Great Expectations

Constant, realistic training is the only way to prepare for an uncertain reality

By Jim Glennon  |   Nov 12, 2014

“Under stress in a crisis, you will instinctively revert to the way that you train.”

—Charles Remsberg

Chuck Remsberg wrote that more than 20 years ago. It was true then and is truer now. Everything you do trains the brain. Under stress, you instinctively act the way you were trained to act. But I think it is time to add an addendum: If that statement is true—you damn well better evaluate the validity of your training!

Training All the Time

Training within the law enforcement community is often treated as the proverbial red-headed step-child: often ignored, much-maligned and dealt with only when necessary. It’s also totally misunderstood by many.

First, training is everything you do, everyday, whether you’re learning it intentionally, unintentionally, consciously or unconsciously. If you take any action about anything and get a result, you were just trained to believe or expect something.

You’re a three-year-old kid. You touch a hot flame on the stove. You were just trained not to touch fire.

You cheat on an exam and get a good grade, you were just trained to believe cheating is beneficial.

Make a traffic stop for speeding and nobody tries to kick your law enforcement behind, you were just trained to believe traffic stops are safe.

Oh sure, consciously you know they aren’t guaranteed to be safe, but make 50, 100, 500 and nothing happens, you’re training yourself to believe they are free of danger, at least unconsciously you are.

Training is simply the experience of attaining results, expected or unexpected. The result is what matters, that is what creates the understanding, the belief.

So without a conscious involvement, the unconscious will take over and apply the formula: This experience will render this result. And, on occasion, this unchecked unconscious belief can have catastrophic results.

So how do you prevent catastrophe? Consciously consider the possibilities. Accept that you may be a victim of your past successes. Consider, imagine and visualize mentally the unforeseen and the never considered. And then train physically.

What’s in Your Box?

In the Street Survival Seminar we have a block called the Proverbial Box. The point of that hour is to examine the old cliché: “Think outside the box.”

In order to do that we first examine ‘the box.’ The box is your paradigm, your perspective, your belief systems. Things you’ve learned from either first–hand experience or second-hand observations. Thinking outside that box begins by recognizing what your box actually is. What do you actually believe? What are your expectations?

For example: If you are standing eight-feet away from an assailant and you shoot that person in the right pectoral muscle with a .40 caliber handgun, what will you see as the bullet hits the target? We ask that question to rookie cops weekly. The most common answers are:

“He’ll fall down.”

“I’ll see blood.”

“He’ll go backwards.”

But anyone with experience knows that none of that is likely to happen. I’m not going to go into specifics about energy, mass and opposing objects colliding here. The point is this: Why do the younger officers believe that is what they will see?

Easy. Media: TV, movies and video games.

When someone gets shot in a movie blood spurts, bodies’ wretch, people fall down. Clint Eastwood shoots somebody with a handgun and the recipient of his bullet leaves the earth for a couple of seconds. It’s fun to watch. It’s also ridiculous. But it still trains the brain. It creates a belief, an expectation. So when reality hits, stress increases because what’s expected to happen isn’t happening.

I’ve talked to countless officers who have corroborated this phenomenon. One in particular told me that he fired his 9 mm handgun from about ten feet away at someone who pulled a gun on him. I’m paraphrasing here but his story was:

“I’m firing as fast as I can, and everything you guys are talking about happened.  I got complete auditory exclusion. I have no recollection of hearing my gun firing. I had total tunnel-vision on his ten-ring, and I’m seeing nothing!  I remember thinking, ‘How the hell can I be missing this guy?!’ So I literally leaned forward as I fired until I realized I was out of ammo. I went for a magazine to reload, the guy looked at me, turned around, walked about four or five feet and dropped dead. I hit him seven times square in the chest and got no reaction—none—until he dropped dead! … He didn’t go backwards, no blood came spurting out. I really expected something to prove he was getting hit.”

Training for Reality

Formal training has countless limitations and is virtually nonexistent in many agencies outside of legally required courses and the mandatory qualifications. And even when we do train how much of it is counterproductive and contrary to reality?

One example: The seven-yard line coupled with center-mass.

When my agency incorporated Simmunitions training and then Airsoft Scenarios back in the 1990s, some things the officers were doing caught our attention. Two in particular were: They stood still and/or broke cover when they fired their weapons.

Why?

We trained them that way!

Think about it: 90 – 100% of the time officers fire their handguns on the range, where are they standing and what are they doing? On the seven-yard line, standing still and out in the open. And what are they looking for? Center-mass.

Remember those wise words: “Under stress, in a crisis you will instinctively revert to the way you trained.”

I’ve written about this before: I was in a real gunfight ten years ago. The subject who had just shot my partner was sticking his arm with a gun in his hand out of his doorway. I was behind a corner on the same wall as he was, so I had no clear shot. I aimed at his arm and considered firing, but I was 70 feet away and another officer was at the end of the hallway virtually right behind my target.  So the muscles in my legs were literally pushing me out from behind the wall and my cover trying to get me to a position where I could see center-mass, which of course would have exposed me.  

In the middle of this incident—and only because of the amount of training I was doing in this area at the time—I was acutely aware of what and why my body was reacting that way: Training; get in front of your target in order to find center-mass.

There are many in the training profession who believe over-exposure to videos of real events will have the opposite effect of static training: inappropriate responses. I disagree, but I do believe in balance.  

Watch videos of police officers doing things right as well as things wrong. Watch videos of police officers who get killed and of those who win. Then discuss. Discuss, evaluate, contemplate and discuss more. Visualize internally and demand dynamic training based on some of the realities that we find available in this Internet age.

Conclusion

What you are exposed to, what you think about and expect, can lead to either success or injury and death.  Expand your horizons mentally and physically. Open your mind, share your thoughts, and train as though your life depends on it. 

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Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.