How to defeat perceptual lag in your Krav Maga training.

A team of dedicated public servants receive their orders. The situation is revealed, the mission is explained, and the execution of the mission is detailed. Now the training begins…

The higher the stakes and the more important the target, the more time is invested into the successful outcome of the operation. If time and budget allows, the team will have the benefit of a realistic mock target. After a thorough operational briefing, the team can walk through the mission. Then they may conduct the mission at a faster pace. After it becomes routine, they begin training at night. Then full speed.

They train until they get it right and continue training until they can’t get it wrong. Then the fun starts.

A leader may add a problem to the execution of the plan: a team member becomes injured, a vehicle becomes inoperable, weapons jam, communications fail, an interior space is different than expected, and anything else the leader can conjure up to throw the team off balance. At some point, the leader will come to the realization that there is nothing that can shake the team and they are ready to execute the mission.

Three things happen when training is conducted this way. First, the team becomes extremely confident (even if they are sick of training the same mission over and over). Second, the leadership becomes confident in the team. Third, when an event outside the plan occurs, the team reacts smoothly without delay.

The heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson said it well, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” So, to fix the problem Tyson addresses in the quote, a person (or a team) must inoculate themselves against the stressor(s) that will thwart their plan. Then, when the problem, change, or stressor presents itself, the person or team simply continues on with a modified plan. Think: “keep calm and carry on.”

So what… most of us will not be executing a midnight raid on a foreign target or fighting Mike Tyson in the ring.

With CBLTAC, I have participated in the training of thousands of police, government employees, and citizens. One of the most disturbing concepts I have witnesses is perceptual lag. It is the time it takes to shift attention from what was expected to an unexpected situation. Simply put, it’s a mental delay. Perceptual lag also includes the conscious and sub-conscious stress associated with the effort to “catch up” with the situation.

Perceptual lag can hurt us twice. First, the dangerous delay during a critical incident. Second, the increasing stress as the critical incident unfolds. Let’s talk about the delay first.

There is a common misconception that perception-reaction time (PRT) is between 1.1 seconds and 1.5 seconds. These times may be deemed acceptable when referring to the time it takes for the average driver to see an obstacle and react to the obstacle. But there is a flaw if this PRT time range is used in combat training. The reason it is a flawed number is because there is an assumption that a driver has been driving for a significant period of time; at least long enough to be licensed. If this is the case, then the driver is highly inoculated against the daily stresses and obstacles presented on the roadway.

For a combatant, the events that occur on a battle field or a dark parking lot may not be routine and therefore no conditioned inoculation will be established in the person’s sub-conscious. So when an event quickly unfolds, there is a natural delay. If there is a long delay, the person could hesitate because they have had too much time to think about what to do. On average, we have observed a sub-conscious delay in thought and action of FOUR SECONDS!!! This is four deadly seconds!!!

We also see perceptual lag in two forms: with motion and without. A person may be moving, running, blocking but not thinking, or they may not be doing anything but assuming some level of the mammalian startle reflex (fetal position).

There are two ways to “train out” perceptual lag.

The first method is through physical inoculation. Doing a task or reacting to an event over and over until it becomes instinct. Simply put: drills. Drills are hugely important. But what happens when the drill dictates “left” thousands of times, yet the situation demands “right”? If there is no “right” program in the sub-conscious there will be a delay while the person tries to figure out what to do.

The second method is through virtual inoculation (with the mind). Thinking about a task over and over until the task becomes instinctive. The most effective method I have witnessed to force repeated thinking of an event is the “A-B Scenario.” A-B scenarios begin by briefing and prepping a person or team about situation “A”. Then, at some point after the scenario begins and without warning, it switches to scenario “B”. The switch causes delay, aggravation, and sometimes the person or team will just stop what they are doing; confused. This causes a person to think about a scenario many times. They even begin to “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, what if”. When this happens, a single scenario can create hundreds of virtual scenarios with unique endings.

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Drills are essential to building the fundamentals and muscle memory, but are not effective in changing situations. Even if a person or team knows many drills, the brain must be trained to react to change. A-B scenarios are essential to train the brain to react fluidly, but provide less in fundamentals. A-B scenarios cannot be randomly thrown into training and the aggravation induced in the change(s) must be later debriefed and explained.

Beginners and experts need both! Even experts need to train in the core fundamental concepts related to their job or mission. Beginners need to begin exercising fluid thinking even if they only know a drill or two.

Let’s address the stress…

When a person is under stress, the brain switches from the “thinking” brain to the “reactive” brain. In a dynamic situation that requires dynamic thoughts, one cannot afford to have a reactive/instinctive brain. The problem is that during the four seconds of perceptual lag, stress is increasing. The more stress, the less thinking. The less thinking, the more mistakes.

I will cover the stress reaction in more depth in a future article.

I challenge students to increase your library of reactions to threats and critical incident through drills. Lots of them… until you hate them! I challenge instructors to push the fluid thinking between drills and cognitive limits while using planned stressors on your students through A-B scenarios.

Just remember that we are all teachers and students.

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