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"Freeze, Fight, Flight... or Flow"

(The following material was adapted from my book, "Liberate Yourself - How To Think Like Bruce Lee.")

While it might not be part of your nature to attack another individual, the reverse is not always the case. Other individuals, for one reason or another, may attempt to attack us in some manner, be it physically, mentally, or emotionally (In this blog I’m going to concentrate on the latter two). It might be out of jealousy, perhaps out of dislike or even hatred. They might do as something deliberate and planned, or as a response to their own conditioning. Whatever the reason may be, to deal effectively with these attacks, we need to understand how we react to them.

Most mental and emotional attacks come in the form of condescending questions or disparaging statements aimed at --

  • Who we are – “You’re such a geek. Why do you even bother?”

  • What we’re doing with our life or what we’ve done with our life – “When are you going to quit writing music and get a real job?”“You’ve always taken the easy way.”

  • Who we are currently involved with (spouse, group, etc.) – “I can’t believe you’re actually going out with that guy/girl.” “I don’t understand how you can hang out with those people.”

  • What we’re currently involved in, or our personal or work accomplishments, successes, etc. -- “What’s so great about what you do anyway?” – “You think you’re something special.”


Let’s say, for example, you’re at work one day when a co-worker comes up to you and without warning fires a verbal attack at you such as making a derogatory comment about your work performance in front of others. How do you react?  Most people will usually react in one of three ways:

“Freeze” response -- The person being attacked stands frozen in stunned silence, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. Having been caught off-guard by the co-worker’s action, their response is a sort of “What the hell just happened?”

“Fight” response – Lacking the self-control to think about the situation and question the attacker’s motives for doing what they are doing, the person being attacked immediately gets angry and aggressively retaliates by lashing out verbally (and in some instances physically) against the attacker.

“Flight/Flee” response -- The recipient of the attack immediately seeks to escape by taking flight and fleeing the scene. 

The problem with all three of these responses is that they do nothing except encourage the attacker to do it again because they know that their attack worked. However, there is a fourth way to respond to the attack which doesn’t do this --

“Flow” response – When using this form of response, the person being attacked remains calm and “flows” with the situation and responds in such a way that they effectively neutralize the negative action of the other person.


What do we mean when we say “flow”? The concept of “flow” was brought to the public’s attention in the early 1990’s by psychologist and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmahalyi in his book “Flow -- The Psychology of Optimal Experience.”


However, the principle of “flow” and even the term itself has existed in martial arts for years. In his book “The Filipino Martial Arts,” which my teacher, Dan Inosanto wrote in 1977, he described it in this way, “Flowing means re-directing one’s energy to stay in constant motion while moving with the opponent’s energy, constantly adjusting to fit in with him and developing your reflexes to the point where you don’t think about the moves.”


The ability to flow enables a martial artist to literally “blend” with their opponent’s actions, and even with their intentions, remaining in motion while harmonizing with the opponent’s energy. And in the same way, developing your ability to “flow” with an attack offers a more effective way of dealing with attacks. It will allow you to remain in a calm yet alert state, see clearly what is taking place, and rather than simply reacting, respond appropriately to the person or the situation in a way which is advantageous to us.

(Caveat ) -- Do not mistake “flowing” with the idea of simply “going with the flow.” They are two very different things. Flowing is proactive, whereas simply going with the flow is reactive.

While you might not have any control over who chooses to attack you, the one thing you can control is your own attitude and your reaction to the attack. Why not choose “flow”?

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