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Book: On Combat by Grossman and Christensen

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Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman is a former U. S. Army Ranger, paratrooper, and West Point professor of psychology.

The third edition of On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace, co-written with Loren W. Christensen (Warrior Science Publications, 2008), builds on many of his previous works.

Don’t let the title fool you, though.

Grossman and Christensen offer support to those in the profession of killing in defense of others, yes, and they do so professionally and proudly.

However, On Combat speaks to anyone who protects anyone else from any sort of threat or who may encounter grave danger, which is to say, all of us.

A substantial portion of the book is devoted to training.

Drills and classes should have us acting as closely as possible to how we will have to act, in circumstances that resemble as closely as possible what we will face when we need those skills.

The authors cite a police officer who trained himself to disarm suspects by having his wife or a friend hold a gun. The officer would repeatedly take the gun away, then hand it back to try again.

Searching a convenience store, this officer encountered a suspect, armed, and took the gun away from him, then handed it back, just as he had during training. The officer’s partner came along and shot the suspect.

Think about fire drills in schools. Based on how we conduct them, fire will only happen on a nice day and every exit in a school will be available, even if it’s near the furnace room or the cafeteria or the chemistry lab.

Fire won’t happen during lunch, even though staff are cooking in the kitchen, and it won’t happen during exams or on rainy days.

Does it sound extreme, to run a drill during lunch or in bad weather, or to block off some exits?

If so then how do you know that the school won’t catch fire in that place or at that time or in that weather?

Do you simply not want to upset the students?

Running drills under stressful conditions brings up another important concept from Grossman and Christensen: stress inoculation.

When we learn and practice critical skills under stressful conditions, including the perceptual distortions and motor impairments that go with high stress, then we learn how to anticipate and compensate.

We gain a sense of confidence in our ability to do what has to be done in an emergency, and that confidence in turn lowers our stress level and improves our response.

Grossman and Christensen give you the science and the theory without the ivory tower loftiness or the refined handwringing. They back up their ideas with examples drawn from the experiences of others and they teach what methods can be taught in a book, such as tactical breathing.

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