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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s