Train the mind and the body will follow

Why incorporating mental preparedness into staff training is critical


"Power of the mind is infinite, while brawn is limited" ~ Koichi Tohei, Aikido Master

Use of force incidents and violent encounters with combative subjects are always complex issues.

Our academies and in-service training educate us in everything from defensive tactics to crowd control, but - when push comes to shove - are we really preparing our officers to properly respond to that moment when routine procedure explodes into sudden life or death attack?

A new breed of rookie
Report after report notes the importance of physical skills training for success during violent encounters. However, often physical training alone does not prepare a trainee for the intensity of real life or death scenario.

Exasperating this issue is the fact that, nationwide, agencies are hiring more and more staff with less and less previous law-enforcement or combat experience.

For my agency, I primarily teach in-service and advanced tactics, but I also train new officers at the training academy in firearms and disturbance control. These days, I find it commonplace to have a platoon of 40 new officers where maybe four have prior law enforcement or military training.

I teach all my new instructors to be prepared to connect the dots for staff. What would seem like common knowledge to someone with a combat background isn't for an officer whose only previous use of force encounter was with a keg tap at their fraternity party.

Beyond the body
Keeping the importance of physical skills training in mind, I will always contend that the only way to truly prepare staff to win a violent attack and control an encounter is to focus on training not the body, but the mind.

There is no better way to increase your chances of safety and success in a violent encounter than to incorporate mental preparation into your academy and in-service training – period.

Whether I am teaching new officers, ERT operators or civilians in a self-defense class, I always tell my students, “no matter what techniques I teach you, it will never be effective if you cower at the moment of the attack.”

For this reason, staff must mentally prepare to deal with sudden violent attacks before, during and after physical skills training.

Controlling physiological reactions
The most debilitating physiological response during an attack - besides being knocked unconscious or freezing into the fetal position - is the increase in respirations and heart rate that causes fine motor loss.

Initially, these tremors are a good thing, but without any type of stress inoculation training and mental preparation, our heart rate and respirations can get very high very quickly, limiting our physical response.

Stress inoculation and mental training have both been proven beyond debate to aid in the reduction of stress induced physiological body responses and mental sharpness during the incident. \

Visualize success
We must teach staff to visualize potential attack scenarios and to play out worst case scenarios through their minds from start to finish. Most importantly, we must visualize ourselves prevailing in every scenario.

I jokingly tell my participants that we are simply "Jedi mind-tricking" ourselves. But in all serious, when done correctly, visualization can help us to imprint on our mind both the potential for an attack and the way it will likely unfold: Pre-contact cues, recognition of the assault technique followed by response techniques in to subject control and, ultimately, winning the fight.

With the aid of visualization, if and when the real event unfolds, our minds will have already been through the scenario thousands of times and won’t get so hyper accelerated.

Sure, we’ll still shake, pits in our stomachs, hearts thumping and everything else, but the difference will be that we are ready for it. We are in control.

Are you prepared?
Only you can know for sure if you’ve got the mental and physical strength to prevail in a violent encounter.

I recommended that, beyond annual in-service training, we’d all benefit physically from finding a gym or martial arts school outside of work to doing something - anything – to help stay physically sharp.

Second, you must have the mental attitude and strength to know you will prevail in an attack. You must train you mind to recognize and control encounters on a daily basis. This formula will give you the greatest chance at survival in a sudden life or death attack.

Until next time, stay safe!

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