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Part 1 of this post explored the idea of the combative mind. Colonel Jeff Cooper suggested that the combative mind is a combination of marksmanship, handgun manipulation, and mind-set. Of the three parts, mind-set is the most important and that idea was discussed in depth. Developing the proper self-defense mind-set requires training the brain.


Part 2 jumps into another aspect of training the brain to shoot accurately and effectively in a lethal force encounter. The information provided below expands the idea of mind-set to include what you can do to train your brain to become an effective shooter. In particular, the post focuses on using the power of the brain to visualize future scenarios where self-defense is needed, imagining how we should respond, anchoring the scenarios to strong emotions, and modeling expert shooting behavior.


Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)


This post does not get into the weeds while discussing NLP; instead, the focus is on how NLP can improve shooting excellence. NLP is the language of the brain. It is a system designed to help a person copy the excellent performance of another and incorporate what is seen, heard, and perceived into his or her personal performance.


One of the foundational texts about using NLP to transfer one person’s skills to another person is titled The Emprint Method:  A Guide to Reproducing Competence. It was written by Cameron-Bandler, Gordon, and Lebeau.


One of the key concepts of NLP is that people manage their thinking, including the way they perceive people, events, and time. With repeated practice a shooter can learn a new technique and anchor it into his or her brain. Once anchored, the shooter can then quickly access that technique on demand. Think about that for a minute. Imagine that you could learn a specific shooting technique and make it a permanent part of your brain’s memory and when needed you could quickly access that technique when required.


NLP principles are particularly useful for scenario-based training. What this means is that students imagine a future deadly force situation and their possible responses to it (remember, “I knew this would happen and I know what to do about it.”). They can play out the scenario and their responses to it in their heads as if they were watching a video of the event, not losing but winning and surviving. By engaging in this kind of scenario-based training students can learn to respond almost instantly (significantly reduced lag time) to an attack.


Another advantage of scenario-based training is that if the envisioned response is anchored in a person’s brain, then the lag time (the time between when you recognize a potential attack and your response to it) is significantly reduced. Too much lag time and you will likely die or be seriously wounded.


In part 1 of this post, a modified version of Colonel Cooper’s “color code” (white, yellow, orange, red, and black) was introduced. Mentally rehearsing possible scenarios where you need to defend yourself with your handgun can also help you recognize when to move to the next level in the color code and to do that quickly. In our opinion, this level of informed situational awareness must be part of scenario-based training.


Another important concept in the world of self-defense is the OODA loop. OODA is a short name for “Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.” The OODA loop process was created by Colonel John Boyd, a U.S. Air Force Pilot who used the OODA loop principles to win aerial dogfights in the Korean War.


It is important to know that both you and the attacker have an OODA loop. Before an attacker moves on you he observes (O) what you are doing, sizes up whether or not you look like a potential victim, and so on. Then the attacker positions himself in the best place (O) to launch his attack against you. Next, if the timing and location are right he decides (D) to launch the attack. Finally, he follows through on his decision (A).


If you engaged in mental imagery during your firearms training— imagining possible scenarios when you would need to use a firearm to defend yourself—you would have spotted the potential attacker (O) and moved into “Condition Orange/Red” on Cooper’s color code. Next, you would have sized up your situation to identify where to maneuver to escape the situation or to seek cover (O). Then, you would have mentally selected your best self-defense lethal or non-lethal options (D). Finally, you would have acted (A) by escaping, hiding, or fighting.


We know from the experience of those who faced lethal situations if you can move through your OODA loop faster than the attacker you will likely win the fight. However, if you move slower than the attacker you will likely die or be seriously wounded. Don’t be caught flatfooted. Train to reduce your lag time.



Scenario-based training becomes significantly more effective when the imagined responses are anchored by associating them with a strong emotional feeling; for example, let’s say you imagined a situation where you are at the mall. Suddenly, a shooter appears and starts shooting people. You are in imminent danger. You have you are legally carrying your concealed handgun. How would you feel? Angry. Real angry. Then, the next time you go to the range bring that anger to the surface and use it while shooting at your targets. By doing this you are anchoring your responses to the scenarios to an emotional state which will make them quicker to access in a real-life situation.


Modeling Expert Behavior


As discussed above, mental imagery is the process of imagining a future scenario and then envisioning how you will respond in that situation. Anchoring is when you link your responses in the future scenario to a strong emotion (for example, anger).


Modeling is the copying of an essential skill. For firearms training it is the modeling of effective marksmanship and gun handling. As a shooter you know that you need a solid stance, a good grip, accurate sight alignment and sight picture, excellent trigger manipulation, and follow-through. You have to practice these basic shooting skills often if you want to master them. These are the skills you need to use effectively and efficiently in a deadly force situation.


Mastering these basic shooting skills can be accelerated if you have the chance to observe a master marksman and then copy his or her shooting behavior and mind-set. This is called modeling and the process was used in a U.S. Army research project called “Project Jedi.”


Project Jedi


In 1984, the U.S. military launched a five-month research experiment called Project Jedi. They tested the use of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) as an innovative way to teach recruits how to shoot .45 caliber pistols. NLP is used to visualize, anchor, and model excellent human performance.


Army researchers carefully analyzed the shooting behavior of three expert marksmen. The marksmen’s physical moves on the pistol range and their thoughts while shooting were carefully documented (for example, they were asked: “When you shoot, what are you saying to yourself?” The researchers were documenting the experts’ mind-sets.)


Twenty-three recruits were organized into two groups for the research. One group went through the regular four and a half days of pistol training. The second group was trained in one and a half days using the NLP principles of mental imagery (scenarios), anchoring, and modeling the shooting skills and mind-sets of the master marksmen who were identified by the researchers.


At the end of the training period (4.5 days for the first group, 1.5 days for the second group), all the students fired the same pistol qualification course and scores were evaluated. Group 1 had a 73% pass rate with 10% scoring at the expert ranking. Group 2, the NLP group, had a 100% pass rate with 25% qualifying as an expert shooter (reported by Spaulding).


Final Recommendations


As Dave Spaulding noted in his book Handgun Combatives, “The modeling of excellence is the modeling of those who can already do it well…just doing what they do.” You can do this by training with known experts or by watching known experts (like Jerry Barnhart, Instructor Zero, or Pat McNamara) on YouTube; training with experts in live-fire venues is, of course, preferable because it is difficult to know if the person you are watching on YouTube is an expert. In live-fire training events students can also get real-time feedback on their performance.


So, to become proficient shooters what do people need to learn? Of course, they need to master the basic skills (stance, grip, and so on). Beyond that they need to learn how to concentrate on using shooting skills consistently. Consistency comes with practice and modeling the behavior of expert shooters is also an effective way to become consistent using those skills. Accuracy and speed will also come from effective practice.


In addition to the basics, if you want to survive a life and death situation you will need to learn:


  1. How to hit what you are shooting at. Accuracy matters. The person who gets the first hit, not the first shot, usually wins the gunfight. You need to train to live, not to die; to train hard and fight easy (a slogan of the Special Air Service—a Special Forces unit of the British Army). It is also important to remember Hick’s Law discussed in Part 1 of this post which means that you need a few effective shooting techniques. Knowing too many techniques can confuse you when you need to act quickly. You also need to train on a regular schedule because shooting skills are perishable. Even taking a week-end off from your training schedule can result in decreased proficiency.
  2. How to draw quickly while gripping your firearm properly and pressing the trigger effectively. Getting a good purchase on your firearm while it is in the holster is very important if you want to shoot accurately after the gun is drawn from the holster. You also need to have a good holster (we prefer Kydex holsters over leather holsters). Because you will be carrying your handgun concealed you need to practice drawing the firearm from concealment. Concealed holsters are most often carried either inside the waistband or outside the waistband. Drawing a concealed handgun is challenging because you have to move clothing to access the handgun. You must practice this draw. You can practice drawing in your home with an unloaded firearm—repeat, with an unloaded firearm—this is called dry practice.
  3. How to size up your environment as you move through it. This is called situational awareness. You need to master Cooper’s “color code” and Boyd’s OODA loop. You need to identify ways to escape or hide or decide if you need to fight. You need to quickly identify cover and concealment (cover is significantly more important—concealment hides you while cover hides and protects you). You never want to find yourself standing flat-footed while an attacker is shooting at you. Learn how to shoot while moving to cover (Pat McNamara calls this “getting off the X.”)




Training your brain to be in the fight is the key to surviving a deadly force encounter. As Clint Smith, the director of the Thunder Ranch Training Center, once said: “Get the best training you can afford…train with the understanding that firearms practice is about 75% physical and 25% mental. However, a gun fight is about 25% physical and 75% mental.”


For those of us who are firearms trainers learning principles of neuroscience can increase our training effectiveness; for example, principles found in Dustin Salomon’s book Building shooters: Applying neuroscience research to tactical training system design and training delivery. The Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) principles of mental imagery (scenario-based training), anchoring training to a strong emotion, and modeling (copying the behavior of shooting experts) can also help students increase their shooting proficiency.


Ethics and morals relate to “right” and “wrong” conduct. While they are sometimes used as if they mean the same thing, they are different: ethics focus on rules of behavior provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct. Morals, on the other hand, refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong. We believe that we have ethical and moral obligations to prepare our students to survive a deadly force encounter.


Of course, firearms training is more difficult than most people think. How in the world can we train students to engage an unknown number of assailants, in an unknown situation, at an unknown time in the future, using unknown techniques? We think the answer lies in training the brain to imagine future deadly force scenarios, anchoring imagined responses to strong emotions (like anger), and modeling expert shooting behavior so that when that time comes students will quickly access the required response and go home alive (“I knew this would happen some day and I know what to do about it.”)


We need to train the brain!

Carrying Concealed: Eight Moral Obligations