Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Thoughts on Active Shooter Scenarios

EDIT:  Changed the title, primarily because I didn't talk specifically about the Aurora scenario.

I don't want to get political with this post, and I don't intend to start a discussion about what people should have done.  The killings in Aurora, Colorado were senseless violence, perpetrated by someone who intended to kill as many people as he could. In the face of such a person, there is little that can be done except to kill the attacker as soon as possible in order to stop bystanders from being killed.

Unfortunately, this will not be the last time that someone assaults a crowded space with the intent of causing death and grievous bodily injury.  As long as there are weapons, and evil people who can get their hands on weapons, they will want to hurt as many people as they can.  However, the flip side of that, as Col. Jeff Cooper noted, as long as there are good people with weapons, they can thwart the evil ones.

What I intend to do is simply discuss different tactics, techniques, and procedures for thwarting someone, should an attack come to a theater, shopping mall, or college campus while you are there.  There is always something that can be done in an active shooter situation, rather than cowering on the ground, hoping the shooter won't see you and your family.  Sometimes the answer is to seek a covered and concealed route away from the shooter.  Other times, the answer is to find the quickest way to attack the shooter.  It is very much situational, as self-defense expert, military and police veteran Hock Hocheim says. 

I'm going to go in the order of most probable scenario, to most dangerous scenario, just as if I were briefing a group of soldiers.  I will leave it up to you, the reader, to flesh out the scenarios in the middle.  Most probable means simply that, what is the situation you are most likely to find yourself in.  Most dangerous is the scenario that is most likely to end with you and your buddies being wounded or killed.  I will go in order of pistol, knife, impact weapon, improvised weapons, and unarmed.

First the pistol.  Most probably scenario is that you are in a crowded place, and hear shots popping off.  Take cover, assess the situation.  You will see this again.  Most likely you will be able to tell if it is actually gunfire.  If so, find a covered and concealed route away from the gunman, if you do not have a visual on him.  The reason that I say to not draw the pistol first is that in the immediate aftermath of  the first few rounds going off, people are not going to be real clear on who the bad guys or good guys are.  Everyone with a firearm is automatically going to be put into the bad guy category.  Get everyone calm first, work out a plan to get away from the shooter, and then explain that you have a pistol and are going to do your best to get everyone to safety.  Where you position yourself in relation to the people you are trying to help depends on your preference, and the terrain.  Me being me, with my combat and firearms experience, if police haven't arrived yet, depending on the building,  I would probably go back into the building and see if I can get anyone else out, or locate the shooter.  I don't recommend that for everyone, as it's very easy to add to the confusion.  If it was a small building like a Burger King, I would probably continue to make sure everyone is safe and stay out of the way of first responders.

The most dangerous scenario is that you find yourself face-to-face with the shooter.  The instinctive response is to run, but recognize that his weapon will become more effective as you open up the range, and not less.  Once you get inside the range of a firearm, their effectiveness diminishes.  Thus, grab the gun, charge the bad guy, and be prepared to beat the snot out of them.  From medium range, between 5 and 30 feet, throw something at the bad guy's face, charge, and beat the snot out of them.  Beyond 30 feet, you will need to take cover and then draw your primary weapon in order to successfully defend yourself with your own firearm.  The best thing to do would be to draw while moving to cover, but this may not always be possible.  If there is no cover available, then the next best option is kneeling, in my opinion, in order to minimize your target profile. 

This post is long overdue, so I will simply say to be continued.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Train Like An Athlete

For people who get bored in the gym with the average routine from Muscle and Fiction, people who are looking to get better at their sport, and potential military members, there is a definite solution.  That solution is to train like an athlete.  Look at professional and college level athletes, and observe some of the drills they conduct.  Drills designed to increase ability, quickness, foot speed, coordination.  Running tires used to be a favorite of football players, but now they have better, more advanced techniques to use that will accomplish the same thing.  Soccer players dribble around cones.  Basketball players run lines and do shuffle drills.  All these things are designed to increase attributes that are considered to be the most valuable in a given sport.

If you're simply looking for a more dynamic warmup before starting your gym routine, try adding an agility ladder.  One can be made relatively cheaply, or bought for around forty dollars.  Foot speed, acceleration, side to side agility, an agility ladder can help with all of these things.  After ten minutes you'll have worked up a good sweat and gotten the heart rate pumping, at a relatively low intensity to boot.

If you might be involved in any endeavor that involves quick changes in direction, athletic drills that the professional and college athletes use are an excellent way to improve performance.  Soldiers have been doing agility drills, usually called "grass drills", for years.  These are similar to what football players do for conditioning.  Roll left, roll right, get up, get down, run in place, they help prepare soldiers for some of the rigors of being in a combat situation, and they help get the heart rate up and improve other elements of conditioning like endurance and strength.

You may be concerned with strengthening your "core", although most are confused as to what exactly constitutes the core.  This is another buzz word, just like functional fitness.  Sprint drills, ladder drills, dots, cone drills, hurdle drills.  Running up hill, running down hill, and shuffling side to side, these activities strengthen your core as well as provide cardiovascular conditioning.

In short, to become more athletic overall, train like the athletes do.  If you want to be more of a gym rat, train like a gym rat.  If there is a specific sport you want to train for, train how those athletes train.  And, as always, variety is the spice of life.  Add some things into your routine just for fun.

Monday, May 7, 2012

If you do what you've always done...

All practice and training should be about results.  Ideally, as martial artists, athletes, or just people who like to hit the gym, we should be focused on setting, meeting, and exceeding our goals.  I've talked about, and other people have talked about, goal setting, how to get there, and methodologies enough that I don't feel the need to beat that particular dead horse any more.
Results are what count in any athletic endeavor.  To that end, we should always be critiquing our practice and training.  I, personally, have become almost obsessive about tracking my workouts.  Less so when I'm doing a martial arts workout, but I do pay attention to the ease with which a new technique comes to me.  Look at what you are doing, and track the results.  Track the number of times you practice a difficult armbar, and pay attention to your mastery of it.  See if that armbar comes naturally to you over time, or if your practice isn't paying of.  If you get to the point that you can slip that armbar on someone as naturally as breathing, then you know that your practice is working.  If, however, you are honestly practicing dilligently but you can never seem to pull that particular technique off, then something may be wrong with your practice.  The same goes for getting to a lifting goal, or a running goal.  If you never seem to quite get there, despite all your hard work, something is off.

The solution is not always to work harder.  If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.  Another way to put it, in a quote that has been attributed to Albert Einstein, is that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  Honestly assess why you're not reaching your goals, and what could be done better.  The answer is not simply more of the some.

However, the opposite is also true, which is what I really want to talk about here.  If you're hitting your goals consistently, if that armbar works nine out of the ten times that you try it, then DON'T CHANGE A THING.  Stick with what you are doing until it stops working.  If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.  So if it ain't broke, why fix it? 

When I was in high school, my basketball coach encouraged us to develop a routine for free throws.  The routine, he said, would help us to get a higher free throw percentage.  It worked, as much by centering the mind as by cementing muscle memory.  When I approach anything, whether it's shooting, martial arts practice, or squatting, I have a routine that I go through in my head.  That routine works, and it helps block out all the extraneous input that I don't need in order to do what I'm about to do.

Routine can be the enemy, as those of us who identify as CrossFitters like to say.  However, for learning, repetition, and general training, routine is also our friend.  Find a routine that works for you, or make one work for you, and don't deviate from that until it stops working. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Want to, or need to?

     Most people approach exercise, in all its various forms and types, the same way, with the same thinking.  This thinking invariably turns whatever their chosen form of exercise is into a chore.  Attempting to make time, trying to fit exercise into the busy schedule that is life.  Child raising, work, school, household chores, all of these cut into the 24 hours that we are allotted in a day to Get Things Done.  Add exercise to the list, and especially if we add it to the list of chores, and it becomes easy to see why it becomes a lower priority on the list.

     The approach I am talking about is the phrase "I need to get to the gym today."  This is an inherently self-defeating phrase, and I will explain why.  First, let's talk about needs.  There are four basic needs, outlined in Maslow's Hierarchy of Basic Needs.  These are necessary for survival at the most basic level.  They are, food, shelter, clothing, water, and other items we Can't Live Without.  After needs, the rest of what we desire become wants.  This understanding and paradigm is necessary to shift the way we think about exercise and health.

     The phrase or similar wording "I need to get to the gym today." denotes an activity that does not come from personal desire.  It inherently places less personal value to the person, as opposed to what the person wants to do.  The motivation to go to the gym for this individual is coming from an outside source, most likely friends, family, or media, rather than coming from within the individual themselves.  This is a negative look at exercise.  Why?  Because inevitably, the person who says "I need to get to the gym today" will instead turn to "I want to do X today instead of go to the gym."  This external motivation is not enough to keep the individual interested over the long term, and eventually, they will find something else they would rather do with their time.

     We are all guilty of this kind of thinking when it comes to the gym, and most of us do it without A) thinking about what we are saying, and B), considering the impact that our words are having on our subconscious.  By saying "I need to get to the gym today.", we are leaving out the "...but I'd rather go and do X activity instead."

     One of the ways I look at my exercise program, in order to continually make it a positive experience, is to realize that when I am exercising, I am a complete human being.  Humans were not meant to sit behind desks or stand in guard towers for hours on end.  We were designed with the idea of being able to run, jump, climb, roll, tumble, frolic, dance, and otherwise MOVE.  So for me, when I'm exercising, especially when I'm going hard, I am being a complete human being.  I am taking advantage of my genetic potential, and making the most out of what my body is designed for.

It is important not to simply say, "I feel complete."  This is illusory and only temporary in nature, as all feelings are.  Being, knowing, these last forever.  Look back on your hour of hard work, and see all of your human parts come together to do work, work that people were meant to be able to do.  Running isn't a chore, an activity to be conquered, as I sometimes view it.  It is simply another activity that is our birthright as bipedal beings.

     Another thing that makes my sessions enjoyable, and makes me want to get back to the gym, is setting goals.  This point has been hammered on time and again, but let's see if we can shine a different light on goal setting.  Imagine that you are a sedentary being who has not run further than the end of your driveway since you were a kid.  All of a sudden, one day, you decide that you want to be able to run a marathon.  "Today, I'm going to learn how to run a marathon." This is a goal, but not quite the one I'm talking about. You figure it will take you a year to develop the necessary conditioning to run a marathon without getting seriously injured.  So, you start training.  Slowly, of course, because you're not a dummy.  Then, three months into it you're running ten-minute miles, feeling pretty good. 9 months into your program, you realize you're still running ten minute miles.  You may be running thirteen ten-minute miles, but they're still ten-minute miles.  A month later, you're still not getting any faster, and the running itself doesn't seem to be getting any easier.  Finally, you figure that you're just not meant to run a marathon, otherwise you're running would be improving, and you give up in disgust.  Or, you want to get stronger, but you don't seem to be making any progress.

     A marathon or getting stronger are goals, but they are abstract goals, like losing 50 pounds this year.  Set  a short term goal, in order to meet your long term objective.  Make a plan, and stick to that plan with minor adjustments.  Our potential marathon runner, in order to keep his interest, needs to have monthly goals.  "This month, I'm going to get down to a 9:00 mile."  "This month I'm going to run a half marathon in preparation."  Goals need to be realistic, obviously.  Our future Boston Marathonner isn't going to run 13.1 miles his second month.  Five miles is well within reason, however.  Then, when it's time for you to test yourself on your goal, don't just aim to make your goal.  Aim to smash that target into little bits, so that it's a thing of the past and you'll never have to wonder about the progress you've made.

     When I try for a new PR in a lift, I'm rarely satisfied with simply lifting five pounds more than the previous week or month.  I want to hit my goal, and then some.  I want to see what I can do RIGHT NOW!  So set your goal at seven-minute miles, and then aim to smash that goal to oblivion.  When squat day comes around, tell yourself that you're going to hit 350 no matter what, and then go past what you thought you could do.  Success begets success, and the more you smash your goals and records to bits, and make them simply past limitations, the more you will continue to do so.  And as a result, you will begin to look forward to gym time, simply to see what it is you are capable of doing on that day.

     Remember to regularly review the progress you've made on your goals.  The best way to remind yourself of why you're doing all this is to see how far you've come.  Make a chart, take pictures, whatever.  Keep track of what you've done, and what you're about to do.  For me, what I've done is an especially important part of keeping me going, and it motivates me to see how much I can do.

    Don't avoid the exercises that are difficult for you.  This is another common behavior to all of us.  It's only natural to do what comes easy.  Instead, look at the things that are difficult, that give you trouble, and add them to the list of exercises that you want to improve on.  Then, do those exercises almost to the exclusion of all else.  Don't like to squat?  Start squatting on every lower body day you have.  Squat three or four days a week.  Find your current max, set a goal, and then smash that record.  Recognize the benefits that squatting has to your overall athletic ability.  This is not just for squatting, but for any exercise you find yourself avoiding on a regular basis.  Use this dislike as motivation to get better.  "I really, really don't want to do exercise X.  However, I want to get better as an athlete, so I'm going to commit to doing it three times a week."  For me, being a 250 guy, I don't want to run.  In the regular world, I don't think people would expect to see me knocking out two, three, or five miles at a time.  However, running is necessary to be a complete athlete, as well as a capable soldier.  So, I put the time in on the treadmill and the track, and I see improvements.  Now, all of a sudden, running isn't so bad.  I'm kicking ass, and running isn't the chore I used to see it as.

     Finally, prior to starting your session, visualize the person that you want to be.  Determine what the point of your exercise regimen is, and visualize that.  Keep that picture in your head constantly, every time you're resting.  When you think about skipping your gym time, remember who it is you are striving to become.  Remember what part of yourself you are trying to make better.  Don't flog yourself for not wanting to go, simply remember the thing that you are working towards.  Then, at the end of your session, when you're tired, beat up, and want to lay down on the floor after changing, look at yourself in the mirror.  Look at the sweat, at your red face and tired eyes.  Keep that picture of who you want to be firmly in your mind as you reflect on what you've just accomplished.  Congratulate yourself on taking another step in the right direction towards your physical fitness goals.

     The end result of all of this is to shift our thinking away from an external source of motivation to a completely internal source.  We want to be able to say on a daily basis, "I want to go to the gym today."  It will be better in the long run when the spark of motivation burns within us.  That way, we can nurture it on a daily basis until it becomes a flame of desire, burning to get us back into the gym and breaking down barriers and personal records.