When we think of training, we tend to focus on the more tangible elements involved: the skills and tactics, the drills, and, most commonly but incorrectly, the gear and equipment that we will use. These factors are like the visible part of an iceberg that we can see above the waves. However, like an iceberg, there is a huge chunk hidden below the surface that we don’t see – the fighting mindset that supports our efforts and from which everything else flows.
I was originally introduced to the Combat Triad, consisting of Marksmanship, Manipulation, and Mindset, by Bill Jeans of Morrigan Consulting in the mid-1990s when I was a young police officer. I now use it as an umbrella concept to guide proper training. The Triad encapsulates the skills and conditions necessary to win, and not just survive, a gunfight. The first two components are easy to explain and understand. They represent the visible part of the iceberg. Marksmanship is the ability to hit a desired target and manipulation is the consistent, efficient running of the gun. These two elements form the basis for gun fighting skills and need to be constantly practiced and refined.
Mindset, the third point on the triad, is a much harder concept to teach and to learn. It requires discipline and work. It must be embraced by the individual and incorporated into daily life.
Mindset can be broken down into:
- Mindset towards a threat. This is the easier of the two ideas to explain and is simply the willingness to do whatever is needed to win the fight. Words matter – we want to win the fight. It is not enough that we survive the encounter; we must strive to completely dominate it.
- Mindset towards training. This is a more difficult concept to convey. It is made up of the discipline and commitment to seek out quality training and subsequently engage in the proper practice of fundamental technique at all times. Manipulations and techniques must be performed consistently, all of the time. This constant, consistent repetition will lead to the ability to properly run the gun under times of extreme stress, the kind of stress that might be encountered in, say, a gunfight. We need to remember that, in a critical incident; a person will not rise to the occasion but rather will default to their level of training. By striving to always shoot and manipulate the gun in the same way, shooters can develop “unconscious competence” or the ability to perform necessary actions reflexively under stress without conscious thought.
History is replete with examples of when proper mindset was not built and instead was replaced with what was easier. There was the infamous shootout in Newhall CA in the early 1970s, where the last trooper was found shot to death with an empty revolver and a pocket full of spent brass. More recently, an encounter was caught on video where an officer performed a weapon disarm of a suspect holding him at gunpoint and then started to hand the weapon back to the bad guy. Both of these incidents happened because of lapses in focus during training. When short cuts are taken during training for expedience or simplicity, those practices become the standard.
I teach my students to be mindful of what they do because what they do can become habit. I structure my skill building drills to work towards the worst case scenario and work to keep consistency between manipulations. For example, in an administrative load the core movements mimic those of a proper presentation, a proper emergency reload, and a proper immediate action drill. We also see this methodology in longgun to handgun transitions. Rather than ending with the shooter re-holstering the sidearm and then simply running the charging handle on the carbine to reset the action, we teach to end by inserting a new magazine and loading a round, thus getting the carbine back in the fight. This method is more time consuming as it requires the weapon to be unloaded in order to set up for the next run of the drill but it is absolutely correct because it forces the shooter into the proper habit of getting the primary weapon back into a fighting condition. When I was the lead instructor for my agency’s rifle team, this was the way we ran the drill. We did so because we knew that it was not enough to tell our shooters that they should get the carbine back into the fight; they had to train to do so.