29th Mar2012

Train Your Situational Awareness

by A.J.

What is Situational Awareness?

Your situational awareness is how closely your perception reflects the reality of the environment you find yourself in. Situational awareness for the tactical athlete is not only your environment, but also your effect on the environment and the danger or opportunity of that environment. For a military member it is often frustrating when we have to deal with civilians because of their inherent lack of situational awareness (like when they walk around with their face in the phone texting). The mere fact that we recognize that we are annoyed by them is again a part of situational awareness.

Developing Situational Awareness

Last week I had the honor of lecturing for a group of Air Force Special Operations CCTs and Tac-Ps and one conclusion we made was that situational awareness starts at the operator and radiates out. When you think about guys who need to have the SA switch in the up position there are few who need it more that CCT and TAC-P types. You mastery of situational awareness also will be affected by your ability to apply discipline to your attention, because attention is a limited resource you need to learn to prioritize that attention. When I am developing FNGs I give them what I believe to be a priority spectrum for paying attention and situational awareness and it is as follows:

  1. Threats; always prioritize your attention to threats before anything else
  2. Mission Requirements; If you don’t fulfill your mission there is no sense in leaving the wire, so resolve to accomplishing the mission or just stay in the rear.
  3. Opportunities; As you kick down doors and fulfill missions every so often a little bread crumb is dropped by the bad guys that we can use to potentially increase advantage so, if the tactical situation allows be sure to capitalize

The above is more a guideline of how to focus your SA but it doesn’t really give you a skill that you can use to develop your SA better. So when I talk to operators in my interviews and at the bars over a few beers I have found that there is a system that many of them use to get great SA in every situation and I want to share that with you guys. What I have seen guys use is an OCOKA analysis and here is a real quick overview of what that is.

OCOKA Use This Acronym And Make Super Human SA

A number of  you are familiar with the acronym OCOKA (OCOKA-W) and if you have a land warfare background you are rolling your eyes because it is such a basic tool but, for the rest of us I am going to define it:

  • O – Observations/Fields of fire; when you see an area and want to determine the value if any often the first thing you look for is whether you can use your weapon systems and optics to cover the surrounding areas.
  • C – Cover/Concealment; Standing on top of a van can give you great observations and fields of fire but provides no cover or concealment making it undesirable. (note for the record, Cover stops bullets and provides protection, Concealment just makes you unobservable to the enemy)
  • O – Obstacles; When a patrol is compromised because of a goat herder and a decision is made to let the herder go, be sure you aren’t backed against a terrain feature that will stop a hasty exfiltration. Obstacles are man-made and natural objects that will slow or stop progress of personnel or material
  • K – Key terrain features; A key terrain feature (which is often of less operational import in asymmetric war) is a man-made or natural feature that can provide an advantage to the force that occupies that feature. In an empty room a knocked over refrigerator can on a small-scale be a key terrain feature.
  • A – Avenues of Approach/High Speed Avenues of approach; Generally speaking an untrained opposition force will approach an objective from the most accessible convenient route. The fact that the enemy can arrive at a high rate of speed can be a force multiplier and give advantage in an otherwise equal match (though I often prefer stealth to speed)
  • W – Weather; The addition of weather to the acronym seems fairly recent to me but maybe it was there all along and the guys that taught me just decided to keep it from me but I think its impact is self-explanatory

What is Situational AwarenessHow Does This Help Situational Awareness?

OCOKA-W doesn’t provide all the information that relates to your environment but if you use it as a guideline to analyze any situation you are in you will be amazed how much more info you gather. So walk into a bar and in a split second decide where the most desirable tactical position is:

  • O- Where do I have to sit to see the most attractive people?
  • C- If a person I am avoiding walks in are there features I can use to mask my exit?
  • O- Is there a plant in a location between me and the plasma screen that will stop me from seeing the game?
  • K- The jute Box will have the highest number of females walking up to request lame 80’s music, is that desirable or annoying
  • A- If my spouse shows up where is that going to be from, I better keep an eye there

Now it may sound goofy but just that simple regimented approach to sitting in a bar can en grain skills that can save your life on operations overseas or even just playing airsoft with your buddies. Give it a shot and tell me how it works out for you. Be sure to put your email in on the right side to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss any future posts, thanks for stopping by.


29th Feb2012

Combat Mindset and Peak Performance

by A.J.

You are the Master of Your MindsetCheck Your Headspace and Timing

I spent the day with some guys I have worked with over at Magis Group who are without a doubt the leading performance optimization training company for the military and specifically Special Operations. We got to talking about what are some of the differences between a good operator and a great operator. The owner of Magis is a man named Stephen Robinson and it is clear after talking to Steve that there is a lot more to the mental preparation than simply “thinking positively.” The tactical mindset is a deliberate mental state you create through the use of a disciplined mind. Hopefully with some of the info I put down here you can start to develop a methodical approach to increasing you capacity to perform in a tactical environment.


“there is a big difference between being a good shot and being a good shooter”



After a few hours of talking I asked for one skill set I could use to improve how I perform, and I asked if I could share it with you guys and without missing a beat Steve gave me something pretty cool. He called it the “peak performance state.”

Developing a Peak Performance State

Or as I would say a “Peak Tactical Athletic Performance State.” So here it is sort of simplified but, enough to get us started.

1. Develop a ritual

When preparing for combat or just kitting up for training, do it the same way every time. I have a very specific order that I put on my gear, PCI my equipment and load my weapon systems (*ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, LOAD YOUR SECONDARY BEFORE YOUR PRIMARY) before I am ready to go. By doing it the same way you are using somatic (body movement) markers to train your mind and body to be ready. Just as certain body positions can trigger memories a ritual will prep your body for battle. As an added bonus if you do it the same way every time if you forget something it will feel wrong so you can correct the omission.


Tactical Mindset2. Eat for the Mission

Before a mission is no time to experiment with new foods or engage in gastronomical adventurism. The time to try new things is when there is nothing on the line and you aren’t required to perform. Bland food made of primarily complex carbos is probably going to be your best bet, avoid heavy protein and fats right before leaving the wire. Don’t worry the horrible chow hall food will be there when you get back.


3. Use a Mantra

A mantra is a few words that embody how you want to operate or what you expect from your self. The mantra doesn’t have to be a complex set of expectations but it should mean something to you and elicit a feeling state that is congruent with the mission. For what it is worth (probably not much) I always tell my self I am going to be “fast and accurate”, “I am going to engage targets fast and accurately”, “I am going to make decisions fast and accurately.” I know this may sound silly or useless for a few guys out there but I challenge you to try it and see if it works for you. Don’t make a huge scene with your team mates just quietly psych your self up.


4.Get in Character

There is nothing I hate more than when I am out training or on a mission and I know one of the guys I depend on is daydreaming or for some reason isn’t 100% focused on the task at hand. When you head out you are one thing and one thing only; you are a warrior on a mission who will stop at nothing to accomplish what is expected of you! You will have time later to worry about your bills, your spouse and whether you closed the garage door. If you can’t leave that stuff behind then you need to figure out who can replace you on the mission, it may sound harsh but in the real world when it gets ugly I don’t need fathers, brothers, or great husbands all I need are mission accomplishing machines who will stop at nothing to do the job and get the team back safe. Actors in Hollywood say they can get in “character” when they have to so I know the men and women who carry the banner of freedom should have no problem. Part of getting in character is your mental state; think about a time you performed at you best and recreate it in your mind, this should help stimulate your senses and get you motivated to go to work.


5. Be Present

Performance happens in the present, past performance doesn’t guarantee future success and the only easy day was yesterday. If you are in a surreal state of dissociation you can not perform at your peak. Studies have shown that Special Forces and SEAL candidates who try to mentally dissociate from selection have a much lower pass rate than those who just endure the moment and don’t save anything for later. Often times a mission can get out of hand fast, when the bullets are flying you can see it in the eyes of the new guy that he is just barely holding on to reality. One trick I use is I wiggle my toes in my boots and take a deep breath, it places me in the present and readies me to be an active participant in the mission. This can also be used to get other team members who have hit a limit get back online, grab a hold of him and ask him if he is ready to move to the next problem , tell him to take a deep breath because you are depending on him to do his job.



These are skills that many of you guys already do to some degree or another, I know that because I have out briefed hundreds of combat vets and they have told me as much. You may use some of these and not others but, I would ask you to try it out before you discount it off-hand. You should be using this stuff both in tactical situations and non tactical for example: When I get home from work I open my safe and put my guns away (ritual) I get out of my uniform or work cloths and change (get in character) I take a deep breath and release any unneeded mental residue from the day (being present) and I tell myself I am going to go upstairs and be the best husband I can be (mantra) then I say hello to the wife and grab a beer (eat for the mission). As I write this I can actually hear your eyes rolling in your head, but I challenge you to take this approach to anything you want to accomplish and I defy you to come back and tell me it hasn’t fundamentally changed that way you approach your job, relationships and life. I would like to thank you for reading this post and spending time on the site and I would also like to thank Stephen Robinson for his permission to use some of his basic skills to help out other operators. Please check out the “Affiliates Section” to the right and proceed to buy things you would anyway from great sites like Bodybuilding.com because half the proceeds go to awesome charities like the Special Operations Foundation. If you feel you got some value out of this post I would really appreciate any feedback you have to give (I try to respond to them all) and thank you for sharing on your social network of choice.



17th Jan2012

Armbars, Combat and the Tactical Athlete

by A.J.

A well executed armbar can quickly end a fight

A few years ago I wrote a concept brief for the Army Special Operations community with respect to a few basic Mixed Martial Arts techniques I thought every person who is called upon to fight in combat should know. I later penned a similar article and farmed it out on the internet under the pen name “Abel Cossas” (google it, somehow it ended up everywhere). In the concept brief I talked about how much training time it would take to make an operator proficient in 15 basic moves and how it could help them achieve objectives and I always wanted to revisit that list and teach those specific moves.

Here is the first of many (hopefully) installments on that idea to get the force informed on what I think we should all know. Now I understand that in a gun fight the last thing you want to be doing is rolling around on the floor trying to submit an opponent but, that not withstanding I feel that providing our operators with some basic fall back on skills can’t really hurt either. As a side note I believe that training in MMA also provides a mental edge to the military athlete that can help provide a holistic solution to the problem of creating military fitness both mental and physical.


04th Aug2011

Embrace the Suck

by A.J.

The following is by a very well known Ranger/ Green Beret who asked to be kept anonymous but ,who I can assure you if you have spent more than 5 minutes in the industry you have work by, with or through this guy; he is a huge icon in the community. The second nutrition section is also by an expert in the field who must be kept anonymous also these two guys are like the Stig in Top Gear. Below is an example of when a Tactical Athlete is faced with extremes. These extremes take a toll on the body and mind and will eventually lower output and performance. As a tactical athlete these conditions give birth to what is called the catabolic state. In this Catabolic state the Banshee will be sucking the life right out of your bones. It is essential to be able to recognize and overcome the effects of this catabolic state and stay at optimal performance levels.