Mental Training: The Art of Life or Death Decision-Making
How to FOCUS your MIND and CONQUER FEAR so that you can make life or death decisions with confidence!
By Nicholas Black
With Phillip Schenkler
Copyright © 2014, by Nicholas Black
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage, photocopying, recording, and (or) any retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in review.
Author’s note: The stories described in this work are based on actual events. The names of certain individuals, locations, dates, and various details have been changed to protect their anonymity, especially as it applies to medical information or situations.
Based On True Events
YouTube Video Synopsis
Before You Begin (WARNING)
There is Science Mumbo-jumbo in this book!
The first thing I need to warn everyone about is that this book has a bit more basic research in the underlying biological and physiological motivators and factors that our bodies go through during life and death decision-making scenarios. I’m not a doctor, but I have been consulted by many during the process of developing this book. This book is an incredible resource, told to you in first person, by the people who experienced a variety of experiences that we can all learn from. And the science, well . . . that’s a part of how we behave in life-threatening situations.
Lots of you probably don’t care about the science behind why we do the things we do, and I understand that. So we decided to warn you by placing this label:
Next to the title of any chapter that are mostly science. For those of you interested, I did most of the research by a combination of interviews, questionnaires, and good old fashioned library time. Nothing in this book is particularly groundbreaking, but it is useful in the context presented.
Chapter Takeaways, Mental Exercises, and “Try This”
I included several parts to the ends of the chapters, which allow the reader to really dive deep inside themselves.
Do you have to perform these exercises in order to learn the Decision-making methods in this book?
Of course, not.
Should you do the exercises?
Why wouldn’t you put 100% effort into this? The Art of Life and Death Decision-Making isn’t something you should take lightly. It’s literally life and death. As in . . . you only get zero chances to get it wrong.
A single bad decision is the end of you or somebody you love. Please give that some consideration as you read this book. It can be a resource and a tool all at the same time.
The first editor on the book told me, “People don’t want to hear about all that science shi#. . . and they don’t want to think too much. Cut all that stuff out of the book.” From another I heard this, “. . . This type of reader wants to be entertained and lightly educated. Your theory of the science cannot bog them down. Especially in the beginning.”
Needless to say, both of those guys are no longer on the project.
The science is important. The introspection is important. You need to ask yourself questions and really answer them. I promise, if you actually take your time with this book, and do each and every exercise, you will grow from within and be a more capable decision-maker, a more capable operator, and a more capable human!
About the Author
My name is Nicholas Black.
I am a nonfiction and fiction writer, and have written about 19 books, two television pilot scripts, a reality show in pre-production, several short story and poetry anthologies, and for a while I even dabbled in art. But none of those things are reason for you to pay any attention to what I have to say. That’s all noise.
I was also a member of the US Navy, I was a bodyguard for several years, I operated as a Security Consultant, and even spent time in the French Foreign Legion—as a diver and interrogator. These things don’t define me, but they’re a good canvas for us to show you and mold you in the Art of Life and Death Decision-Making. And that, my friends, is not noise.
In between the books and the mercenary work I was also a professional MMA fighter—trained by the legendary coach and Peak Performance expert DC Gonzales (The Art of Mental Training – A Guide to Performance Excellence).
I was never beaten professionally, and my coach was at my side for every one of my fights. I trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu when there were very few Americans doing it. For a period of 3 to 4 years I probably spent no less than five hours per day training with Dan, Allen Mohler (Alliance Jiu-Jitsu), and others.
Sometime into our training in Muay-Thai and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Dan began training me in the ‘mental’ game of fighting and combat as he slowly brought me into an understanding of success conditioning and peak performance training. I don’t think there were many of us who trained under Dan because it was so incredibly time-consuming and mentally exhausting. As nice as DC Gonzalez may seem, he is quick to lock you up in an armbar and make you fight your way out with perfect technique, all the while coaching you in this eerily calm voice. I don’t think there is a greater coach alive today, and his teaching and training has probably kept me alive on multiple occasions.
When I first started training with Dan I thought I was learning. But I realized that he was just preparing me to learn. The true learning didn’t occur when I was listening to his words, when I was listening to the tapes, or when I was training. It would be much later, and at unexpected moments throughout my life that I began to achieve the ideal performance state—also referred to as the ideal mental climate, that place where your conscious mind gets out of the way and allows your body to become a tool. His words were like echoes constantly in the soundtrack of my mind. I would literally wake up some days, feeling more confident and more capable. And that is what our idea is with this book.
Table of Contents
Breathing (Science Mumbo-Jumbo)
Decision-Making Process (Science Mumbo-Jumbo)
The Limbic System (Science Mumbo-Jumbo)
Life is just a series of nightmares
In the dark you hear everything. Each step seemed loud enough to wake-up everyone in the house. And not just the people sleeping, but also the other things that scurried around outside the limited range of my senses. There was only a single, tired yellow nightlight to guide me from my room, down the hall, past the stairwell that led down into the darkness, and finally to the small bathroom. Each time my foot dropped to the carpet I could imagine things swimming in that blackness that swallowed the stairs.
Never look to the right on the way to the bathroom because, likely, something will be peering back up at you.
I would find safety in the bathroom, quickly easing the door closed behind me. I made my way to the sink throwing splashes of cold water on my face as I slurped to quench my thirst. I had limited visits to the bathroom in the night, due to the monsters and such, so I had to make the most of it. I would fill my stomach with water, use the bathroom as quietly as I could, and extinguish the light before I opened up the door again. Round two.
Never look to the left on the way back from the bathroom because whatever was watching you the first time has probably come up with a plan to get you.
Back down the hallway I’d go, footfalls as loud as hammers smashing beneath me, and once again finding the safety of my bedroom, as I closed the door behind me.
Every night it was the same thing. Every night the near paralyzing fear. Every night the nervousness and apprehension. Every night the rational embarrassment at the irrational fear I had of the darkness. The fear that consumed me to the point of nearly pissing in my pants each and every night of my childhood.
I wasn’t just scared of the dark . . . it owned me. It controlled me completely from the moment the sun went down until the blackness relented to the aqua blue, and the monsters had to go to wherever they went as the sun rose.
And all of this fear and trepidation made me start to become angry with myself. Even as a small child I felt like a failure because this thing—the darkness—had taken control of half of my life. So I decided to take steps . . . literally.
I remember very clearly that it was wintertime in Texas, where I was living at this point. It was cold enough outside that the downstairs of the house was markedly cooler. Under the cover of the noisy air conditioner pumping out heat, I made my way out of the room and this time I turned right! In fact, I stopped, squinted into the cold dark void and sat down on the first step for nearly 5 minutes before pulling a ‘freak-out’ and racing to the safety of the bathroom.
The next night I made it 10 minutes.
A few nights later I did the unthinkable . . . I went down to the second step.
Then the third.
Then the fourth.
And a few weeks later, when I had desensitized myself and had worked my way about 5 or 6 steps down into the blackness, I realized that I was submerged in it. I was no longer the little boy standing by the safety of the dim yellow night-light. I had become something different.
I was one of them.
One of the ‘things’ in the darkness.
And this incredible feeling of calm washed through me. I realized that when I was completely in the dark, I had joined the monsters and goblins and creatures without names. I had simply changed my place, from the light to the dark, and suddenly, my fear was transformed into a new kind of courage.
In the darkness, I now knew, we were all on even footing. Me and all of the other things I’ll never see—my irrational fears of the unknown—had come to an understanding. Those of us in the darkness can see those of you in the light, but not the other way around.
Conquering fear is not really possible. However, we can learn, with mental training and repetition, that we can channel our fears, put them in perspective, and get to a mind state that allows for competent decision-making based on the real dangers.
I hadn’t been scared of the dark. I was scared of the unknown forces that made the darkness their home—unknown entities, which didn’t exist. My fears were unwarranted because there were no real facts to support my phobia. Fear is a very natural thing, but it can easily paralyze us into panicked decision making . . . or no decision making at all. People freeze up in combat all the time and once the body stops responding, completely controlled by the fear, and then they’re finished.
Conquering my fear of the dark taught me, even as a small child, that no fear was so powerful that it could control me. And I learned ways to cope in very difficult situations. I’ve had to make many life and death decisions, for a variety of oddball reasons, during my life.
In life or death decision-making scenarios, there’s usually only a small list of possible outcomes that are positive. Time is not on your side. Luck doesn’t exist. All you have is your training and experience to guide you. You either have one or the other—Training . . . or Experience. There is no middle ground.
If you act, instead of re-acting, you can raise the statistical chances for your survival and the survival of those you intend to help.
A slow reaction significantly reduces your chances.
Inaction means you or they die.
My name is Nicholas Black, and I’m going to show you how to deal with fear, by showing you how we’ve dealt with it. I’ve been shot at, stabbed, stranded, left for dead, hunted, stalked, and overwhelmed. I’m not a guru or a master at anything in particular. But I’ve had good coaches. I’ve trained with the toughest and most astute observers of success conditioning, military strategy, unconventional warfare, sports hypnotherapy, Mixed-Martial Arts (MMA), and emergency response.
I was a bodyguard, a member of the Navy and the French Foreign Legion, a bouncer, and a fighter. I’m by no means a hero, but I’m a survivor. I’ve found a way, one way or another, to be here writing this sentence that you’re reading at this very moment. Since I’m admittedly not exceptional at anything in particular, that should reassure you that the basic guidance I can offer you is actually useful. There is some merit in my words simply because I’m here to give you these words.
Our idea with this book is to give you tools you can use (IDLE CAR and OCD decision-making processes), right now, that improve your chances for survival by giving you a process and a mental game for dealing with life or death decision-making scenarios.
I’m going to use events that occurred to me personally, as well as situations that my closest friends and comrades experienced. I will walk you into situations we faced; situations that had limited choices due to circumstances beyond our control. Many of these decisions were life or death.
Our goal with this book isn’t to tell you what to do in a life or death decision-making scenario. Rather, it’s to prepare you mentally to make the best decisions you can when time isn’t on your side. That’s what we’re all fighting for, isn’t it . . . more time. More time to choose the right path, and more time to make the right decision.
The samurai used to say that you should consider matters of little concern greatly, and matters of great concern lightly. They meant that if you spend enough time considering the little things and seemingly insignificant details, then the larger obstacles and challenges are little more than just a bucket of little problems that your mind has already dealt with.
Notice that I didn’t use the word ‘problems.’ Our minds tend to defer decision-making when we assume there is a problem. However, throughout our lives we face challenges and obstacles, and constantly surpass them. Your mind is a muscle, and decision-making under fire is a skill. Talent can’t be taught, but a skill can be. You should read this book with the goal of developing the skills necessary to make life or death decisions. Train your body and mind to assist you in this process, rather than getting in the way, as our bodies and chemistry all too often do.
We’re going to provide you with a basic fundamental understanding of your body’s biological driving forces, and then look at examples and scenarios that relate to the subject matter we are studying. This book can be used as a resource for training your mind in a variety of ways. If you have particular issues that need to be dealt with, this book will have you training almost immediately. If you want a broad understanding of the underpinnings of Life or Death decision-making then you’ve also got the right book.
Along the way I’ll bestow upon you some of the techniques taught to me by DC Gonzales—my close friend and mental coach. This is going to give us some insight into the decision-making processes that were instrumental in these different scenarios. What you will come away with, by studying some the life or death mental training techniques, are a series of tools you can employ in your everyday life.
You can read this book as a mental training guide, as an introduction into high-stress decision-making, or just as a list of odd and incredible life situations that you may learn from or relate to. Each person will take something different from this book.
Take the bits and pieces we offer, consider them carefully before drawing conclusions. Each of the stories was included for specific reasons. Try and let your conscious mind get out of the way for a while as you read through, and let your uncomplicated mind absorb. Think of the stories here as different colors in a large set of paints, each one alone might seem vacant, but together they can create a mélange of images, as infinite as your ability to imagine them.
With each chapter you’ll find MENTAL EXERCISEs and CHAPTER TAKEAWAYs. These are different mental exercises you should practice both with the reading of the text as well as on your own. Practice these on a regular basis (at least one exercise per day, and preferably one in the morning and one in the evening before you sleep).
Hopefully you don’t have to make lots of life or death decisions in your day-to-day life. But with this training you can develop confidence, coping mechanisms, and the underlying mental toughness that’s necessary to make life or death decisions quickly and confidently, no matter what the situation.
If we can develop a host of small mental skills—teachable and repeatable in nature—that help us get into that state in which our conscious mind isn’t cluttering the decision-making process, then we become extremely efficient in times of high stress.
This book is dedicated to creating an environment of no-mind, or quiet mind, where all the noise in the world is gone. In that present moment your emotions and thoughts won’t get in the way of your abilities.
You will conquer your darkness.
You will control your fear.
Follow me, friends . . . into the darkness as we pursue the uncluttered mind.
How important is Breathing?
We need to take a quick moment to talk about breathing before we get started. When an intense situation arises our bodies can become overwhelmed with emotions, with neurotransmitters and physiological changes, hyperventilation, anxiety, and other less obvious physical changes. It’s important to have a quick system that gets us out of that panic state, helping us to make decisions as well as to become calm and relaxed under normal circumstances.
Deep breathing stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which regulates body activities when we are at rest. It counteracts the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers different body activities related to the fight-or-flight response.
Think of it like fire and ice: fire is the sympathetic nervous system, always on the verge of madness, crazy and overwhelming. Ice is the parasympathetic nervous system, calming and relaxed.
Breathing is one of the only functions in the human body that can actually be controlled externally through simple voluntary techniques. By making subtle changes to the rate, pattern of breathing, and depth of each breath we can change the messages that are being sent from the respiratory system to the brain.
Breathing exercises and techniques are like having a way to hack into the autonomic communication network. By doing so and changing our breathing patterns, we are sending very unique and specific messages to the brain in a way that it can interpret very simply. With these techniques we can convince the areas of the brain that are related to thought, behavior, and emotion to settle down and leave us in the best place to make life or death decisions.
From our research we have discovered three basic techniques for breathing control:
Coherent breathing can be simplified to breathing at a rate of five breaths per minute, which falls right in the middle of the resonant breathing rate range. This is achieved by breathing in for a count of 5 to 6 seconds (inhale), and then breathing out for a count of 5 to 6 seconds (exhale).
- Coherent breathing causes shifts in the nervous system and cardiovascular system which helps to create a stronger stress–response system.
Resistance breathing is a form of breathing that creates a resistance to the flow of air entering and exiting your body.
This resistance can be created in a variety of ways:
- Pursing the lips
- Placing the tip of your tongue against the inside of the upper teeth, near the gums
- Tightening the throat muscles
- Partially closing the glottis
- Using external objects such as a straw or your own cupped hand
- Breathing out of your nose (which creates slightly more resistance than mouth breathing)
- Certain songs and chants (which contract vocal cords slightly)
Breath moving is a technique that is more mental than physical, where your imagination attempts to move your breath. The history of this technique dates back to the 11th century, when Christian Orthodox Hesychast Monks used to perform these techniques so that the Russian warriors could help to protect their territory and conquer their adversaries in battle.
We are a little bit less drastic in our use of breath moving, and feel there is a wonderful precursor to mental exercises and success conditioning.
Initially, you should start with 10 – 12 cycles of breath moving. In order to accomplish this technique (*which we would recommend for breath control in non-stress-related situations) you should follow these basic steps:
- While breathing in—imagine you are moving your breath to the top of your head, above your eyes.
- While slowly breathing out—imagine your breath flowing down into the base of your spine, towards your hips.
- With each cycle of breath in you should imagine the air going up into your head, and with each breath outward that air will make its way to the base of your spine.
When should you practice breathing techniques?
The simple answer is that you should practice breathing techniques every single day because your intention is to have these breathing techniques become second nature to you. These are tools that you will use to focus your breathing and your thoughts, calling your emotions, and preparing you to practice your success conditioning and reach your ideal performance state.
During times of great stress, trauma, and any life or death decision-making scenarios you will need to be able to quickly prepare yourself for whatever obstacles and challenges present themselves. That means getting your PNS working to control your crazy sympathetic nervous system before it crashes you!
Before any of the mental exercises that you will perform throughout this text, please choose one of the breathing techniques beforehand.
IDLE CAR and OCD methods
Understanding the IDLE CAR decision-making process
For those of you who don’t have a method (which is most of us on this planet) then this will be the framework for life or death decision-making. The more you train your mind to follow this decision-making process, the easier and more instinctive it will be. You will also be able to take control of your body and mind when it seems as if the world is out to get you. You must be able to function when everything is stacked against you, including your own chemistry and biological responses.
This method is not overly simple, nor wickedly complex. Without a process, there is a good chance that your life or death decision may be the last decision you ever make. Having a decision-making process like this is like having a weapon on you at all times. The First rule of a gunfight is that both people must have a gun. Otherwise . . . it’s just a shooting! This process is your gun, your weapon against indecision and inaction.
Focus on learning the method, and the problems practically solve themselves right in front of you.
If you learn nothing else from this book, please take some time to study and memorize the IDLE CAR method. It’s simple, quick to understand, and clear-cut. This will be your system when you have at least one (1) minute or more to make your decision.
* Now, take 5-7 deep breaths and continue . . .
I – Identify
D – Define
L – Locate
E – Examine
C – Choose
A – Assess
R – Re-Identify
Here is the breakdown of IDLE CAR
I – Identify the Obstacle
- We have to quickly identify the obstacle/challenge/problem we are facing. When we find ourselves looking at multiple problems then we need to quickly assess which problem is most pressing and deal with it first. Remember, any large problem is really just a series of small problems that we can deal with.
D – Define the Time-to-Decision
- We have to define exactly how much time we have to make the decision. Making a traveling choice in traffic would be different than dealing with a shark attack. The amount of time we have to make the decision will impact our ability to examine more options.
L – Locate the VIPs (Very Important People)
- When overcoming a life or death decision we need to know who the most important people are on the scene. If you are a first-responder (EMT, firefighter or paramedic) and you must evaluate the scene, looking for the most viable victims with the greatest likelihood of living, and take into account their age and mobility.
- No matter who you are, what your job title is, you need to rank the people within the obstacle/problem/challenge in order importance. If you are on a camping trip with your friends and family then your welfare might very well be less important than your children and loved ones.
E – Examine the Two (2) most likely Decisions
- Based on the amount of time you have to make your decision, you need to quickly devise the two (2) most likely choices you have in front of you. This doesn’t mean that every choice is a great choice, but you don’t necessarily have time to ponder the myriad of details. Be careful that you don’t get caught in information overload and narrow down your choices to just two (2).
C- Choose and Implement the Decision
- It’s time to act! In the life or death decision-making process you have to be decisive in your action. There is no time for second-guessing or waffling. You have 2 choices in front of you, A or B. So make the choice and implement it!
A – Assess the Outcome
- Assess the outcome of your decision as quickly as possible. Evaluate all new information and consider all of the new consequences of your decision.
R – Re-Identify new Obstacles and Repeat
- Re-identify any new obstacles/challenges/problems that may have arisen as a consequence of your decision. Repeat the process again, tackling new scenarios as they evolve. Don’t become irrational, and don’t succumb to hopelessness as new challenges develop. Push forward in your IDLE CAR decision-making process.
In a Time-Crunch, use the OCD Method
When you don’t have more than one (1) minute to make a decision, you’ll need a more streamlined process, which we refer to as the OCD Method.
The OCD Method: When Time is limited!
When we don’t have time to go through the IDLE CAR Method of decision-making, then we need a super-quick process. These would characteristically be decisions that have to be made in sixty (60) seconds or less.
The OCD Method is your on-the-spot decision-making process. Obviously, your time is limited and your process must be tightened to account for that.
* Now, take 3-5 deep breaths and continue . . .
O – Observe
C – Choice List
D – Decision
Here is the breakdown of the OCD Method
O – Observe the Obstacles (1-10 seconds)
- Observe the most important/dangerous/time-sensitive obstacles in your way at this moment. No looking into the past or future, but stay in the right-now!
C – Choice List (1-10 seconds)
- Make a quick list of the 2-3 possible choices you can make that will deal with this challenge or obstacle. This should be based on your experience/training/and circumstance. There is no perfect answer. It’s about creating a simple list, right now!
D – Decision (1-10 seconds)
- Make your decision from your choice list and enact without delay. You don’t have time to second-guess yourself. Live in the right now, and keep your conscious mind out of the way of this process. It isn’t about the best choice, it’s about the best choice right now!
- Go back to first step: Observe, and re-evaluate the challenge/obstacle in your immediate future. If you have created time for yourself, utilize the more robust mental process of the IDLE CAR Method.
Mental Training Exercises Overview
The way these types of books normally work is that you would have to sift through tons and tons of pages of nonsense before you find what you’re looking for. I believe that if you found yourself reading this book then you’ve already qualified yourself as being a bit more advanced than the average reader. Because the art of life or death decision making is so unique and specialized, we have elected to include information on the basic biological and biochemical underpinnings of fear, anger, phobias, pain, and the fight or flight mechanism itself.
Do you need to memorize all of this material?
Of course not.
Is a basic understanding of the science that drives us important?
I recommend reading through the mental exercises and then continuing on throughout the text. You will naturally find chapters that relate more to you, your job, situations that come up in your life, etc. Those with mental exercises you should be performing on a daily or weekly basis. The same goes for soccer, basketball, or life or death decision-making . . . the more you practice, the better you’re going to become.
When it comes to life or death decision-making, you’re probably going to get one chance to get this right. So consider the gravity of the situations that your life could present you when you’re developing your daily habits as far as your mental/success training.
This is list of the following mental exercises you will be training with after having read the chapters that follow. It is advisable to perform the exercises as they come up naturally in the text so that they have some context.
Mental Exercise list
Mental Exercise # 1: Remember your earliest fear!
Items that you will need:
- Pen or Pencil
- Large sheet of white paper
Take a few minutes to think about your earliest fear in life. As you know, I was deathly afraid of the dark and what might lurk inside it. Don’t rush it . . . close your eyes, take 10-15 slow breaths, and uncross your arms or legs if you’re sitting or laying flat. Really ponder the first thing you can remember scaring you.
Now consider that “fear” and how it controlled you. Write down the first 3 or 4 words that come to your mind, whether they’re colors, or feelings, or emotions . . . whatever. Write those words down. Allow your mind to float around a bit; take in the sounds, the flavors and smells, the atmosphere.
As you thought of your early fear think about a few things:
- Did you find yourself anxious and uncomfortable?
- Were you squirming around or calm?
- Has your breathing become shallower, your heart rate elevated?
- Have you crossed your arms again, or brought your arms close to your body?
If any of these reactions occurred, then you’re digging into your past nicely. You have to be open enough to allow yourself to fall deeply into your own self. The only way to conquer a piece of our natural programing is to completely understand it and allow it to be defined.
Mental Exercise # 2: When was the most recent time you dealt with that fear?
Items that you will need:
- Pen or Pencil
- Large sheet of white paper
When was the last time you encountered whatever it is you were afraid of (water, monsters, unicorns with fangs, trolls, spiders, etc.)? Last night I went downstairs in the dark and got a glass of coconut water, never turning a light on. So think to the most recent experience you had with that thing that you feared.
What has changed from when you were small until your most recent encounter? WRITE your thoughts down.
You have changed. You have, through a history of experiences, defined that fear and the facts that surround it. You might even still be afraid of this thing, but your fear is based on a more rational understanding of it. Your history of experiences placed an image in your mind that is relative to its actual danger. A child doesn’t have all of these experiences. A child is functioning off of pure animal programming, without the benefit of reasoning skills.
But you have the benefit of experience and learning. WRITE down some of the experiences you’ve had that better prepare you to deal with your fears.
Mental Exercise # 3: Your most recent fear!
Items that you will need:
- Pen or Pencil
- Large sheet of white paper
Take a few minutes to consider the most recent time you came into contact with a stimulus (scary thing/situation) that sent your body towards fight-or-flight.
Replay those moments over and over a few times in your mind and allow yourself to see the situation again, experiencing the details. Take in every bit of sensory information your mind recorded.
Do you remember your body’s physical reactions? Close your eyes and really think about it.
Draw a large circle. On the inside of the circle, write down, through free association, the first 5 or 6 words that come into your mind. Label the circle “Fight-or-Flight.”
Mental Exercise #4: Meditation on Inevitable Death
Items that you will need:
- Quiet place to sit or lay down for 10-15 minutes
This is going to sound incredibly morose, but it serves a purpose.
SIT or LAY DOWN in a QUIT PLACE.
We are going to follow the way of the samurai. You’re going to find a quiet place to lie down or sit, and you’re going to imagine the most likely way you could die over the next 24 hours. You’re going to mentally focus on that death in complete detail, watching it all occur from your perspective.
Consider every aspect of this death, each tiny bit and piece.
Now, rewind and watch it all happen again, but this time view it from an outside or 3rd person perspective. Witness your death as an onlooker or a bird or a security camera might see it.
Remove all emotional connection. Get rid of fear and regret and hopelessness. Just accept it, and acknowledge what is happening.
This exercise should be performed DAILY!
Mental Exercise # 5:What are your phobias?
Items that you will need:
- Pen or Pencil
- Paper from Mental Exercise #4 with free association words related to fight-or-flight
Take the paper from before (from Mental Exercise #4), the one we used in the last chapter where we wrote down, through free association, different words related to our fight-or-flight response. Consider these words, inside the circle, and see if any of them elicit feelings that could be associated with a phobia you might have.
Remember, it has to be an intense, irrational fear. And even though the logical mind can see and define the irrationality of the phobia, you’re still suffering some level of both Avoidance and Impairment.
Around the circle, list any phobias you might have. You have to really be honest with yourself right now. None of this works if you’re not brutally honest about what you’re afraid of. It’s natural to have fears and phobias.
- As high as 18% of all Americans suffer some kind of phobia.
- It’s the most common mental illness among women.
- It’s the second most popular mental illness among men.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
But you have to own up to it.
Allow yourself to feel these things, these emotions. Uncross your arms and lay back. Accept the uneasiness and discomfort. Get your logical mind to step aside. Push your ego and pride off a cliff.
What are you afraid of?
Now . . . WRITE down your phobias (if you can be honest with yourself) on the outside of the circle, drawing a line to the words in the circle that may apply or be relative to that phobia. If you have more than one phobia, WRITE it down as well.
It’s important to understand the relationship between fear and phobias. The more we allow ourselves to accept the things that frighten us, the quicker we can resolve the panic and avoidance and impairment and pain.
Mental Exercise # 6: Change the perspective of your phobia!
Items that you will need:
- Quiet place to concentrate for 15-20 minutes
If you have a phobia, or something that you’re even mildly afraid of, lets do a quick little drill.
- Lay down in a quiet place so that you won’t be disturbed for at least 15-20 minutes.
- Make sure your arms are out beside your body, legs not touching together. You need to be really comfortable and relaxed.
- Take several deep breaths and concentrate on that phobia of yours. Really bring it to the surface. Take note if you feel like bringing your arms to your body (a natural protective movement). Don’t let this happen.
- Imagine yourself next to the object that brings you fear. Both of you—the object of your fear, and you—standing next to each other in a white room, each of you the same size.
- Fix that image of you and your phobia next to each other for several seconds.
- NOW . . . change the size of yourself compared to that phobia. Imagine yourself growing larger and more dominant by the second, growing so large that your phobia is a tiny little dot, so small it can’t be seen. You are massive, and the phobia is almost non existent. If your phobia is heights, picture yourself so giant that no mountain compares to you. No snake is even big enough to see, no spider significant other than to rid the house of tiny little bugs you can’t see . . . because you’re too massive!
- Fix on that relationship of you being big and powerful and in complete control of this tiny phobia. Breathe deeply, slowly and surely changing the mental relationship between your body and your phobia.
Techniques like this help us put our fears and phobias into perspective. They will assert our will and decrease the need for avoidance and impairment. This exercise should be performed 1-2 times a day for a period of 6-8 weeks if you want to truly change the mental object relationship that you’ve held onto for any real length of time.
Will this cure you of your phobias?
It’s a good first step!
Mental Exercise #7: Get Angry!
Items that you will need:
- 1 (one) box of crayons or markers
- Large white piece of paper
Take out a fresh piece of paper and place it in front of you. For this exercise we are going to use markers or crayons. It’s important to have the colors available. This exercise is best performed while sitting at a table with the paper in front of you and the crayons or markers laid out so you can pick and choose very easily.
I want you to think about the last time you were really angry. Not the, ‘stubbed my toe in the shower’ kind of angry. Extreme anger! Now close your eyes and clench your fists very tightly for the next minute or so.
Focus on that anger and how it charged your body to act. Notice how many of the aches and pains you might typically feel are masked by your anger and how it affects your body.
OPEN your eyes and begin WRITING every WORD you can think of, and the colors that are associated with each word. The more powerful the words, the thicker and broader the letters you can use. Let the color and chaos travel from your mind, out through your arms, into your hands, and express that emotion on the paper.
Once you’ve written 7-10 words . . . STOP! Now WRITE the word ‘ANGER’, in black, in the center of the piece of paper and make sure it’s clear and printed. You have to completely understand your anger, it’s emotional value/cost, and the words that your mind associates with anger at this point. These words, if you’re honest with yourself, are very effective triggers that can be used to bring that anger up to the surface during times when you may need an extra boost of aggression to mask or eradicate a fearful situation.
Another benefit to expressing your anger in terms of words and related colors and size is that you will also develop a keen understanding of some of the mental hooks and pathways that lead you to anger and outbursts. It’s very simple to tell yourself not to become angry. However, is exponentially more difficult to control the emotional and chemical transformation that takes place once a particular stimulus pushes you into a state of anger.
Mental Exercise # 8: Pain & Math
Items that you will need:
- Blank paper
- Paper or pencil
- Jalapeno or habanero peppers
We are going to test your ability to solve mathematical problems during differing levels of pain.
On two clean pieces of paper, write down 5(five) multiplication problems that consist of at least 2 digits for each number in each equation.
Examples: 265 x 14 955 x 138 714 x 88
START your STOPWATCH and begin SOLVING the 1st page of mathematics problems. Go as fast as you can, ensuring the correct answers. Record the time it took to finish all 5 of the problems.
EAT – You must consume several of the peppers (hopefully not enough to give you indigestion or burn a hole in your stomach lining!). Eat, and take small bites chewing slowly. Let’s savor this calm little moment before the storm.
Now, once you begin to feel the effects of the peppers you should START your STOPWATCH and begin SOLVING the 2nd page of math problems.
WRITE down several sentences about how your body dealt with the pain from those peppers while you’re working the math problems. Did you rush? Did you feel the need to finish as quickly as possible? Were you shaking? Were you nervous? Are you sweating? Consider all the ways that this pain may have affected your ability to concentrate and solve problems.
Decision-Making (Science Mumbo-Jumbo)
Understanding the Decision-Making Process
Decision-making is the mental process we go through which results in choosing a particular belief or specific course of action from the possibilities we have in front of us. Each and every decision we make is a choice that may or may not prompt us to take physical action.
Essentially, our mind takes in the situation, and we make the best decision we can, given the information at our disposal—any learned behaviors, memories that are related, and physical feedback from the situation at that moment.
Life or death decision-making just raises the stakes.
With everything in life, having a process will give you a tool when encountering an intense situation. If I know Martial Arts, then I’m less panicked when some thug comes at me in a bar, or a back alley. I can rely on my training and experience to help me make the best choices given the situation. Without a process, I have only random bits of memory, some learned responses, and my body’s own fight-or-flight response to rely upon.
Decision-making is little more than problem-solving actions, which end when the most satisfactory decision is made. Balancing a checkbook to see if you can afford hiring a personal trainer at your local gym is a decision that you could make after spending time looking at your debits and credits, and figuring out if it makes sense given your current income and debt obligations. This decision can be made over time.
Being stuck in LA traffic and trying to figure out a better way home than staying on 405 is a more real-time decision-making process. Obviously, the path you drive home at night is not usually a life or death decision (depending on where you live), but you obviously have less time to make your choices than you did when you were looking at your budget for a personal trainer.
Deciding how which type of gasoline to put into your car is a much quicker decision.
Lifting up a rock at a campsite to find yourself face-to-face with a rattlesnake leaves you even less time to ponder the choices.
It’s important to keep the gap of time between discovery of your challenge, and the decision you make relative to the gravity/risk of the situation. While staring at the rattlesnake’s fangs it may not be wise to ponder your decision over which way you will drive home from camping site. However, once you have been bitten and the poison is making its way through your body, then the traffic considerations may be more pressing as you find a way to hospital or clinic.
In medicine, a doctor must formulate the most likely set of medical problems his client is facing, and make a diagnosis. From that diagnosis, he must determine the most appropriate treatment. If the patient is complaining of an upset stomach it might be less time-sensitive a decision than if a small alien was burrowing out through the patient’s chest and was spitting acid on the nursing staff. Obviously, this particular situation is not likely to occur unless you live in Los Angeles, where it apparently occurs on a daily basis!
A doctor, like a police officer, an EMT, a soldier, a nurse, or anyone trained to make hard choices and life or death decisions can rely upon their training and experience. And that’s what we must do. We must train ourselves and have a process to follow.
What happens when you don’t have a process?
A likely outcome of not having a process in place to make difficult decisions is information overload. This overload occurs when there is a gap in time between your ability to interpret the information you’re presented with and determine relevant choices to deal with the situation. Even when you have created a list of possible solutions, your ability to rank these alternatives by their likely outcomes might take too long.
When information overload occurs your quality of decision-making deteriorates quickly. There are 5 basic factors that relate to information overload:
- Personal information factors—experience, attitudes, personal qualifications, training, prior experience.
- Information characteristics—quality of information at your disposal, quantity and frequency
- Tasks and process—standard procedures or methods used for similar situations
- Organizational design—cooperation within the organization, processing capacity and organization relationship
- Information technology—IT management, digital technology benefits and limitations
There is also the potential for a situation described as the “illusion of knowledge” which basically asserts that as an individual has more and more information about a problem it will interfere with their ability to make a rational decision. This, along with all of the other data, lead to information overload, and poor decision-making.
The Decision-making Paradox:
This paradox presents itself during the quest for determining a reliable decision-making method. It has been observed, and tested, that many decision-making processes produce different results when applied with the exact same problem and (or) data. But certainly there can be only one best decision-making process.
Likely, this means that we must have some decision-making process in place so that we are not overwhelmed when those decisive moments present themselves. Not having a process is the worst of all processes!
Interestingly, there are processes in the human brain that perpetuate us making irrational decisions. One such example of this is what’s been termed ‘availability bias.’ This is the tendency for certain items in our memory to be more readily available for recall, and therefore weighted higher in the decision-making process. Basically, if something in our mind is easier to recall, then it must be more important and a large bias is given to it.
The same is true for consequences in that the more we can recall the consequences; the greater we feel the consequences to be. The problem in this is that facts and information normally gained in the analysis of the problem are pushed aside for ‘whatever is readily available.’
An example of this might be a person who is asked how many people that she works with are married, and the few people she actually associates with are all single, therefore she would conclude that most people at her work are single.
What art the types of problems we may face?
All problems, no matter how complex, are simply expansions on the following two basic problem types:
- Single-dimensional problems—problems in which only a single unit of measurement is used
- Multi-dimensional problems— problems in which multiple and varying units of measurement are used
So what are our choices for a solid decision-making process?
- The weighted sum model (WSM)—It is the most well known and simplest of the multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) methods. Used for evaluating a number of alternatives in terms of a number of possible decision criteria. This is basically using simple math to solve formulas, typically addition and subtraction only.
- The weighted product model (WPM)—often called “dimensionless analysis” because it has a mathematical structure that eliminates units of measure. This process can be used to solve single and multidimensional problems. It can take into account different units of measurement and can use relative as well as actual values. Instead of basic addition we now have multiplication and division.
- The analytic hierarchy process (AHP)— This is a more structured technique used for the organizing and analysis of complex decisions based on not only mathematics, but also psychology. First developed by Thomas L. Saaty in the 70s, and has been refined since then. It has a wide application in group decision-making. In sectors of government, business & industry, and education it is used frequently. Rather than coming up with a “correct solution” the system helps a decision-maker find the decision that best suits the problems they’re facing. It structures the decision-making process by starting with the problem, representing and quantifying the various elements of this problem, and relating those elements to the overall goal in mind so that possible solutions and alternatives can be properly evaluated.
The Decision-Making Process
For our purposes, we will study the AHP (Analytic Hierarchy Process).
- Step One: Build a Hierarchy— We will break down the decision problem into smaller sub problems that are easier to comprehend. We can then analyze each sub problem on its own. Our hierarchy can relate to any possible aspect of the problem (measured or estimated data, tangible or intangible information, well or poorly understood information).
- Step Two: Evaluate the Hierarchy—All of the available decision-makers will systematically evaluate all of the data and individual elements, comparing them to one another to enter time. While making comparisons we can use, create data about the various elements as well as judgments based on a training and experience to compare each two elements. A or B? Now B or C? And so on.
- Step Three: Value Conversion—convert the values into numerical values (numbers) that can then be compared to the entire range of the problem. This system is pretty straightforward. Build a hierarchy, compare the elements two at a time, and then convert the values into numbers that can be compared. This takes most of the guesswork out of the decision-making process. Of course, for our purposes, this has to occur instantaneously . . . or we die.
The difference between problem analysis and decision-making
Before we make a decision, we have to analyze the problem/challenge/obstacle we are facing.
We must break down decision-making into two distinct parts:
- Problem analysis—when analyzing a problem you must take into consideration a variety of factors:
- Analyze your performance: judging the actual results versus what they should be
- Precisely identifying the problem and describing it
- Understanding that problems are typically deviations from basic standards of performance
- Understanding what has and has not been affected by a particular cause
- Using relative changes in the environment to deduce what the causes of the problem might be
- Selecting the causes that most accurately explain all of the facts related to the problem
- Decision-making—choosing a best possible decision from all of the available information at your disposal means considering the following factors:
- Establish objectives
- Classify and prioritize objectives
- Create a list of alternative actions
- Select a tentative decision that is able to achieve the highest percentage of total objectives
- Evaluate the tentative decision for consequences
- Take decisive action, and any subsequent additional action to prevent adverse consequences from growing into more complex problems
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the decision taken
Life or Death Decision-Making Process
So now we have a basic understanding of the framework of Problem-analysis and Decision-making. It’s nice to know and be familiar with all of this stuff . . . but how does that help us actually develop the skills necessary for life and death decision-making, and how do we train for it?
Remember, we are success-training and success-conditioning. We have to have a process (IDLE CAR, OCD methods), otherwise we are relying on our abilities ‘in the moment,’ and that’s not at all advantageous. Achieving that Ideal Mental State (also: Ideal Performance State) for Decision-making and action take practice.
The more we train, the luckier we will get!
Decision-Making: In the Ring
Can you make choices while somebody is trying to hurt you?
1999 – Texas/Mexico Border
I STARED ACROSS THE RING at this guy, and I couldn’t really think of anything except cutting off the distance to him, quickly! My plan was to take the fight to this Kick boxer, by kicking him. Genius, I know. Here is why this would trip him up: The announcers, the promoter, and everyone else made a big deal of the fact that I was a Grappler (ground fighter: likes to wrestle and roll around the floor looking for submissions).
They had forgotten to mention—and so had we—that I had several years of Thai-boxing experience. So this guy, and his coaches, and everyone else in that damn convention center, thought that I would try to take him down to the mat as quickly as possible.
Trick a man into thinking that you have a weakness, and it will end up being a great advantage for you. Master Musashi, possibly one of the greatest sword fighters of all time, and author of “The Book of Five Rings,” said that in one of his many lessons on tactics and warfare. I had been listening for a long time.
I don’t even remember the bell sounding to start the first round, but I remember sprinting across the ring. I think he was surprised when I came towards him so quickly, and even more surprised by the kick that I slammed into his left leg. I’m almost certain that he had too much of his weight down low, trying to avoid my shoot (Take-down attempt).
Well, he avoided it just fine because . . . it just never came. He was occupied with blocking something that I never attempted. He was experiencing information overload.
I launched several more shin kicks, including one that smacked him across the chest. I could tell that it stunned him a bit. He reached out and grabbed a hold of my left leg, and I used that as my cue to jump into the guard position and make this a ground fight.
I leaped up and wrapped my legs around his stomach, I grabbed his head with my arms, and I arched backwards. The total effect was to pull him down to the canvas on top of me . . . exactly where I wanted to be.
His corner men were yelling out all sorts of violent things for him to do to me. I thought it was particularly rude, and decided against allowing him to actually do anything.
I trapped his head under my forearm and hand of my right arm. With my left hand I grabbed a hold of his right wrist and pushed it away from me, towards his back. I was doing this to set up a submission called the ‘triangle-choke.‘ It’s basically trapping the opponent’s head and one of his arms between your legs. Your legs then lock together in a Figure-4 position (right foot under left knee, or the opposite). You have a fairly efficient vise-grip and as you squeeze your opponent’s neck. And doing so, his ability to breath and pass on oxygen to the brain is stifled. He then passed out. And that is that.
I talked to him as I tightened the choke. I know that it is probably rude, and in poor taste, but I did. “Call it a day, man. You’re finished. Tap out.”
I was calm and reassuring as I spoke to him. Thing of it was, though: he just didn’t want to listen to my advice. So . . . I had to choke him out.
Remember: When in doubt . . . choke ’em out! Priceless words from my early days with Eugene ‘Buckshot’ Blummer. As valid now as they were back on the beaches of southern California.
So, this guy that breaks all of these baseball bats with his shins is lying on the mat, unconscious. I decided then and there that I would not act like some idiot and run around the ring, taunting the audience.
I stood, after telling the referee, Tito Ortiz(the “Huntington Beach Badboy,” a professional fighter who has since gone on to be the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Light Heavyweight Champion). “He’s out, Tito.”
I had watched my opponent come into the ring. I had watched him smile at the crowd. I had watched him try to hit me. And I had watched him turn purple, from asphyxiation. I was now heading to my corner. Everybody else in the world was watching this unconscious guy try to be revived by the referee, then by his corner men, and finally by one of my corner men . . . I guess Dan felt sorry for the guy.
“That shut them up,” Kirk said.
There were a whole host of things going on surrounding that fight. I was really nervous about getting into the ring, nervous about the judgment of the crowd, unsure of the efficiency of my technique—as of that point untested in a professional environment.
I had trained with Dan—DC Gonzalez—for nearly 3 years before that fight. He had put me through every possible scenario and every evolution of movement that could result from two people fighting one another.
Self-talk is very important in a situation like this: negative self-talk can put you in a position to lose before you even enter the ring. Positive self-talk can shift your mind from feelings of nervousness, negativity, and doubt, to feelings of strength and capability.
I always remember Dan coaching me on how to reach your ideal performance state. Getting the conscious mind out of the way so that muscle memory and technique can react in accord with the flow of the fight. It’s quite difficult to force anything happen during a fight. It is however possible to take what opportunities an opponent gives you and to capitalize on them.
Dan had me focus my energy on my strengths, helping me to finding that ideal performance state where my conscious mind could get out of the way of my abilities.
As he instructed me to focus on my level of aggression, the fear subsided. By focusing on reaching my ideal performance state I was no longer being bullied by my fear and anxiety.
My self-talk became positive, and my body became a vehicle through which my mind could enact various functions that I had trained over and over.
Whenever he noticed negative thoughts spinning around in my head it brought me back to that positive self-talk—find your ideal performance state, find your aggression, let the fight come to you.
When I watch the videos of this fight I realize how quickly it began and ended. I try to put myself back into that moment, trying to think the same thoughts and feel the same feelings. But reliving the moment is impossible because I had effectively moved my conscious mind out of the way so that my body and mind could operate efficiently.
This is what the Samurai referred to as the way of no mind (unmind). And you have this too. You have to let your self-talk ease you into a state of no mind.
Consider the last time you were in a physically confrontational scenario (a fight, an argument, a potentially threatening situation, etc.). Do you remember what kind of self-talk—positive or negative—was running through your mind?
Did you find the state of no mind?
How was your breathing?
Were you relaxed, or fidgeting and anxious?
Decision-Making: Suicide Response
How do you deal with an attempted suicide?
12:44 pm – Springfield, Missouri
“Springfield Dispatch to Metro-EMS . . . we have an attempted suicide, gun involved, police are en route.”
All of a sudden we spring out of our chairs, sprinting for the unit. The crew chief—a young, quite attractive, 22-year-old girl named Samantha—was already starting the engine. Tim raced off, and by the time I got there, they’re already rolling. I had to pull some James Bond maneuvering just to jump inside before she left me!
“Nice of you to join us, Rookie,” Samantha said as I clawed my way to the jump seat.
My old, fat, burnout, Vietnam Vet, partner, Tim is giggling like a chubby little pig. When I was in the day room, one of the other paramedics, a guy named Henry, told me that Tim wears the hairpiece to cover a napalm burn that left horrible scaring on his head. The government actually gives the guy a yearly stipend to purchase new wigs. Thing is, though, he’s so cheap that he keeps the cash and uses the same wig. It makes him smell like Lysol disinfectant. It’s more than spooky.
We settled ourselves in the unit, and as I got to talking to my partners I realized that they were as different as two humans could possibly be. Samantha was graceful, calm, and a consummate professional. Tim was slow, clumsy, and easily flustered and excited.
She responded, “Metro-EMS to Springfield Dispatch . . . Metro-five en route, ETA three minutes. Request status of police on scene.”
“Whenever you hear a gun is involved,” she said while driving and handling the radio, “you ask for cops.”
After what seemed like a long, bumpy ride, we arrive at the scene. There are several police cars and a fire truck parked with their lights flashing. My heart is really pounding!
Suddenly, we hear the dispatcher break the silence, “Springfield Dispatch to Metro-five . . . police and fire on scene, weapon is secure. Caller is in contact with police. They’re waiting for you inside.”
We jump out of the unit with Samantha ordering me to pay attention and listen to what she says. “Don’t think,” she tells me, “just do.”
We’re at a large, rather intimidating apartment complex that looks to be something between section-8 housing and the doorway to hell. We enter a dark, dank, seedy, wet, and downright disgusting cave of a place that seems as if it is composed of manure and rotting stucco. There are bits of metal here and there, and I feel like I need a tetanus shot already.
We’re going to the second floor. Three groaning steps up, and I want to spray-paint my brains all over the wall. This is no way to live. We made our way up, escorted by a fireman who seems hell-bent on leaving us behind. Like he’s got somewhere else to be.
After a silent, dimly lit hallway that is devoid of color we are welcomed into an explosion of sound and excitement. People are running in every direction like those bouncing rubber balls that you get in gum-ball machines.
The room we enter is full of smoke. And not the pleasant scented candle kind. No, this was the blue, lung boiling smoke with the Marlboro Man’s signature on it.
Police are trying to secure the family, who are puffing on their cigarettes, quietly dividing up their share of the estate. They look as interested as a bunch of janitors at a high school football game.
Samantha grabs all the relevant information from the police and firefighters.
How long has he been down? Who started CPR? She then grabs her radio and calls for a second ambulance. The patient is lying on a bare mattress that is on the floor. No sheets, no pillows, just pools of sticky blood next to the aged yellow piss stains. And a firefighter is performing CPR, but with no effect because the mattress is cushioning the body so that the compressions are useless. The guy’s body is just bouncing up and down.
“Move the patient to the floor, please. You’re not getting chest compressions on that surface,” she says forcefully, but calm.
She drops her airway pack and kneels down at the head of the patient. She’s checking for the three most important things:
Breathing. Check. Circulation. Check.
And as she’s checking him, she commands Tim to set-up an IV, and cracks the seal on the Drug box. She finds no pulse, to go along with the bullet hole in his head.
Tim seemed lost and confused. And it was that point that I had to step-in. I think Tim was stuck back in Da Nang, taking artillery fire or something. He was completely out of his tits.
Samantha intubated the patient—lowering a scope into his throat and inserting a tube down his throat. Then they hook up a BVM (Bag Valve Mask). She’s so quick and practiced that the tube goes right in, and she makes it look easy.
Anyway, I straddled the patient and began to handle the chest compressions. Tim, at this point, can only be trusted to operate the BVM, which consists of little more than squeezing a plastic bag. He’s trying to keep in sync with me doing the compressions, but it’s nearly impossible. I compress, he squeezes, and we’re each doing our own thing.
A fireman then pulls out the Lifepack-10 (Cardiac monitor, Defibrillator/ Pacemaker) with the big defibrillator pads. One goes on the lower left side of his chest, the other goes on the upper right, just below his shoulder. They call them fast patches, and once they’re on you can see basic heart activity. He has a rhythm of some sort, and then she’s shocking him.
His pulse is still not there. So we keep working on him.
Samantha then went to task setting-up an IV on the patient’s right arm. Next thing, we’re pushing fluids and drugs in to him so fast that I don’t know what’s happening.
During all of this madness, a fireman is still trying, in vain, to plug the quarter-sized entry hole, searching frantically for the exit wound.
We get the patient secured onto a backboard—packaged-up—and the six or seven of us around the backboard lift him. We race him out of the apartment, across the dark hallway, and down the rickety, unsteady stairs.
We’re in such a hurry, in such a confined dark space, that one of the firemen gets his whole pinky finger pinched off along the way. But we didn’t find this out until much later because there was so much chaos that he didn’t even notice until we were loading the patient into the unit.
There’s no way to explain the kind of lunacy and madness that are sewn into every minute spent during a call. I couldn’t tell you how much time went by until I looked at when the call was received and when we left. Time doesn’t work in a linear fashion when there are so many people doing so much to keep a person alive.
Minutes and hours and seconds get all garbled and confused.
Moments later we are slamming the doors of the unit shut, Samantha beside me while we continue CPR. The second ambulance finally arrives as we are pulling out of the parking lot. They’ll have the job of cleaning up the scene and recovering all of our leftover medical gear and equipment.
Now we’re en route to the hospital.
One of the firemen is driving while Samantha communicates with the hospital, administering medication, reassessing the patient. I’m still just handling the chest compressions.
Tim is maintaining the BVM, squeezing occasionally, and oxygenating the body. He’s also making sure that the endotracheal tube is still in place.
And he is technically performing his job requirements, but he’s also in the throws of a major freak-out! I think Victor Charlie is taking pot shots at him right now, as he winces sporadically to unseen things.
And that’s when the patient’s stomach contents suddenly come up, spraying all over Tim. Luckily, Samantha’s tube keeps the patient from aspirating spoiled milk and Mad Dog 20/20—the kinds of cocktails that poor suicidal bastards drink before they pull the trigger.
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what’s more kind, saving him, or letting him die. To wake-up back to the world he lived in, I’m not sure that isn’t cruel and inhumane.
Something seems to confuse Samantha while she’s on the radio, “Metro-five to St. John . . . ”
“St. John . . . go ahead Metro-five.”
“Metro-five to St. John, we’re currently inbound to your facility with a Priority-one trauma code. Twenty-two year old, male patient with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head . . . ” then she looks at the patient, squinting at something, “. . . thirty-eight caliber.”
The fireman who’s driving, he says, “Hey, lady, it’s the other way around. He was thirty-eight, and the gun was a twenty-two caliber pistol.”
Samantha shook her head, toggling her radio, “. . . gunshot wound to the head, we’re sure of that! Excessive bleeding.” She then informs the hospital that all ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) protocols are being followed. That’s important so that they know we did everything by the book.
“Our ETA is one minute!”
Thing is, we all know that the reality is that this patient, our Priority-1, he’s a corpse, now. But once we start CPR, they’re alive. Nobody dies in an ambulance. Ambulances are for the living.
Hearses are for the dead.
So, we can’t call death until the patient gets to the hospital, no matter how dead they really are. Doctors pronounce death, we announce it.
These are the legalities of death.
The paramedics all seemed to work in perfect accord, following their training and experience even though they realized fairly quickly that the patient was probably not going to make it. And even after they were sure that the patient was dead, they continued CPR.
No matter what the scenario, no matter how horrible the sensory data being fed to the rational mind actually is . . . There is no giving up, there is no quitting.
Life or death decision-making is equal parts resilience and technical savvy.
Minutes and seconds and hours can melt together into long visceral moments that can’t really be described, so much as they are felt and experienced.
Lots of frantic pictures and colors and the motions and smells—literally a soup of sensory information that we all have to wade through during intense trauma. This is far beyond our normal concept of ‘sensory overload.’
Put yourself in the position of any one of the paramedics in the situation you just read. Not considering medical training for the moment, how would you have reacted to the scene?
How would you react to the ride back to the hospital, knowing that you are performing CPR on a dead body?
Would this scenario alter your decision-making process?
Decision-Making: When to Fight
Are you prepared to fight on a moment’s notice?
2000 – Dallas, Texas – Jack’s Pub
I remember one night in particular, at Jack’s, where we were forced to deal with a less than amicable guest. Luke came to the front door and took me to the side. “Some white guy in the bathroom is yelling at all of the black guys, that he is going to kick the crap out of them.”
Luke was a medium-built man in his late thirties who was almost always calm and collected. He was a good person to let float around a club because he wasn’t intimidating, but could handle his own problems if the need arose. And at Jack’s, the need always arose.
“Front bathrooms?” I asked.
I continued, “What’s he look like?”
“Stocky, muscular, red-faced . . . about my height, maybe a bit shorter. Claims to be a world champion boxer, or something. Keeps yelling that he is thirteen and ‘0h‘.”
Bobby was working the regular line, and I was on the VIP line, which had about twenty people backed up. Bobby would keep his side consistent, checking IDs and passing the patrons—one at a time—to the cashier girl. I would take tips or let pass those consumers who typically spend a lot of cash in the bar. Bobby had heard the situation. “You go, I’ll hold up the line,” Bobby said as he capped his ‘Magnum 44’ thick, black marker—used for marking ‘x’s’ on the people’s hands that weren’t yet 21 years old.
We allowed anyone over the age of 18 to enter, but only the patrons, who wore wristbands, signifying that they were over 21, could drink. The line stopped, and already there were a couple of hundred people waiting to enter. We usually had crowds of 2,000 or more on a Monday night. Who would think that a Monday night could bring them out in droves?
I nodded to Bobby, and then handed him my marker, my wristbands, and a grin.
“Okay, Luke. You try and talk to him, I’ll get around back for the ‘sniper’ choke.”
We had done this routine so many times that we had started putting little hash marks on our hats with a white, paint pen that I still had around from my Navy days. I had over 160 hash marks after the first three months of summer, and the rules were clear, “You can only put on a mark when you choke the person unconscious, or knock them out.”
We walked in and Bobby made sure that everyone knew that we were about to come out with a body. The bathrooms were located about 15 feet from the front entrance where we had been standing.
As I crossed the main area of customer traffic I could hear someone yelling. I noticed a big, black guy that I knew walking toward me. “You betta get that crazy mutha f-a before somebody puts a bottle over his head.”
I smiled that evil smile that I do before I am about to sort somebody out. I like to think about it as reluctant pleasure. But really, it’s just me convincing myself that getting into a fight is no big deal. The smile is masking all the self-doubt and indecision as I measure this guy. The thin smile shows the outside world the opposite of what’s really going on in my mind and body.
Because, really . . . I’m anything but calm and cool.
I’m running scenarios in my mind—beer bottles, knives, hidden pistol, piece of furniture, whatever else he might bring to the table.
Luke was on my heels. I entered the bathroom—on the right side of the small hallway—and immediately saw the obnoxious guy. He was indeed thick. He had on a Tommy Hilfiger shirt—lame and played out years ago —and a pair of tattered jeans. I looked at him and then looked back at Luke. Luke raised his eyes in the that’s-the-a-hole look. I let him commence his advance.
“I’m a F’ing world champion. I’ll kick every mother-f-er’s ass in this place. I’m thirteen-and-0h.” He was pissed-up, and a bit angry at life. Then again, we were dealing with a ‘world champion’ and should address him in a manner befitting a great champion.
“Sir, I need to ask you to come up to the front with me,” Luke said loudly, but somehow with calmness. Luke was clever at this sort of thing. He also noticed the beer bottle, held in his left hand, flipped over in the use-it-as-a-weapon position. Luke clicked to that bottle, and I knew that when I went for the guy’s neck, Luke would expertly deal with the Bud Light.
“What?” the champ yelled. “You need to come with me to the front door . . . we need to talk,” Luke advised, again keeping his composure.
“F-you! Who the fu—” I had already latched onto his neck before he finished the fifth word.
Luke launched in and took the Bud Light and tossed it away. At about the time that the bottle hit the floor, the champ was unconscious. He was heavy, though, and Luke had to rush over and grab his legs so that we could carry him out. I guess the guy weighed around 220 or 230
We made our way out of the bathroom, Luke yelling, “Make a hole,” the whole way to the front exit. We always found that it had a good ‘shock effect’ if we dumped the motionless bodies outside, right in front of the waiting customers. It sent a clear message: You might get jacked at Jack’s.
Bobby noticed that Luke and I were struggling as we made our way to the outside of the front doors. He helped us by taking the guy’s arm and leg on one side. He then said, “One…two…” and on “three!” we threw him into a flowerbed. His muscular body made a muffled thud as it flattened out on the soft, black soil. He seemed lifeless.
I nodded to Luke. “Good job, Luke. Why don’t you go back inside.”
He brushed off his hands in that ‘just-took-out-the-garbage’ wipe that we all do when something is finished.
Bobby looked at me to see if I was ready to proceed. “We’re good?”
“I remember that day, Bobby?” I said, quoting a line from the movie Airplane.
“Over Macho Grande?” he asked back.
“No,” I said. “. . . I don’t think I’ll ever get over, Macho Grande.”
We began letting people in again. Here was the thing, though. The guy was still limp, and unmoving. Hmmm? “You killed him!” some bird yelled from the line.
“That guy’s really messed up, dude,” some guy in line added. A fair degree of panic was starting to make its way through the gathered audience.
Bobby looked at me and we traded a nervous glance. It did seem as though this guy was out a bit longer than usual. “They usually wake up by now.”
Bobby smiled hesitantly—all toothy and nervous, “We might have killed, again.”
The crowd was still struggling with the sight of a motionless body in our landscape. I turned my head frustrated.
“Let me revive this a-hole,” I said as I went over to him and lifted up his upper torso. I put my knee in the center of his spine and pulled his shoulders backwards a couple of times.
This is called, Shocking the spine, and if forces oxygen into the lungs, and then into the brain. You see, when you choke somebody out, you aren’t taking away his ability to breath, you are taking his ability to get oxygen-filled blood to his brain through the carotid artery. That is why it only takes a couple of seconds to choke somebody out. One, two, three . . . floor. Easy as apple pie, with half the calories.
I performed the shock technique and the fallen champ started to wake up. He had of course been dreaming, and had no idea where he was, or how he found himself in a pile of boxwood bushes and some monkey grass. His state of confusion was inversely proportionate to my level of relief that he awoke.
A couple of his friends who had, I guess, been hoping that we would knock him out, finally came to his aid. They helped him to his feet, glancing at us as they shrugged and rolled their eyes. His motions were rubbery and spastic, uncoordinated like a baby learning to walk. He started to regain his composure after a couple of awkward seconds.
“Hey,” I said, loud enough that everyone would hear. He looked at me through glazed-over eyes. “Now . . .” I barked, “. . .you’re thirteen and one!”
Shifting your mental state from calm and jovial to decisive and potentially violent is tricky. The switch from the former to the latter needs to be done in such a way that your physical body has time to prepare for a physical confrontation.
It isn’t enough to want to fight. This really has nothing to do with desire, and everything to do with capacity. You have to have the capacity for certain level of violence if violence is the only way out of the situation.
You have to find that place within you where emotion and trepidation aren’t inhibiting your physical ability.
Imagine walking into that bathroom and seeing an overly aggressive, dangerous guy looking for a reason to hurt somebody . . . anybody.
What would you do?
How would you communicate with him when it’s likely he could use that as an opportunity to attack you?
Where would you draw the line?
Decision-Making: Who to Save
Deciding who you can save at an accident scene
May 1st – 5:26 pm – Joplin, Missouri
“Springfield Dispatch to Metro-EMS . . . injury accident. Twenty-ninth and Range Line.”
Tim and I just finished a non-emergency transfer. I grab the radio, “Medic-thirteen to Medic-twenty-three . . . we’re available at St. John’s.”
“Copy that.” Don answers quickly, “Metro-EMS to Springfield Dispatch . . . Metro-three and Metro-five are en route.”
The reason he’s sending out two units is because 29th and Range Line is a high traffic area, and we imagine it’s going to be dangerous. It’s just on the other side of a railroad bridge and people have a tendency to come off of the bridge hauling major ass! Tim is with me, bitching about not getting his promotion to crew chief. His hairpiece looks more artificial than ever, like a house cat stapled to his head, and he smells like disinfectant, again. It’s like some kind of cruel joke.
“Tim,” I say, “you failed your medic exam four times.” The guy’s not even fit to apply Band-Aids. Some kid watching ER could be a better service to the wounded than him.
“Well . . . ”
“Well, nothing!” I bark as I switch on the lights and sirens. “You shouldn’t even be a medic. Maybe this line of work isn’t for you. Maybe you should just do the dump-truck thing full-time.”
He doesn’t answer, but I can see he’s plenty angry. He’s fuming under his skin, his teeth clenched tight, his jaw muscles shifting from tensed to really tense. I expect to see smoke come out of his ear canals any second.
As we arrive on the scene we see several police cars spread out, keeping the through traffic under control. There are also two fire trucks—a pumper and a rescue truck. The rescue truck has a fascinating bit of history attached to it. Ironically, it used to be a beer truck. The fire department purchased it, refurbished it to get rid of the beer smell, and voila.
The police have shut down two lanes of the four-lane highway. And one of the officers waves me off to the side. I notice our other unit—Metro-5—arriving from the other direction at almost the exact same time.
Once on a scene I have to gather information as quickly as possible. I have to determine who I need to help first. The more serious the injury, the more in need of assistance they are.
And the story I get is this: A white Toyota pick-up came speeding over the bridge, toward a Southerland’s— home furnishings, lumber, etc.—at which the driver and passenger were employed. The problem came when a large cement truck occupied the entrance they intended to use. The Toyota was going Dukes of Hazard fast, and it met the cement truck at the rear quarter. You know, where all the cement is?
Toyota vs. Cement truck.
Winner: Cement truck.
Well, the guy in the cement truck barely even felt the accident. But the occupants of the Toyota were messed-up something serious. As I walked up to the passenger side, firemen were extricating an unconscious man. He had on a C-collar, and he was big.
In the bed of the truck was the driver. He was so big he must have bounced forward and then rebounded backwards, exploding through the rear glass. His body somehow ended up in the bed of the pick-up. There were firemen holding in-line stabilization, waiting for us to get here.
A quick note on in-line stabilization. When you’re doing it, the act of carefully straightening the neck and head is accompanied by your inspection of Airway. And that’s the A of the ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation.)
The fireman holding the passenger suddenly yells, “The passenger is coding! The passenger is coding!”
There was blood everywhere. Both of this guy’s legs are broken and twisted so much they looked like Jell-O. Like bags of chunky red sauce. His face was lunchmeat. Blood everywhere. Bits of bone and plastic and vinyl and glass and hair all mixed into a kind of accident soup.
No signs of life.
I know, for certain, that the passenger was not just coding! He was dead.
In my assessment, the passenger is a goner. The guy in the bed might have a chance, so that’s who we need to focus our efforts on. It sounds cruel and heartless, but it’s the reality of the situation.
So Tim, in his brilliance, starts CPR on the passenger as I got to the driver. The driver was the only viable patient. That’s the sad truth.
But here’s the problem with what Tim has just done. Once you start CPR, you can’t stop until they get to the hospital and a doctor calls time-of-death. So what he has inadvertently done is commit us to the DRT (Dead Right There). And that means we’ve lost valuable time and resources that need to be dedicated to the only viable patient—the driver.
For reasons beyond my comprehension, the other ambulance crew took to helping Tim with the dead passenger. They might as well have been practicing on a mannequin. Maybe he called them over, or . . . I don’t know. But I’m working like crazy to keep the driver alive.
My patient was unconscious, with broken legs, a host of severe head injuries, not to mention all the stuff I can’t see beneath the blood. And there is blood all over the place. We have to package him up as quickly as possible, getting him out of the truck.
We get him quickly onto a backboard and lower him to the rolling cart. Within seconds we are racing him toward the unit where we can actually work on him. It’s just a fireman and I, both of us trying to do the same thing—keep this guy alive.
Once we get to the unit I get the patient intubated, hand off the BVM to the firefighter to continue breathing. I slap on two fast-patches and get the monitor up and running. He’s got a Sinus Tachycardia—that’s a really fast heartbeat. I start an IV and then glance around for my idiot partner, Tim.
“Goddammit, where’s Tim?” I gripe.
The fireman, who’s ready to drive me to the hospital, says, “He’s workin’ on the other patient. The DRT.”
We can’t wait. I glance up, “St. John’s . . . let’s go!”
I slammed the back doors shut and we’re out of there. As we start rolling we hear the radio, “Medic-thirteen . . . you’re partner is running behind your ambulance.”
I grab my radio, keying-up, “You can keep him!”
Then, addressing dispatch, I say, “Metro-three to Springfield Dispatch . . . transporting one to St. John’s. We’ll be running hot!”
“Metro-three to St. John’s . . . five thirty-six.”
The fireman turns his head slightly in my direction, letting his foot off the gas, “What about your partner?”
“Who?” I reply as I study the monitor.
“You don’t want to pick him up?”
I point my thumb back through the small window in the back of the ambulance where my partner’s wobbly figure is shrinking and disappearing. As he’s running, the wind is picking up the front of his toupee, and he’s starting to reach for it unsteadily.
“No,” I say, my mind more concerned with the patient we can save, and less with the medic we can’t.
There were a host of issues that I was facing during this call.
A scene full of carnage with highly detailed sensory overload coming at us from all angles.
The need to quickly triage so that I wasn’t spending time with patients that couldn’t be saved.
Managing your focus amidst a myriad of possible decisions and outcomes.
This was a true life or death decision-making scenario. But it wasn’t my life or death, but that of people I’ve never met, who weren’t conscious, and needed me to be performing at the peak of my abilities.
Also keep in mind—my partner Tim was a complete disaster, and probably cost many people their lives during his career of bad decision-making. It’s commendable that he was trying to help and save people and that he wanted to spend his life in the service of being a paramedic.
Desire is the lowest form of usefulness if it’s backed by poor decision-making skills.
Many times we are presented with challenges in a group, and it’s important to establish who’s in control of the decision-making process as quickly as possible. As the challenge escalates in intensity, so will your need to establish a chain of command and begin making important decisions.
Democracy doesn’t work in times of war. The most competent decision-maker needs to stand up and make judgment calls as soon as possible. This is an Autocracy.
Imagine yourself driving over a hill and as you start to see the horizon in front of you develop there are plumes of smoke on both sides of the road. You continue driving forward, unsure of what you’re seeing.
The closer you get the more detail comes into focus. There are several cars on the left side of the road, crashed and burning. On the right side of the road, off into the field a few hundred feet is an overturned school bus.
It’s time to make a choice based on nothing more than gut instinct. Most of us would head towards the school bus, I’m guessing. It’s instinctual to want to save the children. Makes sense. This decision is almost reactionary.
Let’s up the ante a bit— let’s rewind back to that moment when the car was coming up over the hill and you first noticed the plumes of dark smoke. As you get closer you start to see two school buses, one on each side of the road. One of them is smoking, the other is on fire. Now, which direction would you turn?
Who do you save?
It’s not such an easy decision now, is it? The more imminent danger might be the bus that is burning. But then there’s a greater likelihood that you won’t be able to get close enough to save anyone. Our time is limited in situations like this. Every second we take to make a decision, is a second that ticks off of the life clock of those who need us.
Perhaps the bus that’s only smoking gives you more of an opportunity to actually help some children?
Let’s really mix it up—as you come down the hill for third time you notice two buses, as before. Only this time, one of the buses has the inscription, “Jones middle school” and the other bus has, “Graves Retirement Home” painted in thick black ink on the sides.
So now who do we save?
It’s important to play these decision-making scenarios out in your mind. Remember, if you’ve considered every nuance of a horrible situation, you’ll be that much more efficient when you find yourself there.
Complicated situations are really just a bunch of small complications that present themselves in a bundle.
Decision-Making: To Kill or not to Kill
Are you ready to make the decision to kill or not?
1997 – Parker County, Texas
During my post-naval years of working at clubs and fighting all around the world for money, I had another part-time, financial builder. I was working as a bodyguard.
Let me tell you a little bit about being a bodyguard: You need to carry a gun! I did. Anyone who claims to be able to kill with his bare hands may not be lying to you, but he won’t be able to stop me from putting three, lead slugs into your chest in less than a second. I’m not saying that I’m some kind of badass. That is just the way of the jungle. I know shooters that can paint your whole house red in fifteen seconds . . . everybody bleeding and quiet. Bodyguards, at least those of any real value, need to be properly trained in the use of an assortment of firearms.
The first rule in a gunfight: Have a gun. Otherwise it’s just a shooting, isn’t it? I have trained with 30 different types of weapons not to mention pistols, rifles, machine guns, and explosives. Do you need all of that to be a good bodyguard?
Will you ever be in a situation to use all of that knowledge? Maybe, depends where you work.
In America, it probably wouldn’t come to much more than pulling your weapon and returning a couple of rounds of duck-and-cover—you shoot at the bad guys, they duck, and you cover your client.
I have worked as a simple bodyguard for musicians and actors (read: keeping loser-fans away, and ordering room-service and prostitutes). I have also worked for Senators and businessmen (read: keep them on-time for meetings, and order room-service and prostitutes). And then I have worked for others.
The others is the group that led me into the most trouble. I had done a couple of gigs for a local security firm in Dallas that was looking for contract workers. I got the occasional one-night job, here and there. I would get three or four hundred dollars, walk around with some guy who I didn’t know, and didn’t care to, for a couple of hours. I was packing a piece (9mm. Heckler & Koch, USP 9; or a Sig P228, also in 9mm.). I never had to pull my weapon once in the United States of America.
I always fancied the prior planning of any night out. I could do more to ensure my client’s safety by carefully structuring our agenda. I would use maps, and make reservations at multiple places. That would keep any would-be tangos (bad guys who want to kill you or your client) guessing.
I would insist on either driving or letting another of the bodyguards drive any vehicle. I wanted anything that could be paid for in cash to be paid for discretely . . . never with the credit cards if we didn’t have to. No sense in leaving that kind of paper trail. Remember, these were typically seedy characters . . . the kind of men that you don’t invite home for Thanksgiving.
Good prior planning prevents the major blunders that can cost a guy, and his minders, their lives. I don’t think that death is a particularly scary thing, but if it’s all the same, I’d like to stick around awhile. So, I would rather not have to get into a gun battle with a bunch of tangos that don’t mind shooting up the whole wide world in the process. You know, www.ShootYouUp.com.
Sometimes I wore a vest (bullet-proof up to a .357 magnum, spectra foam ballistic vest), and sometimes I would just drape it over the car seat of where ever it was I was sitting. That would save me from getting shot from behind—well, except in the head; but then I wouldn’t really notice then, would I?
I tried to dress as innocuously as I could. Usually, I would end up wearing either a gray or black suit, the coat hanging loosely over a shoulder holster; or a pair of jeans and a fanny-pack that concealed a piece. The whole idea was not to look like a bodyguard. I would often wear sunglasses, not because I thought I was cool, but because I would be able to study people’s hands, arms and faces—what I consider the three most important parts of a potential bad guy—without them seeing me study them. Your eyes can really wander underneath a pair of mirrored lenses.
I try to look at the hands and arms first; it all seems to start there. Any aggressive movements or gestures can be dealt with best if you see them begin. It might only be apprehension and nervousness that you pick-up on, but that is a good indicator of intention. I try to study other people’s reaction to my client.
Are they gawking, or are they staring?
Are they purposely not staring?
Are they fidgeting, their eyes darting around the room?
Maybe they are trying to signal somebody else, or maybe they are just high on ecstasy and coke, and have a couple of drinks in them and are going to cause a bit of a nuisance. There is any number of things that you can learn by just paying attention.
You can’t just draw down and shoot, either. Just because somebody might try and get your client, doesn’t mean that you can paint the room red. You will end up with a murder charge, and it will probably stick. Now, in foreign countries you have a bit more leverage to pull your weapon in what is considered a dire situation, but you still have to be careful.
This leads me to my first legal SNAFU (Situation normal: All F’ed up). I had gotten a call from an old friend. He wanted a ride out to a small town near Ft. Worth, Texas. He was going to meet a friend of a friend and give him some stuff. I figured I knew what that ‘stuff’ was, and had decided to pass on the drive. He appealed to me and I finally caved in. What the hell . . . I was a bodyguard, I had a friend asking for protection, I couldn’t say no. So I went down there, my H&K, USP 9 sitting comfortably near the gear shifter in my cherry-red, 1995 Mustang GT 5.0 liter V-8.
I made the drive, somewhere around eight or nine at night, and found myself sitting in my car, alone, listening to the radio in a Walmart parking lot.
In a situation like this the minutes become extremely elongated. When you’re separated from your client you have no objective understanding of the situation. You are basically blind to the situation.
Several minutes had gone by since my friend, Mike, had left the vehicle. He was actually in a pick-up truck, talking to a friend of his who had gotten busted selling drugs or whatever and had agreed to set people up in order to reduce his sentence.
My friend Mike was in the process of being entrapped and eventually arrested, just a short distance away.
Two vehicles screeching to a halt about 25 meters in front of my car suddenly disturbed my anxiousness. Tactically, a HUGE mistake, but here they came anyway. A tangled mess of five plain-clothes police officers stumbled out of the cars and came running at my mustang. They were screaming all sorts of things. I realized what was happening and conceded that I didn’t need to get into a shoot-out with a bunch of over-zealous, hick cops. I moved my hand away from the pistol and sat calmly as they approached my car.
In my opinion, their biggest mistake was their initial entry. When they were initially approaching the car they all came from one direction. Had I started to fire at them, or even just put my car in gear and driven straight at them, I probably would have gotten most or all of them before they could have even returned a single shot.
What was going on in my mind during those few seconds was simple: should I begin killing these morons or not?
I definitely had the tactical advantage. Between my car and my pistol I could’ve made lunch meat of most all of them. But doing so would have resulted in the killing of police officers . . . and this is usually a bad thing. I’m a bodyguard, not an assassin. Police officers and law enforcement in general have an important role in society, and their job is tough enough as it is.
So in those few moments I decided not to kill. I decided to allow myself to face whatever consequences would arise from bringing my friend out here.
No matter how you live your life, at some point there are going to be important moral choices that have to be made. Decisions for which there may be two viable options, but only one that will allow you to sleep at night.
Sometimes the little decisions in our lives turn out to be bigger decisions just moments later. The decision to bodyguard my friend during a seemingly uneventful trip turned out to be much more of a crucial/life-changing decision.
I was then presented with a life or death decision, which not only concerned my life but also the lives of several law enforcement officers—even if they were tactically handicapped. Things really can spiral out of control quickly if you’re not prepared. My basic instinct was to draw down on the carload of idiots that were stumbling all over themselves. But that decision would’ve resulted in prison, potentially getting the death penalty for shooting a bunch of cops.
There is a time and a place for violence, but that was not an appropriate time.
Try to remember back to an occasion in your life where a seemingly insignificant series of decisions led you to a decisive or grave fork in the road. Analyze your decision-making process on the way toward that moment when you realized things had spiraled out of control.
Were you negligent in your decision-making process on the way there?
Were you actively making decisions, or did you find yourself along for the ride while somebody else was making the choices?
Take a piece of paper—or the Journal the maybe working with throughout this entire book— and write down the three important decisions that you have ever made in your life.
After you’ve written these three decisions down, write down 2 to 3 words that relate to each decision you made. This is more of a free association exercise, and you need the words that first pop into your mind, no matter what they may be.
Draw a circle around each decision and the three words that are associated with it. Which colors do you think correspond with each decision?
Which type of decision-maker are you?
2001 – Castelnaudary, France – The “Ferme”
The key, in my opinion, to being ‘tactical’ is to understand human nature, and then to do things that directly thwart and take advantage of people’s basic instincts and behavior. In fighting, most of the competent fighters that perform on a world-class level have learned to move a person based on their reactions to certain things. Think about what a person does when they are punched in the face a certain way. Does a jab typically back a person off? Does their body position weaken, or do their feet flatten out?
What can I do to gain even a slight tactical advantage, just based off of what a normal reaction will be?
Fighters know, for instance, that when you drive your elbow into the side of somebody’s jaw the opponent’s knees get weak and they stumble. On the ground that same elbow makes a person turn his head and cover up his face with his arms. This can be used to set up an arm or shoulder lock.
If you strike them in the temple—you might shut down the computer all together. If you punch to the insides of the torso—say, under the arms around the ribs, you will elicit a curl-and-protect response. I illustrate all of this because these are fragments of human nature in action.
Human nature is a mixture of behavioral traits that have developed, in part, due to your genetic make-up—your heritable behaviors—and also due to the influences that society and your environment bring about. That’s the age-old nature-vs.-nurture paradigm.
As a soldier, mercenary, assassin, lawyer, car salesman, what-have-you, you must understand these behavioral traits. They act as an outline for how you deal with different situations. So, to train an individual in tactics means to dissect the programming of the creature for which you wish to be tactical against. If that creature is an animal, you must understand how it survives—eats, procreates, sleeps.
If that creature is a human, you must be able to study the characteristics that make it different from you. This is all seeming a bit like being in some nonsense philosophy 101 class, or some psychology refresher course . . . and well, it is.
And your situation dictates your level of accuracy and commitment. In the ring you have one mindset, and in a back alley, you have another. When warfare is a consideration then the stakes get raised significantly, but the idea of constantly training and conditioning your body to make decisions doesn’t change.
If I want to kill a person I have to have one of a couple of things on my side. I might just get lucky and my target falls within my sights. I might be skilled and create an opportunity, or notice one, when I can pounce. I might use all the available information about that target and then combine it with my skills . . . and then prey for a bit of serendipity.
Bam! That’s my key.
The legion is good at building Operators. In special warfare circles we have a couple of designations or sub-groups for the different tactical savvy. You have got your Spec warrior—the basic soldier with all of the training and skills necessary to carry out his function as a special forces individual.
You have your Operators—who can mix it up with the bad guys and make quick, real-time decisions that affect the course of the mission. These types of men can lead or follow, chase or be chased—it makes no difference to them because they will, somehow, find a way to win.
The next level is that of the Hunters—these are the guys who can go out on a mission, and complete it as well as to take on other targets of opportunity while they are out there. Give them a target and they will, more often than not, come back with several valuable trophies. These guys are dangerous in any number. Ten are deadly, five are deadly, and one is extremely deadly . . . for he has nothing to lose. Sometimes these Hunters can go off the deep-end and become a bit, how you say . . . crazy?
Finally, you have your Meat-eaters. These are the individuals who were designed to hunt and kill things. God designed them for this work, and the environment continued to forge them in the harshest of molds and under the most daunting conditions. The Meat-eater will do his mission, and then stay out for a while so that he can take care of any other business that he sees as necessary. All Meat-eaters are crazy. This doesn’t mean that they are all psychopaths, although I think you would have a hard time delineating the differences between them and the psycho or sociopathic personalities.
The Meat-eaters, Hunters, and Operators are devastating in a war zone. The Operators can leave the war environment and make the transition back to normal life—whatever that is, these days—relatively easily. There is an adjustment phase of a few months where they may want to put a bullet into obnoxious people, but those desires will fade as they reintegrate.
The Hunters have a difficult time adjusting to the normalcy of a civilian existence, so they usually take up jobs where they may be able to utilize their skills. That means they are either drawn to law enforcement, or drawn to crime. Many become mercenaries or security consultants—like I did.
The Meat-eaters don’t have much success within the civilian world. They may become spooks/spies—where they can basically live by themselves and do horrible things in the name of their country. Or they become complete raving lunatics and end up in some prison, sticking forks into the side of other inmates’ necks. They become victims of their own tactical success. Their transition to a normal life may not be possible as they are purpose built for a life of war and perpetual chaos.
It’s important to be able to disconnect your environments from your behaviors so that you don’t use inappropriate responses. A tussle at a birthday party is not the place to choke a person unconscious and then cut their throat so that they don’t alert other people. While that behavior might be superb on the wall of a Terrorist training camp in Laos, it’s not acceptable at Uncle Phil’s 50th birthday party.
It’s hard to be your own boss, with no rules, for a length of time, and then suddenly be forced into the cookie-cutter of society. You are told that you no longer have the authority to act on your instincts.
You can’t just kill somebody because they are bad; there are laws that protect us from that. You can’t just go out and get what you need, because that too is not part of society. No, you have to get a job, wear a short-sleeve shirt with a tie that makes you choke, and kiss some middle manager’s but for a couple of years.
It’s difficult to transition, but then . . . learning to transition is another form of Success-conditioning, too. You can train your body and mind to be effective and efficient at anything. But you must train. You must condition your body and thought processes to work together instead of constantly fighting one another for control of your decision-making abilities.
The legion creates, and has created all types of commandos. I feel like I am up there in the list somewhere. As I have some moral code, albeit a strangely twisted code, I feel that I am not beyond salvage. I still feel that I can add something to my society. Of course, I haven’t had the greatest amount of success if you asked my Federal Prosecutor . . . but, as they say, opinions vary.
The most important part of any tactical training is that you understand the broad strokes of the skill. It is more important to grasp the concepts that are associated with any particular tactical skill, than actually mastering the skill. We are all different, different strengths and weaknesses, different likes and dislikes. So, we are never going to master everything that we attempt. It is more important, then, to try and master the mentality of what is occurring.
I found myself arrogant at times, not feeling as though I needed to learn new information. But this is a dangerous attitude to have so I came up with a few questions I would force myself to answer when presented with new things I was being asked to learn. I would frequently ask myself these questions while I assessing the new techniques and information:
First—what is the major goal of this skill (climb a building, shoot a bad guy, plant an explosive device, cook a loaf of bread, etc.)?
Second—how does this change what I already know (Preconceptions, disillusions, fears, learned behaviors, etc.)?
Lastly—what information am I missing about this situation?
I try to use these simple questions to take away from training what I need to operate in a tactical sense. This doesn’t just go for being a soldier; it’s just as true in the business world, or with anything that you care to learn in your life. Three simple questions.
In the legion this is kind of the way that much of the skills are taught and developed among the legionnaires. I think that one reason for this is that we are all forced to focus not on what the instructors are saying, but what they are doing and showing us.
I didn’t understand enough French to buy a pastry at a bakery, but I somehow managed to learn how to booby-trap an entire village, torture captured prisoners for information, and fashion a tasty sandwich out of bagel and a gob of meat paste . . . pate. This training is hard, and fast, and it hurts most of the time, but it will make a soldier out of you.
I remember climbing up the side of a mountain on my belly, when the temperature was near zero, and the sun had faded behind the horizon, and God watched as we silently approached the unsuspecting bad guys. He knew, and we knew . . . and the bad guys never saw it coming.
The reason that we could operate like this was because it had been hammered into us. There are plenty of people who believe that parents shouldn’t spank their children. That we should all sit down and ‘talk’ about our problems, and that everything will be okay. That we shouldn’t let our military instructors beat the holy-shi# out of the soldiers-to-be. There is this push for a kinder, gentler form of training.
I’m just not sure that produces the kind of soldier we all need fighting for us. The way you practice is the way you train. If you always practice pulling your punches, then you’ll get into a fight and pull your punches while the other guy buries his fists into your face.
If you were a kid and your dad broke a belt on your ass every time that you screwed something up, you were classically conditioned against that behavior. You learned quickly that doing A produced the result B. B meant getting your butt whipped! You quit doing B, or you at least figured out a way to not get caught. We can argue the emotional detriments of this kind of training, but certainly not the effectiveness of it for producing soldiers.
The legion was like that father that stomped a hole in your chest whenever you messed something up. First they start yelling, and then they get close to you and start the beating. We get punched and kicked, and hit with the butts of various weapons, and semi-drowned, and choked, and mocked all the time.
Through all of this we are required to constantly make decisions. We learn to ignore the present pain and frustration in order to select the most tactical decisions we can that lead us to the outcome (mission success) that we’ve been tasked with.
What looks like abuse to some is just an advanced and aggressive form of Success-conditioning to others. Perspective is everything.
What kind of a decision-maker are you?
Are you an operator, a hunter, or a meat-eater?
All of us, each human being, are unique in our decision-making processes. Based on the way we were brought up (nurture) and our body’s specific brain chemistry (nature), we are all specialized decision-makers. We always make the correct choice for us at the moment. In retrospect, that doesn’t mean we always make the right decisions. But based on our design, we make the best decision for us, simply because it was the decision we made.
Even a serial killer is making the best choices he can, given the information he as in front of him. Sure, we all look at that behavior and find it ghastly and violent, but for that person, they made the most correct decision, based on them.
Do you think about your decisions before you make them, or do you live in the moment like the samurai and make a decision within the space of seven breaths?
Do your decisions take into account the aftermath, or is the guiding force behind your decision-making process only what is immediately in front of you?
Think about how decisions are made by the people who raised you (parents, family, siblings, state, etc.). Write down the ways they made decisions, and how rational you think that process was. Maybe your dad was slow to act, considering things deeply while your mother reacted quickly without hesitation.
List your closest friends on paper and briefly describe their decision-making process.
- Where do you fit in the fold?
- Who influenced you most?
- Who are you most like?