanding the mechanics of adrenalin / fear you can learn self-control. Panic is often catalysed by ignorance, by not understanding your own body or its workings. Most people in most situations are not defeated by their assailants; they are defeated by their own mind. Whilst adrenalin may be uncomfortable, it is natural and should be accepted without fight. There is no way around these feelings, every one feels them; they are a part and parcel of adversity.

'The feeling of fear [adrenalin] is as natural as the feelings of hunger and thirst or the feeling of wanting to use the toilet. When you feel hungry you don't panic, you eat, when you feel thirst you drink. So it is with fear. Don't panic, act.'

Cus Damatio

Adrenalin exposure

The whole process of adrenal release and internal conversation, elongated here for the sake of description, usually has to be controlled in a matter of milliseconds, so practice is of the essence. It is very difficult to practise something that is not or at least doesn't appear to be present in our everyday lives.

For the practising martial artist this task is not such a difficult one because he / she can, if he/she wishes, gain adrenalin exposure by facing the top dogs in his, or another, dojo (training hall) in sparring or partner work. This alone will spark the infamous adrenal gland, and give exposure to adrenalin.

Only through exposure can you gain desensitisation. As unpleasant as this may seem it's the only way. To learn how to handle the heat you must force yourself to stay in the kitchen. As well as adrenalin exposure, this practice will also help to instil within you that all-important characteristic, self-discipline.

The more that you experience and confront the fear syndrome the more desensitised you will become to it and the easier it will be to control and thus harness. The more that you confront and control, the stronger minded you will become. These exercises will build the mental muscle as a bar-bell and weights will build physical muscle; the same dictum 'no pain, no gain' is also evident.

This gained strength of mind will put your whole life into perspective as all of a sudden those mundane tasks at work or around the home become a simple challenge by comparison. All are relegated to simple exercises in self-discipline, everything that life throws in your way becomes a challenge that you will no longer baulk at, nothing will seem beyond your mental capacity. Also due to the high level of self-esteem that these exercises develop, one is also less likely to be chosen as a victim for attack.

For the non-training person the task of adrenalin exposure, cut out extension and instilling self-discipline is not such an easy or obvious one. Joining a good martial arts club may be a solution. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or the inclination to do this, so we need to look a little closer to home. Confront things in your everyday life that bring on the feeling of fear, work in a pyramid and build your way up, confronting your smallest fears at the bottom of the pile and working your way up, systematically, until you reach the top. This is slightly out of the context of this book and I would ask you to refer to my books Fear – the Friend of Exceptional People and/or Animal Day – Pressure Testing the Martial Arts.

'I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do, provided he keeps doing them until he gets a record of successful experiences behind him.'
Eleanor Roosevelt

Article written by Geoff Thompson

Geoff Thompson claims that his biological birthdate is 1960, though his hair-line goes right back to the First World War.

He has worked as a floor sweeper, chemical worker, pizza maker, road digger, hod carrier, martial-arts instructor, bricklayer, picture seller, delivery driver and nightclub bouncer before giving up ‘proper work’ in 1992 to write full time.

He is now a bestselling author, BAFTA-nominated screenwriter, magazine columnist, playwright and novelist.

He lives in Coventry with his wife Sharon, and holds a 6th dan in Japanese karate, 1st dan in Judo and was voted the number one self-defence author in the world by Black Belt Magazine USA.