Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hick's Law - The Confusion Explained

Hick's Law - Reaction Time in Combat
     "How modern research challenges the misuse of the 60-plus-year-old Hick's Law!"

     (For about ten years now this article, at two different URL addresses - this now the third - has been number 1 for Hick's Law searches. A ton of college students have agreed with this, as well as modern, college professors and sports trainers. But this article has also reeked some havoc in smaller quarters. I have been called names and verbally attacked, I guess for challenging some old doctrines. (You know it gets bad when they curse you and accuse you of helping rapists by confusing the self-defense training of women.)


     Remember when saying, "I'll be there in a second!" meant that you would be there very fast? A second is a very fast and elusive time. Now imagine milliseconds. Can you? Did you know there are 1,000 milliseconds splitting one second? Can you imagine that split? How fast can you go? How fast can you get?  In fighting and in sports, we all know "action beats reaction." 

     If you are reacting to an attack, as the good guys generally are, you are already behind the action curve. Just how behind is your response--or any response to anything--that scientists have labored intensely to discover over the last 100 years? 

     Like splitting the atom, scientists have split the single second into one thousand parts. We usually see milliseconds only discussed in the Olympics and car or horse races.
      "She lost by 44 milliseconds!" 

     ... we hear. Wow! And we wonder what infinitesimal event occurred during the race that lost her a 44-millisecond lead. A small breeze at the turn of lap 5? A muscle twitch? One careless thought? Olympic athletes have complained about the seams on their uniforms slowing them done. A butterfly's wing flutter 50 feet above? What? How fast can we go? How fast can we think? How fast can we react anyway?
     But it was about 30 years ago in the late 1980s when I attended a police defensive tactics course and was rather insulted by the attitude of the P.P.C.T. instructor. We were treated like Neanderthals. He declared, 

     “KISS! Keep it simple, stupid. Hick's Law says that it takes your mind too long to choose between two tactics. Worse with three! Therefore, I will show you only one response." 

     I wondered then and there--am I to stay this simple and stupid my whole life? Who is this Hick, and what is his law? It takes too long to know three things? How long was long? How long is TOO long, I wondered? We learned one block versus a high punch that day. What about against a low punch, I thought? My one high block fails to cover much else but that one high attack. Plus, this was contrary to ALL sports, martial arts, military, and police training I'd received up to that point. I first thought this statement a quirk; then I began to see the message spread. It seemed my choices were on some sort of mental Rolodex that I had to laboriously thumb through and inspect to find a single response? All while being beaten or slaughtered.

    Later that evening while coaching my son's little league baseball team, I saw this very same police instructor coaching his boy's team on another ball field. He was teaching 10-year-olds to multi-task and make split-second decisions as his infielders worked double plays with runners on base. It was clear the coach expected more from these kids than he did from us adult cops that morning. Hick's Law was not to be found on that kid's baseball diamond.
     Intrigued, next I slid both feet into this base thing called Hick's Law to discover it was a growing favorite among law enforcement trainers. Other famous police trainers kept mentioning Hick's Law:

     “... selection time gets compounded exponentially when a person has to select from several choices.”

      "... it takes 58 percent more time to pick between two choices."

     “... it takes 'about a second' to pick one tactic out of two tactics.”

     “... lag time increases significantly with the greater number of techniques.”
      "...tests have shown that when an individual has too many choices the result can be that they make no choice at all."  

      Six or more choices really runs the response time numbers up! Four hundred milliseconds to choose or two, four, or even six seconds to Rolodex through all of them? Remember the police trainer's quote of "about a second per choice?" Let's go back to the ol' ball game. We expect a common shortstop in baseball to perform a select list of actions instantly, thoughtlessly, and at the crack of the bat. The baseball shortstop is expected to:

  •      Catch a ground ball to his left, or
  •      Catch a ground ball to his center, or
  •      Catch a ground ball straight at him, or
  •      Catch a line drive, or
  •      Catch a pop-up, or
  •      Tag a runner out, or
  •      Catch the ball traversing across second base for a double play, or
  •      Instantly consider consequences to the overall game, like diving for the ball or missing.

      But all this in a world of milliseconds, what is the definition of "significant time"? And 58 percent of what? What exactly is "about a second"? And what do they mean by "exponentially"? "Compounded"? I had to delve even deeper into these very cavalier statements. If I was going to become this pessimistic, I needed more proof. I hit the textbooks and contacted the experts. (And no internet back then! The info explosion came decades later and is all here.
     The actual original Hick's idea was based on a computer study, a paper written in 1952 that simply set up an equation that states it takes time to decide between options. Just for the record, the equation is "TR+a+b{Log2 (N)}." A computer performance study? Do you think that 1950's computers ran a bit slow? This 1950's idea was then extrapolated into human performance? Usually based on very primitive, 1950's old "see-then-push-button" tests were used. The lab method had the testee selecting from several buttons on sudden command. Somehow from this 1950's button-test, I suddenly couldn't learn two punches in the 1980s? The mythology of the slow brain, the slow, stuttering, decision-making brain premise developed into a modern combatives training doctrine thanks to some people reading, misusing, and misinterpreting Hick's Law. Today, programmers still ponder Hick's, like when they make long menu lists on web pages, preferring to use shorter lists to attract customers with short attention spans.
     Jason Gross of Smashing Magazine, a popular publication about computer science says, "We have to remember that Hick's Law did not come about with the invention of the Internet. Hick's research simply shed light on how a website's options (choices/menus) affect the speed and ease of the user's decision making. This makes for a pretty broad scope because we aren't measuring physical responses…."

     What now? Not about measuring physical responses? Then why are all these instructors ragging on about Hicks Law then? Those extrapolating computer screen readings over to physical fighting often use the term "exponentially time for decision making." Instructors often ignorantly tag Hick's Law with "exponential math." Bear with me as I repeat the math experts here--"any exponential function is a constant multiple of its own derivative." 

     That is bad enough, but many still just blindly associate a never-ending, doubling ratio to Hick's Law- that is, for every two choices, selection time doubles per added choice. Yet, despite all these quotes on times, Hick made no official proclamation on the milliseconds it takes to mentally decide between options. Meanwhile, experts say that logarithm math actually relates more to Hick's, not the doubling ratio. Still, doubling persists in trainers' minds, doctrines, and outlines.
     There is a general consensus in the modern kinesiology community that "Simple Reaction Time," called SRT, takes an average of 100 or 150 milliseconds to decide to take any action. That's considerably less than a quarter of a second, or 250 milliseconds, or a 500-millisecond "half-a-second," or the loss of "about a second" we hear from martial trainers.
     Based on the doubling/exponentially rule with the commonly discussed SRT average, then choosing between two choices must take 300 milliseconds. Run out that timetable. Three choices? Six hundred milliseconds. Four choices? One second and 200 milliseconds. A mere five choices? Two seconds and 400 milliseconds! Six? Four full seconds and 800 milliseconds. Should a boxer only learn one or two tactics? A few moves would mean nine seconds and 600 milliseconds to choose one tactic from another? You would really see people physically shut down while trying to select options at this point and beyond. Has this been your viewing experience of a football game? Basketball? Tennis? Has this been your experience as a witness to life? Under this casual, exponential increase rule, it would seem athletes would stand dumbfounded as index cards rolled through their heads in an attempt to pick a choice of action. Every eye jab could not be blocked if the blocker was taught even just two blocks. The eye attack would hit the eyes as the defender sluggishly selects between the two blocks.
     One then begins to wonder how a football game can be played, how a jazz pianist functions, or how a bicyclist can pedal himself in a New York City rush hour. How does a boxer, who sees a split-second opening, select a jab or a cross, hook, uppercut, overhand combination, or to step back straight, right, or left? If he dares to throw combination punches, how can he select them so quickly?
     Simple, modern athletic performance studies attack the simplistic, loose "doubling rule," but we need not just look to athletes. How can a typist type so quickly? Look at all the selections on a computer? Twenty-six letters plus options! How can you read this typed essay? How can your mind select and process from 26 different letters in the alphabet and spell with speed? How can an elderly person drive a car across town? A child play soccer? It is obvious that the exponential rule of “doubling” with each option has serious scientific problems when you run a simple math table out or just look about you at everyday life. And, despite the constant use of the word exponentially by quoters, real experts clarify that logarithms should be used. These exponentials or logarithms, the math of many choices, do not play in the life we see around us.
     New tests upon new tests on skills like driving vehicles, flying, sports, and psychology have created so many layers of fresh information. Larish and Stelmach in 1982 established that one could select from 20 complex options in 340 milliseconds, providing the complex choices have been previously trained. One other study even had a reaction time of .03 milliseconds between two trained choices--.03! Merkel's Law, for example, says that trouble begins when a person has to select between eight choices, but can still select a choice from the eight well under 500 milliseconds. Brace yourself! Mowbray and Rhodes Law of 1959 or the Welford Law of 1986 even found no difference in reaction time at all when selecting from numerous, well-trained choices.
     Why all these time differences? Sometimes experts challenge test results by questioning the test process and equipment involved. In 2003, I conducted an email survey of 50 college university professors of Psychology and Kinesiology. It is crystal clear that training makes a considerable difference in reaction time. Plus, people, tests, and testing equipment are different. Respondents state that every person and the skills they perform in tests vary, so reaction times vary. One universal difficulty mentioned by researchers is the mechanical task of splitting the second in their testing--that is, identifying the exact millisecond that the tested reaction took place. Many recorded tests are performed by undergrads in less than favorable conditions.
     The test givers themselves have reaction time issues that effect time recording in their tests. When milliseconds count, milliseconds can be wasted as the testers see the testees react, then react with a stopwatch device, either estimating or losing milliseconds in their own reaction processes. Common test machinery takes milliseconds to register a choice. Results can get vague and slippery within the tiny world of a single second. Documenting milliseconds in the 1950s through the 1980s was primitive compared to modern, sophisticated labs.
     Discoveries made in the 1990s, decades well after the 1950's Hick's Law began, blowing the original, antiquated "mental Rolodex/task selection" concept out of the water as an important martial training tenet. The brain has a fast track! Below, researchers Martin D. Topper, Ph.D., and Jack M. Feldman, Ph.D., write about them:
     "Currently, the best explanation is provided by psychologist Gary Klein, Senior Scientist at MacroCognition LLC, in his Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. He's proposed that the human brain is capable of multi-tasking. Gary's theory works like this:

     "A visual image is picked up by the retina and is transmitted to the visual center of the brain in the occipital lobe. From there the image is sent to two locations in the brain. On the one hand, it goes to the higher levels of the cerebral cortex, which is the seat of full conscious awareness. There, in the frontal lobes, the image is available to be recognized, analyzed, input into a decision process, and acted upon as the person considers appropriate. Let's call this 'the slow track' because full recognition of the meaning of a visual image, analyzing what it represents, deciding what to do, and then doing it takes time. Some psychologists also refer to this mental process as 'System II cognition.' If you used System II cognition in critical situations like a skid, you wouldn't have enough time to finish processing the OODA Loop before your car went over the cliff.
      "Fortunately, there's a second track, which we'll call "the fast track" or 'System I Cognition.' In this system, the image is also sent to a lower, per-conscious region of the brain, which is the amygdala. This area of the brain stores visual memory and performs other mental operations as well. The visual image is compared here on a per-conscious level at incredible speed with many thousands of images that are stored in memory. Let's call each image a 'frame,' which is a term that Dr. Erving Goffman used in his book Frame Analysis to describe specific, cognitively-bounded sets of environmental conditions. I like to use the word 'frame' here because the memory probably contains more than just visual information. There may be sound, kinesthetic, tactile, olfactory, or other sensory information that also helps complement the visual image contained within the frame--fortunately, the fast and slow tracks are usually complementary, one focusing on insight, the other on action. Together they produce a synergistic effect that enhances the actor's chances of survival." - Gary Klein
     But even though these two tracks are complementary, we know that some people seem to be much more skilled than others at integrating System 1 and System 2. These especially competent individuals seem to resolve critical situations and also adapt to rapid changes in those situations. They invent routines they have never before performed and act in a fluid, seamless manner without employing full focal awareness.
     So at this point in our understanding, we have newer models discovered and developing that tell us something about how the brain can operate on two tracks at the same time, but we don't really have a good idea of how the two levels interact except to say that the interaction is very fast and complex, and some people do it better than others. We really don't know everything we'd like to know. But we do know that specific types of training can help a person develop unconscious competence, and this is enough to make some suggestions about the kind of training that will help make relatively unskilled people more competent in finding solutions to potentially violent encounters. 
     And then this news on BDNF: Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor:
     "If I had to make a signal that could write messages on the brain from the environment, that would be BDNF." Scientists at Johns Hopkins and the National Cancer Institute have found a "missing link" brain chemical that rises and falls quickly in response to stress, fear, or an upbeat mood and then sculpts nerve circuits in the brain accordingly. Their report on work done appears in the December 21, 1999, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
     Further, because research at Hopkins and elsewhere shows that BDNF levels vary with a subject's experience as it goes down in stressful situations ..., BDNF has all the right features to be the critical signal by which environmental and psychosocial interactions impact on the brain," says neuropathologist Dr. Vassilis E. Koliatsos. "It's very rapid, it's sensitive, and it affects a system critical for emotional life and behavior. What we believe we've found is a link between what happens to a person on a daily basis and the way the brain responds, from an emotional standpoint, over the long term."  
     Dr. Susan Greenfield has written The Quest For Identity in the 21st Century, in which she discusses the natural ways the human brain grows and adapts. "I'm a neuroscientist, and my day-to-day research at Oxford University strives for an ever greater understanding--and, therefore, maybe one day a cure for Alzheimer's disease. But one vital fact I have learned is that the brain is not the unchanging organ that we once imagined. It not only goes on developing, changing, and, in some tragic cases, eventually deteriorating with age, it is also substantially shaped by what we do to it and by the experience of daily life. When I say 'shaped,' I'm not talking figuratively or metaphorically; I'm talking literally. At a microcellular level, the infinitely complex network of nerve cells that make up the constituent parts of the brain actually change in response to certain experiences and stimuli. The brain, in other words, is malleable. The surrounding environment has a huge impact both on the way our brains develop and how a brain is transformed into a unique human mind."
     Doctors Richard A. Schmidt (a decades-long expert) and Timothy Donald Lee in the groundbreaking 1980's book and subsequent new editions, Motor Control and Learning, reported that task selection is made up of two parts, RT (reaction time)--seeing the problem--and MT (movement time)--physically moving to respond--and thus may be a "few milliseconds" for fast, simple chores, not this compounding, exponential, doubling, half-second, and full second formats.
     And another major factor, so simply explained in a sentence or two, concerns "arousal." Arousal is another word for alertness and also adrenaline in performance sports and psychology. "One of the most investigated factors affecting reaction time is 'arousal' or state of attention, including muscular tension. Reaction time is fastest with an intermediate level of arousal and deteriorates when the subject is either too relaxed or too tense." (Welford, 1980; Broadbent, 1971; Freeman, 1933).
     Practice helps. Dr. Robert J. Kosinski of Clemson University reported on his research in September of 2010: "Sanders (1998, p. 21) cited studies showing that when subjects are new to a reaction time task, their reaction times are less consistent than when they've had an adequate amount of practice. Ando et al., 2002, found that reaction time to a visual stimulus decreased with three weeks of practice, and the same research team (2004) reported that the effects of practice last for at least three weeks. Fontani et al., 2006, showed that in karate, more experienced practitioners had shorter reaction times...." Visser et al., 2007.
     Nine decades of performance testing and technology have passed since Hick's simple little "Computer Choice Law," with new technology and testing on athletes as well as regular, everyday people. Not only are the testing methods better and the understanding superior, so are the new methodologies created to increase SRT and selection times. Perhaps no better statement damning the Hick's Law model as a foundation in physical training can be found than from neuroplastician Dr. Michael Merzenich, regarded among experts as a leading source on the human brain when reporting in the book The Brain that Changes Itself, "We can change the very structure of the brain and increase its capacity … unlike a computer, the brain is constantly adapting itself."
     In 2012, in the new book, Wait, the Art and Science of Delay, Professor Frank Partnoy collects numerous studies on the split-second or millisecond-second decision-making of mental and physical choices. He has all the very latest 2012 medical and psychological testing on sports, self-defense, and on down to fast-paced internet stock trading. It is interesting to note that in this new book, the infamous Hick's Law is not even mentioned, not a whisper. That is how research has advanced in this field from the 1950s.
     In many ways, Wait refutes a former bestseller, Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, by proving that the very best-of-the-best performers know how to delay reaction to the last--well--millisecond, making the best choice. The secret? Some genetics and a lot of proper training. Blink tells the reader to go with your first impulse. Wait tells you to go with your last impulse. All these choices occur in less than a second anyway, and the book makes for good reading. 

     It breaks down the three critical steps--vision, decision, and reaction averages--all in the milliseconds arena with the latest high-technology and knowledge. About 100 milliseconds to see, about 200 milliseconds to decide what to do among several choices, and about 200 milliseconds to act. Here we go again with that phrase "about half a second." (BUT! This does not increase exponentially or in a logarithm with multiple choices.)  

     Perception, Cognition, and Decision Training, a fantastic textbook written just seven years ago by Dr. Joan Vickers, is all about response time. 

     In quick summary here, Vickers barely mentions Hick's Law, but for two "historical paragraphs" referencing the obligatory history of the subject. She states that Hick's selection times can easily be increased by simple training. For more on this, you must absolutely read this book. Click here.

      How can we possibly improve reaction times?

     Aside from the fact that the generic Hick's Law exists within in a small world of 1,000 milliseconds within one single second, here are some proven methods that improve overall reaction time:
     * Sequential Learning--the stringing of tasks working together like connected notes in music really reduces reaction and selection time.
     * Conceptual Learning--is another speed track. In relation to survival training, this means a person first makes an either/or conceptual decision like “Shoot/Don't shoot” or “Move In/Move Back.” Rather than selecting from a series of hand strikes in Conceptual Learning, the boxer does not waste milliseconds selecting specific punches, but rather makes one overall decision, “punch many times!” The trained body then takes over following paths learned from prior repetition training.
     * Implicit and Procedural Memory--Misinformed proponents of Hick's Law would have you believe that people are forever stumbling buffoons when given three or more options to choose from. Yet, in Dr. Lee Dye's 2009 article for ABC News, "How the Brain Makes Quick Decisions,” he reports: "[People] … have been helped by a kind of human memory that scientists have been struggling to understand.” Dye reports that people use "implicit" memory, a short-term memory that people are not consciously aware they are using. Doctors Ken Paller at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and Joel L. Voss from the Beckman Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have conducted long-term research on this subject; and while they did not specifically involve athletics, the conclusions are consistent with other researchers who are also studying how top athletes can make split-second decisions and take action. How does a batter hit a fastball when he has to start swinging the bat before the ball even leaves the pitcher's hand? “He relies on visual cues, even if he doesn't know it.” Athletes and people learn to predict and act and react spontaneously based on very little information. One way is implicit memory.

       Implicit memory (IM) is a type of memory in which previous experiences aid in the performance of a task without conscious awareness of these previous experiences. People rely on implicit memory in a form called procedural memory--the type of memory that allows people to remember how to tie their shoes or ride a bicycle without consciously thinking about these activities. Implicit memory taps into procedural memory.

     One more definition in this chain of memory and performance. Procedural memory. Connecting small multi-tasks and problem solving. Examples of procedural learning are learning to ride a bike, learning to touch-type, learning to play a musical instrument, learning to swim, and performing athletic tasks like sports. For our readers, here this includes martial moves, fighting, self-defense, and combatives. Experts report that procedural memory can be very durable, however perishable, like any task. And the physical fitness to perform these tasks may not be so durable. Given the ravages of aging, a pro tennis player away from the game for many years is still likely to pick up a tennis racket and beat most common tennis players, but not qualify for Wimbledon.

The Good, the Bad, and the Simple

     Sure, sure, sure, simple is good. I am all for simple. Absolutely. And there is the old, great expression -

 “Our training should be designed to be as simple as possible 
and as complex as is necessary,”

     What a key phrase, "as complex as is necessary." Dwell on that phrase, please. 

     And reaction time is an important concern when you are dodging a knife, pulling a gun, etc. And there may actually come a point in a learning progression when there are way, way too many reactions/techniques to counter an attack; and if these moves are a bit unnatural, not guided somewhat by some natural reflex, and taught poorly and out of context, a long list of untrained movements may cause performance problems. Poor systems and poor training may lead to untimely confusion. But we are not as simple and slow as Hick's Law misleaders want to scare us into believing.
     It seems like the last eight decades, Hick's legacy should really be telling us to train more and smarter, not necessarily to be stupid and learn less. Remember one of Einstein's Laws also applies--“Keep it simple …but not too simple.” I like the sound of that much better.

     I report this information to remind us that we are not the slugs of Hick's Law, slimed into slow motion, trapped within a brain that runs like a 1950's Morse Code program. Take a moment to renew confidence and examine new, 21st Century discoveries of our brain....
     Dr. M. Blackspear of the Brain Dynamics Center at the University of Sydney, Australia, reports that the: "… study of functional inter-dependences between brain regions is a rapidly growing focus of neuroscience research. This endeavor has been greatly facilitated by the appearance of a number of innovative methodologies for the examination of neurophysiological and neuroimaging data." This Blackspear statement was made about the amazing new discoveries in 2005 and of how fast, repeat HOW FAST, the healthy human brain changes and adapts "on the fly"--which is the new medical catch phrase for such studies on this now. People select and change options "mid-flight" in milliseconds split into milliseconds.
     Intelligence matters as a variable. "The link between intelligence and reaction time is reviewed in Deary et al., 2001. Serious mental retardation produces slower and more variable reaction times. Among people of normal intelligence, there is a slight tendency for more intelligent people to have faster reaction times, but there is much variation between people of similar intelligence." (Nettelbeck, 1980) The speed advantage of more intelligent people is greatest on tests requiring complex responses. (Schweitzer, 2001) This study alone destroys the 60-year-old Hick's Law.
     "Stimulus–response compatibility" is known to also affect reaction time for the Hick's Law. This means that the response should be similar to the stimulus itself. For example, turning a wheel to turn the wheels of the car is good stimulus–response compatibility. The action the user performs is similar to the response the driver receives from the car. Hitting a red button when another red button comes on. Similarity. Familiarity. Training creates this similarity and familiarity.

     Earlier I listed the scary quote "...tests have shown that when an individual has too many choices the result can be that they make no choice at all." This is in direct relation to sales, purchases, customers and computer menus - all topics where you find the transactions of Hick's Law today. Not jabs or crosses, or tackles, or shooting a gunman.

     Decisions all to be executed in the sheer "splitest" of a split second? Then, our ape-man ball player has even more split-second, follow-up decisions to make with runners on different bases. Even a child playing shortstop has a lot to decide and very fast, AND can do it faster than four or six seconds or more! I hope that the police trainer I mentioned at the beginning of this essay is reading this and applies it not just when he teaches his kids in Little League, but when he teaches his adults in law enforcement tactics. In fact, I hope all martial instructors are reading this and paying attention?  

In Summary

     Recently in 2011, someone accused me of claiming that Hick's Law doesn't exist and that I was ignorant of what Hick's Law really is. Of course, it exists. A Mr. William Edmund Hick existed. This British psychologist, Mr. Hick, created a test; and his test had results. The results were that response took time. The central point of all this reaction research? Milliseconds. It is really about milliseconds. Remember, there are 1,000 milliseconds in a second! Various studies produce various millisecond results. All have improved on the Hick's 1950's response times, yet trainers use this law because of their "dumb-down" agendas, or they are ignorant and just regurgitate other trainers. 
     Probably the single reason Hick's Law has spread in the last few decades in the police, martial, and military fields is to use it as a sales pitch to sell training programs.
I openly blame Bruce Siddle's archaic, P.P.C.T., and Tony Blauer's SPEAR program as main spreaders of this blather.  Others hear this, and mindlessly regurgitate it. The thoughtless virus spreads.

     But just how fast can we get? How dumb should we be to fight back confusion and stalling out? Don't ask Mr. Hick from the 1950s. Mr. Hick was not conducting tests on baseball or fighting, and the 1950's computer he used long ago became a stone-age museum piece.

     1) Hick's Law certainly exists, in its most generic sense of an idea. Things do take milliseconds.
     2) There are 1,000 milliseconds within one second. Not many know this. Almost no one can conceive just how fast 100, 250, 500, or even 750 milliseconds actually are.

     3) There are other, more modern reaction studies with differing and even faster results than Hick's.

     4) Hick's Law is misused. It is misunderstood. It is blindly regurgitated and overrated in training courses.

     5) These misuses and misunderstandings are frequently used to sell training programs or to feign certain expertise.

     6) Hick's Law  is often used to dumb down police, military, and martial arts programs.

     7) People can only get so fast within these milliseconds anyway.

     8) Hick's widely accepted version of math and expanding delays between multiple choices cannot be played out in the reality we witness in our daily lives around us or the common sports events even children play successfully.

     9) Many other definable issues can cause choice delay. And ALL these delays simply cannot be blamed on the Hick's Law principle.

   10) Hick's Law and its milliseconds are virtually inconsequential as a martial training tenet.


     Read much more! 

     Thinking Fast and Slow By Daniel Kahneman


     Here's a book that inspects the thinking and decision process in a very big and modern way and immaculately researched by this Nobel expert--the author himself. This is NOT a book about fighting, though police, military, and firefighters are often referenced. This is about thinking fast and slow. And while not about Hick's Law, it explains functions of the brain that the ignorant often tag as Hick's Law reaction time problems. There are many more reasons for performance delay than the overcrowded Rolodex theory.
     Even more! How can the world's fastest men appear to be dullards when taking the Hick's test?  And you absolutely must read my article on how the "World's Fastest Men FAILED Hick's Law Light Bulb Test." Click here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Where Do You Draw the Line on the Gear You Carry?

     Another confession? I am a tactical tourist. Oh, the shame. The stigma.

     No, not a person who travels the world like a smart tourist with ultra-light, waterproof clothes and my museum and restaurant guide in the ready. No, not that kind of vacation tourist. I am just a guy going through my suburban life with very little survival gear. Sometimes I dare enter urban areas, too, ... gulp ... yes, you read right! URBAN areas and with very little gear. Places where people apparently must have Ph.D.s in URBAN fighting just to get through the day!

     Through the years, we have heard the term "tactical lifestyle" and along with it the brag –

"I, (or we) live a ... tactical lifestyle."

     And that does sound cool. But several of us in the training business wonder if they know what they are saying and doing compared to the big picture. As the old, wise expression goes - "there's what you know, what you don't know, and what you don't know you don't know." Do these proclaimers actually know where they fit in the "action-guy chart"? The full spectrum of war and crime?

     My friend Mick Coup in the U.K. came up with another term - the "tactical tourist." A visitor to the world of tactics. In and out. But also never really "in" for most folks. Mostly out, looking in and misunderstanding their status.

     I have seen various under-channels, or sub-channels, in the cable TV systems around the USA with shows on hunting, guns, and self-defense - mostly about guns. Or, we see similar news or features on YouTube and on Facebook. Hey, how about all those gun magazines? The other day I counted fifteen different gun magazines on a shelf in a common supermarket. Fifteen! More than any other genre like fitness or even women's makeup or gossip rags. Fifteen! Shows you where the money is. Inside the mags are numerous articles about extreme safety and survival ala gun themes (after all, they are gun magazines). Some folks call them "gun porn." The editors, writers, and readers worry over gear and the three generic problems, the "street" gun fight, the "anywhere" armed robbery, and the home invasion. Maybe a kidnapping thrown in. From these three problems, tons and tons of deep and deeper, redundant material spews forth. That and well ... gear. Gear, gear, and more and more gear.

     Firearms expert Massod Ayoob said recently:

     "There seems to be an unwritten law on the gun-related Internet saying, 'If you carry less than I do, you’re a pathetic sheeple, and if you carry more than I do, you’re a paranoid mall ninja.' Forgive me if I can’t buy into either of those attitudes."

     So where do you draw the line? Certainly most of the readers here and of those magazines are everyday, very normal people doing everyday normal things in life, yet these cable, magazine, and media folks are really loaded for bear with guns, ammo, lights, knives, med kits, and that bracelet thingy that unstrings into an emergency length of rope for ... for ... emergency repelling? Garroting a sentry? I have seen a complete belt that unravels into a survival emergency cord.

     It is a bit of a fad on Facebook to photograph one's "everyday carry" - the things a person carries every day to be prepared for any and everything between sudden Armageddon to an obnoxious panhandler. Guns, knives, ammo, cords, phones, and Ninja key chain. Spray. Odd-shaped, hand-held plastic devices you must also carry to strike recalcitrant people. These seem to be the common carry for the best-prepared soul. Everyone else must marvel then at these photos - at the tactical brilliance of the collection in your pockets, I guess?

     In one of those cable TV features, they covered a segment of a completely over-armed woman in a short walk to the mailbox. Some folks go purchase milk prepped like they are being dropped into Cambodia for a week. Do you wear a medical kit in the small of your back when going to buy a birthday card in a gift shop two miles from your house? Some folks I've heard of wear pistols all day long inside their own houses. The fear of the home invasion or that sudden gun battle right outside. I can't discuss this subject without mentioning the extreme Americans standing around on street corners or in Walmarts with AR-15s and shotguns strapped on their torsos or hung from unnecessary, tactical vests with lanyards.

     "But ... but, Hock, when you need a gun...." Oh, here comes the speech. But before you go all hyper-sensitive on me, there's nothing wrong with carrying a "pistola" around. Carrying a gun is not the point here. Or a knife. But how many? Along with an MRE? And a food poison kit in case the MRE is bad? Is there a water purifier pen stuffed in your sock? Don't laugh! I know a guy who has one when he flies. As if when he survives the plane crash, he can find and crawl to bad water? You carry a small flashlight. What about batteries for that light then? And when those batteries expire? How much stuff and backup stuff and backup to the backup stuff do you think you need? Where do you draw the line on the gear?

"Where do you draw the line on the gear you carry"?

     "Greywolf,"a former federal agent and military veteran who has deployed to combat theaters in Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan and has almost three decades of military and military contracting experience of Greywolf Survival, says that the expression "two is one, one is none" is a fallacy. He says people follow it blindly because it sounds cool. He advised that much thought should go into what "redundant" gear you carry. I think he is correct.

     For example, in the past if I was on a special task force with a mission, say a Fugitive Round-Up Task Force or a robbery stake-out, I would "dress more for the proverbial bear." I would double this and that. Haul around something special. In some ways, the "two is one, one is none" approach. In some ways. But then as a normal, everyday detective, I would carry considerably less. Way, way less. Way less than some of the citizens, cable TV stars, and magazine authors and their followers suit up for in a quick run to buy Frosted Flakes or aspirin.

     When I was in the patrol divisions here and overseas? Yeah - I had my Batman/Sam Brown belt, which held considerable less techno than today's options, but I also had support gear in the patrol car. We all made a calculated guess on what we wore, what was left in the trunk, and also on what we took with us from the trunk call-to-call-to-call. How far will we probably travel from the car? Experience and training can offer darn good guesses. The pros still do this every day.

     For example, as cops we know to carry a flashlight because even at clear-sky, high noon we find ourselves in a dark dingy basement. I always had a hand axe in my trunk, because if the call or the situation developed where I might need one (like wall penetration or rescue), I would dash back to the car and get it. I did not walk around 24-7 with an Army Ranger Tomahawk on my belt (and by the way, the local Home Depot has real cheap and wonderful  rubber-handled axes - at a fraction of the cost over those tantalizing Conan war axes for sale).

     If we/they are smart, we answer these questions on many levels, big and small:

     Who are you exactly?
     What are you really doing?
     Where are you really going?
     When are you going?
     How will you actually go?
     Why are you going there in the first place?

     The menu of life! The "Ws and the H" - the who, what, where, when, how, and why module I use to decipher life and problems; we discuss these issues. Who are you? What are you doing? Where are you going? What is your mission, etc.? Mission?  Each W and H has many questions, big and small.

     In the June, 2015, edition of Scientific American Magazine, NOVA host David Pogue wrote, "It's not all the industry's fault, though; we like to surround ourselves with unnecessary features. It's the SUV Syndrome: people who are non-farmers in non-mountainous areas buy more cars than they need - you know, in case there is a flash flood on the drive to Whole Foods."

     To me, a true "tactical lifestyle" title belongs to somebody who is on a forward operating base on a mountain in Afghanistan where they are mortared every day and assaulted once a week by Al Qaeda. THAT is living the tactical lifestyle. Are you a street cop in the projects of Baltimore? Detroit? Or in Berkeley or Beverly Hills, California? Some people have a greater "danger meter."

     Most everyone else (my retired self included) just lives the meager, lowly, tactical tourist lifestyle.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Six Myths of Police Training That Inhibit Effective Learning

     I thought about breaking it down one by one to force discussion. But, nonetheless, here it all is at once from Dr. Bill Lewinski's Force Science College/Institute. It is NOT just limited to police training.

Six Myths of Police Training That Inhibit Effective Learning

     As police training moves toward a more scientific base, certain widely accepted concepts in the teaching of physical skills are being challenged as myths that actually impede learning and, most important, retention.

     Robert Bragg, Jr., manager of fitness, force, and firearms training for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission's Academy, called out some of these flawed premises during a presentation on applying science to psychomotor skill instruction at the latest annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association (ILEETA). Recently, he elaborated on the subject in a conversation with Force Science News.

     "Relying on myths that are commonly perpetuated in training can be more than just a waste of time," Bragg says. "They may seem logical and time-tested. But, in reality, they create a gap between what works in the gym and what's needed in the real world. They can lead officers to develop a false sense of security by overestimating their capabilities."

     With 35 years' experience in training and a master's degree in exercise physiology and sports medicine, Bragg defines "skill" as "the ability to bring about a desired end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy and/or time."

     He identifies six beliefs and practices he says undermine officers' abilities to grasp and retain physical skills that could be decisive in life-or-death confrontations. "As an instructor," he says, "you're not likely to get more time than you're currently allotted to train officers, so you must make the most of the time you have by using the science of motor learning and performance to improve the training you deliver."

MYTH #1: Perfect practice makes perfect performance.

     This oft-repeated bromide "suggests there's 'a' perfect rep that can be practiced over and over in a stable, predictable environment with no variables," Bragg says. "In a sport like gymnastics, that may be possible, but police work is the ultimate in variability. Rather than repeat the same movement over and over again, you need to build your ability to vary and adapt your physical skills to surmount a wide range of situations that are hard to predict."

     "Instead of trying to master a perfect Weaver or isosceles stance that you'll probably never use in real-life gunfights, you're better off building experience in shooting under stress from many different positions in many different environments under many different conditions. You may not always perform with absolute perfection, but you can learn to perform with practical proficiency to get the job done."

MYTH #2: Slowly practicing a movement that needs to be delivered fast is beneficial.

     "There may be some value in this in the very early stages of learning to help you understand the motor movements involved in a new technique," Bragg says. "But spend very little time practicing slowly, especially where forceful movements are involved."

     "The neuromuscular demands of slow versus fast perception and movement are very different, and slow practice does not transfer effectively to fast performance. Your brain tries to keep pace with the feedback it's accustomed to at the slower pace, and it quickly becomes overwhelmed. It's like practicing only slow tai chi and then trying to fight at real speed."

     "There are very few skill-based actions in law enforcement that take place at slow speed. Train at the speed at which you need to deliver using realistic role-playing scenarios. Through repeated trial and error, you'll eventually learn what works best for you and how to do it. Your retention will improve when your practice environment mirrors the conditions in which you're expected to perform for real."

MYTH #3: Blocked instruction speeds learning.

     "High-liability motor skills like shooting, driving, and DT are often taught in a blocked format--intense cram sessions where officers are expected to grasp techniques well enough to replicate them shortly afterward to prove they've been 'learned.' It may be months or a year before their performance is tested again," Bragg says.

     "In the short term, the learning seems to happen faster, but the long-term retention rate where physical skills are concerned is dismal."

     "Distributed learning, where instruction and reinforcing practice occur over time, works much better. Short, spaced, mini-training sessions--15 minutes once a week, say--tend to dramatically improve skill retention. Some flexibility and creativity with scheduling may be needed, but the results are worth it."

MYTH #4: Immediate and frequent feedback hastens improvement.

     Bragg believes the science shows that an instructor who offers immediate and frequent critiques of a trainee's performance "programs the learner to depend on external feedback and does not force him or her to 'seek' feedback from their own body and behavior, which they ultimately must do in the game on the street."

     "A really good instructor doesn't say a whole lot. He forces you to answer questions yourself: 'Based on the information your body just gave you, what do you think happened?' You have to learn to self-diagnose, because then you'll know how to fix yourself, even in the midst of battle when there's no one there to correct you."

     "Feedback that's intermittent and delayed is most helpful for skill retention."

MYTH #5: Muscles have memories.

     "Muscle memory is a catchy phrase," Bragg admits, "but it suggests that muscles are the only thing involved in mastering a physical skill. It's a concept that usually accompanies the block teaching approach, and it gets you thinking that all that matters in learning are reps."

     "To really learn, your whole nervous system has to be involved--your brain and your neuromuscular network."

     "When you're learning a new physical skill, you tend to be stiff and robotic. Over time, you train your brain to activate only the muscles you need to perform the required movements, and you get rid of what's unnecessary so you're smoother and more efficient."

     "You need to stay mentally involved. Once your brain is no longer engaged, you're just going through the motions. You cease to learn."

MYTH #6: Repetition is the key to learning.

     Forget the claims that it takes 3,000 reps to learn a new physical technique or 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery, Bragg advises. "People have different abilities and learn at different rates. Yes, repetition is essential--you've got to get the reps in--but what you do before and after the repetition may be more important to learning than the mere repetition itself."

     He recommends this approach: "Form a mental image of the movements you want to make. Imagine and feel the movements before you do them. Then do them. Then analyze how you did. How close did your performance match your imagination? Was your attention focused on the right things? That makes a valuable rep, not just going through the motions."

     "This can be a laborious process, much harder than thinking you can just do a lot of reps and magically get better. It takes mental work to learn a physical skill. But at some point, you'll find that your performance becomes reliably automatic and can be replicated without conscious thought when you're under real-world stress."

     "That's not to say, though, that you reach a point where you can afford to stop learning. Motor learning is a process that never ends."