Tag Archives: federal law enforcement

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.

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…

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:


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:


And here’s *some* of the really cutting edge technology that’s becoming available:

Everything Old Is New Again.

The Article That Started It All —

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

DARPA Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) Proposers Day on April 8th, 2016

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) http://www.darpa.mil is, to put it mildly, an interesting place. It’s the Department of Defense’s Mad Scientist Asylum, the source of major conspiracy theory, and the fountain of much of the high-tech that we consumers take for granted.

I was recently invited out again to give a chat and meet with some folks. Our little company is way out in the weeds doing stuff that a lot of the major contractors and the various DOD customers are interested in.

The focus of this visit was DARPA’s new program, Targeted Neural Plasticity Training.


Accentus-Ludus Success Story #3 — NASA

aludus_256357main_symbols1-xltnNASA conducted a detailed search for, and evaluation of, training organizations outside aerospace and military aviation that prepared personnel to perform under extreme stress. These organizations included federal, state and local law enforcement; military special operations and military basic training from all services; and government security and intelligence agencies.

An Other Government Agency (involved with intelligence and security) recommended that NASA evaluate Accentus-Ludus CEO Marcus Wynne’s pioneering work in accelerated learning and stress inoculation. NASA’s evaluation included a site visit to observe an accelerated learning/stress inoculation training, a comprehensive review of previous trainings and a survey of Wynne’s methods.

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Accentus Ludus Success Stories, #1 — Swedish National Police

Marcus Wynne and Swedish National Police students
Marcus Wynne and Swedish National Police students

The Swedish National Police invited us to do a demonstration of our accelerated learning/stress inoculation protocol to see how our approach might improve their current and future training.

We designed a custom training for the Heckler & Koch MP-5 submachine gun. The Swedish Police issue the MP-5 as a specialty weapon. Qualification with the MP-5 is mandatory for all cadets in the two-year program at the Swedish National Police University. The required MP-5 course takes three eight-hour days of classroom instruction and range training. There is classroom presentation, weapons familiarization, weapons manipulation, live firing, a live fire qualification and a written test. There is no training in tactical application or stress management.

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Situational Awareness Training (with update from NASA)

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.

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