Fitness Finesse — A Lesson From Dignitary Protection

I recently completed an protection assignment for an important Indian dignitary. It was a crowd control situation where thousands of ecstatic onlookers were attempting to push through our thin line of security personnel to touch this famous humanitarian.

They weren’t hostile enemy forces of course, but these well-intentioned people were entirely unaware of the mob they could become, and the threat they created to themselves and to each other through their efforts for a closer glimpse or even a touch of the speaker.

As is always the case when on assignment, the job taught me several new lessons about physical preparedness that I’d like to share with you.

One of the main bodily challenges our security team faced was to create a “gentle wall” between our principle and those who wanted to see her. The cumulative pressure of a crowd requires a specific stance to maintain group integrity. This isn’t a hostile mob, but numbers win. If you don’t hold yourself in a specific lunge, you’ll inadvertently create a breach in the wall, causing people to collapse in on each other. Sometimes that open sluice gate can cause injuries as well. Fortunately, I train every day with these specific positions in TACFIT, and so I’m able to hold even uncomfortable stances with ease.

But sometimes holding position isn’t enough. Even in a friendly crowd, you’ll occasionally encounter that rare individual with a psychotic break, like we had on this assignment. Psychotics off their medication tend to be inhumanly strong because their innate self-protection mechanisms have become unhinged. As protection professionals, we’re still legally and morally required to minimize any damage that these people could do to themselves or to the innocents around them, despite flailing limbs, dead-weight and bursts of insanely strong frenzy.

Restraining hostile individuals without damage requires sensitivity, agility and fast reaction time. Despite decades of defensive tactics training, if it weren’t for my daily TACFIT conditioning I wouldn’t have been able to keep others (and myself) from harm while restraining the subject until our principle, audience and team were safe.

Administrations expect their personnel to observe a “use-of-force continuum”, a graduated spectrum of non-lethal to fully-lethal force options. And yet, despite the  fact that the primary skill set of law enforcement, security and dignitary protection is “soft open-hand control” – non-concussive manipulation of the hostile subject – these agencies and individuals typically allocate the greatest amount of their conditioning time to “high intensity training,” or HIT.

Why is this a problem?

You always perform your fitness training significantly more often than you perform your defensive tactics training. In many cases, it’s a difference of hour(s) per day versus hour(s) per month. But conditioning is conditioning. The central nervous system cannot differentiate between types of resistance. It cannot even differentiate between a physical threat and an emotional/symbolic one. It only knows resistance.

If you’re conditioning yourself for a few hours per month to be able to employ a continuum of force when facing bodily resistance (your defensive tactics training), but you’re conditioning yourself for a couple hours per day to exert either no tension or HIGH tension (your fitness training), which volume of conditioning do you think will win out when you’re suddenly facing resistance from a hostile subject? Of course the high tension toggle switch will win every time. It’s a numbers game.

The same is true when it comes to stress arousal – handling the adrenal dump of sudden, intense, often violent encounters. Daily conditioning in a system that teaches me to maximize my recovery from my maximum heart rate (HRmax) allows me to remain calm and clearheaded in a crisis. Where my heart rate hardly elevated above my resting rate even when restraining a psychotic, others were way beyond their HRmax before they were even within range to try to apply their skills.

And what of those who train with conditioning methods that stress nut-busting high intensity routines designed to push them beyond HRmax – or those that go submax only, or those that don’t teach specific recovery methods at all? It’ll play out exactly like our force continuum example above. That patterned conditioning will rule the day, whether you intend it to or not. They had conditioned themselves to get to HRmax (and beyond) as fast as possible, making them not only useless in a crisis, but a liability to the team, the principle and the crowd.

This raises an obvious question: is no conditioning better than inappropriate conditioning? What about the guys who don’t train fitness at all? Does this mean they’ll respond with proportionate force under stress?

Absolutely not, unfortunately. A couple hours per month (and in some cases only a few hours per quarter) is an insufficient amount of training time to overcome the body’s natural defensive reflex of high tension: the startle reflex, or flinch. If you don’t exercise with a spectrum of tension in your training, when push comes to shove you’ll go rock hard with the highest force response in your arsenal. That’s your body’s natural mechanism for survival. Unfortunately, it presents a legal as well as a survival liability when all you have is a hammer and you need a toolbox.

There are three types of mechanoreception: kinesthetic or movement sense, position or “bone” sense, and force/tension sense. Of the three, this last sense, force/tension – the ability to know the exact degree of resistance you’re facing, and being able to respond with the appropriate level of tension to overcome or neutralize it – is the key to both legal defensibility and operational effectiveness in hostile subject control.

And what about the rest of the time?

Despite the occasional adrenaline-drenched encounter, dignitary protection isn’t usually so dramatic – at least not if you’ve done the proper advance work. We’re often simply standing watch for 8, 12, or even 36 hours straight: on our feet, on cement, on alert.

The physical monotony of long watch can wreak havoc of your awareness, draining blood from your brain and synovial fluid from your joints. Because of this discomfort, team members are often seen fidgeting from foot, knee and lower back pain.

Thanks to TACFIT, my joints are lubricated and primed for long periods of standing by a door or entryway without adverse effect. Despite having had my neck broken and my lower back blown out in martial arts competition, I felt no discomfort even after 5 straight days on assignment. If it weren’t for my daily conditioning, none of this would be possible or preventable.

As professionals, we must train daily how others never train at all: within the full spectrum of resistance that runs through the unique 4 day wave of intensity in TACFIT, as well as in the “sophisticated” tactically-specific skills contained therein.

Training TACFIT-style keeps me and my team safe at all times – or as safe as it’s possible to be when functioning as a human shield.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike July 13, 2010 at 6:50 am

Hey coach,

I saw that Tacfit Commando 2.0 is coming out? what is the difference, is it just a relaunch? I already have TC, so I am just wondering what is new. Thanks

M

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admin July 13, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Mike, much much much more in TCMDO2.0!!!

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Mike July 14, 2010 at 7:47 am

If I have Tacfit Commando already, do I have to buy 2.0 to get all the bonus stuff or do those already owning it have access to the additional content?

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Miykael July 14, 2010 at 8:11 am

Oh nvm. I see the new stuff in my download portal. Thanks for the bonuses and for creating these wonderful training programs!

M

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