11/01/2012: "Keep cool? Yeah, right!"
At the end of the "Resistance is futile" post, we noted: "Gun jammed in your ear by a hostage taker? You're still alive." That's arguably one of the worst scenarios imaginable - but to quote Monty Python, "I'm not dead yet!"
Dealing with sudden, extreme stress is very very difficult, and isn't something that most of us are used to doing. If your job or training places you in that sort of scenario, you'll be better equipped to deal with it - but most of us don't, and aren't.
Thinking ahead can help to some extent - what would I do in situation X? - but we'll still have to deal with the physiological reactions we can't control. (A very few, who have experienced such situations many many times, may have a muted reaction - but that's unusual.)
Keeping your head
In January 2011, a woman was taken hostage after a bank robbery in Takoma Park, MD. The robber needed her for a shield, so he didn't shoot her. She kept her wits, and ran after he slipped and let go of her; he was so focused on her that he chased her and ran right into the cops. This is the video showing her escape.
Threats tend to result in compliance
1) True story from one of our dojo members: an acquaintance was robbed at gunpoint. The robber stuck him up, then put the gun on the ground, searched the victim, took his wallet, picked the gun up, and left.
2) An attacker grabs a victim, displays a weapon, then puts it out of sight while walking/taking the victim to a secondary location. (NEVER go to a secondary location - why are they taking you there???) The weapon is no longer a direct threat, but the victim has frozen mentally, anticipating what could happen. In November 2011, a carjacker in Wheaton, MD threatened several individuals with a box cutter, then drove the victims to various locations to get money from ATMs.
Threats of physical harm - to self or others - often lead to compliance with the attacker's demands. A threat from a distance, however, is still just a threat, not an active attack. ("Distance" here refers to the weapon being nearby but not physically in contact with the victim or close to his body; time would be required to present it and attempt to injure the victim.)
That "distance" is one of the openings to look for, as noted in the "Resistance is futile" post. In the first instance above, the gunman put the gun down on the ground, where it was no longer a threat. In the second, the carjacker would have had to simultaneously drive, threaten the victim, and respond to any action on the victim's part. (cf. Reaction vs. action.) In the first case, there was definitely an opening for the person being robbed to have done something - either to the robber, or to flee. In the second, we don't have enough details from the news report to say for sure, but it's likely that there were opportunities available - against the carjacker or his weapon, or by bailing out of the car or running away after arriving at the ATM. (The unknown in this case is whether any of the victims had the physical strength or agility to outmaneuver the attacker; some 60- and 70-year-olds can, some can't. But the looking-for-openings part still obtains.)
During and after
The person being attacked will experience an adrenaline dump - it's unavoidable, that's the way your body operates, and most of us aren't conditioned to deal with it. But it's what you do with or in spite of that dump that will keep you in one piece - or as much in one piece as possible. It will take a few seconds for the dump to have an effect - your blood needs to move the hormones around - and that's the timeframe in which you need to begin to deal with the situation.
Afterward, you may feel an urgent need to visit a bathroom, your blood pressure may drop, and you may feel extremely tired. All of these are normal (though watch out for the blood pressure drop; at an extreme, you could pass out), and are the result of the huge hormonal dump which your body experienced under stress. If you've ever been under prolonged stress, you may also have experienced many of the same symptoms.
As noted in the Read beyond the article post, when you see a news story, examine it. If there's enough information, what do you notice about the attack and the circumstances surrounding it? If you were in that situation, what would you do?
You can't plan for all contingencies - and neither can we when we train - but thinking ahead can help program your brain to shorten or skip a few steps in between the "what's that?!" and the "this is what I'm going to do" parts.
Life is chaos, the bad guys just like adding to it - don't forget that you can too! Just try to keep your cool while doing so.