Red Teaming, as explained at the Red Team Journal, is “the practice of viewing a problem from an adversary or competitor’s perspective.” Apropos individual preparation, consider as well viewing a problem from a personally adverse perspective.
There is a precursor in the Stoic discipline of praemeditatio malorum, or “preparing the mind in advance to cope with adversity,” which the RTJ addresses succinctly here. It’s not limited to the Stoics, or even Western traditions, as I have seen similar approaches treated in Zen and in East Asian combative disciplines.
There is much to be said for the pre-exercising (pre-exorcising?) of evils… Whether you meditate on facing various adverse conditions (from the death of a loved one to your own death), climbing a ladder of sword blades, on charging through a hail of flaming arrows (or bullets…), or you picture a sword suspended by a string hanging over your head while you sleep, you are preparing the mind to deal with hardships on the edge of life and death. The great samurai general Takeda Shingen supposedly said:
“Zen has no other secret than meditating seriously on life and death.”
Absent actually facing death as your practice, this is probably quite true.
I am often asked about how to prepare to face a critical incident, especially when our life may be on the line, and we don’t have any experience to draw upon. I must say, before I was ever aware of praemeditatio malorum I was practicing it. And I found that it worked, even when literally millimeters away from death.
Earlier in my martial practice I learned a method of meditating specifically intended to fire up the nerves and heart rate. The goal was to maintain a certain level of detachment while getting to the point that the heart was pounding, sweat pouring, and the limbs shaking simply through the exercise of visualization, then bringing oneself back down.
After getting into law enforcement, I learned “tactical breathing” and “visualization” of a different sort, and then decided to combine the two. This has been a beneficial practice, one which I truly believe has helped save my life.
As a “visual aid,” I would take the accounts of officer involved shootings, and incident debriefs, and picture myself involved. With practice, such visualization can get very realistic, approaching the levels of heart pounding, limb shaking exertion described above.
But I went a step further. I would often envision myself on the losing end: being stabbed, being shot, being physically overwhelmed by one or more attackers, my gun being taken, etc. Some trainers will teach that you should never do this, as it could be “bad” for the students. I could not disagree more.
While I envisioned being on the losing end, the unbreakable rule was that I never visualized actually losing. I never gave up the fight, I never succumbed to injury, no matter how bad, I never lost I ALWAYS WIN in that visualization.
And then when I consider situations such as the Marcus Young Incident, I used that to aid my praemeditatio… make it more realistic.
This is different from, and should be contrasted with, the idea of tactical visualization in which one always thinks of themselves as dominating a situation. Rather than inculcating a “will to win,” I think that it is setting one up for potential failure, for when things don’t end up that way, or aren’t even given the chance to start out like that, someone who has programmed a false sense of security in the idea that they will be invincible may be sorely tested when the adversary, or adverse conditions, aren’t cooperating.
It has worked, at least for me. It has had other benefits: more than one officer has written of, and others told me, of a recurring dream in which, when faced with a deadly force encounter and they attempt to return fire, the bullets just drop uselessly out the end of their muzzle. Odd that it would affect multiple officers independently, coming from very different backgrounds.
I have never had a dream or thought like this and I think it’s because of this mental training.
Clearly, the Stoics went far beyond tactical considerations. Imagining a child dying, or our life in a shambles, is a hard path to take. But in the end, it builds a certain brand of mental toughness, and more important, resilience, that can carry us throughthings far more common, and perhaps more debilitating, than a gunfight or violent encounter.