Training at the Speed of Ego: Slowing Down to Learn Better

July 6, 2023
Retired Lt. Frank Borelli discusses training structure and some challenges faced by certain students, and he talks about some of the potential solutions.

Force-on-Force training guru Ken Murray wrote an excellent book called, "Training At The Speed of Life." I understand his title and implications and have read the book. It's outstanding. The title of this article, "Training At The Speed of Ego" has nothing to do with Ken or his book. It has entirely to do with people who train improperly because they are too busy pumping their ego. What do I mean? Let me give you a couple of examples:

  • The fast poorly skilled shooter: Virtually all experienced firearms instructors know this officer: he's the guy who comes to the range three or four times each year because he has a hard time qualifying. For whatever reason, his ability to successfully complete a basic marksmanship circuit of stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, breath control, trigger press and follow through gets short-circuited somewhere. He flinches. He screws up his sight alignment. He acquires an incorrect sight picture. His grip is too high or too low on the gun. He limp-wrists a lot. However, no matter what challenges he faces, he is acutely aware of his fellow officers firing around him and he will not be the slowest shooter. He will crank his shots off with little regard for basic marksmanship because his ego can't handle being a poor shot among his peers.
  • The Incredible Hulk power fighter: This is the officer who regularly exercises, runs, lifts weights, etc. What he doesn't do is ever study or understand body mechanics. No matter how big and strong he is, there are just some things that he cannot overcome with brute strength alone. However, any time he's in defensive tactics / hand-to-hand training, he goes at it hard and heavy, certain he's doing everything right - even when he's not; even when he's simply powering his practice partner to the ground by sheer strength and weight. Because his ego keeps telling him how big and strong, he is and must continue to appear, he never slows down enough to practice the techniques as they're being taught, and therefore never learns or comes anywhere close to mastering them.

Both individuals need tactful guidance to slow down. Their instructor must find a way to move them away from aggressive ego support actions which are detrimental to training efficiency. There are a couple of techniques to accomplish this, and we'll discuss those in a minute. First let's look at a couple of training methodology phrases which can help us keep ourselves at the proper pace.

Previously we have discussed training structure and the importance of teaching the proper knowledge and skill objectives in the proper order. The need to do that is strongly reinforced when you're dealing with an ego-driven student. You can help him (or her) slow down just a bit by explaining two simple concepts. Even if all they do is slow down enough to listen you've slowed them down some.

Crawl, Walk, Run: This expressed approach to delivering and mastering knowledge objectives implies that students are expected to go slowly at first.

Crawl: This is what infants do. Very carefully. Checking balance, planned movement, on-going movement, and effect of movement with each "step" forward. If they aren't quite balanced properly, they even back up (or sit back on their haunches) to recover before trying again.

Walk: What people do next. Walking can be done at many speeds and when a group of people are walking together the pace is always slow at first until coordination is achieved. Then the pace can be increased but should never be faster than the slowest member of the group.

Run: What people do when they are sure of their balance and locomotion. This isn't something that is usually done with confidence until we quit falling down when we simply try to walk. If running in a group, then the pace is still usually maintained so that the slowest member can keep up.

I do; We do; You do: This expressed approach clearly delineates how physical skill objectives are taught to maintain an efficient methodology.

  • I do: As the instructor, I perform the physical skill first. Typically, I talk my way through the motions so that the student officer(s) can see and hear exactly what I'm doing. The opportunity exists for them to stop me at any time and get further details explained.
  • We do: Effectively this means that that the student does it side by side with the instructor, or with the instructor maintaining close supervision. Any mistakes that are made along the way are immediately corrected until the student can perform the action without error.
  • You do: The student performs the task properly without supervision.

Now, as to the techniques that can be used to slow down that hard charger:

  1. Use them as a guinea pig. I don't mean this as an insult. Any time you're teaching a physical skill, you need someone to either perform the skill (such as arm bars or take downs) on, or you need to set someone up to demonstrate the skill in slow motion / static position so you can correct and comment on common mistakes as you give explanations. By having the ego-fast student officer serve in this capacity, you force them to almost stop all motion and feel what you are doing and how. If you put them in as a demonstrator, then their position is slow to the point of their motion being dictated by the speed of your speech.
  2. Identify something that they are doing differently, or how the technique is different due to some trait unique to them, and then call that out in a constructive way. It is imperative that the student officer not feel picked on due to any differences, but indeed is made to feel bolstered by his/her uniqueness in the training setting. A good example of this would be how a very muscular or strong officer might exaggerate certain defensive tactics techniques while the only-average-strength officer doesn't have that advantage of increased strength. It is somewhat of a balancing act, but again you get the ego-fast student officer to slow down so you can demonstrate the existing differences.
  3. Have the ego-fast student officer pair up with someone who isn't doing so well. Ask the ego-fast student officer to assist the new partner in mastering the technique by slow and steady practice with emphasis on technique and not speed. This approach has the dual benefit of slowing down the ego-fast trainee while pushing the new partner (learning at a slower pace) to integrate skills at the fastest pace he/she can handle.

In the end we all must recognize one thing:

"Practice makes perfect" is not a true statement. If you practice doing something wrong over and over again, then your practice reinforces you doing it the wrong way. "PERFECT practice makes perfect." Perfect practice starts out with baby steps: learning one small piece at a time until they can be combined into larger steps and so on, and so on, and so on...

As a rule, cops must think fast on their feet. BUT, when we're in training we should get some minimum reprieve from that work mandate. Training is where we should get the chance to screw up and not pay a penalty - at least at first when we're learning to crawl. After all, if you spanked the child that fell on his face when he was learning how to crawl or walk it really wouldn't bolster his motivation to keep trying. Let your students learn the basics to an acceptable level of confidence before you start throwing them into the Olympic arena.

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