Preparing for the Stress of Combat

Combat Stress

How will you perform at the moment of truth?

What's going to happen to you physically and emotionally in a real fight where you could be injured or killed? Will you defend yourself immediately, hesitate during the first few critical seconds of the fight, or will you be so paralyzed with fear that you won't be able to move at all? The answer is - you won't know until you can say, "Been there, done that." However, there is a way to train for that fearful day.

Thermal Shock Training

When the human body is subjected to extreme cold there are predictable physiological conditions which occur: the body pulls blood from the limbs and concentrates it in the inner core to give warmth to vital organs. Digits get numb, reaction time slows, fine motor skills are reduced, and the thinking process is dulled. In actual combat the body can experience similar stresses like that of cold: fine motor skills give way to gross motor skills, breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and reaction time may be slowed. To simulate this stress takes nothing more than cold water making contact with skin.

Tonight, for your training, in the privacy of your own shower, stand underneath the shower head before turning on the water. Brace yourself, and then turn the cold-water faucet to full blast, allowing the cold-water to hit you all at once; not just a part of your body to get used to it, but all of it. Let the cold-water continually run over you. The sudden shock to the body that you'll experience is close to the shock that you'll experience when your life is on the line in combat.

Thermal Shock TrainingMy Italian student is taking a cold shower for Thermal Shock Training. Obviously, he is not in his private shower at his home, but he's in a shower at the training facility I was teaching in Ravenna, Italy. He graciously volunteered to do the training in front of the entire class.

Naturally, under such conditions it's hard to function normally, but that's exactly what you have to do in order to train yourself to overcome the shock, hence the name Thermal Shock Training. Yes, it's extremely uncomfortable, but so is combat. When you're running the cold-water over your body, which automatically makes you breath rapidly and shallow, or it can even stop respiration altogether for a few seconds under extreme cold-water temperatures, you must master mind over body control by returning your breathing back to a deep and rhythmic pattern as soon as possible. The better you control your breathing the more relaxed your muscles will be, and the clearer your decision-making abilities will be.

Clear thinking then leads to better performance, and so the next step of your training is to do a few self-defense techniques but start slowly so you don't slip or hurt yourself in the shower, such as a few hand strikes and blocks. Do not attempt any knees strikes or kicks, which you wouldn't attempt anyway if you were in a real fight while it's raining or snowing due to the risk of slipping. Build up your tolerance to the cold-water, and even try to put the shock and discomfort completely out of your mind. Your reward for putting yourself through this torment for a minute or two will be a warm shower afterward. This also happens to be the same mindset for real combat, "I must endure this torment momentarily, but I will be victorious and continue to live." Life is the greatest reward after a battle.

In the U.S. Navy SEALs, Marine Force Recon, and Army Special Forces that train extensively in waterborne operations, and I've had the privilege of teaching and training with each, their personnel are subjected to cold-water exposure (CWE), by standing in the cold surf or other body of water without thermal protection. Prior to reaching hypothermia (a condition where the body heat falls below normal) they are ordered out of the water and are required to perform various tasks (in the form of strenuous physical exercise), and then sent back into the water after their core temperature has returned to normal. Cold is a great demoralizer and dealing with it takes mental fortitude.

US Military TrainingThis is me coming out of the cold Pacific Ocean water at the Port of Los Angeles when I was going through a U.S. Marine Tactical Swimmer course. It's because of my training and experience that I developed the Thermal Shock Training for my Reality-Based Personal Protection students, which you are also one by reading this blog.

In 2000 I was training a Brazilian Military Police S.W.A.T. team called G.A.T.E. (Grupo de Ações Táticas Especiais), and I had them jump into the cold ocean water from a boat dock. The water was approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Centigrade). They entered the water with their Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs), but I had them leave their tactical gear on shore or else they'd sink to the bottom like a rock. When they crawled up on the rocky shore, they immediately put on their gun belts and practiced gun retention techniques (preventing a suspect from taking the officer's own sidearm from the holster and using it against them) using plastic training guns like I had just taught them when they were dry. After the plunge into the cold-water they had to perform the same techniques while dripping wet, cold and shivering. My students found that the stress induced by the cold required more energy and determination then when they were doing the same techniques earlier in the ideal conditions of the warm training room.

A WORD OF WARNING! When professionals train in waterborne operations there is always a qualified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Combat Medic present to monitor swimmers. Prolong exposure to cold can cause injury and/or death. Although Thermal Shock Training is safe in your own shower, I recommend no more than a couple of minutes under the cold water, not freezing water, which is just enough time to master mind over body.


Follow Jim Wagner on:




Introducing Martial Arts School Listings on Black Belt Mag!
Sign Up Now To Be One Of The First School Listed In Our Database.
Don't miss a single issue of the worlds largest magazine of martial arts.