Should We Train How to Fight After Being Startled?

| November 4, 2016 | 2 Comments

Earlier this week I wrote about the startle reflex and the startle response. Rob Pincus of ICE Training discusses these topics at length in his book and his course work.

Please go back and read my post before continuing, as this article won’t make as much sense otherwise.


After reading Rob’s book and doing more research, I believe we cannot remove the startle reflex, but we can modify the startle response with training and purpose.

If we agree this is true, then the question is:

What response should we develop to being startled?

I contend that if you are startled, it will be:

  • at a very close distance and you should not be training to access a tool
  • at a far enough distance that your startle response is irrelevant

I will continue to train the Default position as taught by Shivworks, and discard any other methodologies at this time.

Please continue to read if you want to understand my decision.

Being Startled: the Ambush

The context of the Dynamic Focus Shooting class and Combat Focus Shooting class is encounters start from concealment, and we are shooting attackers at more than two arms reach.

I have never been startled in real life physical confrontations or in force on force training scenarios. This is not because I am super tough or really switched on.

It’s because the encounters I’ve experienced have had a ramp-up period from observation to action. Sometimes the period is long, sometimes short, but I’ve never been startled in a fight.

It is possible that someone could ambush me, and force a startle reflex response.

An ambush will occur at one of two distances: too close for a tool, or too far away to care about your startle response.

The Shivworks Cartel calls a close-range ambush a “blitz.” A blitz could be a strike (Knockout Game), body control (bear hug, dragging/pushing), or the sudden presentation of a weapon.

A distant ambush / startle might be due to hearing gunshots, a bomb going off, someone screaming, or any number of loud and unusual noises that trigger the startle reflex.

Reacting to a Short Range Ambush

The startle response discussed in DFS / CFS is to lower the base, hands come up near the head, move, draw, and fire.

You should not attempt to access a tool at close distances. Attempting to fight before the situation is in a neutral position (at least) is dangerous.

The two-arms reach taught in the DFS class is too close. I have a 29″ functional reach from the tip of my index finger to my chest. 29″ x 2 = 58″, or just under 5 feet.

My forward step is 26″. That’s a normal, unmotivated step.

I am no juggernaut, but I can almost cross the two-arms reach distance in one normal step. Any additional speed or motivation puts me in contact distance with the victim.

If I startled you, and we started at two arms distance, I would be able to grab you before you could recover from your startle reflex and implement your startle response.

Trying to access a tool of any kind at close distances is very difficult under the best of circumstances. My training with Shivworks, QSI, and DTI have demonstrated over and over that trying to draw from concealment and fend off a motivated attacker is a recipe for disaster.

When I Move, You Move

The next logical progression is:

If one is startled at close range, move until you are no longer at close range, then draw.

This is better than “stand and deliver,” or even “side step and deliver,” but the reality is once the fight is on you won’t be able to greatly increase the distance between you and an attacker.

I find it unlikely that an aggressor will be in worse physical shape than you — an estimation of physical dominance / superiority is part of the “selection” process — and I don’t expect to gain more than a stride or two on a motivated attacker.

Any of you who have tried to run away from someone in ECQC or a QSI force on force class knows what I mean. You might get a split second, but you won’t maintain that distance forever.

You may be able to move enough to draw, and perhaps even put rounds on target, but you are betting on your ability to be faster than your opponent.

The entangled fight is complex, dynamic, and requires a good appreciation of a vast array of subjects. We should all train for the entangled fight, but I do not think it is appropriate to bring it up in a beginner / fundamentals class. At most, references should be made to advanced material, but I have concerns about encouraging people to draw and fight when an opponent is close.

Bottom line, if the fight starts close, expect it to stay close and end close. Given that DFS / CFS is scoped at close range, I do not think it is appropriate to mold our startle response in this class.

In regards to longer range startles (e.g., bomb going off on the street, shootings at the mall), you probably have time to make any startle response and recover before drawing. I do not think that we should be training to access any tool if the threat is far away, either.

Train the Default Position

If — if — we train any startle response, I think it should be the Default position as taught by Shivworks.

The Default position consists of making a “helmet” with both arms around the vital parts of the head and neck. The Default position is meant to keep us conscious from oncoming attacks from contact weapons.

We spent a lot of time working with this position in the Immediate Action Pugilism class taught by Shivworks Cartel member Cecil Burch. I’ve also been exposed to it in Craig Douglas’s ECQC class, as well as different seminars at Rangemaster.

I will write about the Default position in another post.

My Not-So-Startling Conclusion

I’ve never been startled in a violent confrontation, real or simulated. However, I do get startled by random shit, and I shouldn’t re-wire myself to have an aggressive response (going for my gun) to something that is probably not a threat.

I am only going to train the Default position for a startle response.

I do not advocate trying to access a tool of any kind if you are truly startled at close range.

If you’re spooked at long range, then I wouldn’t worry about your startle response at all. Rifle/carbine gunfire is about the only thing that may still pose a threat if it doesn’t get you the first time, and hopefully the longer distance will give you the time you need to properly respond.

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.

2 Comments on "Should We Train How to Fight After Being Startled?"

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  1. Hey there SBS, I’m a big fan of your website and work 🙂 spent the last few days reading all your posts (sadly not enough time to check out all the vids)

    I am a Personal Protection instructor with Senshido International and Firearms instructor based in Lebanon (Middle East not Ohio lol).

    One thing about the startle to flinch reaction is that it is never always the same for all individuals. However, it exhibits certain similarities across the board: Hands go up to protect the head/ neck area, some variation of a lowering of the base or crouch, immediate adrenal dump (as opposed to the “slow drip” when you see a situation develop)…

    Some people flinch by turning away, other by going forward, some have a deeper crouch than others. I have taught victims of rape and bullying that were victimized extensively for a long time and their initial flinch was almost non existent.

    Your fatigue or intoxication level can also negatively affect your flinch (Not always but it is a variable to take into account.) and increase your reaction time.

    The best way to determine how you would flinch is to have your arms in a passive stance in front of your chest, feet shoulder-width apart and have the She Shepherd face you and slap you full speed full power and with intent to knock you out. once a violent and intense stimulus is included (no one likes getting slapped hard), then you will discover how *you* flinch under duress.

    Only after having determined the initial flinch can you start “adding” a trained response to it (Going in, grappling/ striking/ etc.). However, bad training scars will make your reaction slower, and so will memorizing different types of “attack interceptions” or “block” or “jams” (Often taught depending on the type of attack)

    The “helmet” or “cover up” or “cage” position works very well against strikes but is terrible against a stab to the face/ neck area. Because we always assume weapon use (Our three assumptions are Weapons, Multiples, Variables on the street), the attack might be perceived to be a sucker punch/ haymaker whereas it is a shiv/shank stab to the neck. Since the effects of adrenaline include tunnel vision and increased pain tolerance, among a long list of other things), one might not even feel the stab/ cut and will be surprised later on by the copious amount of blood spurting.

    This kinda evolved into a long rant, not sure if I made any sense lol. I would love to further discuss this topic with you if you are interested.

    I would be honored if you checked my website out for our perspective on unarmed combatives and how to bridge the gap from empty hands to other tools.

  2. Todd Parr says:

    Georges, You would need to train with the ShivWorks guys to understand the “helmet”. They are very aware of the need for assuming a weapon is in play and train with that in mind at all times. To judge what they are doing without seeing it is like the people that say the Shredder is just tearing and eye-gouging. I have trained with both Shivworks people and with Rich Dimitri, founder of Senshido, and I can tell you, they have much more in common than not.

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