Private Military Contractor International Magazine took a keen interest in my thoughts on violence and training in this very extensive interview. Check it out here!
Private Military Contractor International Magazine took a keen interest in my thoughts on violence and training in this very extensive interview. Check it out here!
Recently, I made a post in one of my groups about sparring a professional fighter, and how he reminded me that I don’t know jack shit about “professional boxing.” A few days before that, I made a quiet announcement that I took a side job as a bouncer, for fun and to meet people in my new town. A fellow instructor and good friend commented to me, “Nobody can ever say you don’t throw yourself out there. I really respect that. Door work, boxing gym, red man suit. Most guys with a rep immediately cease testing themselves and go into “authority” mode.”
Yes, I put myself out there. I put myself in losing situations often and I have my reasons for this. If you are serious about being good at something, especially violence, then I suggest you find your own reasons to do the same.
My friend is correct, many instructors instinctively go into “authority mode” once they achieve some recognition. It’s where they no longer test themselves or, more importantly, no longer allow themselves to be seen being tested. Because, they could fail. They could lose or perform poorly. And if that occurred, what would happen to their credibility and the draw for people to give them money for their awesome knowledge?
I believe that those fears along with the ego, are both at fault for the majority of people teaching in this business who decline to step up and get tested. The combatives instructor who never gets in a sparring ring or shows his students demonstrations at the same level he expects them to perform at. The Instagram instructor who is smoking fast and has a ton of followers, yet declines to show up for a professional level UTM force-on-force (FoF) class that’s hosted outside of his “tribe.” The guy who brings his sweetest shooting 1911 to teach a pistol class rather than the one he actually carries (and can’t shoot as well with).
I’m not saying that the guy who doesn’t get tested is automatically faking it, or whatever. There’s a ton of professional guys who are moving into their 50’s and 60’s who don’t feel a need to test themselves anymore. But, those guys have decades of boxing, fighting, rolling, law enforcement, task force, military or special operations under their belts. Some of them continue to get tested, to do work, to go after it and that is how it should be. Some of them spend their energy traveling and teaching others. But, if you didn’t spend literally years of your life doing actually dangerous shit related to what you teach, you better be out there getting tested on a regular basis.
Me? As I move into my mid 40’s in 2019, I’m still getting after it. I personally have tried to get away from it several times, building custom cars, music and guitars, doing sales…only to find my physical and mental health slipping away by living outside of what I know and love to do. So, there’s no way I could imagine actually doing it for a living such as I do now and neglecting to actually get in there and stay sharp myself. That means getting in the ring with an undefeated pro, or working the floor at a busy nightclub, or walking into a State Championship match as my first competitive shooting event. Even with having extensive experience with extreme violence and deadly force, I know I have gaps and I want to find them and fill them as much as I possibly can. It also keeps you humble, and that is important in my opinion.
In doing so, I seek failure. I am trying to find gaps in my abilities, my skills and procedures. I want to know where I am likely to fail. And if people, or even students see me failing, that’s even better. They are getting a real education at that point, from someone who has been involved in deadly violence and dangerous environments. Someone who will not give them some false sense of security of imperviousness through some magical training. Experienced fighters die at the hands of their enemies every day. It’s just bullshit to believe that some particular training, class or instructor can make you unbeatable, and it’s also bullshit to believe that any instructor is undefeatable.
Yet. that is the unintended consequence when we don’t a) help students experience failure and b) show them that we are all susceptible to failure and need improvement somewhere. I don’t fear the loss of credibility or authority, because I deal in realities. And the biggest reality about violence is we ALL can “get got” as they say. No matter how much you know, someone somewhere is better at an isolated set of skills than you are. We also all can “slip” and that is where failure comes in. I’ll step up and shoot anywhere against anyone. I’ll get into the ring and spar with anyone (providing they are trustworthy). Sometimes I lose, most times I learn, and I teach from what I know from years of training, study and direct experience.
I have always believed making yourself look perfect or undefeatable to be a huge disservice in the self-defense training world in the form of false presentation. I don’t think it’s truly a totally conscious scam…usually. It’s anti-marketing to allow your customer base to see you failing at the thing they are paying you to teach them. But we need to stop looking at it like that. It’s just wrong that people who have never been in violence are taught that this certain style or these certain techniques are THE WAY to be a hard to kill warrior, and they are taught this by someone they never see get tested. When they learn it, they are not seeing its failure points. Few dares to teach the failure points of themselves or their own gospel for fear of losing appeal. But the truth is, if you are teaching in a way that makes one believe that you or your methods do not have failure points, you are being dishonest with yourself and everyone who listens to you. And, just maybe, you don’t even realize that you are doing it.
So I did a thing…
First of all, I don’t refer to myself as a “tactical shooter.” It’s just a funny headline folks… Anyway, a few weeks ago, I shot a competition for the first time. Now, it wasn’t just any competition. It was the Florida State Steel Challenge Championship 2018, and it was the first time I had ever competed.
I have never shot in a competition, nor have I ever had any desire to. I know it’s beneficial in a lot of ways, and can be fun, it’s just not my thing. I spend a great deal of time focusing on the fight and I’ve been quite happy in my narrow lane of civilian extreme criminal violence. But a few weeks ago, a student and dear friend talked me into going to the steel competition and giving it a try. So I did. I showed up with my mostly stock Glock 19 Gen4 with RMR optic, a kydex holster I snagged from a local friend in South Florida, and I competed in the Carry Optics division for the State Championships.
It was pretty ballsy to show up with a true carry gun and compete against tricked out race guns (especially in the Carry Optics division) with longer barrels, trigger jobs, etc. etc. To add to this disparity, I had not only never competed before, I didn’t practice at all either! Hell, I haven’t even shot much this year period, except in classes I was either teaching or attending. With moving from Ohio to Florida, launching my book and traveling around teaching, I just have not put many rounds downrange this year. But I had a logical plan. I wanted to show up with what I carry everyday, with no extra practice or warming up or pre-gaming it, and see how I performed not only against my own standards but against competitive shooters as well. Cold. Run what you brung. No excuses.
How do you think I did?
With a stock gun, shorter barrel, unfamiliar holster, no comp experience, no practice…I placed 5th in the Carry Optics division and shot my way into the B class. Keep in mind, this was state championships. I am pretty damn happy with that! Seriously, I beat some shooters who were classed above me, sponsored by well known companies, and had invested way more in time and equipment than I will ever put into competing. How can I not be thrilled to go in there and place that well? I am confident with my carry gun, and I proved to myself that that confidence is not false or misplaced when it comes to my straight up draw and shoot skills. And I did it cold, how testing should be.
I have a few thoughts about this. First, you’ll notice I said “testing”. For me, steel challenge breaks down to two things: fast draws and fast, accurate shooting. These are bare essential fundamentals for gunfighting, and if you can’t do them well, you shouldn’t be training for anything else yet. So, I wanted to go into this cold with no practice or preparation. In fact, the day before the match I spent the entire day and evening working on my truck. I didn’t do anything different than my daily life leading up to the morning when I headed to the match. I also unfortunately forgot my RCS OWB holster and had to have a South Florida friend throw a kydex one together for me, giving me a straight vertical draw when all of my holsters are canted, so I got the ol’ “unforeseen circumstance” thrown in there, too.
I simply wanted to see how I would shoot, with the added excitement of walking into a championship match as a complete newb. I wanted to see how I stack up against shooters who don’t think about much other than just the shooting component, and I did well. I even beat several of them.
Since I come from violence first, and then to the fight training world (resisting the use of “tactical training world” here), I have just never had an interest in competition. But I can say this, I didn’t feel “pressure”. I was a little amped up for the first few stages, but I never felt pressure or stress during the entire day. I was a little bored honestly. I’ve always taught in mindset work that stress is a perceptual problem, If a timer and/or worrying about how fast you can shoot “stresses” you out to the point of diminishing skill, then maybe it’s a good time to exercise mindset and self control . Rather than getting better at “shooting under pressure” maybe we can shoot well without allowing artificial pressure affect our minds. That’s how I approach procedural training like shoothouse, anyway. If i let artificial bullshit mindfuck me, how can i expect to perform clearly when the threat is real? That’s my take on the whole “competition is pressure” thing. Unless you’re competing for that big money and your livelihood is on the line, I think my way is a viable way to look at it.
So, I tried that during the day, and it worked. I was able to perceive the situation in a way that felt like it was important to perform, but I was able to keep my heart rate down and push the performance. No one was going to try to kill me; easy day. In my mind, that is a more beneficial use of competition for a tactical or combat shooter, rather than getting amped up and shooting “hot” all the time. Any opportunity to control stress at the source instead of dealing with it’s outcomes is an opportunity every fighter should take. An easy way to do it is to be a professional. What do pros do? They do the work they trained to do. They show up, and they do the work. It doesn’t matter where, or with who, or if it’s raining, if it’s someone’s back yard or it’s a state championship. They show up and do the work they know how to do. That is the very thing that pros do. It’s a pretty simple attitude and it works. There are things I can’t or won’t overcome with that method, but I don’t train to swim with sharks or jump out of airplanes either. But, if it is within my lane, I will show up and do that work.
BUT, BUT, IT’S NOT USPSA!!
I teach the Skills-Techniques-Procedures-Tactics-Validation process. Steel Challenge is purely a skills level test (skills validation). This is true. It’s a straight up test of how fast you can get your gun out of the holster and hit various sized targets at various distances (up to 35yds). When I told a USPSA Master Class friend about my Steel Challenge adventure, he said, “Yeah, but Steel Challenge is to USPSA what laser tag is to CQB”. While I get the reference, gonna have to disagree with you there my friend. Drawing and shooting quickly and accurately are required fundamental skills in USPSA, and in CQB, and in gunfighting, period. Laser tag offers nothing to CQB. I’m sure he didn’t mean that half of the statement literally, but just because it’s a fundamental skill level doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. And hell no, I’m not letting anyone take away from the fact that I walked into a state match for my first time ever, with street gear, and placed very well. That shit was awesome.
I’m well aware that moving and shooting is more difficult, but not everyone can walk in cold and place is a state match with their carry gun either. Now that my fundamentals tested out well, I may venture out and shoot a USPSA match sometime soon, though I still have very little interest in it as opposed to spending my time training CQB. There are things about USPSA that are absolutely counter to what CQB should be. In a structural fighting situation you might move dynamically, but you will not dash into the middle of a threshold, stop in an isosceles stance and engage numerous targets head on as fast as possible. That would not be advisable against real bad guys. So, if I were to do USPSA, I think thousands of reps of CQB work would be hard to overcome when working openings and thresholds and multiple targets, so that may screw me up there. However, I do know the difference and would work to get the speed dynamic flow down and not worry about it because I’d be shooting USPSA, not CQB training or fighting. But either way, maybe I’ll go try it for fun.
But, competition will get you killed…
I call bullshit on people who claim to not do well in comp because they are “tactical”. From what I can see, competition is some of the components used in combat in isolated formats.
Do you, in fighting, sometimes have to:
Because that is ALL competition is, which should be easier because (aside from minor strategizing) you are removing procedural problem solving and life and death consequences from the task list.
Now, equipment differences are real, but only offer a reasonable explanation for a point spread, not a total excuse for poor performance. If you have a million reps in use of cover and working threshold angles, yeah you may not be awesome at USPSA right away. But they are two different things and should be treated as such. Steel challenge pretty much transfers right over in that it’s fundamental level skills.
So overall, I am super happy about my performance walking in off the street. I stand by my statements about competition not being any type of real pressure that tests how you will do in a fight under “pressure” (if I had a hundred bucks for every time I’ve heard that). I think I conquered that “pressure” thing by walking into the State championships of the third largest State in the union for my first match ever. But, I do think it’s a great test for isolated skills that you may use in a fight, so it’s a great way to push those skills up. At the end of the day I did not catch the bug and, even though I believe I could actually win with some practice and equipment upgrades, it’s just not my thing at this time.
I encourage you to get out and try new things with your skills. Don’t cop out and say you can’t because you’re a “tactical shooter” or whatever. Competition is isolated skills work. It won’t train anyone to be a fighter, but fighters can test isolated skills and self-control quite extensively in matches.
I was invited on as the opening guest to a new podcast by Matt Landfair of Primary and Secondary. In this short-form podcast episode I discuss my concept of Orientation.
In this episode I talk about Adaptability and Failure, how the two go together and are mandatory for improving fight capabilities, and life capabilities for that matter. I also talk a little about inexperienced experts, and the significance of the new year.
A very special guest, Darren Friesen of the Human Protection Collaborative joining me from Costa Rica to discuss violence, training, being gray, non-permissive environments, and so much more. Please forgive the audio quality as it was a bit of a struggle to achieve a good connection, but the discussion is absolutely worth it. Violence and training discussion of another level for sure. My listeners know that my audio is typically pretty clean, so between communicating on a third world country’s internet, and Darren being in a noisy environment due to security reasons, we achieved a pretty good podcast!
The new Violence Colloquium project, the difference between having a gun and knowing how to fight, leave people the hell alone, and I hate violence.
In this episode I talk about the simplicity and depth of violence training in the criminal world, how target analysis is more accurate than target selection, the importance of recovery workouts and the morning pump, and I’m doing jiu jitsu, again…
In this episode John “Chappy” Chapman (Forge Tactical LLC) joins me for a discussion on working on deficiencies, warrior ethos, and how “non-exposure to violence leads to nonviolent thinking”
Visit www.forgetactical.com for more information on Chappy and courses offered
In this segment, I talk about my background in fitness training and give an overview of my workouts and fitness cycles and how they apply to fighting and self defense.
In this episode I talk about Principle based instruction vs technique based instruction; Return on Investment and why it differentiates the high and low order criminal; Is a knife a suitable self-defense weapon?
When you come to one of my classes, you are not overwhelmed with technical details, terminology or requirements.
There is a well-developed framework and methodology behind all of my curriculum. This framework is scalable to each class and each student’s relative level of skill (or lack thereof). The two major components of the framework are conditioning and orientation. Training should have the primary goal of developing these two components in the fighter. Conditioning includes both the physical conditioning to perform skills on demand and with endurance, and the mental ability to both assess problems and persevere in the face of extreme adversity. Conditioning comes through dedicated training, repeated exposure, and study. Orientation is the basis for mindset. Your response to violence will be based upon your orientation to the violent situation. Your conditioning and confidence level, your attachments in life, your cultural beliefs (particularly about violence), and ultimately your real experience level, all make up your orientation. Through these experiences and beliefs, you will make a series of decisions which will determine how you will assess and respond to a violent encounter.
To accomplish a thorough development of conditioning and orientation, training-for me-takes on a systematic approach broken into 3 categories:
The very first step in any training is to identify the mission you will train for. If you are not clear what your mission is, you have very little guidance on what to properly train and prepare for. I know this sounds simple, but in the hundreds of courses that I have taught, when I ask this question most people either can not answer or get it completely wrong. What is a wrong answer? It is wrong when it contradicts your OWN goals. For example, someone who trains to protect themselves and their family, but is prepared to run head first into a fight that does not endanger themselves or their family and risk their life for a stranger. Noble or not, if you mission is to protect yourself and make it home with your family every night, running into any random deadly situation you see is not in line with that mission. You could lose your life, and it would not have been in the defense of you or your family. Your family is left without protection. Mission=Failed. I would rather hear someone proclaim their mission is to fight evil wherever it appears, like Batman, than to contradict their own stated mission.
When you get into any situation where you begin to go outside of the lines of your mission, you will get into trouble. Your chances of failure increase exponentially. For most civilians, the mission is something like this, “to make it home, every night, with my family, for the rest of my life.” At the root of it, military, law enforcement and civilians probably all have that in common, we all want to go home. What differentiates our lanes from one another are the objectives, parameters and details of the mission:
What is your mission objective? To fight evil? To respond to distress signals, screams, dispatch calls? To be prepared to protect yourself and your family? Clearly name your objective and stick to it.
Mission Parameters and Rules of Engagement
The parameters of the mission are set by your attachments and how far you are willing to go to protect them, which is then governed by the rules of engagement for your mission. In other words, you are attached to your loved ones and your own well-being. Are you willing to die for them? Again, something that seems simple actually requires a serious introspective look. You must know what you are willing to do to accomplish your mission. You must know the potential of what it may take. Within that framework, you must consider what the rules of engagement (ROE’s) are.
You may have heard the phrase, “there aren’t any rules in fighting.” This is a myth. UNLESS you are a criminal that operates outside of ROE’s. If you are a civilian, law enforcement officer or soldier, you have very strict rules that you can not break, or you will go to prison. As civilians, you can not typically pursue someone who is fleeing. You may not use deadly force under many circumstances, most notably once the threat has ceased. Saying “I’d rather be judged by…” is–in my experienced opinion–lazy, misinformed and arrogant. I guarantee if you say it, you’ve never experienced it, or you are a criminal. Learn the ROE’s of your mission, and train in ways that give you the advantages to win and accomplish your objectives without breaking those rules. Any good civilian defensive fight training will have a curriculum that is flush with adherence and reverence to the rules of engagement.
Risk Assessment can also be referred to as threat assessment. However, I prefer risk assessment because it encompasses more than just assessing a threat. Risk can be defined as all of the variables you will have to consider in a developing situation: what is the threat level, what are the parameters and ROE’s I face, what is the risk to myself and others if I proceed?
Risk assessment is specific to situation, and must be developed with your particular mission in mind. For example, the risk assessment model of you walking into a store to buy your coffee would be vastly different than an LE officer walking into the same store responding to a violent person call. Situational awareness is closely related to risk assessment. After all, without situational awareness assessment will begin too late, if at all. Developing a solid risk assessment model will naturally improve your situational awareness. It raises the importance of catching early cues and warning signs, which in turn causes you to pay attention more. The result is you develop a solid risk assessment model that helps you make appropriate decisions while systematically developing your situational awareness to a higher level. This is accomplished through training, lecture and then application and practice.
Mission procedures are the execution part of the mission decision process. Once you are faced with a developing situation, and you clearly understand your objectives, parameters and ROE’s, and your risk assessment is done properly, you will proceed to execute and act upon a series of decisions. These decisions may include whether to fight or not, how much force to use, where to escape, evacuate loved ones, etc. etc. Through training, you will develop procedures for likely tasks. These procedures will not only be skill based, but will adhere to the defining components of your particular mission.
The “cool” stuff. The part everyone wants to get to; right away. Well, now that we have mission defined clearly, we can design a training program that will begin to add the advantages we need to win in that mission. For us, the civilian mission is to protect self and loved ones, and in the process stay out of the hospital and prison. The first realization about training program design is that each and every action that you learn-every single drill you run-must consider and adhere to those objectives and parameters.
Once we understand what we are willing, and allowed, to do in a fight, we can begin to build the skills, techniques and procedures that will give us the advantages to be victorious in that fight (and within those parameters). In the beginning, we must first be honest about our skill level and begin our conditioning there. Too many want to jump into “advanced” or “tactical” courses, when they can’t even effectively define those words, let alone accomplish a complex task like safely running a gun, around other people, while moving quickly or transitioning positions, etc.
Advanced vs Fundamentals
A fundamental is defined as a central or primary rule or principle on which something is based. In training, fundamentals are often referring to basic skills. To understand how the word fundamental is appropriate in this way, we must see that the complex tasks involved in techniques, procedures and tactics are based upon central principles of basic skills. Therefore, fundamentals are the absolute foundation for everything you will do that is skill-based.
As fundamentals become ingrained, there are then subsequently more complex tasks that need worked on in training. So I’ve come to refer to “advanced” training as the point where basic fundamentals are repeatable enough to begin to build higher order or more complex tasks off of them.
Advanced has less to do with plate carriers and running and gunning than it has to do with being able to “stack” fundamental skills into more complex decisions and actions. The gear and tactics part is purely determined by your mission (eg. the likely scenarios you will face in the course of your daily life.) While many today will look at breach and clear/run and gun training and call it “advanced”, I assert that it should be considered “specialized” training intended for specific jobs. Advanced has more to do with where YOU are at in your performance than it does with what particular actions you are doing or what you are wearing while you are doing it.
Too many people make the mistake of thinking that training is a linear, numerically defined progression. Although we may have a Pistol 1, 2 and 3, it does NOT mean that you simply progress through them and you know the material or have the skills. Remember what we said about conditioning? The repeated practice and positive reinforcement of the fundamentals is the important part of the conditioning process. Without repetition, you will not retain or progress. I can teach you, but you must do it, to be able to do it.
The majority of our regular students have taken 1 and 2 multiple times, and return to take them each year. One reason is because you will never get exactly the same course. You are different, your skills change, the class has it’s own skill level collectively…there are many reasons that each class experience will be positive and will give you something to take away. This goes for taking fundamentals courses from other quality instructors as well.
The moral of the story here is that you should run the fundamentals hard, for the rest of your life.
The Training Program
The training program should proceed something like this (to borrow Chappy’s terminology, but necessarily his explanation, here):
I also add and emphasize a 5th column:
Skills training is first and foremost in becoming a fighter. Your basic, fundamental skills MUST be mastered first before you can progress to any other tasks. The reason for this is because your more complex tasks are built from multiple skills. Therefore, if one or more skills are performed incorrectly, you will stack mistakes as you begin to combine skills with other skills and do them incorrectly.
In other words, look at moving while drawing and shooting. Do you know how to run? Do you know how to draw your weapon safely and effectively? Do you know how to shoot while moving? Do you know how to control your muzzle during this series of events? Do you know how to account for terrain differences, obstacles, other people, etc. during this series of events? Each one of those questions is asking for a specific basic skill: running; draw stroke; shooting; muzzle control; situational awareness; etc. Combining them and adjusting them within the demands of the situation then becomes technique.
Techniques are variations on skills that adjust a skill to be more effective, efficient, safe or achievable to an individual and/or situation. Performing a draw stroke can be pretty straight forward. However, performing a draw stroke in close contact, while not muzzling your own body, will require adjustments in your technique.
As you can see, the basic skills need to be mastered first, before you can even think about developing technique. Having trained, fought and trained others for many years, I firmly believe that technique will largely emerge naturally from the proper dedication to training the fundamental skills (when coupled with physical conditioning.) As you grow confident and efficient in basic skills, you will begin to develop pathways and efficiencies that adhere to the principles of the skill while improving your performance and safety at the same time. This is technique.
Shooting a bullseye, standing still, one shot at a time, is a basic marksmanship skill. Drawing in extremely close quarters and engaging from retention is a technique.
Procedures come well after the basic skills are mastered and techniques have been developed to a reliable and repeatable level of performance. A procedure is a selected group of skills and techniques performed together to respond to a specific situation. How you combine those skills and techniques will depend on the circumstances of the problem you face. How you approach a doorway; how you deal with multiple attackers; every set of problems can be answered with a procedural response (or a series of procedures). It is the combining of skills and techniques to apply them against a specific problem.
The word tactical is the absolute most abused word in the training world. I rarely use it. Most people will never reach a truly “tactical” level of training. Tactical actually has less application in self-defense, since it involves heavily pre-planned series of actions across a situation, rather than responding to said situation. In classes, I always ask students to define the word tactical. Very rarely can anyone correctly define it. The definition of tactic is an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.
Think in terms of self-defense and rules of engagement. If what you did ended in the death of someone and you also admit to strategically planning that specific end, you could have quite the hard time in court with that. Aside from that fun legal fact, tactics are a collection of skills, techniques and procedures applied to a specific set of problems to achieve a specific end. In terms of training, it is way down the road from fundamentals work. For the civilian, it may apply to fighting around vehicles and home defense, for example. But I would argue staying within mission parameters would require the civilian to be more on the procedural level, allowing them to respond to each evolution in a dynamic situation, rather than having a set plan that forces the situation to adhere to that plan regardless of changing circumstances.
Without standards–which are minimum skill levels measured in time, accuracy, ability, endurance, etc–you can have no idea if your training is actually accomplishing anything beneficial. Standards can come in the form of shooting tests, timed drills, endurance stress, etc. Many tests exist such as the FBI Qualifications, various police qualifications, military qualifications, and more. It is important to adopt or create minimum standards that fit into your mission and perform up to (and beyond) them.
(Competition shooting can satisfy some of that, but remember that there is a difference between the requirements of a competition and a fight. Huge difference. Keep that in mind when testing skill-based abilities through competition.)
There are three categories of knowledge about fighting:
Like far too many CCW citizens out there carrying guns today, many people are walking around with completely untested and unproven hypotheses about their own abilities. Without ever going on to a range and actually practicing getting the gun out of the holster quickly, they have convinced themselves that they can not only do it, but can do it under serious stress, danger and time constraints. It’s just ridiculous to walk around with assumptions about your abilities when you have not even remotely tried to perform these assumed abilities at all. But people do it. Everyday.
Testing in fight training is critically important for the confidence part of your orientation. It is also the absolute only way you can know how you will perform without actually getting into a real, deadly fight. The best way to accomplish this is in Force on Force training. For those of us in firearms training, that means some type of simulated training ammunition or gas airsoft. Get into real fights with real people, using weapons that actually sting you. There, you can test all of your hypotheses out. Can you draw on someone who already has a gun out on you and win? Can you negotiate corners in a house and not expose yourself? Can you make quick decisions under pressure? So many questions can be answered with a lot of clarity in an FoF course.
However you do it, you have to work away from the untested hypothesis and into a tested theory. Can I get my gun out and hit a target at 7 yards in under 2 seconds? If I stand on the range and perform that a few hundred times, I can answer that question affirmatively and confidently that I am at least capable of doing it. Conditioning myself to do it under threat is another task, but at least the confidence of knowing I can do it at all is unquestionable. Do you get the point?
We often say, you don’t know what you don’t know. Testing is how you find out what you know, and what you don’t know.
(I wrote this a while ago on the old website, and by request am re-publishing it here. I no longer reference the OODA in my teaching very much, because I have found it–and Boyd–to be a point of contention to the point of distracting from the material.)
This process happens more quickly for those who have experience operating in dangerous environments for prolonged periods of time at a certain stress level. That usually brings along with it life altering events that violently shift your paradigm.
At worst, for most, you may only have one confrontation in your life. Listening to people who have had many is an important part of preparing for that one. There are many verticals (LE, military, criminal underworld) that put people in a position to have to perform it, deal with the aftermath, live with it, and be ready to roll out and do it all over again the next day. Having experienced it does not necessarily mean you can teach others about it, but I do believe it is one requirement to be able to articulate it properly.
Many people can not deal with serious, paradigm-shifting confrontation well. That problem is rooted in the components of your Orientation: your cultural, religious, genetic, moral and ethical beliefs, along with your dependence upon attachments and your confidence (or lack thereof) in your capabilities.
Here, I want to focus on the importance of that “orientation” both as stressed by Boyd and through my own observations reached via training and fighting.
The OODA Loop
Created by Air Force Colonel John Boyd, the Observe/Orient/Decide/Act Loop has been discussed, taught and twisted ad nauseam in the training industry. Some say it’s not a process in the moment, that it is an after-action function. Others say that it is as simple as “observing a threat, physically orienting yourself to it, deciding what to do, and then acting upon that decision.” Perhaps they have not read the same writings of Boyd that I have, or they are working exclusively from Boyd’s earliest writings. While the earlier writings do point toward a command and control tempo and after-action system, his later work broadened the subject and Boyd himself clearly emphasized the individual fighter’s real-time experience with the loop specifically focusing in on the orientation cycle as the “schwerpunkt” which is literally defined as the “main focus”. Attached above is a diagram from Boyd’s A Discourse which he completed in June of 1995, two years prior to his death. It is important to note that this is the only graphical representation of the OODA from Boyd himself. (1)
Orientation is the only pre-existing condition in the OODA loop
In Boyd’s view, the orientation component is made up of: cultural traditions, genetic heritage, new information, previous experience, and the process of the analysis and synthesis of it all. In other words, your orientation is your filter through which all observations and decisions are made. It completely influences the observe, decide and act cycles. Two things happen in an orientation cycle: is the application of your pre-existing paradigm to the problem at hand, and the synthesis of new information coming in in real-time. It is the filter through which all things are observed and all decisions are made.
I believe that it is true that you can not “speed up your brain”. One of the best explanations I have ever heard was during a lecture from John Chapman where he stated, basically, that we are born with whatever processor speed we have and we can’t change that. What we can do, is limit what we allow to use our processor resources up. By training the basic skills to an nearly auto level, we free up our processor to be able to take in information and make decisions quicker and more thoroughly. This was during an EAG Shoothouse course and it made perfect sense by days 3 and 4, as the shooters began to have the basics of breach, dig corner, collapse sector of fire down to a science, allowing for brain power to be used on observation and processing new information–critical elements for success in hostile CQB environments.
Boyd also wrote something very similar about speeding up the tempo of the OODA. He suggested that it was not necessarily about speeding up yourself to be faster in the OODA than your opponent. For him, it was more about denying certain patterns and images from entering the OODA, thereby allowing the naturally capable tempo to emerge without being bogged down. This is exactly the same information that Chapman provided in his lecture: by eliminating the unnecessary thoughts, images and patterns from using your processor resources, you are clearer to focus on synthesizing the new information coming in.
The other part of this equation is confidence. Having confidence in one’s skill set, the fighter is able to choose the proper response (orientation pattern) to the threat. The result of this is that the fighter can maintain a constant effort of menacing the opponent with enough effective violence to constantly derail the opponent’s orientation to the situation. This will cause confusion, uncertainty, paralysis and eventually defeat. Orientation is thus broken up into two components: personal orientation to violence, and; fundamentals and confidence. As new information comes into your orientation, it effects those two components directly.
Personal Orientation to Violence
In order to be effective at responding to extreme violence, you must have an orientation that, at least to a minimum level, is permissive to participating in said violence. In other words, if you culturally just do not believe in committing violence on another living being, all the processor (brain) speed in the world will not help you defeat an attack. This is where the importance of cultural traditions and moral views comes into play in the observe, decide and act components of the loop. Through training, I personally stress that this problem can be solved by first establishing what I refer to as Clarity of Mission. Your personal mission will be dictated by who you are and what you need to accomplish. The missions of law enforcement, military and civilians are vastly different in very important ways.
If you are a civilian, your mission will be something like, “To make it home, with my family, every night, for the rest of my life.” That mission will identify a few critical elements: what you are willing to fight, and die, for; what you are allowed to do (laws, rules of engagement, use of force policy); and what your likely demands will look like in that mission. It is only through this information that you can put together an appropriate Training Protocol and begin to establish your orientation to the violence you may someday face. If you are not morally and ethically oriented toward performing violence, you will encounter very serious problems in dire self-defense situations.
Fundamentals and Confidence
Through proper training based on the likely outcomes of violent situations within your mission, you can begin to build a strong confidence in your ability to perform under the stresses of a deadly fight. We often talk about training the fundamentals until they are “automatic”. We need to repetitively train the fundamentals until we can perform them, repeatedly, without having to think about them at a conscious level. This is known as unconscious competence.
This is not accomplished by going as fast as you can. Have you ever taken a day and just went out specifically to practice slamming on your brakes in your car? Probably not. However, when the moment comes at 50mph and something goes bad in front of you, you will slam on your brakes with extreme unconscious competence and stop the vehicle (providing your situational awareness is in-tact and you’re not texting or reading this article: observe). The reason you can achieve the brake pedal movement flawlessly is NOT because you have practiced slamming the pedal at speed. It is because every week you have performed literally thousands of slow, correct repetitions of going from the gas pedal to the brake pedal. If you train your fighting skills in the same slow, correct and deliberate manner, you will find that when speed is needed, it will be there. Speed is a product of smooth and correct.
Improving the efficiency of your processor requires basic skills being ingrained enough to not have to use processor resources on them. Which allows you to then process information more quickly and thoroughly. This is the path to rapid and correct decision making in a fight. When you are not worrying about whether you can actually perform a movement or not, you are able to delegate those movements to the unconscious mind and allow your conscious mind to be fully engaged in the observance and decision making processes.
As the skills become trustworthy, you are able to go straight to processing your environment. This is a good step, but there’s more. The concept of maximizing your processor speed by not using resources thinking about the basics, allows you to not only solve one problem at a time, but to be able to flow through many problems, one after the other. It gets so good that you are able to set up subsequent moves with the ending of each solution. That is achieved after many, many hours of practice, force on force and mental training with positive mental imagery.
Positive mental imagery (orientation patterns in Boyd’s view) play a key role in keeping you on the quick end of the spectrum during a fight. Boyd wrote several times about denying certain mental images from entering your loop. We have all stepped up to perform at some point in time and failed. Whether at the range, or in a sport, we feared failure at the critical moment before performance. When you fear failure, you will picture yourself failing. This image will bog down your processing speed and prohibit you from performing well. Denying these images of failure, and other fear based anxieties, from entering into your observance and decision making processes will allow you to perform the fundamental skills necessary to prevail. It is truly difficult sometimes to imagine yourself doing something flawlessly correct, but it MUST be worked on.
Victory: Utilize Self-knowledge to Win
Sun Tzu clearly was a fan of disrupting the enemy mentally with any means necessary. The Art of War is all about using deception, strength, speed and constant pressure to literally shape the enemy’s perception of the world coming at him. Boyd wrote extensively about the importance of uncertainty, both in eliminating it in your perception (denying those orientation patterns), and in creating it for your opponent. Uncertainty is the cradle of fear, anxiety and doubt. This is arguably the most important and fascinating aspect of fighting: attacking your opponent in his mind.
When we have reconciled our own orientation to violence through mission clarity, rules of engagement, moral application, and the proper training of fundamental skills to the unconscious competent level, we have gained an extremely valuable insight into how the mind works. Your opponent’s mind works in very similar ways, regardless of his mission difference from your own. By defeating yourself, you have gained the insight necessary to defeat your opponent. What was difficult for you to overcome, mainly uncertainty, is also his most difficult enemy. By applying violence of action, overwhelming force, or at least repeatedly denying your opponent from achieving his planned goals, you begin to cultivate the perception of uncertainty in his mind.
THIS is the essence of getting inside of his OODA loop. Literally changing the opponent’s orientation to the situation at hand to the effect of growing uncertainty. There is no way in this article to discuss the endless sub-topics of fighting, violence and fight psychology. In fact, it’s a struggle to truncate this information while not getting too technical so as to bore or go over the head of the non-fighter. However, it is important to note that within the above laid information rests all of the concepts from striking for your opponent’s vulnerabilities, and making your weaknesses become strengths, all the way to dealing with the aftermath of a confrontation and surviving the legal, social, and psychological effects of deadly conflict.
There simply is so much more to training than going to the range and learning how to shoot; or going to the dojo and learning some hand-to-hand art.
My primary goal is to train people to fight, these days mainly with firearms. Teaching shooting is easy, and somewhat boring. Fighting, however, is complex and takes years to cultivate. Especially if you lack that experiential shift of orientation. Which makes this task much more difficult in terms of teaching fighters. This is why I work overtime to expose as many of you as I can to the deeper thought processes that are involved on the other side of that paradigm shift.
Most people do not have the attention span or frame of reference for the long haul of learning and self-development in fighting. They come out for one or two shooting classes and think they are good to go. This is the definition of “you don’t know what you don’t know”. It’s very difficult to cultivate the thought process that is necessary for a non-fighter to realize that there is a vast of world of training that exists solely within the mind. Especially with the American Way of commercializing the “cool” stuff: technique, gear and lots of BANG action in the gym and on the range.
The big reward comes when the students who have never been in a confrontation recognize the genuine quality of the information provided by those who have. This enables them to realize that there is a big world inside the topic of violence, and no one has all of the answers. But the answers simply don’t come from people, who have never really been there, hypothesizing about how it all works. When they recognize those limitations within themselves, they begin to recognize them in sources of information about the subject, better sources are found, and learning occurs.
Take the concepts and roll them around in your head until you wake up one day and it’s there. The light will break through. Don’t let anything get your heart rate up, no matter how bad it looks. With clearly established Mission, internal and external parameters, threat assessment, and repetitive correct training, eventually you can roll through the problem and just look for work. You will know what you can and can not do. You will also know what eats at the mind of your opponent.
(1) Chuck Spinney (who some exclusively credit the diagram to) directly credits Boyd with the diagram, explaining how the diagram was developed as a “joint effort in the late 1980’s” between Spinney, Richards and Boyd himself. Both Spinney and Richards, who were there when the diagram was made, directly refer to the diagram as Boyd’s depiction of his OODA loop. see Spinney’s citation here and Richards’ citation here
(Before the Boydites jump on the hate train know two things:
1. I make no claims that I am interpreting Boyd as an expert, nor do I care to be an expert on Boyd. Boyd is simply one small drop of reference in a giant sea of fighting knowledge. The material in this article can and does stand on its own merit; a synthesis of information from various sources and my own experience.
2. I am more prepared for that debate than you anticipate, should you just not be able to resist. You should probably check my citations thoroughly prior to engaging, because I’d rather spend my energy doing more productive things!)
Underestimating your enemy; the difference between training skills and training to fight; adaptability, and more.
Kicking off the new podcast with a recap of my 8 days with Forge Tactical at Alliance, and an in-depth look at why team tactics training is good for the individual, and attention vs. focus.
Free downloadable E-book of a phenomenal interview of Varg Freeborn by Conflict Manager Magazine. Varg talks with Erik Kondo about violence and training for violence. A truly unique perspective based on direct experience with both extreme violence and high-level training.
I was honored to have been invited to speak at the Friends of Pat event held at the Alliance Police Training Facility Aug 25-27. Matt Landfair of Primary and Secondary generously made this audio podcast of that lecture.
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