Category Archives: CQB Services

The ABCs of Shoot-No Shoot, or How To Get Better By Doing It Wrong

Remember learning your ABCs? Counting it off, maybe singing the letters? Can you do that right now? Yes. Do it as fast as you can. No problem, right?

Now do it backwards.

Not so easy, yeah?

Ever wonder why?

I remember my mother telling me something: “I want you to know this forwards and backwards.” Like most kids, I never realized how smart my parent was until much later in life.

Know something forwards and backwards.

So back to having difficulty in reciting the alphabet backwards, and how that exercise illustrates how the flow of learning and the sequence is so important, and how that applies to making life and death decisions under extraordinary stress….

I recently had a discussion with a very gifted friend of mine, who among other things is an extraordinarily gifted special operator. He’d been training on the range with his crew, and mentioned these type of targets http://www.atsusa.biz/product-videos/live-fire-product-videos.php I told him I’d trained on those EXACT targets back in the 80s and the 90s.

For those of you unfamiliar with these targets, you have the option to paste over certain portions of the image with add-ons like guns, knives, POLICE identification, and so on…it also allows you to paste those over on shoot targets effectively turning them into no-shoots.

The concept is that encountering a target that looks similar but lacks the specific criteria to enable a shoot decision “trains” the shooter to make accurate decisions while under stress. So there’s a significant amount of time spent in very high-speed units (and this friend’s affiliation certainly qualifies) running long hot days in the kill-house working different scenarios and iterations of a drill that in essence goes like this:

Enter, scan, identify threat/shoot/no-shoot targets, engage appropriately, carry on with whatever the specified tactical schema is.

And this specific type of training (altered targets, running constantly into a similar but different situation/scenario) goes back (as does so much in the way of brilliant training) to that maverick innovator MAJ Fairbairn while training the SOE/OSS.

Since science, specifically cognitive neuroscience and adult learning has progressed since WW2, at least in some circles, let’s examine this training technique/concept in light of that.

THE DRILL IS NOT THE APPLICATION

I learned this in the martial arts. There’s a huge difference between “doing the drill” and “applying the skill.” The presupposition in most training design (firearms especially) is that doing the drill translates into having the skill. It happens often enough that most trainers don’t question that.

WHAT IS THE APPLICATION, THEN?

The application is that the processing of the visual information becomes so efficient in providing the NECESSARY information to the decision-making part of the brain that the operator is able to decide and execute at the “limit of human function” speed while under extraordinary stress.

In accelerated learning, we call that the desired outcome.

SO DOES THIS DRILL GET US THERE?

It can, and does often enough so that it’s a useful tool. But like any other tool, it begs the question — can we make it better? Can we make it more efficient? Can we train that in faster?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

So let’s take a look at the process as I understand it and design around (for the cognitive neuroscientists in the crowd, please remember I’m not a scientist; I digest science and spit out useful training insights — the references are available to anyone with sufficient Google-Fu and/or access to the appropriate data bases or a university library, and I tweak it as I see fit — everything I reference here has been tested not only in training but in operations against real bad guys with real guns and bad intent) —

The organism (operator’s) data stream relevant to making the decision as to which human to kill in a room comes from these sources: visual, hearing, kinesthetic, olfactory, “other” —

The data stream, the massive number of bits of data coming into the neurology, is run through preconscious filters, which sort out the incoming data (think of a step down valve on a main water main, stepping down the pressure and directing the water). How does it sort it? The preconscious filters are embedded in the neurology by genetics, life experience, and training.

Those preconscious filters create a “snapshot” of what the incoming data is telling the neurology. That snapshot is an approximation of what’s actually there; the snapshot then runs through a library of previously recognized snapshots (pattern recognition) and sorts further what data/snapshots have “high signal value” — in this context, high signal value includes who’s got a gun, and then whether the person with that gun is a legitimate target.

A digression on this: if someone is “trained” to shoot anybody else with a gun, what if there’s a good guy in there with a gun? Or a team mate who is not where he’s expected to be? The additional processing of data to determine not only armed status but why he/she is armed and what is he/she intending is not only possible, but demanded, by warriors operating in an ethical and moral framework.

And it doesn’t take any more time to do it right — if it’s properly trained.

You can see some examples of this in K9 training — when a dog’s handler goes down, or when a dog is injured or excited…it will default to attacking anyone even sometimes it’s own handler.

Since we’re not dogs, we can demand a higher standard of ourselves.

So let’s cut to the chase, which is how do we TRAIN this in the field.

Back to the ABCs. You learned those in a sequence. You mastered that. In a specific sequence. You recognize all the elements of that construct called the ABCs and you utilize them. So recite them fast. Then do it backwards.

Why do you stumble doing it backwards if you “know” it?

Because you TRAINED it in only one fashion. So if you can only do it in one fashion and more to the point, in one sequence or linear progression, do you ACTUALLY OWN THE SKILL?

Back to the shooting drill:

You enter. As you are entering a number of things are happening simultaneously. Your brain is processing input which include visual snapshots of what’s in the room, how your weapon is mounted, your sight alignment (optical or iron or NV or whatever), where your team mates/partner is in relation to you, awareness of any obstacles in front or around you…

You get a snapshot of a target (gun/no gun? shoot/no-shoot) and then you engage, hopefully appropriately.

The critical point: when the assemblage of data = SHOOT THIS GUY AND NOT THAT ONE.

Then you execute appropriately.

How to improve it:

Run your scenarios/drills and shoot the people you’re supposed to.
After you’ve run an iteration or two with a reasonable degree of success, do this:
Enter and shoot the people YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO.

(I can hear training administrators screaming LIABILITY and training designers screaming BULLSHIT, WASTE OF TIME) — but just follow me here, for a minute…

Why deliberately shoot the people you’re not supposed to?

Because in order to determine who you’re NOT SUPPOSED TO SHOOT, you FIRST have to determine who YOU CAN SHOOT.

In order to do the ABCs backwards, since you learned it going forwards, you have to run through that sequence in order to recite it backwards.

So if you enter in to shoot the targets YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO SHOOT, you have to go through the whole cognitive process involved in deciding WHO TO SHOOT…but you have to do it faster.

So you (or your shooters), will stumble, swear, have a difficult time, justify not doing it…if it’s easy to do, you’re not learning. You’re just validating what you already know.

The sign of true and effective learning is confusion (because you don’t know what you don’t know, and if you’re not confused you’re not learning something new)
But if you run these iterations, going back and forth, till you can recite your tactical ABC backwards just as fast as forwards, your neurology will have trained to sort, identify, and act upon the essential data WAY faster than it was before.

Why? This variation forces the cognitive process all the way through the identification of no-shoot/shoot — then requires a conscious decision to engage differently. That additional step TRAINS THE BRAIN to make decisions faster with measurable incremental increases in speed.

By adding that step, the brain is forced to consciously decide to engage…the brain adds that step subconsciously so that there is an additional evaluation/decision point…then by going back it sinks that step into the sub-conscious so that it becomes automated and accelerates the decision-making/shooting process.

So, as always, don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. When you get to a level of fluency where you can be told at the door: Enter and shoot all the no-shoots, and execute with the same speed and accuracy as you do when you’re told to enter and shoot all the shoots, then you’ll have validation for the ACTUAL skill-set you want to train, which is processing the essential data at the fastest possible rate and APPLYING it appropriately…

…to save lives. Yours, your team mates, and those innocents for whom we go in harm’s way for.

Just food for thought. Get out to the range and try it. Just as simple as your ABCs…

On Neural-Based Shooting

Annette’s Shooting Video

Thanks to Ms. Annette for the use of her training video here. Annette is an up and coming competitive shooter who spent an hour with me refining her use of visualization, kinesthetic rehearsal and temporal sense manipulation. She wanted to validate her dry-fire experience with my work in a live-fire stress environment, so she went out the next day to shoot a steel match.

Here’s what she said to me in a text from the match: “Holy crap. Sub 3 second 5 plate speed shoots from the holster.”

Utilizing the skills she worked on with me, she was able to carve .6 seconds off her previous best time on the steel run. Watch the video. First run took her right at 3.1. Second run was 2.5 when she dialed herself in. The next two runs she’s experimenting and feeling what she was doing different (both runs about 2.7). She dials in for her best time ever at the last run at 2.4.

What’s useful about doing neural based training with shooting is that it’s immediately quantifiable via video to document time and accuracy. Annette is doing great work and has a bright future ahead of her in competition. She’s able to achieve and immediately validate great strides in the use of her mental platform and take that onto the range, where her progress is immediately measurable.

Cool beans. Great work, Annette, and thanks for letting me use your video!

Neural Based Training Seminar, Charlotte NC, 31 Aug – 1 Sep 2013

Yes, I know it’s Labor Day weekend. My friend and brother-from-another-mother the esteemed Nick Hughes of DEADLIEST WARRIOR and the French Foreign Legion (http://nickhughescombatives.com/) asked me to come down and the two of us completely missed the holiday in our planning.

Probably because we both work so much we said, “What holiday?”

If you’ve been following my posts on training mental attributes, this is an opportunity to do the work instead of read about it. This is the first “open” two-day seminar I’ve done in the United States; the previous training courses were for military/law enforcement only, and most of those were conducted overseas.

The focus of this two-day seminar is on mental attributes for unarmed combatives (though we’ll do some knife work) and CQB. Specifically we’ll work on installing the components of situational awareness, the skill of psycho-physiological state management in close quarters fighting, and the broad skill set of mental rehearsal for rapid skill acquisition in the visual, kinesthetic and auditory modalities.

The course is designed for beginners, though a martial arts, boxing or other combatives background would be useful.

It will be mentally and physically demanding.

The course is filling rapidly through word of mouth; we have attendees coming from overseas, law enforcement, military, MMA competitors and lots of regular folks.

This is essentially the same training I’ve provided in recent years to the Norwegian National Police Academy, the Swedish National Police, the South African National Police, and a wide variety of other law enforcement and military special operations units all over the world. I’ve consulted on this material with DARPA, NASA, FLETC, and a variety of Other Government Agencies. The work’s been documented in Dave Spaulding’s HANDGUN COMBATIVES, Ed Lovette’s DEFENSIVE LIVING and a number of other publications.

This is open enrollment, though background checks will be conducted and I practice and enforce a “no assholes” rule — in other words, if you don’t play well with others and don’t have an open mind and willingness to learn, save your money and your ego and stay home. Attendance is limited and it’s first-come, first-serve for enrollments.

For information, contact Nick Hughes of Nick Hughes Combatives at nickhughesnc@gmail.com.

Hope to see you there!

On Mental Training and Performance Enhancement PT 7, or Deconstructing Jerry Miculek

I get asked, often, to take a look at videotape from various combat athletes. For one reason or another I might not be able to go to them or they to me, or it’s just easier for both parties to look at video and then confer via phone or e-mail.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the short video of the phenomenal Jerry Miculek demoing his V-drill at speed and see what lessons we might pluck from an informal analysis of his demonstration.

I’m going to keep this short, as the technical detail of elicitation and evoking high performance attributes in real-time takes *way* longer to write than to do. So I’ll just point out the process I might use (one of many) to study Master Miculek’s performance and pluck out some points that can be utilized to enhance a shooter’s performance.

One of my first considerations in selection of a model to demonstrate superior performance is to make sure that the superior performance demonstrated applies to the end-user audience. For instance, in my opinion (and I’m not interested in arguing my opinion, it’s offered freely to dismiss or consider) for shooters you need to context the demonstration of the skill *and* the context of the potential end-user. Is the shooter a 3-gun competitor? A military special operator? A police SWAT member? A citizen exercising his right to be well armed and highly proficient? The specifics of the desired end-use help shape the selection criteria for the best model.

I like this particular demonstration, as the skill-set demonstrated applies in competition as well as in tactical application, and so pertinent parts can be plucked out to suit the needs of the end-user.

Snapshot: What do we see? Watch it with the sound turned off. What’s more important now is what we SEE. Why? Shooting is a Visual-Kinesthetic (VK) skill; many things happen simultaneously that FEEL right to the user…unlike a conversation or a lecture or a blog post which requires you to make sense of words one after another and then generate a gestalt.

VK skills take place first in the realm of visual processing, where an enormous amount of data is processed simultaneously by the visual cortex and the eyes, and the body sorts that date pre-consciously by FEELING it’s way to the most useful APPLICATION.

So for you hard-core shooters out there, how would you rather learn about a new firearm handed to you:

A. Sit in a chair in a stuffy classroom and listen to a 2-hour lecture on how cool your new firearm is, read the manual front to back, watch a demonstration by someone else on how to handle the weapon…

or

B. Get handed your shiny new shooting iron with a basic visual demonstration of safety procedures and get to fingering it?

Your choice of A or B defines your VK learning style (or not).

So what do we see?

The shooter is relaxed, poised, confident in bearing. Notice the kinesthetic markings of his hands and body as he moves through his explanation (keep the sound off if you haven’t already turned it off — watch, don’t listen). His explanation is readily understandable without any words, yes? Why? Because he marks out exactly what he’s going to do with his body before he does it.

So what does that tell us about the internal mental processing?

He’s walking his talk, i.e. he’s walking through his internal visualization of the drill to come. Pay attention — he defines the initial start distance, walks up close and marks out his target zone specifically, touches it, marks it out with his body language, goes through the sequence, looking at each target and touching or pointing at it.

So he’s gone through the whole sequence in the much slower sequential process of verbally explaining the drill.

What do we see, then?

Relaxed and poised = confidence.
Confidence comes from what? Previous experience of success, a success he’s replicating in his real-time visualization, and a rehearsal that ends in his successful completion of his drill.

How does he know? He feels it. It’s body knowledge. He walks it through, watch his carriage, the direction of his gaze, the marking of his hands. If he were wearing a device to track his neurology (soon, maybe…) you could track the sequence of warm-up to activation of the shooting sequence, first visually in rehearsal and then in real-time.

What kind of presuppositions can we imagine?
Training and critique (which he shares in his discussion about the need to stay focused; watch his body language there).
Rehearsal.
Control of internal time sense (ability to walk through in talking slow time and then execute in dramatically faster VK processing time)

Execution:

Check out what happens to his face and body set when he sets his weapon up. This is something he’s done countless millions of time, notice the sequence that starts with his muscle tension shifting as he rotates the weapon up and acquires the offset red-dot and starts his engagement…watch it a couple of times and then watch what happens when he drops that state when he safes his weapon —

That’s a man who has just completed a visual-kinesthetic cognitive track that he’s run through several times while we’ve watched *before* he does it in real time to an extraordinary level.

Lessons for the shooter seeking improvement:

Confidence doesn’t come just from burning ammo. Comes from perfect visualization coupled to perfect performance and using that as a foundation.

Processing information the way you need to *use* it — visually first and feeling your way to the “rightness” of it.

Practicing 75% to 90% visually and dry (especially in days of ammo shortages) and reinforcing that mental rehearsal with a validating run…and running it till you have validation.

Making mistakes and embracing the mistakes. And then run your visualization around that particular mistake, focusing on three to five solutions that work through that problem in real time and conclude in a successful run.

More points as I think of them later, but that’s a snapshot of a process that’s much easier to do in real time than by writing it through…

The Other Guys Assimilating mental training…

This video provides an excellent overview of many of the aspects I’ve discussed here as taught by a first-rate firearms instructor. I’ve shared quite a bit with Matt and he’s done a superb job of assimilating it and synthesizing new approaches…which has always been my intention behind sharing my work so widely — and freely. Previous students of mine will recognize some exercises, especially time distortion as applied to shooting…

How To Use The Research To Actually Train Better, Faster and Cheaper

I was talking with John Robb, the very brilliant analyst and blogger of http://www.resilientcommunities.com and http://www.globalguerrilas.com fame, about our respective ADD. It used to be called “having diverse interests” or “polymathy,” but these days the DSM has a diagnosis for it, along with everything else in the world. My opinion was (is) that people who work in high-stress dangerous occupations develop what could be called ADD; John, who has a distinguished career as a pilot and planner in a Tier One aviation unit that ferries Tier One operators around to work, had to laugh and agree.

The ability (or attribute) of paying close attention to a variety of inputs, and the further ability to immediately focus in on a single input to the exclusion of others for a period of time is pretty useful in a dangerous and dynamic environment, whether that’s urban warfare on the ground, aerial combat, race car driving or rolling heavy with a PSD-CAT.

Or so I’ve found it, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

So in honoring my innate ADD, I think I’ll shift gears from history, background and working definitions and just share a specific training approach based on cognitive neuroscience and translated into an application that even an old airborne grunt like me can use right away.

THE TRAINING GOAL: to shift from a deeply ingrained pistol grip method to a different one.

GOAL BACKGROUND: When I first learned to shoot a pistol, I was shown the ancient “cup and saucer” technique, where the weapon was “stabilized” in the palm of the support hand, which wrapped around the bottom of the firing hand. Later on in my training evolution I was shown Cooper’s grip as part of the classic Weaver Stance, and tried to apply that, though I found (for me) that it didn’t work real well under pressure. In the 80s I had the opportunity to take some training and have discussion with the very brilliant Massad Ayoob, then of the Lethal Force Institute and now of the MAG Group (Massad Ayoob Group). Mas was the first of the big name instructors to look at what the body actually did under stress and to design a training program that would work with the way the body actually worked.

And no, he wasn’t the only one, but his work was sufficiently advanced above everyone else’s that the US Army adopted it as the “Stressfire” method back in the day.

Mas taught a “crush grip” with thumbs locked down that I loved from the first time I tried it. I was, at the time, responsible for qualifying with both a revolver and a semiauto pistol, and the grip worked for both platforms. Plus it just *felt* right (remind me, later, to come back to the importance of a kinesthetic check — “felt right” — in designing and delivering training to be used under stress).

At the time I burned many thousands of rounds a month, and continued to do so for a long time. I was very happy with the results and found the technique extremely robust under stress — especially the “immediate onset” kind. Fast forward several years and I’m recovering from colon cancer. My overall strength is seriously debilitated and I’m looking for a more efficient (i.e. not so hard) method of shooting. Along the way I spent two days training privately with one of the finest Tier One operators we have, Mr. Paul Howe of http://www.combatshootingandtactics.com. He was happy with my ability to qualify to his standards using my “crush grip” but showed me the “thumbs forward” grip that is the current standard among competitive and combat shooters; his thought was that it might be easier for me and that there were advantages (primarily follow up shot recovery) to that grip.

While I could shoot just fine in the new grip, under any kind of pressure (time, whatever) I reverted to the crush grip.

So why fix what ain’t broke?

Experimentation on my own validated Paul’s insights and so it seemed a worthwhile endeavor. I also use myself quite often as an experimental subject before I run something on other people.

RESEARCH BACKGROUND:

I’m not going to delve too much into this, but neural plasticity (the ability of the brain to move certain functions around after trauma) and cross-lateral motor neuron activation (the basis of the “Edu-K” kinesthetic learning approach first validated in pre-school and kindergarten accelerated learning programs) had resulted in some interesting approaches to rehabilitation for stroke recovery victims. Stroke often leaves a survivor with weakness or loss of function on one side of the body, and so research and implementation focused on restoring function to that side of the body, which requires the transference of a skill set used on one side of the body to the other side.

You can spend a couple of days on Google Science digging through the research if you like. Me, I like to get on with it.

TRAINING METHODOLOGY:

This approach has implications for firearms trainers and users.

1) It can be used to accelerate new learning of motor skills fine and gross when those skills must be overlaid over a previous skill set and/or experience.

2) It is a *dramatically* faster way of remediating problem shooters or learners when presented appropriately by an experienced instructor.

WHAT TO DO:

I wanted to train the skill set of utilizing a new shooting grip while under stress into my dominant and non-dominant hands (strong and other strong, for those who think that way, of which I are one) —

So I trained the left hand. Exclusively. For 21 days.

1) First I “walked” myself through the grip with my left hand. Felt how it was in my hand. The differences were highlighted because it was my left hand (I’m right dominant). So the differences had a higher “signal value” than they did on my right.

2) I marked out the difference in kinesthetic index on the weapon and my hand.

3) With a holster and mag pouch set up for left hand usage, I trained 15 minutes a day or so. The session went like this:

a. Closed eye visualization with kinesthetic recall of the feel of the weapon. Blow the visualization up full size (see previous post on controlling your internal imagery…you know how to do that, right?) and coloration. Moving at 1/5 speed, eyes closed, acquire firing grip *feeling* for kinesthetic (feels right) check. Go through presentation, eyes closed but visualizing, *feeling* your way through kinesthetic checks. At full extension, hold, open your eyes and check alignment of the weapon in your hand, the alignment of your sights with your training target. If not in alignment, adjust appropriately. Only press the trigger when everything is perfect. Repeat 5 or so times.

b. At speed, go through presentation w/eyes closed and open to check alignment and grip. Keep your visualization big and bright of perfect grip and alignment. Keep at this till you can do ten reps in a row and maintain perfect alignment each time. Again, only press the trigger on the perfect ones.

c. With pistol at whatever ready you favor, again work with your eyes closed, except moving. Not a lot, just spinning around, shifting from side to side, moving laterally or diagonally or forward. Align your weapon and open your eye to check alignment.

d. Then, eyes open and preferably while you are moving around, do a series of full speed presentations aligned with your target and press the trigger — only on the perfect ones. When you can do ten in a row, call it good and move to the final exercise.

e. Add your emotional content (fighting state access) to the presentation; in other words call up the psycho-physiological state you ideally want to be in when utilizing the weapon — if you don’t know how to call that up, on demand, and calibrate/monitor it appropriately, refer to previous posts or I’ll recap it later on. Ten perfect reps in your fighting state.

f. Finish on a good shot, and visualize big and bright the entire process.

For live fire, I’d wait 7-10 sleep cycles before I’d add that.

My own firing routine went like this (remember, left hand only):

Day One

1) Validation of the grip by firing a few strings rapid fire, not paying attention to the group on the target but watching how the weapon recoil in my hand, paying attention to the *feeling* of it and filling my visual memory banks with how the weapon looked in recoil when properly gripped with the new grip.

2) Slow presentations from the holster focusing on kinesthetics, all the way to a single shot. No more than ten reps.

3) Dry-fire same.

4) Cap and dummy drills (no more than ten) to keep me honest.

5) Full speed presentations to single shot with state access — after each shot, not string, each shot, stop, replay the movie of what I’d just done, check out my alignment and psycho-physiological state, adjust appropriately, drive on with the mission. No more than ten

6)In the next string, finish on what felt to be the perfect shot — might be the first, might be the 8th, don’t do more than ten.

7) Run through the visualization again.

8) At night before you go to sleep, visualize the entire sequence.

Amp up as appropriate for your skill level/end use — work towards a full speed presentation against the clock with whatever stressors you can get — role players, sound, heat, time, physical exhaustion, whatever — you can figure it out.

After 21 days I switched to the right hand and holster.

In 100 full speed/full state access presentations I had 3 failures to maintain the “new grip” i.e. I reverted to the crush grip. Within two days I eliminated those reversions by going back and forth between left and right.

This added up to 15 minutes dry fire daily and about a half-hour/45 minutes shooting three times over 21 days. Left hand only. So about 6-8 hours of training the non-dominant hand over 21 days resulting in 97% transference to the dominant hand, and then 100% within 2-3 more hours focused attention.

This was, by the way, just my first informal experiment as I am no scientist nor do I claim to be one. I’ve managed to take that time frame down quite a bit and, with new shooters, get some pretty dramatic remediation and results through this approach.

OUTFRAMING OBJECTIONS
“This isn’t safe!” Bullshit.
“Where’s the study for this!” Go read the research and synthesize it. Or else mount a study yourself.
“Does this actually work in the world?” Yep. With the experienced *and* novice shooters I’ve worked with, a great many who’ve tested their skill retention on the two-way three-dimension range.
“I thought you weren’t a firearms instructor?” I’m not. This is a training method that can be utilized in firearms training. I facilitate learning experiences and sometimes I use guns to help people have experiences (grin) — sometimes good, sometimes bad. I like working with guns because I was an armed professional for a very long time, I like to shoot, and you can quantify results with firearms. You can measure speed, accuracy, length of training and combat (real-world) performance if you train with the right people.
“Can I do this?” I encourage you to go out and experiment with it. Feel free to report back your success or any difficulties if you want help.

The Evolution of Mindset Training, Part 2: More Random History

A couple of my beliefs about mindset training for combatives:

1. You don’t train it by reading about it.
2. You don’t train it by listening to somebody else talk about it.
3. You don’t train it by watching DVDs or playing video games.

So how do you train it? Based on experience, research and observation, I think there’s a lot of ways to approach that.

Knowing in advance, for instance, about the impact immediate-onset-threat-to-life stress has on one’s physiology *can* help mitigate the symptoms when an educated person experiences those symptoms. No guarantee, but it can certainly help. That’s part of the basis behind stress inoculation and pre-exposure training, which can be embedded (most of the time without much thought or attention to the way the brain learns best) into training.

One method is education. Notable in the area of law enforcement, military and “tactical” training is the work of Grossman et alia, including my friend Loren Christensen, in their books and presentations describing the various symptoms of “immediate-onset-threat-to-life-stress” and offering some solutions, like “combat breathing” drawn from autogenics, to mitigate the effects of stress. Also the Force Science Institute and other law-enforcement oriented research/education organizations have done some good work in this area. Sports psychology has a long established practice, which is for the most part focused on education about and training in specific techniques to improve the mental platform.

An interesting area is selection. When I was invited to observe and comment on NASA’s Astronaut Selection process while consulting with the Psychological Services Branch, I had the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with the psychologists who designed the various evaluation means for a wide variety of military units.

I’d had the benefit of discussing the embedded stressors and evaluation that went into military selection before I went down to NASA; Lofty Wiseman ran selection for the SAS for a long time and was (and is) a walking compendium of insight into the factors that go into evaluating “mindset.” I worked in the early 80s for CSM Forrest K. Foreman in Korea, immediately after he had left SFOD-D, where he was involved in training and planning. He was also informative about “how-to” stress and evaluate and recognize the mindset piece.

The problem as I saw it was that military selection programs focused more on weeding out people that didn’t have the mindset instead of training it in. That’s great for elite tip of the spear units, but for other purposes, like law enforcement and general military application, it’s expensive and wasteful of good talent. Selection was good at finding people who already had mindset, but it didn’t train it in. You either had it or you didn’t.

The area I remain most interested in is training. I’ve come to believe, based on experience and research, that mindset had three components:

Genetics: certain people are born with an inherent ability to manage stress and to seek out high risk situations. Research done with Naval Special Warfare and other high-risk personnel identified a specific gene sequence that predicts that kind of human attribute. It may be part of a selection process now. You can’t do much about your genetics.

Experience: “You can’t learn experience in a classroom.” Lofty Wiseman. Experience is not just the tactical or combat related, i.e. being shot at or shooting at a live human, though that’s a significant factor. Experience also encompasses *everything* that has happened and continues to happen in all aspects of an individual’s life. A child who went through the Siege of Sarajevo grows into a human who has an experience that shapes how they will handle stress and violence. So modifying current and future experience and mining past experience may help shape the mental attributes for combative applications.

Training: Of the triad, this is the piece we can directly influence. Training in combative arts or mental attributes *can* influence mindset. Problem is determining if that is in fact true or not, and if so, how to design the training so as to maximize that particular aspect and to measure or quantify it. Since the “mindset lecture” is set aside as a block of instruction, it’s often taken out of context for *application.* More on that later.

So in my opinion: Genetics + Experience (past, current, future) + Training = Combative Mindset.

Based on that thesis, the areas I focused on were Experience and Training.

I certainly wasn’t the only person exploring how to design training to make combative skills work better under stress. The WW 2 work of Fairbairn and Sykes and Applegate for the OSS based on the Shanghai experience was really the first. Massad Ayoob designed the Stressfire system back in the 80s; he was the first major firearms trainer to develop a methodology based on what happens to the body under combative stress. I experimented with and adopted for my personal use his methods for handgun, because it worked. And there seems to be a great many more trainers doing that now. More on that later.

The time I spent working with NASA was informative. I remember the first meeting I had with the working group that included every top staff psychologist and psychiatrist from the US military. While most of them had worked together before, some of us had not, and so the obligatory around the table introductions kicked off. One after another of the scientists introduced themselves, their unit affiliations, where they got their Ph.D or M.D, relevant areas of published research, etc. When they got around to me (I was about as skittish as a private in a Sergeant Majors meeting) I said, “Hi, I’m Marcus. I have a BA in English Literature, a Ph.D from the School of Hard Knocks and post-doc work in The Gutters of Application.”

A long moment of silence, and then one earnest question, “Hard Knox…is that in New Jersey?”

My sponsor rescued me from the general laughter and said, “We’ve brought Marcus here because he’s *not* a scientist. His training experiments are very interesting, and he’s done the best job we’ve found in embedding certain principles in training. He’s a trainer, and we want him to give us a reality check.”

So we’ll come back to training and training design later on.

In addition to education, selection, and training, technical enhancement was just starting to emerge in the 90s. By that I mean the use of biofeedback devices (I was issued one while a student at FLETC) to train autogenics in conjunction with instruction in breath control and stress management.

Technical enhancement certainly seems to be the hot area right now in terms of dollars spent on research and development, per the links I posted before. Advances in neuro-imaging, remote biomedical sensing, nano-technology, and mobile computing have, for the first time, brought ways to actively engage the human neurology to coach a novice brain into expert performance.

One of the reasons I initially sought to develop protocols around firearms training was because that makes progress quantifiable. You can measure accuracy and speed. You can create baselines for performance. The latest generation of technological enhancement has some very cool gadgetry designed to take advantage of that.

What I’m most interested in, right now, is how to integrate the new generation of technology into training design so as to maximize the benefit to the student of “mindset.” That seems to me to call for a synthesis of training and experiential learning with appropriate use of the technology. So we’ll come back to that.

The Evolution of Mindset Training, Part 1 — Some Random History

It’s interesting for me to watch the evolution in mental aspects training in combative applications. When I started researching and developing ways to inculcate mental training into combative training in the 80s, the only people (officially) involved in that were the folks parodied in the movie THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS. Ronson’s book of the same name, in my opinion, was one of the best pieces of disinformation ever put out about a sensitive training program, but it does make for amusing reading.

For better historical information, check out http://www.amazon.com/Search-Warrior-Spirit-Fourth-Disciplines/dp/1583942025. Heckler-Strozzi does an excellent job of documenting the early evolution of the training. One of the students he trained in this particular project (again, parodied in THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS) won a Medal of Honor. Jim Channon, immortalized by Jeff Bridges in the movie, was a LTC tasked with developing mental aspects training in the 70s. A good overview of what he did is here: http://ejmas.com/jnc/jncart_channon_0200.htm.

As you may imagine, the “New Age” flavor of the mental techniques examined (which included bio feedback, meditation, active visualization, etc — remember this, we’ll come back to it) put off a lot of people. The level of distaste, dislike and distrust for the “touchy-feely” approach was reflected officially in a generally sweeping condemnation of the 70s and 80s era programs, captured specifically by a dismissive overview conducted by the National Research Council report drafted in the 80s and published in 1990 here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=1580

As a counter-point to the criticisms leveled by the NRC in the Enhancing Human Performance report, COL John Alexander, Major Richard Groller and Janet Morris wrote and published a book titled THE WARRIOR’S EDGE (not to be confused with a book by a trainer who adopted part of the title for his book after I pointed out this particular reference to him). THE WARRIOR’S EDGE is out of print but still available here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Warriors-Edge-Front-Line-Battlefield/dp/0380716747/ref=dp_ob_title_bk.

MAJ Groller also published an article in the handgun press (JPEG below) which was the first detailed examination, naming names and giving statistics, of the JEDI PROJECT focused on enhancing combat marksmanship.

I was at the time involved in developing training for Air Marshals and other people at the former FLETC facility at Marana, AZ, which also hosted, at the time, a number of other government organizations involved in counter-terrorism.

I was part of an informal working group that included people like Bob Taubert http://www.amazon.com/Rattenkrieg-Science-Quarters-Battle-Pistol/dp/0977265943 who was at the time with the FBI SOAR Unit, Ed Lovette http://www.amazon.com/Defensive-Living-Preserving-Personal-Awareness/dp/1932777091/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355681350&sr=1-1&keywords=defensive+living who was, at that time, conducting training for a government agency involved in counter-terrorism, Dave Spaulding http://www.amazon.com/Handgun-Combatives-second-Text-Only/dp/B004RTMXY6/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355681403&sr=1-2&keywords=handgun+combatives+2nd+edition and a number of other notables in training. I was fortunate to have an extensive roster of cutting edge mentors and contacts, derived from my employment as a protection specialist and trainer with Lofty Wiseman and Dennis Martin’s CQB Services operation:

den-lofty-marcus-minneapolis-88

While at FLETC, I had access to a facility and a cadre of role players, and I was fortunate enough to be given a free hand in designing certain aspects of training. I had the opportunity to experiment with and then implement some of the early concepts that evolved into “neural-based training” — incorporating elements of accelerated learning, cognitive strategy mapping, expert skill set transfer to novice learners, etc. — on multiple groups of students. And I didn’t have to have an approved Human Use Protocol.

I shared my results freely with the other members of our “working group” and got plenty of feedback from the guys who were out doing the deed in the late 80s and early 90s. After I left federal service in 1993, I continued the work and shared the information as I found it. I found excellent testbeds for the concepts (relative to unarmed combat) in the martial arts and “front door security” world of the United Kingdom, where security professionals regularly engage in full on unarmed combat against armed or unarmed (and skilled) opponents; my testbed for armed combat was in South Africa, where I was invited by the South African Police Service to present material to their frontline operators in what was, at the time, the most violent urban area in the world. The SAPS incorporated it into a module titled MENTAL CONDITIONING FOR CLOSE COMBAT, required for all National Police officers in the mid 90’s.

Meanwhile, back in CONUS, “mental training” was relegated to lectures on mindset, many of them growing from COL Cooper’s original Gunsite lecture on mindset http://www.amazon.com/Principles-Personal-Defense-Jeff-Cooper/dp/1581604955 which influenced and continues to influence multiple generations of combative instructors. As it should. But talking about mindset is not the same thing as training it.

I started publishing in 94-95 a series of articles, primarily in COMBAT HANDGUNS, SWAT, GUNS AND WEAPONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT (some of them archived on this blog) focusing on sharing with a larger audience some of my findings. These included introductions to the OODA Loop, situational awareness as an attribute, and training that focused on installing and enhancing the mental platform for combat. There’s some good overviews archived here: http://www.kalijkd-u.com/dev/kjkdu_articles.php?aid=1&title=Marcus+Wynne:+The+Way+of+the+Jedi However, writing about mindset is not the same thing as training it.

I was laughed at quite a bit and denounced for “New Age” bullshit. One notable, at the time, trainer made a point of denouncing “so-called accelerated learning” in his popular book; I notice that in subsequent editions he’s deleted that. Perhaps after these folks started focusing major effort on that “so-called accelerated learning: http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/Accelerated_Learning.aspx

I just plowed ahead and continued to do my thing. I measure my success by the number of lives saved by people I’ve trained all over the world.

Lives saved, dudes and dudettes. That’s what it’s all about.

So fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century and what do I see? I’m so far outside the tactical community I may as well be Obi Wan out in the desert, but I do see a return by cutting edge trainers to the essential foundation of the warrior’s skill set — mindset and mental attributes. I also see that technology and research is catching up with the work that was done back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Here’s where the cutting edge research is today:

http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/Accelerated_Learning.aspx
http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/Enabling_Stress_Resistance.aspx
http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/Strategic_Social_Interaction_Modules_%28SSIM%29.aspx
http://advancedbrainmonitoring.com/advwp/publications/

And here’s *some* of the really cutting edge technology that’s becoming available:
http://advancedbrainmonitoring.com/advwp/publications/
http://www.npstwo.com/default.aspx

Everything Old Is New Again.

The Article That Started It All —

jedi-1 jedi-2 jedi-3 jedi-4 jedi-5

Neural Based Training, Situational Awareness, and Personal Resilience

Three of my favorite topics in one sentence! I’m working on several things simultaneously, as I often do, and a question came up from some friends about how to integrate all their learning to solve certain problems in their lives.

One of the basic principles of neural-based training is the brain likes to answer questions. We are hard-wired to seek answers and solutions. The brain is a hunter-gatherer of information (one of the reasons we’re all addicted to the internet and electronic communication — never before have so many had access to so much information at the touch of a finger). So one technique in neural-based training is formulating questions that stimulate the brain to solve specific problems.

In no particular order, here are some questions I like to ask in certain training situations. The people I facilitate have found it useful to mind-map their answers while exploring the process.

  • If you were a street mugger sizing you up, what would you observe about yourself that would indicate you’re a good target? Or a bad target?
  • Do you know what an attacker would look for, or are you looking for what you would look for?
  • If you were a burglar looking at your house, what would you see that would make you a nice juicy target? Or not?
  • If you were a stalker following a loved one, what would make that loved one (of yours) a vulnerable target?
  • If you needed to borrow $100 in cash, right now, how many people within a day’s walk of where you’re standing would a) have it and b) be willing to lend it?
  • If you were sick and you needed someone to take you to the hospital or to come to your home and care for you, how many people within a day’s walk of where you’re standing would a) be willing to do so and b) have the time or the willingness to take the time to care for you? And for how long?
  • If you have children or pets, how many people within a day’s walk of where you’re standing would you turn to if you needed someone to take care of those children or pets at 2 a.m.? How many would you a) trust to care for them and b) be able to care for them and c) for how long?
  • How far can you walk in one day?
  • How far can you walk carrying 25 pounds, in one day?
  • Could you carry an adult or child up or down a flight of stairs?
  • How far can you drag 150 pounds before you have to stop to catch your breath?

Those are enough questions. Feel free to share your answers below (or not) and perhaps we’ll discuss the implications of these particular questions.

NEURAL-BASED TRAINING: TRAINING PERIPHERAL TARGET DISCRIMINATION FOR SHOOTERS

A friend recently sent me a comment from an experienced and skilled firearms instructor.  The instructor discussed, briefly, the difficulty involved in maintaining peripheral vision (and total situational awareness) while focused on a pistol’s front sight or a rifle’s red-dot.

I thought I’d add my two cents worth on the portion that was missed in the initial post — he identified the issue and suggested it might be mitigated through training, but didn’t offer any solutions for the HOW-TO piece of doing the training.

So here’s a take that may be of use from my work in enhancing performance for combat athletes/shooters and applying neural-based training to combative skill sets.

There’s a difference between understanding intellectually the limitations the eye’s structure puts on visual processing while under stress and actually calibrating in a USABLE way the individual constraints of a trainee’s eye-sight, and then integrate that calibration into a training program so the trainee has a baseline and a yardstick to measure progress from.

So first let’s get the baseline, in the same way we’d want to shoot a course of fire cold to establish the true skill baseline of a shooter.  Traditional firearms training with intense focus on the front sight creates a physiological state with concomitant muscle tension, which can become a habitual state — even a baseline state.

A useful place to determine what impact training/injury/genetics play on someone’s vision is to first calibrate their normal range of peripheral vision.

Try this:

Stand behind the student and have them look straight ahead as though they are focused on their front sight.  Pin your front to their back, extend your arms full length, and then bring both your hands slowly around to the front, into their peripheral vision.  Have them say stop when they see both hands.  Have them look to their left and right.  Most students at this point will have roughly a 45-degree arc.  Some may be narrower.

Then have them consciously relax the neck/shoulder/head grid, especially the traps, neck, eyes.  You can test for actual relaxation by having the coach behind the shooter place one finger on the top of the student’s head.  When with minimal pressure from the finger the coach can move the trainee’s head easily, the neck muscles are unlocked and the head is free to move.  When you’ve demonstrated that they’ve unlocked their muscles (changed their physiological state), then do the same initial exercise in bringing your hands around into their peripheral vision.  You will see dramatic increase calibrated by arm/hand position so that both you and the student can see it.

That shows baseline for peripheral vision.  Within 2-3 iterations, you can change the baseline to about 180 degrees for peripheral vision.

That’s the student’s peripheral vision baseline.  Peripheral vision shows movement, but doesn’t provide precision for exact target discrimination.  So let’s further calibrate so as to determine that range.

Have the student again look straight ahead.  Start from the relaxed maximal vision place.  This time as you move your hands in, hold up two fingers on each hand.  Continue moving the hands into the vision field, with the instructions to the student that they call out first when they can distinguish fingers, and then again when they can accurately count fingers on both hands while looking straight ahead and maintaining a fixed forward focus.  This defines the vision range in which they can discriminate visually with a measurable standard.

The cognitive process of peripheral target discrimination interacts with peripheral to focused vision in this fashion:  SOMETHING’S MOVING to A MAN IS MOVING to A MAN WITH A GUN IS MOVING to A MAN WITH A GUN WHO IS NOT ONE OF MINE IS MOVING.  To use the fingers:  SOMETHING’S MOVING to FINGERS ARE MOVING to FINGERS WITH AN EXACT COUNT ARE MOVING.

This exercises mirrors the cognitive process (or strategy) of target discrimination on the peripheral range of vision and is easy to duplicate in a safe context.

To train the neurology to expand the range of discrimination to the limit of human function as determined by the individual eye, one exercise might be to have the shooter engaging a target directly to his front.  There will be two other targets, one to the left, one to the right, with significant separation from the center target.

Have the shooter engage the center target; number of rounds/placement up to you.  Have the coach safely behind the shooter, starting the hands at the range of natural full peripheral.  Have them move the hands in with fingers up — when the shooter, while engaging the central target, can count the fingers AND add them AND determine whether the number is ODD or EVEN, then have them engage the ODD (left) target or the EVEN (right) target.

Shooters will find this confusing and challenging (which is the sign of real learning) and with practice discover a concrete experience of what their own baseline is for utilizing enhanced peripheral vision and target discrimination on their flanks.  Several iterations will result in a significant improvement that is immediately measurable for feedback to the shooter.  Utilizing video also enhances the learning experience with this exercise.

One LEO-SWAT shooter I worked with was able to keep his focus on his sights on a standard sight equipped MP-5 and put 2 rounds in the nose of a bad guy firing a shot gun at him while simultaneously keeping track of his partners to his left and right.  I debriefed him immediately after the shooting, and we were clear about the retention of his peripheral vision and ability to target discriminate.  That result’s since been duplicated in many police and military shootings by people I’ve worked with in the last 20 years.

Try it out for yourself.  See if it works or not.  If it doesn’t, bin it.  Or ask for help and/or clarification.

Be careful out there!

cheers, m