Roots, Trunks, and Branches

The personal element in tactical performance is so critically important and yet sadly is but filler material in much coursework and training, wedged between instructor introductions and directions to the bathroom, and drills on the range or on the mat: e.g. the “mindset” lecture that is but a repeat of things like “will to win,” or “never give up;” and of course the importance of “stress inoculation,” etc.

This does nothing to identify the steps in developing the personal element, or where even to begin.

To strain a metaphor, let’s look at it like a tree, and begin with the Roots

We must start with fertile soil. That soil needs tended and tilled to prepare it for cultivating the roots of mindset. Those roots are generally found in these baseline traits:

Maturityin psychological terms, “the ability to respond to the environment in an appropriate manner.”

Like when behavior has very real, potentially life or death consequences and/or personal/criminal liability.

No one wants an immature person carrying a gun, or other weapon, let alone professionally. Or a person in love with violence. No one thinks that someone lacking maturity should be making any serious decisions, let alone in terms of use of force.

This is an absolute baseline for any meaningful development of proper mindset.

Another trait for anyone carrying a weapon for personal protection or in a professional capacity:

Prudence “careful or wise in handling practical matters” and “careful good judgment that allows someone to avoid (unnecessary) danger or risks.”

Due to our subject matter, I added unnecessary…some risk and some danger is unavoidable.

Despite even rigorous background checks and training programs, you will find some police officers and other professionals, and trainers, who lack prudence. The foolish risks they take may have nothing to do with actual physical danger, but things with personal and career consequences as well. These people often lack a baseline level of prudence that creates personal and professional resilience.

Similar things happen in all walks of life, and among the members of the Training Community just as much. Several incidents – with martial arts, firearms, and tactical instructors – immediately come to mind. Sometimes it is merely in the way one speaks, the “image” one chooses to present – or that one cannot help presenting. Remember, no one wants a clown handling a gun, either.

Often lack of Maturity and lack of Prudence go hand in hand.

Maturity and Prudence are intrinsic: lacking these, one is not suited to carry a weapon in public. Therefore is unsuited to be a student, let alone an instructor, of such a serious subject. These traits must be in order to cultivate the others that follow. They can and do develop in a person, but a big part of it is the core personality.

To continue:

Self Assurance“confidence in yourself and your abilities.”

Confidence in one’s own Competence.

With the caveat that one must be self aware enough to know one’s limitations as well.  Recognizing limitations is the way to build on them and develop broader self assurance.

We must guard against overconfidence, which is nothing but Confidence in Complacency. Or worse, Confident Incompetence.


Equanimity“mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.”

Stress can ramp up irritability, but there is a certain level beyond which one cannot go. We cannot afford lose our composure. Stress, like cocaine in the old joke from a now disgraced comedian, “intensifies our personality.”

Especially in a difficult situation… for most of us, equanimity develops with training and experience. This is what is termed stress inoculation. For some, regardless of experience, equanimity never comes,  and they are forever slave to the rushing tide of fear and anxiety that overwhelm during a stressful event. Some people just never learn.

For a select few, almost nothing rattles them, despite experiencing the same rush that the rest of us feel. Fear is fine. Being overcome by fear, recoiling with fear, allowing fear to fold us within ourselves isn’t.

Anxiety may cause us to overreact, or under-react. Neither is good. There is a lane we must travel between them.

My take is that Self Assurance and Equanimity – which similarly go hand in hand – can be trained in most people, with proper instruction and experience.

The astute reader may have noticed that these are character traits. Character as a basis for solid tactical performance is a concept ages old, in the East and the West, the idea being such traits must more or less be in place before we can get into the developmental aspects of a balanced combat mindset. Character can be cultivated, of course, but that starts with Self Awareness.

Now, some would go so far as to add religiosity or spirituality as one of the baseline traits of optimum performance. I would say that to the extent that such a discipline promotes self-awareness and circumspection, this is true.

From the roots we’ve just laid down sprout Trunks.

Growing trunks is actually the easiest aspect of tactical performance, if the most time consuming.

The trunks are our skill sets and physical attributes. This is where physical conditioning comes in: not only because, as the saying goes, “it’s harder to kill strong people,” but physical training is a building block for willpower, and as achievement in both technical skill and physical prowess is linked to tactical confidence, there is an obvious bridge to mindset.

This is simply Doing the Work: getting reps in for cardio, weights, Crossfit or Athlean or GRIT or whatever your workout du jour, bodyweight and bodywork, time in with loads you wear on the job, or you carry every day; developing core and power train and ground path and skeletal alignment and posture under load and with recoil and pressure and….you get the picture.

Let’s not forget the reps with draw stroke (from concealed, duty rig, or both), shooting quickly and accurately and then from greater distances, weapons manipulation, reloading, malfunction clearances, moving and shooting, target transitions, positional shooting (standing, kneeling, lying, sitting, on your back, etc.), shooting in and around vehicles, moving armed in tight confines and around other people (no-shoots), and aware of your backstop (clearing)…

And, if you run a long gun, doing the same with the long gun and now of course transitions

And shooting in close quarters when at grips with an assailant….

And so to grappling: grappling in a standing position, takedowns and avoiding being taken down, grappling in a kneeling posture, lying on the ground on top, on the ground on the bottom, grappling carrying a gun and a knife, grappling when the adversary has a gun or a knife (its the same….but different. There starts another trunk with knife skills, however…), grappling against more than one;

Striking – striking-and-maneuver, striking when you can’t maneuver, striking to disengage, striking to keep from being grappled, striking to…. you get the picture. What kind of striking? Boxing, kickboxing, MMA? Striking and clinching? Striking and grappling? Elbows, knees?

It’s a lot, at least to be well rounded in terms of skills.

This is really the bread-and-butter of almost all the coursework out there. Those for whom tactical performance is more than a passing interest have no excuse for not having baseline physical conditioning and technical skillsets with weapons and empty hand skills. Its the easiest training to conduct, and the easiest in which to partake. Which is a bonus, since it takes time and work, and we have to do it over, and over, and over again.

There is no “arrival” at any destination, just more road ahead, with the only guidepost being to be better today than you were yesterday.

Some may not understand how or why it is important for the Trunks to have good Roots. What does character have to do with skill? Why does it matter when all that really needs done is to shoot more, roll more, lift more, and repeat?

Because these things need to meld together in application. And I don’t mean in person-to-person simulations, like force-on-force drilling or decision maker training scenarios. Though these can be quite revealing of character, as it strips away all our posturing and reveals fundamental weaknesses and insecurities.

Application means when it is real. When the force being considered is against an actual threat, known or unknown, and everything that means. When people can be killed or hurt and lives can be altered irrevocably.

All the skill in the world won’t help you if all you have is skill. Because technical skill is not tactical acumen.

That is where things Branch out..


(of a person or their actions) showing adroit planning; aiming at an end beyond the immediate action.
  1. the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, typically in a particular domain.

Again,  with Trunks we are really in the immediate action stage, where most training occurs. We are not talking threat assessment or decision making or choosing between different tactical options based on awareness of the overall situation, your abilities, your reasonable perception, your legal standing, etc. most of which hinges on Situational Awareness.

Trainer Marcus Wynne has said:

“talking about (situational awareness and mindset) isn’t the same thing as training them.”

So how do we get beyond talking and go beyond immediate action?

Marcus Wynne’s ABLE acronym is a good launching pad. He calls this a strategy (I’ll call it a map) to follow when “determining whether you are effectively able to intervene or not.”

Obviously civilian oriented, his points have bearing on the decision making process in law enforcement tactical encounters as well:

A — Assess the Situation.

Apply full knowledge of the law, the circumstances, what you know and, importantly, what you don’t know. Are you required legally to intervene? Is there an immediate threat to yourself and those you’re responsible for? Is there continuing violence that justifies lethal force?

Are you putting yourself and those you’re responsible for at risk? Do you have a plan?

Have you ever a) experienced a similar situation b) trained for a similar situation c) mentally rehearsed for a similar situation?

Do you have the capability to execute that plan? (Can you approach an armed subject and take control of him? Do you know how? Have you ever done it before? Can you do it without escalating the situation and putting yourself and others at risk?) etc. etc.

B — Breathe.

As in take a deep breath and calm the fuck down. Think before you spring into action. In an immediate onset event that takes you by surprise (see situational awareness, mental rehearsal, and previous training) you may not have time to.

Consider that a good response to plug in BEFORE your “conditioned response” to run into a gunfight is taking a deep breath — get yourself under control, calm your heart/breathing down, manage your psycho-physiological state.

L — Listen to Yourself.

What kind of self-talk is going through your head? Are you talking yourself into something you’re not prepared to handle?

Are you playing out worst case scenarios? Are you building a narrative based on what you “think” you see?

Are you hearing a little voice judging you, calling you coward, urging you to jump in? Sort that self-talk out.

E — Evaluate: Exit or Engage.

Evaluate all of the above once you’ve managed your state.

Should you exit the situation based on all of the above? Or should you engage? Is there continuing danger? As in imminent to you and yours? Would moving to intervene leave those you are responsible for unprotected or helpless? Or alone after you’re dead?

(BTW, the rest of that post is crucial reading for this topic as well.)

The only difference is that in a professional response to an encounter with imminent or immediate threat-to-life implications, the matter to be decided may not be whether to intervene but how to intervene most effectively.

And knowing the difference between when you have the time to think about it and when you don’t…

The only (and best) way to learn this is experience, and next is relevant contextual training.

Having confidence in higher levels of physical and technical skills (hand to hand combat, firearms proficiency at realistic speeds and under dynamic physical circumstances) is effective at freeing the mind to remain aware of the environment and to work on the tactical problem that is occurring rather than being caught up in technical problems.

I can think a lot more freely when I am in a fight over my gun while laying on the ground if I know what to do and how to a) retain and keep my weapon running and b) escape from being on the ground. If I don’t know either, or I am weak in either skill set, it will take far more cognitive processing to simply figure out how to stand up than if I already know how…that is cognition that I cannot put toward the factors in Wynne’s ABLE – which is still in operation during that same struggle.

This is the starting point for manifesting true mindset, a comprehensive “360” Situational Awareness, with all of these programs running in parallel, changing or altering based on the situation, is Tactical Performance.


Factors in Force Performance

Attended a research panel on factors in officer performance in force events yesterday – thanks to Rich D for getting me invited!

It was an opportunity to share some of the thoughts that I frequently discuss here – the lack of ongoing, sustained, relevant and effective training for officers post academy. Many other issues also discussed.

Looking forward to the conclusions of the research.

How to Fix America’s Police?

Met with a friend from far away and a mentor this week; most enjoyable times!

Norm Stamper’s To Protect and Serve came up…

To Protect and Serve at Amazon.

There are some former police executives that step up into government or out into the private sector as authors, consultants, and media commentators, offering up acerbic criticism of the status quo of law enforcement, with so many ideas and plans on how to “fix it.”

At times it rings a bit hollow. One wonders: if the problems they are highlighting were so bad, for so many years of their tenure, if the profession were so corrupt, why they did not simply leave rather than be party to the system that they now rail against?

Or, when in the very positions necessary to make change, they did not do so?

Norm Stamper’s book should be viewed in that light. It styles itself a prescription for the ills plaguing American policing. It is instead a scattershot and inconsistent critique that highlights some valid points while broad-brushing ascribed motivations  and actions of police officers and agencies across the nation in both general and in specific circumstances – supported here with speculation and supposition and there with sweeping generalizations. For example: “In these pages I will focus on how the institution [policing] is organized, and how that structure -anachronistic, paramilitary, rigidly bureaucratic – produces a workplace culture that serves as a breeding ground for racism, corruption, sexual predation, brutality, unjustified lethal force, and excessive militarism.”

He casts the entire profession as a barrel of bad apples, saying that the bad ones  eventually rot the whole barrel, and the fresh, good apples will inevitably rot along with the others. He gives personal examples from his own career, from rookie days routinely and enthusiastically violating people’s civil rights (he writes about these in the typical cop “war story” fashion, which is an odd tone for the subject matter), to his chiefly blunders, that serve to leave one feeling that a goodly portion of his work is mainly about assuaging his own guilt in how he acted, both at the beginning and at the end of his career. * (see note below)

Inconsistently, despite the fact that the whole barrel is full of bad apples, he claims “countless examples” in his career of cops acting professionally, compassionately, and courageously. But these, he doesn’t describe.

So which is it?

Stamper left law enforcement a full seventeen years ago, in the wake of his role in the World Trade Organization riots. I was already on the job then, in the same state, and in that intervening seventeen years – all of which I have worked in  “boots on the ground” Patrol and SWAT assignments, not promoting up the chain to a desk job or getting those “fatter and fatter paychecks” he  derides – and I can attest that there has been an ongoing sea change in both how the profession is conducted and the kind of things we face. These things taken together unfortunately give the impression that rather than actually wanting to sharpen the tools of modern American law enforcement, Stamper seems more about grinding some rusty personal axes down to blunt their edge.

Overall, there are some valid points made, some require levels of qualification based on his lack of currency on the job. Remember, within law enforcement, police administrators and executives are rarely subject matter experts and not considered as such, especially those who rose through the ranks rapidly and spent little actual time in the field or with significant specialty time (that is not as a supervisor). Executives and administrators have a different role, more budgets, resources, personnel management, and office politics.

By nature of the profession, with so many changes in law, in procedures, and in tactics as well as in public expectations, you’ll find that administrators’ perspectives can be based on paradigms that may have existed during the (few) years they worked as beat officers – sometimes even decades ago – rather than on what is actually happening now. Many have never worked with or used a Taser, were not officers in the years prior to the legalization of marijuana, have not experienced the utter failure of the mental health infrastructure or the resultant changes in police approaches and tactics to mental health crises being implemented, and so on.

So many of the suggestions he offers are already in place in many agencies. Certainly they are best practices touted nationally. Others still aren’t.

Apropos this blog here, he gives excellent comments about officers bodies being their most critical tool, and their need to be both physically fit and skilled at empty hand combat (which is actually NOT in place in any agency anywhere), and that officers so skilled are actually less likely to use excessive force. But he then shows some lack of insight about the very “optics” he elsewhere invokes when declaring that department approved lists of fighting arts “should include boxing.”

Just what we need. More video out there of cops punching people repeatedly in the face… let alone the safety and injury issues associated with cops punching people. Get to a Judo, wrestling, or jujitsu academy instead.

Its otherwise a mixed bag. He is weakest in his criticism of some shootings that have occurred, though not in others. Weak because he either does not appear to understand that though he can see the tactical alternatives in hindsight, that may not be so evident in the initial incident for a plethora of reasons. His thinking is in the right place – I agree that many of the incidents he singles out may have been avoided, other than the very few actual crimes – but he ascribes this to officer decision making, incompetence, and criminal acts that simply is not in evidence other than in his suppositions. It would have been far more constructive to lay out alternative scenarios in which – based on the information the officers had at the time – what he thinks they could have or should have done differently.

In other words, a tactical debrief, avoiding the ad hominem attacks. He can’t do that, I think, because he’s just been out of the game too long. The most damning example of this is when he rather jocularly recounts his response to reporters when asked about what “they” should have done at Ferguson, and he wonders why they are asking him, he was responsible for the WTO Riots.

Way to pass the buck. If he came at this from a different angle, he’d have a lot more to offer. He later offers suggestions, but its too little, too late, and is frankly nothing different than is already in place and being trained to officers in cities facing large numbers of demonstrations (like Portland, Oregon). It seems that the profession has been moving forward in those seventeen years.

His final fixes are where his fundamental inconsistency reveals itself: he admiringly points to change agents in the law enforcement world with a liberal-progressive perspective, while dismissing those on the conservative side, calling, for example, Sheriff David Clarke “well spoken” but “probably the most dangerous of them all,” at the same time superfluously noting hat Sheriff Clarke is African American…seems to me that in some circles such language would be and has been called “racist.” He argues that the Federal government should step in with mandates, which are not all that bad, but when juxtaposed with his frequent mention of the killing of Michael Brown, he does not mention that the incident was investigated not only by local authorities but by the Department of Justice, and no criminal wrongdoing was found. And considering the highly controversial election we just had, and the cloudy role of the FBI in same, including whether it has been compromised from within, one wonders whether having the Feds in charge of local police would matter at all to Stamper or those similarly minded if the findings in a particular case did not meet their narrative.

One suggestion is worthwhile – that to establish a national Institute for the Development of Police Leaders. This effort would target not administrators and executives but those rank-and-file practitioners still on the job: officers, field supervisors, and the like. These would be trained, given continuing education, and be embedded in their agencies as “change agents.” The reason I like this idea is that those officers – at least those with the courage of their convictions and a willingness to challenge not only status quo within their agencies, but the skewed ideas of those in management buying into the present narrative and proceeding from the idea that their police stations are a den of thugs, abusers, racists, sexual predators, etc. (Stamper leaves nothing out in excoriating his former profession.) These men and women can and will put to rest the idea that law enforcement, and those who are called to it, are “broken” and “need to be fixed” and offer mentorship and guidance for those who may lose their way, those who are overwhelmed with the job, and those who are disillusioned and cynical. This model may work. I’ve had an inkling of it in presenting the Blue Courage program to our agency – with badly needed modifications – and at the very least it created lively discussion and self-assessment. The vast majority of officers it was presented to “get it.” A very different picture than the one Stamper paints.

So, if you are of an activist or anti-police bent, this book will confirm everything you’ve ever thought negatively of the police. Sadly, that is equally true of some police executives, especially highly placed ones,  and I believe this book will garner a lot of attention in those circles, despite its obvious pandering to the narrative current today. If you are a police officer that wonders what-in-the-hell is going on and why some people think of you the way they do – reading this book will be enlightening, and maddening.

Knowledge is power, however, and seeing yourself how others see you – even the small percentage of those who see you through this fractured lens – can be valuable. It will allow you to work against the current stereotypes that former executives like Stamper deal in and profit from, and avoid some of the mistakes and behaviors that sadly, some fellow officers exhibit, and that give people like Stamper all the brush they need with which to color the rest of us.


Some insight may come from a Seattle Times article on his career in policing, gleaned from Wikipedia and not appearing in this book (emphasis mine):

 Norm Stamper’s Police Career:

1944: Norman Stamper is born in San Diego, Calif.

1966: Stamper joins the San Diego Police Department.

1971: Stamper becomes San Diego’s youngest lieutenant at 27 years old.

1972: As a police lieutenant in San Diego, Stamper shoots and kills a man who was threatening a 3-year-old child.

1975: Stamper becomes the San Diego Police Department’s youngest captain at 31 years old.

February 1994: Stamper becomes Seattle police chief, succeeding Patrick Fitzsimons.

June 1994: Stamper marches in uniform during Seattle gay-pride parade, drawing criticism because other police officers were prohibited from participating in their uniforms in a Christian-related event.

February 1995: After a year on the job, Stamper restructures the department into six central areas, including the formation of three new bureaus. Stamper said that, in part, the changes are being made to allow quicker responses.

February 1998: Stamper criticized for police staffing and heavy overtime. Some officers claim the situation jeopardizes their safety.

April 1998: Stamper cuts short a vacation to try to calm a department angry about a newspaper column in which he describes his experience in a racist and intolerant “cop culture” while working as a San Diego officer. Stamper was quoted as saying he “enjoyed the morbid humor, the racist humor and the gay bashing” during his early years.

Stamper was also quoted saying there since has been a fundamental change in police culture, and that his own early outlook in no way reflects his views today.

March 1999: Allegations come to light that veteran homicide Detective Earl “Sonny” Davis Jr. pocketed $10,000 in cash taken from a sewing cabinet while he and other detectives were investigating the fatal shooting of an elderly man who had barricaded himself in a South Seattle apartment and wounded an officer. Davis returned the money to the cabinet the next day with the help of Sgt. Don Cameron, but only after Davis’ then-partner, Cloyd Steiger, angrily confronted the two men, according to Steiger.

June 1999: Stamper and the department come under fire after the department’s uninvited – and unwanted – videotaping of a news conference during which community, civil-rights and church groups announced that a public hearing would be held to address claims of police abuses, mainly against members of minority groups. Stamper later apologized, saying the police cameraman was wrong not to identify himself and announce his intentions.

August 1999: A citizen-review panel looking into alleged theft of $10,000 from a crime scene issues stinging criticism of Stamper, saying the chief has become disconnected from the daily operation of his department, leading to serious breakdowns in internal investigations.

Nov. 3, 1999: Stamper supervises a police dragnet sweeping through a Wallingford neighborhood after a gunman kills two men and wounds two others at a Lake Union Shipyard. The assailant eludes police.

Dec. 5, 1999: Stamper and Seattle Mayor Paul Schell are caught in the middle of growing criticism over their handling of the World Trade Organization riots. Protesters allege police violence; officers claim they were ill-prepared.

Dec. 6, 1999: In a letter to Mayor Paul Schell, Stamper announces he is retiring effective at the end of March.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights