(This post is contributed by assistant instructor Dave Reichek. For those interesting in training similar to what is described below, we (KR Training) will be hosting a combo course with Dr. Aprill on June 6-7, 2015 called “Unthinkable: Concepts and Techniques for the Gravest Extreme“, taught by Dr. Aprill, Caleb Causey of Lone Star Medics, and Karl Rehn of KR Training.)
I was fortunate enough to take part in the inagural Establishing a Dominance Paradigm course in January, over 30 hours of combined education instruction by Tom Givens, Craig Douglas (Southnarc), and Dr. William Aprill. The class was a closed enrollment course, restricted to a relatively small number of students who were all familiar with the instructors’ prior coursework and who had demonstrated a high degree of competency. This would present the instructors with a class of skilled practitioners with which they could induce a high level of stress throughout the class and see how the students fared under pressure.
Tom Givens wrote the following synopsis of the class content in his February 2015 Rangemaster newsletter:
This was a very intensive three-day course taught by Craig Douglas (Southnarc), William Aprill, and Tom Givens, with each trainer concentrating on his particular field of expertise. We had 15 students from literally all over the country, coming from as far away as New York City for this course. Days were long, typically running from 8:30 AM until 7 PM. The training involved classroom work, live fire on the range, and very realistic scenario-based training using Simunitions equipment.
William April has a unique background, having worked as a deputy sheriff and Deputy US Marshal before becoming a licensed psychologist. He has worked extensively with criminals both in a law enforcement and a mental health capacity. His lectures included a great deal of information on criminal psychology, but there was also a heavy emphasis on the brain physiology of stress and how to control that stress in a crisis. Southnarc put the trainees through a number of scenarios involving various role-play interactions. We had a separate training area with movable walls and furniture which allowed us to set up some very realistic scenarios. On the range, I set up progressively more difficult drills with a lot of issues intended strictly to raise the students’ stress level, and those drills were quite successful in inducing anxiety and stress in the shooters. Both the scenario-based training and the live fire gave the students the opportunity to experience high levels of stress and to use William’s techniques to control that stress and still function. Lynn Givens and Tiffany Johnson, as well as Jack Barrett, our host, joined the primary trainers as role players in the scenarios. We were able to put the students into real -life problems and have them work out their own salvation.
We were specifically asked to not give away too much about the class to avoid “spoiling it” for future classes as it relates to how the stress was induced, but I believe I can share some important points and observations while keeping true to the instructors’ request.
A big focus of the class – probably the primary focus – was the concept of bring cognizant of what your stress level is at any given time. Your stress level can range from detatched or disinterested at the low end, to a complete collapse of response or blind panic at the high end. Somewhere in-between (and this varies by individual) is your own personal “sweet spot” where your performance will be optimal. The instructors presented us with strategies to modulate our stress level in real time, and plenty of opportunities to practice stress management throughout the course.
Dr. Aprill spent a lot of time delving into brain functions and how this effects us during a crisis. The “Reflexive Brain” (“System X” in the Psychology nerd world) has access to over-learned complex muscle movements without the “Thinking Brain” (“System C” in the Psychology nerd world) having to get involved. For example, who hasn’t swerved around an object in the road, and then had to look back in the mirror to see what it was? The Reflexive Brain did all the work before the Thinking Brain even had a chance to get involved. There are numerous stories of the gun just “appearing in their hand” for trained people who found themselves in a dangerous situation. Again, an over-learned activity.
However, this can also cost you everything if your Thinking Brain takes over in the middle of your reaction inappropriately. During the first scenario we ran, I was a role player/actor for the scenario. There was a sudden stimulus (think “someone walking in unexpectedly with a gun in their hand”) and more than one student’s flinch reaction (reactive brain) was HALF of a draw stroke until the Thinking Brain took over and stopped it. Don’t kid yourself, EVERYONE knows what even half of a draw stroke looks like when you do it (If you are going to go for your gun, commit to it!) This interruption of the Reflexive Brain by the Thinking Brain is one example of the considerable amount of “tug-of-war” going on between the Reflexive Brain vs. Thinking Brain during the lifespan of the crisis, and we spent a lot of class time discussing what Dr. Aprill called “cognitive resiliency” – the ability to effective and most adaptively transition from one mode of mind to another.
Another interesting observation from some of Southnarc’s scenarios, and this was even more common than the half-draw reaction… consider a scenario where you make the decision that you are going to comply initially, and if you get into a favorable situation, THEN you will consider taking action. If you are going to comply, comply 100%. If you are going to get on the floor, get ALL THE WAY on the floor. We observed a lot of weird, semi-compliant poses – going down into semi-crouched positions, muscles obviously tensed. That drew a lot of attention from the bad guy(s), and very possibly will get you shot. The student in the scenario thought they were being compliant “enough” while trying to remain primed to act, but to an observer, they very clearly were not being fully compliant. At the very least, YOU are going to be the guy they “worry about” or “keep an eye on” – this isn’t going to help you! You want to be the person who is 100% compliant, to the point where they forget about you. Here is an unfortunate example of how non-compliance can get you killed, as a hotel manager found out the hard way recently:
“They believe the suspects walked into the hotel and demanded money. Police said when the manager refused to comply he was shot in the head. “
One of the other big takeaways I got from Dr Aprill’s psychological coursework was the concept of “know your temperament“ – it has been set in stone since you were 3 to 5 years old. In this context, we use temperament’s clinical definition – a fixed, pervasive, persistent reflection of your wiring; your natural pre-dispostion. The concept that you might act differently depending on what you are carrying or equipped with that day just doesn’t happen. Align yourself with your temperament (who you are). Equip yourself to your temperament, physically and psychologically. Don’t kid yourself and say “I’ll just be a good witness” if your past history and your instincts tell you that you are the type to “get involved”. If you are going to find your feet taking you towards the gunfire during some sort of active killer event, perhaps that J-Frame you threw in your pocket before leaving the house wasn’t be best choice! I found it especially interesting when Dr. Aprill relayed a story about a woman at the Rogers school who said (and I’m probably very loosely paraphrasing), “you know, all the gun stuff, I get it… but I just can’t do it. When I’m faced with any kind of danger, I just want to run away.” He said, “You know what? That is FINE. If she makes a commitment to recognizing danger early and running away from it, that is probably going to work out for her. She has aligned her strategy with who she is.” There is a podcast on Ballistic Radio where he talks about this topic – give it a listen. Greg Ellifritz also just wrote about this in his article, Born to Intervene?, on his excellent ActiveResponseTraining.net blog.
A half day of lecture was devoted to Dr. Aprill’s fantastic presentation on violent criminal actors, how they select their victims, and how we can actively work to de-select ourselves. You can listen to this Ballistic Radio podcast (a different episode – he’s a popular guest) to hear an overview of this topic, but you owe it to yourself to get this straight from the source if at all possible.
Tom Givens ran the students through increasingly difficult shooting challenges during the range/live fire portions of the class, interjecting tips, observations of our performances in relation stress, and helpful perspectives in regards to mindset at key times in unique ways that only Tom can deliver. Everyone in the class came in as accomplished shooters, and it was interesting, to say the least, to see firsthand how added stressors degrade shooting performance, and how subtle management techniques for that stress can help bring performance back up.
Overall, I found the class to be a fantastic learning experience, and it was very interesting to take a class filled with high-level practitioners. I think we all, as students, learned a lot from each other in addition to what we learned from this cadre of elite instructors.