FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
In my experience, I've found that trainers typically fall into one of two categories: tactical or tacti-cool.Tactical trainers focus their efforts on developing in their trainees the ability to induce a desired outcome with maximum certainty while minimizing the time and energy expended.Tacti-cool training, on the other hand, has a different goal: developing the ability to look cool with maximum certainty, regardless of the likely outcome or the amount of time and energy used.
Probably the worst example of tacti-cool training I've ever seen occurred in the early 1990s when I was teaching an instructor school at a regional police academy. A tacti-cool instructor had a simultaneous ninja-cop-fu class going on in the same facility. He had his students doing forward rolls through the doorway. They would then rise to a standing position, draw and drop to one knee to fire. It looked really cool, and I'm sure Sonny Crockett would've been proud. But I hope the students were wise enough to see that this guy was delusional.
OK, I admit it: During my martial arts days, I voluntarily participated in tacti-cool training. When I was 18 (approximately 100 years ago), I was an avid practitioner of the tornado kick, a repeated, jumping, 360-degree spin of your torso in which your feet continuously strike your opponent, one after the other. It takes a great deal of flexibility, skill and practice to perform, and, in a controlled setting, it looks really cool. You look like you're the ninja warrior, demon-death slayer. However, in the real world, (sometimes even in the play world) coolness bites you in the butt.
One time, while sparring with a beginning white belt, I decided to be tacti-cool and throw repeated tornado kicks at the guy. As I spun through the air with both feet off the ground, he instinctively threw his hands up to protect himself. His flailing hand caught my leg under the calf. With no points on the ground to stabilize my balance, the inevitable occurred. As my leg was pushed up, my head went down, and mean old mother gravity slapped me for my antics. My head went thud on the gym floor, and I was dazed for a few minutes. Had it been a real fight, my tacti-coolness would have been my demise.
I remember talking to the tacti-cool head instructor after the incident, and he told me not to worry about it. He said my opponent was just a beginner and lacked the skill to purposely stop my tornado kick of death. Considering that one of his top students had just been TKO'd by a beginner, the instructor should have been thinking about the tactical futility of the technique.
The instructor didn't wake up after the incident, but I sure did. I really started to examine my tactics, training and trainers.
The Effectiveness Test
You'd think this kind of nonsense wouldn't happen in law enforcement training. But it does. The problem: In the real world, unlike the practice world of the karate school, officers can die because of tacti-cool training.
The test of good instructors is not what they can do as a warrior or how cool they look doing it. The test is how proficient their students are long after the training is over. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to judge the effectiveness of any training system by the instructor s personal skill level. There are some really incredible, highly skilled martial artists out there doing police training, but their personal martial-arts skills don t matter because they didn't achieve their skill level within the amount of training time you ll give your line officers. They might have decades of experience, and your line officers can't accomplish the same thing with only four to eight hours of training.
Bottom line: If students can't become reasonably proficient and retain the tactics they learn in their allotted training time, that time is wasted. It took me years to accept this. I don't like it. I wish it weren't true, but the fact remains.
So how do we separate tactical from tacti-cool and provide meaningful training that minimizes liability and is also effective? The best answer comes from my seminar partner and Law Officer Firearms columnist, Dave Spaulding. He developed what we teach as The Three S Test, which gives you a fast, systematic method to evaluate training techniques, tactics or concepts:
- Simple. Is the technique or concept simple in design? More importantly, is it simple to perform when the fear factor sets in? As we all know, when the excrement hits the spinning, air-moving machine, we don't rise to our expectations. We default to the level of our training and experience. Bottom line: If it's not simple, it goes in the tacti-cool bin.
- Sensible. Based on your real-life experiences and prior training, does the technique or concept make sense to you? Although cops may not be academic scholars, many are certainly PhDs in street smarts. If a trainer is teaching you the latest ninja-cop-fu technique and your BS meter goes off, ask em to explain it better. If they can't satisfactorily articulate why it makes sense, it too goes in the tacti-cool bin.
- Street proven. Has the technique or concept been used successfully in real-life street altercations? I'd rather use a time-tested concept that the gladiators developed in the arena than one conceived last week during a ninja-cop-fu class on a padded floor in a well-lit dojo with absolutely no expectation of death or injury if it fails. If it's not street proven, do you want to be the crash-test dummy?
- Source. Wait, wasn't this The Three S Test? Although Spaudling teaches just the original three, I think it should have a fourth S source. Where did it come from? Does the person teaching it, and/or who originated it, have real world experience using this or a similar tactic on the street? If I were going to learn lion taming, I would rather learn it from someone who has actually spent decades in a cage with bloodthirsty lions, than from someone who lacks real world experience in facing their deadly threats.
Now, in all fairness, there is a small handful of incredibly talented and very competent trainers who've never been officers. The members of this elite group won't be hard to identify, because they'll come with the endorsement of other leading law enforcement trainers worldwide. It's the self-appointed, inexperienced, tacti-cool experts to be wary of.
What to Train
Having spent roughly $25,000 out of pocket to advance my personal law enforcement training over the past 25 years, I have a considerable amount of training under my belt. I've read many books, watched lots of training videos and DVDs and attended more classes than I could possibly remember. This is in addition to Black Belts I earned previously in three different styles of Karate. However, the most important lessons came from 20 years of patrol duty in a major city. About a month out of the academy, I responded to my first double homicide scene when two drug dealers got their credit cancelled. I've responded to more rapes, homicides, and armed robberies than I could possibly remember. Stabbings, shootings, arsons, assaults, I've pretty much seen it all.
Does this make me the all-knowing guru? No. My experiences are fairly typical of many officers working in a major city. But they have given me a real life, firsthand education that s available only on the mean streets. Perhaps the hardest lesson I ve learned as an officer and a trainer is that most officers are not going to practice job skills on their own time.
We must apply the Three S Test to everything we teach, instilling functional skills early and quickly by focusing on the simple basics. The basics will carry most officers through difficult situations with a much higher success rate than tacti-cool training. Bruce Lee (the incredible martial artist, not the actor whose skills were distorted by Hollywood) once said, I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. Even at his advanced level of expertise, he understood that advanced fighting is nothing more than the basics mastered.
My mantra in training is now concepts instead of techniques. If a technique can't be used as a concept (i. e., in multiple situations and in varied environments), it's probably too detailed and martial artsy for the masses. For high-level aggressive resisting and assaultive situations, officers must learn gross motor skill concepts, such as knee and elbow strikes, as the foundation of their use-of-force training. These multi-purpose tools are easy to train and easy to remember, and have been street proven for decades.
Officers must start demanding realistic training from their departments. Trainers must start demanding the authority to teach what s effective. Trainers must also ask themselves one question before teaching anything: Do I know a simpler way of accomplishing the same goal?