Contextually Understood…

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Force on force weapon retention drill, blade to pistol. What adjustments might need made, based on circumstances, at this point in the encounter?


Craig Douglas of Shivworks was really the first to give voice to the importance of contextual underscoring in training. This was a succinct term for what was going on with “full profile” evolutions in some coursework within the professional and avocational tactical training communities.

An important element in contextualizing any training is making sure it is also contextually understood.

This goes beyond the differences between hand-to-hand combat and hand-to-hand combat with an edged weapon or pistol involved; Context must be assessed considering the situational, legal, mental, tactical and technical factors of the encounters for which we profess to be training, instead of making a problem fit a particular “style” or approach, versus adapting the style to the problem.

Check yourself on this, especially if you are an instructor.

Trainer Marcus Wynne’s  ABLE acronym is a good place to start when considering contextual understanding, in both training and application:

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 good reading for this topic as well.



Obviously this is before we even get to the application of tactics or technical skills. Once ABLE, we then must become CAPABLE – to understand our capacities in context – because if we are out-of-context, we might end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and for the wrong reason.

For example: arrest situations must be understood differently from those of violent combative struggle. The relative positions, the entries, the tactics applied and techniques used will be different in the one than the other; though they may start in the same place. 

Should I, perhaps, take a different approach when I am taking a subject I believe may be armed into custody, and am approaching him from the back, while he is on his knees with both hands on his head, than when I am addressing a subject who just squared off on me? Or a guy who squared off on me with a pistol in his waistband?

And mightn’t I use different techniques and tactics for each of those? SHOULDN’T I ?

And is it possible that the choice of certain tactics – from the start – might or might not place me in a more or less precarious position depending on the choice made?

Of course.  And the choice to say, approach in one way versus another, or go to the ground in one position versus something else, might cause an encounter to result in a negative outcome if a less sound tactic was used than if a more contextually appropriate measure was taken.

For example, say I were to take an uncooperative drunk driver into custody, and took control of his arm to move it behind his back telling him he was under arrest.

And say he immediately tensed up, contracted his arm in toward his body, turned to face me as his other hand  flailed toward my face….

Should I pull guard? Try an arm bar? Ending up on the ground and underneath him? Let’s say he’s considerably larger and stronger than I am.

Take his back, drop to the ground, hooks in, sink a rear naked choke?

Should I drop into a knee bar?

Or maybe a shoulder throw, dropping him head first onto the pavement of the busy street we are on, actually even throwing him into traffic? A guy who is drunk and probably can’t take falls even when he is sober?

Or can I straight arm bar him to the ground, pin him with a knee ride on his shoulder, and take custody of him from there?

Or maybe clinch him, and lightly trip him so he stumbles to the ground (with me standing), where I can disengage and draw a Taser?

How is the context understood differently if that drunk was instead a guy we just surprised in our home at 03:00 a.m?

What if he is armed? And we are armed, would we approach him at all? Why? An overwhelming desire simply to disarm someone? (this is strongly present in law enforcement for some reason. Take the gun, kick the gun, throw the gun, do something with the gun, even when it is unnecessary.)

Or a sound tactical decision made for explicitly understood reasons.

We must learn to think more tactically than technically. Usually in training it is the reverse. Tactics should dictate techniques, and not the other way around.

Understanding context is the way to make that happen more often than not.








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