There is a glut of information regarding thought and integration of action in response to threat situations in the current body of data regarding self-defense and combatives. The intent of this article is not to expand that body of work. Rather it is to give the reader insight into the anatomy and physiology of the Human Weapon System from a structural fighting perspective as a bridge to how humans as a species use this structure to fight.
First, we will evaluate the unique structures of the human brain, then discuss the anatomy of the neurologic responses vs. reflexes, how they develop and how they are maintained. Finally, we will relate this to training and the methodology for integration, because without the integration we may as well be training for sport, not combat.
The brain, the command and control structure of the Human Weapon System, has limited space for the billions of neurons it contains. It is fragile. The brain itself has no internal structural consistency. It has the rigidity of mashed potatoes. Therefore, the body has encased it in bone followed by a dense fibrous membrane called the meninges, and ultimately it floats in a water bath of fluid called Cerebrospinal Fluid, so that it does not necessarily absorb every impact that travels through the skull.
Because of this limited space, the HWS has prioritized the amount of room it gives neurons that are responsible for different parts of the body based upon how important they are to the survival of the HWS. Likewise, it positions that space based upon how important the function is to the organism’s survival.
For example, the hands and face have a disproportionate amount of brain devoted to them in comparison to their size on the body. The eyes have a whole region of the brain devoted to their function, and the area of the brain that causes our heart to beat and lungs to function (even when we are asleep) is a sub-structure, located deep within the junction of our brain and neck.
The entire system is built to respond rapidly to threats to its existence, and sometimes it does this by reacting before the upper levels of integrated thought are notified that a situation that demands an action has occurred. This is called a reflex. Reflexes are part of the hardware of the system. They come with the package. These reflexes are integrated and executed at the spinal level and, while they are active, they let the integrative pathways know that they have taken action.
At an elementary level, an example of this is withdrawing the hand from a hot stove. At an advanced fighting level, think of moving rapidly across a slippery surface, acquiring a target and shooting. The part of the latter that is reflex is the ability to adapt to the slick surface and remain upright.
This is an example of a highly sophisticated series of spinal reflexes that integrate with the upper level systems for auto correction to prevent falling. This ability to balance and move transitions into a response when it is integrated at a higher level. These responses can be trained to form around a series of stimuli such as slick surfaces and engaging a threat.
Thus training that uses reflexes as a platform to transition to responses intrinsically builds on a system that is inherently in place within the HWS, and is thus structurally sound. Training based on reflexes and morphing them into responses that develop typically is a sound basis for conditioning the HWS.
These ideas are not original. They are put forward here in a different and possibly unique way in the context of preparing to fight, in order to convey that the HWS is marvelously complex and integrative, at levels we rarely take the time to appreciate. When we do take that time, we tend to step back and look at our training in a different light.
How should this information change the way you train? First, it should let you know that strikes to the skull and head, while disorienting, must overwhelm the system with energy and overreaching violence. In order to be effective, strikes to the head have to have the energy to kill. Some may argue, “People get knocked out all the time and recover….”
There are good studies that show that brain tissue is destroyed irreparably with strikes to the head in sport MMA and boxing, where this is sanctioned and refereed. This article is not discussing that type of fighting. This article is discussing the combat of survival, by the HWS, fully engaged. Therefore, unless you are using a tool, i.e. a weapon, striking the head is only going to disorient your adversary at best and damage you at worst.
The brain is the strength of the system. It is the command and control center and anatomically is difficult to penetrate with blunt force. Therefore, time spent using the brain to modulate reflexes into responses is the best training for it, and this is done by rapid, violent, repetitive action that mimics real world encounters as much as possible. Additionally, time spent training the coordination of hands and eyes is time well spent because the HWS has placed them anatomically at the highest priority for the organism.
We have seen in this article that the design of the HWS places anatomical and structural priority on certain parts of the body. We have seen that the brain itself is remarkably well protected and, although there are exceptions, death due to human-derived blunt-force non-weaponized trauma is rarely lethal in humans because of the protection of the command and control system. Lastly, we make a case for the refinement of training to be complex, multi-factorial and unpredictable, to enhance the innate characteristics of the command and control system of the HWS, the brain.
Next month, in Part 2 of this article, we’ll continue to examine the Human Weapon System in detail.
[A panel of physicians associated with Direct Action Medical Network has reviewed this article. Detailed references are available on request.]