Reading Low Tech Combat’s 25 best comments of 2010 article, it pointed me to their article about the 11 Key Differences Between Training and the Real Thing. It’s a well-written article highlighting how all of our training, be it for sport or “the street”, is still artificial compared to real-life confrontations. It’s good to be aware of these things and do what you can in your training to remedy them.
One that stood out to me was #11: Tunnel Vision.
Tunnel Vision. The are many effects on the body caused by the stress of combat. Tunnel Vision is arguably the most limiting. It generally happens in conjunction with slow motion time. Tunnel Vision only happens under immense stress. Many people have experienced it to some degree at some stage in their lives. It is there to benefit us and help us focus only on the threat we face and cut out all irrelevant information at that time of danger.
The problem lies when we face more than just one threat. When experiencing Tunnel Vision, naturally we lock onto the threat. We do not look away at all. We are focused 100% on the threat we are facing. The problem with this survival mechanism is apparent when we throw in a second, third or fourth attacker into the equation. It is very easy for them to come at us from the side or rear as we will not detect it as we are 100% focusing on the one threat to our front. Rarely will training get us to experience tunnel vision and the problems this can cause.
Briefly, the best way to break this tunnel vision is through training. Every time you face an attacker in scenarios or multiple attacker training, ALWAYS continue to look left, right and behind you at all times. Maintain 360 degree awareness. In this way, hopefully when you experience tunnel vision when facing a threat, it will be a habit to look around and behind you for others.
In KR Training’s Defensive Pistol Skills 1 class, we introduce this concept to students. The student will shoot a string of fire, then they must scan around to look for one of the assistant instructors holding up a sign telling them what to do next (e.g. shoot target to your left), or maybe no sign at all. The intent is to get the student to break their tunnel vision, look around for more assailants, and if one is found take action. Of course, when students are first introduced to this concept they don’t remember to look around, so inevitably we start yelling “SCAN! SCAN! SCAN!” at them and they get going.
Personally, I like using the command “SCAN!” because it’s a simple, clear, and directed command about what you need to do. It’s so ingrained in my own head that it’s played out for me in pressure situations. For example, I was a student in a force-on-force simulation class and was the “designated good guy” in the simulation. The situation had me at home; I hear the sound of someone breaking in; I hunker down in the bedroom, arm myself, dial 911. Next thing I know, bad guy enters the room and a gunfight ensues. I dispatched the bad guy and I distinctly remember standing there, staring down at him, tunnel vision had set in and my brain starts to say “SCAN! SCAN! SCAN!” so I start scanning just in time to see bad guy #2 show up in the doorway… and we both shot each other. Key point is playing the “SCAN! SCAN! SCAN!” tape over and over in my head after so many practices played out under pressure; yeah I got shot (bad situations don’t always have happy endings) but at least I took him with me, and burned a stronger neural pathway about the importance of scanning (and doing it sooner rather than later).
To relate this to empty-hand martial arts, most martial arts do not incorporate this. Most of your traditional martial arts, if they spar at all, are very single-opponent focused. Some, like Aikido, actually do incorporate multi-person randori but this is exception and not rule. Most of your MMA training is sport-oriented and thus you’re expecting only one person. Even if your chose art doesn’t involve scanning and breaking the 360º, YOU can incorporate this into your training. When you spar, scan. When you’re working the bag, scan. When you shadow box, scan. When you spar, add in a second opponent. Just be clear on what your training goals are and work towards those goals; hopefully your coaches, instructors, and training partners will be supportive, else maybe you need to find new ones.
One important point. When you scan, make sure you are actually looking and processing what you see. Don’t just flick your eyes over and around. Make sure you actually SEE and actually PROCESS what’s in your new visual field. Slowing down helps this. Many people finish their scan in about 1 second; sure your moved your head and eyes, but do you recall anything about what you saw? did you process anything about what you saw? Try it now. Do a scan and take about a second to do it; it feels natural, but did you grok what you saw? Now try that same scan but take 3 seconds to do it; now try it with 5 seconds. Yes it’s slower, but now you’re actually processing what you saw. Also, realize there can be a graduated scale of scanning. For instance, I shoot and finish shooting. I may do a quick scan to my right and left (not breaking 180º) to look for anything immediate. If that proves all clear, I may start a second scan that goes 360º at a slower pace. There’s no one way to do it, you just have to ensure your brain actually processes what you see and you don’t move faster than that, else you waste time doing a double-take to re-parse things.
You must integrate scanning into your practice routine. It must be habit for what you do in practice is what you’ll do when the flag flies. Whether it’s live fire with guns or dry fire practice (especially work it into your dry fire routine!), or empty-hand sparring, make sure you SCAN! SCAN! SCAN!