Tuesday, 10 February 2009
The first enemy
"It was a troublesome scramble...because I momentarily behaved like a bad tempered boy who is apoplectic with his toy-train. The straps were a fuddle, the engine was recalcitrant, and ...I ...noticed someone had altered the setting of the rudder bar. Ugh-urrr!
'Oh, Jesus , this is it, this is it-just time to get above...Where the hell!'
Momentarily I panicked, my mouth became so dry it seemed I had been licking thousands of stamps.
Then my thoughts raced with a hare's rhythm. Battle had commenced!"
Once Kenneth Hemingway had attacked some enemy bombers with his Hurricane in this, his first enemy engagement he, by his own admission, was quite calm: "my nervousness had gone".
When I read this story (taken from Wings Over Burma, 1944) about a fighter pilot in the Second World War who flew alongside the AVG I was intrigued by his pre-combat 'nerves' and it reminded me much of something I'd read by Geoff Thompson who wrote comprehensively about the fight or flight phenomenon. I was also interested in the clarity or calmness that this pilot achieved in the midst of combat.
In Thompson's book 'Dead or Alive' he identifies aspects of adrenaline in order to understand, to know what the body undergoes in stressful situations. This way we can better face it when it actually happens. There is a huge section on adrenal reactions and I'd recommend getting hold of the book. Besides if I reproduced it all here Geoff Thompson would kick my head in...
As a taster here is his list, some of which can be seen in the above story.
- Pre fight shakes
- Dry mouth
- Voice quiver
- tunnel vision
- Sweaty palms
- Bowel loosening
- Adrenal deafness
- Time distortion
As Hannibal Lecter said in Red Dragon, "Yes, that's the fear. It takes time and experience to master it..."
The second idea relating to martial training that I was minded of was 'mushin no shin' or mind of no mind. This is the state of mind open to all senses without being transfixed by anything. this freedom from extraneous 'clutter' enables the warrior to act and react without hindrance. A calmness just like the hurricane pilot felt after his initial adrenaline squirts.