Training the Brain!

“…under sudden life-threatening stress, individuals will likely exhibit behaviour based on past experiences that they will automatically produce without conscious thought. This means [that there is a necessity to] not only [train] officers in appropriate tactics but also [to provide] sufficient repetition under stress so that new behaviours will automatically take precedent over any previously learned, potentially inappropriate behaviours that they possessed before becoming an officer”. Ken Murray

I recently watched a cool documentary on the brain. It was shot at the Navy Seals Special Warfare Command. It talked about how those in Seal training are introduced to chaos from day one because historically mistakes on the battlefield are almost always associated with fear and panic. At this training they are trying to find mentally tough soldiers more so than athletic studs. Each class has 140 men and only an average of 36 pass. They have had Olympic athletes fail while they once had a one hundred and forty pound farm boy from Nebraska who had never seen the ocean until training pass. Needless to say, they take neuroscience seriously.

Researchers have found that a part of the brain no larger than a finger nail called the Amygdala controls emotions, especially fear. The Amygdala instinctly pushes the panic button because this part of the brain gets impulses two times faster than the frontal lobes, which is where our rational thoughts and synchronized activity comes from. When something such as a loud noise startles us the Amygdala has our pulse rising, gets sweat started and has us moving before the Frontal lobes figure out whether it is something that we should be afraid of or not. If we relied only on the frontal lobes we would freeze until we figured out what was going on. The Amygdala gets us ducking, moving and orienting ourselves towards the danger immediately.

The Seal training exposes the soldiers to many scary situations. This helps them to get used to the danger and gives them a been there, done that feeling. This training helps to minimize delay by generating fast and accurate reactions to situations that they will face in combat. For example they fail more candidates in the pool competency training than anywhere else. In the pool competency training the candidates have on their tanks and breathing apparatus. While underwater on air the instructors mess with the candidates for up to twenty minutes by taking their tubes out of their masks and tying them into knots, shutting off their tanks, throwing their masks off of them, etc. They are without air as much as they are on air and must control the fear of drowning as they do the proper procedures to get back on air. When this happens in battle it won’t be nearly so scary as they have been in this position before, many times.

The Seals have a four step mental toughness program that include 1) goal setting, 2) mental rehearsal (mind setting), 3) self talk (they have found that we talk to ourselves by using between 300 and 1,000 words per minute. Those with positive self talk, the “you can do this” succeeded at a much higher rate than those who told themselves “this is impossible”) and 4) arousal control. This is the use of deliberate and slow breathing, especially long exhales. Since they started teaching this the Pool competency training pass rate has gone from ¼ to 1/3.

Watching this documentary had me standing in awe of Krav Maga’s founder, Imi Lichtenfeld. Imi was figuring this stuff out back in the 40’s and 50’s! The drills we do, the way we test and the general thoughts behind Krav training are in line with what the Seals are doing today. We train real, mind set and put students through rough times so that if they are ever attacked on the street they have that “been there, done that” feeling. How cool! BE SAFE!

Mass Shooting & Terrorist Attacks

I have had a couple of people hit me up with “what would you do” questions about the mass shooting in Orlando a few weeks ago. This tragedy is being politicized by all sides to the point that it’s sickening. I’ll give ya my advice on how I’d take care of it…then I’ll give you more realistic advice that anyone can implement.

As far as schools go I like what Texas is doing…arm teachers. Taking guns away from everyone will have only the psychos and criminals having access to guns. They will still get them because they ignore the law. Schools are “no gun” zones…that law didn’t stop the scum bag. If a few teachers were highly trained and had access to guns in the schools these psychopathic idiots wouldn’t have free access to roam the halls and shoot for as long as they want. “But that isn’t the teacher’s job” is what I hear. Well, the principal and a few teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary rushed the scum bag empty handed. They weren’t going to let anyone harm their kids. They were killed in the process because a rifle beats empty hands every time. The point is, these heroes wanted to do something and they did do something. They just had the odds stacked against them.

Now advice for if you are ever in such a situation that is a bit more realistic. The best thing you can do is to have thought about it before hand and have a plan in your head. I have written about stress and mind setting in previous blogs. Under the stress of someone shooting at you it is impossible to come up with a plan. Your brain will go to “mid brain”, which is also called the “animal brain” under this stress. This is why you hear stories like that of Luby’s restaurant in Texas where people sat at their tables frozen as the gunman walked around shooting. Under that stress your brain is scanning to see if anything like this had ever happened before and how you got out of it. With no plan in place, no practice and no experience the brain will not come up with a plan but will continue to scan, freezing you in place.

I believe if everyone carried a weapon and trained (especially RBT) mass shootings would be a thing of the past. Read that again, I didn’t say if everyone carried. The training part is the most important. Training comes out of us and we don’t freeze in place when some fool starts shooting.

What plan should we have for these mass shootings for those who don’t or can’t carry a handgun? I have a very good friend who is a cop that tried to get into his local school system a few years ago with plans/drills for the high school students. The administration wouldn’t even sit through the video of Columbine that he had with him, yet alone talk to him about implementing the plans he had. Their heads were buried in the sand, they couldn’t possibly implement such a thing.

The plan is that in a crowded room when someone starts shooting everyone throws whatever they can get their hands on at the scum bag (books and laptops if you are at school, dishes and glasses if in a restaurant, etc.). As these objects are striking the shooter everyone then rushes him and dog piles on top of him. He may get a couple of people but these twenty and thirty person mass murders wouldn’t happen. Such a thing would take training, which is exactly what we do at our gyms. We actually sit people at tables with plastic plates and cups, have someone come in firing a blank gun and have at him.

These tragedies are horrible and, instead of knee jerk reactions and blaming everyone and everything except the psycho who pulled the trigger, we need education. If every school had active shooter drills where the above plan was practiced the students would be safer. Schools have fire drills several times throughout the school year but don’t practice for active shooters (correctly anyhow). There have been more school shootings than deadly fires in schools over the past fifteen years, by far. BE SAFE!


You will never hear us say that krav is better than any other system. They all have some merit. We only claim to be best at getting people from zero self defense skills-wise to being able to truly protect themselves faster than anything else. When I am shown other handgun or knife defenses, for example, I see some that are good and make sense but would need too many hours to become proficient with. The IDF only had soldiers in boot camp for six weeks…and they had to become proficient enough at everything to not get killed by the end! Most martial artists would admit that if you would spend three months in their art that you wouldn’t be very good, that you would need more time. Three months in Krav Maga will get you to the point where you can test into level two…and you are pretty darned good when you get that far and could truly take care of yourself in most bad situations.

If someone had 20 hours to train for a knife attack that they knew was coming they would train knife and maybe learn some more advanced techniques than we are going to bother with in Krav Maga. What a bummer if at the end of that twenty hours they were attacked by a handgun wielding maniac instead! Krav doesn’t get into anything complicated but teaches things that are easy to learn, easy to remember and, most of all, effective. We believe that we can’t put a ton of hours into any one thing because in the real world we can be attacked so many different ways. We want our students good at choke defenses, fighting, handgun disarms, knife defenses, stick defenses, long gun disarms, sucker punch defense, kick defenses, ground fighting, head lock defenses, full nelson defenses, hair grab defenses, etc., etc. There are different “arts” that focus on each of these things that together will get you very, very proficient at all of the above. You could go from one art to the next for several years to be an expert at defending yourself for all of these. At the end of those several years you will be one bad person!! Or, you can take Krav Maga and in six months maybe not be an expert but be able to defend all of the above.

How does Krav do it? We don’t teach techniques per se but philosophy. A knife system that I once learned had 30 techniques for a straight stab coming at your gut. To learn all of these took many, many hours. Krav teaches to block the knife, smack the attacker hard and often and control the knife when you can or push off and run and/or pick something up to smack the attacker with some more!! We train our mindset with drills so that we can turn on aggression and fight with rage. When it comes time to be afraid in a real life attack we’ve kinda been there, done that where the technique guy has learned techniques but always used them in a controlled, static environment. The stress of “I’m gonna die” does amazing things to the unprepared brain!!

As far as our techniques go, we use natural body reactions in our defenses. Because it is something that our body does automatically it doesn’t take much practice or memorization. For our choke defense we “pluck”…our hands go to the wrists of an attacker and we rip their hands off our throat. People tell me often that they have a better defense for a choke. I tell them they don’t have an easier one…it is natural to grab the wrists of the attacker because our hands go to where the pain is. We have started our defense before we even realize that we are being choked. As far as weapon defenses go, we try to have one that works for many different positions and attacks. Our handgun defense, the cupping technique, works for a handgun in front, to the side, while on our knees, mounted, attacker in our guard and attacker standing over us. When a handgun is pointed at us we don’t have to think about which defense is needed…they are the same defense. We want to have one answer for many questions.

Again, we don’t claim to be the best at anything besides getting people proficient quickly. We’ve been called simple and brutal among other things. That is usually said as a slam but we see it as a compliment. In a real world, violent attack simple and brutal is all that’s really going to work! Be safe!!

The OODA Loop, RBT Training and Other Important Stuff!!

The one thing that really good and effective self defense training, aerial combat training, SWAT training, infantry training, etc. has in common is that it teaches the student to fly through the OODA loop while keeping the enemy in the OODA loop. So, what is the OODA loop (or Boyd’s Circle)? OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. When we do anything this process is what our brain must go through. We observe that something is happening, orient towards it (figure out what it is), make a decision as to what we need to do and then act.

The “OODA Loop” principle was developed by Lt. Col. John Boyd for aerial combat in the Korean and Viet Nam war era. John R. Boyd figured this science out as a young U.S. Air Force fighter pilot. John was cocky even by fighter-pilot standards…he issued a standing challenge to anyone who dared to try to defeat him in mock aerial combat. To make it even more of a challenge for him once in the air he would start from a position of disadvantage. He bet that he’d have his jet on the challengers tail within 40 seconds, or he’d pay them $40. Legend has it that he never lost. His amazing ability to win any dogfight in 40 seconds or less earned him his nickname “40 Second” Boyd.

What Lt. Col. Boyd discovered was that if he could keep the opponent in the loop, and he got through OODA, that he had a great advantage. For example, if the enemy was observing Boyd roll right, was orienting to this move but before he could decide or act Body rolled left it made that enemy have to start the OODA loop all over again.

As Boyd taught the principal and taught airmen to get through the loop (and keep others in it) he discovered that after five go rounds at actual air combat that pilot became virtually unbeatable. After five they would not get caught in the loop but would rapidly get through it and act first. He put science behind what pilots had somehow knew in WWI and WWII as they called a pilot who shot down five enemies an Ace.

As an aside my good friend (and USKMA co-lead instructor) Brannon Hicks, while reading the FBI’s LEOKA report (Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted), discovered a bone chilling fact for Law Enforcement Officers. This report is based on interviews with all those who have been arrested for assaulting police officers. Remember how the pilots were virtually unbeatable after five times facing combat? According to this report the average person who attacks a law enforcement officer in a deadly force engagement has had an average of five uses of deadly force in their past. This is why RBT (reality based training) is so important. Our brain’s do not know the difference between real events and events in training. Using scenarios and sim-nitions we can get officers through dozens of deadly force engagements…and learn from them!

In self defense we want to get through the loop and keep the attacker in the loop. This is why, for example, in Krav Maga our weapon disarms always have a punch, knee or kick in them. If we just use leverage and attempt to take away the weapon the attacker can observe, orient, decide and act to pull the weapon back, fight for it, etc. If, while the attacker is observing and orienting to our defense we kick them in the groin their brain will automatically go back to observing and orienting. When they get to the orienting about the kick we then elbow thier throat and start the loop all over again for them. Keeping the attacker in the loop while we are to the action phase of the loop is a big step towards winning the battle. BE SAFE!


Let me start off by saying that I am not an expert on handgun training. I train often, have been through some good courses and even have certification as a basic handgun instructor…but I teach Krav Maga. The mindset, philosophy and thoughts on training that we teach for real world violence and unarmed self defense, in my opinion, matches up perfectly for handgun training.

If you are training handgun because you like target shooting, do it for fun or just think firing guns is cool, train anyway you like. If you are practicing with your handgun for self defense, there are some things that you should consider. First and foremost, study violence. Study what stress, exhaustion, the adrenaline dump, fear and pain do to you. As Rory Miller says in his great book on the subject MEDITATIONS ON VIOLENCE “You do not fight like you train unless you train clumsy, blind, deaf and stupid”. These things that our bodies do under stress can be a major game changer.

This was driven home for me when we had our black belt candidates go through an RBT course with us a few years ago. We had a couple of people in this training who were gun geeks. They had been to every shooting course known to man, had very good training. They could shoot the eye of a flea at 100 yards, they knew their weapons. We geared them up, gave them weapons with sim rounds and put them through a scenario. When it came time to make decisions, when the “bad guy” started shooting…they went to shit. They froze, stood there, fumbled with drawing and getting their weapons on target. They had trained for shooting targets that weren’t shooting back. The stress and adrenaline that they faced in RBT was something they hadn’t trained for.

Again, I am not an expert on handgun training. I do know Krav Maga, I do study the heck out of real world violence. For example; When we practice knife defenses we do not practice against a partner who thrusts at us once with a half assed stab and then keeps his/her arm straight and still for two seconds. We practice after already being stabbed by a blitzing attacker who is on us fast and furious. The attacker will keep us off balance, hit us hard, use their off hand to keep us from blocking or getting to the knife, will “hockey punch” with the knife over and under our block and pump that knife like a sewing machine needle. To practice against that first attacker will get us killed on the street because the attack on the street is much more likely to be like the second attacker. The other thing we do is slather KY jelly on both of our arms to mimic the slippery blood that is most likely going to be there. Now, when it happens on the street we have been there and done that.

Let’s start with stance while firing. I dislike the Weaver stance for self defense simply because if something startles me I am going to square up to it, thrust my arms out in front of me and hunch down (yep, just like the isosceles stance). This is a natural body reaction. To think during the stress, fear and adrenaline dump of an attack I will do anything else is a mistake.

Practicing on a range standing still and getting accurate is, of course, what we start with. We have to get basics down. In our Krav classes one big rule is that, once we have the basic technique down, we always go balls to the wall. We always go all out and hit things our hardest. In handgun training once we have these basics down we won’t train like that anymore. In the real world if someone is firing at me I had better be moving and looking for cover. At the range we had better be practicing this way. We had better fire on targets while egressing, retreating and moving sideways to cover. We had better practice firing from cover. IF I ever find myself coming under fire this is what I had better be doing so…this is what I better spend almost all of my practice time doing!

If in a gun fight must I always go forward to end things and take down the bad guy? I am not a cop nor in the military…I shouldn’t be training as a cop or soldier. The video above of Keanu i think is great training for the role he was playing. This isn’t necessarily what i want coming out of me for self defense. Again, i am not a cop nor military personnel where my goal would be to go forward and kill twenty guys who have weapons. There are scenarios where this may be the thing to do but for me…i want to train firing as i escape. Shooting as few times as i have to to get the heck out of there! Not firing at all and not being fired at would be perfect! Firing as I get the heck out of Dodge and run like I’m on fire to safety sounds like good training to me! You think during a fight for your life there is a possibility that you may trip and fall or otherwise be knocked down? Better practice shooting while lying on the ground as well then. Furthermore, if ever in a gunfight I would think that it’s a good idea to keep my eye on the person trying to kill me. On the range do you practice reloads and clearing jams while keeping your eyes on the target and not looking at your handgun? What you practice is what’s going to come out of you under stress.

Again, we need to practice for what we’ll see. Personally, I don’t like shooting steel plates that fall after one hit. There are three ways in which a human is stopped by bullets. One; an extremely accurate shot that shuts down the brain and central nervous system instantly which isn’t likely in sudden real world combat. Two; the person bleeds out, which means they keep shooting at us while they do. Three (and the one we should be training) is massive shock and trauma, putting as many bullets into the attacker as we possibly can in a short period of time. In the real world people take multiple hits mid chest and keep coming. I don’t want to train that one hit takes care of the problem.

We had better change our distances as well. Back to that knife attack. I had better be practicing fighting that off, accessing my weapon and shooting close range from the hip with my front arm keeping the target at distance. If this is what I am likely to see, this is what I had better have practiced. Since the FBI has documented that most shootings take place, or at least begin, within 3 to 5 feet, we feel that one of the most important aspects of self defense and gun training is the ability to go from empty hands to accessing the weapon and hitting a target at very close distance quickly.

How about time of day and weather? If the only time you ever shoot is on a nice, sunny day you are assuming that’s the only time/weather you can be attacked in. Night training, training in the rain, training during a snow storm when it’s zero degrees suck…but so does having to defend yourself in those conditions.

Part of the reaction to the fear, exhaustion and adrenaline (actually a cocktail of chemicals) is that your arms will feel heavy, your hands numb and your fine motor skills will degrade due to the blood pooling to your core (vasodilation). We had better be ready for this, had better practice this way! As a shooter I need to try to replicate this in my training. Instead of standing at a table and firing at a target down range while being all nice and comfortable I need to practice under stress and exhaustion. How do we train? We run several sprints, do push ups, do pull ups, have some partners push us around, knock us down and then, and only then, fire on targets. Get tired, get the pulse rate up, get shook up a bit then see where the holes are in our shooting. Did we keep dropping mag’s? Did we have a hard time getting the mag’s from where we keep them? Did we have things snapped or buttoned that we couldn’t maneuver very well? Our brains will scramble under this stress and exhaustion, we will not come up with plans but our training will surface automatically.

The point is, if we are practicing shooting for self defense we need to educate ourselves on what realistic attacks are, what our bodies will do under this stress and train for what we’ll actually see. We had better train real and not think that blasting holes in paper is all that we’ll need. If we are ever attacked we want a “been there, done that” feeling. Be safe, my friends.

Thanks to SGT Brannon Hicks for his help with this article. SGT Hicks is lead instructor for the USKMA’s Law Enforcement training, our RBT training and our handgun course. E mail us for info on these courses.

Mark Slane is the lead instructor for the United States Krav Maga Association. A black belt since 2003 (now a 3rd dan) he has taught thousands of LEO’s and civilians, has written four books on the subject (see his author profile on Amazon) and has had an article published in Black Belt Magazine. To contact email


You won’t hear this in many systems but in Krav Maga we let our practitioners know that they can and probably will sustain damage. This can be a game changer! If you rely on both hands to do a joint lock and break one….what do you do then? If you rely only on jump kicks and the attack starts with your ankle being crushed…what do you do then? If we’ve never trained thinking about an injury and then it happens our brains want to freeze because this wasn’t in the plan. We want our practitioners to expect this and train for it. We will go as far as to have the first half of an upper level test be done with the student tying one arm down. They must figure out how to do the choke defense, handgun defense, knife defense, etc. with only one arm working. If this should happen in a real attack they now have a plan!

SGT Sanford Strong, in his great book “Strong on Defense” interviewed many crime (especially rape) victims. The ones who consistently fought back and got out of the horrible situation were those who feared the crime (the rape) more than they feared injury. Injury will happen….tell yourself that right now! The scumbag knows that you fear injury. This is why he will say “Do what I tell you to and you won’t be hurt.” Those who allow themselves to be moved, tied up, etc. on the “promise” of no injury from the bad guy will almost always paid dearly for it. Those who were so afraid of injury that they did nothing but hope and pray the attacker was telling the truth needed to know that the bad guys always lie and they are good at it! Put in your brain right now that the scumbag is there to hurt, torture and probably kill you. Injury is coming. It’s up to you to decide if it’s on his terms or if you are in control. It’s up to you to decide if that injury will come to only you or if it will come with you injuring him back tenfold!!

A great quote from Meditations on Violence by SGT Rory Miller; “This fear of escalation is based on unknowns. The attacker has already decided to hurt the victim and largely how much. The feared ‘greater level of damage’ is only in relation to the level of damage, unknown to you, that the threat has already planned. If he is already planning to torture and kill, the feared escalation is meaningless…the fear of provoking a beating or torture or death will not help you if the attacker has already decided on the beating, the torture or the murder.”

Why Krav? Any class that would include being injured on purpose would be a short lived one! We don’t purposely injure anyone but we do go hard. Our drills don’t cause injury but they do wear us out, make us feel like we can’t go on and cause general discomfort. This is for a reason. We want to know that we can continue no matter what! Krav Maga’s techniques are such that losing the use of a limb, in general, doesn’t affect us. We incorporate no joint locks or fine motor skill movements in our techniques but whole body, gross motor skills that we do in an extremely pissed off stage of mind…..that keep going til the bad guy is done mentality!

If your instructor tells you “do our techniques right and you won’t get hurt, the bad guy will” you probably need to look for another instructor! BE SAFE!


“Martial Arts and self defense are tricky, because for most practitioners wether they work or not will never really matter. It will never be tested. They can learn and believe any foolishness they want. Then, occasionaly, it will matter very much to an isolated individual. The stakes are high.” SGT Rory Miller

If you search “Krav Maga” on the internet one of the top (paid for) results that comes through is a system who’s slogan is “Fear No Man.” If there is one point that these blogs has gotten across I hope that it is you had better fear man. This Fear No Man system may be legit and there may be some good things that I could get out of it but I’ll never know. I wouldn’t try it if they paid me! Anyone who teaches others to be safe and makes claims like “you will fear no man,” “how to defeat multi-attackers easily” and “easily win all fights…even if they have a knife or handgun” is, in my humble opinion, BS that will get people hurt. It shows me that the founder has never studied, and is clueless about, real world violence.

I get many surprised responses and unbelieving looks when I write and say the things about Krav Maga that I do. Look back at the past blogs and you will read “Run from a knife, those things are scary,” “Run from multi-attackers, it’s hard enough blocking one person’s punches and I don’t have enough appendages nor am I quick enough to block multi-attackers,” “Don’t go to stupid places with stupid people to do stupid things,” “Any untrained idiot with a blade can kill ya,” “The effects of stress and adrenalin will make you much less effective on the street than you are in the gym,” “You will be hurt and have to fight that way,” “I carry a knife and, when allowed by law, a handgun even though I am an “expert” at Krav Maga,” “We teach crappy answers for handgun defenses. You are in a world of crap and only have crappy answers of which our defense is at the top. The only good answer is don’t be there with a gun pointed at you,” “a slightly trained person with a weapon will beat an unarmed, highly trained expert more often than not” …etc., etc.

There is so much bluster, ego and BS in self defense and martial arts. I guess as I get older (much older) I am turning zen-like in my thoughts on self defense and violence. I realize that it is best to learn self protection over self defense. We truly teach 1) don’t be there in the first place, 2) run, 3) pick up an object to whack an attacker and then as a last resort, 4) krav techniques. That doesn’t sound a lot like anything else being taught, does it? Anyone who is just teaching techniques and hasn’t studied real world violence and who doesn’t put the techniques under stress, exhaustion, the handicap of having only one arm to use, a second attacker always being around, etc. is teaching people to defend in a gym (to prove how great the system is) and not preparing them for real world violent encounters.

The head honchos of most systems, for some reason, have to come off as unbeatable, super bad asses. Some of them are but I think they would no matter what system they were touting. They are tough as nails, strong and quick people. The problem is, they may be unbeatable but how does that translate to their five foot nothing, one hundred pound female student? I am the head instructor for the USKMA but I’ve never claimed to be a bad ass. I believe that most of the instructors I have trained, and several of my students, could take me in a fight! This makes me happy because I don’t claim to be a tough guy, I claim to be a very good teacher of a defense system that will make people safer.

If you are teaching self defense read books like STRONG ON DEFENSE by SGT Sanford Strong, MEDITATIONS ON VIOLENCE by SGT Rory Miller and THE GIFT OF FEAR by Gavin DeBecker. They are eye openers. BE SAFE!