Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Seeing the Elephant and Context


About a month ago, Gabe Suarez published a small article that was a clever play on the old saying "having seen the elephant"--meaning to have actually participated in combat--and John Saxe's amusing poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant." The gist of Suarez's article was that just because you have seen the elephant (i.e., participated in combat) does not mean that you have seen the whole elephant--similar to each of the blind men only grasping one part of the elephant and believing it was representative of the whole beast.

Suarez wrote:
Take for example a police SWAT shooter. The man may have been in a half dozen gunfight on SWAT operations with his team. One would say this man surely has seen the whole elephant no? He went to battle with six or seven other guys, and attacked a target when the bad guys were at a disadvantage with overwhelming force and superior weapons. Certainly a noble action, but how does that compare to the nature of entire animal? That’s only one part, and as we will see, the trunk has little to do with the tail, and neither of them is indicative of what an elephant is like. 
Another example is the military operator. The man may have killed 200 or more enemy soldiers while on infantry operations, or direct action assignments. Surely this man has an understanding about the elephant does he not? He assaulted a compound that had been under satellite surveillance for a week, where he knew contained exactly how many guys. The fast movers above softened it for them and they attacked the enemy and shot them to pieces. The courage of this man is beyond question, but again, what about the entire animal? 
Do either one of those sound like a gunfight you might be in tonight, or during the next terrorist act, armed robbery or other unexpected event?  
A third example is maybe that of a CCW man. He is not and was never a cop nor a soldier, but he carried a pistol and one day some bad guy tried to carjack him. He did everything wrong, but he still managed to prevail in the fight. Alright…certainly this guy has an understanding of the animal right? No…only another body part. 
All three of these fictional examples are like the blind men who are very good at explaining the nature, texture, and smell of their particular experience, but all of them have only seen that, and are missing the complete image and experience.  
The HRT/SWAT guy crashing a door into a fortified “crack house” has very little in common with what a lone private citizen CCW operator may have to face when dealing with a trio of gang members bent on his death. And the Delta shooter hitting a target with his team has little to do with how a trio of business owners caught behind the curfew in New Orleans, or Los Angeles need to operate to stay alive and get home. And none of them have much similarity in tactics to the lone operator in a third world country, finishing an assignment and then having to get home.
Which brings me to an article by Grant Cunningham at Personal Security Institute discussing the importance of context in training. Cunningham writes that the infighting between different trainers and devotees mostly arises from not viewing the training in proper context.
It’s easy (and quite common) to think that context is equipment-driven. The idea that because a soldier and a stay-at-home dad use the same Beretta pistol that their context is the same, but that’s clearly not the case. Still, there are a bunch of ex-military people out there selling their wares to a civilian self-defense audience based on their military experience — and people are buying. It’s pretty clear that the idea of context isn’t well understood! 
What works for the Marine who is in a squad walking down a Middle East street is different than what works for the police officer responding to a man with a knife call at 2:am; both of those are different from the single mom protecting her children from a homicidal ex-spouse, and all of those are different from the competitive shooter trying to shave fractions of a second from his time on a particular course of fire. 
* * *  
Knowing that context exists is only the first step. Too many people will assume that because some pieces of a doctrine fits their context that it all does, or — perhaps worse in terms of interpersonal conflict — that because some pieces DON’T fit, NONE of it does. Neither is true ... ! 
In the absence of a teacher who truly understands this idea (and very few, in my estimation, do) you’ll need to be your own “context arbiter”. You need to think about the circumstances under which you’ll likely shoot, and then compare that to the technique or concept you’re being taught. You have to ask where it came from, what its use was/is, and whether that truly makes sense in your life. 
You may find that some ideas fit and others don’t. Neither of those cases is cause to adopt or reject a doctrine in its entirety. You do need to be discerning, however, and be honest about why you’re training and what you’re training for. Does that dynamic room entry you’re being taught really have any relevance to your life in the suburbs? Probably not. That doesn’t mean the fellow teaching it doesn’t have anything at all to offer!
Read the whole thing.

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