“You Never Want To Run Into Something For the First Time In Combat.”
– Emerson Combat System Mantra
I will assume that those of you who are reading this that have had firearms instruction or combat training have heard of the effects that a spontaneous, unexpected threat stimulus has on the body. And I’m sure that we all were taught and all agree that one of the effects is that our fine motor skills go to heck in a hand basket in a high stress environment. In addition to tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, increased heart rate, the adrenaline and cortisol hormone cocktail totally negate your ability to execute fine motor skills in a gross motor skills environment. It is often described as wearing gloves or oven mitts. We’ve all been taught that. We all agree on that, right?
Tell that to a Fight Pilot. Here you have an individual flying at Mach II in the cockpit of a $55 million dollar machine, 20,000 feet in the air, directing flight control over a bank of controls and instruments, both heads up displays and dash mounted, in charge of fire control, cognizant of the rest of his squadron and in contact with them, tracking radar both for position and possible enemy birds or radar lock on his position. In addition the pilot is following his mission directives and reporting status back to command. That is a pretty high stress environment if you ask me. And it sounds like the pilot is using some pretty fine motor skills.
Yet, it is true that all of the effects of adrenaline and cortisol that I mentioned previously are real and they do take place. So how is this possible? How can a fighter pilot use all of these finite motor skills in a high stress, gross motor skills environment? Because he has done it before. Do you recall that I asked the question in the article on The Attributes of the Sociopathic Predator, “Why do bad guys win?” The answer was, “because they’ve done this before.” It’s the same answer here concerning the fighter pilot. Actually it’s the same principle. Funny thing about Principle and Concepts. They are completely objective. They don’t take sides. They don’t change. They are universal and they apply equally as well for bad guys as they do for good guys. How do we make them work for us?
Reality Based Training
This is the game changer. This is what separates the traditional rote memorization of skills and techniques from the evolutionary, adaptive ability to effectively apply learned skills and decision making processes in the fluid, dynamic environment of actual combat. You may ask, just what the heck is he talking about? We’re going to take a brief historical look at the evolution of Reality Based Training. The goal of reality based training is to identify and analyze the combat environment and to reproduce it as closely as possible in training.
Enter Colonel John Boyd, aka 40 second Boyd, a nickname he earned as a fighter pilot in combat training because of his ability to gain the superior position on opponents in 40 seconds or less. John Boyd was a fighter pilot but was also one of the most influential and important Military analysts and strategists of modern times, also known for the concept of the OODA Loop. Boyd was in part responsible for the modernization of fighter pilot combat training and architect of the Air Force Fighter Pilot Training program which was also the model used to create the Air Force Red Flag Training and the US Navy Top Gun fighter pilot training program.
How does this relate to our discussion? I will ask another question. When do most fighter pilots get shot down? On their very first mission. Boyd and others looked at the data from decades of armed combat and were made aware of a very important statistic. Statistically it is most likely that a fighter pilot would be shot down on his first or initial combat engagements. However, if they survived their first 10 or 12 missions their survivability jumped dramatically. In fact so dramatically that statistically those pilots were almost never shot down in combat. As a result of this discovery many things were learned. One of which was that the environment of air combat did produce all of the damning effects of high stress, high threat physiological and psychological responses that we discussed earlier. This was not good for a pilot engaged in aerial combat. Oven mitts and tunnel vision do not enhance your survival skills at 17,000 feet.
By looking at this phenomena (the spike of survivability after a dozen or so sorties), much was learned about the human’s ability to adapt and prevail in spite of the effects of high stress in a combat environment. The most obvious is simply the benefit of “Combat Experience,” the more you engage in combat the better you are at it. As this was analyzed it was deduced that the more an individual faced these high stress environments, the more he was able to maintain both physical and psychological self control in spite of the effects of large amounts of adrenaline, and cortisol, the increased heart rate and all the other stress responses and their resulting influences. And the more times he faced these environments the more he manipulated the environment and the less the environment manipulated him.
So in terms of Fighter Pilots it was proposed that if you could get a pilot through his first 12 Combat missions in training before engaging a real enemy in real combat then perhaps the survival rate would increase. And it worked. By creating as close a combat environment as possible in training and putting the pilot through that stress again and again you are in essence inoculating the individual to the stress of combat before he is actually exposed to it. Hence the term, stress inoculation that is now commonly used to describe this process.
Again, the question is; How does this relate to personal or individual combat? Well, like I’ve said throughout the series of articles, principles don’t change, they don’t care where and how they are applied and they don’t care if you are a good guy or a bad guy.
Combat is combat. It doesn’t matter if you are engaged in a dog fight with an Iranian Mig or a bad guy who’s slinging lead or fists in your direction. You will experience all of the deleterious effects of a high threat, high stress event. A large part of your ability to prevail and survive will depend on whether the event controls you or if you control the event.
In terms of hand-to-hand combat the “Top Gun” training principle applies equally as well. The more experience you have had in gun fights or street fights the less you are “infected” by the stress of that action.
In terms of most people, they do not have the “privilege” or “misfortune” of actual combat experience and just as with fighter pilots you must in some way prepare yourself for it.
Reality based training is one of the best ways to gain at least an approximation of that experience. How do we accomplish that?
I have a good friend who changed the state of firearms and gunfighter training forever. His invention is called Simunition and it enabled the use of real guns firing wax bullets in gunfight simulations. It has become one of the standard training evolutions for almost all operators, agencies and departments around the world. Using Simunition, you could put operators into active force on force scenarios and run them through time and time again to give them their version of Top Gun training. And it works. I’ve run my share of sims training classes and I’ve seen the results. I will also add that I was one of the first Tactical Instructors to recognize the viability of air soft training in the same regard and introduced it as a legitimate alternative to sims training, much easier and cheaper to use. I’ll admit it’s not quite as “real” but it also produces dramatic experiential results.
In terms of hand-to-hand combat there is of course no substitute for training. The key is taking the standard forms of training from the mat or ring to reality based training. Once again the need is to analyze the combat environment and reproduce it as closely as possible in training. I will go into the ways you can weave this training into your life even if you never go to the gym or step into the ring in next week’s installment,
Part 2 of Hardening The Target;
Becoming The Force To be Reckoned With