Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ingrained neurological pathways

A concept I refer to often when I teach is developing quality ingrained neurological pathways.  Not just repeating an action over and over again, but conditioning a quality response so it becomes second nature.

Practice makes perfect

Practice does not make perfect, PRACTICE MAKES PERMENENT

Perfect practice (conditioning quality responses) makes perfect.

Before we go much further let’s have some clarification so no one gets hung up on perfect.  I had an argument with my brother  (a Hockey Dad/ coach) over this.  My brother’s point was no one can practice perfectly.  One can only practice the best they can and make small steady improvement.  I don’t disagree with his point.  What I mean by perfect is functional, and likely to succeed, not “aesthetically pleasing” or absolutely flawless.

Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.  The point I wanted my brother to see was that fundamental principles must be understood before repetitious training, especially self lead training should occur.  Otherwise they just get very good at doing it wrong.  Practice makes permanent good or bad.

Install good habits

One of the reasons I refer to quality ingrained neurological pathways so often because everything is training.  Everything you do at training is developing these path ways.  The best way to describe this is to use an example from the range.

Let’s say that the course of fire is; from the low ready on the command of fire you will deliver 2 rounds center mass and one to the head.

Shooter A shoots once, looks over his sights to see if it was a good hit, makes a slight adjustment fires again, looks again, takes aim at the head and fires.  He looks at his score then waits for the range master to tell him to holster.

Shooter B double tapes the chest because he knows his fundamentals are sound and that 2nd round will follow closely to the first, rides the recoil up to the head and fires.  Physically scans for additional threats checks behind him (his 6 for all you sexy commandos).  When the range master tells him to holster, he checks his score for bragging rights.  He knows he made his hits.

Both shooters shot the same score, but one ingrained negative range habits into his firearm skills, while the other ingrained positive combat skills into their firearm skills.

Quality ingrained responses are of paramount importance for practical application.  The strip mall dojo hobbyist and the range weekend warrior can go their whole lives with these bad habits and not even notice.  Those same bad habits will get an operator killed

The stress caused by interpersonal violence, a person trying to hurt / kill you, is very different then the stress caused by surviving the violence of a tornado or house fire (forces of nature)

When you are experience, let’s refer to it as combat stress, your brain functions change.  Your cognitive “thinking brain” functions don’t shut down, but become limited because other parts of your brain are taking over.

This limited cognitive function has been likened to being drunk.  Most of us have not made the best decisions while drunk.  But the conditions that created the combat stress means you will be making life and death decisions with limited cognitive capacity.

Again, that is why it is so important to have quality ingrained responses.  In a gun fight if my gun goes click, I can’t waste what cognitive function I have left trying to remember how to clear a jam, or re-load.  My cognitive function needs to be finding cover, figuring out how to out flank the shooter or coordinating with other Operators.  I need my hands to just take care of the problem without thinking about it.

That is where the phrase – Your thinking is done in training -  comes from.

So do good thinking!  Everything in training ingrains patterns good or bad.  If you have spent as much or more time pulling punches so as not to “hurt” your partner, what do you think is going to happen when you are experiencing combat stress and need to hit someone hard enough to save your life?

Conditioning, especially conditioning over a long period of time is very powerful.  If you are that guy who has been taught to pull punches don’t trick yourself into thinking that when the time comes you will rise to the occasion and deliver the best strike of your life.

Another training phrase – You don’t rise to the occasion, you drop to your level of training…in an adrenalized body.

Still don’t believe me, still think you’re so special you will break through your conditioning when you need it most?

Cops learned this lesson the hard way (like we always seem to do).  Back in the days of revolvers LAPD range policy was to dump your brass into your pocket before you re-load.  This kept the range clean, no one likes cleaning up brass, but it had nothing to do with firearm skills much less combat gun fighting.  Not until two officers involved in a shoot out were found dead with empty weapons and pockets full of brass did training start to change

So, if the strip mall dojo hobbyist and the range weekend warrior can go their whole lives with these bad habits and not even notice, how do we know if we have ingrained bad habits?

The best ways I have found is to induce stress as realistically as is as safely possible.  You will never be able to safely recreate the chemical cocktail pumping through the blood during combat stress but there are things you can do to closely simulate it.

For example let’s take another look at shooter A and Shooter B on the range.

You don’t rise to the occasion, you drop to your level of training…in an adrenalized body.

To mimic the effects adrenalization has on the body you can get the heart rate up to the point where fine motor skills start to degrade.

So let’s have this drill at the 7 yard line.  Their empty weapon and and empty magazine lay on the floor. On go they have to sprint from the 7 to the 25.  At the 25 there are 3 bullets.  They have to pick up one bullet and sprint back to the 7.  At the 7 they have to do 5 burpees then load one bullet into the magazine.  Repeat three times.  Now with fine motor skills degrading they have to load the magazine rack the slide and deliver two rounds to the head and one to the chest.

On top of physical stress you can add psychological stress.  Make it a competition, and make the competition have consequences.  First one finished with the most hits wins.  Loser has to clean the range, or treat at Dairy Queen, or change his face book status to Kasey is the greatest I’m a pretty little princess.  Although nowhere near actual combat stress competition with consequences has a similar effect.  Better to feel those emotions and learn to work through them in training than under fire

Shooter A’s range habits are going to slow him down when speed is critical, a drill like this will shine a spot light on ingrained fundamental flaws

Similar things can be done for combatives training.  I’d refer you to Rory Miller’s book on training drills.  I like to use his one step drill as an efficiency test

Attacker gets one move, say a specific attack we are working that day

Defender gets one motion, ideally this motion:

·         Improved his position

·         Worsened the attackers position

·         Protected him from damage

·         Allowed him to damage the attacker

o   Set up his next motion

o   Prevents the attacker from moving

Attacker gets one motion to counter / escape

If things are going your way the attacker should be so off balance they can’t do anything or if they do, they hand you a finish on a platter (over in 3)

If they can escape / counter / whoop your ass, there is a flaw there that needs to be addressed

No use going further until you figure out what went wrong, and how to fix it.  Don’t get good at doing it wrong.

Again every part of training ingrains responses good or bad.  So be very careful when training like this especially in empty hand combatives not to ingrain bad habits or worse psychological tripping points

The best way to describe this is by another example.  For years a state agency has been using PPCT as their defensive tactics system.  Recently they have been discussing changing it.  Some trainers, trained in one system, some trainers in another, and one trainer was a division 1 collegiate wrestler.  Eventually they developed their own system, unproven on the street, and largely based on wrestling.  Because they wanted “live training” they would end their practice with what for all intents and purposes boiled down to a wrestling meet -  cop vs. cop.  I interviewed a guy I know from that agency about it. He told me lots of people missed work the next day due to injury.  He liked it because he felt it was good to use force against a resistive opponent in practice before you ever have to do it in the street.  He also said you could tell who was in shape and who was weak or would back down.  I asked him, because you won, you learned that you could pull these techniques against a resistive subject?  He said yes.  I asked him what the other guy learned.  He said he didn’t get it.

I told him the other guy learned that no matter how hard he or she tried, these techniques did not work against a resistive subject.  They were embarrassed because they lost.  They will not use those techniques or freeze while attempting to use them because it has been proven to their lizard brain (fight flight freeze) that these techniques did not work and last time they tried them and they got their ass kicked.

As I mentioned last blog you can’t let anyone leave training with this in their head, without something concrete they know (and believe) they can successfully do to control a resistive subject.

There are a lot of ways you can conduct “live” training without ingraining negative responses.

For some examples please refer to my blog with Steven Jimerfield’s essay on taking the negatives out of training.

In training of this sort if you find that you have some sort of glitch / bad habit take the time to fix it.

It is going to take lots and lots of reps doing it the right way to break a wrong habit.

This has been a fairly lengthy blog already so I’ll stop here, but I’ll leave you with a cliff hanger

Next blog we will pick it up right here with reps for mastery and the importance of cross over skill integration.

Until then…

Train hard, Train smart, Be safe


  1. Hi,

    I had a bit of a look around for it but could not find it. Do you have any idea where we can find Steven Jimerfield’s essay please?



    1. Going dynamic too fast is the name of the blog

  2. Exactly the same principle applies in high end technical scuba diving training. You MUST be able to rely on your reptile brain to be doing the right thing when the time comes....