Tactical Thinking — Part 1

[We live in a world in which madmen enter crowded restaurants and start shooting people. If you ignore this, you risk your life or the life of someone you’re responsible for. To prepare us to survive such situations, Kenny Jezek (“YAY-zeck”) has generously offered to share over three decades of experience in martial arts and combat training. This is the first of a four-part series addressing how to prepare yourself to respond in a life-threatening situation. ~SnoMan]

VIDEO: Kenny Jezek martial arts training montage.

AT 3:40 P.M. ON JULY 18, 1984, James Huberty walked into a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California, with three semi-automatic weapons and started shooting people at random.  In 77 minutes he killed 21 people and wounded 19 others.  He fired 257 rounds of ammunition before he was fatally shot by a SWAT sniper.  He reloaded each of his weapons twice. Witnesses say that there were times where Huberty did not have a loaded fire arm, and despite these repeated opportunities to escape or subdue the mass-murderer, the people did nothing.  Why? The simple answer is, because they were terrified, unable to think and react rationally.  They didn’t know how to deal with the sudden violence. They were caught completely by surprise.

If you were there, what would you have done?  In my nearly 34 years of combat and martial training and countless experiences with persons from all facets of law enforcement and the military, I’ve learned these truths:

  1. In a situation like that no amount of fighting skills would save you, and
  2. You have to learn to think right to survive.

That is why I’ve agreed to put what I teach and have been taught about Tactical Thinking into written form and have it posted in this blog and my own blog, SurviveViolence.  Bar none, your ability to think right in a crisis situation is the single most important skill you can posses.  Make no mistake about this and please don’t let your ego get in the way (all you macho guys).  Time and time again I’ve trained strong guys (and gals but mostly guys) who wrongly think that because they’re big and “crazy,” they can “take care of business.”  This simply isn’t true.

Most people don’t react well in a crisis.  There are a very rare few that just seem hardwired to deal with crisis situations well, but most of us don’t.  So please don’t let your ego cause you to perhaps lose your life or the life of a loved one because you don’t listen and apply the things I speak about here.

Department of Justice statistics say that 8 out of 10 people will be the victim of a violent crime in their lifetimes.  Face it; we live in a dangerous world, and you must be mentally prepared to deal with violence when it happens, because once it happens, it’s too late to prepare.  So how do we refine our minds to work quicker, smoother and more effectively in a crisis situation?  That is the purpose of “Tactical Thinking.”

I’m going to be breaking this rather extensive subject of tactical thinking down into what I hope will be several bite-sized pieces over several blog entries.  Please understand that my desire is not to cause anyone to become paranoid or unduly stressed out, but rather to cause you to think rationally and soberly about the realities of violence and do all that you can do to be prepared without becoming obsessive about it.

O.O.D.A. Loops

We must first look at how our minds work.  There are several stages our brains go through as we process any information. For the purpose of this subject I’ll relate it to crisis situations.  Experts refer to these steps as the O.O.D.A. Loops.  The letters stand for:  Observe – Orient – Decide – Act.

In this first entry I’ll focus on the first “O,” Observe.  By observe I mean that you must be aware of your environment.  You must pay attention to your surroundings.  It’s critical to know what state of awareness you are in and to constantly make sure that you’re in the correct state of awareness for the situation you’re currently in.  In order to do this experts have developed a color code to help understand the different states of awareness.

Condition White. In this state you are completely oblivious to your surroundings and environment.  A good example of this is Superbowl Sunday.  A herd of wild elephants could run thru your house and as long as they didn’t come between you and your t.v. you wouldn’t even notice them.  Sadly condition white is the state of awareness that most people live their entire lives in.  They don’t pay attention to their environment our surroundings. It is the state of awareness that we want to avoid at any cost.

Condition Yellow. This is a state of “relaxed awareness.”  In Condition Yellow we’re aware of our environment.  We’re observing things around us.  Specifically we’re looking for or being aware of three specific things:  1. Threats – things that are unusual or seem out of place.  2. Escape routes – do you know where all the exits are in; the grocery store, restaurant, your home, your car?  Do your kids, spouse, friends, know where the exits are?  Sadly, most people are only aware of the place they entered from. Kids need to know this.  School violence happens.  Columbine was an example of this. Do your kids know how to get out? Finally 3. You’re looking for weapons.  Yes, I said weapons.  As a person who teaches weapons of all sorts including improvised weapons I can spot dozens of weapons in almost any place I go.  For example, a shattered bottle becomes a great edged weapon if need be, a car antenna can easily be broken off and used as an impact weapon and do some serious damage to an assailant.  Chairs can be thrown, etc.  Get the point?  Again I’m not talking about paranoia, I’m taking about a relaxed awareness.  To let you know how relaxed this is, my family was completely unaware that I did this everywhere we went including our home.  Don’t make a big deal out of it, just observe.

Condition Orange. In Condition Orange you experience a level of “heightened awareness” due to a unusual stimuli in your environment.  Kinda like Spiderman’s “spidey sense.”  You’re aware that something’s just not right.  You sense that there is a threat.  An example could be that you’re in a restaurant with your spouse and you notice a couple engaged in a conversation and one of them is beginning to speak increasingly loud.  When your sub-conscious begins to tell you that something’s not right you need to listen to this.  In these cases it’s best to trust your intuition, several law enforcement persons have told me that listening to this intuition has saved their lives over and over again on the job.  In this state you begin to experience the beginning of an adrenaline dump and your body begins respond as follows:

  1. Your heart rate goes up.
  2. Blood starts to move away from your extremities (including your brain) and into your large muscle groups (more on this later).
  3. You experience an altered perception of time. Things seem to either slow way down or speed way up (more on this later).
  4. If the threat continues to grow you’ll move into the next state of awareness.

Condition Red. Condition Red is when you experience a full-on crisis.  You will experience a full adrenaline dump often called the “fight or flight mechanism.”  Please don’t confuse this with the adrenaline “rush” you experience on an intense trill ride or some kind of “adrenaline sport.”  This is not the same as experiencing a full blown adrenaline dump, which results in the following:

  1. Your heart rate goes up and blood leaves your extremities and into your large muscle groups, dramatically increasing your strength and pain tolerance.  Because of this you lose fine motor coordination. It becomes virtually impossible to do things with your fingers.  For you martial artists, it makes pulling off intricate joint locks very difficult indeed.
  2. You experience tunnel vision. You will see only what your brain last identified as the primary threat. Note that.  This is all fine and dandy if there is only one threat, but in many cases there is more than one. But our minds will only see what we last perceived as the primary threat. The only way experts have found to avoid this is to be aware of your environment before the tunnel vision sets in.  If you aren’t aware of the exits, weapons, threats before this happens you most certainly won’t be aware of them after it happens.  Remember this first step in the O.O.D.A. Loop?  Observe.  Be in condition Yellow.  Look for threats, exits and weapons.
  3. You experience auditory exclusion. You’ll hear certain things but not others.  No one knows why you hear certain things to the exclusion of others, but it happens.

Condition Black. Condition Black is a condition you want to avoid at all costs.  It’s also called hypervigilance.  This is the proverbial “deer in the head lights.”  It’s what the people in the McDonald’s experienced.  They froze.

Case studies show that most violent crime is sudden.  It comes out of the blue.  The people in that McDonald’s weren’t expecting anything like that, and you wouldn’t have either.  But you should be aware of your environment.  You’ll be more apt to see something developing and have a far better chance of surviving it.

Remember what I said earlier that people experience an altered perception of time?  Things either slow way, way down or speed way up.  Experts have found that, in general, people who are unaware of their environment experience a speeding up of time while those who are aware of their environment usually experience a slowing down of time.  People who are not prepared for the crisis through being in the right state of awareness will have their brains just shut down, and when that happens people do nothing and let their environment happen to them.  The way to avoid Condition Black is to be in the correct state of awareness before the crisis starts.  Once the crisis begins it’s too late. Again, this is what the people in that McDonald’s did.  They huddled under their tables with their children waiting, hoping, praying that they or their children wouldn’t be next.  They did nothing.

Don’t be someone who freezes and does nothing.  I’m not talking about whipping out your .45 and capping the bad guy.  I’m talking about surviving.  Whatever that looks like.  You can greatly increase your chances of survival by making sure you’re aware of the state of awareness you are in and constantly making sure that you are in the correct state of awareness for the situation you’re in.

In my next post I’ll talk about the second “O” in O.O.D.A.; Orient.  Until then, be humble, stay safe.

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