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LASD video on Active Shooter response by civilians: some comments

by George on February 5, 2015 07:31

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department put out a very good video re: surviving an active shooter.  It has good information for those family members and friends of ours who are unarmed and facing this threat.  While it likely won’t happen to any individual person, one of these events happens about every 3 months in the US.  That means that it could happen to any one of us or our family members.  If you expect that it could happen, you are more likely to be able to react differently than those who sit or stand there in disbelief, staring like a deer in the headlights.

This video provides a blue print so that you/your family members/friends can PROBLEM-SOLVE YOUR WAY THROUGH IT.  The police will probably not get there in time to save you or anyone else—it will be up to you to save yourself, your loved ones, and others.  Get out if you can safely (try to put something between you and the bad guy as you move and don’t relax until there is no possibility of being harmed).  Barricade and hide if you must.  Prepare mentally and physically to fight if that is your opportunity to survive.

Whether it is an active shooter or a terrorist attack, whether we like it or not, this is our reality.  This is a good and short tutorial that will help you survive this vicious, deadly attack:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMf8SksLqkk.

For armed professionals, some critical points about the response depicted in the video:
  • Each of the dramatized events takes place in a “gun-free zone.”  Firearms are the best way to stop a person with a firearm.  Carry your firearm off-duty so that you can protect yourself, your loved ones, and those who cannot or choose not to protect themselves.
  • The LASD is apparently still doing the discredited and ineffective team formation response of waiting for four deputies to cell up prior to entering--single officer initial entry is more effective.  It’s been estimated that for every 15 seconds of delay in the law enforcement response, one person is shot and murdered.  The movement of four officers will be incredibly slow and more innocents will be harmed as a result.  Officers must be permitted to make entry as soon as they arrive through multiple entrances—this gives them the ability to control hallways, and hallways control the entrance and exit to every door to that hall.  Firearms are distance weapons giving officers the ability to control the entire length of most hallways and deny mobility to the suspect.  Even a limited penetration to the mouth of each major corridor by an officer with a rifle will deny the suspect mobility and access to additional victims.  Depending upon the circumstances and the officer’s confidence, officers should move to the last reported location of the suspect (or to the sound of gunfire).  At the very most, teams of two officer moving through the structure provides mobility and a timely response. 
  • Yelling, “Gun, gun, gun!” is not helpful in making a decision to shoot or not—decisions should be based on threat behavior and not solely the presence of firearm.  Now that California’s illegal concealed weapons laws have been struck down, California joins most of the states where sane gun laws enable law abiding citizens to lawfully carry and defend against violent assault.  The presence of a gun is not the sole indicator of threat.  Off-duty officers and legally armed citizens may have their handguns in-hand.  Responding officers must be looking for “threat behavior.”  Watch the video again solely for the actions of the gunmen.  Videos of actual events and eye-witness accounts show the suspects calmly stalking their victims.  These suspects are insecure, bitter, and powerless people who are dominant for the first time in their lives.  They move as if they own the world, dictating the events according to their fantasies.  Many are unhurried, as if enjoying every moment of this newfound supremacy.  This is very different from an off-duty officer or legally armed citizen’s “tactical behavior.”  Tactical behavior is obvious in its careful approach, use of cover/concealment, and its caution.  A legally armed person carefully moving toward the sounds of shots being fired or holding a position of cover (a corner or some type of barricade) is likely not a person of interest.  Officers should safely challenge (from behind cover and preferably from a triangulated position) the armed person to determine their intentions, then quickly transition back to moving to the suspect’s location.
  • Stop yelling when you should be hitting the suspect.  In the video, the suspect is standing over a group of people and pointing his weapon at them.  This suspect is presenting an imminent threat to life.  In the time it takes to yell “Gun!” three times, he can fire three or more shots.  Then the officers’ (in this case, deputies’) reaction-response delay will likely allow the suspect one to two more shots before they can make a decision to shoot.  If there is an imminent threat to life, the suspect has crossed the “deadly force threshold” and is subject to being immediately shot.  In this case, given the carnage the deputies had walked through and all of the facts known to them at the time, the proper response for the first deputy would have been to shoot in defense of life rather than to yell.
  • Enter a room only if you have to: it is far more preferable and efficient to fight from the door.  Making entry gives the suspect an even chance to shoot you.  If you seek a fair fight with a murderer, you have already lost.  A fundamental tactical principle is to fight from a corner.  Fight from the corner (the door), stay as small as possible, and shoot the suspect surely enough to hit with every round—speed of fire is not the objective: only hits count. 
  • We see firefighters/EMS being escorted into the crime scene to treat the wounded: problematically, Rescue Task Force methods in this configuration are slow, impractical, and inefficient.  How much time has evolved between the onset of injury (the first through the last persons being shot) and the first EMS contact in this situation?  If one really considers that when the shooting is over, the dying continues as long as the wounded continue to bleed (actually, until the trauma surgeon has addressed the life-threatening wounds).  The Rescue Team concept follows the same discredited formation concept that has proven to be worthless in intervening actual events due to the time it takes to gather sufficient personnel and to move to the threat.  Numerous questions have not been resolved in the Rescue Team concept: (1) How do the firefighters and police escorts find each other in a timely manner within the chaos that eats up radio communications? (2) Who assigns and tracks the teams of officers and firefighters in the pandemonium early in an event when functional Command Posts often take more than 15-20 minutes to get set up and running? (3) Rescue Teams move into “hot zones,” not “warm zones.” This Rescue Task Force concept calls for fire/EMS to move into a “warm zone” that has been twice cleared and deemed to be warm by law enforcement, yet requires ballistic protection for the fire/EMS personnel.  If EMS personnel require ballistic vests and helmets to enter and first contact the wounded, they are moving in a “hot zone” and are by definition imminently “at risk.” (4) Rescue Teams require a “twice cleared entry corridor and victim scene prior to entering.” How long in this chaos will it take to verify that the scene where the victims are located has been twice cleared by officers before the Rescue Teams are permitted to make entry?  Who will verify it? How long does it take to set up a functioning Command Post in these situations? (5) If EMS personnel are expected to stabilize patients in place before transporting them to the Casualty Collection Point (CCP) where they will be triaged and transported to definitive treatment, the Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) protocols are bypassed and definitive treatment is delayed, resulting in salvageable wounded unnecessarily dying. (6) Where is all of this ballistic equipment stored on the trucks and who is accountable for its tracking and replacement? (7) Following initial training, how much training time per year will be required to maintain the firefighter/EMS personnel’s currency in efficiently linking and then moving with an armed team?  These and other questions have not been addressed regarding the Rescue Team concept (for a more thorough discussion of the problems of a Rescue Task Force protocol of this type, see http://blog.cuttingedgetraining.org/post/Internal-Casualty-Collection-Point-or-Rescue-Teams-Integrating-Police-and-FireEMS-Within-the-Active-Shooter-Response.aspx.  

The answer is an integrated approach to the response involving the police and fire/EMS staying in their own swim lanes of expertise.  Police respond to the shooter while fire/EMS stages.  The police set up an internal command post which will quickly evolve into a secure CCP.  The second wave of officers, typically within five minutes of the first response, respond to Fire Stage where a police field sergeant and a fire lieutenant or Battalion Chief establish the Unified Command Post.  At some point, the Internal Command Post will have sufficient personnel to handle suspect mitigation efforts.   Law enforcement resources are diverted to other tasks including force protection of firefighters.  Two engine companies combine personnel and MCI equipment on to one engine. Within minutes, a team of firefighter/EMS is escorted into the secure CCP by armed officers (a Rescue Task Force) without the need for ballistic protection.  Even before the Rescue Task Force begins moving to the CCP, officers on the interior have been performing basic life-saving and moving the wounded to the secure CCP while suspect mitigation operations by other officers are on-going.  Fire/EMS performs their MCI protocol and the wounded are transported to a definitive care facility by order of severity of their wounds.

Time and safety must dictate the manner of this response

Time in a Active Shooter event is the enemy of life-saving.  The more time a suspect is permitted unfettered access to victims, the more gunshot wounds he will be able to inflict.  There is a saying that is as harsh as it is the grim reality, "Every gunshot wounds eventually stops bleeding." The longer a gunshot victim is allowed to bleed, the less likely that life will be saved.  Every effort in this highly chaotic, highly threatening, and extremely complicated response must be weighed against the unforgiving taskmaster of time. Problematically, the need for an exigent response to the wounded must be reasonably weighed against the threat to the lives of those responding to this event.  Acceptable casualties are not a part of the police or fire mission.  Nothing about entering a building where one or more people are shooting other people is safe.  It must be a balanced response.

The multipl-officer contact team concept, seen being trained nationwide since 2000, is a failed tactic.  The FBI says that 160 Active shooter events occurred in the USbetween the years 2000-2013.  Many authorities believe that only one of these events (the LAWA airport shooting) was concluded by this tactic.  Others cite up to four events that were positively influenced in some manner by these events.  Taking the highest number, this means that in only 1.025% of Active Shooter events did this tactic make any difference in the outcome.  Something else must be done other than waiting for other officers to arrive, forming up into a four (or more) officer cell, ponderously moving down a hallway.  

The answer is a single, first arriving officer moving individually to an ingress point, then stop, look, and listen--then briefly communicate. If it is safe to enter, move to a corner permitting the officer to command a hallway.  If the officer hears or is told of the location of the suspect (e.g., gunshots, victims or witnesses pointing or yelling, dispatch communications from 9-1-1 reports, etc.).  The officer then makes the decision to hold and control the hallway, to penetrate deeper toward the suspect location moving from cover to cover, stopping to look, listen, and assess, or to wait until a second officer arrives and to move together, bounding toward the suspect's location.

Each officer's entry and movement is dictated by that officer's individual comfort dictated by his or her perception of individual skill, the context of the scene they see before them, and the individual's confidence that the situation can be addressed in a safe manner.  Some officers will move deeply into the structure by themselves while others will hold only at the initial ingress point.  Neither of these officers are superior to the other but, rather, reflects the differences in the aptitude and perceived capabilities of each individual.  

The point is, the only solution to the dilemma of time working against the victims of the suspect is leaving the decision to enter and move up to the individual officer.  With officers rapidly responding through different ingress points, dominating hallways by rifles, and moving toward the suspect's location, there will be natural linkups as officer continue moving to the (last reported or apparent) suspect location.  This provides a much greater likelihood of a rapid conclusion to this event. 

Emotionally Integrated Training

by George on August 5, 2014 13:46

Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death.
—George S. Patton, General, US Army

 

The late Louis Awerbuck taught that surviving a gunfight is 95% luck.  You just can’t control the suspect’s skills, cunning, or the stray bullet that has your name on it.  You may react perfectly, tactically moving as you empty a magazine into the suspect’s vital areas, inflicting mortal wounds with each round.  But in his dying reflex, he may fire and fatally wound you—and, unfortunately, all ties in a gunfight go to the suspect.

Control in a gunfight is limited.  Within your purview of control are only the preparation of the skills and knowledge you bring to the fight, your decision-making within the law to respond early enough to make a difference, and your ability to control your emotional reaction to the attempt to murder you.

The mechanics of hitting a target is important.  Skill development involves a moderately reliable level of accuracy on a square range rather than focusing only on tight groups.  Teaching officers deadly force policy and the laws of defense of self and others should be a mandatory component of every training session—not just reading the policy or law but actually digging into what it means.  Ease in the application of the law and policy combined with the early recognition of the deadly force threshold can be gained by applying the gained through force-on-force drills and scenario training.  However, this preparation alone is apparently insufficient given the low rates of hits on suspects in many close-range shootings.

Fundamentally, the ability to reliably put bullets through a suspect who is attempting to murder the officer is as much about controlling emotions and overcoming fear as it is about skill alone.  Perhaps more.  All deadly force training and, indeed, all force and tactical training must address the emotional component of responding with force to prepare the officer to meet the combative needs of the job.  

 

Freeze, Flight, Fight

The survival strategy of "Freeze, flight, or fight" is inherent in all mammals.  Prey animals freeze because many predators key on movement.  Like our mammalian counterparts we, too, demonstrate the same survival strategies.  Everyone freezes to some degree when the unexpected happens—think meerkats at the first hint of alarm.  It takes time to orient to the new situation.  We tend to stop moving, hold perfectly still, and look in the direction of the alarm. 

The next natural response is flight, or fleeing from danger.  Fighting tends to be the last response of prey animals and is also the natural last response of untrained non-sociopaths.  Training can change this, but only if the training is relevant to its application in the real world of threat.  Effective police training creates the ability to quickly transition through the freeze state into the fight.  This rapid reaction is necessary for many of the threats that officers face in the street that are in-proximity and unexpected.

Highly experienced military operators say surviving a gunfight is more about controlling emotions than it is about raw shooting ability.  How we train officers through the entire range of skill responses, both on the range, in scenarios, and in the mat room creates the possibility of rapidly transitioning through the freeze and flight responses and into the fight stage where it becomes possible to prevent injury and death.  And it is not simply more reps or more rounds fired downrange that constitutes a trained individual.

 

Transitioning through the fear 

Having sufficient experience to automatically respond to imminent threat means you have had the good fortune to have lived through enough threatening situations that your dominant survival response is to fight.  For the rest of us mere mortals or the inexperienced, training must assist us in transitioning through that fear response to a functional level of skill competency. 

First, recognize that freezing in the face of sudden danger is not a character issue.  It is an emotional issue that must be over-written by a more positive or, put better, a more effective emotional response.  A tiny portion of the brain, the amygdala, acts as the first filter of external stimulus entering the brain.  Even before we consciously recognize something, say, a thin, long, coiled shape on the ground as we turn a corner, the filter of our amygdala causes us to jump back and away well before our rational brain recognizes it to be a coiled hose rather than a dangerous snake. 

The amygdala is the first filter we have to quickly alert us to danger.  It is not reasonable nor is it rational.  It simply interprets a possible danger and sends an alarm to which the body reacts.  It creates emotional integration and learning through association (associative learning)—it is a key part of how our memories embed and are retrieved from long-term memory.  It is able to learn through reward (pleasure or not being injured) and punishment (injury or unpleasant consequences).  In the training environment, the training of our officers’ amygdala response prepares them to transition through the fear and better apply their skills when responding to sudden threat.

 

Mimicking:  training the transition from freezing to fighting

In the training environment, it would be immoral to place officers into a situation where they might actually die to retrain the amygdala.  All training, including the best scenario experience, has some degree of falsity—everyone knows they are not actually going to be shot or stabbed by the suspect/role-player.  How can we override the emotionally-based fear response that degrades actual performance if we are unable to duplicate the fear they must face in real life?  Pushups and running sprints don’t do it.  Being yelled at by up-range instructors won’t either.

We do this by mimicking the body’s fear response.  Emotional responses (via the amygdala) create changes to the body’s systems.  Fear causes physical alterations to cortisol levels in the blood, heart and breathing rates, blood distribution, vision and hearing, muscle tone, and ability to digest food.  It can result in the bladder and/or bowels involuntarily voiding.  It also creates psychological changes in pain tolerance, attentional focus, cognitive flexibility and adaptation, as well as memory and perceptual distortions.  When we become truly fearful, our emotional response changes our physical body and mind, affecting our ability to apply the skills we have so carefully built.  

What does sudden fright—the type that officers experience when they’re suddenly assaulted by a suspect who is close to them—look like?  It looks like a “startle reaction,” simultaneously eliciting the following:

  • Your eyes go wide and your pupils dilate to gain as much light as possible and jerk your head to face the source or direction of that surprise or threat.
  • You gasp, taking in a sharp intake of air.  This is the body preparing for flight or fight.  Most people will hold their breath following the initial gasp (remember: stillness).
  • Your body moves, orienting your chest to that threat as you take an athletic stance (much like a linebacker, with your dominant-side foot back a bit), your body has a slight lean forward from the waist.  Your body actually drops a bit, lowering your center of gravity.
  • Your hands tend to come up to face level, palms out, your non-dominant hand slightly forward.  
  • Your shoulders rise, moving up and forward while your chin sinks a bit to better protect your extremely vulnerable throat and neck.

 The reciprocal of that process also holds true: mimicking the physical response to sudden threat—the startle response—activates to some degree the amygdala’s emotional fear response.  Emotional reprogramming can take place by mimicking the body’s reactions to fear.  By taking in a sharp gasp, suddenly opening your eyes wide, while jerking your shoulders up and forward and quickly lowering your center of gravity, most people experience a slight to moderate cortisol (adrenaline) reaction.  While some officers are too salty to try this, the large percentage quickly identify that there is an element of validity to the concept of duplicating in training the emotional environment where skills application intersects with the existential fear experienced in the street.

For example, in our range training, we ask you to close your eyes and imagine the face of the last person you thought was going to kill you.  Every cop with a few weeks of street experience can conjure up this person's face.  Rather than paper targets, this is the person the shooter is shooting in response to their imminently threatening actions.  We then ask each person to explain or demonstrate what that imminent threat is doing to cause him/her to shoot the suspect.  Upon every initiation command of "Threat!" (short for "imminent threat," or that action by the suspect to which the officer is legally justified to respond with deadly force), the officer is directed to take a quick, sharp intake of breath, jerk his shoulders up and lower his center of gravity.  This physical action creates an emotional tie (and a small adrenaline cocktail dump) to the response (hit the threat).  The mind associates sudden threat with moving, drawing, and hitting the suspect rather than freezing as a survival strategy.

Same-same in Defensive Tactics.  During some of our drills, we will have the coach (not the "suspect") begin a monologue in a low, menacing voice of how this coach wants to kill the officer and how they're going to do it.  At first, many officers react with fear (strange how in a safe environment with someone that officer KNOWS won't harm them, yet the brain reacts with a degree of survival emotions and fear).  Just this monologue often causes the officer to speed up or become inappropriately intense.  So instructors begin to coach these officers to calm down, to breathe, to focus on their skills as the coach continues his/her threats.  Soon the officer is able to over-write previous programming and work comfortably with the coach.  Then we change coaches’ instructions to produce a low, menacing, animal-like growl.  We see officers instantly ratchet up in intensity, eyes-wide, breathing faster than the physical requirements demand even though there's no change in the intensity of the coach working with that officer.  Again, instructors coach them to breathe, to work at speed, to continue to problem-solve and function effectively.  When the officer is able to calm down and work through the growling, we then have the coaches begin shrieking insanely.  Officers often instantly seize up emotionally and physically, and are again coached back to effective emotional response—and reasonable physical response.

 

Scenario “failures”

Incorporating this emotional integration into all aspects of training pays off in scenario training where, if the officer hitches up, we hit the pause button, and talk privately about not only what that officer is seeing but, as importantly, what he/she is feeling.  If the officer is unable to identify his or her emotional response (or unwilling to share it), the instructor then describes what it looked like from the outside, how that emotion is negatively affecting the officer’s performance, and how to take the steps to counter it.  We then rewind and continue to replay the event where the emotionally charged hitch occurred, with the officer taking that sharp intake of breath and bodily reaction to simulate being startled, until the officer signals that he/she can continue on without undue or negative emotional reactions.  We then rewind and play forward toward success. 

Sometimes we are forced to go back to our force-on-force exercises or even back to our drills to get the proper emotional reprogramming.  For instance, one very experienced officer from a very busy large city was excellent in DT and fearless in contact simulations.  On the range, he was very competent, handling his live-fire weapon competently while gaining solid hits.  However, during force-on-force drills using Airsoft pellet weapons (face/eye protection with long-sleeve t-shirts only) prior to scenario exercises, he literally melted down.  The first time the “suspect” drew his weapon, the officer literally pirouetted, non-gun hand curled around his head, and emptied the magazine by blindly shooting behind him in the general direction of the suspect while being pelted by the suspect’s “bullets.” 

The exercise was halted and he removed his protective mask.  He was breathing as if he’d run a world record mile up stairs.  His face was pale and he really couldn’t articulate what had just happened to him.  We removed him from the exercise and talked about what he experienced.  Embarrassed, he literally had a blank spot in his memory.  Other than he knew he had been hit a lot, it hurt, and that meant he was dead—he had no clue what his physical response was.

Helping him to emotionally reprogram is the key.  This officer’s response was not due to a lack of skills or deficiency of character.  It was due to an overwhelming and inappropriate emotional programming.  So we went back to the foundations of programming a positive physical response within his emotional experience.

  • Intellectual foundation.  This is a combination of reinforcing his understanding of "Early Orientation Markers,"© or what threatening behavior looks like and how the body moves when the suspect is obtaining a deadly weapon or about to initiate an assault.  It covered in depth the legal/policy basis for response.  It also provided tactical suggestions such as movement and why that is often beneficial.  Emotional reprogramming also included a discussion about mimicking the body’s startle response in training and why that was important. 
  • Drills.  Drills including seeing a “suspect”/coach access a hidden firearm dozens of times with the officer mimicking the startle response and moving appropriately.  As soon as the officer was successful, the next step was to have the coach draw and fire where the officer had been standing just a moment ago.  That was sped up until it was “at speed.” 
  • Force-on-force drills.  With the coach self-initiating a hidden draw, the officer gasped and moved.  At first, the coach was tasked with firing around the officer (behind or in front) as the officer successfully moved and hit the coach.  At one point, the officer became lackadaisical and arrogant in his movement because he wasn’t being hit.  The coach was quietly directed to hit the officer twice if it happened again.  Two sharp hits to the officer reinforced the need to remain focused.  After that happened, the officer was properly motivated and continued to move and hit.  Finally, the two combatants were directed to work “at speed.” 
  • Scenario exercise.  The officer was able to complete the scenario satisfactorily. 

Cops aren’t machines, even though most of the training they undergo treats them as if we just need to give them the correct number of parts in a specific sequence and all will come together in a combative environment.  Human beings are far more subject to their emotional programming than many care to admit.  Every person has some aspect of his or her life where their emotional fluency hampers their effectiveness.  When this negative emotional programming intersects their ability to competently respond with their skills on the street, it endangers their lives and the lives of officers and citizens.

Creating a training environment where each officer is able to condition themselves to operate competently through drills where the normal emotional response is tied to the proper physical reaction assists them in responding competently in dangerous, high-risk situations.  By simulating the physical response to overwhelming emotions, officers are better able to function and win.

 

DT as OJT Rather Than High-Intensity Recurring Training

by George on February 17, 2014 16:18

There is always a lot of complaining by police defensive tactics instructors that officers don't like to train and there is not enough time to train to gain a high level of competency in DT.  They argue that these skills are highly perishable and without frequent and recurrent training, there is no way to build capability in the average officer. 

There are two ways of gaining expertise and overcoming the problem of perishability in high skill training. Sufficient training time and commitment to instill in the schema those highly evolved movements and skills is but one way.  Training time is expensive and many agencies struggle to meet minimum staffing for their shifts.  Intensive, recurring training requires either high budgetary commitment, high personal effort and time commitment, or both.

The other way, within current budgetary constraints (and reality), is to provide training the officers will use every day, thereby gaining OJT (on the job training). If principle-based training is indeed primally hardwired into our human blueprint, then EVERY TIME a police officer puts hands on a subject, that principle-based training is reinforced (in essence, practiced). 

For a simple example, a not-yet resistive but nominally non-compliant subject is not going along with the program and the officer is legally justified to put hands on him.  The officer step in at an angle (Principle of Combatives: Step in angles and circles), takes hold of the subject’s elbow (Principles of Combatives:  Constantly target seek and Always put reasonable weapons to reasonable open targets), and then likely presses the elbow against the officer’s torso (Principle of Combatives: Put body parts to body mass—or closer-stronger).  Now the officer moves his/her body and the suspect must contend with his elbow being affected by not only the officer’s strength but also the officer’s weight.  Greater level of success and effectiveness.

How did the officer know do to this?  Because the officer learned through Universal Principles of Combatives drills that they gain success through grabbing the elbow with both hands and pulling the elbow into their body rather than playing wrist games and control holds with suspect which is generally ineffective against someone of similar size and strength who doesn’t want to play with the nice officer holding his arm.  Soon, everything the officer touches is pulled into their bodies (or their bodies go to the object/limb/suspect body part) as a matter of habit with little or no thought because the officer is stronger and more effective, gaining a history of success that pays off when one day the suspect draws a gun and shoves it into the officer’s chest. The officer immediately defends by slapping and then does what?  Grabs the gun-arm and pulls it into his chest (paying attention to the muzzle direction).  Then the cop solves the problem however that looks for them. 

So every time the officer puts hands on someone to arrest, to control (a false concept, BTW), or gets into a small tussle or big fight, the primal blueprint is reinforced and solved through the Universal Principle of Combatives. OJT serves as a primary training vehicle as each officer problem-solves through the day, discovering what works and what does not for THAT OFFICER.  Work becomes the repetitions necessary for greater mastery and a source for unconscious competence because there’s little to “remember” and perform other than just doing what my body does before big, strong, athletic, uninjured, well-trained men taught me how to fight like them.

Our experience in those agencies adopting the principle-based problem-solving concept is that officers begin to enjoy DT training because it becomes relevant and not a source of failure to them.  Think about your own reaction to classes where the instructor is busy telling you about all of the virtues of his/her program and it just not relevant or practical to your job.  Except you are now forced to make a physical effort where you will be put in pain, be exposed to injury, and be forced to practice complicated procedures you can’t remember how to do within hours or days and will never try against someone trying to injure you. If you failed at something every time, how excited would you be about going to training, getting sweaty and sore and possibly injured?  You’d become a “slug,” a “whiner,” and a “complainer.” 

Instead, when it is relevant and you can gain success that fits your physical, mental, and emotional needs in that very scary situation where not only can you be injured or killed, but your personal reputation as a cop is on the line, then training becomes something you can look forward to. 

If your cops are avoiding DT training or showing little enthusiasm while on the floor, maybe look at the program you are teaching and not at them.  Not a single cop I’ve ever met in 33+ years went into LE not wanting to be well-trained.  We, instructors, turned them away from training.  When we provide relevant training they can be successful with, that changes their enthusiasm.  They actually look forward to training and become willing to make efforts during instruction because they know it will work on the street for them.   

Changing from Technique-Based to Integrated Combatives Problem-Solving

by George on February 17, 2014 16:05

How does an instructor, much less an agency or even an industry change from teaching ineffective, prescriptive, and technique-based defensive tactics training to one that comports with the recent research into human factors and the need for principle-based training?  It first begins with growing as a person and an instructor, and changing the concept of what an instructor is in relation to the students.  However, this change from technique-based training where the instructor is the go-to authority and transitioning into principle-based and student-centric problem-solving is fraught with huge obstacles for the individual seeking to change, much less changing an industry's orientation to DT.

The Journey (please bear with me on this part because there is a point—and it is not about me): 

I began by teaching cops a martial arts-based DT program. Shockingly, I soon found veteran cops looked no different than white belts and progressed at the same rate of expertise requiring years of dedicated training they didn’t have. I'd been experimenting with foundational principles asking myself if was there a commonality between the conceptual foundation within the essence of techniques? So I began a trial and error process with rudimentary understanding of principles. A refinement process of the program took place over years that wholly challenged my entire orientation to what I was doing.  It required me to step completely outside of the comfort and personal egotism of being THE authority and TEACHING THE ANSWER. The truth is, I knew down deep it wasn't THE answer because they--hell, I couldn't--apply the technique in real life against a real person who wanted to hurt me.

The first big breakthrough came when I attempted to defend against a subject who was under the influence of PCP into custody. NOTHING worked (all of you who have had this experience just smiled knowingly).  He left in an ambulance with six broken bones and a knee and elbow that needed surgical repair that he didn't notice.  This fight took minutes and left five of us bent over breathing hard with rubbery muscles. That was my come-to-Jesus moment about techniques and fighting.

In that fight I was just like every weak, out of shape, non-hacking cop who hated DT training (more on that later) that I'd ever taught. I felt like a failure because all of my training and abilities developed over a decade was worthless. I punched him, kicked him, wrenched joints out of sockets, felt bones give way and still he kept coming until the cavalry arrived--and no, the carotid restraint didn't work and what was a TASER in those days?  I resolved to never teach again because I couldn't live with the fact that I was a fraud.  Sure I could fight with other “trained” fighters, but in the “real world,” what I knew didn’t work.

I woke up a day or two later, sore, realizing that every technique I tried, and the other guys later attempted, failed because this guy didn't give us the chance to have the technique unfold. That rather than what I had been taught and was teaching that fighting was a logical progression of application of technique to handcuffs or victory, that fight and every fight that lasted more than one or two punches was, instead, prosecuted through problem-solving process!!! And that I had actually gotten through that fight until we had enough bodies to overwhelm him through a primal application of some of the principles I'd been teaching my cops. It was then things began moving fast in developing a principle-based, problem-solving, non-technical DT concept/program. The program was completely overhauled.

I later took a job at a state training facility where I had 60 veteran officers from all over the state, country, and foreign countries for a week of training.  I eventually had them for 8 hours of DT, 12 hours of firearms, 4 hours of building search, 8 hours of scenario training out of the 40 hours (which is where the concept of integrating all training under principle-based concepts and tactics took hold for me).  With this population as my lab rats, I was able to get feedback from veteran officers about what was relevant and (a lot) about what sucked (they weren't shy).  Refinement led to refinement. I then took a job as a civilian trainer at a PD where I had my own captive lab rats.  Even more refinement took place. 

After a few years, my wife and I decided to go into the private sector.  I was busy running around thinking I was teaching ONLY principle-based DT with NO techniques until Thomas Benge came on to our staff.  Big Tom, after a couple of years of my mentoring, asked me, "Do you realize you are teaching techniques?" I didn’t say it, but inside I thought, “WTF?” I wanted to be offended, probably because of the truth of that statement sucked the air out of me. As he explained his concerns, I realized at that moment that while I was preaching principles and problem-solving, there was a large portion of program that was being advertised as principle-based but was actually being taught through the vehicle of techniques.

I was embarrassed and very troubled. Tom and I went back to the drawing board and I realized what he said was true.  So we became radical in our non-technical instruction. At this level of my understanding (which may not represent the “Truth” with a capital “T”), we have no techniques at all in our system: principle-based problem-solving employing simple, uncomplicated, primally blueprinted, hardwired, human-based solutions that officers find through their own efforts on the floor.

The Point?

Go back to the first paragraph about huge obstacles in changing individual and industry paradigms.  It took me almost 20 years of development and thinking that I was teaching principles only to find that I was still teaching from a prescriptive perspective via "techniques" made up to look like principles and problem-solving.  Why?  Because the technique handed down by the instructor who is the all-knowing-authority-with-the-answers was so deeply embedded in my understanding of instruction that I couldn't see my cognitive dissonance.  Without Tom's insight and courage to challenge and confront me, I would likely still be spouting off the techniques as principles.

I mean no disrespect to anyone because I have been there and done that on this journey.  With that said (and it is heartfelt), I have been on training floors, or I've seen videos, of individuals who are incredibly well-versed and grounded in human factors concepts--even to the point of being able to speak to Ph.D researchers nearly as peers--who still are hup-hup-hupping techniques on their training floors or firing ranges. In fact, I know and completely respect a researcher who also fits this description of knowing human factors inside and out and still advocating techniques in training.

Why is there such a cognitive disconnect between what we know to be true (human factors, the ineffectiveness of techniques/prescriptive training, how humans actually fight, etc.) and what we actually do on the training floor and the range and in officer safety and for SWAT and...everything ("OK...Fit Flap A into Slot B.  Now grab projection C and twist that around the B flap, causing his body to turn 90 degrees.  Now step with your left foot 132 degrees to the left and 18 inches back.  Reverse the polarity of your hands while bending slightly at the waist, pull with the left hand while holding your right rigidly and he goes down in perfect cuffing position. Simple, right?  Works like a charm every time if you are as good as I am--except if YOU do it wrong.")?  This huge dichotomy between what these advanced students of human factors know and what they do is not their fault because they cannot see the gap.  I know I couldn’t see it until someone I implicitly trusted smacked in the face with my dual operating system that was in complete conflict.

The mindset of the "solution as prescribed technique" and "instructor-as-authority" embed into our schemas is so deeply held that we, as humans and instructors, fall back to what is familiar and comfortable. We may even be on that floor speaking like a Ph.D in human factors and immediately teach something as a technique that directly conflicts with what we just said.  It’s not hypocrisy.  It’s not being able to step outside of ourselves long enough to see the problem—an intrinsic weakness of being human.

It’s not hypocrisy.  It’s not being able to step outside of ourselves long enough to see the problem—an intrinsic weakness of being human.

It is scary to step on to the floor filled with officers whose schemas were similarly programmed, have them go through drills designed to help them discover the Universal Rules and Principles of Combatives©, take them to the verge of a DT problem, and then say, "How are YOU going to solve this problem? I don't know. I know how I'd solve the problem, but you can't fight like me, same as I can't fight like you. Work out your own solution that is reasonable and defensible to your Admin and in court." And then just stand there as they fail and flounder and get to a level of frustration without rushing in and saving them by providing an answer. Ah, the instructor saves the day because he/she knows all…

Some have projected this to be just letting everyone do whatever they want and run willy-nilly around the floor doing nothing...IT'S CHAOS!  THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH!  EVERYONE DOING WHATEVER THEY WANT WHENEVER THEY WANT!  ARE YOU MAD??? FLEE, FLEE FOR YOUR LIVES FROM THIS MADNESS!

Frustration is part of learning and it takes experience to ensure that frustration does not build into defeat and turn into defiance.  Instruction through guidance often consists of pointing out how some officers in the class have discovered pieces of the solution using the principles.  The example of a peer finding a piece of the solution helps to guide them to the solution they need. The instructor becomes guide rather than authority.

That is one of the toughest parts of training instructors to give up techniques and to guide our people to their own solutions. How do I give up being the authority? That's the question we all have to answer if we want to abandon ineffective and wasteful technique-training and adopt a human factors-based training system where you present and offer ZERO TECHNIQUES (that the officers won't be able to perform under threat or pressure and requires suspect cooperation). 

It’s a radical concept that forces us to be radical in our approach to training so our students can be successful in an unforgiving environment.

 

It’s About Saving Lives, Not Running Down Martial Arts

by George on December 4, 2013 14:52

“The sad truth is that it often takes a wilderness experience (if you survive) to cement the truth that games can get you killed.”  Thomas V. Benge

 

When we talk with other police trainers about the need for a less-complex, principal-based training program for combative skills (defensive tactics, firearms, impact weapons, tactics, etc.), and especially defensive tactics instructors, we are often accused of not liking a particular “style” of martial arts.  For the last several years, with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) form made popular by the Gracie family and the UFC, we have been vocal about avoiding the use of BJJ, western wrestling, boxing, or any other martial art for police training.  We believe that sports have no place in police training, whether they are so-called fighting sports in defensive tactics or shooting sports in firearms training.  This is because the manner in which they are taught encompasses numerous “techniques.”  Techniques, unless mastery is gained, require intense cognitive effort, making it nearly impossible to apply against a combative foe.  Suspects just don’t cooperate and wait for the multi-part techniques to unfold.  We believe that a principle-based concept of combatives is fundamentally more functional and applicable for everyone, especially for the police where extensive training is rarely afforded to officers.

Full disclosure

We have been martial artists for most of our lives.

  • Our Director holds a 5th dan (black belt), Master Instructor in Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan with additional training, in some cases extensive, in Kuk Sool Hapki, Aikido, judo, Western wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and Arnis, as well as various martial weaponry (including knives and bladed weapons).
  • Our International Master Trainer is a 2nd degree black belt in Kune Tao, with additional training, in some cases extensive, in Jeet Kune Do, Kali, Brazilian jui jitsu and Boxing as well as various martial weaponry (including knives and bladed weapons).
  • Each of our staff or adjunct DT instructors have had some form of extensive formal training in martial arts, wrestling, boxing, etc. prior to training and employing principle-based problem-solving in their professional and training lives.

Our most knowledgeable and competent staff trainers, like most, were initially taught through the vehicle of myriad techniques in how to fight.  Through extensive training, we eventually gained a deeper understanding of the limits of technical, or prescriptive training, and began recognizing fundamental principles underlying the techniques.  It was a long and, at times, extremely frustrating process of realizing the futility of applying techniques and then beginning to question the very foundation of techniques and technical training.  We understood that our prior training only touched the surface of combatives and was incredibly limiting.  Once one digs below techniques to discover the universal lessons they were meant to teach, it becomes impossible to look back to the mundane, complicated, and impractical world of teaching and learning techniques as a means of fighting or defensive tactics. 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:  A World-Class Martial Sport

We’ve been accused of being “anti-Gracie.”  We believe any form of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) to be superior for the limited context of a fighting sport on the ground, and the Gracies have certainly had well-deserved success and very good press.  We purposely never refer or imply criticism of any particular sport style of BJJ.  We have nothing but respect for the Gracies as jiu-jitsu players.

On a mat in a controlled environment with strict rules, BJJ (or wrestling or boxing or any martial art) teaches many valuable lessons.  Dedicated jiu-jitsu players certainly gain some combative skills from their many, many hours on the mat rolling with other dedicated individuals.  It is important to remember, however, combatives skills do not necessarily translate to “fighting skills.”  Fighting skills have contextual application to combat.

No form of BJJ is a "combatives system."  It's a sport employing strict rules and restrictions that are not applicable to the street.  Even one of the Gracies said that in an interview with a reporter.  In a fight, all targets are open (groin, eyes, biting, striking, etc.) and many techniques that work on the mat change in combat (PLEASE put me in your "guard" on the street).  Open up the UFC to "combat" and the whole thing changes—and few fights would last more than a few minutes and the results so brutal it would be quickly outlawed.  Now add police tools and anything else you can pick up and use to harm another person, and you have what officers face, except for one thing: cops have strict rules that only occasionally permits them to fight without restriction (deadly force) whereas criminals always fight with no rules and often with concealed deadly weapons. That's the police world of fighting and one we must prepare our officers for as instructors.  And we don't believe BJJ or any martial art should be the basis of police training.

We are not anti-BJJ or anti-martial arts. Far from it. But recognizing that playing "Nerf gun wars" with my herd of grandkids is not the same as being in a gunfight or a real war.  So, too, martials arts is a sterile environment that so many within martial arts—including many in BJJ—fail to recognize is not fighting or suitable for fighting because of the rigid habit of following the rules—rules having nothing to do with actual combatives.  BJJ (or any martial art) is combatives-like, but it is not fighting or combat.

The Essence of Techniques

"Techniques" are a complete series of independent and sequential movements, each dependent upon the last being completed before the next can begin, and each must be performed exactly as prescribed before the next move can be attempted. Once the complete sequence of techniques is properly executed, the technique is complete.  Whether BJJ or Aikido—or any other martial art—techniques and counter-techniques and counters to counters to counters is technique intensive.  Each technique is an exclusive answer to a highly specific and exact problem.  Any technique is one of dozens or hundreds that must be remembered and selected while the suspect is fighting against that technique’s completion.

Techniques are suspect dependent.  That is, the suspect must wait for the sequence of moves to be completed before the technique can be successful—any interruption in the technique’s exact series of sequential steps causes the technique to fail.  So techniques require the time it takes to decide which technique to use and then to employ each step successfully in order to be successful.  Suspects must cooperate or the technique fails.  The series of movements must be remembered and then applied in time before the situation changes.  This requires not only mastery of the technique to create the neural pathways that permit the technique to be executed, but also a deeper mastery of the concepts of why the series of sequential movements work during application against a combative opponent.

What’s Beneath the Technique?

The question for us is not which technique to use, but what are the techniques fundamentally—and foundationally—teaching us about a greater and perhaps more universal combatives method of preparing and employing force against a combative person?  After all, those of us who have "mastered techniques" can employ them in a fight even though we have the same limitations (time to select and employ a correct sequence, etc.) as the academy-trained officer.  For our purposes, there are a couple of reasons for this.

First, pattern matching. Our brains work by filtering all perception a mental map, or model of our external world (called a "schema").  How we actually "see" the world is the result of our perceptions first being sieved through the schema prior to any conscious thought.  This filter is constantly amended by our experiences, fears, and expectations.  The more we see a pattern of movement(s), a pattern for anatomical angle(s), or a pattern of proxemics (where bodies or objects are in space relative to the other), the more quickly we can recognize a pattern of movement/body position/situation and match it to a probable solution, or action script (based on an experienced pattern, the action script tells us how to solve the problem).  Patterns give us a sense of our situation (Gary Klein, 2003).

The process of matching the solution to the recognized pattern is through the concept of “satisficing” (Gary Klein popularized this term, meaning the selection of a probable solution to a problem that is both sufficient and satisfactory).  Through sufficient training and experience that permits us to immediately recognize when certain behavioral, emotional, and physical cues (specific constellations of cues triggering a decision based on an intuitive recognition of the situation) are present:  we react.  When under pressure in a time-sensitive situation (coupled with the perception of personal danger), humans select the first available solution that will probably work sufficiently to obtain a satisfactory solution—if they have experience and are able to recognize a pattern.  This is achieved through experience.  The trial and error of gaining experience (learning what works and what does not) in fighting can be lethal until sufficient capability in recognizing patterns quickly enough to be utilized in a time-compressed event is gained.

What begins to emerge through sufficient repetition and problem-solving is a heuristic (i.e., a rule of thumb) that can be applied to a recognized pattern quickly.  When an officer must later problem-solve in the middle of a danger-filled fight, that officer relies upon a heuristic that is easily recalled (formally, an “availability heuristic—Daniel Kahneman, 2011) that has worked successfully in the past.  An availability heuristic does not depend upon a time consuming memory search.  Rather, a particular rule of thumb that satisfices is instantly selected based on the pattern-recognition and matching a probable solution to the recognized problem.  Generally in combative situations, this “good enough” approach is good enough to win the fight.  Universal principles of combatives work best and are more easily recalled when under threat, especially because those principles mirror natural and instinctive reactions to threatening situations.

Second, and more importantly, techniques are actually intended to teach the underlying combatives principles.  Every “technique” functions through universal principles that have worked since Cain smote Abel.  These highlight manners of efficiently moving the body in relation to the opponent to create success.  Those of us who are successful as fighters actually understand the underlying principles (at least, our schema does) and then apply them as availability heuristics within our pattern-matching.  We are able to use and even modify "techniques" to counter the suspect's efforts to counter ours.  This is only possible after years of intensive and dedicated technical training which is why we see the top-tier UFC fighters able to instantly react to their opponents.  Problematically, few officers are provided the time by their agencies or are willing to work on their own time for years to the point of transitioning beyond techniques.

This is why technique-based training fails the police and we routinely see schoolyard solutions that instructors and plaintiffs' attorneys (and their expert witnesses) complain so bitterly about.  100% of officers are taught to a level of cognitive familiarity with the techniques, yet only a small percentage eventually train to mastery sufficient to pattern-match and apply the technique.  This means that cops have to somehow remember how to do a technique under extreme time constraints in a threatening environment while afraid and experiencing the mental and physical responses to fear.

A buddy attended an 80-hour "police instructor" course in police BJJ.  For two weeks, he rolled and learned.  He was injured at hour 79, and was told to sit out the last hour. This included a free-style between the training pairs.  The instruction: "use what you've learned this week to submit your partner.  Tap out early."  So this experienced and skilled martial artist sat and watched 38 police instructors rolling for 30 minutes, each trying hard to use what they'd learned.  At the conclusion, he said he didn't see a single trained technique.  Not one.  He decided he would not include any of this training in his agency's yearly DT updates.

If 80-hours of intensive training does not yield a change in behavior in DT instructors, it is safe to say there’s a problem with how we're teaching officers when it comes to technical training of the police.

If we teach fighting through the vehicle of the underlying principles of combatives that are encoded within the myriad techniques, then officers, regardless of their training and experience, learn to fight more efficiently and more effectively.  The training makes sense to them.  And it translates to success on the street.

What We Need When Under Threat

When people are under physical or emotional threat, especially in time-compressed events that are personally threatening, their ability to achieve complex tasks requiring a high level of memory recall, contemplation, and physical dexterity and coordination.  The well-known deleterious effects on the human body when within the adrenalized state is widely known.  For that reason, humans need methods of combatives resolution that are:

  • Simple.  Simple does not mean “ineffective.”  Instead, it is synonymous with “non-complex.”  Complexity is the enemy.  Anyone can design something complicated, and complicated mechanisms, systems, and techniques fail with predictable frequency.  Simplicity of design and function is requisite for efficient and effective response.
  • Dumb.  A solution should not require intensive efforts at higher analysis.  Complex thinking is generally not possible during high-threat time-compressed events.  Instead, once the pattern of threat is recognized, the solution should be instantly apparent. 
  • Easy.  Easy is not “without effort.”  Easy, instead, requires a lack of complexity as well as an absence of the need for highly evolved and intensively honed skills requiring exact angles or timing for success.  The greater degree of difficulty in executing a defense skill or movement, the more likely it will fail when the suspect is working against the officer.
  • Natural.  There are options within human response to threat that must be worked with.  This means we must limit what we’d like to in training officers to training them in what they can do given the time we are provided.  Those options are naturally occurring and can be useful in responding with force.
  • Instinctual.  Humans have hard-wired responses to perceived threat.  The Universal Principles of Combatives© are based on these.  We also adopt methods of delivering force based on these natural and instinctual reactions.  The startle reaction, for example, causes us to face the suddenly perceived threat, body lean forward, shoulders square with shoulders raised (to protect the neck and jaw) and hands up between the threat and our face.  The legs are bent athletically, enabling us to move (after freezing, flight or fight).  This is one of the main reasons we teach using an Isosceles upper body when firing a handgun or shoulder weapon—because this is how we react to sudden danger. 

We know there are many opportunities in the police defensive tactics world to train with champions in their respective sports.  These top athletes, with attributes of athleticism that only a handful of humans possess and tens of thousands of hours of training bolstered by hundreds of hours of experience in the ring/mat/octagon, are more than willing to share their methods with those who are lesser mortals.  These professionals are able to dominate other professionals through complex methods and layered strategies only they can actually employ against a resisting opponent.  How does that apply to your own—and more importantly—your officers’ training background and attributes?

Complexity is the enemy of success.  In combat, it is often the simple solution that carries the day with the fewest injuries.

A Few Universal Principles of Combatives©

Principle-based problem-solving provides the simple, dumb, easy, natural, and instinctual method of applying something that works.  Anyone who has ever attempted a complicated technique or multi-faceted plan with split-second timings against a resisting suspect can understand that a simple solution is generally much more effective than some grandly evolving plan with many moving parts.  Simple, dumb, easy, natural, and instinctual solutions through the universal principles permit the officer to pattern-match much more quickly through availability heuristics than by attempting to sort through and then apply one of dozens or more specific techniques. 

Let’s take a look at the application of just two Universal Principles of Combatives©.  Two 3-year olds, Roy and Bill, both want the same toy and both grab it.  Both pull back and forth until Roy pulls the toy, pressing it against his chest.  Roy then rips it out of the other's hands by spinning away while saying, "Mine!"  Billy lost the toy and begins crying.  What happened to make this three-year old function efficiently in this particular, limited instance?

Two principles of combatives, hard-wired into human neurology and physiology, are working here:

  • Body parts to body mass, or, closer-stronger.  I am stronger if I press something I am holding hard against me (or the ground, or push against the suspect's body).  The corollary to this is the farther away from my body I attempt to control something, the stronger and more skilled I need to be.  Distance from my body creates weakness in my joints, whereas the closer the object is to my body, the stronger my joints become.  Against another human, he now must work not only against my maximized strength, but my joints are better protected by increased strength and he must now contend with my entire body weight affecting his ability to take the object away from me. 
  • Move in angles and circles.  Moving in circles (Small-circle, big-circle theory; Point within a circle theory) can overwhelm the suspect. Moving in angles creates tracking problems.  This also relates to the anatomical placement of limbs and the spine (especially the head in relation to the spine affecting the body's balance—another Principle of Combatives©: Control the Head).  As an example, let’s examine a well-known submission:  the Kimura from the guard.  Once the elbow, shoulder, and hips are locked into correct angles, the suspect complies or his humerus spiral fractures.  However, and one of the fundamental drawbacks to the effectiveness of “techniques,” is the requirement of complete and total perfection, e.g., if the suspect’s hips are not locked during the application of the Kimura, he can roll out of the hold and the hold is ineffective.  Locking the hips is mandatory to stop the suspect from seeking vacuum (or an escape route) or the Kimura submission fails.  This is another Principle of Combatives©: Seek Vacuum:  move or flow to the point least resistance.

By locking the toy into the chest, Roy is able to use not only his upper body strength, but his entire body weight to control the disputed toy.  The toy is pressed against his body, essentially welding it to himself, making him much stronger at this particular time relative to the strength of only his arms if wrestling for the toy a foot away from his body.  Billy is still employing only his upper body strength to retain the toy.  His success now depends only upon his ability to deliver superior brute force to overwhelm Roy’s strength.  Success now is possible only if the Billy is far stronger than Roy.

When we take a hold of a suspect’s head, his arm, his firearm, whatever, we pull it to our body (or our body to his) and press it hard against our body.  If reasonable, we may look for targets and strike, poke, shoot, stab, drive over or through, push, or pull an open target (two additional Universal Principles of Combatives©:  Target Seek;  Put Weapons to Targets).  If we are grabbing something, it is anchored against our body rather than wrestling over it in a contest of strength away from our body.  Devon Larratt, the number one right-handed arm-wrestler in the world, described why he is so successful against much bigger and potentially stronger opponents, “I bring things into my center where they become part of me.  It’s much easier to move me than anything outside of me.”  This, in effect, requires Billy to contend with the other boy’s body weight as well as his strength.

To keep the toy and remove Billy’s hands, Roy spins hard in a clockwise direction (either direction is possible and dictated only by the terrain and situation).  He also steps hard to the rear with his foot in the direction he wants to go.

  • Small-Circle, Big-Circle Theory.  This puts Billy into a “small-circle, big-circle” situation.  When Roy moves his body, spinning quickly in one direction and stepping in that direction, the toy in both boys’ hands travels in a small circle with Roy’s chest.  Billy’s body must now move to keep up with Roy’s spinning movement.  Problematically for the Billy, his body must travel around the other boy’s body to keep up with the toy in both of their hands.  However, Billy must travel farther and faster than Roy because Billy has a larger circle he must traverse to get to the same point.  Think of the orbit of the planets around the sun.  If two planets, one closer to the sun and the other farther away begin and end in the same position in their orbit after one rotation, it will require the farther planet to travel in its orbit at a much greater speed to keep up with the planet in the inner orbit.  Small-circle, big-circle.  When Roy spins while pressing the toy they both are holding against his chest, he will spin faster than the other boy can keep up.  Because Billy must move around Roy’s body to keep up, his grip will become untenable.
  • Point Within a Circle Theory.  It also demonstrates the “point within a circle theory.”  Like the game of Crack the Whip, three children hold hands and Child A stays in one place and pivots, anchoring the line.  The other two pivot around Child A.  As Child A spins faster and faster, it becomes impossible for Child C at the end of the “whip” to maintain her footing because she cannot possibly cover the same arc of movement at the speeds necessary to keep up with Child A’s arc of movement.  Child C is flung away or falls.  In the same manner, Billy cannot possibly maintain the same speed as Roy and maintaining his grip will quickly become impossible.

Because Billy cannot keep up with Roy’s speed while spinning, Billy’s wrists are stressed to the point where they must release the toy or suffer injury.  Regardless of how strong the Billy is, his wrists are just not strong enough to maintain the grip against the weight of the boy in red’s body. 

Once we understand these principles, formal techniques are no longer needed.  We begin to fight the way we are hardwired to fight:  if I grab something (a head, arm, weapon, etc.), I bring it to my body and press it hard against my chest;  if I move, I move in angles and circles.  This is, in a nutshell, how principle-based, no-technique training works successfully with both well-trained and lesser trained officers.

Outcome Versus Process

Getting away from cognitive teaching (techniques) and into experiential problem-solving through the principles of combatives, we find that officers begin to solve their own DT problems with their solutions AND QUICKLY REPROGRAM THEIR SCHEMAS.  This is the essence of adult learning.  Problematically, learning to fight through the rote memorization of techniques and their sequential, mandatory steps is exactly opposite to how adults learn.  Prescriptive learning, or learning by a prescribed method where the solution is provided to a specific problem, reliably works only when there is time to contemplate and remember the sequential steps of the particular technique.  Problematically, one technique is the solution to one problem.  If the problem looks different, then a different solution, or technique, is necessary.  The greater number of problems, the greater the number and variety of unique solutions.

Could we teach 20—or 40 or more—techniques to take something from someone else’s hands?  Absolutely.  There is, unfortunately, no shortage of techniques.  However, this results from a misunderstanding about the path necessary for success.

  • Techniques:  Outcome-based.  A successful technique is outcome-based.  Each step of the technique must be positively attained in order for the technique to work and the failure at any stage of the technique results in the failure of the fight.  This generally leaves the officer goal directed (continuing to attempt to force the failed technique to work) and target-focused (focused exclusively on the stage of the failed technique to the exclusion of other external cues and threats).  Outcome dependency is fragile, and failure is always just a moment away.
  • Problem-Solving Through Principles:  Process-based.  Problem-solving is a process of accepting that everything one attempts cannot possibly work.  It requires continually finding or creating a way around an obstacle or defense.  It is not dependent upon anything but perseverance of effort.  By employing the Principles of Combatives©, problem-solving is facilitated.  This is a robust methodology that is less subject to suspect disruption.  When the suspect defends or an effort is unsuccessful for any reason, the fighter transitions to the next method of applying the Principles of Combatives© to satisfice the situation.  This training mirrors our actual process of fighting and trains the individual in solution-oriented combatives.

We're NOT Anti-Anything--We're FOR Contextually Correct Training Concepts and Methods

No one at Cutting Edge Training is anti-BJJ or anti-martial arts.  Rolling is a blast and we’ve spent much of our adult lives training in sport combatives.  We are FOR training that is contextually correct.  That is, we believe that training must be relevant to the task.  Cops need to fight and win like police officers, not like UFC fighters.  They need to train for police  solutions rather than "mat solutions."  We mean it that our training is from the street in, not the mat out.  Context is the key to success and surviving.   

We are pro-officers lawfully winning and remaining healthy, alive, and employed.  We’ve each been through a few wilderness experiences and understand that we were let down by the technical, sport-based training we’d been given—and to which we had been dedicated.  That’s why we train officers in relevant universal principle training they can actually apply.  Because unlike BJJ’ers and martial artists on the mat and in the training halls, cops walk the wilderness each day.  They need a training concept facilitating their weathering the various storms.  They need to come home in one piece, and their combatives training affords them a better chance of doing just that.  Games just don’t cut it when lives are on the line.

Product Review: “SIRT” Laser Training Pistol

by George on April 15, 2013 10:46

It’s no secret that ammunition is both expensive and scarce, negatively impacting law enforcement and civilian shooters—if there is no ammo or it breaks our budgets, there is no training.  But we still have to train, and, as instructors, train our officers.  In light of ammo problems, the question is how?  Dry-fire can be an answer, but traditional dry-fire with unloaded weapons has serious drawbacks.  Unintentional discharges are a real possibility.  Additionally, training scars occur in having to manipulate the slide following each trigger press (because when the trigger is pressed and a loud click is heard, the instant reaction should be tapping the magazine, not cycling the slide to reset the trigger).

The question remains:  how do we provide the training we need in a safe, economical, and effective manner?

The answer lies in the SIRT Laser Training Pistol by NextLevel Training (www.nextleveltraining.com).  SIRT stands for “Shot Indicating, Resetting Trigger,” and this training tool represents a giant leap forward in meaningful dry-fire training.  In the form and feel of a fully weighted Glock pistol (other common brands will soon be introduced), the trigger can be adjusted to match the weight and feel of your duty pistol’s trigger.  Depressing the trigger, there is a realistic take-up, resistance, and sear let-off.  The trigger then realistically resets, ready for the next “shot.” 

Each trigger press results in a highly visible laser dot on the target (available in a green laser for outdoors or red for primarily indoor use).  The shooter (and instructor) receives instant accuracy feedback on each trigger press regardless of whether you are target-focused or front sight-focused.  Using the SIRT Laser Training Pistol, powered by a standard CR123A battery, shooters maximize their training in trigger mechanics, grip, stance, and accuracy with a realistic weapon utilizing a realistic trigger. 

While ideal for individual training, all SIRTs have an additional built-in instructional function.  A toggle switch on the top of the non-reciprocating slide provides feedback from two lasers:  first, a laser “trigger take-up indicator” when the trigger finger takes up the slack, and the second laser shot indicator.  The take-up indicator’s laser dot is adjusted below the shooter’s line of sight, letting the instructor observe not only when the shooter contacts the trigger, but also if there is both proper sight alignment and sight picture before the shot. 

All of the fundamentals, including precise trigger mechanics, are reinforced by the instant feedback of the laser’s dot.  Trigger problems are instantly identified when the dot is off-target.  Forget diagnosing bullet hits on targets.  Incorrect trigger presses show up as “dashes” rather than “dots” on the target, requiring the shooter to focus on improving trigger manipulation, grip, and follow-through.  The direction of the dash shows the direction the shooter is pulling, pushing, heeling or otherwise moving the weapon during the shot.

There are three models offered, the “SIRT Pro,” and two “SIRT Performer” models.  The Pro model has steel construction surrounding the electronics (housed in what is normally the slide).  The Performer models are of polymer construction.  If I were spending scarce training equipment dollars, there is no question that I would go for the SIRT Pro’s solid construction and resulting capability to withstand abuse by officers. 

Far from being a toy, this is a robust training tool that will take the rigors of combatives training.  While anything can break, you’d have to work pretty hard at it with the Pro model.  In defensive tactics (only the Pro model is recommended for DT training), the green shot indication laser dot on the “suspect” provides hit feedback far better than a red shot indicating laser while the dual laser provides trigger contact feedback to instructors.  On the live-fire range, the SIRT can substitute for repetitions between live-fire (saving ammunition while getting trigger presses and accuracy feedback), as well as for safety rehearsals when moving.  In scenario training, there is no possibility of injury (the lasers are eye-safe) or damage to property, no clean up, and each trigger press is estimated to cost less than $0.0002 through the life of the $3.00 battery.

In the time I’ve taken to write this review, I’ve had instant visual feedback on no less than 40 deliberate trigger presses and over 100 rapid fire trigger presses on various targets strategically placed around my office (single targets, multiple targets, a hostage target, and targets behind simulated barricades, all at various angles, distances, and sizes).  On a normal work day, I get 150 to 300+ quality trigger presses with absolute safety because live ammo cannot be loaded into the SIRT and with no need to manipulate a slide between each shot to reset the trigger.  Gone are the days of dry-firing my “empty” duty gun at the TV (to my wife’s relief).  If this is not enough, I often get up to 50 magazine changes per day using the SIRT’s weighted magazines. 

After four decades of intensive shooting and teaching shooting, the SIRT has revealed some of my previously hard to diagnose problems (I’m evidently good at hiding bad habits, even from experienced trainers).  The laser is unrelenting in its feedback, even more so than live-fire because there is no muzzle blast, bullet, or hazard to worry about.  It is just the mechanics and the laser dot (or the dreaded dash).  There is no other explanation for the improvement of my shooting other than the time I’ve put into the SIRT.

With all of the training benefits, the rugged construction, and the miniscule cost per trigger press, there is just no argument against NextLevel Training’s SIRT Laser Training Pistol.

For a 20% discount on the SIRT Laser Training Pistol, use discount code:  CETLEM

Why Do We Teach? Handgun Shooting Stances

by George on April 9, 2013 13:51

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training.  Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught.  The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution.  If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable. 

Handgun shooting stances are taught to shooters and reinforced through hours and years of training.  Creating a stable shooting platform, from the soles of the feet through the hands, is necessary to obtain the hits on the target or, more vitally, on the Threat.  Stances are performed with the legs comfortably bent, spine with a bit of a forward lean, with the arms either pushing and pulling, creating the dynamic tension for which the Weaver Stance is known, or pushing the hands forward symmetrically to form the Isosceles Stance.  It is important to focus upon a proper stance in order to be more successful in surviving shootings, right?

Well, no, not really.  Early formal stance training may be useful to a developing shooter.  However, concentrating on perfecting a stance is generally counter to prevailing in a shooting.  Most shootings take place in extremely close distances involving very large targets, are very abrupt, and extremely violent.  Many officers find themselves in awkward positions when the gunfight begins.  Tactics are much more relevant to your survival than your stance. 

Stances May Be Counterproductive in a Gunfight

The mere mention of a “stance” automatically causes the legs to form a solid, well-balanced base supporting the upper body as it fires the weapon.  Marksmanship requires a strong foundation.  However, accuracy, and thus marksmanship, is contextual.  In most gunfights, what the legs are doing is irrelevant to marksmanship needed to survive.  Training to stand solidly in the open and trade shots with a murderous Threat is a sucker’s game—every bullet fired in your direction may end your life.  While being a static target may theoretically have the possibility of increasing your accuracy, being a stationary target definitely assists the bad guy with his marksmanship and putting bullets through you. 

Standing still with bits of red hot lead zipping past while being thumped by muzzle blast generally decreases any shooter’s accuracy potential.  The more vulnerable you perceive you are, the less physically and mentally functional you are likely to become.  Accuracy is more a factor of being able to cope with and overcome your perception of immediate personal vulnerability.  While you are not likely to instantly affect the Threat shooting you (most bullets take time to cause the body to react), you can create a sense of more time that may increase your ability to lay sufficiently accurate fire on the Threat to save your life.  The tactical responses proven to likely increase your survivability is either sudden angular movement or moving to a corner and fighting from there.  Static stances have no place in this lethal environment when you are behind the Threat in the gunfight and need to stretch time to effectively respond.

Developing the capability for precise fire is a necessary skill for any shooter.  However, precision is rarely called for in an actual shooting.  “Combat Accuracy” is all that is necessary for survival.  Paraphrasing Rob Pincus, combat accuracy can be defined as “Any round disrupting the imminent threat to life.”  This may mean a bullet strike to the brain or spine, a hit in the upper thoracic cavity, the pelvis, or any bone.  Sometimes just simple “minute of human” accuracy to any part of the body is sufficient, but no single bullet can be counted on to stop the fight.

For the balance of this discussion, let’s assume that the legs are doing their thing independent of the upper body’s efforts—this may be moving, crouching, or kneeling.  Therefore, this discussion will be about a Modified Weaver or Modified Isosceles and their contextual usefulness. 

Modified Weaver

The position of the arms in the Weaver Stance, characterized by the push-pull tension of both hands on the grip of the handgun, arguably provides a very stable platform for accurate fire.  This shooting method was popularized by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper as the “Modern Pistol Technique,” permitting more precise shot placement at small targets at any distance.

Fundamentally, the body is bladed and the shooting elbow is locked straight, with the gun-hand pushing the handgun forward.  The support-hand’s palm contacts the shooting hand’s fingers, pulling directly back with the elbow bent and pointing downward.  Many have been taught to shoot with their shooting elbow bent and pushing forward.  This is an error.  Instructors attempting to mimic Col. Cooper’s shooting style are apparently unaware that a combat injury prevented him from extending his arm.  He taught others to straighten their gun-arms. 

The FBI’s “Violent Encounters” study (2006) revealed that more than 97% of shootings begin with the suspect shooting first.  A human’s “startle response” to surprise results in spinning to directly face the threat, hands up at face level and extended to protect the eyes and throat, with the spine forward in a semi-crouched position.  Problematically, human factors and the Weaver-hold are counter to the body’s reactions in a sudden shooting situation. 

It is a rare shooter trained in the Weaver method who does not react to sudden and unexpected gunfire by instantly moving into an Isosceles upper body (regardless of what the legs are doing).  In scenario training where there is no expectation of actual injury—with only minor pain penalties when hit by marking cartridges or Airsoft pellets possible—the sudden response to unexpected “deadly threats” by “Weaver-trained” shooters is almost invariably an Isosceles-type reactive response.  This is even seen on the range where there is no personal peril whatsoever.  Shooters tend to transition into the classic Weaver-hold apparently as they realize they are in the “wrong stance.” 

When wearing body armor, the Weaver stance also presents the non-dominant side’s arm hole to the Threat.  Because the Weaver can only be properly employed in a bladed stance, the strongest part of the body armor (center chest where the shock plate is located) is in an irrelevant position, with the unprotected armpit placed in the most vulnerable position.  Wounds from bullets traversing the body laterally through the axillary region, that is, from side-to-side through the armpit, are incredibly threatening to survival because they tend to pierce multiple organs and vital blood vessels of the upper thoracic region. 

The Weaver-hold is ideal when fighting from a corner.  With most of the body covered by the barricade, the stability of this hold is put to use making longer distance or precision hits.  Corners give you time.  Marksmanship is all about having the time to put the bullet on target. 

Modified Isosceles

The Modified Isosceles is a reactive “stance.”  The Isosceles (upper body square to the threat, hands pushed forward at eye-level, the legs doing what they do in that specific situation) reflects how humans naturally react when faced with a sudden close threat.  The upper body of the Isosceles mimics the natural startle response, as seen in video after video of officers responding to real-life threats by punching their handguns out in front of them.  It is a human instinct to put a weapon between you and the perceived threat. 

While generally not as inherently accurate at distance as the Weaver hold, it doesn’t have to be.  Combat effective accuracy requires only hits on target, preferably in most cases, with bullets impacting within three to six inches of each other, creating as much damage to multiple organs as possible.  At close distances where the Isosceles-style will likely be employed, a high degree of accuracy is generally not necessary for survival.  Hitting him well, quickly and often is more critical to winning. 

If wearing a ballistic vest, the Isosceles-hold keeps the center of your vest facing the threat, affording you maximum protection.  It also supports moving and hitting much better than its well-known counterpart. When the shooter moves in any angular or lateral direction, the Isosceles-hold supports hitting until the angles become too severe, forcing the shooter to transition to a one-hand hold. 

Not a Question of “Either/Or”

Either/or is not a question for warriors or trained professionals.  Paraphrasing Gabe Suarez, the context of the problem determines strategy; strategy determines tactics; and tactics determine the methods and skills employed to solve the problem:

  • Where’s the Threat?  Either close or far, big or small.
  • What’s his weapon?  Firearm, blade, or striking implement.
  • What’s he doing?  Charging you or standing.  Grabbing you or behind cover.
  • Where are you?  In the open, behind concealment, or behind cover?
  • Are you surprised or did you have enough time to prepare?  If you had time to prepare, you are likely behind a corner with a firearm in-hand.
  • Are you willing to shoot him right now or are you still frantically looking for alternatives.  Remember the old saying, “Once you’re in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.”

These questions will likely not be answered so much as reacted to.  Realistically, this decision is not made as it is a reaction per your training to the situation suddenly erupting in front of you. 

Conclusion

All plans are made for flat terrain and sunny weather regardless of the ground-truth.  Having a rigid plan to engage in a gunfight with a certain weapon hold and stance is not realistic.  Training and expectations of “how it’s going to go down” may not match your immediate needs—especially so if dogma has any part in your decision-making.  Desperately clinging to a “style” or “method” may mean that you are attempting to drive a nail with a screwdriver in a life-and-death situation.  While a screwdriver is a fine and necessary tool, it cannot be applied in every situation.  The same is true of a shooting stance where dogmatic adherence to a “style” due to guru-worship or personal ego-investment may leave you confused, unable to effectively respond, and perhaps horribly injured.

If you’re suddenly attacked at close range and are purely reactive, you’re most likely to shoot (and hopefully move) in some form of a Modified Isosceles platform.  From contact to rock-throwing distances, movement is the highest initial survival priority—hitting him is a very close second.  However, if you are fighting from a corner, employing the Weaver platform is more likely to get the needed hits, especially if the Threat is at distance or behind his own cover.  Fighting from a corner creates the perception time, and if you have the time to make a precision shot, Weaver may help you obtain that hit.

The bottom line in any deadly force response is to interrupt the eye-target line with the weapon, and once the weapon is on-target, to fire repeatedly slowly enough to hit him as long as you perceive the imminent deadly threat remains.  How the body supports this is context dependent and based on the tactics you employ to survive.  The old bromide certainly applies:  “In twenty years, no one will care about which caliber or stance you were using in the gunfight.  All they’ll care about is whether or not you won the fight.”

Why Do We Teach: “Sul” Position

by George on February 11, 2013 08:36

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training. Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught. The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution. If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable.

Many handgun shooters use the “Sul” Position” as a “combat ready” position, both on the range and in the street.  The Sul Position is characterized by the weapon hand being held close to the torso approximately at solar plexus level, muzzle down, with the support-hand in various positions as needed or trained.  The muzzle is intended to be directed just to the side of the lead leg to comply with safety rules of never allowing the muzzle to cover anything you are not willing to destroy or kill.  It is also presently fashionable as seen in many magazines and training videos.  So it makes sense to train cops or responsible citizens to use the Sul Position as a safe combat ready position, right?  Handgun in the "Sul Position"

Well, no, not really.  The Sul Position is not suitable as a combatives ready position, and was never intended for that purpose.  Often, when something becomes a “position” or “technique”—especially when someone gives something everyone does a name—it becomes both fashionable and misunderstood.  Doing anything because someone else does it without knowing why they are doing it that way can lead to wasted years of training, or worse, tragedy, injury, and sometimes loss of life.  The Sul as a ready stance decreases efficiency of the weapon’s presentation and can create a safety problem.

Sul:  a little history and reasoning

“Sul” is Portugese for “south,” and was originally developed in Brazil.  The original intent was to provide a safer way to move with a handgun in-hand through a crowd or past a person without muzzling anyone. 

How it works:  From a practical ready position with the handgun in a one- or two-hand hold, muzzle directed toward the threat area, the Sul is performed by bringing the weapon to the torso with the muzzle directed downward, or south, and pointed off to the side of the support-hand’s leg (if in the right-hand, the muzzle is directed down and just to the side of the left-leg).  As the muzzle moves downward into the Sul, the support-hand either comes off the grip and flattens naturally, palm down on the torso (ready to quickly move into a two-hand grip), or it comes up over the weapon, covering it.

The support-hand is available to reach out and grab a subject if the situation demands (never the first choice with a firearm in-hand, but being forced to go hands-on with a threatening or resistive subject happens far too often to be ignored or simply dismissed by saying, “Never touch anyone with a gun in your hand”).  Your support-hand may reach out and touch a person you are moving past, ensuring you know their position, to let him know you are moving past, and making sure he doesn’t move unexpectedly.

If moving through a crowd, the weapon moves into a safer muzzle position against the body, and the support-hand moves to cover the weapon as the first line of defense against weapon retention threats.  The support-hand comes off the handgun as needed to guide others, creating a path to quickly move through the crowd while still having the handgun in-hand.  As quickly as the support-hand moves from the weapon to reach out, it comes back, covering the weapon as the shooter continues to move. 

When the shooter is past the individual or through the crowd, the muzzle comes up and the weapon again floats away from the mid-torso, pointing wherever the shooter needs it for quick response to imminent threat. 

The Sul as a Ready Position is Problematic

Because so many lawful shootings in defense of life are an immediate response to a reasonable perception of imminent threat behavior, everything the shooter does must be efficient to obtain first rounds hits on target—as well as each subsequent round.  Hits are the only thing that counts in a gunfight, and looking good in a cool stance or weapon hold just before you die doesn’t. 

Neural pathways (muscle-memory) are created by doing the same efficient movement the same way, getting the same consistent results.  The Sul cannot support habits of efficient weapon presentation because it was never intended to be a “Ready Position,” and its fundamental presentation mechanics are faulty.

Flipping the muzzle.  A “ready position” facilitates the weapon smoothly—and rapidly—interrupting the eye-target line with the muzzle (actually, the bore-axis) aligned with the threat and with minimal disturbance to that critical alignment, ready to put a bullet into the target.  The handgun in the Sul Position is both flat against the body and the muzzle is down.  As the handgun is brought up and punched out, the shooter must accomplish a lot more than just presenting the weapon to the target.  The handgun must rotate in two directions—laterally and vertically—while speeding to get on target.  While a three-pound weight held in your hand(s) at the end of your arm(s) doesn’t seem like much, the rotational forces while punching out all combine to create the critical problem of precisely controlling muzzle flip.  Flipping the muzzle creates muzzle over-travel and inconsistent first round hits. 

Rigidity in the body, shoulders, and arms.  Creating a technique creates mental mind-games in many shooters.  It is not unusual to see shooters on the line, handgun in-hand in the Sul Position, waiting for the execute command, their entire body rigid, elbows held out at their sides and sometimes unnaturally forward.  This becomes a variation of a position of attention, locked both mentally and physically.  Brain studies show that if we are “doing something,” the brain must first tell the body to stop “doing this,” and then find the neural pathways to tell the body to begin “doing that.”  This is measured in tenths of a second for each command—first to stop, and then to begin.  Ready stances should be relaxed and as natural as possible. 

Muzzling one’s body parts.  There are safety issues with this position as it is normally practiced.  It is not unusual for a shooter using the Sul to muzzle body parts, whether a foot, leg, or, um…other highly valued body parts.  When the Sul Position becomes a ready position, it is easy to lose track of the muzzle because the eyes are downrange watching the threat target or searching for one.  The most common safety violation we see on the range is from those trained in the Sul pointing their weapon at their own bodies. 

What Should be Taught?

There is nothing wrong with moving the muzzle in any direction safety demands.  On the range, that’s easy—downrange where the backstop is located.  On the street, that can be problematic.  Cutting Edge Training’s Master Trainer, Thomas V. Benge, developed the idea that the weapon should be pointed in the “safer” direction—the area where the least amount of injury or damage will occur if the weapon is discharged.  Sometimes that direction will be downward depending upon the context of the situation.  Sometimes its safest pointing at that person you might be forced to shoot.

With a weapon in-hand, there is an anticipated need for a possible immediate response or the handgun would still be holstered.  The muzzle of any in-hand handgun (or firearm) should be pointed in a safer direction toward the possible Threat.  Whether or not the weapon should be leveled at the individual depends upon his behavior and your reasonable perception of imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.  For more about when and when not to point a firearm at a person, see our blog article: “Pointing Firearms: Range Safety vs. Reality.”

We suggest a “floating” ready position, that is, the weapon floats to and away from your body as the situation demands, pointing at the Threat or possible threat location until it is safer to point somewhere else. 

  • With the weapon lightly gripped in your dominant-hand while traveling from one point to another toward the suspect’s threat’s location, both hands on the weapon, your upper body is loose and relaxed.  Loose muscles move faster than tense muscles (fewer neural commands seeking pathways to achieve movement).
  • As your perception of threat increases, your grip will tighten as the weapon naturally floats out farther from your body toward the threat.  We also see the weapon getting higher, nearer to the eye-target line.
  • Upon challenging a possible threat, your arms move to near maximum extension below the eye-target line, generally in the crotch/belt buckle area as you make shoot/no-shoot decisions.  The muzzle is on the subject.  This allows you to see his hands and waistband.  This is a deadly force warning that, if the circumstances permit, will likely be accompanied by an oral warning to comply.
  • If the perception of imminent threat to life is sudden, the weapon is quickly pushed forward and brought up, interrupting the eye-target line well before the arms are extended, and the trigger depressed as the weapon is slowing to a stop. 

Rather than a fixed position, the ready position moves as the situation changes.  The weapon moves up and down, left and right, away and back until it is punched out as a warning or a deadly force response to a reasonably perceived imminent threat. 

The concept of the Sul is absolutely valid—it just is not useful as a “ready position.”  If crossing, either an uninvolved person, a teammate, or through a crowd, the weapon moves against your body, muzzle pointing down and away from body parts, with the support-hand either touching, grabbing, or moving someone, or covering the weapon.  The Sul is useful until it is again time to point the weapon in a safer direction—the suspected or actual position of the Threat. 

Why Do We Teach? Martial Arts Rolls

by George on January 3, 2013 08:38

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training. Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught. The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution. If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable.

Cops fall, especially when working in the dark.  Everyone’s been injured to some degree at some point in their career from falling.  Stepping off a curb you didn’t know was there, finding a hole in the ground while walking across grass, being pushed over a coffee table, walking on ice or slippery surfaces, or falling up or down stairs, doing anything in the dark, being taken down during training—all can result in your going down hard to ground.  So it makes sense to train cops in martial arts rolls and breakfalls, right? 

Well, no, not really.  It is actually a waste of very valuable training time.

The training of recruits as well as in-service officers in defensive tactics involves a great deal of material that must be mastered in very little time.  Unless a recruit or officer already possesses an athletic background involving rolling or tumbling, or is an experienced martial artist, training time devoted to rolling and breakfalls cannot achieve the desired goal of inoculating these individuals from injuries from falls.  The limited time available to create minimal competence in defensive tactics and arrest and control is simply insufficient to gain mastery—or even competency—in the ability to prevent fall injuries later in their career.  Absent their own independent training and practice, the typical officer will never again practice rolls and breakfalls to the point where it becomes unconsciously automatic during an unexpected fall.  Spending ten hours in the academy learning how to roll and breakfall without continuing practice is ten hours that might be spent learning a skill or tactic that might later benefit the officer’s survival. 

Martial Arts Training as the Basis of Police Training is Problematic

In the martial arts, “how to safely fall” is routinely taught to decrease the injuries from training as well as to provide a safety mechanism when the student is sparring.  Training often begins with basic shoulder rolls, and then to break falls until the student is capable of safely falling from a hard throw on to a mat or even on to an unprotected surface.  As the training progresses to increasingly more difficult and dangerous throws, different and more effective breakfalls are needed, practiced, and mastered.  Martial arts training involves years of consistent and regular training to achieve competency in fundamental tasks that also involve rolling and falling.  Dedicated personal training effort creates an unconscious mastery.  This permits an individual to automatically roll or break their fall when they unexpectedly lose balance.  Absent this type of intensive and extended training, no one can be considered to be skilled in safely falling from the number of hours and repetitions received solely from academy or in-service training.

Martial arts training involves years of consistent and regular training to achieve competency in fundamental tasks that also involve rolling and falling.  Dedicated personal training effort creates an unconscious mastery.  This permits an individual to automatically roll or break their fall when they unexpectedly lose balance.  Absent this type of intensive and extended training, no one can be considered to be skilled in safely falling from the number of hours and repetitions received solely from academy or in-service training.

Defending the Curriculum

Because Defensive Tactics training seems to be a natural result of martial arts training, almost all academy curriculum contains varying amounts of time dedicated to teaching recruits how to fall.  For example, a new DT curriculum for police recruit academy training was being developed by a Defensive Tactics Subject Matter Expert who asked for my review.  The first subject was “Rolls and Breakfalls.”  When asked why the recruits would be spending eight per cent of the course on developing this skill, this highly experienced police officer and very accomplished martial artist answered that every cop needs to know how to protect themselves from falls on the job.  For him, the need for this training content was automatic, something intrinsic to his deep experience in martial arts.  This brought on a line of questioning that became increasingly more difficult to justify.  When finally asked if he thought, absent previous training, the recruits would gain automatic, unconscious competency from this time spent in this activity, he thought, and then admitted that it was very unlikely.  His assumption, that every officer must be able to protect from fall injuries whenever and however they might occur may be valid.  When faced with the reality of the limitations inherent to recruit and police training, that standard is not achievable. 

Officers leave the academy and are instantly in the big leagues--officers have been murdered on their first day of patrol.  The non-martial artists, representing most recruits and officers, have little time to prepare to face every manner and threat of suspect.  Cops are many times more likely to become involved in a physical fight than a shooting, and much more likely to be sued for the simple application of control holds than they are for shootings.  Defensive tactics training, regardless of how much time is allotted to it, is by definition less than desirable for any officer.  There just isn’t sufficient training time in any agency’s budget or schedule to commit the personnel to gaining anything more than minimal competency. 

Every topic in any defensive tactics program must be scrutinized for its realistic value to the officer on the street.  This is measured by the average officer’s ability to successfully apply the skill or tactic on-time, in-time against an unwilling suspect.  This requires the training to provide sufficient time and repetitions to minimally acquire a level of at least conscious competency (although this is not “mastery,” officers can perform the skill or tactic but must think about how to do it).  Will an officer who is three years out of the academy, being assaulted in the dark and shoved off-balance, be able to remember and perform that skill?  Frankly, the typical officer will not be able to execute a safe fall or roll during an unexpected fall.  If that is the case, why teach this topic in training?

Teaching martial arts rolls and breakfalls are a poor use of time when they are viewed from the officer’s very real need for functional knowledge at some distant time.  There simply is not enough time or the availability of frequent, recurrent training to gain even a minimum level of competency when reacting to suddenly falling or being thrown in a fight.  Even if that time and training budget were provided, there are other skills that would be more beneficial to an officer’s survival than rolls and breakfalls.

What Should be Taught?

Simple breakfalls should be covered to assist in maintaining the safety of the recruit or officer being taken down in training.  Explanations and practice of a simple PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) where the goal is to sequentially collapse the body without striking bony projections (knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, and especially the head) against the hard surface of the ground, will be better incorporated into training.  Through this, training is simplified and made safer. 

A level of competency might then be gained during the repetition afforded by takedowns in practice.  The recruit should receive several hundred repetitions of the same or similar fall during the course of the training.  The simple fact of hundreds of repetitions of more safely falling increases an individual’s expertise, and may lead to a behavior change in the future. 

However, more advanced breakfalls from throws, as well as martial arts rolls require an intensity and duration of practice that will never be provided by police training.  They are too varied and specialized, and this limits the number of reps that recruit or officer receives.  That time can be better spent elsewhere during this precious training time to develop their expertise on something that might actually later be useful. 

What Training is Sufficient for Civilians in Responding to an Active Shooter?

by George on December 20, 2012 09:33

Active shooter.  That phrase creates many strong emotions in many of us.  For example, on December 14, 2012, a gunman shot his way into an elementary school where firearms, by law, are prohibited, murdering 27 children and teachers before taking his own life as law enforcement approached.  Yet on December 16, 2012, an off-duty Bexar County Sheriff’s sergeant shot and wounded a gunman who shot one person at a movie theater in San Antonio, Texas, ending what might have been another massacre of innocents.  As firearms instructors, there is no question that a person who is armed and willing to confront those who willfully and serendipitously murder the unarmed is the best way to stop the killing.  And if we can’t be the one at the tip of the spear, we want to the ones who taught that person how to end this senseless killing.

The question of the sufficiency of training must be addressed by those who not only train police officers, but also instruct legally armed citizens.  Some instructors will flatly state that only the elite military and SWAT operators should intervene, while others will set a more reasonable standard as that of an average police officer.  Due to the inundation of newscasts about the tragedies of Active Shooter events, you, like me, are probably being approached by legally armed citizens asking questions about how they might be able to protect their families and others in these situations.  The questions they are asking are, “What kind of training would be required to effectively stop that level of violence?  How long would that training take?  What kind of reoccurring practice would be required?

Questions such as these indicate thoughtfulness and a serious consideration of what is involved in possibly interrupting this type of attack.  Different individuals are going to gain proficiency differently given the same number of hours training, and then will maintain that proficiency to various degrees of competency.  Shooting is a perishable skill, and regular practice increases familiarity and may create increased skill if—and only if—that training is consciously performed.  When developing training or answering questions related to any training topic, the foundation must be within the context of the problem.  In this case, what training is sufficient to interrupt the murder of innocents, divert the shooting, and either physically stop the shooter, cause him to commit suicide, or create a situation that permits the police time to respond and intervene?

This level of skill development and mental preparation is likely much, much more than most citizens (and just as many police officers) are willing to do.  The reality is that hits with handguns at extended distance are more a matter of luck than skill while being shot at by your target.  Shooting on a square range on a sunny warm day with a range master and a red flag run up the flagpole may allow for consistent slow-fire hits on a man-sized target at 100 yards with a handgun.  However hitting a man who is moving, murdering people, and maybe shooting at you from 25 yards may be beyond what most people can reliably do with a handgun. 

If it is unlikely that the citizen or the officer armed with a handgun will be able to hit the Threat at realistic distances, why train anyone with a handgun to attempt to interdict an Active Shooter event?  Again, we must look at the context of the event.  According to Ron Borsch, 90% of suspects involved in an Active Shooter event commit suicide on-site (http://www.policemag.com/blog/swat/story/2008/05/active-shooter-response-revisited-part-1.aspx).  When confronted by any significant resistance, these people immediately turn their weapons on themselves.  The legally armed citizen who is able to quickly confront the Threat with fire may actually wound the individual.  Significantly, whether or not the Threat is hit, in most situations the murder of innocents is stopped as his attention is diverted and the threat is soon ended.

After decades of studying these events (having coined the term, “Active Shooter” with Jeff Martin in 1999), it is my belief that any intervention by a legally armed citizen or police officer will generally end the attack on the innocent, and the earliest intervention regardless of whether or not the citizen or officer actually hits the Threat (the criminal gunman) will save lives.  If the statistics are correct, approximately two-thirds of these events are stopped by either the legally armed citizen or police officer (Ron Borsch). 

 

WHAT KIND OF TRAINING?

To prepare any person to competently and contextually respond to this type of defensive shooting, I believe the training would minimally entail:

  • Familiarity with the laws of deadly force in your state.  It is vital if you are going to carry a handgun that you understand when you can legally press a trigger, when you cannot, and know what to say and do following that shooting.  Saving your life or someone else's may be a good thing, but spending your life in prison following the shooting because you don’t understand the law or you say the wrong thing to police detectives is probably not on your bucket list.
  • Sufficient marksmanship skills.  While tight groups on a paper target do not automatically translate into solid hits on a gunman who is shooting at you, putting bullets through the bad guy with combat accuracy is how shootings are generally ended.  Combat accuracy is defined as any hit disrupting the imminent threat.  For those who have never felt bullets just missing them, with the corresponding adrenal dump and the well-known effects on perception, decision-making processes, and the ability to accurately fire a weapon, shooting at paper in a slow-fire method without a care in the world is as dissimilar as flying an F-22 combat jet and a single-prop Cessna airplane.  Both are airplanes, both take off and land, and both move through the air, but that is where the similarity ends.  Again, hits matter, but any shots disrupting the gunman’s murder spree is sufficient, and sometimes just knowing he is being shot at may cause him to shoot himself.
  • Sufficiently aggressive mindset.  You have to be willing to make yourself a target: when you move aggressively, it will be different from every other person who is fleeing, inviting him to target you; when you begin firing, you will also invite him to target you.  Your willingness to do this will be answered only when there is lead in the air and blood is flowing.  The moral question of whether or not it is morally acceptable to shoot and possibly kill another human being must be resolved before you hope to act on-time, in-time.  You cannot hope to act decisively when you have sights on the Threat and hesitate, wondering if it is moral to shoot this person.    This question must be resolved prior to carrying a firearm.  An appropriately aggressive mindset will be enhanced by mental imagery, imagining your response to this deadly situation in vivid detail.  In this way, you will create memories of actions, facilitating your schema, or mental maps, to quickly orient to the situation, avoid being shocked, and giving you that feeling of, “Oh yeah.  I know what to do!’  These mental patterns permit you to act decisively in a situation where aggressive action (either fighting or fleeing) is safer than non-action.  Firearms instructor John Farnham accurately said, "A confused countenance always locks you in position and generates a focused response by predators.”
  • Sufficient tactical competency.  Knowing the human limitations of responding to a deadly attack, as well as the tactics that can give you time to react and positively respond allows you to fight when you are surprised by the sudden nearby gunfire.  How to use cover or concealment (and knowing the difference), how to move safely to position yourself to shoot the bad guy, and how to respond when he targets you will be required.  Ensuring you have a clear gun-target line (the imaginary line between the muzzle of your handgun and the targeted area on the Threat) as well as a reasonably clear background (to protect innocents when you miss the Threat) will be necessary.
  • Sufficient understanding of police response.  In this case, police officers responding to this violent event will be both frightened and excited, and will have a high degree of urgency to end the event.  While it is in everyone's best interest for the police to arrive early, they are not your friend at this moment.  Standing in a public place with a handgun in your hand where shots have been fired with innocents down will not be healthy for you when the police arrive.  Understanding how to survive this second threat to your life is as vital as surviving the first.

Practically speaking (rather than the ideal minimum training above), a legally armed citizen actually needs just two things to make a difference disrupting the Active Shooter event:  a loaded weapon that functions every time the trigger is pressed, and the guts to get into the fight. 

 

HOW MUCH TRAINING?

The honest answer to this is:  As much as you think you need and are willing to pay for in range time, ammunition, and training hours.  If I told you that in one week you are going to face a murderous shooter who will attempt to take your life, your family’s lives, and dozens of innocents’ lives, what level of training would you want to have under your belt?  IF this happens to you (a big if, but then again, if it happens to you, it's 100%), what capability do you want to have?  The real question that can only be answered by the student is, “How much preparation is practical for you for an event that can happen, may happen, but likely will not happen to you?” 

For example, I was driving within 5 miles of the Clackamas Town Center  mall shooting when it began (Oregon, 12/11/12).  10,000 people in the mall all have a story to tell about what they experienced in an event that took the lives to two innocents and wounded a third.  This occurred in a metropolitan area of approximately 1.5 million people.  For most of the 10,000, no training was necessary because they fled at the sound of gunshots and sight of people surging past them, or they were locked down in stores.  Perhaps only 300 people in the mall may have been able to make a difference and would have benefitted from being armed and having undergone this training.  There are reports of one concealed pistol permit holder who pointed his handgun at the Threat but did not take the shot because of innocents in the background.  This young man believes the murderer saw him with the handgun, and then took his own life moments later.

For some of us, it was a case study on what these events look like, how they unfold, and to ask how I might better react to protect myself, my family, and those around me as a legally armed citizen or police officer.  After each Active Shooter event, I ask myself, “How might I modify my training courses to better meet the needs of my students?”  For most people, however, it was just another horror-filled event that shocked them out of their denial for a few days before they re-entered their imaginary and safe “gun-free zones” where the police protect them from all harm and their belief that if they are nice people, no harm will come to them. 

The question of how this training should be delivered lies in frequent, short duration, high-intensity training sessions.  This training regimen is far more valuable to skill development and retention than a long course where the same intensity is sustained over days.  Therefore, most training courses should be three to four hours max, with subsequent training sessions weekly or semi-weekly. 

A basic course for a first-time shooter to gain sufficient competence to build upon through independent practice and minimally react to an Active Shooter as a lawfully armed citizen is a minimum of seven classes, each 3 to 4-hours in length. 

  • One 4-hour class on defense/deadly force law and its aftermath, as well as tactical theory.  
  • Four live-fire range sessions, with 1,000 rounds of practice handgun ammo, plus 50 rounds of carry/defensive ammo (to ensure reliability).  This is sufficient to familiarize the new shooter with weapon function and marksmanship capability suitable to hit what they're aiming at on the range at a reasonable distance, from one-foot to 50-yards.  However, it must be emphasized that this may NOT translate to hitting a person at that distance who is shooting at that him in a gunfight).
  • Two 4-hour sessions on tactics (500 rounds).  This is fighting from a barricade as well as movement work. 

At the end of 1,550 rounds over a seven to fourteen week period, this person should be capable of going from a non-shooter to someone who is competent in their tactics and marksmanship and may be able to safely disrupt a mass murder event through their skills and tactics. 

 

MAINTAINING PROFICIENCY

After fundamental marksmanship, tactical, and skills training, the shooter would have to determine the level of proficiency he wishes to maintain.  Firearms proficiency may either be enhanced or degraded with each trigger press in training.  To be of value, training must be conducted with intent to improve the fundamentals with each shot, even during rapid fire, and an understanding of the very real contextual and human factors limitations we all possess.  It is only through conscious training goals and application of effort that any shooter may progress.

With a conscious training plan, that lawfully armed citizen may be able maintain a sufficient degree of proficiency through self-initiated practice.  That practice would include:

  • Regular range training.  Approximately 500-1000 rounds per year in a course of fire that included periodic, regular training that focused on fighting skills as well as marksmanship skills.  This training should emphasize functionality and familiarity with your weapon as a fighting tool.
  • Mental imaging and preparation.  Playing reasonable "If-Then" games prepares you to respond competently to a suddenly evolving event.  Reading about the situations that occur throughout the world and mentally placing yourself at Ground Zero and then "gaming" possible responses will give you options should you be presented with the real thing. 

No matter how conscious your training practices might be, there will be habits you create that become invisible to you.  Most of these habits will serve you, but others will not.  Allot at least one practice session per year, probably only for one-hour or two, with a competent coach who can observe and correct these invisible habits before they degrade your ability to hit, or worse, get you killed. 

 

CONTEXT IS KEY 

In every aspect of this discussion, the context must be considered if the answer is to be addressed.  The answer to the question, “How much training do I need if…?” is different for everyone.  The proper response is, “At what level do you want to operate?”  When that “if” is a question about the training necessary to function as a SWAT team operator on an entry team during a hostage rescue, the answer is going to look much different than, “I have a concealed pistol permit, and I want to learn how to better protect myself.  What do I need to learn?” 

As a defensive shooting instructor, it is important to ask questions and determine the practical context of the event we are preparing our students for prior to snapping off a pat answer.  While I am willing to train any lawfully armed citizen to operate their weapons at the highest possible skill and tactical levels, I need to remember that they may not have a clue about what they really want.  It is up to me as the instructor to determine the context of the training course I will suggest to them to meet their needs.