(part of an occasional series on neural-based training)
A couple of my beliefs about mindset training for combatives:
- You don’t train it by reading about it.
- You don’t train it by listening to somebody else talk about it.
- 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.