Reality Based Training: Mental Preparation

I was just getting ready to leave town for the beginning of the long lap of the country that I do once a year in support of my 5 Day RBT instructor schools. I pulled up to the gas pumps at a local filling station and began to fuel my vehicle. Within seconds of beginning the fueling process, a beat-up vehicle containing two nefarious looking characters rumbled in beside me. The passenger came bouncing out of the car toward me, looking shiftily around. He had the look you know exactly what I m talking about. That predatory demeanor that caused every one of my alarm bells to go off.

I adjusted my position and put my hand near my hip, ready to draw and shoot this guy if things went terribly wrong. I removed the gas nozzle from the fill spout of my car, aimed it directly at him and told him to stop as I shifted my gaze back and forth between him and his partner in the car. He stopped dead in his tracks with an audible Wha?!? followed by a Hey brah, I just need a couple dollahs ta get me an my man down da road. I told him I wasn t an ATM and used a couple of choice directive expletives to help punctuate the fact that I was the inappropriate choice of the day for financial support.

He wheeled around, hopped into the car and left without further discussion. But it didn t end there for me. I have no idea as to the true intentions of him and his little pal that day. Perhaps it was simply aggressive panhandling, perhaps it was the initial phase of a robbery or carjacking. I ll never know for sure, but once I was back in my vehicle, I continued to play the saga out in my head.

In my imagination, I see him reach into his waistband and pull out a pistol. As his movements telegraph what is happening I am already beginning to move while drawing my P7. Using my vehicle as a barrier, I quickly check the surroundings and move to a position that places the other two people in the parking lot out of the line of fire. I raise my weapon, confirm that he indeed has a gun and begin firing. There is no time or necessity for a verbal challenge. Six rounds zipper him, starting at the pelvis and moving up through the torso. He crumples to the asphalt. I continue to adjust my position in anticipation of the second guy getting into the fight. I tactically reload my pistol, retaining the last three rounds from my first magazine.

I shout to the shocked observers to get down, while the suspect vehicle speeds off, leaving the first perpetrator behind. I catch a partial plate number and mentally note the make, model and direction of travel. I then yell to the witnesses to the event to stay back and to call 911. Tell the operator there has been a shooting of an armed robbery suspect, I tell them, and that the white guy in the red shirt behind the white SUV and trailer holding the pistol pointed at the guy on the ground is the robbery victim.

I keep my head in the game, checking my surroundings while keeping the shot suspect covered. The sheriff s department shows up remarkably fast not surprising given that the main station is within the sound of the gunshots. I identify myself and follow the directions of the responding deputies. I know exactly what I m going to say to them, and, more importantly, what I m not going to say to them. I know who I m going to call. I know from studying the works of Alexis Artwohl and Bill Lewinski that I will likely have some time and memory distortions of the event despite the fact that everything seems crystal clear in my mind at the moment. I know from studying the works of Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman that there might be some physiological effects to deal with, but that I have legally and morally done exactly the right thing.

The entire event plays out just as I have rehearsed time and again in my mind, just as I do with similar events where I play what if as a means of crisis rehearsal. The entire mental rehearsal takes a mere five minutes out of my day and further prepares me for how to respond to a real crisis in the event it ever happens.

I know the value of mental rehearsal during life-threatening events. While I have not tested its value in a gunfight, I have experienced the effects during a skydiving mishap during my first critical malfunction of my main parachute. This malfunction put me into a high-speed, disorienting, unrecoverable spin. It took me less than a second to make the decision to cut away my main chute and deploy my reserve. In fact, I can t even really call it a decision, but rather a reaction to the preparation I had done. I was experiencing an event that would surely kill me, and I had mentally practiced on every ride up to jump altitude what to do in such an instance. I performed the corrective action flawlessly, and I enjoyed an exhilarating reserve parachute ride to the ground.

I contrast my experience with that of a video I show in my instructor schools of a very experienced skydiver who has an identical malfunction. He cannot make the decision to cut away his main parachute, and the video camera on his helmet captures his indecision in horrid detail as he slams into the ground at high speed. He had approximately 30 seconds to make a life-saving decision, but because he had neither the actual experience nor done any crisis rehearsal, he was incapable of making that simple cutaway decision. It cost him his life.

This form of reality based training doesn t require any equipment or a specialized facility. It is a journey of the mind. Dennis Waitley, author of The Psychology of Winning, describes the value of high-quality rehearsal using the imagination. While working with NASA and Olympic athletes, Waitley used sophisticated equipment that recorded the brain and muscle firings of astronauts and athletes who were imagining their own perfect performance in upcoming events. The brain and body were reacting as though the imagined performance was real, and this type of rehearsal has proven to provide a decisive advantage to those who use it.

Playing what if and imagining yourself performing perfectly in critical incidents helps you prepare for critical encounters, and can definitely provide you a decisive edge when the combat comes. Simply practicing skills will not necessarily prepare you for the totality of the fight. It might assist with winning the physical fight, but what about the other survivals? Will you survive psychologically? Emotionally? Financially? Legally? Professionally? Socially? If not, then as Grossman says in On Combat, you will be a one-shot, disposable police officer, and that is unacceptable.

Crisis rehearsal in the mind is an extremely effective method of helping to prepare for the entire fight because you can, at your leisure, begin to go through the process of what you will say and do in the aftermath of a critical incident. Reading the great works on the subject by authors such as Grossman, Artwohl, Lewinski, Bruce Siddle, Dave Klinger, Brian Willis, Wes Doss, Gavin DeBecker and others helps provide the grist for the mental mill. It s then up to you to put that information into mental practice on a regular basis.

Why not mentally turn calls that have gone well into calls that go bad? What if that guy hadn t given up? What if the passenger had gotten out of the car to help out the guy you were arresting? What if that had been a gun instead of a wallet that angry motorist went for so quickly into his console? Playing what if and fixing problems before they occur in combat can provide you some amazing, cost-free feedback with which you can critique your own performance and get better and better each time as you recognize your own shortcomings.

As for me, as I sat there in my car that day gloating to myself at how flawlessly I had performed, I reached back and patted my holster as a means of self reassurance of the value that carrying a pistol in these violent times provides. I felt the blood drain from my head as I discovered that my pistol was not in my holster. It was, instead, at my feet in the car I had pulled it out prior to leaving the house and placed it there to make my long drive more comfortable rather than having it poke me in the back all day in my waistband holster. Had things gone terribly wrong that day, my pistol, while only a few feet away, was not where I expected it to be where I would have needed it to be. There I was, fully prepared mentally for a lethal-force encounter, but I had broken one of the major tenets of a winning gunfight bring a gun.

My mental rehearsal that day has since caused me to fix that major shortcoming. What shortcomings will your mental rehearsals reveal to you?

Until next time, train hard and train safe.

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