Cutting Edge Training

America’s Combatives and Liability Trainer Training With Real-World Impact

Scenario Role-Player Safety—Is it Time to Think About it?

by George on March 5, 2012 06:49

Scenario-based training and Force-on-Force drills within law enforcement training is, without question, the most effective training that personnel can receive—that is, if it is conducted in a manner that lends itself to increasing the decision-making skills of the individual.  There is a prevailing attitude that these exercises are “reality-based” and should be run “at street speed” in order to have any value.  Officers are generally instructed to “Handle it like you would on the street,” and they do.  The officers shoot the suspect role-player when they would, they take them down on the ground like they do on the street, and they generally respond with force against the role-player as they might on the street—with full power strikes.  However, this is not the street and the suspect role-player is not a suspect. 

Police force methods are, fundamentally, violent.  This violence, governed by law and policy and acted upon in the name of the People, must be objectively reasonable based on the totality of the facts known to the officer at the time.  And reasonable force causes injuries, sometimes severe injury, and even death to suspects.  The problem is, there are no “suspects” involved in criminal resistance or assault in the training exercise area.  There are only police instructors inside protective clothing or wearing impact suits (e.g., High Gear, FIST suits, Red Man Gear, etc.) who are playing a role for the benefit of the officer.  Asking an officer to respond with force “the way you would on the street” in this environment against these individuals is irresponsible and should not be acceptable in training.  Far too often, this type of training is conducted more like a “Fight Club” than a professional skill development exercise.

Serious injuries are common to the instructors acting as the suspect-role-player.  Getting into “protective impact suits,” these valuable and experienced instructors can be exposed to a dozen—and sometimes, up to twenty—high intensity defense scenarios over a short period of time—and sometimes up to four hours.  They get fatigued, beat up, and dehydrated during these training sessions.  It may take years of training evolutions before any single individual is finally injured and requires hospitalization, but every role-player who is involved in full-contact training is eventually badly injured, commonly suffering repetitive brain injuries, joint injuries requiring surgical repair, and/or broken bones.  If exposed to this level of intense violence as a role-player, severe injury is inevitable and a mathematical certainty.

  • ITEM:  During a defensive tactics scenario, the “suspect” role-player wearing a FIST suit, is bodily lifted, turned head down, and is shoved through the drywall between the wall studs, then released, falling to the ground, striking his head and neck.  Result:  Chronic pain and limited range of motion to the role-player’s neck.
  • ITEM:  During “multiple officer takedown” training, a highly athletic, extremely large and muscular “suspect” role-player in a High-Gear suit, is resisting being taken down by three officer-role-players in an academy who are desperately working to get this “monster” into custody.  During this unscripted and extended event, one of the officer-role-players, a former professional “Strong Man” competitor, knees the “suspect’s” leg.  Result:  The role-player’s patellar tendon is completely severed, leading to the 37-year old instructor’s forced retirement from law enforcement.  Because the injury occurred at the academy, it was determined the injury was not an “on-duty” injury.
  • ITEM:  A suspect-role-player in a High-Gear suit on a traffic stop scenario is obstructing the officer, and is properly sprayed with inert OC spray (water).  The “arresting officer” then grabs the officer and performs a violent takedown on the suspect-role-player, causing both to fall heavily to the asphalt.  Result:  the “officer” fell on the role-player’s elbow, dislocating and breaking the joint, requiring surgery and several months of rehab with the officer on light duty.
  • ITEM:  In an Active Shooter scenario, the suspect-role-player has been shot several times with Simunition FX marking cartridges and is going down to the ground.  One officer-role-player, a part-time SWAT officer, from a distance of four feet, begins firing rapidly at the “suspect’s” head, and then makes a “contact shot” with an AR15 to the suspect’s back as he is on the ground.  Result:  The role-player is hit in the neck with a round that penetrates his skin, and the contact shot penetrates the padded heavy canvas jacket he is wearing.
  • ITEM:  A suspect-role-player in a ground defense situation is repeatedly elbowed in the head with full power strikes by a much larger “officer” before safety personnel are able to intervene.  Result:  A severe concussion leading to a several weeks off work.

Brain injuries, dislocations, broken bones, being shot in unprotected areas (including the face) at close range by FX cartridges.  Each of these injuries can be career-ending, life-long chronic injuries to these valuable personnel.  Beyond the personal price these individuals pay in limited physical activities and pain, what is the cost to the agency in losing these valuable people?  These individuals’ training and experience cannot be duplicated without years of intensive development, yet these instructors are treated as if they are both indestructible (because they are wearing an impact suit) and disposable (using an asset as expensive and valuable as these individuals in an exercise where serious injury is eventually guaranteed).

Instructor Vulnerabilities to Injury Within the Scenario   

The instructors who offer up their bodies and their health to the officers they teach do so in the belief that they are preparing the officers for the realities of the violence they face.  Regardless of the protective system the instructor dons, he or she is still faced with the reality of being the “human inside the suit.”

The term, “protective gear,” “impact suit,” and other nomenclature is misleading.  While all of the common protective systems found in scenario-training will more or less protect the body and head from inadvertent contact, it cannot protect against:

Brain injury.  The helmet with incorporated face shield protects the face from being severely injured, bruised, and lacerated by blows from fists, elbows, knees, batons, and training cartridges fired at the head.  However, it does nothing to protect the brain from the cranial vault being accelerated, concussing the brain.  The rotational forces caused by a well-delivered strike that dramatically affect the brain’s health (resulting in a coup/contracoup injury) are unaffected by the helmet.  While a particular type of head protection may slightly decrease the likelihood of concussion, none can protect the instructor’s brain from full force strikes to the face or head.  

Joint injuries.  Even the heaviest of the impact suits, the FIST, cannot prevent severe, debilitating knee, elbow, and shoulder injuries caused by hyper-extension or over rotation.  Officers participating in full-contact training lose their balance; disbalanced human beings fall, and can and do fall through knee and elbow joints, creating lifelong injuries. 

Spinal injuries.  Being repeatedly combatively “thrown” to the ground (rather than being taken down) or thrown into objects eventually leads to serious impact injuries.  Being thrown to the ground and having the bodyweight of the also falling officer applied through to a twisted spine or while in an awkward position leads to lifelong back pain and possibly debilitating injury.  Neck injuries also fall into this category and are commonly seen when multiple officers are working against a resisting role-player.  Strikes to the helmeted head can also contribute to the neck injuries.

Student Mind-Set:  Part of the Problem

When faced with another officer who is dressed in an impact suit (F.I.S.T., High-Gear, or Red-Man), many officers believe that it signals a “green light, weapons free” situation where they are free to act with impunity with maximum force against the “armored” instructor.  “I react like I do on the street,” is commonly heard as their justification for any type of force or intensity directed at the armored role-player.  And they do, with full-powered strikes and sometimes vicious throws.  If the truth be told, sometimes these strikes and throws are even more ruthless than they might be on the street because there is certain knowledge the suspect-role-player will not injure them and there is no accountability as there will be following a force response against a suspect, with reports, citizen complaints, internal affairs investigations, and civil liability all possible—these very few officers, unlike the vast majority of officers, now have the opportunity to “tee off” on the padded instructor without repercussions.

To a great degree, it is understandable that officers confuse the bulky, heavily padded impact suits with imparting an invincibility to the instructor;  they look formidable and well protected.  If they have never been inside the suit and taken the full-power strike or have been recklessly thrown to the ground or into something, nothing in their experience would tell them that their fellow officer, the instructor acting as a role-player for their benefit, is taking cumulative injuries and may suffer profound, life-changing and limiting disabilities as a result of full contact combatives.  Almost all would cringe in self-recrimination if they understood how much their instructors pay for the officers’ training in pain and injuries.  And almost universally, these officers are dismayed when their actions result in severe injury to role-players.

Instructor Role-Player Mind-Set:  Part of the Problem

Instructors who put on the impact suit (the second time) and are repeatedly pummeled, thrown, or shot at close range with FX cartridges tend to be tough guys.  Tough guys, as a rule, disregard high levels of pain, suck up minor injuries, and stoically face serious injuries.  If asked about concerns of potential injury, they deny them, believing they are sufficiently skilled, padded, and possibly lucky enough to escape serious injury.

They also have their experience working against them—“I’ve never really been injured before and I’ve been through some intense training fights.”  Whether the injury is cumulative resulting from multiple events per training over years, or the result of a single blow or mistake (a fall or trip), the human body cannot be expected to emerge unscathed from full-contact training.  The problem with finding one’s limits to the punishment a body can sustain, is that the limits must be exceeded in order to determine where they are.  It is when limits are exceeded that the human body is severely damaged and must be repaired by surgery if possible, time, and rest if, indeed, it can be repaired at all.

Because they are tough guys, these instructors tend to get “back into the saddle” following a severe injury, surgery, and rehabilitation.  It is not unusual to find long time instructors who have had trauma-caused dental repair, multiple knee and elbow surgeries, and back and neck problems, including surgeries.  As they age, they tend to accumulate injuries similar to that of professional MMA fighters and NFL football players.

Is the Current Status Quo Providing Effective Training?

Officers require a degree of exposure to high-intensity combatives training in order to make better decisions within a force environment and gain expertise pre-event, something few would argue over.  The idea that all training should have “zero-injury” potential is not practical nor even desirable—even classroom training has seen injuries to participants through trip incidents and students falling off chairs.  Combatives training, from live-fire to mat work, carries with it some degree of risk.  The current widespread practice of unscripted, full-contact, high-intensity training in padded impact suits is a direct result of this belief.  Many are sacrificed in this activity in the pursuit of "effective training."

The question that is really on the table but no one wants to talk about is, "What is effective training when it comes to exposing officers to high-intensity combatives?"

The definition of "training" is the creation of standardized behavior.  During these full-contact, unscripted events, what is the specific standardized behavior being sought and created by the training iteration?  It is demonstrable and repeatable that prolonged, unscripted events do not result in a trained response by officers--they mostly resemble schoolyard fights.  If it is simply "The will to win," is that really being developed or just demonstrated?  Instead, this type of training results in what could loosely be called a "fight" with little training value

  • ITEM:  A police sergeant attended an 80-hour ground fighting "Train-the-Trainer" course at a very large agency that had adopted a famous martial arts family's program.  After attending a 5-day, 40-hour "user class," and 39 1/2 hours of the "Instructor's training class," he sat out the last exercise due to a fresh injury.  The class was instructed to go at each other "hard while keeping injuries down," and apply what they had learned.  The sergeant, observing the class of 30 instructors working "at speed" and with great effort, observed no trained techniques or methods during the total of 15 man-hours of total exercise time he witnessed.  His conclusion:  the class and the training was worthless--if an 80-hour intensive training failed to produce one trained application of what they had learned among 30 instructors, then no behavior had been changed, and therefore no training had taken place.  He went back and reported to his administration that while he had "fun" at the class, he deemed it a waste of his time to train his officers in this system.

These fights rarely result in anything resembling a trained force response, and generally do not resemble a police fight where police solutions are available to the officer.  What is the training value in this expenditure of police training resources?  Some will say that officers can "experience" a "fight" and so get more accustomed to the fluid events and changing violent circumstances.  While this may be valuable (and is, in my opinion) for an academy program within the first two weeks of a recruit's training--where a career ending injury involves less cost to both the agency and the officer--the training value is almost zero for a veteran officer given the high risk of injury and the lack of a specific trained behavioral changes that training should engender.  Training should focus in how to make combatives decisions and giving the officer repeated "looks" at certain circumstances so that orientation may more quickly take place.  Because the situation has become sufficiently familiar, it precipitates an in-time, on-time reasonable force response.  This creates a trained trip-wire response to those conditions as a result. 

Training is not, and should not be conducted in the spirit of a Fight Club, where two combatants grind it out to prove who is tougher.  Even "sparring" in professional boxing is not two guys just slugging it out.  The sparring partner is instructed to give the boxer specific keys, looks, and moves the trainer wants the boxer to react to within the context of an opposing fighter's actions.  Once the boxer is sufficiently schooled in a recognizing and reacting to a specific set of circumstances, the sparring begins and the context is presented over and over within the sparring session until the boxer is competent in his response to the given threat cues and actions of the opposing fighter.  Then the sparring changes to give him different cues to which the trainer wants him programmed. 

Until the agency's training staff develops a plan on what they believe their officers need to be able to recognize and competently respond to, brief the officers in classroom presentations, have them practice, drill in Force-on-Force (partner repeatedly demonstrates a threat cue or position to which the officer responds) to a level of individual competency, there is no reason to put on impact suits and slam each other around because the preliminary foundation of the training has not yet taken place.  Without a standard of behavior that is being changed or reinforced, training is not occurring and injuries are being risked for nothing other than the effort of doing something that may be fun. 

Are There Solutions to Injuries? 

The goal should be to reduce avoidable injuries while maintaining training coherence and effectiveness.  In order to achieve this, the following training and policy suggestions should be implemented:

Change the concept of Scenario Training.  As a testing mechanism of the officer’s orientation to threat cues and the officer’s reaction based on training, scenario-based training has no peer.  Scenarios are intended to test an officer’s decision-making, not their fighting ability.  Effective scenario training is not a Fight Club where officers are expected to prove their fighting prowess.  Unscripted “fights” between two or more officers will eventually lead to unscripted serious or even catastrophic injuries to any or all of the participants, sometimes with monotonous regularity.  Scenarios, because they are about an officer’s decision-making, should be halted when the officer makes the decision to go hands on, take the suspect down, employ a Taser, resort to a baton, etc.  From this point, training can move to the training floor where the defensive tactics, takedowns, batons, etc., may be practiced.

Recognize that all training is fake.  Tony Blauer once said that all training is fake, but it is our job to make it as real as possible.  “Real” does not mean full power, full-contact, focused blows on a live training partner.  “Real” means high-intensity, time-compressed decision-making, transitioning quickly from one to another intensity of action.  Proficiency is achieved through competent repetition, that is, by performing actions, e.g., a takedown or escape, and repeated with sufficient conscious repetitions until there is “unconscious competence.”  This training effort will create a greater competency in performing the takedown than any full-speed, full-contact, unscripted fight will ever do.  What the padded instructor is perfectly suited to do is to help the officer recognize the “transition point,” or when the suspect is vulnerable to a takedown.  This is set up by putting the officer into a situation where he begins to recognize the circumstances needed for a successful takedown, and through repetition, begins to more quickly orient to this fact.  This creates a trained response that will be applicable in a real life fight that rolling around and swinging mindlessly at a padded instructor at maximum muscular exertion levels will never accomplish.  One is training, the other is “fun” if no one gets hurt.  The training has future value.  The fun activity has much less training value, and has high risk to one or both of the participants.

Required reasonable force response during training.  Police officers on the street, facing actual suspects who act with malicious intent for nefarious purposes to actually harm or murder the officer, are required to respond with objectively reasonable force to the officer’s perception of threatening suspect behavior and/or resistance.  No less should be required of the officer in training.  Any reckless or intentional behavior or action deemed by instructional staff that could or actually does lead to an injury will be formally reported up the chain of command for appropriate action, retraining, or discipline.

Severely limit force against instructors.  A vigorous force response against a padded instructor should be limited to one prescribed mini-scenario where the lesson, whether it is a component of a takedown, responding to being tackled, etc., and full-power strikes should not be part of the lesson.  The purpose for the impact suit is to protect against inadvertent strikes rather than making the instructor a padded punching dummy.  The use of this training tool is intended to work on transition points where officers must change gears mentally and come up from zero to 100  mph in tenths of a second.  Drills should not be permitted to last more than a couple of seconds, and are never a matter of allowing the combatants to “work it out” in a prolonged, high intensity effort.

All safety rules must be adhered to.  FX cartridges have published minimum safety distances for a reason:  they are powder actuated, projectile launching systems that must be expected to penetrate the skin if fired from close range.  Any disregard of the safety protocols cannot be tolerated.  This includes safety equipment malfunction, e.g., a face mask or helmet is dislodged, resulting in the role-player being unprotected should result in an immediate cessation of training by training staff as well as self-initiated by the officer role-player(s).  It is hard to believe that any training scenario could be so emotionally threatening that the officer role-player, upon seeing the instructor/suspect role-player on the ground three feet away with his helmet having fallen off, could not recognize a safety threat to the role-player and self-terminate the scenario.  There is no reason why a role-player, after having his helmet fall off, should be shot in the face by a rifle loaded with an FX cartridge from three feet away—this is simply recklessness and disregard of the safety of that role-player, and should not be tolerated.  The intentional violation of safety rules should be a disciplinary offense.  This, of course, must be supported by Police Administration and the police union—it is, after all, their member who was injured by this action.


Proponents of full-contact in-service training tout they are training officers how to “actually fight” on the street.  Nothing could be further from the truth:

Padded suspect role-players pull punches, kicks, and strikes, so “officers” don’t pay for errors like they would on the street.  In those few programs where the training staff’s egos are the driving force and both the instructors and the officers are suited up, it is often seen as blood sport for the skilled instructors in beating down the officers “to give them a taste of what they face if they don’t improve their skills.”  High injury rates in participants are often seen as a result of this type of program.

These extended fights detrain officers by emphasizing tournament and MMA-style wrestling bouts interspersed with blows, rather than working to police solutions based on law and policy.  This creates officers who think in “boxes” during a force response event rather than as a whole police officer who has access to various weapons and whom the law permits a wide variety of responses other than muscular control efforts.

This training de-emphasizes critical decision-making while reinforcing muscular effort as a survival strategy.  While this is fine for the few large, strong males who tend to be stronger than the suspects they arrest as well as the few highly trained martial artists in the agency, those officers not fitting into those two categories are poorly served and, indeed, are harmed by extended wrestling bouts.  They require training emphasizing police solutions within the police mission and force permitted by law.

It ignores the risks of serious, extended, or even career-ending injury to invaluable personnel whose extensive training and years of experience are extremely difficult—and very expensive—to replace.

It cannot be said enough:  employing violent measures against a human body is designed to injure, incapacitate, and sometimes kill that person, and full-speed, full-contact, uncontrolled (and uncontrollable) fights between officers in training, even though “protected” by an impact suit, will eventually result in moderate to severe injury, and the possible loss of career.

While these instructors who continually don the training suits and step into the cauldron of ten, fifteen, or even twenty extended full-speed, full-contact fights in a single training session are the very definition of “tough guys,” it must also acknowledged that tough guys tend to deny the reality of their own mortality and physical vulnerability to injury.  Many of these instructors are in their mid-20s and into their 30s and have yet to experience serious injury.  Even if they have, they are tough guys, and they get back into the saddle usually well before their injuries are fully healed.

Before the advent of modern padded training suits, I participated for a number of years as a suspect in full-contact, full-power training with officers employing wooden batons (for informational purposes:  cocobolo batons suck!).  A football helmet, shoulder pads, baseball catcher’s chest protector, elbow pads, hockey gloves, hockey pants and padding, and baseball catcher’s knee and shin guards (not to mention a protective groin cup) rounded out my protective ensemble.  More than a few strikes were narrowly contained by the helmet’s face mask.  Later it was a FIST Suit and ASP batons—a little more coverage, but similar results.  Ten officers at a time, three “fights” each, with the fight going until they were able to strike me sufficiently well to either get me to stop (hand strikes were often fight-stoppers) or until it was apparent that the power of their strikes and volume would likely stop an unpadded subject—that’s 30 “fights” in a row, folks.  For next couple of days, the body didn’t work so well.  I still carry evidence of this lunacy in the form of two bone chips, one in my elbow and one in my ankle.  I was lucky to get out of this with just these modest daily reminders, having experienced a couple of concussions, multiple sprains, and massive, spectacular bruising all over my unprotected parts.  I remember a lot of ice and limping from these days.

Training must evolve.  These impact suits have been in the police training world for the last 20-plus years.  It is time to come out of the dark ages and to engage in training providing increased expertise to our officers while carrying less risk both to them and to the instructors who so selflessly offer their health and safety in service to the officers they train.  It is only out of this sense of service and the instructor’s rational and very real belief in the urgency of preparing the officer to meet the needs of the profession that makes the sacrifices each instructor makes worth the risk to their health.  However, when these very real sacrifices do not further the training mission, and the officers’ capabilities these efforts are intended to benefit actually lessen in the real world of successfully fighting suspects, it is time for the tough guys to change the way they train.

Violence breaks people.  Even instructors in padded suits are broken when the body parts inside the suit are stressed beyond their physical limits.  If NFL teams limit full-contact scrimmages to pre-season practices because of the risk of injury (and quarterbacks are ALWAYS red-shirted, or off-limits), it only makes sense that law enforcement should do the same.  Highly scripted, high-intensity, short duration full-speed drills are where officers gain the benefit of decision-making and programmed reactions (motor neural scripts).  This is where training with impact suits is really beneficial. 

Why we do what we do--training on the cutting edge

by George on October 26, 2011 12:45

We are asked what makes Cutting Edge Training different.  The following explanation is why we do what we do at Cutting Edge Training, and what makes our training programs for armed professionals truly unique.

The training philosophy of Cutting Edge Training, LLC, is this:  Training must be functional to be of value.  If the training cannot be immediately applied by an armed professional, or if it is too complicated, that training is ineffective and will be of little value to the officer when needed.  Functionality within a combatives environment is a direct result of effective, efficient, and practical training preparing an officer to lawfully overcome resistance and to defend against any assault.

To be functional, the training must be:

  • Relevant to the professional's job duties, experience, expectations, and fears.
  • Uncomplicated enough to work within the limiting human factors that are universal to every human, as well as under crushing fatigue, through injury, and when immersed in confusing and mind-numbing threat-to-life events.
  • Sophisticated enough to apply to universal threats and the quickly evolving, high-pressure situations the professional routinely responds to.
  • Oriented to problem-solving rather than attempting to train an professional to employ “techniques” to the thousands of problems that he or she will face. 
  • Defensible in every post-incident venue:  agency, criminal, and civil.  It must also be defensible to the community or public, and to the media.
  • Inherently consistent, both internally and externally, across the spectrum of combatives and tactical threats so that problem-solving is principle-driven rather than attempting employ techniques that are inherently limited when faced with an infinite number of variations.

We look at a problem and break it down to discover how a human being, immersed in that environmental context, can solve that problem with the tools at hand and with the attributes (e.g., everything that person brings to the game:  intelligence, emotional sophistication—or lack of it, built in human performance limitations, values, goals, expectations, fears, etc.), their training life experience, etc., that person possesses.  We strive for “contextually correct” training.  That is, how this individual in that uniform must perform to win and survive within the circumstances presented in their fight, whatever the event might be.  Without being contextually correct, training has little value.  We understand it is not what you can do in a fight, but what you can’t do—and knowing the difference—that is the key to success in the combatives environment.

Functional fighting, from common scuffles to gunfights between individuals to intense firefights among groups, depends upon the application of Universal Principles of Combatives© within Universal Rules of Combatives©.  Training the professional in “techniques” forces that individual to attempt to remember, select, and then apply  the specific inter-related, sequence dependent series of moves comprising that unique technique out of thousands of techniques for this exact circumstance while under time constraints imposed by the Threat.  This routinely—and not unexpectedly—fails in the real world of combatives, causing the armed professional to fall back on primitive problem-solving methods.   For example, a young Marine (and MCMAP Brown Belt), Nicholas B. Wankasky, described this principle-driven problem-solving concept in his evaluation of this training approach:  “With a technique, it’s like I have a bunch of strings that I have tie together to get anything to work, but a fight happens too fast to do that. With this principle-based concept of fighting, it’s like I have a ball of string and let it fall, and then I just follow the string wherever it rolls.”

This contextually correct training is something we call "Effective Combatives Problem-Solving."©  This combatives philosophy functionalizes training, making it accessible to the professional.  It is predicated upon the individual problem-solving their combatives problem--regardless of the type and intensity of the fight--through integrating minimally the following concepts into a single, practical, and achievable program:

  • Law.  The legal restraints (and permissions) imposed by agency policy, state and federal laws, the state Constitution, and the US Constitution for law enforcement, or the ROEs established for military engagements.  The provides permission to act and the knowledge of the limits of restraint.
  • OODA.  OODA functioning and application in the threat environment.  This is the theory of how humans make decisions under time and safety pressures that is practical and built into all training concepts.  It is within the human factors of how we interact with our environment that the officer must intentionally operate to be successful.
  • Univeral Tactical Principles© compliant.  All tactics are a subset of Applied OODA Theory©, permitting the officer the time and position needed to confound the suspect's decision-making through advantageous positioning and in-time, on-time movement and force. Everything taught and trained must be internally consistent as well as explicitly compliant to tactically sound principles. 
  • Problem-solving through the Universal Rules and Principles of Combatives©.  All training is based upon this “primal blueprint” of intrinsic and hard-wired responses built into every human being.  Humans actually problem-solve their way through most combatives events, and rarely--if ever--apply "techniques" to a quickly evolving, highly threatening problem. 
  • Simple skills.  All skills must be functional within the threat environment in which the professional operates.  These skills must be accessible to every officer—from the most to the least skilled—within the time and resources allotted for training.  There are no techniques taught to officers--techniques fail due to an inherent weakness of a series of inter-related sequence moves requiring a level of cooperation from the suspect and the time to develop to be successful.  All skills must operate within the inherent function of the human factors and its limitations. 

This contextually correct approach to training police officers, for example, creates an “integrated force concept” for officers in their response to resistance and assault.  This training eschews the concept of “training in a box.”  For example, historically (through to the present day), officers are commonly trained in distinct and separate categories of force.  This separation of force disciplines and force skills has taken the form of distinct "boxes" that never provide any integration of an officer's training.  The result is an officer responding to threat by resorting to his or her individual training boxes rather than fighting as an integrated whole:

  • Firearms training:  at the range.  Firearms solutions only to any problem involving firearms and knives, or any threat to life. 
  • Defensive Tactics training:  on the mats.  Martial arts or sports-based techniques.  Defensive Tactics solutions to any problem involving any threat level, including guns and knives and threats to life.
  • Less-lethal/Taser/non-lethal:  in the classroom and practical training area.  Every problem except actual, immediate threat to life problems.
  • Legal restraints on force:  In the classroom.  There is no explanation or correlation of classroom learning to the mat, the less-lethal practicum, or the live-fire range.
  • Tactics:  in the classroom.  Following the discussion of “tactics,” there is no other practical application or incorporation of the tactical awareness into the training curriculum.

Through Cutting Edge Training’s integrated approach to training, however, the professional is presented with concepts incorporating his or her whole experience of policing and force response.  Law and policy, sound tactics, human performance limitations and threat decision-making are blended into no-nonsense skills and employment methods.  No longer is Defensive Tactics seen as solely providing defensive tactics-only solutions to police problems.  Instead, officers are taught to work the problem to the “police solution” (Universal Rule of Combatives #2©) and incorporate all of their knowledge, experience, skills, and tools into a lawful, reasonable, and defensible solution.  Every problem becomes a “police-problem” rather than a “gun-problem” or a “DT-“ or “Taser-problem.”  Officers become quickly accustomed to this problem-solving approach because it not only parallels their solution seeking on the street, but it is completely compliant with how we function under threat to be successful.  It mirrors and compliments exactly how officers decisionize their every day responses as well as their extraordinary response to dangerous calls. 

It is in this integrated approach that combatives training (every skill and knowledge domain a professional is trained in involving an arrest and force response) becomes “functionalized.”  By taking a real-world approach, breaking problems down and finding methods that can actually be employed by every officer in that real world of threat, danger, and liability, officers are more likely to problem-solve their way to a defensible and successful conclusion.

Practical. It must work for every individual, regardless of their attributes.  It must be effective in every instance, which is why we emphasize problem-solving to every solution the individual arrives at within the combatives event.

Tactical. It must comport with safe tactical doctrine.  Violations of safe tactics must be consciously employed rather than unconsciously contained in the method of resolving a problem.  When the professional learns to problem-solving across the board by incorporating proper tactics, we see a more tactically sound problem-solver in the street. 

Functional. It must work for the human inside the uniform.  The natural limitations of the human nervous system and decision-making must be an integral part of the balanced program.  Functionality also requires integration of force and tactical training, avoiding compartmentalized doctrine and force employment, to create a functional response capability. 

Defensible. All training must concurrently comport to and explicitly correlate the law, policy, and/or ROE involved in the problem-solving.  Training an individual or a group of individuals to employ force in the absence of concurrent legal restrictions and mandates is hollow, and leads to misunderstandings of when, what type, and what duration a force response can take place.  Everything in training must lead to defensible conduct that can be justified in any post-event scrutiny.

That is Cutting Edge Training’s integrated and contextually-correct approach to functionalizing all of the force skills and knowledge domain training for law enforcement and military personnel.  That is why we are different and unique.  We don't just train you and your professionals.  We functionalize your combatives training.

(We are repeatedly asked why everyone isn't teaching combatives to armed professionals this way.  We have to admit:  we have no clue.) 

Training is All About Context

by George on November 24, 2010 14:27

The industry of teaching combatives is a curious thing.  It seems everyone has an opinion about how to teach defensive tactics or shooting or knife employment or impact weapons, or any of the myriad martial arts-based programs and weapons systems.  Most of this training is perfectly well-meaning in its intent.  The instructors are earnest and convicted in their beliefs in their “system.”  However, few instructors seem to understand that what they teach must be congruent with the student’s practical survival needs and their ability to apply the lessons in the real world—especially those students whose career is the profession of arms. 

This lack of congruency is, at best, the cause of wasting literally millions of dollars and tens of thousands of life-hours.  At worst, the failure to recognize the context of the combatives courses contributes to the injury or death of the very students they intend to support.  There is something amiss when a hard-working police officer who has obviously put in hundreds of hours of diligent training beyond that provided by agency’s instructors becomes frustrated at being completely ineffective when introduced to simple but contextually correct training situations.  When training yet again fails to be relevant, warrior spirit is damaged and a “what the hell can I do?” attitude erodes the willingness to continue to train.

Like every other warrior, this officer believed the instructors who seem so confident, and who portray themselves as those who “know” what this officer needs to survive.  This warrior put these lessons into practice on his time, his effort, his pain, and sometimes his blood.  He demonstrates a well-trained quality to his skills.  But when taken out of arena of the wrestling mat and put in the context of blood, liability, and consequence, his hours upon hours of training don’t make sense and fail due to their artificiality.  He takes training seriously.  And when he angrily--and with a level of frustration and hopelessness--states, “I’ve been depending upon this to work!  What am I supposed to do?” what can be said to assuage his real survival concerns? 

Many of us who have stumbled along the warrior’s path instantly recognize this anger and disillusionment—a sense of being fundamentally let down by those teachers we trusted to show us "The Way."  We, too, have found false gurus, following them blindly until our eyes were opened by the weaknesses of their lessons—often we were injured--or almost killed--as a result.  It was easy to recognize this warrior’s disillusionment and frustration.  It is a mirror of our own path.  And we recognize as well that false starts and dead ends are always part of this journey, and that this journey will never end because no life is long enough to get all of the answers.  And still we seek those solutions as both students, instructors, and finally as trainers because we understand that people live and die because of what we do, believe, and teach.

Regardless of the program of combatives, it is incumbent upon those of us who are trainers of warriors to fully understand what we teach in terms of the context of its application and employment.  The warriors who depend upon us to lead them into life-saving skills risk their lives and well-being on the concepts, tactics, and skill-building we provide.  The following are just a few of the criteria of contextually correct training.

Contextually correct training reflects the end-user’s environment.  Training must be developed to meet the contextual needs of the officer at both the pre-response as well as the “zenith moment” of the assault and response.  The second Universal Rule of Combatives© for police is: “Always work to the police solution.”©  Police training must reflect the reality in which officers operate.  Their duties bring them into contact with unknown, possibly armed individuals whose motivations, skills, training, and intent are also unknown.  While a resisting suspect is able to stop fighting and give up at any moment in a fight with a real certainty that he/she will suffer no further injury, an officer can never give up without a certainty of serious physical harm or death.  Defensive tactics training is almost universally presented as encompassing wholly defensive tactics solutions to problems.  Firearms training also tends to compartmentalize in a similar manner, as do all other force options (Taser, OC spray, baton, etc.).  However, life doesn’t cooperate with this specialization (as I read somewhere, “Specialization is for insects.”).

Instead, training must represent the entire spectrum of response.  “All defensive tactics problems cannot be solved by defensive tactics.”©  Officers carry weapons, giving them options of non-lethal through deadly force in resolving suspect resistance or assault.  All training must incorporate a comprehensive approach to the police force response.  Ground-defense training is not simply playing jujitsu or wrestling.  This is a police response that may involve a suspect who is capable of overwhelming an officer with size, strength, and/or skill.  This response should avoid a “win the game at any cost” theory of physical re-engagement when the officer is being overwhelmed and temporarily is able to evade or escape injury—that is what a Taser or firearm is for.  Any apparently trained attempt to “submit” an officer is arguably a deadly force event.  Officers must be trained in a comprehensive approach to tactics and weapon employment as well as sufficient training in agency policy and force law permitting them instant response to threat.

Uncomplicated enough to work.  People tend to love complication.  A complicated solution to any tactical problem seems to draw us in with the promise that if it is “complicated,” it must contain the answer.  Complicated mechanisms fascinate us with their myriad moving parts and mesmerizing flashing lights.  “Simple” is seen as deficient, because it isn’t “special.”  When a student repeatedly attempts and fails to solve a problem and yet resists a different solution, saying, “It’s too simple,” we can be assured that student is enamored of the myth or the glamour surrounding either the person who taught it, or the method itself.  We see this with jujitsu-techniques and MMA skills being taught to police.  The myth of the Gracie family, well-earned as it is in tournament play, does not translate into jujitsu training being applicable to the life-and-death of police work or the military.  The UFC and the Mixed-Martial Arts methods of winning in the Octagon are not about armed cops or soldiers fighting and surviving against possibly armed, desperate suspects—instead it is a sport based upon some of the finest athletes in the world applying skills learned over years of intensive and dedicated training applied in an extremely controlled environment where life-threatening injuries are extremely rare and never intentional.  And there is no instance of a UFC competitor pulling a knife or a gun on his opponent who is dominating the fight, while the same cannot be said about the history of police work in the US.

There should be a baseline to any training to which the officer defaults under threat.  This baseline training should be principle-based, and include uncomplicated skills that are adrenaline “bomb-proof.”  When the baseline methods fail, problem-solving continues takes place as the situation demands

It is OODA-compliant.  All tactics and skills must be OODA-compliant.  This simply means that the human limitations of being forced to cycle through an Observe-Orient-Decide-Act, or minimally, an Observe-Orient-Act cycle takes time.  Time must be built into all solutions offered to officers in order to process and respond to a threat.  For example, one search and handcuffing technique that has been long compromised and is exceedingly dangerous—and is still being taught—is the method of requiring a suspect to bend forward at the waist, and hold both arms to the rear, thumbs up.  The officer takes hold of one hand, handcuffs it, then grabs the other and finishes cuffing.  This works until the suspect uses the officer’s focus and inattentional blindness against him.  As the officer is focused on the fairly complicated task of handcuffing the first wrist, he cannot focus on the other hand obtaining a weapon.  In a six-week period a few years ago, three officers were murdered in as many incidents after getting the first handcuff on the suspect.

This is an example of a tactic that does not take into account the very real limitations of the human being inside the uniform.  Any tactic that assumes an instant officer response to a suspect’s resistance is, simply, worthless.  If the time it takes to recognize an attack and respond is not figured into the tactic, then it will fail.  Staying with the handcuffing method example, every method of searching and handcuffing a subject must involve “incidental” defenses that are not decision-based.  This slows the suspect’s ability to assault the officer without impediment, giving the officer time to recognize an attack (orient), and respond (decide and act).

OODA compliance also means that the training system or method must train officers to orient more quickly to threatening actions.  Building in threat-cues (threatening actions that require deliberation based on law, policy, and level of threat leading to either an Observe-Orient-Decide-Orient loop or an Observe-Orient-Decide-Act-Observe loop before action can be taken) is vital to the officer’s ability to proactively prepare for the threat of violence.  Increasing the automatic response capabilities to officers by including trip-wire training (trip-wires are threatening actions and behavior that require no interpretation of law, policy, or level of threat prior to response, resulting in an Observe-Orient-Action loop) is a basic need of any force training program.

Suspects are not meat-puppets.  Suspects don’t begin to resist or assault a police officer, then just stand there passively while the officer performs a five-step technique.  The suspect has his own agenda, whether it is flight or assault.  As the officer is attempting step two of the technique, the suspect, not understanding that he is supposed to simply wait until the officer is finished, moves, and, by that simple act, defeats the technique.  This requires no skill at all—just non-cooperation.

Every solution must assume and incorporate the reality of a motivated suspect acting for his own benefit.  Suspects fight, flee from, and assault officers based on their own needs, skills, tactics, and value systems.  They generally will not follow the script that agency instructors lay out in class.

Body Alarm Reaction Compliant.  Everything an officer does, from DT to firearms employment must be developed with the understanding that “adrenaline is not your friend” when it comes to executing force.  Complication and split-second timing, while fun and spectacular in training, is the kiss of death in the real world of motivated, skilled suspects.  Training that is foundationally dependent upon the capability of complex reasoning—including recalling memorized lists of actions or movements (techniques)—while in the midst of life-threatening assault is worthless. 

Does not assume athletic, strength, skill, and size superiority.  In the 1950s, every person applying to the San Diego Police Department as a police officer had to meet the following minimum requirements:  Male.  6’0” or taller.  No fillings in the teeth.  20-20 eyesight without correction.  Able to climb a 30-foot rope hand-over-hand without the use of the legs.  The ability to lift and carry a two-hundred pound bag.

Those days are over.  Officers are big, small, fat, skinny, male, female, tall, short, strong, weak, gifted, and/or below average in athleticism and coordination.  Any system that is designed to be employed by a superior athlete of superior strength, skill, and size will fail when the officer is forced to defend or attempt to control a suspect who is larger, stronger, or more athletically gifted.  Too many systems are designed to “meet and defeat” a suspect on his own terms.  Whether it is DT where the officer is taught UFC/MMA groundfighting or standing and trading shots with a suspect in a gunfight, this type of training assumes superior skills, size, and strength.  It is a very dangerous assumption to train a 150-pound male officer to stand toe-to-toe with a 195-pound suspect and expect to win every time—there is a reason that boxing and UFC events have weight classes, and that men and women are not paired in combative competitions.  Training should recognize this reality and address the expected mismatches that are the norm rather than the exception in police work.

Size matters in a fight.  So does superior strength.  The value of superior and one-sided athleticism cannot be over-estimated in the probability of survival.  Regardless of the officer’s size, ability, strength, and athleticism, there is someone in this world who is better, bigger, faster, and stronger.  Systems that depend on overwhelming skill or defeating force with an officer’s brute force is a dangerous fantasy.

Instead, officers should be trained to fight from a position assuming they are weaker, less-athletically gifted, and smaller than the suspects they will be forced to confront and overcome.  Fighting smarter rather than harder should be the goal.  In this manner, the system itself operates within Applied OODA Theory© to gain an advantage, while recognizing the reality of the police officer’s advantages of weapons, tactics, and, at least eventually, numbers.

Meets some type of reality test.  Once the training program is developed and before it is implemented agency-wide, the results of the training must be tested in some method that simulates the reality of what officers will face in the real world of non-compliant, assaultive suspects.  Beta-testing through training a small sample of officers representing the variety of the skills and physiques of the agency is a good way to see if your program is on track.  Using Airsoft technology for firearms as well as High-Gear suits for DT can give a training evaluator a good idea if the program will survive a reality test.

The challenge will be to gain fairness throughout the testing process.  Those who are bought into a particular program may not be able to see the limitations to the training they have selected.  Some tests might include:

  • Active Shooter Response.  Does that 4-5 officer cell actually work when it unexpectedly comes under fire, or is it a misapplication of a tactic originally designed to cross open-ground more safely?  Having average officers trained in the cell, and then a few months later being put into an unannounced scenario with safety equipment, FX cartridges or Airsoft, and time pressure will give you an answer. 
  • Standing and shooting it out with a suspect.  Your firearms program promotes stationary shooting methods because anything else isn’t “safe” for training.  As a result, your officer officers stand in one place and shoot it out with a suspect who self-initiates, beating your officers to the draw.  Again, Airsoft weapons will reveal if movement and hitting is valuable or not to the officr’s survival when the suspect self-initiates a draw and gunfight.
  • Your groundfighting program.  Putting a smaller, weaker officer on the ground in full duty gear (outfitted with complete training weapones) and attacked by a larger, skilled “offender” will give you a good idea if the program you are using will be useful on the street. 

When each of these common tactical responses or solutions to tactical problems fail, how do you, the instructor, react?  Many who have a personal stake in the system will generally blame the officer(s), and make every excuse possible to explain the failure of their training.  It takes character to realize that something you thought would work failed because it is not realistic.  It takes courage to quit teaching a program that you have publicly supported and change to something that might work better.

Meets legal standards rather than product-liability standards.  Less-lethal weapon training systems provided by the manufacturer and vendor of the product often reflect a distinct bias toward their own product-liability rather than officer safety and effectiveness.  Red-green-yellow charts of striking targets for batons originated because Chiefs of Police were reluctant to purchase strangely shaped new impact weapons due to a perception of increased civil liability for their agency.  So vendors came up with mysterious new concepts such as “fluid shock” and hitting into the “green” belly of large muscles so that real injury could not occur to the suspect being struck.  Only after multiple strikes to “green” targets failed were officers to escalate to “yellow” targets—bony areas where batons might injure a person.  This results in many more baton strikes (creating huge civil, administrative liability for both the officer and the agency, as well as possible criminal liability for the officer) while dramatically reducing the product-liability to the vendor.

This concept of an escalating targeting system is not recognized as a proper legal standard—nowhere in Scott v. Harris, Graham v. Connor, or Tennessee v. Garner, or any of the other controlling cases around the country is there a requirement to escalate or de-escalate force.  Officers are required to respond with objectively reasonable force based on the totality of the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time.  This force response is required to balance the likelihood of injury to the subject with the officer’s reasonable perception of threat of the suspect to the officer or others. 

The plain facts of Impact weapons:  they are, by design, objects intended to injure a person in order to gain compliance through kinetic strikes.  They generally come in the form of metal rods or heavy hardwood dowels.  Impact weapons may be employed when an officer reasonably believes the subject is combative and represents a threat of injury and violence to the officer or others.  Given this reasonable belief, the impact weapon is employed to injure a subject sufficiently so as to incapacitate the individual and stop the violent behavior.  Striking at bony surfaces of the body not expected to cause death (head, spine) is permitted given the threat of the suspect.  Broken bones must be expected if the officer employs a baton.  After all, the officer, fundamentally, is hitting another person with metal or a piece of wood.  The only available option left to the officer if the baton fails is that of deadly force.  Officers should be trained to target those areas of the body that will result in stopping the suspect’s violent, combative behavior in as few strikes as possible.  This is a law-based, officer safety conscious, real world understanding of an impact weapon and its use by police.  Again…context.


Training programs are not easy to develop.  Expensive training in law enforcement is subject to many political and social forces.  Agency instructors vary dramatically in the quality of their abilities and subject matter expertise.  For most, training is a collateral duty that must fit in with their primary assignments as well as any special projects they have been assigned.  All are attempting to perform a vital service to their officers.

When selecting a training program, whether adopting the recommendations of a specific vendor or creating a blending of several programs, it is foundational to the effectiveness and usefulness of the program to ensure it is contextually correct for your officers’ needs. 

This is a life-and-death subject.  Professionals depend upon their training to get them home at night.  They require contextually valid training to give them a chance against a larger, stronger, perhaps better-trained, and motivated suspect.  How relevant is your training?  That is something that only your officers can demonstrate by their success or failure during conflict where failing is paid for in blood.


Pain and Preparing for the Fight

by George on July 23, 2010 05:38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Police Funeral and Reflections About Training

by George on November 7, 2009 12:15


There are three rules of police work:

1.  Officers are shot at, beaten, stabbed, and sometimes murdered while doing their duty.
2.  Officers respond to a call for service when dispatched, having little idea of who or what is involved.
3.  Nobody can change Rule Number One.

Another hero was shot down on Halloween, 2009.  This time a complete ambush.  Timothy Brenton, Seattle PD Officer, husband, father of two youngsters, son, and friend.  Field Training Officer.  Great cop.  I never met him, but I’ve met thousands like him.  Honest, hard-working, courageous, concerned, and funny, of course.  Three dimensional living, breathing people who put on the uniform and walk into the unknown every shift, risking their lives to protect people they don’t know.  I was at his memorial yesterday, among several thousand cops from all over the country, including a large contingent of red-coated Mounties, and another thousand concerned citizens who wanted to share their outrage and grief with the family and to share their support of law enforcement.

This, I believe, is my 38th police funeral.  Sitting there, we all were waiting for the service to begin, waiting for the family that was in so much pain and shock, waiting for the ancient ceremonies and rituals for this last farewell to a fallen warrior, the forced stoicism, and the inevitable choking back of tears.  I reflected back to the five officers who I know attended my classes and who have been murdered in the line of duty. 

As a trainer of police for the last 28 years, I have been honored to have trained over 24,000 officers from all 50 states, several US territories, and 14 foreign countries.  Like most trainers who have done this job for any period of time, more officers than I can remember have called to thank me for the training I shared with them, saying that I “saved” their life.  These calls are always humbling, but the reality is that these officers saved their own lives by making good decisions early enough to make a difference.  The other side of that is the quality of the training each officer receives is a real factor in their survival. 

Being a police and military trainer has always been a sacred responsibility.  Even before my first police funeral, I knew that being a Trainer of warriors carried with it the weight of each student’s life.  Teaching officers defensive tactics, firearms, building entry and search, officer safety tactics and field response, any of the myriad courses I’ve taught carried with it the realization that what I taught matters to people’s lives.  I believe that, as a trainer, I am called upon to provide the best training that I can devise, find, or borrow in pursuit of keeping these men and women, heroes all, alive on the street.

Hero.  That word was used a lot yesterday.  Rightly so.  “A person who exhibits extraordinary bravery, firmness, fortitude, or greatness of soul, in any course of action;  a person admired and venerated for his or her achievements and noble qualities.”  While uncomfortable with being described so, officers who act with integrity, with honor, and understand their role as warriors and servants are heroes.  How can I, or any of us who are the trainers of warrior-servants, give anything less than these heroes are called to do?  

The first time an officer I had taught was murdered, I almost quit the profession of training.  I foolishly believed that training could solve every problem, and if the training I presented was of high enough quality, then no one would ever be hurt.  Officer James O’Brien.  He was pursuing an active shooter (well before Sgt. Jeff Martin, San Jose, CA, PD, and I coined that phrase over a decade ago) who had just murdered several people in a government office.  Jim parked his police car a couple of blocks away from the suspect’s location, got low, and peeked between the driver’s A-post and side spotlight.  He took a .300 Winchester Magnum round in the face, having penetrated the spotlight, killing him instantly.  He did everything right:  given the suspect’s known weaponry, he maintained extreme distance, he got small, used his vehicle properly as cover, and attempted to maintain observation of the suspect while directing backup officers to a safe approach.

When I heard that he had been murdered, I remembered Jim—out of the officers in a class long before, I remembered his face,  I had had lunch with him during the week of training.  For the two years following his murder, I searched my soul for something I had missed, feeling I had somehow let him down in the training.  Even though I only trained those methods and concepts that I believed in, I scoured my training doctrines and lesson plans for any garbage that wasn’t practical or effective.  I examined everything for anything that was based on my “being special” as an instructor and didn't serve the officers I was training.  I laid awake at night, going over and over what I taught compared to Jim’s response in this call.  A close friend of mine, a retired sergeant from Los Angeles County SO, Randy Johnson, said something that should have been obvious, but evidently wasn't to me for so long.  “Sometimes we do everything right and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  Sometimes it’s just up to God.”  It was then that I realized that training couldn’t solve every problem, and that if I did my job perfectly, cops are still going to die.  That’s the nature of the job.  All that I can do is provide the best training I know how to help them minimize the chance of that happening.

Let no officer's ghost ever say my training failed him or her.

So I continue to scour the classes we teach, revising every class each time we teach it as we learn more, discover different ways to problem-solve, and figure out how to better present it so that it is easier for them to learn and, most importantly, remember when our cops are hurt, tired, and scared.  We teach them to be warrior-servants:  uphold the Constitution, follow the laws and their policies, and to help those who need them.  And we teach them to be warriors within the law:  fierce, dominating, and ultimately effective.  If we teach them to do the best job possible, then it is up to that officer and his or her decisions in the field to stay safe.  And sometimes no matter what they do or don't do, it is up to God.

I have known several officers personally who have been murdered.  I've trained five.  Of the five officers I have taught who have been murdered, only one of them made a series of terrible mistakes and seemed to be unaware of the dangers he might have been able to see.  Sadly, he and his family paid a terrible price.  Another murdered officer was intentionally T-boned by a fleeing suspect, having no chance to change an unforeseeable outcome—I remember him like it was yesterday.  The two remaining officers fought like lions after being wounded, but succumbed to their wounds.  Anne Jackson was one of these two officers--she was constantly smiling and laughed a lot--a nice woman who worked hard during training.  She was the last of the officers attending my classes to be murdered…so far.

So far.  There is nothing I can do in training that will change Rule Number One.  But I will continue to provide the best training I know how, searching and revising and changing the curriculum so that it gives the officers I serve, we serve, the best information possible to do this job safely and to increase their chances of coming home.

The very first funeral I attended for a fallen warrior had the following poem read aloud in his honor.  It was written by George Hahn, a retired LAPD Officer.  It is entitled, “The Monument.”

I never dreamed it would be me,
My name for all eternity,
Recorded here at this hallowed place,
Alas, my name, no more my face.

“In the line of duty,” I hear them say;
My family now the price will pay;
My folded flag stained with their tears;
We only had those few short years. 

The badge no longer on my chest, 
I sleep now in eternal rest. 
My sword I pass to those behind, 
And pray they keep this thought in mind. 

I never dreamed it would be me,
And with heavy heart and bended knee; 
I ask for all here from the past, 
Dear God, let my name be last.

So at Officer Brenton’s memorial, the Ceremonial Commander, the honor guard, the color guard, and the flag-bearers all did their job with scrupulous dignity and attention to detail befitting the honor this hero and his family deserved.  The politicians gave their self-serving speeches.  The eulogies were given by his friends and family, their pain apparent to all.  Two buglers played "Taps," the mournful notes lingering in the echoes.  The pipers played “Amazing Grace,” forcing us all to catch our breath against the sobs, with the last piper walking off into the distance, and breaking all of our hearts all over again.  The last radio call was played, and Officer Brenton’s call sign and badge was retired, the silence between the dispatcher’s calling him over and over ripping through us all.  Tough men and women failed to hold back their tears.

Rest in peace, Officer Tim Brenton.  God bless your family.  I promise you, sir, that we will not bury a cop attending our training because the training is substandard or presented for anyone’s benefit other than our students.  We will continue to ruthlessly critique our training material to ensure that we give the best chance to every officer who honors us by permitting us to share our knowledge and skills.

And we know that you will not be the last hero we bury, because we know nobody can change Rule Number One.