My Unflinching Thoughts on the Startle Response

| October 31, 2016 | 0 Comments

The She Shepherd and I attended Dynamic Focus Shooting in mid-September of this year. DFS is the the condensed, one day version of the Rob Pincus / ICE Training Combat Focus Shooting 2-day handgun course.

Please go back and watch my 3×3 review, otherwise the rest of this post won’t make as much sense to you. In short, I think the class is a great foundation for fight focused handgunning.

A Startling Discovery

One module of the class discussed the startle reflex/response, and how we instinctively flinch when we are scared. I did my best to finish the module as earnestly as I could, trying to keep an open mind and being a good student.

I left the class with some questions about the startle response:

  • can you reduce / stop / “train out” of it?
  • was emulating this response something I should be doing in my training?

After the class I read Rob’s book Combat Focus Shooting: Evolution 2010. I also read some other material about the startle reflex.

In short, you cannot change your startle reflex in any way. You can train your startle response with concerted, purposeful effort.

You still startle

In Combat Focus Shooting: Evolution 2010, Mr. Pincus does a good job explaining what happens to us physiologically when we are scared. The part that resonated with me is that even if we train ourselves to do something other than freak out, we are still being startled.

We can train our subconscious response to being startled, but we cannot stop from being startled.

You can re-train your startle response

If you think you are a tough guy who never gets spooked, you are just reacting differently from a way we associate with “fear.”

Culturally, yelping and raising our hands to our face is considered “fearful,” and therefore not “manly” or “powerful.” So we train ourselves to do something else, but we are still being startled.

It also appears that you can’t have more than one reprogrammed startle response. Some of the literature I read indicated that if something is startling enough you’ll go back to your most primal response, whatever that is naturally (usually as Pincus describes).

The reason I know I don’t react in the startle response described in Rob’s book or in the DFS class is because my reprogrammed response sucks.

My reprogrammed response is to lower my base and then slap my right hand on top of my pistol (I appendix carry). I’ve seen students (and friends) reach back for their pistol at their 2/3 o’clock position.

While borderline acceptable if four assassins bust through a shoji and draw their ninjato, this is a shitty response in all other situations.

“Going for my gun” when scared is bad for several reasons, the top two being:

  1. You telegraph to everyone that you have a gun/tool. Craig Douglas of Shivworks describes this as “picking.”
  2. If your brain gets too far ahead of you, you may draw on someone who doesn’t deserve it. Even worse, you may shoot someone who doesn’t deserve it.

I’ve never, ever been started in my past violent altercations. The other times I’ve reacted this way in the last 20+ years have been false positives.

Next Steps

I have a more educated view on being startled. I’m glad this topic was addressed in the DFS / CFS class, as it forced me to more honestly assess my reaction to being scared, and how that fits within a self defense context.

I am going to write a follow-up post about training our response to being scared, and when it may be appropriate to access a tool after being startled.

I’m also going to address what I think our default startle response should be, given the context of CQS — close quarters startling. 😉

Stay tuned!

If you want to learn more

Training the Brain and the Startle Response

Wikipedia’s Startle Response page

Control Your Startle Response (kind of weird but has some interesting information about physiology and how startle reflex and response are studied)

Combat Focus Shooting: Evolution 2010 (free with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program)

I also wound up reading a lot about the Moro Reflex, which is a startle response found in newborns. This usually goes away as we age. I found that there are some disorders that prolong this into adulthood, or reintroduce to us after a traumatic event. I didn’t address the Moro Reflex here because it’s probably not applicable, and the response is a little different. I list it here only if you are super curious about the startle response spectrum.


About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

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