Hardening The Target Part II: Becoming The Force To Be Reckoned With

I was working at one time with the Federal Air Marshals and was asked to give a training evaluation and proposal to them.  The cadre that I was working with had recently completed a training evolution with a well known tactical instruction group that sold “state of the art reality based training,” as their premise.  The Marshals described their experience with the group and they were duly impressed with the instruction.  I listened patiently and then simply asked, “How much time did you spend punching the heavy bag while sitting in a chair?” None.  I then followed with “How much time did you spend fighting an attacker out of a seated position?  How much time did you spend fighting 2, 3 or 4 guys off from a seated position?  Did you spend any time trying to fight with a blanket thrown over your head?”  The reply was, “But we learned a lot of good takedowns, control holds and wrist locks.”

“For Chrissakes,” I said, “if you’re ID’ed on the plane at 33,000 feet and attacked, they’re going to kill you and take your gun.  That’s their only objective.  You’re not going to be fighting to “subdue” them.  You’re going to be fighting for your life and it’s not going to be a fair fight.”  And their recent “reality” based training course was specifically requested to equip them to defend against a physical attack on the Air Marshals by terrorist hijackers.  Now, mind you, I was not and am not saying that their previous training was not good.  You still need to have those skills in your bag, but their training could have been better… much better.  I told them, “I’m going to teach you how to kill those bastards and save that plane.”  Without exception, every one of the Marshals was 100% in agreement with that, and it was not only what they wanted but what they really needed in their situation.  Unfortunately and needless to say, as my proposal climbed the chain of command it eventually landed in front of a suit who stated that, “This is way too brutal, this would never read well if you actually had to do it.” What!?!?  How is it going to read when a plane with 236 passengers and crew slams into a building and kills 2000 innocent people?

Sorry, I got a little off track, but I think I’ve made my point.  You might think you’re doing reality based training, but there may be huge gaps in it that you could easily plug.

“All that is advantageous to the enemy is disadvantageous to you, and all that is useful to you damages the enemy.” – Vegietius, 4th Century

I’m going to put this into terms more relatable to most of us hoping that it will spark your creativity in devising some “scenario based reality training of your own.  I’m going to use boxing as a framework for this example for several reasons.  A lot of what I teach is based off boxing.  I used to box.  I like boxing.  Most people already know how to punch.  And there are few things on this Earth more effective than a good jab, cross combination.  Of course that’s just my opinion, but it’s saved my ass more than once.

So, in terms of boxing your training will consist of learning all of the punches; the jab, the cross, the hook, the uppercut and all the variations of those basic strikes.  You will learn defenses against those strikes, an area where boxing excels, because you’re not really blocking anything you’re just putting things in the way, which is so much more effective than trying to block against specific strikes, taught by so many.  When I see that, I always wondered, “How can I react faster than you can act?”  I always tell people, “it’s like throwing darts at mosquitoes.  Ain’t gonna happen.”

Anyway, then you learn the footwork and body movements of boxing.  Then you learn how to apply your punches in combination against the heavy bag and develop power and balance.  You work the speed bag, focus mitts, you jump rope and all of the various training exercises.  And finally you get to spar.  That’s where it all comes together.  You hope.  So now after several months of training you’ve got all of the skills of boxing under your belt.  And you could probably blow right through most bad guys on the street.  But you’re still trained as a boxer to fight other boxers.  That is, someone squared off in front of you, attacking you with basically the same skills that you possess.

Let’s do some reality boxing now.  Remember my Mantra, “You never want to run into something for the first time in combat?”  Is it possible that someone might attack you while you are sitting down?  You better learn to punch the heavy bag from a chair – just like the Air Marshals.

Could someone attack you while you are lying down?  You better practice punching from both the mounted position (on top) and form the bottom up also.  Could you be attacked in the dark?  Try working the heavy bag while blind folded.  Could you ever be forced to fight with only one arm?  Put one hand in your waist band and learn to punch hard – use both sides.  Could you be attacked in a confined area, a bathroom stall, between parked cars?  Could you be attacked where there are things all over the floor?

If you’ve got training partners you can get even more creative with multiple attacks, surprise attacks, attacks from behind, in a car, backed into a corner and any number of various scenarios.

You can introduce weapons, for example, fighting your way of a surprise weapons attack.  A sock with a couple of whiffle balls stuffed into it works really well and it stings like hell.  It’s very important to bring pain into the training as this really ups the stress level.  Always wear eye protection.

I’ve given you just a few examples of how to start introducing some reality training into a basic boxing framework and just to give you some samples of how you can expand a conventional program into something more reflective of attack based fighting responses.

Now mind you, you don’t have to practice these skills at the expense or exclusion of your other/current training, you just have to add a few of them in time to time.  You’re not learning new skills.  Hell a punch is just a punch.  What you’re doing is just creating a different environment in which you must use those skills, sometimes at a disadvantage to you.  Remember, the first time I want to get attacked between two parked cars isn’t when a bad guy is really trying to kill me.  I want it to have been two dozen times before in training.

We haven’t even touched kicking, grappling or ground fighting skills in regard to this subject, but I think you can see that any basic skill set you possess can be enhanced to reflect a more reality based, “Top Gun” approach.  “You just gotta do it.”

So, what if you are someone who can not participate in active physical training for whatever reason.  What can you do?  Remember how real a dream feels?  Do you have an imagination?

A few years ago a psychology professor devised a very interesting experiential experiment.  He explained to the class that they were going to learn how to shoot free throws.  He then taught them the basic skills and techniques needed to shoot correctly.  At that point, he split the class in half.  Half A was to come to the gym and practice shooting free throws for an hour a day, 5 days a week.  The other half B, was to spend only ½ hour on Monday at the gym shooting free throws.  The rest of the week group B was to visualize, themselves shooting free throws, doing so only in their imaginations while physically pretending to shoot.  At the end of 8 weeks there was a free throw shoot off.  The results?  They were even.  How could that be?  We’re talking about a difference of 40 hours of practice time for group A vs. 4 hours of practice time for group B.  Or were we?  While group A practiced shooting, sometimes too high, too short, off to the left, off to the right, not enough arc, only sometimes sinking one, guess what group B was doing?  When they were imagining their shots, every shot was pure net, a swish, perfect form, a perfect free throw every time.

Eventually a government agency got wind of this experience and the question was asked, I wonder if this could apply to shooting skills, and firearms training.  Having only so much time to run recruits through training, if you could get the same results by cutting range time, you could teach more valuable field craft to them.  So the experiment was repeated.  And once again it worked.  Think about it, if you imagine yourself shooting, where does every shot hit?  Right – dead center.  These recruits, just like the free throwers were getting experiential results by merely creating the process and experience in their mind.

Let’s look at this; A few years ago a California Highway Patrol officer told me of this experience.  Another officer radioed in that he was making a stop on a highway in Northern California.  He did not know that he was stopping a wanted felon.  When the officer exited his unit, the bad guy wheeled out of his car with a nickel plated .357 magnum and fired off a round striking the officer directly in the belly.  The officer went down and the bad guy took off.  The officer crawled to his car and radioed “I’m shot, I’m shot” and fell back onto the pavement.  The officer telling me the story arrived on scene about 5 minutes after the call.  The downed officer was dying right in front of him and going into deep shock.  Officer #2 tore open the downed officers clothes looking for a way to stop the bleeding.  Funny thing though, there was no blood.  He turned him over looking for an exit or entry bound and couldn’t find one.  The officer in his hands was slipping away.  There was no wound.  The bullet had struck his belt, traveled around his side and out into the weeds.  When the ambulance arrived they told officer #2 that 5 more minutes and the first officer would have been a goner.  As you know, shock will kill you dead.  So what is there to be learned from this?  When the officer was shot, his thoughts were, “I’m shot.  I’m dying.”  The most important point here and the reason that I am talking about this is, “If the mind truly believes something, the body follows suit.  In effect the officer was willing himself to die and the body was following suit, shutting down the system.

Alright back to my original question of , “what can you do if you can’t train?”  You can use creative visualization to train.  You can imagine the attack scenarios.  But this has to be a vivid, HD quality movie that you watch.  Imagine the sounds, the smells, the details of the attacker and the attack.  Create your response, your vicious, ferocious response and your survival.  The more real you make this waking dream the more “experience” you garner from the exercise.  And you can let your imagination run wild.  I hope that you realize that this also is as valuable as a training aid to anyone who is actively training in any form of combat, not just for those who are unable to train.  There are certainly other aspects that go into the process of hardening the target including physical fitness, research and education.  But, remember the CHP Officer.  If you can imagine yourself dying, you can imagine an attack, your response, your survival and your experience.  The use of creative visualization is not the real thing, but it can be the next best thing and in the game of life and death I will stack the deck with everything I can in my favor and so should you.