Establishing a Dominance Paradigm

Failure does not strike like a bolt from the blue; it develops gradually according to its own logic.

- Dietrich Dorner - The Logic Of Failure: Recognizing And Avoiding Error In Complex Situations


That was the opening quote from the lecture last weekend at Establishing a Dominance Paradigm in Shawnee, OK. The idea was, "if you get killed, it started a long time ago." Everything we need to survive and dominate a self-defense encounter must have been in place way before the event occurs. The instructors for the class were Tom Givens, Craig Douglas, and Dr. William Aprill. This was an intermediate to advanced class that was more of an audit of our current abilities than geared towards learning new skills. What does dominance look like in a self-defense encounter? How would we dominate our attacker? Have we done enough pre-need decision making? Understanding how we manage stress is the key to handling these lethal events. All of our training is essentially self-programming, programming our mind for packaged software, giving us response sets instead of reaction sets. It's not a plan per se, because plans fall apart under action, but instead sets of chunked actions that can be performed under conditions of high stress.

Over each of the three days, we got to spend time with each of the instructors. We spent time on the range with Tom working on our handgun skills under stress, with multiple scored courses of fire, and multiple drills performed competitively against each other. We spent a considerable amount of time in the classroom learning from Dr. Aprill about Violent Criminal Actors and their origins & patterns, learning about the human mind and how our minds control our bodies under the effects of stress, particular in freeze, flight, fright or fight scenarios. Lastly, we ended every day performing role-play evolutions with the staff in force-on-force scenarios designed by Craig, followed by a critique by Craig on what went right, and more importantly, what went wrong.

I wish I could say that I aced every scenario, but that's just not the case. In a couple of them, I did things mostly right with few real mistakes. In my first scenario, I ended up using my handgun in defense, and was patient enough to set up a counter-ambush of the aggressor after calling 911, but when I shot, an innocent was directly behind their body from me - any over penetration by real rounds would have likely struck them. In the last one, let's just say that it went sideways very quickly and recovery was near impossible. I ended up on the ground through my own fault, against multiple attackers, with a malfunctioning training gun. I was hit by multiple sim rounds while on the ground. I had multiple problems to solve - attacker #1, attacker #2, get off the ground, and fix my gun. I stayed on the ground in what felt like an eternity, trying to solve all 4 problems without first solving the fact that the gun wasn't working, or the fact that I was on the ground in the open.

We know that under high levels of stress, the human body undergoes certain physiological conditions related to the chemicals the brain releases into the body to get it "ramped up" and ready for a fight. I experienced tunnel vision, focusing on a weapon in one hand and not seeing the artifact in the other hand at all. I experienced auditory exclusion, having been verbally engaged from an encroacher to my rear, and not hearing what they said at all. I had my OODA-loop reset drastically several times in a short amount of time, after being ambushed from behind and, in my reaction, ending up on the ground with a malfunctioning weapon. It was extremely disorienting trying to solve a problem and being presented with the next problem - extremely chaotic and almost overwhelming.

What I found most disheartening is my lack of appropriate verbal agility. I didn't effectively use commands towards my encroachers in any of the encounters. I was caught physically responding to their actions. This is extremely enlightening, as verbal skills, specifically when engaging someone who has the potential to be hostile, are crucial skills to have as programmed response sets, yet there's no amount of yelling at cardboard targets on the range that will amount in any improvement when communicating with a real person.

It wasn't all bad though - I did get to confirm that training on drawing and firing quickly under stress has paid off. I felt like my cell phone disappeared and my gun materialized in my hands in the scenario where I used it effectively. Despite having experienced tunnel vision against an encroacher, I was able to identify others for the roles they played as non-aggressors, and did not threaten, point my gun at, or shoot them. Most importantly, I now have a stress inoculation - I got an opportunity to perform under stress without real risk, with the exception of my ego. The real benefit is in interacting with living, breathing, thinking individuals with goals who don't always react in the manner that you might expect. If I'm ever in a real self-defense encounter, hopefully my work this weekend gives my mind the ability to say "hey, I've seen something like this before" and then respond appropriately and automatically.

I look forward to attending this course again in the future. Until then, I'll close with a quote from Dr. Aprill - "We don't want to drown in a sea of madness - we don't even want to swim. We want to sail in a sea of dominance."

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