Assumptions and Biases in Training

A friend of mine recently pointed me towards Rory Miller’s blog post about assumptions and biases in training. I’ve read most of Rory’s material and really like it. Before reading any more of this article, please check out the link below:

Assumptions and Biases

My friend challenged me to examine my training biases and describe how these biases affect the content of my training classes….as Rory Miller did in his post. I find many of my biases were similar to Rory’s. I didn’t want to repeat some of the things that he said, so I made sure to list only the assumptions that differ from his original article. Here’s what I came up with:

Bias # 1- We live in a mixed weapon world.

Too many trainers teach only martial arts, or only stick fighting, or only firearms. The fact is, a well prepared fighter has knowledge of ALL of these weapon systems. Today on the street, you could be assaulted by a person armed with anything from his bare fists, to a screw driver, to a fully automatic rifle. You need to be ready for all of it. People who carry guns need to know how to fight as well as shoot, and you’ll see that bias throughout my classes.

Bias # 2- Knowledge should not be limited to “professionals.”

Every subset of people has a different skill set to bring to the training table. The cop can learn a lot from the armed citizen about concealing a gun in places he can’t afford to get caught with it. The armed citizen can learn much from the soldier about team tactics. Whether you are an armed citizen, cop, or soldier you shouldn’t feel inferior and should be treated fairly in class.

Just because you aren’t a full time cop or soldier doesn’t mean your life is any less valuable than mine. While some of my classes are focused towards certain events or occupations, I refuse to withhold my knowledge from “civilians”. The public at large paid for the majority of training I received as a cop…the public should benefit from the sharing of my knowledge and experiences.

Bias # 3- Most people have a restricted schedule and don’t have the time or desire to learn an “art.”

I assume that most of my trainees are like myself…they want to learn techniques to help them save their own and their families’ lives, but they don’t want to spend many hours every day doing it. I won’t teach techniques that require endless hours of practice to master or are too complex to retain with minimal effort. I’m very much the Tim Ferris of self defense and firearms training (if you haven’t read the books “The 4-hour Work Week” or “The 4-Hour Body“, you have some catching up to do) . I’m always looking for the “hack”. What will give me and my students the most “bang for the buck”. In other words, what are the simplest and easiest skills that my students can master in a short period of time that will provide the greatest long term survival value with the least amount of practice and effort.

My teaching isn’t a result of laziness or a lack of appreciation for complexity and art. It is a desire to teach skills to busy professional people who don’t want to spend any more time than they need or want to in order to gain proficiency. Many of my students embrace firearms, fitness, and combatives training as a hobby. Some do not. I want to provide relevant training for all people…not just the professional or the hobbyist, but also the housewife who doesn’t want to spend two hours a day dry-firing or striking a heavy bag.

While that bias appeals to many and has lead to an effective teaching system, I must recognize that I am probably overlooking some very effective techniques that require slightly more effort to master. I also recognize that this approach my turn off the full time hobbyist who will see what I teach as being somewhat “caveman” in style.

Bias # 4- If the technique won’t work for a 100lb grandmother fighting a 250lb man, I don’t have much use for it.

Every technique I teach should work for the majority of my trainees (no matter what size or strength) against the majority of attackers (no matter how skilled or ruthless) under the majority of conditions. Not every technique will work for everyone, but I strive to teach skill sets that can be learned and maintained by most people with minimal effort that will work against almost any attacker in the worst possible conditions. If the technique won’t work for a 110lb woman fighting a 200lb guy in the dark in the middle of a blizzard, I’m not likely to teach it. That means that there are some techniques that may work FOR YOU, and are fundamentally sound, but I don’t teach them. That’s not an insult to you or your system. I just want universal applicability in what I teach.

Bias # 5- Your expensive gun probably won’t work.

I’m not a gear head. I appreciate custom pistols and high dollar knives, but I carry simple basic tools that work…all the time. If your $3000 custom 1911 pistol gets dirty and jams after shooting 100 rounds in training, I really have no use for it. I carry a beat up Glock 19 9mm pistol. I hand stippled the frame myself. It has a good trigger and improved sights. I’ve fired over 45,000 rounds through it. It’s beat to hell and it looks like crap…but it works. My backup gun is an equally trashed S&W .38 snub. My primary blade is a hacked up Spyderco Delica. All the tools I carry will work…no matter what situation or conditions I am in. That is way more important to me than having an expensive toy that I can show off at the gun club.

I can’t tell you how many high dollar custom firearms and knives have broken in my classes. It has come to the point that I can immediately tell whose gun will finish a course and whose won’t…and it isn’t the expensive ones that do well.

If you come to my class with a Taurus .22 revolver because that’s the only gun you own and you want to get better with it, I will teach you everything that I know. But when you show up at my class with an expensive gun carried in a crappy holster with $10 gun show magazines, you will be scorned. If you want to talk “ultimate stopping power” the “best” pistol to carry or any other internet commando wannabe bull$%&^, do it with someone else. I’ve done the work. I’ve found what is an effective solution for me and the majority of my students…now it’s your turn to do the same. I’ll happily share my knowledge and experience, but I’m not going to argue with you about the supremacy of your “Super Blaster 1000″ or your “Uranium Tipped Deluxe Incapacitator” ammunition.

Bias # 6- – Fitness is important to fighting and size matters

Anyone who denies these facts is deluding themselves. I will work with anyone, no matter what size or condition they are in….but I will also be brutally honest. If you are 100lbs overweight, you are not as likely to win a fight as someone who is in shape. Even if you do win, is it worth it if you die of a heart attack 15 minutes after the fight ends? I am regularly amazed by obese students who spend thousands of dollars to come to my classes, presumably to learn life saving skills. Honestly, the better use of that student’s money would be on a gym membership. If you want to look at survival stats, far more people die from heart attacks each year than murders.

I realize I’m biased because I’m a gym rat and I like to lift heavy things. This colors how I train people, but I won’t lie to my students to make them feel good about themselves.

Bias # 7- Mental rehearsal is almost as important as physical practice

I don’t believe that the body can do something that hasn’t already been contemplated in the mind. Mental preparation is crucial and I harp on it regularly in my classes . It costs nothing and can be done anywhere. Simply playing the “what if” game is valid and necessary training.The fact that I include some mental work in some of my classes bothers some people who want more physical stuff, but I think at times it may even be more important than physical techniques.

Bias # 8- “Muscle Memory” is a good thing, but it can be overdone.

Adaptability is important as well. All the “muscle memory” in the world won’t help you if your muscles are remembering a technique that isn’t applicable to the problem at hand! In my classes, I always try to have my students perform enough basic repetitions to ensure that they have learned the technique I am teaching. Then I try to get them to “improvise”. I’ve found that combat isn’t very much like performing repetitions in a sterile training hall with semi-compliant partners. The “Perfect Technique” for any single attack rarely exists. Real life attackers always throw some junk into the ball game that will frustrate your “perfect” response. Students need to be exposed to a lot of alternate techniques so that they can flow a little bit and improvise in order to win. Charlie Parker said it best: “First, master your instrument. Then forget all that crap and play!” Sometimes the improvisational “play” aspect is neglected in training. Even though it frustrates the “muscle memory” people, it’s OK to “improv” in my classes….as long as you have “mastered your instrument” first!

Bias # 9- It’s not “The Way”, it’s “A Way.”

I believe this phrase was originally coined by the H&K International Training Division back in the 1980s. I think it’s a good way of doing business. I’ve been around long enough to see shooters and fighters succeed using all sorts of tactics that weren’t “right”. No matter what your pet expert says, there are many ways to skin the personal defense cat. I’ll teach you what I think is the best technique I know to solve any given problem, but I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my way is the only way. If you have a great technique that works for you, USE IT! And if I think it will work for me, I’ll steal it (giving you full credit, of course)! Any instructor who isn’t willing to update his system when better techniques or information appear is doing a great disservice to his students. I take training from other instructors more than six weeks a year, looking to improve what I do. Sometimes I find something better. Sometimes I don’t. But a good instructor will always be looking. Tony Blauer once said “Good information never displaces other good information.” It’s important to acknowledge that.

Bias # 10- The internet and gun magazines are bull$%^&.

I’ve trained with some very famous gun writers and internet “gurus”. With few exceptions, they have not been very impressive. Don’t believe something because some keyboard commando or gun writer says it’s true. I believe that if you want the answers, you have to DO THE WORK. It’s the only way. And that is a theme in all my classes. I won’t teach something unless I’ve done the work and found what I believe is the best technique. It’s my working assumption that everything I’ve seen or read is complete bull$%^& until I’ve tried it for myself.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not looking for new material. I am constantly researching. I read more than 12 books a month. But I put all my new-found knowledge to the test. If it doesn’t work under poor conditions and stress, I’ll dump it. Many “gurus” don’t do the same. Read. Learn. But test everything first.

Overall, this was an interesting exercise for me to complete. If you are a trainer, I think it would be enlightening if you did the same!

Greg Ellifritz is the full time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Greg has a master's degree in Public Policy and Management and is an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer's Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute.

For more information or to contact Greg, visit his training site at Active Response Training.

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