We don’t know what we don’t know, and learning is the only way to know what we don’t know. —Yushisan (1963 CE).
Duress is a process whereby environmental demands evoke an appraisal process in which perceived demand exceeds resources, and that results in undesirable physiological, psychological, behavior, or social outcomes (Salas, Driskell & Hughes, 1996).
Everyone and his grandfather in the world of commercial martial arts and tactical training owns a strong “theory of training.” Some are well-researched and some are not. Some are merely fabrications of partial facts on how humans learn and apply new skills. Some take into account the human desire for novelty and create a bizarre and new training paradigm, which may violate all of the following rules, but becomes extremely popular due to its initial popularity, like the Cross-Fit fade.
Training a life-form on earth requires that we follow the laws of training and adaptation. What the system is called is very irrelevant. Performance based training and practice versus out-come based training may be an argument among trainers, but the facts are that all training and practice rehearsals are designed for a common goal: to enhance skill performance in a specific environment of operations. Training isolated movements over training groups of movement found in an organism’s actions while surviving in a specific environment engage different processes but with the same specific outcome—to improve what is being trained (Astrand, et al, 2003).
We must not confuse goals with processes. If a leg is broken, proper rehab follows the training laws to strengthen and improve the leg’s movement mobility and flexibility after being in a cast for six months. Bodybuilders for example train to get each body part aesthetically optimal for the judges judging them. Their training reflects this outcome (Astrand, et al, 2003).
When an entire body is training for combat operations in a specific environment, the entire body must be trained, not individual body parts like the body builder. Training for combat must lead the trainee toward specific adaptations to the demands and requirements found in that specific combative environment. Bodybuilding training is specific to performance within the bodybuilding competition, and its operational standards. What a Marine or soldier trains to achieve, is to acquire and sustain maximum proficiency in physical and cognitive skills needed to prevail in combat. The two environments demand different forms of operational specificity for desired outcomes (Astrand, et al, 2003).
Let us look more closely at the laws of training, that remain consistent and constant, and they must be addressed if we want to create any applicable training paradigm (Astrand, Rodahl, Dahl & Stromme, (2003).
These principles or laws are:
(1). There must be a progressive overload engaged in incremental increases that affords adaption, and not inflict critical overload, leading to systems break down. Any biological system can only adapt to gradually increased demands upon that system. Too much without adaptation leads to collapse. Conversely, too little stress does not allow adequate adaptation beyond the status quo. In effect, we diminish skill proficiency and fitness training at a subpar level of intensity, duration and frequency. Varying the type, volume and intensity of training allows the body and mind to adapt to these increases when properly interspaced with rest, recovery and restoration strategies (Astrand, et al, 2003).
(2). Adaptation must be allowed when significant stress has been induced. Adaptation requires enough stress to stimulate adaptive processes. Once stimulated, adaption can only conclude with proper and adequate rest, recovery and restoration of depleted energy and resources stores. Without rest, recovery and restoration, there is no adaptation (Astrand, et al, 2003).
(3).Specificity rules the roost. We can only do well that which we have specifically stressed ourselves to do in that specific operational environment. I cannot learn to swim and become a better swimmer running in the mountains. We must train and rehearse as close to the operational environment, engaging the same stressors in training that we will meet in the operational environment. We do this as safely as we can pursue (Astrand, et al, 2003).
(4). Reversibility means that all fitness, and all learned skills are perishable. At the tactical level of proficiency, if close combat skills are not regularly rehearsed each day, without any training and practice, one will lose the tactical edge after only 6 months of inactivity. After this 6 months, the once well trained operator must now be treated as a novice trainee. We can forget how to ride a bike. USE IT OR LOSE is a fact! Practice, and practice carefully and specifically (Astrand, et al, 2003).
(5). Biological uniqueness stipulates that no two people respond the same way to identical training modalities. We all own our specific genetic ceiling for maximum performance outcomes. Essentially, an elephant will ever be a cheetah nor will a chicken ever be an eagle. We harbor physical and psychological limits with which we were born. However, if we fully comprehend these limits, we possess a creatively unlimited ability to adapt and operate within these limits. Knowing the self is as key as knowing our enemy (Astrand, et al, 2003).
All training of any life form on this planet Earth follows these laws or principals of training. They cannot be escaped and they cannot be ignored. If training is designed around these laws, the training will be good training (Astrand, et al, 2003).
Now, understanding the fundamental principles of training and conditioning, what is stress exposure training? The term is somewhat self-explanatory, but stress exposure training is the key for preparing men and women to function optimally and prevail over all, in high-risk environments, where all decision-making and actions taken are being crushed under the weight of life and death outcomes. One progresses through phases of training, each phase inducing and exposing the training to new skill-sets and understanding. The trainee masters this curricula skill-sets, before moving to the next evolution of training and preparation. The final phase is where the trainee takes all that has been learned and assimilated as skills, to apply them under conditions which assault his senses on a 360 degree environment, much like in real battle or high risk event. He then must engage critical thinking, analytical and intuitive integration of this thinking to successfully navigate novel challenges. Creative solving problem is induced under dire duress and the trainee must successfully perform specific tasks in this high stress training environment, mimicking the real world, real time high-risk operational environment (Driskell, Salas, Johnston & Wollert, 2008).
Stress exposure training is about preparing the trainee in such a way he or she develops the skills and refines existing predispositions toward positive and appropriate, adaptive responses to the specific battlefield context (Driskell, et al, 2008).
When we look at the reality of the combat context, death and maiming are constant stressors. Add to the this constant pressure of being killed and crippled, there are severe environment stressors such a extremes in heat and cold, wetness and dryness, noise and stench, poor to no visual acuity, disease and filth, workloads and sleep deprivation, social isolation and intense daily boredom. The combative context literally assaults the operator just for being present in this environment.
Death, killing and mutilation realities generate the ultimate in task-pressure. When firearms training is engaged on a one-way shooting gallery, no matter how realistic, encompassing a 360 degree range for target acquisition, discrimination and engagement, this environment is not the same as when these targets are actually shooting back at the trainees with lethal intent and accuracy. No matter how realistic infantry training is set up, the same risks of death are not as immediate as in real combat.
The specific goal of training is to impart skill-sets to be learned and to refine existing abilities. Stress training specifically prepares operators to sustain competent task-performance within the high risk environment of warfare (Driskell, et al, 2008).
Stress exposure training is an integrated, three-phase approach to enhance familiarity with the task environment; impart skill performance proficiency; and to engage dress-rehearsals of skills and abilities, which may or may not encourage self-efficacy of skills under pressure, depending on the trainee’s perceptual assessment of self within the combative context (Driskell, et al, 2008).
The first phase of SET involves presenting the trainee with classroom preparation, discussion and indoctrination of what SET is, what stress and combat stressors are, how these effect performance and affect decision-making, and to fully inform the trainees as to what to expect in killing combat. People adapt better to high risk emergencies when they own a comprehensive understanding of what is actually unfolding before them. Being well educated and properly informed about what happens to their minds and bodies, while attempting to perform complex functions under dire duress of horrific human violence helps them better manage their responsibilities within mission parameters (Driskell, et al, 2008).
The second phase of training is the acquisition and mastery of specific skill-sets needed to successfully navigate a mission. Strategies and tactical skills must be mastered to a degree of procedural memory within a safe, nurturing and positive learning environment. Appropriate levels and delivery of positive, critical and constructive feedback are essential here.
Skills needed mastered are learning to focus on the tasks at hand without allowing distractions to sway this focus. Mindfulness is paramount. Controlling breathing in order to remain relaxed and to eliminate body tension are extremely important. Being able to recognize tension in eyebrow, lips, jaw, neck, shoulders, abdomen, hips and legs cues the operator to progressively and immediately relax these regions for better movement potential and conserve energy expenditure.
Decision-making skills in phase two, integrate both intuitively established memories with analytical memories in a swift and fluid fashion. Intuition amounts to all of our past experiences from both training and operational environment. Intuition relies on rules-of-thumb thinking or heuristics. Analytical thinking relies on executive functions or algorithms, which are more detailed and length in their process. Training here places trainees in learning experiences that are first familiar with degrees of problems needing solved then gradually moving toward learning how to engage challenges less and less familiar dilemmas to completely novel experiences, finding creating solutions to these situations (Klein, 1998, 2013).
Being able to adjust one’s behavior correctly and accurately to the changing battlefield is key to adapting to and prevailing within this environment. As the environment changes operator flexibility to adapt, doing whatever is needed to resolve issues growing out of the rapidly challenging battlefield is key to successfully completing the mission. This ability is challenged, tested and refined within this phase as well.
There are three segments to skills development and abilities refinement Crawl, Walk, and Run. This is a simple way to demonstrate the progression of phase two. Starting out slowly with little resistance, trainees proceed intently, slowly and most importantly—correctly. Once skill-sets are passed with the highest measure of proficiency, additional complexities are added to learning and solved.
Individual skills need perfected in deliberate practice, but then these learned skills need to be integrated with other skill-sets, specific to the kinds of task performances a mission will demand. Learning is no different than building a functional brick home. Individual components must first be set into place. Upon these individual components, other more diverse systems and skills need to be integrated to make a brick structure a functional home. Creating a structurally sound and functional warrior-soldier is no different.
As Schmidt and Wrisberg (2008) detail, both block practice (practice sequence in which individuals rehearse the same skill) and random practice (practice sequence in which individuals perform a number of skills in a quasi-random order, thus avoiding or minimizing consecutive repetitions of any single skill) are needed (p.257), leading to an integration of both constant practice (a practice sequence in which people rehearse only one variation of a given class of skills) and varied practice (practice sequence in which performers rehearse a number of variations of a given class of skills during a session—also known as variable practice), which create expertise (p.271).
Presenting training material and activities within different contexts, approached from different perceptual assessments, paired with diverse examples results in skills being deployed in a more flexible fashion under new and myriad task situations. This helps prevent problem-solving rigidity and promotes greater integration of existing skills (Driskell, et al, 2008).
It is crucial that all skills (learned behaviors) and abilities (genetic predispositions) are perfected and polished, respectively, in this phase, without incorporating errors in performance. In phase three, all the human senses and systems are assaulted with similar stressors found in combat. Under such duress, skills that have not been learned properly, will now develop improper and inappropriate responses that will hinder performance, even kill the operator.
Phase Three in stress exposure training develops actual real-world, real-time scenarios found in the combative context, with the application of stressors which literally assail the human senses and neurophysiological systems. The harsher the better; the more realistic the scenarios mimic the trainees’ operational environment in which they will be deployed, the better.
Be it jungle, desert, urban, swamp, country-side, suburban or deeply rural environments, these are the operational context from which the scenarios must be constructed with their appropriate existing stressors. This event-based training is what creates intuitive templates within the operator’s procedural memory he or she will be able to swiftly recall under highly stressful conditions. And if novel dilemma present themselves as they always do in combat, the analytical system that will then be engaged still has a measure of familiarity to the challenge, making for a more proficiently arrived at solution.
For those who declare: “There is no time to think,” in combat, the reality of combat demands constant, ongoing and flexible thinking that never stops. Obviously, there is no time to stop action and analyze this fast moving, high risk environment with a standard algorithm formula for a sure answer. However, the leaders and followers, both must engage their intuitive and analytical components to thinking, where the experiential and executive functions of the mind/brain work as an integrated whole. Without this smooth, swift integration of intuitively knowing what to do with the discriminatory executive thinking, managing the novelty of this dynamically changing context, operators default to what they do know best—which is either an automatic Limbic System, emotional knee-jerking to the context or a habitual reaction of automaticity developed in training which no longer fits this dynamic. If this is the case, then actions decided upon will lead to catastrophic conclusions and mission failure in killing combat. The wrong training can get you killed faster than no training (Driskell, et al, 2008; Klein, 1998; Magill, 2011; Panksepp & Biven, 2012).
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Driskell, J.E., Salas, E., Johnston, J.H. & Wollert, T.N. (2008). Stress exposure training: An event-based approach. In P.A. Hancock & J.L. Szalma (Eds.), Performance under stress (pp.271–286). Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Klein, G. (1998). Sources of power: How people make decisions. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Klein, G. (2013). Seeing what others don’t: The remarkable ways we gain insights. New York: PublicAffairs.
Magill, R.A. (2011). Motor learning and control: Concepts and applications. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Panksepp, J. & Biven, L. (2012). Archaeology of mind: Neuroevolutionary origins of human emotions. New York: W.W. Norton.
Salas, E., Driskell, J.E. & Hughes, S. (1996). Introduction: the study of stress and human performance. In J.E. Driskell & E. Salas (Eds.), Stress and human performance (pp.1–45). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Schmidt, R.A. & Wrisberg, C.A. (2008). Motor learning and performance: A situation-based learning approach. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.