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Quantifying Grace Under Pressure by Mark Hatmaker

[This offering is an excerpt from the No Second Chance Book of Drills available only to RAW Subscribers.]


Mark Hatmaker

HOMEWORK PROTOCOL: Upon the completion of each written-assignment, simply email it back. Drills requiring video evaluation can be sent via Private YouTube Channel link. We will provide an evaluation (and follow-up assignment if need be) before proceeding to the next assignment.

“FIRE DRILLS” There is a Special Ops axiom that we need to keep in mind at all times throughout our training: “Never do anything for the first time in combat.” In other words, no passive consumption of the material; everything (everything) must be drilled, drilled, drilled.

It is with the above mantra in mind that we approach all the drills and exercises in this material.

Quantifying “Grace Under Pressure” Stage 1

As good self-defense practitioners, as effective human beings, and as good animals effective coping strategies are key.  

Often, we put maximum focus on the “nuts and bolts” of tactics or get deep in the weeds of theoretical strategy without a commensurate amount of time priming the limbic system, the emotional coloring that will fuel our hard work more effectively, or wind-up hamstringing our performance despite all of our cognitive and physical work.

The Calm Cool Collected individual [CCC here on out] exhibits what Ernest Hemingway called “grace under pressure.” [The Full quote is “Courage is grace under pressure.”] Hemingway knew of what he spoke. He backed up his machismo bluster with acts and deeds that required an intimate relationship with this definition.

Quantifiable Information vs. “Good Idea.”

Many of us already have coping strategies, skills, techniques we use when confronted with stressful situations, however that may be defined but…and this is key, how many of those “coping strategies” have been quantified to ensure that they do what we assume they will do?

A coping strategy that is never practiced, one that is shelved in the back of the mind is unlikely to be accessed when dire circumstances requires its immediate use.

As practitioners of combat sports, or self-protection tactics many of us are no strangers to stress-testing tactics. After all, if a tool does not work under stress or in chaotic situations it is not a tool at all, but a detriment to your game that has wasted time [i.e., life] that could have been used honing more effective skills.

I submit that we must put our stress-coping strategies under the same empirical microscope that we would submit all other aspects of training.

If we haven’t, we may be wasting our time with mental or actual lip service that serves no purpose.

With the above in mind I offer a series of subjective empirical tests to allow you to:

·        Separate aspects of the autonomic nervous system and individual function under normal conditions.

·        Quantify “normal” or average function.

·        Apply stressors to determine how the autonomic system fluctuates under load, under stress.

·        Run multi-day tests to stress the system and then apply a variety of “coping strategies” under measured circumstances.

At the end of the series of tests the individual will have a better idea of just how much control they do or not have over the individual aspect of the autonomic system. They will have tested a variety of “coping” tactics to know which do and do not work for them.


·        Yourself

·        A Partner

·        Stopwatch

·        Stair-step

Day 1

·        Sit quietly and breathe normally for 5-minutes. Make no attempt to alter your breathing in any way, simply do what your lungs do all day long.

·        While doing so have a partner record how many inhalations you make for each 30-second interval.

·        At the end of 5-minutes you will have 10-recorded inhalation numbers written down, one for reach 30-second interval.

·        Next execute a Harvard Step-Test, that is, step the right foot onto the step, followed by the left, right foot down, followed by the left. That is one repetition.

·        Have your observer count the total number of steps [I use a pitch-counter for this.]

·        Record the total number of steps completed in 2-minutes.

·        After the Step Test, immediately have a seat and breath normally for 5-minutes. Make no attempt to alter your breathing, simply allow you heavier breathing to give way to normal breathing. The 5-minutes duration will be enough time to chart how long it takes your respiration rate to return to our first recorded number which was your resting respiration rate. Your recorder/observer will count the number of respirations in each 30-second interval and record these.

Day 2

·        Skip the first 5-minute test from Day 1 that determined your Resting Respiration Rate and proceed directly to the step test for 2-minutes.

·        Then immediately have a seat for 5-minutes. This time you are actively attempting to return your respiration to your initial Resting Respiration Rate [or better.] You may use any method you wish: mantra, CO2 blow-off, thinking “calm” what have you. The key is to make an active attempt to gain control of post-stress breathing as rapidly and smoothly as possible.

·        Your recorder will record respirations every 30-seconds.

Days 3-12

·        Repeat Day 2’s protocol on the remaining dozen days.

·        You may alter respiration control techniques daily if you wish, or stay with one or two that seem to work for you, but the key is to find out A) How much post-stress control over respiration you actually have; B) Which tactics do and do not work for you C) How quickly and smoothly you can make these work for you.

“Grace Under Pressure” 24-Day Test, Number 1-Part 2

For the next dozen days, take your Validated Respiration Control Tactic to the world, your day-to-day life.

·        Notice when you might be chest breathing in the car, and apply your validated tactic.

·        Use your validated tactic as you enter a room.

·        Use as a post-training recovery.

In short, use it in as many situations as you can conjure. Once we know what does work for us as individuals it does us little good if we fail to “to take it to the streets” so to speak.

Daily record any observations you have about the use of your validated tactic in your real-world day-to-day.

By making a further 12-day commitment following the initial test period, we are better likely to deeply seat the validated tactic so that we may call on it if/when actual shit hits actual fans.

[Parts 2-8 will push the boundaries of our Autonomic Control Testing. There’s more to calm cool and collected than breathwork.]

PS-I am often asked once I offer this assignment, “Are there some tactics that work better than others?” Oh, indeed, but rather than me telling you “Just do this” find out for yourself. I find that the hands-on aspect of the testing process continuing on to the further dozen days of subjective application does more for the individual than any “received wisdom.”


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