Tag Archives: shooting with mind’s eye

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

(See previous post on Shoot, No-Shoot)

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

Sigh. Liability and bureaucrats = training drag.

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

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

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

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

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

Rinse and repeat.

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

You’ll be faster and better.

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

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

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

Now do it backwards.

Not so easy, yeah?

Ever wonder why?

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

Know something forwards and backwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DRILL IS NOT THE APPLICATION

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

WHAT IS THE APPLICATION, THEN?

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

In accelerated learning, we call that the desired outcome.

SO DOES THIS DRILL GET US THERE?

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

Yes. Yes. Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the shooting drill:

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

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

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

Then you execute appropriately.

How to improve it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Neural-Based Shooting Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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