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"React to Contact"

Although, traditionally a term used in the military to describe tactics deployed by a group of soldiers engaged by an enemy threat when under fire, we’re going to look at the term as it applies to personal protection.

As you may recall from the previous blog, “Responding Vs. Reacting” we went in great detail explaining the biological process of reacting to a stimulus. If you haven’t read it yet, go back and give it a look over,

When we refer to a stimulus in this context, we are addressing an ambush from a viable threat. Although our initial reaction may not be able to discern the difference between a viable threat and a perceived threat, this is something that must be identified prior to initiating contact.

Regardless of the threat, our innate reaction is to protect ourself from harm. We do this through one of two ways; one, pushing the threat away, and, two, moving away from the threat itself. Both actions create distance which, depending on the individuals training or lack thereof, may potentially put them into greater harm. However, distance, or space as you will and may have heard me use in the past, may be required to do your threat assessment and allow your cerebral cortex to take over with an appropriate response.

So how do we react to the ambush and mitigate minimal to no damage prior to contact?

Firstly, we allow biology to take the driver’s seat. Not to offend anyone, but this unfortunately is one of the most difficult tasks for someone with regimented training to accept. Those with experiential learning however will recognize what is happening, both internally and externally, and switch gears much sooner. What this means, is that, individuals who continuously train in the red, pushing their boundaries and stressing their system, are more likely to identify and adopt to potential triggers and recover quickly. Most of you will recognize this sequence as the “Fight or Flight” reaction which also includes, “Freezing”. Just let your body do what it needs to do both physically and physiologically to prepare you for the next step, accept and embrace the process for what is; survival.

Once we embrace this process, we then need to assess the situation that we are reacting to and determine whether it requires any further action. If it doesn’t, then consider it a test of your survival system and move on. There’s no need to feel awkward or foolish as your reaction was based on a perceived threat and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If the threat or abnormality is real, your first recourse should be to get off the “X”, being the origin of the threat. Once off the “X”, conduct an assessment of not only the threat, but the environment as well, should you not have conducted one prior to the initial reaction. The environmental factors will not only provide escape routes but identify secondary threats and improvised opportunities to equalize the odds.

Once you’ve completed the assessment of the situation that you have found yourself in, it’s time to orient on the primary threat. From here, before you become the victim of secondary attack, you should move towards the threat and make contact. Again, this is difficult for most as it goes against our natural reaction to move away from danger and although this is acceptable at the initial point of contact, by moving forward we accomplish two objectives; One, it will most likely put you, inside of the apex of the attack and in theory, temporarily protected; Two, it puts your attacker off balance, not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well, as it goes against what was expected of the initial attack.

As you make contact with the threat, you should use gross motor tools to navigate into a strategic position as you will most likely still be adrenalized by the initial reaction and still be in an elevated state of arousal. By collapsing and bending your arms to cover and proct your head, you will be leading with your elbows, penetrating your opponent’s attack and providing a counter-attack. Another option is to extend the arms forward leading not only with open hands, but the forearms and elbows driving into the delivery system of the attacker. This latter process is often described as the Tactical S.P.E.A.R. as I will elaborate on later. If you adversary is still in the fight, operationally you will be in a better position to negate any further aggressive movements towards you by clinching the limbs and destroying their forward momentum by continuing to drive forward yourself.

You must however continue to assess the situation as it unfolds and take into consideration legal obligations as you decide on your next course of action. Do we disengage when able to escape safely? Do we continue to control the opponent until others attend and they can be taken into custody, either by a person of authority or a guardian? If the threat continues, do we continue to apply force until the situation itself is terminated and we or our loved ones are safe? The answer will be found within the situation as we continue to evaluate the event and the actions of the assailant who initiated the contact and forced a reaction.

Tony Blauer has developed a system which encapsulates these key concepts succinctly. The system is known as the S.P.E.A.R. System™ which identifies the innate survival mechanism hardwired into our genetic code referred to as the ‘startle/flinch’ or “Spontaneous Protection”. Through a series of specially designed drills and additional theory on fear management and performance enhancement psychology, one is trained to convert or “Enable” a tactical or “Accelerated Response” to the initial reaction. This response is based on the appropriateness of the situation and incorporates researched physiological gross motor skills to counter a further attack. For more information, visit

Finally, we should take the principles discussed above, whether you attend a course provided by Tony Blauer or another respected instructor in their field, and implement them into your regular training regime. You must also inject appropriateness into what you are training in order to keep it real. If you are continuously reacting to an attack and making contact with the intent to terminate the threat and in turn, your opponent, you are doing yourself and injustice and may in fact have to answer to your actions legally, should you find yourself in a real situation where you had responded as you had trained. Again, I’m not saying that certain situations may not require a serious application of force, but many provide opportunities for you to escape safely or simply control the threat until help arrives.

“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst!”

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