The Cycle of Behavior: Understanding What Goes Through Your Mind During a Fight - ITS Tactical
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The Cycle of Behavior: Understanding What Goes Through Your Mind During a Fight

By Tony Blauer

Cycle of Behavior

The Cycle of Behavior Learning Tool describes processes that the body/mind undergoes creating a deeper understanding of how you think, make decisions, absorb information and manipulate yourself towards a set goal.

Important Notes: All of this (C.o.B.) happens in nano-seconds. All fights are dangerous. But you have to give yourself permission to engage and win, or you’ve lost before the whole thing starts. The most important thing that I want you to recognize about the C.o.B. is how each step takes place in a part of your brain. Remember, the mind navigates the body. There is nothing that you have to do other than sit in your chair, think about this and be honest with yourself. Also, learn to evaluate stimulus/situation in advance. This mindset will spare you a lot of trouble if you do a little research.

In the end, most situations are easily avoided with the right attitude, awareness and advance analysis. Do not neglect the power of the mind. Your mind can be your ally or your most formidable opponent. The mental side of combat is so vast and powerful that it quite literally determines your next move. The author Dan Millman wrote,

When faced with just one opponent and you oppose yourself… you’re outnumbered.

The Scenario

Remember, if the scenario is a real fight – you don’t “win” a real fight, you survive one. The scenario can be anything from a jiu jitsu tournament to being followed home, to waking up with a knife next to your throat. The number one place to start any type of research or programming is to define the scenario. Get as black and white as possible and move on to the next phase. Remember, the more specific your definition, the more articulate and scientific you approach something, the faster you’re going to achieve the results you want.


If the above scenario is that you’re followed home, what’s your motivation to stop and turn around? Most people visualize losing. The predator visualizes winning. You’re a perfect match. Don’t be that person! Motivation is huge. You will not do anything (it’s my feeling) if you have a negative expectation about the outcome. What we need to do is put together as many factors as possible, so that we can be as motivated as we can be in the event.


No fighter goes into a prize fight thinking they’re going to lose. But when they step into the ring, you notice their body language. Body language is 60% of communication. Even when the fighter has the mantra, the strategy, the do’s and don’ts (going into the fight), it’s all cerebral/psychological. The biggest thing is really this:

If, even at the cellular level, somewhere in your unconscious mind, you have a negative perception of the outcome – it will de-motivate you!

Howard Gardner, the famous researcher estimated that, “80% of our motivations are derived from our expectations.” If you expect pain, discomfort or death, how motivated are you going to be to take care of it? Remember that starting off positive is every bit as important as actually starting.


What influences, inspires our expectations is how and what we visualize. Some people don’t think they visualize. They think it’s some special technique. Let me lay it out for you – we visualize. The trick, if you want to call it that, is to consistently visualize the positive.


Beliefs are something that you hold to be true. If we are told things like: “You’re small. You’re weak. You’ll never overpower someone bigger. Avoid fights at all costs,”… If someone parented that into you, that will be a hindrance to you at some level.

Belief is just a belief, it is not necessarily a fact.


Fear creates doubt, which unchecked, turns into anxiety. This changes everything! Where does it come from? To a large extent, it comes from how/what our mind associates information (symbols, icons, something we relate to). It’s in seeing the “Big, bad wolf” as the big, bad wolf.

As a martial artist I had this intense fear of the black and brown belts. You put that up on the proverbial pedestal and it would totally change your performance.

F.E.A.R. Management Skills

F.E.A.R. management skills are very important because something is convincing us to feel a particular way about something. We have three acronyms: False Expectations Appearing Real (internal stimuli that distracts us) and False Evidence Appearing Real (external stimuli that distracts us) and Failure Expected Action Required (trigger to do something!).

Let me give you an example – You’re driving over a hill (you haven’t seen the cop yet), but as you come to the top you see the police lights. Someone else, however, had been pulled over. Once you saw the lights, you immediately slowed down. Three seconds later your chest is beating hard – like you’ve been climbing stairs for 3 minutes but you’ve barely moved a muscle. The false expectation was that visualizing in your mind the consequences (if the cop lights had been for you). The false evidence was everything from: the cop car, lights, possibly missing your appointment or that you’re going to be late, etc. It’s not… it wasn’t true, but the situation gave you that fear spike all the same. Don’t imbue someone or something with traits unproven/unfounded.

Cus D’Amato, a famous boxing coach said,

The difference between the hero and the coward is what they do with their fear.

The next time you feel it – fight it. Challenge your fear. Attack your fear. Do not fear fear. We all feel it. Fight your fear first then fight your physical foe. This is one of the true ways of growth.


The Challenge or Threatened Door comes up when you’ve identified yourself as being in the FEAR LOOP; something takes you into a dark place and what you have is a negative expectation – obviously being fed by a negative visualization. If you have time to assess it, you find that your negative beliefs, influences from a negative neuro-association is all creating false expectation/evidence. The only way out of it is this:

  • Identify what the fear is!
  • Tell yourself to take action
  • Am I challenged or threatened?


The “sure footing” that you’re looking for under duress in a fight is a plan. Plan is everything. You’ve got to have them and know them in advance. For example, in a self-defense situation your goal would be getting to safety (where do I need to be?), your action would be to fight/move (must have a plan & review that plan) and your result would be to achieve safety. The Plan needs to be specific. Do I take control, lie, feign compliance, etc? Re-view (the plan) as in “see again.” Run through this loop in your mind and make your decision.

No one deserves to be a victim, but many street tragedies result from “planning for failure through failure to plan.”

Past-Present-Future Dilemma

In fights you will sometimes hear a coach/trainer say, “Just throw more jabs” or “Just take him down and the round is yours.” Well, there is a step in between that and our decision for action – and that is our past-present-future fears. For example, it may run through the fighter’s mind, “Last time I did this, THIS happened.” Keep in the positive. As a coach/trainer, never motivate through a negative. People are not robots. They are their own bodies making choices based on ability, motivations – their own Cycle of Behavior.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Tony Blauer is a world renowned combatives instructor and the developer of the SPEAR System. His philosophy and mission has remained constant since 1979, always searching for a better way. Not trying to perpetuate a style; instead to educate an international community on the importance of psychology, fear management and behaviorally sound tactics.

His company, Blauer Tactical Systems (BTS) along with his Personal Defense Readiness (PDR) team continues to research and evolve personal and professional safety training and products. Tony has also recently partnered with CrossFit to develop CrossFit Defense, promoting the parallels between the CrossFit philosophy and the SPEAR System.

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