The "Three S" Test
For many years the words “survive” and “survival” have played a major role in how we think about inter-personal conflict. Phrases like “Street Survival,” the “Will to Survive” and “Survival Mindset” are quite common. According to the Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of survive is “to remain in existence,” which is insufficient to me. I want to go home the same way I left... unharmed, unscathed and psychologically fit. No wheelchairs, medical aids, crutches or coffins for me, thus survival is NOT what I want to instill in my mind. I want to win, to prevail!!!
According to Webster, prevail means “to be victorious,” which sounds awfully good to me. What does it take to prevail in a confrontation, especially one involving firearms? The truth is no one really knows since each confrontation is different and it’s impossible to train for every potential life-threatening event, especially since most situations are outside our control. One thing I can say with confidence is that the individual will have to take foundational knowledge and skill, adapt it to the situation they face and then apply accordingly. This application will require taking a number of skill sets and "chunking" them together into one smooth action...easier said than done and it's why many fail in conflict.
Anyone who has ever had to face an armed assailant... whether it be on the battlefield, in an arrest situation or on the street while trying to mind your own business... will tell you that having confidence in one’s combative skills offers a peace of mind that cannot be taken for granted. Possessing the ability to fight (not just "shoot") is an important component of having the proper state of mind ("mindset" and "state of mind" are not the same thing) and don’t let anyone tell you differently no matter how knowledgeable they may seem as they “type a good theory” online. Internet popularity does not necessarily translate to being skilled. In the end, having confidence in one’s ability, backed by a solid, easy to use skill set(s) is the single biggest deterrent to the onset of mind-numbing FEAR!
History has shown us that it’s not necessarily the person with the fastest draw or the ability to shoot tight groups that will win a gunfight. The person that will prevail is the one that is more ruthless, has no reservation to take a shot, will go “toe-to-toe” with an opponent, will not hesitate when the fight starts. The fact is this is NOT most people. The majority people are raised to be good and kind, which are certainly qualities we want to give to our children, but what about those who are not raised this way? During my 35 years in law enforcement, I came in contact with many children who knew who the local crack dealer was by age five, knew their mother was a prostitute at an age when they should have been watching cartoons and saw gun violence before there were two digits in their age. Do you think these people, as they grow into adult life, will think about the world the same way you or I do?
In truth, I wish I could erase many of the things I have seen.
After serving seven years (at different times) in the county jail, I got to know how criminals think and the biggest mistake anyone can make is to apply their thoughts, morals, ideas or feelings to a street criminal. Never base a decision on how to deal with an armed opponent by applying YOUR logic or feelings as they don't think like you do.
Back to Webster’s Dictionary, the word combative means, “ready and willing to fight.” Mindset is defined as “a course of action based on a previous decision, a set path based on reason and intellect.” Thus, it would be fair to say that the combative mindset could be defined as, “a previous decision based on reason and intellect to be ready and willing to fight back.” What’s wrong with that? It is easier said than done, is what. Those who “type a good fight on the Internet” have no idea what this process really entails. Tactical Assholery out in the open…
How does one develop a combative mind? The words “previous decision” are the most important. Deciding this is the path you want to take and actively pursuing it via quality training is crucial. The more skill one possesses, the more likely they’re able to fight back in a life-threatening event. Cops, soldiers and armed citizens must be confident in their ability if they wish to overcome the fear they will experience in a conflict. Make no mistake, you WILL feel fear but fear is your friend!
No one teaches something because they think it is stupid, thus it is UP TO THE STUDENT to separate the solid information from the garbage. Since solid information is important to mental preparation and skill building, how do we do this? For a number of years, I’ve used the “Three S Test” to evaluate techniques I’ve been exposed to in various training programs, whether firearms, hand to hand or offensive driving. I think it’s a valid measuring device anyone can use.
What are the three S’s? The first is SIMPLE. Is the technique being taught simple to execute or perform? If not, what’s the likelihood the technique will be easy to utilize in a fight? What’s the likelihood that the average officer or armed citizen will practice the technique once training is over? Simplicity will make this more likely. Oftentimes less is more.
Second, does it make SENSE? You’re a person with a great deal of life experience, formal education and possibly some task specific training. If it doesn’t make sense to you, talk to the instructor and express concern. After all, you (or your agency) are paying to be there. If the instructor can’t address your concern, you’re wise to dismiss the technique. The word WHY is underused and if the instructor cannot tell you why he teaches something, that should tell you something!
Is it STREET PROVEN? Has the technique been used in actual combat of the type you may face? Not just once, but time and agin. Be cautious. While Airsoft or Simunitions training is excellent, it is not a real fight so I don’t rate things seen in such training the same as actual combat. Also, luck should not become doctrine…a single success should not be viewed as something to train and anchor. Ask the instructor if the technique has been proven in combat time and again; if not, do you want to be the guinea pig for this new technique?
This is not a foolproof way to evaluate a given technique, but I believe it is a good place to begin. A solid evaluation will help anyone be more confident in his or her abilities. History has shown that anyone who faces an armed threat will respond in one of four ways: fight, flight, freeze or posture. Fighting back or fleeing is a sound, even wise, course of action. Don’t underestimate the tactical advantages of withdrawal. In the legal climate of 2021, breaking contact might very well be the ultimate tactic.
Dave Spaulding is a professional firearms instructor with 36 years experience in Law Enforcement and Federal Security. The recipient of the 2010 Law Enforcement Trainer of the Year Award from the International Law Enforcement Training and Educators Association (ILEETA), Dave has graduated from many of the most prestigious LE and firearms training programs and has trained students from across the globe in realistic combat handgun techniques. He worked in all facets of law enforcement including communications, corrections, court security, patrol, evidence collection, training and investigations. He was a founding member of his agency’s SWAT Team and acted as its training officer for 8 years. He spent a year in an undercover capacity and was the commander of a multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force that literally worked cases from Miami to Seattle. He has been an adjunct instructor at the former Heckler & Koch International Training Division and the Tactical Defense Institute. In addition to his many published articles (over 1,400), Dave is the author of two acclaimed books, Defensive Living and Handgun Combatives. He is also featured in a series of training videos from PANTEAO PRODUCTONS. He currently operates his own training company that focuses exclusively on “the combative application of the handgun” www.handguncombatives.com.