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.

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.

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

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.

Situational Awareness Training (with update from NASA)

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In 1996, I published what may have been the first article in the popular “tactical/gun” press on John Boyd’s OODA loop as a model for maintaining situational awareness and decision making for personal combat. I presented a simplified version of Boyd’s elegant thinking and detailed expansion of the OODA loop, in a way that I felt, at the time, would be immediately usable by tacticians unfamiliar with the concept.

Sixteen years later, the OODA loop and Boyd’s work and how to apply it to personal combatives armed and unarmed are the subject of endless articles and internet forum debates and the concept is an integral part for most credible combative training systems.

This wasn’t the case in 1996, when most of the established firearms instructors were weaned on Cooper’s Color Code.  In several discussions with notable tacticians, I pointed out that the OODA loop didn’t necessarily replace the Color Code, but it certainly added an additional dimension for utilizing efficient information processing.

The  OODA loop concept took hold in the tactical community (it had long been part of combat aviation, military psychology and strategic planning) after other instructors and writers found utility in the simplified model and joined me in spreading the word.

So today knowledge of the OODA loop is expected in any serious tactical practitioner.

The concept of situational awareness, which I also introduced in the same article, has grown significantly as well.  Let me make clear I didn’t develop the idea, I took it from military psychology and combat aviation research and put the idea into the context of personal combat.  Situational awareness is a topic of serious study for the military; applying Boyd’s model to personal combat raised questions the military has long batted around:  What is situational awareness?  Can it be specifically defined and identified?  Is it an inherent trait or is it instilled?  And, most to the point, can it be taught in training?

Based on the research, experimentation, and field testing I’d been doing since the late 80’s on how to utilize accelerated learning, stress inoculation, and pre-conscious processing to recalibrate habitual baseline states to enhance performance under stress, I went on to share those concepts in another 1996 article SHOOTING WITH THE MIND’S EYE in which I stated my position:  yes, the components — the critical path of the cognitive process I defined as situational awareness — can be identified, and since those components can be identified they can then be enhanced and taught.

Among the organizations I shared this with was NASA. NASA is the lead agency for study and research of “situational awareness” and provides a clearing house for the various interested agencies like military aviation, the intelligence and law enforcement communities. I consulted with the Psychological Services Division of the Medical Sciences Branch of NASA.  My consultation focused on how to apply the blend of stress inoculation, accelerated learning, pre-conscious processing and scenario based training I’d developed to parts of the Astronaut Training Program.

One of controversial (at that time) positions I took, in discussion with the top military and space psychologists and psychiatrists in the world, was that situational awareness, in my experience as a trainer, was one part genetics, one part life experience, and one part training; and that situational awareness could be identified in prospective candidates, and further enhanced or taught (installed) into astronaut trainees who lacked the operational experience and training of the candidates who came in from the hard-core Department of Defense flow (ie fighter pilots, combat veterans, test pilots, etc.).

The polite (i.e. “official”) response was:  “That’s not our position  The area merits more study, but we tend to believe that situational awareness is in large part a skill you either have or you don’t; if you don’t, all the training in the world won’t give it to you.”

The unofficial response, over beers in a famous astronaut bar also trafficked by the US Naval Special Warfare community, was:  “Ah, bullshit.  You can’t teach that.”  And then a long pause:  “…but if you could…”

I wrote my consultation report and then went on to do other things, among them develop a training program for installing situational awareness subsequently adopted by the South African Police Service (who, at the time, had more officer-involved shootings monthly than the US had yearly) titled “Mental Conditioning for Close Combat” and also taught a significant number of personnel involved in close protection, military special operations, law enforcement, and private sector security on how to enhance their own brand of situational awareness.

Over the last twenty years, I’ve received hundreds of phone calls, e-mails and letters attesting to the effectiveness of the situational awareness and performance enhancement training program from former students operating in America and many other countries.

Anecdotal evidence, yes, but then, I never claim to be a scientist, and those calls and letters are all I ever needed to be assured that what I was doing was not only working in the training environment but translating directly into usefulness on the street and on the battlefield.

I shared that information with the popular tactical/gun press in an article about situational awareness published in SWAT Magazine in 2007.

In August 2010, 15 years after my initial consultation with NASA, the project managers I worked with in 1995 now are in charge of the entire unit, and were good enough to take my nine year old son on the VIP tour of the training facility.  Over lunch they told me, “Remember back in 95 when we were talking about situational awareness and human performance indicators?  Situational awareness?  We did a study you might find interesting.”

They sent me two documents detailing a study: “Human Behavior Performance Competencies” generated by NASA, and the ESA (European Space Agency).  What this study did was focus on specific aspects of human behavior and performance essential to survival in the space environment, with particular emphasis on long duration space travel.  One of the unprecedented products of the study is an easy to use matrix that identifies the human performance competency, the behavior, the behavioral markers, details and examples.

Situational awareness is one of the major human performance competencies identified.  This is the first time that the top scientists and researchers from the world-wide psychological research community have come to a consensus definition of situational awareness.

In order to include it, they had to break down the components of situational awareness as they defined it, as shown in the graphics posted above.

What NASA is doing with this is using these behaviors and traits as tools in the selection and assessment of astronauts and crew selection for long-duration missions; they continue to add rigorously reviewed scientific studies on these traits.  They also work in conjunction with their Training Division to enhance training to develop these attributes, and completed a peer-reviewed study and presentation on the effectiveness and implications of training situational awareness.

This can be an extremely useful model with extraordinary implications for law enforcement and tactical training.

There are two major competencies identified by NASA as principal sub-components of “situational awareness.”  They are:

a.              Maintenance of an accurate perception of the situation; and

b.              Processing of information

Perceiving the situation in an accurate (usable) perception and processing that information adds up to a state of “situational awareness.”

What are some of the implications for situational awareness training?

If a behavior can be identified and deconstructed into components, it can then be reconstructed and woven into a training program.

One of the differences between this extremely useful model and what I’ve been doing is that I combine processing of information with the maintainance of the accurate perception; like the OODA loop, it’s all one flow from my perspective.  Without efficient processing of useful information in the moment, it’s not possible to perceive a given situation, especially a dynamic situation like combat, accurately.  So the two elements are interwoven.

My model for training and enhancing situational awareness focused on improving perception and enhancing cognition while under stress.  These are the principal components of the baseline state of relaxed alertness and situational awareness as I’ve trained it:

  • Vision skills (enhanced use of the full range of visual cues, which leads to enhancement of other sensory inputs i.e. hearing, etc., as well as designing training that enhances visual processing in the neurology),
  • Sensory cue acuity (enhanced use of all senses in conjunction along with pattern recognition templates fed into the other-than-conscious mind)
  • State management (managing the internal representation and physiology in such a manner as to enhance efficient processing of information)
  • Cognitive model (drawing critical path pattern-recognition models from high performers and installing directly into other than conscious mind of students)
  • Time distortion (how to manage and enhance processing of information and utilize time distortion to maximize personal processing time of incident-essential data).

So over twenty years, I’ve focused on simple exercises to install the skill, and test it immediately under stress and in open-ended scenarios to cement the skill in use under immediate onset threat to life stress.  In my last post, I shared a simple exercise that installs one small attribute of the larger skill set.

What I find most exciting about this study is the model NASA’s best researchers came up with; in the same way the OODA loop is a model for decision making and maintaining situational awareness, the Human Behavior and Performance Competency Model is a model for breaking out the components of situational awareness as they define it.

So while some pieces of their definition might not necessarily meet the needs of personal combat, the model of the matrix they’ve created makes a template for us to fill in with the working competencies drawn from personal combat.

So – shall we create one?

Upcoming posts:

Part Two:  The Matrix

Part Three:  Training the Jedi

ps:  I’ve been waiting for the last two years for permission to release this information; just received word this morning.  More later….

Extracts used with permission from NASA.  All other content copyright by Marcus Wynne (as is all material on this blog — please respect that…)

PPS:  Under “Better Late Than Never” I see that DARPA has finally come around to recognizing the importance of this skill set, though they are currently focused on the technological application instead of the human/soft-skill installation approach:  http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/Accelerated_Learning.aspx

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