Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Years Message for 2014

There is something about this time of the year that, culturally, gives us pause for reflection on the year(s) past.  For most, we make resolutions about how we will live our lives going forward – what "new" decisions we will make and what "new" actions we will take – in the New Year.  As 2013 draws to a close, most in our culture participate in this ritual.

Ironically, studies show that the majority of people, by week 8 of the New Year, have given up in their efforts to lose weight, exercise, stop smoking, manage money, reduce debt, etc.  Some have repeated this process so often without success that they enter it expecting to fail - or, even worse, have stopped trying to improve themselves altogether…

In my role as a teacher at the Midwest Academy, I sometimes humbly assist in mentoring students with changes they wish to make in various areas of their lives that are separate from the training floor.  However, the lessons from training always become force multipliers in their personal success.  As such, I often use the analogy of performing a throwing technique when solicited for guidance: When teaching classes on nage (“throws”), beginning level students tend to see the initial-contact between tori (the one that performs the “technique”) and uke (the one that receives the “technique”), and then see the end-contact point when the throw is completed.  What transpires in between the 'initial-contact' and 'end-contact' is what requires study, training, and practice.  It is elusive to their eyes primarily because all of the facets of success are not yet understood by their mind – as a result, beginners tend to “impose” their “will” through the process of doing “too much”.  Too much strength.  Too much movement. Too much of effort.  At times they may be successful in producing the desired outcome (the throw) through the incorrect process (too much strength, movement, effort, etc), but it is, ultimately, the proverbial attempt to “put a square peg into a round hole” – it is inefficient and therefore unsustainable

Since we have had so much success using this analogy to mentor ourselves and others, and since it is the traditional time of the year when so many people make resolutions, we are sharing our thoughts here in hopes of facilitating someone's future success.  The concept of tsukuri is particular to martial arts generally, and those that include throws within their curriculum specifically.  The concept includes the creation of space/spatial-distance which your training partner/opponent is forced to fill with their movement as a consequence of the limitations of human kinesiology and movement laws.  Since tsukuri is purposefully created, the filling of that space provides a predictable opportunity to gain an advantage through synergy; an opportunity that tori can exploit.  We say that this opportunity has synergy since it is the result of the combined movements of tori and uki in contrast to forces working antagonistically.  Tsukuri allows for the technique to be both effective and efficient – it becomes a sustainable skill in that, when correctly performed, works all the time and every time in a repeatable and predictable manner.

One of the benefits of long term martial arts training is that concepts such as tsukuri become intuitive to the practitioner.  Skilled exponents of the arts, without being conscious of it, extrapolate concepts such as tsukuri into all aspects of their “regular life”.  Oftentimes these internalized concepts influence their decision making process in ways that are difficult for them to articulate to the uninitiated, but nonetheless contribute to the soundness and success of their decisions and actions.  For them effectiveness must be married with efficiency - and the result is a sustainable and repeatable solution or process.

Returning again to thoughts of the New Year, the staff at the Midwest Academy offers this discussion from the perspective of our own life, training, and teaching experiences.  Our staff and students are encouraged to continually seek out opportunities for personal growth and to make quality of life changes that are good for themselves, good for others, and serve the greater good. In order to operate at that level, each of us is required to do the following: look for tsukuri – focus on what you will gain by the new decisions and actions such that the “space” for the old decisions and actions is removed.  If your resolution requires an investment of time, look at the totality of your time to determine where you can create efficiencies in order to create tsukuri – a space of time – for you to invest into your new decisions and actions.  Focus on how the old decisions and actions are holding you back and how the new decisions and actions will empower you - those dual focus points will go a long way to creating both synergy and personal momentum. 

Finally remember that success is predicated on recovering from and learning from numerous previous failures – every time we perform a repetition of a given technique, there is something we can learn from it that will help us in the next repetition.  As long as we keep working at it with an eye towards both efficiency and effectiveness, we will continue to improve in a way that is sustainable.  The advent of the New Year is a great reason to make new decisions and take new actions, however, if you are not immediately successful, get right back at it; do not wait for the next New Year, next month, next week, next day, or even next minute! If you make that alone part of your core values, you cannot fail.  It is what makes great teachers. It makes great technicians. It creates good health.  It creates financial abundance. It is the cornerstone of an approach that improves the total quality of one’s life.

“Some who has mastered an art reveals it in their every action.” –Hagakure –

Happy New Year! May you be unstoppable in 2014!

- The Academy Staff -  

Monday, December 30, 2013

2014: "Next Steps" Firearms Training at the Midwest Academy

2013 Midwest Academy Firearms Program in Review

In 2013, the Academy began teaching its CSAT (Combat Shooting & Tactics) based firearms program to qualified civilians.  CSAT is a system developed by retired Army Special Operations Force/DELTA MSG Paul Howe who served as a team leader and trainer in the Army’s most elite units; Paul is now heads CSAT, his own training company.  CSAT can be researched here.  For over a decade, David Hakim, a law enforcement Special Operations Team Leader and Trainer to multiple teams and also the Academy’s Director, has been teaching this system to Law Enforcement Special Operations Teams. 

The Academy’s firearms training exceeded student's expectations by emphasizing the fundamentals of shooting (pistol, rifle, or both) and applying these fundamentals tactically.  The student roster was diverse – men and women, some of whom had little experience to current and veteran law enforcement and military special operations personnel.  A number of students repeated the course for the experience and drill repetitions.

In Illinois, as we enter 2014, the state’s Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) program takes its first steps forward.  The Academy is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the responsible armed citizen.  That said we have opted to stay out of the CCW training environment for the following primary reason:

Integrity – all of the programs at the Academy are taught by instructors who have high levels of personal and professional integrity combined with skills that are rooted both in extensive experience and training.  We have chosen not to lower our standards to that of the state's qualification: of the 16 hours of CCW training required by the state, the actual skill set of “shooting” consists of 30 rounds fired of which only 21 have to be “hits”.  Since the shooting portion is un-timed, if it even took as much as 1 minute to fire each round, the 30 minute range portion would still only be 3.125% of the total training hours. The accuracy required under un-timed, non-stressful shooting is only 70% to quality. The remainder of the state mandated hours includes instruction on topics such as liability, use of force, transportation of firearms in “gun free zone”, and the like topics. 

As the Director of the Academy’s Firearms Program, while I do have an experience base that includes roots as a military combat veteran and a veteran law enforcement special operations team leader; while my daily experience includes carrying a weapon everyday for approximately two decades, it is outside my experience base to opine on the ambiguities and statutory contradictions contained within the current Illinois Public Act 098-0063 (Conceal Carry Statute).  Furthermore it is not in the long term interest of the Academy's students to train to the sub-par standard of the state's program; we believe without additional training and dedicated practice, this standard will be counterproductive in the gravest extreme (see our previous article discussing High Utility Combatives).

We have, however, chosen to remain in our area of expertise – in this case the tactical application of firearms – which we know at a deeper level, and teach, using a superior-results-oriented method, than any other locally available teaching group (particularly those groups attempting to be all things to all people). By continuing to focus on developing the optimal skill sets for our students, we believe that we can address the utility gaps inherent in the state's training standards as well as those created by opportunistic instructors that view the CCW training as another "money grabbing" opportunity.

The Academy encourages citizens of Illinois to seek out and obtain their CCW certification/license, however, cautions to be wary of instructors who stake their claims solely on NRA certifications, reserve/auxiliary law enforcement credentials (even many active law enforcement officers elect not to carry a weapon off duty and, thereby bring into question the integrity of their “experience” on the matter), credentials that state that they train law enforcement and/or military personnel, and anyone that politicizes self-defense training related to CCW (enough said on that sub-point).  We offer the following article as a guideline for finding an instructor: Finding Qualified Instructors

2014 Midwest Academy Firearms Program Preview

In 2014, the Academy will continue to offer our CSAT TPO (Tactical Pistol Operator - Video Drill Demo) and TRO (Tactical Rifle Operator) courses determined by logistics, but will also introduce a tactical firearms program that meets bi-monthly at the Academy and is designed to be a “next steps” program.  It is the “next step” to take after qualifying for a CCW license and, in the Academy’s tradition, solicits the serious student of the firearm as opposed to “wanna-be’s with a gun license”.  The real world experience that Academy instructors’ possess continually hones our curriculum and is without peer in the region.  However when combined with the bi-monthly format of the training - training which includes quality repetition, in-depth tactical study, and regular high-frequency practice sessions - produces unparalleled tactical competency.

Some of the topics covered include: the best carry methods for a CCW lifestyle, the most efficient and effective methods for presenting and employing a firearm, weapon ready postures, tactical scanning methods, tactical decision making, movement with a weapon, the effective use of cover and concealment, tactical geometric angles, immediate “tactical casualty care” (for yourself or another), identification to law enforcement, and case study analysis on significant shooting incidents.  All of the Academy’s firearms courses are based on the CSAT methodology and, as such, the principles are conducive to both on (live fire) and off (dry fire) range practice sessions.  Like all Academy programs, the “next step” firearms program is both cost and time effective. It requires, however, an investment of effort and attention on the part of the students. 

Qualified students will possess a valid Illinois FOID and an Illinois CCW, or another state’s equivalent, or be Academy students screened through our in-house process.  All Academy students, firearms students included, must possess a positive can-do attitude and be dedicated to improvement.

For more information or to apply for training to the Academy, please contact us at either (630) 836-3600 or Visit Our Website.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"High Utility" Firearm & Combatives Skill Development

“High Utility” Firearm & Combatives Skill Development

(Qualification Processes versus Holistic Skill Development Systems)

This article is the result of many conversations that I have had with people following a recent 2012 court decision by the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals. The court returned a finding that Illinois’ statewide ban on concealed carry (of a firearm) was unconstitutional. The court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution, with regard to this case, is that American citizens have the right to keep and bear a firearm inside as well as outside the home for purpose of self-defense. Judge Richard Posner is quoted as stating, “A Chicagoan is a good deal more likely to be attacked on a sidewalk in a rough neighborhood than in his apartment on the 35th floor of the Park Tower”. Illinois was given roughly 180 days to develop some provision for their citizens to now legally exercise this Constitutional right.

Numerous individuals and organizations contacted me following the court’s decision to discuss various topics related to CCW (the concealed carry of a firearm); conversations varied from simple inquiries as to licensing availability through the Midwest Academy, to more complex concerns such as the depth and quality of any yet-to-be-developed state curriculum. Most of these individuals and organizations that contacted the Academy/me did so due to the experience base here: few organizations are able to speak professionally from the perspective of military and law enforcement special operations veterans that have been an operators, leaders, and trainers in those venues. Of the few individuals that fall into this category, few also have nearly two decades of daily conceal carry, plain clothes interventions, and critical incident resolution experience. The preceding is not an attempt to impress the reader, but to impress upon the reader that the following is an experienced-based synopsis that has also been vetted in the “real-world”; it is not simply theory, conjecture, or opinion. What follows is a discussion addressing the five core components of “high utility” skill development as related to combatives: Skill Performance, Scanning & Decision Making, Tactical Integration, Medical Skills, and Combat Mindset.

Skill Performance (Conscious vs. Unconscious Skill Competencies)

Training that licenses one to do something usually involves some process of qualification; however, in order to avoid the “minimum standards trap”, one must first examine if a “qualification” ensures that someone is “qualified” to perform the action in the venue of its likely application and under realistic conditions associated with the action’s utility. In other words, can a “qualification” incorporate the critical elements of the real world? The “minimum standards trap” is a recognition that many qualifications are designed, instead, to absolve an instructor/organization from potential liability. That is quite opposite to it functioning as a measurement of the degree of utility that an individual can apply a particular skill set with. In the field of combatives, regardless of the platform (rifle, pistol, impact tool, edged tool, or empty handed), the dynamics and variables involved defy the development of “unconscious competence” (for information on learning theory as applied to physical skill sets, see our previous 2010 article on Integrated Training ) in an 8, 16, 32, or even 40 hour format. There is simply not enough time in those formats to perform enough correct repetitions, at an appropriate level of intensity, in order to build “unconscious competence”. Most “qualifications”, however, are structured around fixed time constraints such as those described.

In fact, it has been my experience in nearly 3 decades of combatives training, few people develop “unconscious competence” in physical skill sets due to the sheer time commitment required to perform the volume of repetitions needed. In addition, the magnitude of mental exertion required to perform each repetition correctly is beyond most exponent’s level of personal discipline; that is particularly true if they are “self-coached”. “Unconscious competence”, additionally, is not and end point; it is a continual process requiring regularly applied “maintenance repetitions” in order to keep the skill set from degrading or perishing altogether.

Does that mean that a skill that is not internalized at the level of “unconscious competence” cannot be used? Absolutely not. In fact most physical skill sets, in my experience, are employed at varying degrees of “conscious competence”. That means that some level of “thinking” through the “how” of some or all parts of “the action” occurs while executing the skill. What am I making that assertion on? Simply this: vivid analytical recollection of the specific mechanical aspects of a physical skill following its application indicate a conscious thought processes driving the skill set; hence the ability to recall it vividly. Conversely skills performed at a level of “unconscious competence” tend to leave only an intuitive sense that some parts of the skill set were applied. When combined with a practitioner’s knowledge of what mechanics “should have occurred”, that intuition is confirmed by the practitioner’s “general feeling/state of awareness” that the sequential mechanics did occur, but without specific recollection to “doing them” during the incident. Task specific action without cognition indicates that an “unconscious mind” is driving the skill set. As an analogy for the latter scenario, one can think of locking a door that one locks every day. Since the daily locking of the door is routine, it often occurs while thinking about something else. As a result, after a few minutes, one begins wondering if one locked the door or if the “memory” of locking the door was from a previous ‘repetition’ of locking that door. Since the locking of that door is habitual, most of the action is driven unconsciously thereby making conscious recollection of a particular ‘locking repetition’ difficult.

Let me offer a comparative analogy to help explain the above and demonstrate the “higher utility” that “unconscious competence” is capable of producing: think back for a moment to the earliest recollections that you have of driving an automobile. At that time, driving required all of your conscious energy. Even then the mechanics of the skill were not always smooth or correct as evidenced by the white knuckles and held breath on the part of your driving instructor (maybe on your own part as well). As you gained time (and repetitions) behind the wheel, complex aspects of driving become more familiar. For example, as a light turned from green to yellow to red, you applied the correct amount of pressure to the brake to gradually slow the vehicle in the appropriate amount of distance. By contrast, if some emergency that required stopping quickly presented itself, you applied the same braking action, but used different dynamics in order to effect deceleration in the distance dictated by the emergency. If you have been driving for any significant length of time, you may have had this experience at least once (or, maybe, more regularly): you drive a familiar route (such as between home and work, for example) and find yourself arriving at your destination without any significant recollection of the specifics of that particular trip. You may actually recall something else you were thinking about consciously, other than driving, during the trip: a phone conversation, planning for something you need to do, or evaluating something that happened, as examples. You may have no specific recollection applying the brake to stop at a given stop sign along the route, but if you press yourself to “remember”, having ‘practitioner’s knowledge’ that a given stop sign exists at a specific point in your route, you likely have in “intuitive recollection that is confirmed by general feeling/state of awareness” that you stopped for it. You would not, however, be able to mark on the pavement the specific spot where you began to apply brake pressure to decelerate the vehicle. That type of detail was outside your sphere of conscious awareness. One would say that a person driving at this level has “internalized” the mechanics of driving at a level of “unconscious competence”.

So what that all that mean? Driving at a level of “unconscious competence” does not mean that you are a “bad” or “distracted” driver. It means that, as a result of internalizing the mechanics of driving at a level of “unconscious competence”, the driving skill set has “high utility”. It has “high utility” in the sense that the foundational mechanics can spontaneously produce correct action without conscious thought. Take for example driving through an unfamiliar area while your conscious mind is focused on locating a specific address or street - suddenly a small child darts out between the front and rear bumpers of two cars parked on the side of the street that you are driving on. Without specific conscious thought directing the response, you adjust the speed and direction of your vehicle to either drive around the child, if he is close to the cars, or stop your vehicle, if he is more towards the street. This is not a “trained response” since you have never been down this street, under these lighting conditions, with these road conditions, etc., and practiced this evasive maneuver for these specific variables before. All those variables, as well as the totality of distance, speed, and directions were intuitively (without the conscious thought process) accounted for. The driving mechanics that exist at an “unconscious level” produced exactly the appropriate set of actions needed for this specific and dynamically occurring situation; the action co-developed with the situation as opposed to an “action-reaction” response. Therefore, since the action was co-developed, it developed spontaneously; the child did not reach an end point of movement that your mind then developed a response action to. As the child was moving, the driving inputs were being adjusted.

By comparison, newer drivers tend not to have their driving mechanics completely internalized. Thus, their driving skill set exists at some degree of “conscious competence”. Their skill set produces desired outcomes (safe driving) as long as the variables of a given condition do not change so dynamically that their conscious mind is not able to analyze the changes, identify the appropriate response, and translate the intellectualized response into the correct physical actions. When variables change too rapidly for the conscious mind adapt through analysis, we can correctly say that their OODA loop (the ‘Observe, Orient, Decide, Act’ model of perception, decision, and action) was compromised/overwhelmed. The data that was “Observed” and being “Oriented” to changed prior to a “Decision” being made (in a timely manner) and “Acted” on. To illustrate this, think of the ‘at fault’ driver following a car accident. This driver usually knows what could have been done to avoid the accident (such as slow down, speed up, turn, or some combination of those inputs) in retrospect, but in the moment, the driver was not able to create the process that would lead to the desired outcome (not having the accident). Does this mean that only inexperienced drivers have accidents? Again, not at all. However, insurance companies that profit through accurate risk analysis view less experienced drivers as being at greater risk of having an accident as compared to more experienced drivers. As a result, they charge greater premiums to offset the increased risk.

If both experienced and inexperienced drivers have passed the same “qualification” standards to drive, why would a statistical risk analysis differentiate the two groups? The less experienced driver with a new driver’s license has the same “qualifications” to drive a vehicle as the more experienced driver, however, the insurance company’s risk analysis shows that the less experienced driver is less “qualified” to drive safely than the more experienced driver. Even if the outcome of “safe driving” is produced by the less experienced driver, the insurance company still believes this driver to be higher risk because the “process” of driving is not internalized at a level of “unconscious competence”; the newer driver’s skill set has less “utility” than a more experienced driver in terms of producing the desired outcome (safe driving) in a dynamic environment. In our driving oriented culture, insurance companies typically lower risk premiums around 25 years of age – if the typical driver passes a “qualification” at age 16, the risk analysis shows that he/she is more “qualified” after almost a decade of regular repetitions.

Returning to the general topic of combatives, and specifically firearms, what mechanics does one seek to have “internalized” in order to create “high utility”? The short answer is all the mechanics related to the act/action of shooting. There are three general components to the action of shooting that all quality training programs identify and focus training on: the grip, the sight alignment, and the trigger press. Other factors such as posture, breath, etc are also trainable components of those three fundamentals – all of these should be internalized at a level of “unconscious competence”. The point of this article, however, is not to discuss “how” to shoot, but what core component skills must be developed to have a “high utility” shooting skill set. At a minimum, the mechanics of the Skill Performance (the grip, sight alignment, and trigger press) must be developed to a level of “unconscious competence” in order to create “high utility”.

I have spent a significant amount to time to demonstrate why “qualification” should not be equated with “high utility” skill development. My intent is not to discourage individuals from training programs that are “qualification” oriented, but to have them understand that a “qualification” is the beginning of a mastery process and not the end. Quality training provides avenues for further skill development beyond the “qualification”.

Scanning & Decision Making (“Thinkers before Shooters”)

Once the conscious mind has been freed of the need to “create” the mechanics of action (since “action” is now performed correctly and without conscious thought), the energy of the conscious mind can be directed into a skill set necessitating analysis: scanning and decision making. Efficient scanning and decision making are required to create “high utility” combative skills and, in my opinion, are one of the most underdeveloped areas related to most firearms training programs. Scanning and decision making are essentially two different, but interdependent, skill sets; as mentioned before, however, this is not an article on “how to”, but rather a synopsis of “what are” the skill sets make up the whole of “high utility”. Therefore, I will refer to the scanning and decision making skill sets by their interdependent outcome which we will call “discrimination”. “Discrimination” in this context refers to being able to fluidly and accurately decide if something/someone is either a “threat” or “no-threat”. It also includes a method of using one’s body movement and eyes so that no areas of “the battle-space” that are omitted from one’s awareness.

Good discrimination relies on the ability to gather and process data in a dynamic environment. At the Academy, we use the CSAT (Combat Shooting and Tactics) method of Tactical Scanning in order to gather this data. It is important that the mechanical aspects related to the “Skill Performance” of shooting be supportive of the mechanical aspects used in the tactical scanning process; when the mechanics in multiple skill components support one another, synergy between skill sets is produced. The mechanics Tactical Scanning facilitate gathering multiple layers of data regarding a potential threat/unknown individual in the “battle-space” so as to make accurate decisions. The “discrimination” process results from the interplay of scanning and decision making on the following levels:

• Whole Body – the initial scan of an individual should take in the whole body view. Depending on the distance of the individual being scanned and battle-space lighting conditions, the operator may need to use the “rod cells” (peripheral vision) or “cone cells” (“focused” vision) of his/her eyes to capture the whole body view in an instant. In addition, the operator’s weapon ready posture must be internalized in a way that it does not obstruct the whole person view, but can be readily presented if a threat is identified. That means a compressed high ready or “sul position” are the two preferred methods for a pistol and a low ready (muzzle below the belt line)preferred for a shoulder mounted weapon;

• Hand-Hand – distinctly seeing both hands is critical to identifying “threat” or “no-threat”; a gun may be in one hand, but the other may contain a badge, for example. If one or both hands is being concealed from view, that also provides threat indication data to the operator (as concealment is not a natural part of day-to-day action);

• Waistband – this is the area that a weapon can most readily be deployed from;

• Wingspan – the ‘lunge area’ of an individual may contain “threat” or “no-threat” data such as a pistol or machete, for example;

• Demeanor – does the person’s overall conduct seem to indicate “threat” or “no-threat”.

Since discrimination is a conscious and continual process in the battle-space, it becomes a factor in limiting the speed of movement – one cannot shoot faster than one can move and correctly discriminate (think). Developing a “high utility” shooting skill set is contingent upon having proficiency in scanning and decision making. Synergy results when the Tactical Scanning and Decision Making mechanics are smoothly and precisely dovetailed with mechanics of Skill Performance at a level of “unconscious competence”.

Tactical Integration (From the Range to Reality)

The next core component in developing a “high utility” shooting skill set is the tactical component. This component has had a significant volume written about it in the tactical community, however, this discussion can be facilitated by dividing tactics into “tool oriented tactics” and “movement oriented tactics”. “Tool oriented tactics” are the immediate action drills which have the purpose of keeping the tool useful during an engagement. Since these are actions intended to be performed during an engagement (when the weapon does not function correctly), these actions need to be internalized at a level of “unconscious competence” (along with the Skill Performance component) in order to create “high utility”. Some examples of these drills are ‘emergency/speed reloads’, ‘tactical reloads’, ‘multiple target transitions’, and ‘weapon transitions’. These drills are common to most firearm training programs.

As one begins to incorporate the core component of tactics into the whole of the shooting skill set, the quality of tactical training becomes imperative to consider; tactical training quality is often difficult to assess since most students of combatives are relatively inexperienced. It is often easy for an inexperienced student to mistake high speed “game training” for quality “tactical training”. Repetitions will result in internalized actions, however, if the internalized actions are simply “gaming” and not “tactical”, they could ultimately be detrimental in the application environment (during an actual critical incident). “Gaming” in this sense, is what results in many training venues when a desired outcome (such as lowering times, for example) supersedes a vetted process. Take for instance a drill that many shooting classes teach called “el presidente”: in this drill the shooter engages three targets in lateral succession traversing horizontally from one target to the next. The shooter then performs a reload, and then re-engages those same three targets in the same manner described. The drill is usually scored on some combination of accuracy and time; students can improve their scores by lowering their times. While this can be quality training, “gaming” of the drill can start to occur when a student stops using the weapon’s sights to dictate their cadence of fire (rounds fired without the reference of a sight picture cannot be accounted for in the real world), starts keeping their finger on the trigger while traversing from target to target (in the real world there may be innocents between threats and one does not want to sweep them with their muzzle while their finger is on the trigger), and by eliminating the practice of “follow through and cover” on threats that have been engaged (appropriate combat mindset cannot be developed when ‘hits’ on targets equate to an assumption that a threat has been neutralized). “Gaming” is not necessarily bad; games can teach us something as long as we keep them in their place in the application spectrum – many of us played Monopoly as children and learned something about money from the game, however, few of us would attempt to pay our bills with Monopoly money as adults. The tactical process that one seeks to have internalized at a level of “unconscious competence” should never be compromised in order to improve any measurements. As illustrated, one could develop bad habits such as not referencing one’s sights, sweeping the weapon across innocents with the finger on the trigger, and not following through on threats that have been engaged; these habits can be unknowingly introduced into a tactical skill set without the practitioner being aware of the negative potentials as a result of “game” training. Since these actions are unconsciously driven, it is not likely that one will be able to execute a different process during a critical incident. How you train will be how you fight.

“Movement oriented tactics” relate to understanding the geometry of the ‘battle-space’. Since most people live, work, attend school, shop, etc., in some sort of manmade structure, the most relevant battle-space geometry to study is that of the urban environment. Learning to make use of cover and concealment appropriately, assessing thresholds, entering and exiting rooms in the safest manner are some examples of skill sets related to “movement oriented tactics”. Quite simply these skills cannot be developed on a flat range and require a significant investment of time and diligence to develop “high utility”. Furthermore, experience based instructors tend to have the greatest knowledge with regard to “movement oriented tactics”.

Medical Skills (Prepared to Survive)

Like the tactical component, the medical component is likewise multifaceted and has had volumes written on it. Again for this discussion on developing a “high utility” shooting skill set, this topic will be simplified into two basic components: “Pre-Combat” medical and “Combat Casualty Care”.

“Pre-Combat” medical is closely related to the mindset component of a “high utility” shooting skill set. Sometimes referred to as fitness or conditioning, pre-combat medical skills seek to provide health related synergies to the other core component skill sets. For example, the greater one’s level of cardiovascular health, musculoskeletal health, flexibility, etc, the better supported core components of a “high utility” shooting skill set will be that require those physical aspects. This has led to many trainers “gaming” aspects of “pre-combat” medical by adding physical stressors, such as exercise, into shooting drills; they are missing the point in my opinion. The idea should not be to train in a “degraded” “pre-combat” medical state by elevating heart rate, blood pressure, and exhausting musculoskeletal components. While conditioning is important, proper form should be the emphasis of “skill performance”; the emphasis placed in the “pre-combat” medical section should include techniques that slow heart rates, lower blood pressures, and conserve musculoskeletal components. The rationale for this is that we have already identified discrimination as the limiting factor in combatives training; physical exhaustion affects the reliability of the discrimination process. In order to increase its reliability, techniques for decreasing physical exhaustion should be dovetailed with the combatives techniques in a “high utility” skill set. Breathing techniques as well as “meditative” skills have been components of combative skills for thousands of years of human history; they are no less applicable in today’s battle-space and with modern tools than they were during their origins. A clear state of consciousness and relaxed-but-ready physiology should be part of “pre-combat” medical skills.

In today’s battle-space a significant number of casualties occur as a result of blood loss as opposed to instant incapacitation. Skill sets related to minimizing blood loss, such as tourniquet application, need honed. Combat casualty care may save the oneself, the life of another, or both; this skill set is the result of a “consciously competent” ‘blood saving’ skill set combined with an “unconsciously competent” combat mindset; it requires the proactive discipline of keeping the appropriate tools (such as a tourniquet) available and/or having the knowledge and means to improvise them.

Combat Mindset (the Weapon is only a Tool)

To paraphrase MSG Paul Howe, retired Army Delta Force Team Leader & Trainer, combat mindset is a person’s ability to focus on a task, solving one problem at a time, while in harm’s way and facing overwhelming odds; it includes keeping one’s emotions under control and having a businesslike attention to detail such that one is deliberate, methodical, and prepared to survive in the accomplishment of that task.

The development of combat mindset requires a great deal of personal discipline as well as an investment into a paradigm that includes relinquishing of the luxury of being “situationally unaware” and “unprepared” for critical incidents. Combat mindset as related to a “high utility” shooting skill set, which is how this discussion began, requires consistent carry and placement of a firearm, magazines, and identification at a minimum. Since critical incidents, by their nature, do not provide forewarning, combat mindset requires maintaining a state of committed readiness as well as a residual awareness that is alert to early threat indicators. The earlier a threat is identified, the greater the options to avoid, minimize, or mitigate it before it becomes a critical incident. The greater one’s knowledge of the law is, the better one will be able to cultivate combat mindset; even amongst armed professional, ambiguity regarding laws governing force and self-defense is a dominant cause of hesitation in the decision making process that can result in creating an asymmetric environment in an aggressor’s favor.

Combat mindset is the single skill component that will not create utility at any level other than “unconscious competence”; it is also the component that is built through all the other skill sets by training them at a level of appropriate intensity and commitment. As “unconscious competence” develops in combat mindset, shooting skills will be but a single layer in a set of skills; one will realize that mindset is the weapon and everything else is simply a type of tool. As discussed with many of the previous components, much can be discussed regarding combat mindset as its own topic.


This article was written to provide a “map” of sorts for anyone interested general combatives, shooting skill sets, or seeking a CCW. What has been outlined is a process of continual improvement in several skill areas (Skill Performance, Scanning & Decision Making, Tactical Integration, Medical Skills, and Combat Mindset) that require the use of both the conscious and unconscious mind in an integrated manner such that synergy is produced. Without skill set integration, complex problems will likely produce chaos in the same way as the inexperienced driver is less able to avoid the accident.

By being personally invested and committed to a holistic system, a “high utility” skill set, one through which the foundational mechanics can spontaneously produce correct action without conscious thought will be developed. Conversely, if one’s level of commitment is simply that of “qualification” – simply to purchase a firearm and take a “test” after 8, 16, 32, or 40 hours of training; to only carry the tool when one is “going to the city”; to sometimes carry it in a briefcase and other times leave it in the car, it is highly probable that any complexities during an actual critical incident will degrade the even minimal utility of any skill developed. In the latter case, much of the outcome of a critical incident will be determined by “luck” as it fills the void of skill. Therefore I would encourage anyone interested in combatives, shooting skills sets, or seeking a CCW to commit to building a “high utility” skill by understanding the depth of the process from the beginning and seeking quality training by high quality, experienced instructors. And then, of course, committing to do the homework.

David B. Hakim