The terms “stress” and “fear” are often conflated when martial artists begin talking about real-world encounters and training experiences. The physiological and cognitive effects of both are different, and the methods for dealing with both are different. And they will be different across different people; one person’s stress might be another person’s trigger for a panic attack, something that puts one person into a full blown fear response might be moderately stressful to someone else.

Stress and fear are different:

We can retain rational thinking, higher cognitive functions and perform complex skills under stress. We can learn to control the effects of stress and become habituated to working under it’s effects.

Fear can override rational thinking, short-circuit higher cognitive functions and make even basic skills unreliable. We can not learn to reliably control the effects of fear.

Moderate to extreme stress may be encountered frequently in the training environment. The vast majority of people will never experience true fear in the training environment. Do not mistake controlled stress with uncontrolled fear.

Rory Miller’s Meditations on Violence is strongly recommended for useful observations and suggestions on recognizing and dealing with the effects of both.