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Condition Black wasn’t part of Cooper’s original system either, but was added by the U.S. Marine Corps. When you reach Condition Black, your heart is beating faster than 175 BPM. At this level of arousal, a fighter — even a well-trained one — experiences catastrophic breakdown of mental and physical performance.
In addition to tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and deterioration of complex motor skills, other symptoms are present in Condition Black.
Most fighters will experience bladder and bowel voiding — in other words, they poop and pee their pants. In high-stress, life-or-death situations, sphincter and bladder control just aren’t a priority for your body. Moreover, it wants to get rid of as much waste as it can so you’re in a better position to fight or run.
At this point, the decisions your physical body makes are overriding any cognitive ones. Lt. Col. Grossman actually discusses this issue in great detail in On Combat. While many soldiers and fighters won’t admit publicly that they messed themselves, in anonymous surveys conducted after WWII, one-quarter of soldiers admitted they peed themselves during combat and one-eighth admitted to defecating. Grossman believes the number was likely even higher than that.
Extreme vasoconstriction is also typically present in Condition Black. Vasoconstriction is when the blood vessels narrow to constrict blood flow. In life-or-death situations, your body wants most of your blood to stay near vital organs and large muscles that can be used to fight or run.
One benefit of this is that if you were to sustain a wound, vasoconstriction helps limit the amount of bleeding you experience. Extreme vasoconstriction causes people to look “white with fear” as all the blood has been shunted away from the skin’s surface to more vital parts of the body. While this is a survival mechanism, it unfortunately leads to deterioration of complex motor skills.
.Another physical reaction is that your forebrain (the executive part of your brain) shuts down and your more primitive middle brain takes over.
Grossman calls this the “puppy dog” brain. Without executive functioning, you’re susceptible to irrational fighting or fleeing. As an example of this type of irrational behavior, many soldiers fighting in the frontlines of WWI and WWII reported seeing comrades run out from behind protection and into enemy fire without any rhyme or reason. As Grossman puts it, “in Condition Black you can run and you can fight like a big, hairless, clawless bear, but that is about all you are capable of doing.”
In that same study conducted by Dr. Artwohl mentioned above, he found that a very small percentage of police offers experienced freezing, or temporary paralysis during a deadly force encounter. In these cases, the body doesn’t fight or run, it just stops cold, leaving the fighter very vulnerable
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