Cutting Edge Training

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Why Do We Teach? Move: Proximity and Distance Shootings

by George on November 26, 2012 07:22

Time “…is like a fire—it could either destroy us or keep us warm…we live or we die by the clock…We never turn our backs on it and we never allow ourselves the sin of losing track of time…That’s how much time we have before this pulsating, accursed, relentless taskmaster tries to put us out of business.

—Chuck Nolan in the movie, “Castaway”, 2000

While most think that bullets are their enemy in a shooting, the real enemy is time—not enough of it to effectively respond to a Threat (a person who is an actual or imminent threat to your life, or the life of another) by putting bullets through him while avoiding bullets sent their way.  Not seeing a Threat in time, not recognizing the threat in time, not reacting in time, or not hitting him in time can be fatal.  Your job in a gunfight is save or create sufficient time for you to safely move beyond the Threat’s initial assault by controlling his perception of the time he has in the gunfight.  The goal in your tactical response is to destroy his accurate perception of current time and the actual unfolding of events.  Oh yeah.  And you have to hit him with enough bullets to finish the job.

We teach that when in proximity to the Threat, move and hit the Threat.  When at distance or forced to take a technical shot, move to cover, then hit the Threat.  The inevitable question is asked, “Why move?  Why not just stand, get a solid shooting stance, and get your accurate hits?” 

These questions generally come from a misunderstanding of the basic context of how police and responsibly-armed civilians get involved in shootings.  Because we aren’t bad guys who get the drop on a targeted person and shoot him/her down, our force response is generally to an actual or imminent deadly threat—the Threat is approaching with a knife, is reaching for a gun, or has begun firing before we realize we are in a deadly force event.  That we know we need to respond means we used up time recognizing and identifying a specific threatening act, orienting to the need to physically respond.  And even more time is required to reach for and draw our handgun, present and fire our first bullet as several of his rounds are already in the air.

Let’s use an example of a Threat drawing a handgun from his waist with the intent of shooting you down and killing you.  Responding takes time—a lot of time, often measured in a second or more of actual time before you meaningfully react.  This is time you just don’t have.

Inescapably, it takes time to observe the Threat’s action, orient to the change of status, decide what to do, and then react to the new environment.  Just because you see a movement does not mean you understand what the movement means.  Orienting, or contextualizing the subject’s actions takes time.  Once you understand the threatening intent of that movement, that person becomes a Threat requiring a response. 

Until you are able to identify that movement as threatening, it’s just a guy who is moving his hand.  The actual time for a subject to become a Threat may be less than a tenth of a second as his hand moves to his waistband, grasps the handgun, points the weapon at you and fires his first round.  Untrained trigger fingers are able to easily fire four rounds per second, or one every quarter of a second. 

Many people, generally due to improper training concepts, operate from the misconception that they can actually perceive reality the moment something is happening and instantly react.  It just ain’t true.  No matter how switched on you are—or think you are—instant reaction is simply impossible.  It takes time to recognize and react to changes in the status quo.

Lots of things slow down our putting into context his threatening actions.  If you are not looking in the right place, you won’t notice the unfolding threat.  If your attention set is absorbed elsewhere, thinking about something else, you may observe his action but not take note.  If you have to make decisions based on your moral beliefs, uncertainty about the law, or fear of legal repercussions, it will increase the time you need to mount your defense. 

Expectations play a huge role in slowing our response to threat.  If your expectations are that he is doing something benign, it will take longer for you to recognize a threat.  If you expect a specific result, such as movement and are rewarded with movement different from that expected, it will take you much longer to recognize that something different from your expectations is occurring, and then what that difference is.  If you are not expecting someone to draw a handgun at that moment, it will take you longer to recognize that you are under threat than if you anticipated there might be a problem. 

If you are anticipating a very simple action, and are fully prepared and mentally ready, your reaction time will be approximately 0.1-0.2 seconds—that is, the time for you make a simple decision that a physical response should be made.  Once the decision is made, it will take a unit of time for your response to be initiated.  Human reaction-response time is the time it takes to observe, orient, and decide what that response might be plus the time it takes to physically respond.  If that is shooting, you then have the time for the bullets to hit him.  And it will depend upon the percentage of bullets you fire actually hitting him to take effect and cause a change in him before it begins to save your life. 

When it takes an average of three-quarters of a second up to a second and a half to draw and fire when you anticipate the command, how much longer is it going to take when you are surprised?  And even if you are Johnny-on-the-spot, rough-and-ready to go, how many bullets are being sent your way during that three-fourths to one and a half seconds you are drawing and getting ready to fire? 

Time equals bullets in the air.  Surviving being shot at is both a question of luck at surviving the initial assault and creating enough time to respond well enough to stop the Threat from harming you.  While luck is not a skill set, movement has been used for millennia to manipulate the relative perception of time between combatants.  The reason why we advocate movement is to manufacture the perception of increased time on the mover's part, and to decrease the perception of time on the attacker's part.

Manipulating Perceptual Time in Proximity Shootings—Contact to 10 yards, or 80% of shootings in the US 

When you are up close on the Threat and he is suddenly attempting to take your life, you need to change the situation:  MOVE!  Sudden, hard movement in any direction is intended to confuse the Threat and create time for you to react and take the fight to him.  While some angles are more advantageous than others, any abrupt movement will be beneficial to your surviving his initial burst of gunfire.

Looking at his mindset, he has made a decision to murder you and has taken action—this is a life-changing decision for both people, and the consequences of his failing are huge: if he fails to shoot you, it’s very likely he will be shot and perhaps killed.  The Threat acts with the expectation of success—his weapon is brought up and pointed where he perceives you to be at the time his decision to act was made—tenths of a second ago.  Whether you move or not, he is pressing the trigger at the position he saw you in when he made the decision to shoot.  He’ll be pressing the trigger as fast as he can because most people believe in volume of fire as a life-saving—or taking—strategy.  His hard intent—to shoot and kill you—is acted upon, and will continue to be acted upon until he receives feedback that the status quo has changed.

If you stand there while drawing your weapon, you will be negatively affected by his time manipulation:  you will be shocked (requiring time to recover), then you draw your weapon (taking time), and then return fire (taking time for the bullets to strike and affect his ability to shoot you).  That's a lot of time when bullets are burning at you at a rate of 4 or 5 per second before you have your first round out.  You have not changed the status quo by standing there absorbing bullets.  If you are lucky, you were missed by his bullets.  Either way, you have done nothing in the first critical half-second or more to alter the situation.  He has no reason to change his program, and he’ll keep shooting until he puts you down, he runs out of rounds, or you are able to weather the storm and finally shoot him. 

The relative perception of time is affected by each individual’s expectation of events.  If the event continues as expected, the perception of time continues smoothly, and even pleasantly slows relative to actual time—you are operating “in the zone,” where everyone but you seems to be moving in slow motion.  If the event is surprising or veers radically from the expected path, perceived time slows to the point where every moment is a desperate struggle against the tide, with the increasing and certain knowledge that your are helpless to change the looming and ominous outcome.  You feel as if you are moving through an impossibly thick gel preventing you from acting in time. 

In this close range shooting situation, his expectation is driving his perception of events, working against him if you move suddenly.  It will take him time—tenths of a second—to realize he's shooting at empty air.  He will be shocked because his expectation is that you will stand there and be shot or fall to the ground.  His confusion continues as he presses the trigger, realizing that he desperately needs to reorient to this unexpected change.  Your moving bought you time to draw your weapon.  He knows he has to quickly find you, move his weapon, and finish you—he started this gunfight but his target somehow disappeared.  He’s now the one who is threatened.  Desperation and confusion decreases his efficiency.

 You continue to move and now begin hitting him.  He becomes very aware that your bullets are now inbound, increasing his desperation making him even less efficient in finding and hitting you.  He may quit the gunfight.  He may be hit and quit the gunfight or be unwilling to quit the gunfight.  He may be hit but not realize he’s been hit, continuing to shoot.  In any case, you continue to move and continually hit him until you reach cover, he goes down, you get hit and go down, or you run out of rounds, move to cover to reload or keep running. 

Moving manufactures relative perceived time because by displacing, you take yourself temporarily out of the line of fire.  Movement is the primary survival mechanism in any proxemic gunfight.  Move and make yourself a more difficult target.  Displacing hard off the line, drawing your handgun while moving, creates the time you need to draw, time you would not have had if you had remained where you were when he started firing.  While you may draw your weapon in the same amount of time whether standing or moving, there is a huge survival difference:  standing and drawing while three to five bullets are fired at you from a couple of steps away may mean you will not be able to respond, whereas moving and confusing him, causing him to fire those three to five bullets where you were standing when he made the decision to fire, may allow you to draw your weapon without being injured. 

Standing and fighting it out when you are waaaay behind is an attritional mindset.  Attrition is defined as a reduction or decrease in resources or personnel.  In this case, it is the willingness to take injury to give injury.  Attrition is about outlasting him.  In an attrition-based gunfight, you may win the gunfight and be killed as well (I guess in this case winning would be knowing you killed him before you die).  Standing and taking unanswered rounds is an attritional mindset.  You may never get the chance to get to your gun. 

Moving and hitting in proximity is a method of negatively multi-tasking the bad guy.  By creating a problem requiring him to deal with more than he can mentally handle, by confusing him, by dividing his attention, by making him more concerned for his welfare than he is in hurting you, you negatively multi-task the Threat and increase your survival odds.  For more on negatively multi-tasking the bad guy, see the article, "Fighting Smart: Negatively Multi-Tasking the Suspect."

While moving and shooting is not necessarily limited to distances of contact-to-ten-yards and can be performed at any distance, moving fast and hard enough to confuse the subject while simultaneously having the real likelihood of hitting the subject is an up-close-and-personal situation.  As the distance between you and the threat increases, the benefits to moving and shooting to hit decrease, although there are times it is justified to fire in the Threat’s general direction while moving for distraction purposes.  At some point, the probability of hitting the Threat is so low that the benefit of simply moving as fast as you can is greater.  At what distance does this cost versus benefit analysis tip to simply running to cover before fighting back?  That will be up to the individual in that particular fight to determine. 

Affecting Perceptual Time At Distance

As the distance increases between you and the Threat, the benefits of moving and hitting will lessen, and will make movement to cover your primary concern.  If you have a choice, not being there would be first on the list, with fighting from cover a very close second.

Hitting at distance is a matter of precise marksmanship.  Technical shooting takes time —think using a handgun to hit a hostage taker who is giving you only his right-eye and part of his forehead at 15 yards, or a life-and-death head shot with a carbine and iron sights at 125 yards.  Movement confounds marksmanship because it decreases the time available to the shooter to obtain a solid firing solution.  If a very good shooter with a rifle at 70 yards takes a minimum of one and a half seconds to acquire, aim, and hit a man-sized target, sudden movement increases the difficulty of getting that hit.  Sharp, abrupt, irregular (as well as short, unpredictable) movements will be your best bet at preventing your being shot because he has less time to make the adjustments he needs to hit you. 

The farther you are away from his muzzle, the more time he’ll need to make the hit.  A 5.56mm bullet takes just over 0.2 seconds to travel 200 meters, and nearly 0.4 seconds to 300 meters.  At distances from 100 meters and beyond, the shooter must not only observe and acquire the target, but understand the trajectory of his round, accurately estimate the distance, and understand the time-on-target delay from trigger press to hit for the bullet’s travel time.  This takes time, making it possible for the bullet to leave the muzzle directly on target and still miss because the target moved casually out of the way.  Unpredictable movement dramatically increases the difficulty.

At distance, movement to cover and then fighting from there makes better sense than standing and fighting.  If you must, go to ground and use the irregularities and depressions in the terrain to shield you.  Avoid going to ground on asphalt and concrete due to ricochet problems which decrease the time necessary for a firing solution—as long as the shot is lined up, dropping a round anywhere within the space of 30 feet in front of you to any part of your body means getting a hit.  Getting a hit on a 30 foot tall target is really not that tough from realistic shooting distances. 

If you have something that will stop bullets very close by, immediately move to cover.  The option of going to the ground or getting behind cover permits you to make yourself a small target.  Being a small target gives you the perception of increased time, providing you time to precisely aim and hit him.  At the same time it negatively increases the time he has to aim and hit you. 

Tactics still count when at distance.  Be as small as possible, keeping those body parts not needed for hitting him behind cover.  Shoot around, not over the cover if you can.  And remember, shooting repeatedly from the same piece of cover or hole gives him time to locate and walk rounds into you.  Shoot and scoot if that is the gunfight you find yourself in.  Be sneaky and expose yourself only for the limited purposes of locating and hitting him.


The reason for moving is all about the context of your gunfight.  If you have put solid cover between you and the Threat, stay there and fight from the corner while staying small.  It becomes a technical shooting problem through precise marksmanship to win that fight.  If you don’t have cover, move, then hit.  Moving creates actual time for you by affecting the Threat’s perceptual time.  Both proximity as well as distance shootings are about manipulating the time the bad guy has to harm you—decreasing his perception of the time he has while increasing the time you perceive you have to effectively respond.

Time is the “relentless, accursed taskmaster” that will put you out of business if you get behind and remain there.  When the Threat acts first, he is able to dominate your perception of time with his bullets (or his knife, his club, and/or his fists) and your fear and confusion, eliminating your effective response.  Movement changes the equation by disrupting his expectations, decreasing the time he has to problem-solve by confusing him while increasing his survival pressure in the gunfight.  Sudden displacement negatively multitasks him, forcing him to find and retarget you while you are shooting him.  It manipulates his relative perception of time in your favor, forcing him into having to perform more than he may be capable of while under fire.  The key is to make time your friend and to use it to control the fight in your favor.  Move.

In Search of the “Magic Bullet?”

by George on October 4, 2011 06:14

A very informative PowerPoint by the FBI’s Defensive System’s Unit has been going around the Internet (again).  The subject is an OIS (Officer-Involved Shooting) involving three police officers from Pennsylvania ambushed by a single suspect.  The specifics of the shooting for this discussion, while interesting, are not too important:

  • The officers carried .40 caliber Glocks loaded with Speer 180 gr. Gold Dot ammo, and Hornady TAP 75 gr. .223 caliber (and SWAT employed 55 gr. TAP) from their AR15s.
  • The suspect carried a single .45 caliber handgun.
  • 107 .40 cal and .223 cal rounds were fired by two officers.  The third was wounded in the initial ambush.
  • The assailant fired 26 rounds, and reloaded his magazine from loose rounds during the firefight.
  • The suspect was hit 17 times, with 11 rounds exiting his body.
  • The suspect’s right arm (humerus) was broken by a .40 cal. bullet after all .223 ammo was expended.
  • The incident lasted approximately three-and-one-half minutes.
  • Even with all of his wounds, the officers were forced to fight the suspect into handcuffs before he expired.
  • The suspect had trace amounts of marijuana in his system. 

What is important are the conclusions the officers and agency came to as a result of the shooting:

  • The .40 caliber ammo “failed” and “did not cause incapacitation” which is the opposite conclusion the FBI came to:  the .40 caliber ammo was effective, and the .223 ammunition "failed" based on their gelatin "standards.'

The question was then asked by someone in the long line of forwards, “If the ammo did not fail why did they have to fight the (S) (Suspect) after he was hit 17 times?...Wonder what the real truth is…"

To answer this question, we must remember there are only four ways to stop a human being:

  1. Mechanically.  His bones are broken and he can no longer stand up.  If he continues to be motivated (see "Psychologically" below), though, he may continue to fight/shoot even though immobilized and on the ground.
  2. Electrically.  His CNS is disrupted (brain, spine, or motor nerves are disrupted).  Dr. Martin Fackler, M.D., stated that "any bullet entering the brain" immediately disrupts a human's ability to act.  Hits to the spine cut the body's ability to send motor nerve impulses to the hands and legs, causing the body to fall.  If the spine is severed high enough, the hands stop functioning. 
  3. Hydraulically.  He bleeds out sufficiently to cause unconsciousness.
  4. Psychologically.  He doesn’t want to be in a gunfight/fight any longer and quits.
  • NOTE:  This is not about "killing" the subject.  It is about stopping the "imminent threat" of the individual.  If he dies or does not is not relevant to the importance of stopping the threat by fire.

So, with the above in mind, there are only three requirements necessary to end a gunfight when the opponent doesn’t want to (and won’t) quit (psychological):

  1. Bullet placement.
  2. Bullet placement.
  3. Bullet placement.

What is the most reliable way to stop someone? Put a bullet through the brain or spine.  The problem with either or both of these targets?  They are small targets.  They are relatively easy to hit on the square range with rounds going in one direction only and with sufficient time.  However, when bullets are in the air (these being bi-directional during an exchange of fire) with a corresponding overwhelming perception of high threat to one’s self, those "easy" shots on the shooting range generally become very difficult.  The higher the perception of threat, the greater the difficulty. 

The easiest human target to hit?  Upper thorax and/or pelvis.  The problem?  These targets requires him to bleed out (unless the spine is hit through the thorax), which may take your lifetime before he can no longer fight.  

  • NOTE:  A pelvis hit with rifle fire is semi-reliable to fracture hip or pelvis (mechanical) and is likely to put him down as well as make him bleed out (hydraulic), whereas a pelvis shot with a handgun generally does not break the pelvis or hip, but is often fatal due to bleeding out (hydraulic). 

So you want to stop a bad guy from shooting you?  

  • Hit him in a place in his body that disrupts his ability to continue to be an imminent threat.  This wound affects the mechanical, electrical, or hydraulic function of the body.  Until that happens, he can keep going until he wants to stop. 
  • A "psychological stop" cannot be predicted or counted upon. 
  • A "hydraulic stop" can take a very long time (every tenth of a second that he continues to fire is "a very long time" when the bullets are coming at you).  During that time, he remains a threat to your life, and may kill you.
  • The only reliable stop is the "electrical stop," but it requires a bullet strike through very small, hard to hit targets.  
  • The concept of “accuracy” is context specific.  On the square range, tight groups on the target is the premium.  In shooting at an imminent threat, it is actually beneficial to have a three to five inch spread between rounds to maximize the wounding potential, resulting in injury to a wider range of organs. 
  • “Speed is fine; accuracy is final” (Wyatt Earp) is as true as anything can be.  Striving to be “first” is important, but what does that mean?  Getting the first shot off is impressive, and may be fatal to you.  Strive to be the first to hit the target in a vital area.  Hitting is the name of this game, as slow as you have to to hit and no faster.  
  • The more hits you have on important structures (brain, spine, upper thorax, femoral triangle, pelvis, etc.), the more quickly he will likely stop.
  • Discipline your training and slow your rate of fire to ensure sufficient hits with combat accuracy.  Forget "hammered pairs," "double-taps," and other "game" related activities.  Continuously fire on the Threat until he is no longer an "imminent threat to life." 

We hear in the question, “If the ammo did not fail, why…”, a question that everyone wants to resolve at some point in their shooting life:  what is the “best” ammo to use to save my life?”  One simple answer is, "The round you have in your chamber right now."  Even if you had a magical magazine that held an unlimited number of rounds, that would be a good of example of every blessing being a potential curse:  would that "unlimited" number of rounds result in an unlimited number of hits, or would it assure that you would get on that trigger like never before and hope that a wall of bullets would do the job?  The best strategy is to fight with the round in your chamber and put that one bullet through a target that disrupts his imminent threat. Then fight with the next.  And the next.  Strive to hit him with every round until he goes down and is no longer a threat.

We all want the “silver-life-snuffer-magic-bullet."  This isn’t going to happen with present technology (OK, .50 cal BMG round, but I’m not carrying a Barrett in my hip pocket—Dang!).  While some handgun bullets may be statistically better than others, most bullets are going to do the job sufficiently well to eventually kill an assailant (it should be remembered that the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office approved the use of hollow points because it was proven that hollow points stopped fights more quickly while full metal jackets were more  likely to eventually kill the suspect).  As Cutting Edge Training teaches in our firearms and knife classes, “All bullet wounds and knife wounds eventually stop bleeding.”  If you want to do it faster, there are the three requirements necessary to ending a gunfight that must occur (see the list above if you don’t remember).  

Stop blaming your ammo for any alleged failure to stop.  A .22LR in the right spot is an immediate fight stopper.  A .22Short pistol in the hands of a motivated and skilled shooter is a scary opponent.  If you have reliable ammo (it feeds every time, and goes “bang” when it should), forget about the ammo you are carrying.  9mm vs. .40 vs. .45?  Big holes are a little better than little holes.  However, we are talking about a difference of only 1/10 of an inch between the 9mm and .45.  The only difference in effectiveness is where that bullet is placed and what it passes through in the body.  A .45 through the outside of the thigh with no bone involvement will not stop the fight faster than a 9mm through the heart or the eye.  Bullet placement...Bullet placement...Bullet placement...  Forget “shooting” and begin “hitting.”

That my friend, is “what the real truth is.” 

Pain and Preparing for the Fight

by George on July 23, 2010 05:38

"One should include a course of familiarization with pain...You have to practice hurting.  There is no question about it...You have to practice being hazed.  You have to learn to take a bunch of junk and accept it with a sense of humor."

--Admiral James Stockbridge
Medal of Honor recipient
POW in Viet Nam for 7.5 years

Pain.  Pain lets us know something is "wrong," so we'll stop and not be injured any further, allowing us to take care of the injury and heal.  Pain isn't real.  When you think that your foot "hurts," it is, in reality, simply your brain interpreting nervous impulses sent by reception centers in your foot as pain.  But pain "feels" real. So real, that most people will do anything--ANYTHING--to avoid pain.  Many, or perhaps even most of our population will go so far to avoid pain that they will never do anything more physical than walk to their car.  This, however, ensures that they will be in constant, low-level chronic pain for their entire life--have you ever known an out-of-shape, overweight person who was not in pain?

You are in the warrior profession.  Cop or military, yours is a world of violence within the law against those who employ violence beyond all rules.  The context of police and military fights may be different, but the reality is that, at its core, each is a profession that lawfully delivers violence against other humans.

Pain.  Where there is violence, there is pain.  Often, pain is experienced by all combatants, although the losers suffer far more—unless they are rendered unconscious or die quickly.

Every professional is prepared for his (or her) particular profession by passing through basic training.  For the police, it is the academy.  For the military, it is Boot Camp.  Once out of basic training, advanced training continues for the duration of his or her professional career.

Notice that I said, “Every professional is prepared.”  That top-down approach--Command requiring you to pass a program of instruction--means that you are simply within the lowest common denominator of your profession upon graduation:  somewhere around below average--if you are extraordinary, you are almost average.  From this point on, you must prepare yourself for your profession if you are going to be able to survive all but the lowest levels of violence directed at you.

If you are targeted by a predator or the enemy, the violence inflicted upon you will create pain.  Now most of us in this warrior class have heard of great warriors who fought through tremendous pain to accomplish their mission, to save their buddies, their partners, or their teammates, to save those who could not protect themselves—and some came back alive.  The Medal of Honor.  The Medal of Valor.  These are the highest awards possible to those who overcome all odds.  There are few in warrior profession who do not have a belief that he or she will be able to fight through the overwhelming pain and do what is required if called upon to do so, even at the cost of their lives.


  • Can you prepare for it?  I believe you can.
  • Is it possible to avoid pain in training and then master it while injured during combat to overcome the odds and save your life and the lives of others?  I think anything is possible of a human being, and that miracles happen.  I also think this is unlikely.  Avoiding pain is natural, and when this natural inclination becomes the habit, pain becomes a barrier that may become bigger than the pain itself.  As is said, a man does not rise to the occasion, but sinks to his lowest level of consistent training.  If you train with pain avoidance as a goal, then your training may not reflect your real world needs in that moment you need to fight through a wall of pain.   That training goal of pain avoidance may stop you from saving your life.
  • Or is pain about your attitude in life and in training, something you steel yourself against by testing how far you can go, and each time going a bit farther than you thought you could?  I believe an acceptance that your body is finite, that your life may be done at any moment, and you won't live forever is one of the keys to dealing with pain.  I believe you temper your mind to tolerate that which others cannot.  It permits you to remain effective even though your body’s nerves are screaming at you.  By convincing yourself that it is “only pain.”

I just finished teaching a “Tactical Duty Knife” class to a diverse group of deputies, police officers, and corrections officers.  This was a typical class of police officers where a few worked intensely, most worked hard, and a few worked enough to get by.

One aspect of this class is learning where and how to use the knife.  We do this by employing a Benchmade “Trainer” training knife (these are the only training knives we’ve ever found that were safer to use than any other brand).  Typically, I ask one student if it is OK if I use the knife on him to demonstrate.  With his permission, I put the tip of the blade on one of his high-value targets, then shove and dig it in at the intensity I would use if this were a real situation and I was employing my knife in a deadly force response to save my life.  And as always happens, the student immediately melts away because it hurts.  Sometimes they squeal.  Almost always they make some noise indicating distress.  There it is again.  Pain.

As I don’t believe that rank has its privileges, only greater responsibilities, I don’t believe that it is right for an instructor to inflict pain without that student reciprocating on the instructor.  So I invite and permit the student to use the training knife on me in the same way.  Often they are a bit tentative as they begin to push--they're decent people and good people don't intentionally hurt others without just cause.  They know it hurts because they just experienced pain.  When I stand there and tell them to push and to dig with the knife, they increase the pressure.  It hurts but I work hard at reflecting no emotion or pain on my face.  When I tell them that they need to really push and to dig with that knife, they generally shove it hard into me.  It hurts, and still I reflect no emotion or pain.  Sometimes I am forced to urge them to work the blade harder and more vigorously.  And only after I believe that I can’t stand it anymore, I give them another second to push and to dig with that dull steel blade before I move away from the knife to stop the pain—and work to never let them see how much it hurt.  I do this because I’m their trainer and they need to see someone role-model the proper training attitude.  Sometimes that need to be their role-model sucks, but every trainer is a volunteer, not a victim.  It is my responsibility as their trainer to give them every opportunity to survive and prevail, and the first lesson in surviving combat is having an attitude that permits me to prevail no matter the cost.

Then I work with a different student to demo the next target.  And he or she reciprocates with me.  After the students do this back to me, I begin to hear people on the floor saying things like, “Doesn’t he have any nerves?” and “I guess he doesn’t feel pain.”  I sometimes want to scream at them, “Of course it hurts!  A LOT!”  Instead, I say, “It’s only pain.  I need to learn to manage it so that it does not manage me.”  I say this because I need to hear it as much as they do.  This is a lesson that every warrior must learn—“I manage the pain and quit only when I choose to, not because pain forces me to.”

Pain.  I know I can only take as much as I decide to take, one-tenth of a second at a time.  It is a decision made every moment to continue.  Eventually it becomes longer worth it and I give up.  I know I am not a “tough guy” who can take pain indefinitely.  Maybe there are no “tough guys” in the real world.  Maybe they can be found only in comic books, novels, and movies.  I have read first-hand accounts of our POWs in North Korean and Vietnamese prison camps who “broke” under torture.  I realize that I am no different than any of those men, and fear that I may not have been able to handle what the best of them did.  Each and every man who wrote about his torture stated that he held out as long as he could until they were no longer capable of resisting the pain.  Could I have done as well under such terrible conditions and such terrific intensity?  I don't know, but I keep pushing myself to my limits...and then just a bit further.

Pain.  Something a warrior must understand, be familiar with, and know intimately.  At some time, whether in training, in a fight, or in combat, a warrior will inevitably be injured at some point—not a bump or a scrape, but a serious injury.  It will hurt to rehab that injury or wound.  But if he doesn’t carefully push through the pain, with reason and dedication, he’ll never be functional again.  I know that over the years, pain, while not a friend, has and remains a constant companion of mine in this life.  I never look forward to it, but I don’t fear it as I once did.  It just is. It's just pain.

By working through pain intelligently during training, where it is safe to experiment with your limits, you begin growing your capacity for pain, to function while in pain, to fight better and longer while hurt.  You will learn where you can accept more pain, and where it is smart to avoid it.  There are instructors out there who train full-contact on students all the time.  Their hype is that they create tougher fighters.  The reality is that effective, efficient combatives injures others severely (kind of by definition, right?), and only a few of the top dogs can survive in that environment for any length of time.  Sure they're "tough," but they also have a God-given physical attributes, skills, and talents that the rest of us mere mortals were not favored with.  Intelligent training protects the student from serious injury while presenting an opportunity to effectively learn the skills, tactics, and lessons needed in their profession at arms...and from pain.

In your chosen profession of violence, I believe that our students are taught so often that they are the ones in a force event or in combat that will hurt and kill the other guy that the reverse becomes unreal—that you might be the one who is injured but required to remain combat effective and in the fight, even though a body part might not work, or its it’s hard to breathe, or you are bleeding badly.  The reality of conflict is that few in a fight—and especially in combat—are immune from some type of injury during their battle.  Learning that pain is something that can be decided about, at least for a time, is an incredible training gift.  And something every warrior needs.

Pain.  It's a decision.  It's a capacity that can be increased by training.  Learning to go just a little longer than you think you can stand teaches you about the toughness necessary to prevail in a fight.  I watch how the students in the police and military knife classes, and all of our classes, accept or avoid pain or discomfort.  In this last class, like all classes, I saw a few consciously pushing their limits to pain.  A couple of them I would never have guessed initially that they would understand the need.  I was also surprised by how others I thought would be tougher avoided pain at all costs.

I see those who push themselves as different from the others.  Knowing that man or woman is a warrior, I can trust to watch my back.  Because I know that no matter the cost to them, they will keep fighting beyond the pain, through the blood, and will risk as much for me as I will for them.

Every SEAL team member I have ever met and/or trained has said to me that he is "stupid."  After hearing this dozens of times from dozens of operators, I finally asked why every SEAL I ever met said that.  A good friend of mine, a former Chief who'd spent 18 years in the teams, looked at me and said plainly, "Smart people wouldn't go through what we we did to get on the teams and stay there.  They quit.  Only someone who's stupid enough not to quit can be a SEAL." Stupid enough to take the pain and privation that training puts a man through to create the toughest possible warfighter.  The BUD/S Naval Special Warfare Instructors know that the pain they inflict on the SEAL team recruits will cause them to grow, to go beyond what they believe to be their limits, and to create a warrior who will never quit.  That training will cause them to make decisions every moment during the selection process.

By accepting pain and moving beyond its limitations, you are freed from the constraints of "normal" people.  Where a normal, rational person would quit because of pain and be killed, you keep fighting and win, saving your life or someone else's, and accomplish the mission.  It's just pain.  A warrior doesn't seek it...only accepts that it is, and does what he or she has to do in spite of it.