Train your brain to win the fight

Coach your students — and yourself, since we are all self-taught to a large degree — using positive techniques under stressful conditions as much as possible


Though we firearms instructors like to think of ourselves as gods, in fact most physical skills like firearms marksmanship are pretty much self-taught.  Certainly, we give our students initial instruction in marksmanship skills by way of demonstration of the “proper” technique, but each adult learner will process that input in their own individual way.  We are coaches much more than teachers.
The way we coach can program our students for success... or failure.  When calm and able to reason, our fore-brain is in control.  The fore-brain is what makes us smarter than monkeys — well, most of us — and able to conduct high-order reasoning.  Under stress, however, our more primitive mid-brain can become dominant. 

Psychologists often refer to our mid-brain as the “reptilian” brain.  LTC Dave Grossman calls it the “puppy dog brain,” and I prefer that warmer, fuzzier image. 

A “To Do” Perspective
The important thing you need to understand about the puppy dog brain is its inability to understand a negative concept.  You can read more about the topic in my article on Coaching Forward.  In simple terms, we must program all “stress” skills, like gunfighting, from a positive perspective.  Coach them in what-TO-DO, instead of the negative-slanted what-NOT-to-do.

The more I interview experienced police gunfighters, the winners of such incidents, the more I am convinced the human brain can multitask.  If you are well trained, which generally means you are conditioned through stress-inoculation training scenarios, your fore-brain can process the massive sensory input you receive during a life-threatening event while your mid-brain handles the more mechanical aspects of the fight.

It is easy to find examples of cops who effectively handled a high-stress incident, yet they are unable to remember taking actions that the circumstances prove were taken.  During a high-stress Rapid Deployment Train-the-Trainer scenario, I photographed a student/instructor clearing a malfunction in his Glock 17T Simunition pistol. 

The officer didn’t recall clearing the malfunction and insisted I was wrong, until I showed him the digital pictures as proof.  His fore-brain was concentrating on making hits on his active-shooter adversary while his mid-brain handled the “mechanical” tap-rack clearing routine.  If my theory is correct, the officer’s fore-brain was so focused on his target, it didn’t even realize (or record the fact) that his mid-brain had issued the nerve commands necessary to make his hands clear the pistol and get back on target.

An Off Duty Example
You’ve probably experienced this same forgetfulness of something you accomplished under stress.  Several years ago, my aging father suffered a sudden heart attack mid-bite during our regular Saturday lunch at the local Pizza Hut.  I caught him as he fell out of the booth, easing him to the floor as I tried to remember the proper sequence for CPR (was it two to 15?). 

Our family doctor happened to be in the restaurant and immediately elbowed me out of the way.  I took a breath and said we need to call 911.  My wife quickly explained that I had yelled to the restaurant manager to call 911 as I was breaking dad’s fall.  Apparently, I had yelled out the order rather loudly, because I noticed everyone in the busy restaurant was staring at me with eyes the size of their dinner plates! 

But, I had absolutely no recollection of yelling out the order until a few hours later.  This explains why officers often forget important details of a gunfight until their adrenaline dump wears off some hours or days later.  I won’t leave you hanging.  The Doc did a solid heart “thump” and my father sat bolt-upright, took a deep breath and was more lucid than he had been in weeks!  But an off-duty cop yelling “CALL 911!” followed quickly by the arrival of a rescue squad and ambulance will sure empty out a busy Pizza Hut!

So, if we program our officers with positive “do-this” skills under stressful conditions, I believe they can multitask, using BOTH their fore-brain to assess the tactical elements of a gunfight while their mid-brain handles the mechanical skills of marksmanship. 

Memory of High-Stress Encounters
If you interview a number of police gunfighters your will frequently hear “I don’t remember seeing the pistol sights.”  Adamant point-shooting proponents will submit these statements as proof that the human beast is incapable of focusing on their sights during a high-stress confrontation. 

I disagree.  I normally ask such gunfighters if they “didn’t see their sights,” or if they “didn’t remember seeing their sights.”  They usually pause, reflect a moment and say, “I don’t remember seeing my sights.”  But, a couple of them have gone on to tell me they were sure they couldn’t have made the same shot on the firing range without using their sights.

Now, this is all theory, but the theory is based on my own personal experiences and observations, coupled with many, many interviews with police gunfighters.  We know with certainty that details are frequently lost to memory during deadly force encounters, details that dash-camera videos often record.

My point is not to ignite another firestorm between the point-shooters and sight-shooters.  Instead, my point is to illustrate the need to coach your students — and yourself, since we are all self-taught to a large degree — using positive techniques under stressful conditions as much as possible.  My trainer example above, who cleared his Simunition pistol without remembering, was a fine instructor who had programmed his malfunction-clearing skills so effectively his mid-brain handled the problem without the fore-brain even realizing the action had occurred.

The human brain is truly an awesome “computer,” capable of much more than we realize.  The way we train can unleash more of our brain’s powerful survival potential.

“Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”
— Yoda

 

About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

Contact Richard Fairburn

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