(Author) Image Processing Training (IPT) is a term created by me and largely derived from the 2014, MIT study which proved that humans can process images in 13 thousandths of a second. This is pertinent because, historically firearms and tactics instructors have taught us "there isn't enough time to think". Which, led to phrases like, "just get rounds on target" and "shoot center mass" (first).
In addition to being a Navy SEAL instructor on basic and advanced levels, I obtained a certification as a Master Training Specialist. This certification showed me how to create a formal training program from scratch, implement it and maintain it. What IPT™ is really all about is maintaining the training program. In relation to tactical training, running a gun, whether it be a carbine rifle or a pistol, what big changes can you point to in the last 20 years? For sure, we've learned to shoot faster, change mags faster and do virtually everything faster. But, would you consider those improvements to performance to be fundamental changes in the way we train to fight? Personally, I do not. IPT, is a fundamental change in the way we train to fight.
I'm super-freaking anal about the courses and curriculum that I've developed. In doing so I re-thought virtually everything we do, from the shooting drills to the targets we shoot. Now, armed with 27 years of experience I've taken the time to assess what I was taught about gun fighting and what actually happens in combat.
Here's an example, you might have performed the Mozambique shooting drill which consists of two shots to the body and one to the head. Every drill I run on the range has to be relevant and it occurred to me that I haven't done this to a real person, shot him twice in the chest and once in the head. I began reaching out to peers to see if they have, or know of someone who has. Now, I'm sure that out there somewhere there is someone who has. But, what I found is that even amongst elite operators who have rehearsed this drill for years on the range, I couldn't find one person whose done it for real or know someone who has. That's saying a lot and I found it to be quite interesting because its the only solid example that I know of in which we collectively are not behaving as products of our training. As the phrase goes, we are truly products of our training, and I know this to be true. In making phone calls and talking with peers I determined that what happens during close combat shootings is that we grab one sight picture and continue pressing the trigger until mentally, we've told ourselves the threat is eliminated. What this also tells me is that the first sight picture we grab is really important.
There is another phrase often used on the range, you can't miss fast enough.
In 2013, there was a complex attack at CIA headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. Two CIA contractors responded to the attack, one a former Army Special Forces soldier (Minor) and the other a former Navy SEAL (Pirate). Upon exiting the inner compound into the outer compound they encountered what appeared to be an active duty US Army soldier. The Haqqani Network operatives were wearing US Army uniforms. Call sign Minor, was the #1 man and wasn't convinced by the uniform, so he aimed in on the head of the unknown person. The Haqqani Network operative had concealed his AK-74 down by his side. In the fractions of seconds that followed the highly trained operative presented his AK and fired two armor piercing rounds which impacted Minor's ballistic plates. He maintained sight picture and pressed trigger, penetrating the cerebellum of the Haqqani operative. Minor stated later, the body fell so fast that all the subsequent rounds he fired went over the top of the falling body.
In that moment, the terrorist operative responded with very little, if any conscious thought, as he was truly a product of his training.
The Haqqani Network operative could plainly see that Minor was wearing a ballistic plate-carrier, but he still chose to aim center mass and fire 2 rounds. Or, did he chose to aim center mass? Hebb's law, proposed by the neuropsychologist Donald Hebb, simply states that synaptic connections that fire together, wire together. Through repetition the Haqqani Network operative had literally pre-programmed his response. Now, think about this, is body armor, ballistic plates and associated gear becoming more or less prevalent? Everyday on sites like Alibaba (Chinese Amazon) you can find ballistic helmets, plates and even tactical nylon. Therefore, simply training ourselves to shoot center mass is an outdated training paradigm. From the example above, we can see that continuing to train to shoot center mass may even get you killed.
In applying Hebb's law to processing images, and IPT™ the concept is to program yourself through repetition to see where to shoot. There are two places to think about shooting, the heart or the cerebellum of the brain. These are the only two places to aim and shoot when training for combat.
Reasons we trained to shoot center mass (first).
Back in the middle 90's, it was being preached by different shooting instructors that the human brain would take 1/4 of a second to understand what it was seeing.
During the 2000's it became commonly accepted that the human brain could process an image in just 100 milliseconds, that's 4 times faster than previously thought and equates to just 1/10th of second. That's fast.
However, in 2014, MIT study determined that humans can process an image in just 13 thousandths of a second (0.013). Lightning fast. It makes one wonder if science will discover that humans can process images even faster than 13 thousandths of a second? If so, what mental processes and techniques may facilitate even faster processing speeds?
Interestingly enough, the MIT study did not consider the effects of adrenaline or various other hormones that are released during life threatening situations. Some claim that the effects associated with the fight or flight response are a detriment to our physical abilities. However, no studies could be found to corroborate those statements. In fact, no studies could be found to indicate that reaction times or physical abilities are enhanced or degraded when hormones are released during the fight or flight response.
So, how does the information above relate to how we train ourselves to shoot?
Now, the science shows we do have time to think. However, in order to take our training to the next level we need to change the targets we're training with, so we have something to think about besides keeping our rounds in inside the shape we're shooting at. We need to be repetitively training ourselves to see one of two locations, the heart or the cerebellum of the brain.
Training Aides That Facilitate IPT™
Imagine, the target above depicts a micro scenario in which the thug wielding the knife has just stabbed two people to death and you enter the scenario. How fast can a man with a knife close a distance of 6 feet? Answer is, basically instantly. If it were me and I entered the scenario with two people already dead on the ground and this Thug is 6 feet from me I'm going to aim to the cerebellum of the brain, because even if I penetrate the heart this thug is likely to be alive for a few seconds. How many grains of lead are your bullets? How many grains of steel will that thug push through your rib cage? Does the image depicted on the target look intimidating, or does it look like an off-duty cop posing for a pic? Everything matters, there is a psychology to good training.
During real situations there is often some type movement, people aren't usually standing there looking pretty waiting to for you shoot them. Body position changes with the weapon being held, a person holding a knife has a different body position than a person holding a rifle.
The target above was made at the request of a Troop Chief at DEVGROUP and reflects a Near Peer threat. The picture on the left is of Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian QUDS Force General and commander of an IRGC division. This is the same division responsible for attacking the US Embassy in Iraq, in 2020. The target was made depicting the solider (pictured) to the left of Soleimani. In the photograph, the QUDS force soldier is wearing a Rhodesian vest with punisher skulls stenciled on it; likely recovered off the battlefield, or likes to portray himself as friendly forces.
Near Peer is a relatively new term in use in the military and refers to threats that US military personnel are expected to face. As the name suggests, the enemy is geared up in a similar fashion to US troops. This includes optics on rifles, suppressors, helmets and plate carriers, not to mention radio's and med-kits. To my knowledge, HVT is the only company making targets to address the new and emerging threat across the world.
Russian Spetsnaz, for example are barely distinguishable from US Special Operations troops in terms of how they gear up. Unfortunately, the US pullout from Afghanistan during which most of the critical equipment was left behind, the Taliban is now armed with the latest night vision, optics, lasers and weapons that were intended for deployed troops. In fact, much of that equipment is now in the possession of organizations considered to be terrorist organizations.
Military and law enforcement units should expect to encounter threats wearing a ballistic carrier and wielding weapons with high-tech optics, even using night vision. Law enforcement personnel can apply the term Near Peer threat as they feel it's appropriate. That might be gang members who are known to wear body armor, or the next Active Shooter. The training aides (targets) should depict the foreseeable threat.
Types of Target Materials Considered.
After careful deliberation about how to accomplish a 3-D training aide it was decided that shot-accountability is the primary driving factor, therefore plastic, foam and other target material options were eliminated as possibilities. For reasons of shot accountability, cost and versatility, it was decided the targets must be made of cardboard, or paper. Professionals should demand shot-accountability so they can see shot groups and make adjustments.
In my experience shot accountability goes out the window during force on force training. Unfortunately, bad aiming, or no aiming at all may occur due to mask restrictions, such as it's fogged up, or just tilted and restricting vision. Either way when this occurs its a behavior that may be reinforced and solidified under the pressure and intensity of the training.
Dwain Dieter, founder of CQD, referred to this as Forging. He understood that a process may fall apart under pressure and therefore needed to be Forged. He also understood that even a poorly developed process may be reinforced and solidified during intense training. Maybe you even know someone who is aware of their own bad technique, but they have problems changing the technique? Btw, a Forged technique becomes the default reaction to a situation or stimulus. This can only be undone through repetition and training of a greater or equal intensity. The desired process must be Forged over the top of the old one. I'll give you an example, in 2017 when I was rethinking virtually everything that we do, I also rethought through the mag change process. This is a topic worthy of it's own post, so I'll just summarize, here. Basically, I had performed pistol magazine changes a certain way for almost 30 years, a technique which entailed bringing the pistol back into the "workspace". Essentially, I eliminated bringing the pistol back into the workspace, because it's unnecessary movement. Cleaning up unnecessary movements amounts to a cleaner process and a cleaner process is a more reliable process under pressure.
Training ourselves to engage a variety of target characters presented at different angles, wearing different clothing, holding different weapons It all makes a difference.
Subconsciously, the image you are looking at while shooting is conditioning your mind to encounter that type of threat. For example, if the Chicago police department trained exclusively on targets depicting young black males, it would be perceived as training to kill young black males. In fact, that would be psychologically correct. If the target you shoot is a simple silhouette with lines and zones, well you might notice that real people don't walk around with lines painted on themselves. We must train ourselves to look at a human anatomy and see the ideal shot placement location.
As mentioned above, you can create a micro-scenario with the target. The targets we shoot should allow the shooter to mentally get into the zone and imagine the weapon and the person as being real. You'll find it easy to create these micro-scenarios with our targets. Doing so increases the value of your training. When performing shooting drills, as much as you can, imagine performing the drill for real, in a real situation. Before performing each drill pause and mentally place yourself in the moment. This may be described as taking your training seriously.
Have you ever shot next to someone on the range who was mentally somewhere else, like they're playing a video game? You read the look on their face, which says they are far from training for a real a gun fight. Personally, before I run a shooting drill I like to take a moment to get mentally in the game. I'm taking it seriously, but not so seriously that I'll get down on myself. My race is always against myself, in this way I don't get stressed about how others are performing. Sometimes, I'll imagination a real hostage scenario, putting myself in that place mentally. Imagination can significantly enhance the quality of training. Neurologists confirm that events imagined can have as much impact psychologically as real events. Find your balance and take your training seriously, but not so seriously that you're pissed at yourself.
Trained shooters first look to the hands for a weapon, then engage. It's a natural reaction to maintain radar-lock upon the weapon in the hands and press the trigger. During force-on-force training it's quite common to be shot in the hands. More experienced shooters will see the weapon in the hands and then shift the eyes to the optimal shot placement location.
The secret to an ideal response in combat is repetition during training. You need to train your ideal response through repetition, remember Hebb's law. Targets that show the hands enable the shooter to begin practicing to shift the eyes from the hands to the ideal shot placement location. Targets are training aides. We can begin training ourselves to do this on the range, this is why all HVT target characters show the hands. This will translate to a better reaction during force on force training and during real-world situations.
The essence of Image Processing Training entails processing the image of our potential threat. Take in a snap shot of the potential threat. You should be able to see from the waist up at arms reach using the peripheral snap shot technique, which is the opposite of tunnel vision. Open up your vision to see, which may sound crazy and undo-able but this is all part of what I refer to as next level training. So, first we look to the hands. Even at close distances we can see the hands and the whole torso in one glimpse. So, assuming we see a weapon in the hands, at virtually the same time we are understanding the threat is wearing a ballistic plate carrier, so we shift our attention to making a head shot. What was just described is the essence of IPT™, which is instantly seeing where to shoot. Some may have a different definition for "instant", but in my book 13 thousandths of a second is instant. So, we see where we want to shoot almost simultaneously. If we happen to see a plate carrier or suspect a Kevlar vest we simply shift our eyes to the head. When the zone is the cerebellum, we don't just aim for the head, we aim for the cerebellum of the brain. Our objective is a no twitch response to bullet penetration of the cerebellum.
I'm certain some reading this are thinking, sounds great but we can't get our folks to pass a simple qualification shoot. Follow me on this, running a 4 minute was impossible for about 2000 years. The person who broke that record repeatedly imagined himself breaking the record until he did it. Now, many people have broken the record. The power of our imagination may have no bounds. Our attitude during training matters a lot and so does the attitude of the trainers. Taking our training to the next level requires some sports psychology, so trainers that are caught up in methods from 30 years ago have not evolved; everything is evolving, so either evolve or place yourself on the endangered species list.
The fact is, humans are capable of amazing athletics feats, look around you and you'll be amazed at what humans can do, we are only limited only by our minds. Updating the Hard Wiring from instinctively firing center mass, to seeing where to shoot is the next leap forward in the evolution of tactical training.