Category Archives: OODA Loop

On Civilian Training Considerations

There are many more qualified voices (than me) out in the wilderness of the Error-Net on what constitutes “good” (whatever that means, specifically) training for the civilian gun-toter (and even more for police specific training).

Some especially good ones are:

• Greg Ellifritz, Active Response Training: http://www.activeresponsetraining.net
• Claude Werner, The Tactical Professor: https://tacticalprofessor.wordpress.com
• Ralph Mroz, The Street Standards: https://thestreetstandards.wordpress.com
* Massad Ayoob, Massad Ayoob On Guns: http://backwoodshome.com/blogs/MassadAyoob/

There are thousands of blogs and forums where the tacti-cool Error-Net Community can weigh in and pundit-ize from their keyboards (not withstanding that there are some EXTRAORDINARY voices out there; they just tend to get drowned out in the background noise, which is why I no longer participate in forums and the vast majority of blogs etc. except as a mostly passive consumer of good information).

One topic that’s getting a lot of digital ink is how, dadgummit, should us civilians be prepared to fight terrorists in the streets of our home cities?

It’s an interesting question for a bemused observer on the sidelines, which is me most days. I had an interesting series of dialogues in recent weeks with several of my mentors and some other colleagues. One of them, my long time friend and mentor Ed Lovette, now (unfortunately) retired from active training, said this: “You know, there’s really nobody that’s out there that is doing a good job of preparing the average civilian (responsible) gun owner for dealing with the significantly higher threat of aggravated assault, armed robbery, mass attacks (whether criminal or terror motivated) and terrorism that we’re seeing now.”

I think there are, but at least from my view on the sidelines I see the endless Balkanization of “firearms” or “tactical lifestyle” or whatever: over here you can learn the latest and the greatest in pistol manipulation from open carry on the range; over here you can run deep concealment pistol; over here you can learn how to fight in the hole of 0-3 yards; over here you can learn to deploy your knife to defend your gun or sneak up on an ISIS operator and score a knife kill, blah blah blah.

Not much in the ways of an integrated carefully thought out and designed program.

Since that’s kinda sorta what we do at Accentus-Ludus, I thought I’d share some random thoughts here.

One of my dear friends and long term students Guro Diana Rathbone came to me and asked for my help in designing a “training walkabout” for her; i.e. an extended professional reboot/upgrade to take her world class martial arts skills and accomplishments and use those as a platform to launch her into the world of defensive firearms with a focus on female civilians. So here’s a break down of what we sketched out and what she’s already done and is doing.

I based this loosely on the post-Basic and In-Service training a federal agency involved in counter-terror did. After Basic Firearms and Specialized In-Service Firearms qualification, there were three “outside” schools that were considered to be finishing courses to prep operators (or whatever we were called in those days, agents/officers/ninjas, I’m old, I forget….):

Cooper-era Gunsite pistol curriculum – to refine and install the basic manipulation skills.
Massad Ayoob’s Lethal Force Institute curriculum – to get the legal piece down, so we knew when we were justified in shooting the bad people;
Bill Rogers’s Shooting School -to get manipulation, accuracy, speed, and decision making honed in the crucible of the man vs. machine set up that remains one of the best tests of combat marksmanship ability.

That’s not a bad sequence of classes, albeit expensive (but not if your Agency is paying, LOL) and follows a pretty good conceptual base: basic manipulation and known distance marksmanship and holster skills, followed by intensive legal grounding in when to shoot, followed by intensive testing at fusing those concepts together.

But things change, sometimes for the better (says an old curmudgeon) and we’ve learned an awful lot about how the brain works, how the legal landscape has evolved (especially for civilians) and especially the threat matrix for shooters. I’m going to confine my comments to the armed civilian context here, as there are better qualified folks to comment on the high end tactical piece, though I do occasionally get to consult with those type of folks, at least according to the e-mail I get here at the Old Fogey’s House.

Here’s the conceptual sequence I set up for Guro Diana Rathborne for her transition into the world of defensive firearms:

Situational Awareness, Environmental Manipulation, Pre-Violence Indicators. (The Fight Before The Fight).
• Some Old Guy In Minneapolis (perception enhancement, cognitive-neurological training to enhance situational awareness and accelerate learning of motor skills, other stuff)
• Matt Graham, Graham Combat, ARAINDROP (Environmental Manipulation/Situational Awareness)
• Greg Ellifritz and William April, UNTHINKABLE (violence pre-cursors, psychology of violent offenders)

Firearms Training Specific to the Needs of the Female Shooter:
• Louann Hamblin, LOUKA Tactical

Specific training focus on enhancing manipulation/shooting skill:
• Claude Werner (3 days private training previously, 1 1/2 days recently)
• Dave Harrington (3 days private training in pistol, 3 days on carbine)
• Rogers Shooting School, Intermediate/Advanced Pistol w/Carbine add-on

Mental Aspects and Seeking Wisdom from the Sage Elders
• Ed Lovette
• Bob Taubert

Other Training Aspects and Visit With Highly Advanced Young Guns
• A former student visiting as a guest instructor for the FBI HRT (Special Operations Command Combatives Program)

Combatives and Different Martial Arts (she set up most of this herself as she’s an in-demand instructor for advanced and beginning martial artists, a regular law enforcement trainer and presenter at IALEETA, etc. etc.
• Nick Hughes, French Foreign Legion Combatives
* Pat Tray, USA Combatives, renowned SEAL operator and instructor
• Various martial arts schools

Some training she’s scheduling right now:

• Massad Ayoob’s latest evolution of his legal material.
• Washington State Police Training
• Various classes at the Sig Sauer and Smith & Wesson Academy
• Visits with Burt Duvernay, Ralph Mroz, Karl Sokol and a few who shall remain nameless.

That’s a pretty good curriculum to accomplish in a few months, and a significant expense in time and money. But if you figure that you’re looking to get a graduate level education in a new field in a compressed time frame, may as well as go the distance, and the total expense is significantly less than a 2-4 year degree in something else and a hell of a lot more practical.

So what’s the flow, or the big pieces that add up to at least one definition of a good education in gun-fighting?

Soft skills. The stuff that’s not sexy (or maybe it is, if you’re a neuroscience geek like me) like learning pre-violence indicators and predator behavior, tweaking your own cognition and neurology so you learn faster, retain more of what you learn, and can apply what you learn under life and death stress; manipulating your environment (including those around you) so as to enable you to move safely through chaotic situations/circumstances and events; what to do if you’re captured or a victim (including some escapeology); stress management pre-fight in-fight and post-fight, mindfulness/meditation/visualization technique to support all of the above. Generating and maintaining an attitude of humility and gratitude and service to others.

Unarmed skills. Diana’s way ahead of most, having 30 years of full time martial arts training and instructorship, and having a wall full of hard-earned certificates from every major component of the Inosanto JKD Universe and others. Basic skills to consider – me, I’m a big fan of basic military combatives like the evolution of the WW2 stuff made famous by Fairbairn and Sykes. Simple, robust, easy to retain, serves in 80-90% of the circumstances you’ll run into. Boxing is great, but any vigorous martial art is better than nothing. SPEND TIME EXPLORING HOW TO INTEGRATE THOSE SKILLS INTO ARMED SKILLS. For that I highly recommend the Filipino systems as the concept of fluidity and flow translate well to armed combat with knives as well as guns, in my experience.

Intermediate armed skills: Contact type weapons including pepper spray, knives, sticks, and improvised weapons, including environmental evaluation and use (walls, door handles, doors, bar rails, chairs, etc.)

Firearms skills: Basic safety and manipulation of handguns. Progress rapidly from that into a solid defensive oriented handgun course that addresses concealment and realistic application of the handgun. Right now it appears that the best there is in terms of track record is Mr. Tom Givens at RangeMaster, though there are a great many people out there providing quality instruction. An advanced handgun course (from guys like Paul Howe, Dave Harrington, Claude Werner, Bill Rogers, etc.)

A necessary skill set is the application of the extreme close range gunfight which includes grappling, striking and clearing a fouled weapon. Craig Douglas at ShivWorks pretty much set the bar (I found over 200 e-mails from him dating back to the early 90s when we were kicking around his concepts while recently archiving research material!) though Greg Ellifritz does an excellent job with that as well.

The legal piece gets way overlooked. Training with Massad Ayoob is a must while he’s still around. There is no one better. Period. There are good books, and a good lawyer is a must.

Scenario training: a must have. You must test your skills force on force under the supervision of a SKILLED instructor who knows how to set up scenarios and run them properly. The gold standard is the legendary Lou Chiodo of Gunfighters LTD http://www.gunfightersltd.com out in CA, whose focus on force on force firearms training revolutionized forward leaning law enforcement. Gabe Suarez also teaches and presents a significant amount of material on force on force training.

That’s a hell of a lot, isn’t it? And way out of most everybody’s investment range in both money and time unless you are a full time training professional (who can write the entire investment off).

If you’d like to contact Guro Di or follow her journey on Facebook, here’s her contact info:

Diana is on Facebook and LinkedIn
https://www.facebook.com/diana.rathborne?fref=ts
https://www.linkedin.com/in/diana-rathborne-a8578010
Her direct contact info: diana.rathborne@gmail.com

So how does Joe Six-Pack and Sally Suburban, new to the world of defensive firearms, approach their training in a time and cost efficient fashion? I assume that they are serious in approaching this and are self-motivated….

Here’s some ideas:

• Read through the four blogs I listed above. Read a LOT. There’s a huge amount of material archived there. Identify the themes and names those four mention as quality trainers.

• Look those people (quality trainers) up on YouTube or online and JUST READ. Generate a list of questions, but JUST READ. Don’t get sucked into the black hole that is Error-Net Gun-Dumb.

• Post your questions at one of the four blogs above. There are other good ones, but those four are extremely high value and very conscientious about answering questions.

• Read some good books. DEFENSIVE LIVING by Ed Lovette and Dave Spaulding, THE TRUTH ABOUT SELF PROTECTION by Massad Ayoob are two very excellent overviews on the whole spectrum of personal protection. Read Gavin De Becker’s THE GIFT OF FEAR and Joe Navarro’s WHAT EVERY BODY IS SAYING to get a good jump-start on soft skills. If you find that interesting, read UNMASKING THE FACE by Paul Ekman. Those five books will put you way ahead of most “gun people.”

• Consider taking a good quality self-defense program if you don’t have any martial arts background. Good quality is short, simple technique that you can validate on a padded opponent immediately. Check out martial arts schools.

• Based on “high quality” information, make a decision about what kind of firearm you’re looking for BEFORE you go to the gun store. Armed with information, go in and get your hands on one.

• If you are required to take mandatory training before you can purchase (like CCW etc.), take the cheapest/fastest/closest training – and compare what you’ve learned from your previous research with what you may be shown/exposed to in such a class. It may be wise to just keep your mouth shut and your head down and get your ticket punched. Don’t expect much.

• Once you have purchased your weapon, then look around for a local basic class. The NRA Instructor referral board is a good start. Asking around, and relying on your perception of “quality” training as formed from your due diligence on the internet with reliable sources, pick a basic class and take it. This class should cover gun safety, basic legal familiarization, holster skills, weapons manipulation, basic marksmanship in a range context.

• If you can’t afford a more advanced class after a basic introduction class, consider pooling together with like-minded potential students and hosting a class. Many top tier instructors will travel to you if you can get 6-8 students together to spread out costs. There are also some good schools regionally.

• Build a training/practice plan and a training budget. Claude Werner’s Pistol Practice Program is as good as it gets, a very reasonable investment in a DVD with a plan, targets, and MP3 timed coaching tracks. $40. Make a training budget. You need ammo and range time (and you should budget for accessories like holsters, belts, eye and ear protection etc.) A bare minimum would be one box of ammo once a month, coupled with a daily dry fire routine. A better would be twice a month, 50 rounds each time for a total of 100 rounds, coupled with a daily dry fire session of no more than 10-15 minutes. A serious high-end commitment would be once a week for 150 rounds, with a 15-30 minute daily dry fire routine that encompassed tactical movement, etc., and a once a year 3-5 day training class.

• Work on stress management, visualization and mental rehearsal. It’s cheap. Work on integrating your unarmed skills with your armed skills and test it in scenarios, classes, whatever. You can find a few other like-minded people and have a training group that is fun and beneficial. Those other people could also pool resources to bring in “name” instructors if you want to up your game without traveling.

So there’s some ideas. As always, these are my opinions based on my experience and training and my professional work as a designer of training programs. Don’t take anything I say (or anybody else) on face value till you have measured it against your own experience and needs.

A Kinder, Gentler, More Politically Correct Technique for Shoot/No-Shoot

(See previous post on Shoot, No-Shoot)

Seems some liability conscious individuals are concerned about trying a training exercise that involves deliberately shooting targets you’re NOT supposed to shoot as a method to refine the cognitive/neurological process involved in high speed target acquisition and threat discrimination.

Sigh. Liability and bureaucrats = training drag.

Here’s a solution to train how to discriminate faster; said solution is kinder, gentler, more politically correct and will make even the fussiest attorney happy (okay, maybe not) —

GOAL: Train the brain to discriminate between shoot/no-shoot targets faster, up to the limit-of-human function while engaging in three-dimensional combat.

HOW: Take a 3×5 index card. Put a bright red dot approximately one inch round in the middle. Or use a felt pen and draw it in. Back the target off about 5-7 yards depending on your skill baseline; if you can put all your rounds in one ragged hole at 7 yards, start there; if not, move the target to the place where you can do that. If you can’t do that at 3 yards, go back to basics and work that till you can.

*Start with eyes closed. Weapon in hand in preferred/mandated ready position.
*Open eyes. Acquire red dot on target. Shift point of aim to the EDGE of the 3×5 card and place one round directly BESIDE the 3×5 card, not touching but kissing the edge. Close eyes. Repeat, placing a series of shots around the EDGE (perimeter) of the 3×5 card till you’ve cut out the target AROUND the 3×5 card.
*When you can cut the card out at whatever range, then start running human representation targets at speed. Clock it.

BASELINE: Cold, run through a random target discrimination drill, preferably a close range hostage shot. One run. Measure time and accuracy.
DRILL: Run as above.
MEASURE PERFORMANCE INCREASE (OR NOT): Run through the same target discrimination drill for time and accuracy.

Rinse and repeat.

Then sneak off and do the original drill and tell me you don’t get faster.

You’ll be faster and better.

Good luck, and you can keep letting me know offline if you like or post here.

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…

Another Neural-Based Shooting Exercise

While I’m on a roll today, I thought I’d share another shooting-oriented exercise from the Marcus Bag of Tricks. Caveat as always — I’m not a firearms instructor, I work on enhancing performance in people who have to perform under high stress, and some of them carry guns and shoot bad people, so I have the opportunity to test this stuff out. Smiting evil and all that, you know?

GOAL: Enhance speed of drawstroke by improving bio-mechanical efficiency through improving visual and kinesthetic processing.

This exercise assumes the shooter has previously been trained on the handgun drawstroke. With modifications, can be utilized to quickly train the novice in handgun drawstroke.

1. Review elements of draw stroke.
2. Draw with eyes open. Pay attention to FEELING of body (kinesthetics) while drawing.
3. Reholster.
4. Draw with eyes open. Pay attention to FEELING.
5. When sights are aligned, and everything FEELS right, close eyes. Break shot.
6. Open eyes. Check body position, sight alignment. Shot where it’s supposed to be? Yes, proceed. No, repeat until your shot is where you were aiming when you CLOSED your eyes. Pay attention to what you FEEL — the kinesthetics — and utilize appropriate visualization (scroll down through this blog and find the post on SHOOTING WITH THE MIND’S EYE).
7. When you can consistently place the shot with your eyes closed, after steering in with your eyes, continue.
8. Now do the entire draw stroke eyes CLOSED. FEEL the process. Open your eyes when you feel you are in alignment. If yes, proceed. If not, make any adjustments as necessary until you can consistently draw with your eyes closed and have your sights aligned with your aiming point on the target.
9. When you can consistently do this, then add the shot. Eyes closed. Repeat until you are hitting your aiming point with your eyes closed…through the entire firing stroke.

Training Points:
Don’t overthink this. Pay attention to your kinesthetics.
If you’re doing this alone, be cautious of your muzzle and who’s around you.
If you’re coaching someone on this, be cautious of their muzzle and who’s around you both.
When done properly, this exercise refines the kinesthetic map of the drawstroke, smoothing out the presentation and making it more efficient. Fast way to shave a lot off your time from holster to first shot.

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 for Situational Awareness (first printed in SWAT Magazine)

I remember an old and crusty veteran of military, government and law enforcement service giving me his take on the concept of street smarts, or, to use the phrase law enforcement adopted from the military aviation community, situational awareness.

“It’s like art, Marcus,” he growled. “I know it when I see it, but damned if I know how to teach it.”

One of my early realizations, back in the day, was that all the crusty survivors I knew in the military or law enforcement or high risk security operations had a common skill set — that indefinable something that added up to the ability to see trouble coming, and to take appropriate action that put them at an advantage rather than a disadvantage when the balloon went up.

I got my sense in the school of hard knocks. But when I had to deal with the issue of teaching young raw Federal Air Marshals that skill, I got stuck.

So I read all the books. I went to all the lectures. I listened to guys way smarter than me, who’d forgotten more about this stuff than I’d ever know — guys in university and government labs, NASA researchers and psychiatrists, heck, anybody who had something to say.

And ended up more confused than ever.

So I always had this theory that had proven sound in my training experience with martial arts, high risk protection work and close quarter combat — you can’t teach people an action skill by talking about it.

You have to do it.

So how do you do situational awareness?

I started by breaking what I had, and what I had observed in other folks into the smallest components. There’s some fancy terms for it in engineering, but basically you keep taking parts out till it doesn’t work anymore, then you put only enough back in till it runs.

Those are the critical bits.

So when I had what I thought were the critical bits, I went out and compared notes with a lot of other guys and gals. What they all had in common was that they were out where the rubber met the road: street and SWAT cops, combat veterans, astronauts, fighter pilots, professional fighters, race car drivers, all sorts of folks in dangerous jobs.

Most of them had not only seen the elephant, but French kissed him once or twice.

So before I share with you what I came up with as the critical bits that make up situational awareness, let me put in the obligatory disclaimer: This is not The Way. I don’t know The Way. This is just my experience as an occasional trainer (and current writer). I’ve managed with a little bit of success to train folks in this skill set, and then to have them turn around and train their folks in it, and survive critical incidents. There’s a lot of paths to the mountain, and I surely am no expert, and most certainly do not proclaim to know a whole lot about this subject.

I only know what I know!

So try it out. See for yourself. If it works, keep it. If not, bin it.

So back to what I came up with: my working definition of situational awareness is that it is the state of relaxed alertness that allows the operator the maximum amount of information about what is going on in his or her crucial zone of control. That zone of control might be what you see when you’re driving in your squad and listening to the radio and eyeballing the street, or it could be everything you see from the cockpit of a fighter over Baghdad at Mach 2. Here are the factors I’ve found to be essential to training, using, and maintaining a state of constant situational awareness.

1. Superior vision skills. I don’t mean excellent vision, I mean more efficient usage of the visual input the brain receives. Better visual processing. This can be trained through simple techniques to enhance habitual use of peripheral vision and to enhance superior scanning of the vision field. Visual pattern recognition of the nexus of cues (see item 2) leads to faster recognition of trouble, which gives you an advantage of time in the OODA loop (you remember the OODA loop, right?).
2. Superior behavioral cue acuity. That’s a fancy way of saying you need to recognize body language and environmental cues of impending violence and trouble faster. How do you do that? By a) seeing more efficiently and b) knowing what to look for. Training this leads to creating an efficient pattern recognition program in the brain that processes all the million of bits of data that come into our sensory perception every second — sight, sound, feeling, taste, hearing — and sends up a signal flare when needed that says “Hey, I know where this is going and it ain’t pretty.”
3. Superior state management. This doesn’t mean you’ll make a good politician. What this means is that you need to manage your state (time out for definition: a state is a combination of two things — your internal representation, or everything your brain is processing at any given moment, and your physiology, which is everything happening in your body at any given moment. States are things like happiness, fear, alertness….capisce?) efficiently no matter what’s going on. State management is “Keeping your head when all others around you are losing theirs.”
4. Superior use of time distortion. I think everyone who works in a high risk profession has experienced time either slowing down or speeding up while riding the adrenaline express. People who have been in — and survived — high stress situations process time differently than Joe Citizen. Ever had an hour that passed in seconds? Or a second that passed in hours? Time distortion.

So what we’ve got here is a uniform skill set broken down into manageable — and trainable components. Train each of these pieces, embed it in the appropriate context in your training flow, reinforce it as you go along and cement it forever in a stressful reality based scenario — and you’re giving your students the gift of the bedrock essential skill that makes up street smarts.

Situational awareness.

So let me now address these components with simple, easy to immediately implement exercises with examples drawn from the training successes me and mine have had. Then you can cut loose and experiment with your own personal training!

Vision Skills
Use of the full natural range of your vision is the first building block in enhancing the physical components of situational awareness. The first step is to calibrate what your habitual range of vision is. Take a seat in a chair and have your partner stand behind you. Gaze straight ahead as you would normally do. Have your partner extend his arms out full length to the side, and then slowly bring them around behind you till you pick them up in your peripheral vision. Make sure you keep your gaze straight ahead. When you can see both his hands, say stop. Then look at the angle his arms make (see photo). That will give you the angle of your habitual range of vision.

Then have your partner dig his fingers into your shoulder and neck muscles, and loosen up those muscles. Then, he’ll rest his fingertips on your head and gently move your head back and forth until you cease resisting, and unlock the neck muscles. Sit straight, and align your spine straight over your pelvis, feet flat on the floor.

Then have him calibrate your range of vision.

If you do the relaxation piece, you’ll find that your range of peripheral vision will increase dramatically. Simple as that. So what does that tell you? That the habitual muscle tension you carry decreases your ability to see. So if perceptual narrowing occurs in an already narrowed vision field, what happens? What if perceptual narrowing occurred in a vision field that was fully expanded? Would you get the same degree of visual loss?

Try it out for yourself and see.

Behavioral cue acuity
That’s a ten-dollar phrase for reading body language. Everyone who has spent time successfully surviving violent encounters with dangerous humans has some ability to read the cues for impending violence — whether they saw it in advance or recollected it in the hospital!
While there are some useful video/DVD audio-visual presentations (like the work of Dr. Paul Ekman) that address pre-violence indicators, the cheapest, fastest, and most efficient way is to get experienced people (i.e. them that been and done that) to model (as in role play or act out) the cues in a mini-scenario format in front of the novice.

Show, don’t tell people about something they already know how to do…the human brain is wired from birth to interpret body language and subtle cues. So just put the right cues in front of your students. Role play a street interview escalating from non-compliance to violence — and who knows better how to write that script than your experienced people?

Show, don’t tell the way a face changes when somebody decides to get ugly and act on it.

Simple, no?

State Management
I always hesitate to write about this stuff, because you can learn it in person in less time than it takes to write it down or read it. But this is an essential piece (like all the others) — and something you already describe as “keeping your head” or “keeping cool” or “not letting things get to you.”

The way I introduced this to people was to have them think of two opposite states (and remember, a state is internal representation + physiology, that is what you’re thinking and then what your body is doing) like, say, anger and happiness. Everybody’s been happy, right?
So with a partner, do this: have your partner close his eyes and really concentrate on being angry…on what makes him (or her) really mad. Watch closely for the physiological cues (which also helps your behavioral cue acuity…) as he changes. When you see that he really looks angry, tell him to stop. Get him back to neutral. Then have him concentrate on something that makes him really happy. Watch closely for the cues as he changes. When you see him fully happy, tell him to stop. Get him back to neutral.

Then ask him to describe what changed inside him as he went between those two states. He might use language that describes seeing something, hearing something, feeling something…what you’re looking for is what changed in his internal representation. Then tell him what you saw, compare notes.

Noticing what changes gives you the tool to notice your own changes — and stop them or modify them as you need to!

Not so hard, huh?

Time Distortion
This is another aspect that’s much easier to teach in person than to describe in print, but here’s a fundamental exercise that will give you some insight into how your own internal clock works — and you can use your imagination as to how you could integrate this into some scenario training…

Close your eyes and visualize a clock face. Put a second hand on that clock face and watch it count off ten seconds. It’s important to visualize the second hand, not count off the seconds or go tick tick tick. When you’ve got your visualization right, then have your partner tell you go — and your partner needs a watch with a second hand (or digital read out). When you see your internal stopwatch hit ten seconds, sat stop. And have your partner tell you how many seconds he’s got on his external watch.

What you will find is that your internal clock may be off quite a bit from “external” time. What I’ve found is that people with lots of experience under stress process internal time differently…ten seconds of their internal time might be as little as two or three seconds of external time. If you have ten seconds to respond, while somebody only has two or three, does that give you an advantage in exploiting the OODA loop?

Might could be.

And if you don’t have that time advantage, you could train it…

So like I said, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know anybody that does. I’ve found that simple exercises like this not only enhance performance under stress, but build habitual skill levels that require little or no maintenance — because quite often this is stuff you’re already doing, and just need to pay a little attention to improve your performance.

On Mindset, Pt 4

I’ve always found it useful to define terms. “Mindset” is a fuzzy term. What does it mean? Poll any number of combat practitioners — military, law enforcement, combat athletes — and you’ll get as many different answers as you have people.

I don’t think there’s one generic descriptor that applies to “mindset” — though I’ve been lazy in discussing it as though there were.

Here’s a couple of random chunks that I think *may* add up to a consensus definition:

There’s those aspects of mental training that relate specifically to enhancing performance. These might include visualization, mental rehearsal and techniques drawn from kinesthetic learning.

There are those aspects of mental training that install attributes: willingness to kill, willingness to engage in personal violence in general, ability to recognize and manage stress, situational awareness.

And then there’s that training that enhances control of the physiology in the mind/body matrix: autogenics breathing and psycho-physiological state management (or access).

For a long time, the approach for training mental attributes in combat focused on “toughening” — the mind, the body, through harsh and rigorous training. I wonder if that in fact actually trained that attribute, or uncovered it in those who already had it. (See previous post that touches on selection processes).

Something I focused on early on was identifying those individuals who had “it” — that amalgam of attributes and abilities listed above — and modeling them on the basis that recreating the physiology they displayed would help coach an novice learner *faster* into the desired end-state. Lots of previous work on this, especially in sports psychology and the “modeling” process as developed by Bandler and Grinder in the evolution of NLP.

So my approach was focused on detailed study of high performers and then parsing out what they were actually doing (as opposed to what they reported they were doing, a nuance lost on some) and figuring out ways to install that in training. I had the benefit of some excellent training in analyzing and evaluating body language and physiological response, as well as utilizing elicitation technique to evoke certain physiological states.

I once coached a member of the South African Olympic rifle team, an extremely experienced military sniper. He started to tell me about his problem, and I had him stop, and just go through his shooting sequence while I observed. When I identified his “hitch” I stopped him, corrected it, and he fired the perfect shot that had eluded him. Took 3 minutes start to finish.

He got up, and backed away from me with a very strange look. “That’s bloody witchcraft, oke…” he said.

I don’t think so, but it certainly can appear like that to people without training or experience.

The basis of this approach is that a high performance individual in a certain skill-set has what we need; we just need to study how he or she does it and then parse it out so it can be trained (see my previous post here on how to train the attribute of situational awareness: https://marcuswynne.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/neural-based-training-for-situational-awareness-first-printed-in-swat-magazine/ or else this post here on how to train rapid target discrimination in the peripheral vision field for shooters: https://marcuswynne.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/neural-based-training-training-peripheral-target-discrimination-for-shooters/

So the question that drove my approach was: How do you transfer the cognitive map/strategy/neurological process that comprises that elusive “mindset” into a novice learner? I took the approach of eliciting, modeling and then installing into training those pieces that added up to expert performance. I remember, a long time ago, wishing that the technology would catch up and we could just be like Neo and Morpheus in THE MATRIX and just VR our way into combat skill mastery.

Well, now we can. Kinda. Check out this very recent patent: http://www.google.com/patents/US20110105859 and the work done by http://www.advancedbrainmonitoring.com.

The technology now exists, available to the public (for the first time), to model the neurology of an expert in real-time, capture it, and then coach (via haptic, auditory and visual clues) a novice learner into the desired psycho-physiological state — the theory being that once in that state, the novice learner will become expert very quickly.

We’ll come back to that part later, but it certainly is interesting, isn’t it?

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.

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

I recently had several fascinating discussions with the top Program Managers in cognitive neuroscience at DARPA. It came as no surprise, to me anyway, that cognitive neuroscience and, specifically, enhancing neurological and cognitive performance in war-fighters, is a top priority in current military research.

It’s gratifying to me — after 25 years of applying and embedding cognitive neuroscience concepts and principles into training for professionals who go in harm’s way — to see the serious attention (as measured in dollars and human resources) given to addressing the “mental platform” of war-fighters and combat athletes.

Most of the questions that come to me are variants on “What is neural-based training?” People who have trained with me are probably grinning as they read this, as they know much how I dislike talking (or writing) about a skill when there’s an opportunity to actually *do* or train a skill.

Neural-based training for the mental platform doesn’t require a range, cool guy clothing or high-speed weapons; you can train constantly throughout your daily interactions by adding a level of attention, knowledge, and skill to your inherent attributes. You can significantly increase your performance in whatever skill set you want to improve in a very short period of time.

Neural-based training is training designed to work with the way your neurology and cognitive processes develop naturally. It’s training designed to make it easy for you to learn the way your brain most wants to learn, in the way that’s simplest for your brain to learn.

I like to use the analogy of learning to ride a bicycle. When you learned to ride a bike, did you get a Powerpoint presentation on the theory of the bicycle, memorize the nomenclature, familiarize yourself with the operating characteristics, get tested on the principles of bicycle riding? Or did you get on the bike, and with or without technical enhancement (training wheels, for instance) just start doing the skill, first roughly approximating it, then gaining skill and experience through the application of the skill in a real-world environment (starting in the driveway, then moving to the sidewalk, then out into the street…) and then moving through the various level of skill acquisition to the point where the skill is deeply embedded at an other-than-conscious level, where you can ride a bike, carry on a conversation, watch the street, even text?

For those who learn skills that *must* be used under immediate-onset-threat-to-life stress, which approach embeds skills in such a fashion as to be more usable more quickly in the end-use environment?

I’ve found — in my opinion, based on my research and experience over 25 years — that it’s the latter.

The second approach requires the instructor to take a position as a facilitator/coach/co-learner (not as the fount of all knowing and knowledge) and requires the *student* to take ownership of her/his own learning process.

It’s as much a philosophy of learning as it is an art and practical science. Many instructors have a significant ego investment in being an “instructor” — as such, they don’t want to give up that position and step aside at some point and let the student be responsible for his/her learning process. That requires letting go, and trusting in the process and the student. There’s inherent risk in any training that involves preparing people for dangerous work under stress; at some point, those trainees will be out on their own making decisions and taking action under stress. So doesn’t it make sense to give them that experience as early on in the learning process as you safely can?

That requires an evaluation of what constitutes “safe” and a determination as to when someone is ready. That requires instructors who can facilitate learning and coach as well as “stand and deliver” — and who are mature and capable enough to be able to step aside and let adult learners take charge of their learning at an appropriate place in the training flow.

This is nothing new in the field of accelerated learning as applied in elementary education; but it was radical beyond belief 25 years ago in law enforcement and military training. I’m happy to see this approach finally getting serious scientific attention from the war-fighters leading the research into this for the military.

Interesting, yes? I find it so. So stay tuned for more specific tips, techniques and drills adapted from my body of work for application in dangerous professions.