The Window of Tolerance / Resilience

I'd like to share a bit more about the frame work of Mindful Martial Arts and why this came to be.

A lot of the framework comes from trauma theory. There are a few concepts which I feel are really relevant to Mindful Martial Arts.


1. The first is: The Window of Tolerance/Resilience

The Window of Tolerance/Resilience is a range of experiences in which our nervous system is regulated and we have our frontal cortex online.


Simply put this is a range of experiences in which we can think and feel simultaneously.


When our experience are outside this window, either in a hyper phase (above the window includes: rage, anxiety, fear, restlessness etc.) Or below in a hypo phase (depression, fatigue, disassociation, numbness) we cannot process our experiences because the experiences are at an intensity range in which thinking and feeling cannot happen simultaneously.

How does this concept relate to Martial arts?


In almost a decade now of training Martial arts, I found that often I was outside my window of tolerance, operating from a place of recycling emotions unconsciously and also even acting unconsciously. This is where we get almost a primal take over.

What do I mean by primal take over?

This is when our Animal self defence mechanisms begin to override our frontal cortex, this is when we're outside the window of tolerance.


2. So what are our primal self defence mechanisms?

I'm sure you've heard of fight or flight. The truth is there are more mechanisms than this.


The are: Fight, Flight, Freeze, Submit, Attach.


adrenaline pumps through our body and our body is prepared to fight off a threat. At times the emotion anger or rage can be associated with this mechanism.


The innate impulse to flee a threat. Our bodies prime to escape muscles ready to activate to escape danger. The emotion associated can be anxiety or fear.



I believe this is where the body tries to execute fight and flight but neither is activated and gets stuck in an in between phase where neither impulse can execute and the body fills with adrenaline and becomes immobilized. The body becomes stiff, it is difficult to breathe, muscles tighten. Also known as feint death. An animal self defence mechanism where a realization that both fight and flight are not viable options so feinting death is the next viable option.



When the body no longer can hold the adrenalized state of freeze (feint death) and to conserve energy submits to the situation in hopes of survival through collapse. The emotion of shame often is associated with this animal defence mechanism.

The last and the most notorious in trauma is the attach response.



Especially in periods of early development but not excluded to this, when a being experiences deep trauma an attachment response can form as a survival instinct.

Have you heard of the Stockholm syndrome. A syndrome or set of circumstances in which people who are. Kidnapped form feelings of attachment and warmth towards their perpetrators? This is a survival mechanism inherent in our primal selves. It's one's in which we learn to attach to those who have dominated and inflicted trauma upon us. Often called trauma bonding, where feelings of warmth and euphoric feelings associated with love are ascribed to boundary breaking or traumatic acts. Often I think of the world of BDSM and how likely that might be related to this response.


OK that's a lot of info, and to be honest it's a super rough first pass.


What I will say is this. In my time training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing, Judo, Wrestling (MMA). So fucking often we are traumatizing each other by being out of our window of tolerance and having these traumatic relations illicit-ed in each other. They have left me feeling more and more disconnected from myself and other people.

I think a good Martial artist is able gauge where his training partner is at and visa versa. The more experienced Martial artist helping the less experienced inch their way forward by offering them challenge that isnt unreasonable.


In a way this what the model of Window of tolerance allows for and what it helps bring an understanding of. When we push ourselves and each other too far outside our window of tolerance and into our animal self defence mechanisms. We don't process and retain I information from our experiences.

One goal of Mindful Martial Arts is to help teach people how to recognize when they are outside of their own window of tolerance and how to come back inside of it, and how to gently work towards expanding that window.


Another is to help Martial Artists identify when their training partners are outside of their window of tolerance and how to navigate helping them back into it.


The result when this is done well is that the Information gained through training is effectively processed, integrated, and it leaves the Martial artist regulated and stable when leaving training.

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