Random Thoughts: A Mindful Miscellany

from Marcus Wynne

Archive for August 2014

The Internet Ate My Podcasts, So A Post On Situational Awareness Training

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As we curmudgeons are prone to do, I neglected to pay attention to my podcast platform, which apparently came down on 1 November along with all my pithy collection of hums and hahs over the last few months.

Ah well.  

Another person might be screaming about “Lost content!  Disaster, disaster Will Robinson!” But not this old codger.  It’s still in my head, and all three of you that followed the podcasts, well, stick around.  I may resurrect something similar.  The ease of production for the lazy man I is be most difficult to bypass.  Writing is hard work, and I do too much of it anyway.

I had this great podcast set up, all my notes ready to go, ready to pontificate for my deliberately chosen 17 minutes on novelty and pattern recognition (buzz words in the Tacti-cool community now!) and how cultivating the art of fucking up makes your path to mastery and expertise much simpler — I supposed I could use my Internet Ate My Podcasts experience as an example, but I’m too lazy.

I remember back in the late 80s and early 90s when I first started writing about situational awareness and Boyd’s OODA loop and how interesting it was to watch it catch on as a buzzword and then become a subject of serious study by tacticians.  I’m watching a similar process going on now with integrating cognitive neuroscience into real world training and use by tacticians, and I’m watching with a kind of fuddy duddy paternalistic enjoyment.  You go, young ‘uns!

Anyway I guess I’m stuck writing till I figure out whether to bore you with short videos or do podcasts again.  Any thoughts most welcome.

In the meantime, as I’ve been working on a project about enhancing situational awareness which has been my primary wheelhouse for 30 years or so, I dug up this old piece.  It’s useful, as all this cognitive neuroscience-y kinda lingo comes back into favor (or disfavor) in the tacit-cool community, to realize that the basis of a good sound and productive conversation is an agreement upon the meaning of certain words.  I STILL see all kinds of debate about what defines “situational awareness” — even some people using my original definition from an article back in the early 90s — but here’s something that most hard science researchers in the field of perception and cognition know (unlike some people who love the neuroscience buzzwords but don’t do the research) there actually IS a consensus definition of what constitutes situational awareness, defined and agreed upon by the organizations that lead the way in situational research (the aerospace industry in the US like NASA and ALL of the international space agencies, something like 17 nations…).

I’ve extracted from the detailed study (with permission from NASA, thanks Steve!) the definition, the explanation, etc. with the hopes that researchers in firearms and police science will look to partner with the larger science community instead of adopting only the pieces that suit them or help to sell their products/services.  A good start would be working with established and rigorously (science wise anyway) vetted definitions and academic studies.

For your consideration, Gentle Readers.  Now I’m back to figuring out how I can do this podcast thing so I don’t have to type so much….


In 1996, I published what may have been the first article in the popular “tactical/gun” press on John Boyd’s OODA loop as a model for maintaining situational awareness and decision making for personal combat. I presented a simplified version of Boyd’s elegant thinking and detailed expansion of the OODA loop, in a way that I felt, at the time, would be immediately usable by tacticians unfamiliar with the concept.

Sixteen years later, the OODA loop and Boyd’s work and how to apply it to personal combatives armed and unarmed are the subject of endless articles and internet forum debates and the concept is an integral part for most credible combative training systems.

This wasn’t the case in 1996, when most of the established firearms instructors were weaned on Cooper’s Color Code.  In several discussions with notable tacticians, I pointed out that the OODA loop didn’t necessarily replace the Color Code, but it certainly added an additional dimension for utilizing efficient information processing.

The  OODA loop concept took hold in the tactical community (it had long been part of combat aviation, military psychology and strategic planning) after other instructors and writers found utility in the simplified model and joined me in spreading the word.

So today knowledge of the OODA loop is expected in any serious tactical practitioner.

The concept of situational awareness, which I also introduced in the same article, has grown significantly as well.  Let me make clear I didn’t develop the idea, I took it from military psychology and combat aviation research and put the idea into the context of personal combat.  Situational awareness is a topic of serious study for the military; applying Boyd’s model to personal combat raised questions the military has long batted around:  What is situational awareness?  Can it be specifically defined and identified?  Is it an inherent trait or is it instilled?  And, most to the point, can it be taught in training?

Based on the research, experimentation, and field testing I’d been doing since the late 80’s on how to utilize accelerated learning, stress inoculation, and pre-conscious processing to recalibrate habitual baseline states to enhance performance under stress, I went on to share those concepts in another 1996 article SHOOTING WITH THE MIND’S EYE in which I stated my position:  yes, the components — the critical path of the cognitive process I defined as situational awareness — can be identified, and since those components can be identified they can then be enhanced and taught.

Among the organizations I shared this with was NASA. NASA is the lead agency for study and research of “situational awareness” and provides a clearing house for the various interested agencies like military aviation, the intelligence and law enforcement communities. I consulted with the Psychological Services Division of the Medical Sciences Branch of NASA.  My consultation focused on how to apply the blend of stress inoculation, accelerated learning, pre-conscious processing and scenario based training I’d developed to parts of the Astronaut Training Program.

One of controversial (at that time) positions I took, in discussion with the top military and space psychologists and psychiatrists in the world, was that situational awareness, in my experience as a trainer, was one part genetics, one part life experience, and one part training; and that situational awareness could be identified in prospective candidates, and further enhanced or taught (installed) into astronaut trainees who lacked the operational experience and training of the candidates who came in from the hard-core Department of Defense flow (ie fighter pilots, combat veterans, test pilots, etc.).

The polite (i.e. “official”) response was:  “That’s not our position  The area merits more study, but we tend to believe that situational awareness is in large part a skill you either have or you don’t; if you don’t, all the training in the world won’t give it to you.”

The unofficial response, over beers in a famous astronaut bar also trafficked by the US Naval Special Warfare community, was:  “Ah, bullshit.  You can’t teach that.”  And then a long pause:  “…but if you could…”

I wrote my consultation report and then went on to do other things, among them develop a training program for installing situational awareness subsequently adopted by the South African Police Service (who, at the time, had more officer-involved shootings monthly than the US had yearly) titled “Mental Conditioning for Close Combat” and also taught a significant number of personnel involved in close protection, military special operations, law enforcement, and private sector security on how to enhance their own brand of situational awareness.

Over the last thirty years, I’ve received hundreds of phone calls, e-mails and letters attesting to the effectiveness of the situational awareness and performance enhancement training program from former students operating in America and many other countries.

Anecdotal evidence, yes, but then, I never claim to be a scientist, and those calls and letters are all I ever needed to be assured that what I was doing was not only working in the training environment but translating directly into usefulness on the street and on the battlefield.

I shared that information with the popular tactical/gun press in an article about situational awareness published in SWAT Magazine in 2007.

In August 2010, 15 years after my initial consultation with NASA, the project managers I worked with in 1995 now are in charge of the entire unit, and were good enough to take my nine year old son on the VIP tour of the training facility.  Over lunch they told me, “Remember back in 95 when we were talking about situational awareness and human performance indicators?  Situational awareness?  We did a study you might find interesting.”

They sent me two documents detailing a study: “Human Behavior Performance Competencies” generated by NASA, and the ESA (European Space Agency).  What this study did was focus on specific aspects of human behavior and performance essential to survival in the space environment, with particular emphasis on long duration space travel.  One of the unprecedented products of the study is an easy to use matrix that identifies the human performance competency, the behavior, the behavioral markers, details and examples.

Situational awareness is one of the major human performance competencies identified.  This is the first time that the top scientists and researchers from the world-wide psychological research community have come to a consensus definition of situational awareness.

In order to include it, they had to break down the components of situational awareness as they defined it, as shown in the graphics posted above.

What NASA is doing with this is using these behaviors and traits as tools in the selection and assessment of astronauts and crew selection for long-duration missions; they continue to add rigorously reviewed scientific studies on these traits.  They also work in conjunction with their Training Division to enhance training to develop these attributes, and completed a peer-reviewed study and presentation on the effectiveness and implications of training situational awareness.

This can be an extremely useful model with extraordinary implications for law enforcement and tactical training.

There are two major competencies identified by NASA as principal sub-components of “situational awareness.”  They are:

a.              Maintenance of an accurate perception of the situation; and

b.              Processing of information

Perceiving the situation in an accurate (usable) perception and processing that information adds up to a state of “situational awareness.”

What are some of the implications for situational awareness training?

If a behavior can be identified and deconstructed into components, it can then be reconstructed and woven into a training program.

One of the differences between this extremely useful model and what I’ve been doing is that I combine processing of information with the maintainance of the accurate perception; like the OODA loop, it’s all one flow from my perspective.  Without efficient processing of useful information in the moment, it’s not possible to perceive a given situation, especially a dynamic situation like combat, accurately.  So the two elements are interwoven.

My model for training and enhancing situational awareness focused on improving perception and enhancing cognition while under stress.  These are the principal components of the baseline state of relaxed alertness and situational awareness as I’ve trained it:

  • Vision skills (enhanced use of the full range of visual cues, which leads to enhancement of other sensory inputs i.e. hearing, etc., as well as designing training that enhances visual processing in the neurology),
  • Sensory cue acuity (enhanced use of all senses in conjunction along with pattern recognition templates fed into the other-than-conscious mind)
  • State management (managing the internal representation and physiology in such a manner as to enhance efficient processing of information)
  • Cognitive model (drawing critical path pattern-recognition models from high performers and installing directly into other than conscious mind of students)
  • Time distortion (how to manage and enhance processing of information and utilize time distortion to maximize personal processing time of incident-essential data).

So over twenty years, I’ve focused on simple exercises to install the skill, and test it immediately under stress and in open-ended scenarios to cement the skill in use under immediate onset threat to life stress.  In my last post, I shared a simple exercise that installs one small attribute of the larger skill set.

What I find most exciting about this study is the model NASA’s best researchers came up with; in the same way the OODA loop is a model for decision making and maintaining situational awareness, the Human Behavior and Performance Competency Model is a model for breaking out the components of situational awareness as they define it.

So while some pieces of their definition might not necessarily meet the needs of personal combat, the model of the matrix they’ve created makes a template for us to fill in with the working competencies drawn from personal combat.

So – shall we create one?

Upcoming posts:

Part Two:  The Matrix

Part Three:  Training the Jedi

Extracts used with permission from NASA.  All other content copyright by Marcus Wynne (as is all material on this blog — please respect that…)


Written by marcuswynne

August 28, 2014 at 3:32 pm

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Accentus Ludus Success Stories, #1 — Swedish National Police

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The Swedish National Police invited us to do a demonstration of our accelerated learning/stress inoculation protocol to see how our approach might improve their current and future training.

We designed a custom training for the Heckler & Koch MP-5 submachine gun. The Swedish Police issue the MP-5 as a specialty weapon. Qualification with the MP-5 is mandatory for all cadets in the two-year program at the Swedish National Police University. The required MP-5 course takes three eight-hour days of classroom instruction and range training. There is classroom presentation, weapons familiarization, weapons manipulation, live firing, a live fire qualification and a written test. There is no training in tactical application or stress management.


We redesigned the 24-hour class into four hours of instruction, with the usual Swedish one and a half hour lunch break splitting the course into two sections. After our four hours of training, both cadets, with no previous exposure to the weapon, qualified expert on the range and satisfied the instructors during an oral quiz that they would have passed at the 90% percentile on the written exam.


Our four-hour training design, using accelerated learning principles and our proprietary protocol, covered all material required during the standard twenty-four hour course as well as:

• Stress management skills to use in the fight: state management, breath control, reaffirming positive fighting state.
• Maintaining safe distance during contact and/or engagement.
• Weapons retention.
• Strong side to off side transition technique.
• Use of enhanced peripheral vision under stress.
• Engaging human aggressors at realistic ranges (with Simunition marking cartridges) with 100% accuracy.
• Multiple target acquisition and advanced trigger control for single fire, burst fire, full auto fire.
• Engaging multiple moving human opponents at realistic ranges (with Simunition marking cartridges) with 100% accuracy
• Forward, backward, lateral and diagonal movement while shooting.
• Transition from long gun to handgun
• Stoppage and immediate remediation drills
• Stress scenarios: low light, downed officer rescue, stoppages, weapon pick up from down officer, multiple shoot/no-shoot targets, magazine exchanges, strong-side/off-side transition, use of cover – all conducted in no or low light while under extreme stress.
• Confidence drills: shooting live ammo at close range in and around other officers; having live ammo shot past them at close range by other police officers.

The proof of concept was videotaped and witnessed by the lead firearms instructor for the Swedish National Police — an active street officer qualified nationally as a firearms and empty hand combatives instructor — as well as a representative of the Swedish Army.


The police instructor’s comment: “If I had not seen this with my own eyes, I would not believe this possible. They [the female cadets] are shooting better than I do after 20 years as an instructor.”

Four months after the training was conducted, one of the female officer participants was involved in a close range gunfight. While she utilized her handgun instead of an MP-5, she attributes her survival to the four hours of training she received in stress management and retaining her skill set while under extraordinary stress – the training she received from Accentus-Ludus.

Main Points:
• In one-sixth of the time allotted for basic qualification, the cadets met and exceeded the mandatory written and live fire qualification standards.
• The cadets learned and retained under stress advanced tactical skills that took their performance to expert-instructor level.
• The cadets learned and retained under stress techniques to manage their psycho-physiological state while in a combat situation.
• Under traditional firearms training methods, the amount of material covered, and tested under extreme stress, would have required ten to fifteen full 8-hour training days – two to three weeks — at a minimum.
• One cadet’s use of her skill set in stress management helped her retain her life-saving fighting skills during a close range gunfight. This indicates our accelerated learning/stress inoculation approach may promote better retention of essential fighting skills under stress, which is supported by the body of our anecdotal field reports.
• The Accentus-Ludus training approach produces students who perform better, learn faster, and cost less: Better. Faster. Cheaper.

Written by marcuswynne

August 25, 2014 at 5:01 pm

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Falling Out of Aircraft While In Fright, or, Happy National Airborne Day!

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I spent my formative years as a professional backpacker and tour guide in the airborne infantry; my time as a squad leader and platoon sergeant prepared me for dealing with tempermental younglings heavily armed and possessed of significant baditude. Said experience came in useful when I swapped my uniform for Levis, a Pakistani leather jacket and the finest in Bruce Nelson and Milt Sparks tooled leather to tote around my Clark-customized Combat Commander, but like all old paratroopers, I have a lifetime fondness for all of us foolish enough to volunteer to fall out of perfectly good airplanes as a means to get between bad people and good people.

Young and idealistic 70s era grunt

Young and idealistic 70s era grunt

Young men with serious baditude

Young men with serious baditude

I’m fortunate (and honored) to have continuing friendships amongst the latest generation of those who, among other means, get themselves in harm’s way by jumping out of airplanes. They’re sailors, airmen, Marines, and soldiers. unnamed

So I’ll think about all those who do battle on behalf of others, all those who jump out of airplanes to get in front of the bad guys, and I’ll think about the life lessons I took away from my time with the airborne infantry:

You get the job done.

You take care of your people.

Those are pretty good lessons.

And a final thought, too — here’s the patron saint of paratroopers and those who go in harm’s way on behalf of others; he’s one of those that fight from the sky, too.

Michael the Archangel, General of the Lord's Host, Patron Saint of Paratroopers

Michael the Archangel, General of the Lord’s Host, Patron Saint of Paratroopers

Written by marcuswynne

August 16, 2014 at 3:38 pm

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Random Thoughts on Gear Hacks: Tac Med Ankle Med Kit Hacked…

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I like Tactical Medical Solutions Ankle Medical Kit: http://www.tacmedsolutions.com/product/ankle-medical-kit/


It’s a clean, simple solution for low-key carry of essential trauma gear when working in plain clothes (if you’re a tacti-cool person) or if you want to carry a higher standard of first aid out and about on your everyday civilian biz.

I got one to hack on for a specific mission.

There’s a young guy I dearly love who is in his full-blown ‘tween years. He’s a Type 1 Diabetic. As a Type 1 Diabetic, he has to carry around a significant amount of medical kit. For a young ‘tween entering those ever-so-cruel teenage years, it’s hard enough fitting in with a health challenge; it’s harder still if you have to carry around a f***ng fanny pack (very unhip these days) with your teenage pals (especially the gal-pal types).

I turned my reasonably experienced (40+) years of tweaking tacti-cool equipment to serve my nefarious purposes, or those of whom I worked with, or whom I like, to see how I might make that burden of carriage not only easier but significantly more low-key.

In other words, could I make this stuff disappear till he needs it.

This wasn’t my first pass at it. I’d originally recruited the Maestro of Custom Gear Concealment, Brian Kroon (protege of the late great Mitch Werbell), designer of the best M-65 jacket evolution, a fusion with the SAS/Para smock and the US Army field jacket, the Recce Smock. http://www.dropzonetactical.com/clothing/recce-smock/recce-smock.php

Brian fussed around and built a custom computer bag that hid a gaming laptop as well as a full complement of diabetes gear. Awesome bag, but not as discreet as a teenager might like.

I think it was the Pencott camo.

I also experimented with the SmarteVest, which is a fine solution, but not as cool with teens as it is with portly middle-aged men; then the SmarteVest cotton hoodie, which is fine for teens, but way too warm for a Minnesota summer.

Back during Gulf One, I had to flit in and out of some hot locales, and found it difficult to conceal various items in and around my waistband. I was significantly thinner then, but it was still too hot to stuff too much in one’s waistband. I’m of the generation that used and trained with ankle holsters for snubbies, and Lou Alessi built me one that I still have (though I have to send it my friend Jack, who bought it from me three years ago– sorry Jack!) and I modded my ankle holster to carry various items around and I was quite happy with it.

Unlike a professional acquaintance of mine who neglected his gear maintenance, and ended up kicking his Sig Sauer P-225 down a jetway in Karachi, Pakistan, when the snap failed, but I digress.

Back to the problem: conceal a full complement of necessary every day carry diabetic medical equipment: syringe pens, needles, sharps container, meter, test strips, lancets, glycogen emergency syringe, gel packs, gauze pads.

I bought a stripped ankle wrap from Tac Med. Laid out here is the wrap and the gear necessary to carry.


The wrap worked great to contain the gear, but the velcro flaps and cut-outs are custom sized for the medical kit that Tac-Med supplies. Great for them and for standard users, but not for me. So I took the wrap down to my friend Alec who is a second-generation master leather-worker/repairman/cobbler, and in about five minutes he stitched the bottom seam of the wrap closed, essentially creating a pocket the entire length of the wrap.

Once he did that, all the necessary gear fit in perfectly:


And then it wrapped, again perfectly, around a very large teenage ankle:


It disappears under even slim-cut designer jeans, let alone the fashionably baggie jeans worn by ‘tweens and teens these days.

And so a certain teen can go out on his first date (with a girl his own age; his first date was an older woman he stole from me, the little dawg…) and have both hands free, and fit in with everyone else till he has to excuse himself from the pizza table to take care of his medical bidness.

Thanks to Tac-Med for making a fine product, thanks to Alec for his superior craftsmanship in helping me hack it into a low-key solution.

http://www.tacmedsolutions.com (extremely well thought out tactical medical gear)
http://oldworldcobbler.wordpress.com (an old school master of leather work and repair)

Written by marcuswynne

August 14, 2014 at 9:51 pm

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The Last Word On Neural-Based Training and Shooting

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Question: “Dude, in one sentence, what IS this neural-based training and shooting stuff?”

Long sigh…

Answer: “Neural based training is Lumosity http://www.lumosity.com for the gunfighter’s brain, done on the range instead of the computer.”


I’m back to reading DEADPOOL, which is awesome, by the way.

Written by marcuswynne

August 2, 2014 at 2:26 am

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