When the topic of self-defense or martial arts comes up, most people expect the conversation to turn to talk of kicks, punches, joint locks, and various physical skills. What doesn’t enter the discussion is the cognitive part of self-defense, that is unless Tony Blauer is present. Tony Blauer is the world’s foremost authority on the sciences of self-defense. He refers to this as behavior-based self-defense. His most important work might just be on managing fear as a tactical advantage in self-defense; his research spans decades which has resulted in a system that effectively integrates physiology, physics, and psychology.
This program is called the Spontaneous Protection Enabling Accelerated Response (SPEAR) System. It is based in neuroscience and it teaches students to tap into their instinctive human response mechanisms as a warning system, buying time for their conscious brain to engage and take action. SPEAR teaches that if you can weaponize the Startle-Flinch response, you can bridge the gap between the reactive brain and the cognitive brain. This reduces response time and improves the intended victim’s odds during a violent encounter.
What is the SPEAR System
Most martial art styles are very good at teaching the technical components of combat; fewer yet provide instruction on how to defuse a situation; and almost none address the circumstances just prior to the attack called pre-contact indicators. This is precisely the gap the SPEAR System is designed to fill.
Over 30 years ago, Tony Blauer began researching how humans have been programmed for thousands of years with a DNA blueprint that forces us to respond unconsciously with fear when faced with danger. This physiological brain-based action is called the Startle-Flinch response. The SPEAR System does not try to suppress the reaction, nor does it attempt to alter it; instead, Blauer’s program uses this instinct to help the defender tap into a protective response, using the energy generated by the flinch movement.
Along with his fear management formula, this reaction helps the defender gain the time needed for an effective tactical response. In short, he found a way to weaponize the Startle-Flinch response to create an advantage over the bad guy. The SPEAR System original thesis statement was “What does your body do prior to any training and does it have a combative application? If so, why not integrate it with self-defense? The goal of the program is to be morally, legally, and ethically above board – to avoid violence at all costs.”
In order to understand the SPEAR System, it is essential to understand the Startle-Flinch response. First, the flinch is generated by a sudden startling event that triggers a real fear response, but the situation must actually be perceived as truly dangerous; trying to scare someone as a joke by surprising them may not work. It is an unconscious protective mechanism that forces your body to flinch without your permission – it is hardwired from thousands of years of evolution.
If there is a true threat, your body will automatically trigger a fear spike and this is where real-life overrides conventional training. We need to weather the ambush and sudden fear spike to get back in the fight. The key is to manage your mind when you are in the fear loop and understand the psychology of how it works. The physiology is not important at this level. This is the bedrock principle of the SPEAR System. “SPEAR is the connective tissue between the Startle-Flinch response and controlling it enough to do a complex motor skill as a defensive action.”
Do Instincts Help
The system Tony Blauer defined reconnects us to our original survival instincts that have been domesticated over the years. Brain-based drills re-train us to use intuition and instincts to help us sense danger sooner so we can act more quickly. Research and interviews have definitively established that victims always have a sense of danger right before an attack. This sense is a human instinct that cannot be learned or programmed; it simply exists like many other instincts.
However, as Blauer notes, the instinct is fading as we are becoming domesticated in that the public is being taught to depend on law enforcement or cooperate with the bad guy to avoid legal issues. Modern society has, in part, suppressed our instinct to survive. The net result is a counter-intuitive reaction to our body’s safety system designed for self-preservation. The SPEAR System teaches to instead “trust your gut and respond” because there is no down side to choosing safety.
The Nature of Confrontation
Research has shown that confrontations flow through three phases, generally in a linear fashion although they do not have to. Blauer coined them as “The Three D’s”.
In all three phases, fear acts as the alarm system so you are warned that something is wrong. You need to control it and manage your emotions so you can respond in a way that helps you survive and avoid becoming a victim (e.g. of theft, rape, or even murder).
Key Components of SPEAR
Most violent encounters which are real are not fluid like we often see in demonstrations and training where we work to hone complex motor skills. These confrontations are not technical; they are instead, chaotic. This realization is the genesis for Blauer’s repertoire of drills. The SPEAR System is built on many fundamentals, but two of the more important ones are: Researching real-world attacks, and scenario training.
Tony Blauer has literally spent the last 40 years studying real confrontations to gain data on what they look like, how they play out, and what can be expected. Too often classical martial arts systems overlook the pre-indication cues and go straight to D3 assuming the person being assaulted somehow knew what was coming. It is not a direct criticism, as Blauer himself is a product of traditional martial arts; however, it does point out a potentially fatal flaw in most Dojo’s by not identifying the true nature of an attack. The SPEAR System was forged in part because self-defense instruction has focused on using what is thought to occur on the street instead of what actually does. Tony Blauer is on a mission to “pull back the curtain” and provide an understanding of real combat so we can face real fear and learn to manage it. His method is simple: watch endless hours of ccTV, bodycam film, and victim interviews to gain accurate raw data that is compiled and collated into life-like scenarios.
When an attack occurs, everyone feels fear – what you do with it is the difference between winning and losing. In order to learn what to do, SPEAR forces students to experience scenario after scenario under realistic circumstances. Tony Blauer incorporates Repetition theory to reenact events at slow, medium, and full speed until the skill is absorbed. That is in fact how the brain learns any cognitive action or response and creates a mental roadmap. However, this is not to be confused with the common term of “Muscle Memory”.
Spoiler alert – muscle memory is not a real thing. The true process is like a superfast computer that senses environmental triggers which require action and then does a neuro-download of the corresponding program for the correct movement. In the SPEAR System, skills are not just learned; they are learned under true-to-life conditions so students are not surprised by their inherent Startle-Flinch response. As the fear is conquered, the speed of detection increases and the time it takes to respond decreases creating the best chance you have of surviving an attack.
The SPEAR System is truly a revolutionary way of looking at self-defense, and like any groundbreaking theories it has attracted its critics and imitating imposters. But make no mistake; SPEAR works and Tony Blauer is the originalpioneer of this type of training. In recognizing how the body responds to danger, he has created a system that uses hardwired reflexes to weaponize our natural instinct to survive.