During a scene in the movie “Enter the Dragon,” an obnoxious bully is terrorizing the young crewmembers of a boat that’s transporting contestants to a martial arts tournament. The bully accosts Bruce Lee on the deck and antagonistically interrogates, “What’s your style?”
“You can call it the art of fighting—without fighting,” says Bruce.
The bully aggressively and relentlessly demands to see a demonstration of Bruce’s skills. Bruce convinces him there’s not enough room on the boat to fight, and that they should get on the lifeboat and go to the nearby beach.
The bully agrees, and Bruce has him get on the lifeboat—first. At which point Bruce immediately unties it, and allows the lifeboat to be towed far behind the main vessel, providing the bully a well-deserved dose of humiliation and seawater.
The point: Bruce accomplished what he needed to do, without physical confrontation. He subdued the bully without fighting him, and demonstrated the art of fighting—without fighting.
Did you know that you can apply Bruce Lee’s logic to police work and practice many of your tactical skills without physically practicing them?
Whaaaaat? That’s crazy!
I agree, to a point. You can’t develop high-level, precision psychomotor skills unless you actually perform them. However, you can greatly enhance the speed of a skill’s deployment by significantly reducing reaction lag time, thereby increasing the efficiency of the psychomotor skills you’ve already developed. This fine-tuning of skills can be performed in the comfort of your easy chair through VMBR exercises.
Really? Says who?
Olympic-level athletes, world champions, and top performers in most every competitive endeavor say so. Do a little research, and you’ll find that almost all world-class competitors practice this way.
Training for Readiness
During his presentation at the 2008 ILEETA Conference, highly respected trainer Ken Murray, author of Training at the Speed of Life, talked about an encounter that reaffirmed the importance of VMBR. He spoke of a chance meeting with Mark McGuire at an airport, which occurred during his baseball heyday.
Now I never followed baseball, but it’s my understanding that many of the baseballs pitched towards Mr. McGuire returned the opposite direction at incredible velocities. Ken approached him, and thinking
Ken wanted an autograph, McGuire pulled out a pen. Ken replied: “No, I just want to ask you a question. How important are visualization exercises to your performance?”
Mr. McGuire replied to the effect of, I was sitting here knocking them out of the field until you came over and interrupted me. A pretty credible endorsement of the training methodology.
So what is VMBR? Visual Motor Behavior Rehearsal. For athletes, this entails visualization exercises of performing their competitive events. For law enforcement combatives training, it’s intensely visualizing a spontaneous threat, mentally developing a plan to overcome that threat, and then visualizing each and every physical detail that you would have to perform to accomplish that plan.
By preprogramming responses to threats that you may encounter, it puts you way ahead of the curve in the OODA loop. If you face a spontaneous threat that you have not preplanned a response for, you’ll have to go through the entire loop. First, you’ll Observe the threat. Then, you’ll have to Orient to the threat. You’ll have to Decide what action to take to neutralize the threat. Finally, you’ll Act on the decided course of action.
That is, assuming you have enough time to do all of that. If you’ve practiced VMBR for a threat, and preprogrammed your orientation and decision on what to do, you’ll be able to go from Observation to Action instantly, totally bypassing the orientation and decision stages of the mental process. It’s a lot like installing software into your computer. It’s much faster and more efficient if it’s preprogrammed on exactly what to do.
How to Do It
First off, you only do this in a safe, secure environment, where you can focus all your attention to the exercise. Get comfortable in the easy chair, and perform autogenic, AKA “combat breathing,” for a few minutes to completely relax your body. Once relaxed, focus your mind on building a scenario that you could potentially encounter at work.
Example: You’re on patrol and roll into the local convenience store parking lot—right into the middle of a robbery in progress. Just as you pull into the lot, a gunman exits and opens fire with a pistol.
Now, decide what actions you should take. Do you immediately throw it into reverse and exit the kill zone? Or is the lot designed such that you should floor it and exit the kill zone forward? Or would using your vehicle as an implement of deadly force be your best option?
I don’t know. I’ve never been to your convenience store, and the layout of the store and parking lot, plus the details of your personal visualization will influence your best option(s). However, I’m sure that you’re better off deciding on your best option now, rather than when you’re being showered with the shattered window glass of your unit.
Work as many of your senses as possible into the scenario. Hear the window glass shattering, the squeal of the tires, and the grinding of the transmission as you move to action. Smell the tire rubber burning. Feel the g-force of the acceleration of your unit. See yourself calmly and efficiently calling for assistance on your radio. See yourself exiting the vehicle with your AR ready to deploy.
To really maximize the effectiveness, do the exercise multiple times using all the possible available options. This is where you want to consider Murphy’s Law. During some scenarios, see something going wrong. See school kids behind your car, which will change your options. Instead of backing up, your only viable option may become using your car as an implement of deadly force. Work out each and every detail, and program the response that you want to use.
When you really dive into this deeply, don’t be surprised if you experience small muscle contractions as though you are actually performing the actions you are imagining. Hasn’t everyone convulsively kicked a leg or thrust an arm during a dream and awoken? The brain can’t distinguish the difference between a real experience and a properly completed VMBR session. It will be sending low-level signals to the affected muscle groups, burning neurological pathways that will be capable of recalling and performing the skills necessary much faster than if you hadn’t performed this training.
The applications of VMBR in training are really only limited by your imagination. You can preprogram proper responses to just about any crisis situation that you may ever encounter. When I teach this block in our seminars, I always mention these four rules that I believe will maximize the effectiveness of VMBR training.
If you’re serious about gaining the full potential benefits of VMBR exercises, I’d highly recommend that you pick up the book Mental Training for Peak Performance by Steven Ungerleider, PhD. It covers all aspects of VMBR and other mental exercises that are not mentioned in this article.
The back cover of the book carries a message. “Before you can win on the track, court, links or slopes, you have to win in your head.” Winning on the street in no different. The book is written with the development of champion athletes in mind, but the exercises are easily adaptable to the armed professional.