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Training for Courage by Mark Hatmaker

Do you consider yourself courageous?

Now, whether you answered that question in the affirmative or the negative or in the “Well, maybe, a little” let’s now answer this…

Would you like to be more courageous?

That question will usually reap a universal “Hell, yeah! Who wouldn’t?”

Now, here’s the important question: Is it possible to train for bravery? To increase courage?

Is it possible to train an ineffable virtue?

The answer just may be yes.

First, it is helpful to wrap our heads around the concept that our bodies perceive like states as fact.

What I mean by this is that when the human body is in an arousal state, whether that arousal be sexual, response to a perceived threat or mere interest as in “What kind of animal is that over there behind that line of scrub?” our physiological processes behave as if the arousal state is the true state.


Let’s make this clear using dreams and cinema.

If one experiences an erotic dream, the body behaves as if the actual event is taking place. Both sexes will manifest the actual physiological responses as if the dreamt events were occurring in real time.

If one has a deeply disturbing nightmare, although we may wake up with a start grateful that the fantasy is untrue, we can’t help but notice the pulse rate is high, the breath is short, the hormonal rush is still in real time mode determining fight or flight options.

Upon awakening from either sort of dream, we cognitively know what reality is, but it takes a moment for the body to catch up to that reality.

When we watch, let’s say, a well-made horror film, we know for a fact that we are watching an illusion. A series of digital bytes providing the simulacrum of the events portrayed, but if the film has any craft at all our body begins priming for readiness-hence the literal jumping at the appropriately named “jump scares” or the quick look over the shoulder at a noise caught off-screen.

The known illusion provided the priming and despite our big super-smart brains the body will still behave with a bit of realism to our unrealities be they dreams or films or the stories we tell ourselves each and every day of our lives.

That unshakable bodily response to illusion is part of the foundation of many courses of “courage training.”

Battle simulations, war games, confrontational scenarios that allow for emotional content buttons to be pushed, these are useful for those seeking to aid and abet the bracing up of a courageous spirit.

But… there are two problems with this scenario-method no matter how exceptionally valuable they are.

One – We know they are illusion, mere models of that which we wish to prepare for and no matter how realistic we make scenarios that truth lurks in our noggins.

Back to our horror film or dreams examples. Yes, we respond to these stimuli as if they were real but only to a degree. If the horror film were interpreted as 100% real, we would choose not to watch them as the ancillary stresses would be too high, we would leave the couch, arm ourselves and shoot the screen.

If the dream of a certain nature were as real-world fulfilling as a real-life interaction with flesh and blood, there would be no need for Tinder or the matrimonial industry.

Note: This is in no way an argument against scenario training, on the contrary, they are mighty useful. It merely points out their limitations.

Two – The Familiarity Effect. Scenario training can be a double-edged sword in that, on one hand it familiarizes and grooves the athlete/operator to what is expected, while on the other hand the more scenarios are drilled the less arousal.

But that is the point of scenario drilling, we “get used to” circumstances and some aspect of the emotional content we may face.

It is akin to any risky endeavor, the more familiar one is with it the more the bar must be nudged to return to arousal states that formerly taxed the system. When one begins rock climbing, a wall rated 5.1 and 60 feet high got the heart pumping.

Once one has faced such walls again and again, that same rating and height does little for the arousal system. A good thing. That means your training is working.

But… if we want to continue to inure the body to handling stressors of various caliber, that is, upping the courage base rate we need more difficulty and higher precipices.

This is the theme of The Hurt Locker phenomenon. Returning soldiers who have been steeped in combat action missions can find standard stressors/excitements stateside a bit less than stressful or, frankly, satisfying. Thusly many have an adjustment period as they work through what feels like flat-line emotional states or boredom. What we have here is the familiarity effect.

Some combat-veterans turn to certain action sports or extreme behaviors to re-capture a bit of their new base-rate.

So, beyond actually putting ourselves in harm’s way is there anything we can do to train courage that does not fall prey to the familiarity effect and pierces the “known-illusion” veil?

Actually, there may be.

In fact, there are two courses of action, Neoteny and Constrained-Intensity.

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10 thoughts on “Training for Courage by Mark Hatmaker”

  1. I have the courage to do what needs to protect my friends and family! I started in the police explorers program. Then, onto MP school in Anniston, AL on Ft. McLellan for MP Basic, then MP School. I graduated middle of my class. Considered a nice MP. It just that I offer respect to everyone I meet, then if they return that respect I continue along that line. If it goes sideways I can instantly assess and respond automatically!!! I am a proponent of the, don’t think, do!!! Thinking while under any attack will get you dead

  2. Excellent discussion! I am sixty eight and have been an active duty Marine (Air wing-Helicopters, Police officer/(Chief-small town) and Forensic Scientist reconstructing Homicides and stress interviewing, one on one, locked in a small interview room in the State Prison, accused and convicted Murders. I have been in a (I am NOT PC) Mexican Standoff, Gripping a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake’s head with three fingers after it got a coil of it’s body around that arm’s forearm! Did you know Rattlers can swing those fangs up and down like a punk flicks his knife blade open and shut? Well each time that fang reached the point that it was pointed directly at my finger tip, SHE tried to yank her head back thru my grip so as to sink that fang into my fingertip with a maximum force/quantity of venom injecting into that finger! HOT AUGUST day in California, high stress situation, volumes of sweat pouring out! She gave up the battle of Wills/Strengths first and I got her unwrapped and deposited into an ammo can! Now there isn’ much that gets my adrenaline really flowing, short of a visible knife or firearm!

  3. You either have courage or you do not. There is no “training” for courage. You don’t know whether you have it or not until you are confronted. Then it is proven or it is not. No training involved. My father was the bravest man I ever met. Funny, but he said the same thing about his son. As a special forces counterinsurgency sniper in Viet Nam, I had a lot of training but that had little to do with courage or the 5 Purple Hearts, Bronze Star with Cluster, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, and a nomination for the Medal of Honor. You are born with courage or you are not. If you think you can “train” for courage, you are living in Never, Never Land. And, sometime “courage” can be pure stupidity. Also, remember, “Those who cannot perform teach”. Obviously, I didn’t think much of your blog.

  4. I don’t believe courage is something that can be taught or trained for. You are taught skills and training is used to develop and refine those taught skills both mentally and physically. Over time repetitive training develops instinctive actions, quicker reaction time’s, situational awareness, the ability to assess and make immediate judgment calls ect. It develops muscle memory and takes what you would normally have to think about before doing and gets you to that level of doing with out thinking about it if that makes sense. Once a person gets to that next level it gives them the conference to know they can complete the task on hand without doubting there selves but there’s a huge difference between conference and courage. Courage is something that you either have or don’t have at that particular moment. A man can be a coward all there life but for instance let a loved ones life be in jeopardy or a team member be in trouble and without thinking about it, do whatever it takes to remedy the situation. And on the same turn of hand’s a man can train all his life for every scenario imaginable. Believe with all his heart and soul that he will preform at 120% with the courage of a Lion yet crumble to the ground in a fetal position begging for his mother when contact is made and the sharp cracks of rifle and machine gun fire start popping all around, alongside the explosions, the blood and guts starts pouring along with all the other mass confusions associated with the violence of combat. With this said a man never really knows how he will react until that time comes. No amount of training can prepare a person for the real thing so no I do not believe that courage can be taught. Either you will have it when that time comes or you want. That’s my opinion.

  5. I have to agree with Chrissy on this one , if you don’t rely on your training and start thinking too much you will wind up in a bad way. It’s been my experience after having been in a few altercations back in the day, I was unaware of what I did to the other person until informed by some one who saw it , kind of crazy!! The reaction that comes from training is very fast and effective . Salute !

  6. I think mark did a superior job in how he articulated these specific facts in a chronological presentation. Which gives me confidence in him. I am available for exploring the next round. 😉😊🤩🤩🤩.

  7. Courage comes within the spiritual inner being which comes through faith and the well knowing of the word. ( The Bible)

  8. Great read. I find after many years of martial art training even free sparing you get to know your opponent’s moves so well that the threat response is reduced.
    Thanks and please keep these informational blogs coming.