“Fear Under Fire”

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Enjoying the blog at Kinetic Fighting.

Paul Cale speaks from experience, and tackles the psychology so often missed or glossed over in tactical and personal defense studies. In Fear Under Fire he touches on dealing with fear and how skill can help to mitigate it (“confidence in capability” – I love that phrase!) when trained properly and appropriately to the task at hand. This is another area where martial artists who wanna be defensive coaches often drop the ball: training isn’t properly anchored in the kinds of situations that it will be used.

Of course there is a first time for everything. The first time I used force was as a security guard. I’d never even been in a fight before that, though I was an adult and already had a number of years martial arts training behind me. It was a whole new world, and it wasn’t even a complicated situation. Fast forward and I had one extremely violent encounter with another guy, and then was involved in a full on, uncontrolled brawl between several security people and a group of people that had been drinking – all the ideas I had of “how it would go” and “what I would do” had to be re-calibrated for the frenetic chaos and energy of the real thing. My friend Ryan Mayfield, a veteran cop, once said that the difference between training and reality is how nothing in training can really prepare you for how frenetic a serious real fight can be.  Add malevolent intent (which can’t be trained for, weapons, shots fired, blood spurting, and what you thought you were prepared for can go fight out the window. The first time I used force as a sworn police officer I was also fraught with worry. Not only was it “official” now, and with more perceived consequences, I was a new cop and had earned a reputation for being a “DT guy” because of my background and what I had done in training. It was totally different now that I was “on the road,” and a whole bunch of veterans were judging me and wanting to see if I had what it takes. Why? Because they had seen too many “master instructors” who couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag, or control an even mildly resisting subject when it counted – when it was real – that they had no expectations from someone who was unproven in their eyes.

The first time I got shot at, it was from ten feet away – I had no choice but to go into the room, toward a muzzle spitting flame at me – it was a hostage rescue, and by that time I’d had enough training and experience to know it was my job to do just that, and I couldn’t let my team down. A few seconds later I was actually hit, when trying to force my way through the door the suspect had hid behind and was pushing back against me – wood, cloth,  stuff just flying around me as I tried to drive the door open and my muzzle inside for a contact shot. This was my personal baptism under fire, and introduction to what frenetic really means.

One I had recovered from my wounds and come back to the team, we did a training on hostage rescue. Getting back on the bike, so to speak. We were using a vacant house, as we usually do for such training, and one of the exercises is etched in my brain to this day.  Another SWAT member and I enter and move down a hallway, him first, and come to an open door. We hear screaming inside the room – our cue to go in and rescue the hostage. As my partner began to break the plane of the door…thwack thwack thwack Simunition rounds start hitting the door frame….oh it’s ON now! And bump…I bounce off the back of my teammate as he backed away from the door. Consider this – we were both experienced, veteran SWAT guys, just with different psychologies. He doesn’t want to get hurt by Sim when going through a funnel. I’d already been there, and was even reliving some of that as the plastic and pain that was flying around the door was  eerily similar in my mind to the wood and bullets that were some months earlier.

I sidestepped around him and went into the room. He did come in after.

You just never know. One man, a SWAT veteran from another part of the country who lateraled over to our agency had been in several shootings, and been shot himself in an absolutely crazy situation, shared a story about a “specimen” type. Fourth degree black belt in something, extremely fit, SWAT cop, shooting instructor… all the tickets punched. First time his team took actual fire he broke from the stack, ran across the street, ducked behind cover, and started screaming unintelligibly into his radio, not only not helping his own situation but tying up the air for his teammates still in the gunfight and needing support. To his credit, so the story goes, the man turned all his gear in a few days later after the smoke had cleared.

When some of the Tactical Influencers out there dismiss “mindset” they are to met mind immediately suspect. More explanation is needed as to what they mean, because to simply dismiss it often means they have no idea what they are talking about. Yes, we can “do” mindset. Yes, mindset is critically important no matter how well trained one is. And there is documented evidence that mindset can take an untrained, unskilled person further than many trained and skilled people can go in it’s absence. The ideal is to train both body and mind, attributes and skills so that mindset is being trained alongside them. Adding discomfort, fear, uncertainty – all the things Paul Cale is talking about – is the Way to do so.


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