Tag Archives: observation skills

On Civilian Training Considerations

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

Some especially good ones are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some training she’s scheduling right now:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s some ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(See previous post on Shoot, No-Shoot)

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

Sigh. Liability and bureaucrats = training drag.

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

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

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

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

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

Rinse and repeat.

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

You’ll be faster and better.

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

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

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

Now do it backwards.

Not so easy, yeah?

Ever wonder why?

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

Know something forwards and backwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DRILL IS NOT THE APPLICATION

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

WHAT IS THE APPLICATION, THEN?

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

In accelerated learning, we call that the desired outcome.

SO DOES THIS DRILL GET US THERE?

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

Yes. Yes. Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the shooting drill:

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

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

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

Then you execute appropriately.

How to improve it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers Regarding Neural-Based Firearms

I’ve been channeling Milton (and the Bible) and going to-and-fro in the world as of late, working hard to get myself out of the black hole of debt and spreading the gospel of neural-based training. I thought I’d share a few high-lights from recent trainings with you, as in specific performance milestones reached by the excellent participants in various events.

Shooter A (experienced IDPA/IPSC shooter): Took baseline for from the holster to clearing a plate rack from around 3.1 seconds down to 2.4…consistently. Was able to call shot correction in real-time and adjust accordingly. Shaved significant increments off presentation time.

Shooter J (well-trained street oriented defensive shooter): shot personal best from concealment with carry pistol — 1.98 from deep concealment to shot placement in 1.5 inch circle @ 7 yards. Shaved approximately one second off baseline from concealment with enhanced accuracy. Able to shoot faster and better from any position.

Shooters M+J (entry level IDPA/IPSC competitors): Shaved TWO SECONDS off their baseline presentation from holster to aimed shots inside three inch circle @ 7 yards. Went from 4.9 to 2.9 consistently. Increased accuracy under stress.

Shooter M1(intermediate street-oriented defensive shooter): Shaved a second off baseline for deep concealment draw — 2.9 to 1.9 consistently. Modified deeply ingrained bad habits immediately through visualization (grip, stance, head position). Able to consistently hit six-inch steel plates at speed from 35 yards while under stress (personal first) and engage human sized steel silhouette at 100 yards with .45 ACP DA/SA pistol.

A recurring theme in comments from participants: “I didn’t believe I could do this…(this fast, this kind of technique, this anything…). Through personal experience they were able to achieve dramatic and immediate results, and now their belief maps are rewritten.

Random thoughts:
* Installing advanced skill-sets directly into the other-than-conscious mind without filtering through conscious mind (traditional instruction methodology) results in dramatic improvements that come out UNDER stress…”I didn’t know I could do that.” One of the fundamental principles of accelerated learning; the methodology bypasses the levels of unconscious incompetence and conscious incompetence and conscious competence by going directly to unconscious competence. Demonstrated and validated immediately under stress.

*Pressure testing any life-saving skill IMMEDIATELY under stress accelerates the learning and integration of the skill into existing neural nets around life-saving skill(s) sets.

*Identifying existing neural-nodes of existing motor programs and integrating new motor programs into those nodes (like something as simple as the walking motor program) dramatically accelerates not only the acquisition of a new motor skill, but also the retention and more to the point, the accessibility of that skill set while the operator is under stress.

*Construction/creation of neural-based training requires a redefinition of what constitutes “Safety” — in other words, the higher fidelity a reality simulation has externally, the less safe it APPEARS (though in real terms it may be completely safe); coupled with the appropriate use by the person undergoing the training of state-management technique (self-eliciting stress so as to facilitate control of it) creates the experience of danger/non-safety — but in a safe way. Make sense, LOL?

*Perfect is the enemy of good enough. Neural-based training to install life-saving skills will never LOOK perfect/cleanly focused with excellent form at first. But then, real fights are never pretty, perfect, cleanly focused and with excellent form, either.

Neural-Based Training for Situational Awareness (first printed in SWAT Magazine)

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

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

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

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

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

And ended up more confused than ever.

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

You have to do it.

So how do you do situational awareness?

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

Those are the critical bits.

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

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

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

I only know what I know!

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

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

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

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

Situational awareness.

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

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

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

Then have him calibrate your range of vision.

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

Try it out for yourself and see.

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

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

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

Simple, no?

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

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

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

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

Not so hard, huh?

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

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

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

Might could be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

or

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

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

So what do we see?

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

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

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

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

What do we see, then?

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

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

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

Execution:

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

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

Lessons for the shooter seeking improvement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why fix what ain’t broke?

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

RESEARCH BACKGROUND:

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

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

TRAINING METHODOLOGY:

This approach has implications for firearms trainers and users.

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

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

WHAT TO DO:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day One

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

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

3) Dry-fire same.

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

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

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

7) Run through the visualization again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of my beliefs about mindset training for combatives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

den-lofty-marcus-minneapolis-88

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s where the cutting edge research is today:

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

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

Everything Old Is New Again.

The Article That Started It All —

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

Neural Based Training, Situational Awareness, and Personal Resilience

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

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

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

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

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