In this series of articles, we’re discussing 10 of the most important, unwritten, rules of CQB. You can read part I here and part II here.

Avoid shoulder transitions

(Remark: This rule is referring to a full shoulder transition in close proximity.)

The human brain is like a forest. When you were a kid, it was dense and grassy without any paths or traces. As you grew up learning new skills, experiencing, and interacting with your environment you began to work and do things in a consistent pattern. You were basically creating distinctive paths in your brain to perform or complete different tasks (how to load a gun, for example). The more you identically repeat the task and receive feedback about it, the faster, quicker, and more instinctive finding that way from A to B in your “brain’s forest” to that task it is going to be. As you probably have experienced before, when walking outdoors, humans like to walk along clear and welcoming paths. If we extrapolate this statement into the forest metaphor, the less you practice, the less feedback you receive (among few other crucial processes) the less clear or welcoming the path to a certain skill is going to be. In addition, less used or experienced skills are rendered less usable unless being deliberately chosen, something that is a luxury when human limitations kick in.

Basically, that is how your brain works. A dense forest with neurons going back and forth, but we will get back to this later.

The Case

Not sure why, but I keep seeing people struggle to perform different cool ninja-like shoulder transitions every time they stack up on a door preparing for entry or alternatively when they start to slice the pie from the “weak side.” Check out the video below.

Israeli special operator’s top unwritten rules of close-quarters combat (continued)

Read Next: Israeli special operator’s top unwritten rules of close-quarters combat (continued)

…Wait, I get it. They try to reduce their exposure to the cross upon entry/slicing the pie.

The majority of people will do a fancy transition either just before, during, or after they move through the threshold normally (a critical moment of itself). Once they have crossed they will start transitioning back again to their default shoulder, essentially dismissing any kind of “ready to shoot” position.

Issues with switching shoulders in room entry context:

  • Multi-tasking: Additional cognitive and motor processes are needed. Multitasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention. During entry, it is unrealistic to expect a human being to do 10 things at once. Non-behavior complaint. You will practice away with it in calm settings, but not in reality.
  • Response: Reducing significantly the ability to be responsive to any target while transitioning, not only because of handling but also due to body posture and mechanics, and the offset of the gun.
  • Stoppage: In the case of a stoppage, the brain will require a longer time to process the problem (identifying the stoppage) and deliver a motor solution that is already known to the user. Yet, this time, the process has to be done from a different perspective. (Think of it as a mirror confusion).
  • Weapon retention: This is up to discussion, but weapon retention is often sloppy when reacting from three meters and into an opponent with a cold weapon or someone running outside of the room. Especially since three meters is basically the combative bubble. Therefore, 100 percent retention of the weapon is crucial.

Issues with switching shoulders behind cover/barricade in close proximity to threat.

In addition to the aforementioned, if the threat is imminent, aware, and fixated on you in extremely close proximity, mobility and consistency take priority over cover. Shoulder transitions in such situations are nothing but a dogmatic fixation of 1 +1 equals 2. Wasting time on weapon manipulations that are not related to the functionality of the gun will not help and will only offer disadvantages, and besides, it is against your instincts.

Summary

Once our brain perceives danger, one circuit lays out sensory information about the danger — for example, the sight of a gunshot victim or the sound of someone racking a pistol slide — to the cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain.

The cerebral cortex evaluates this information and makes a rational judgment about it. ( The judgment is based on several factors, including the level of experience in relation to training).

An Israeli special operator's top unwritten rules of close-quarters combat

Read Next: An Israeli special operator's top unwritten rules of close-quarters combat

The other circuit relays the sensory information to the amygdala, which sends impulses to the autonomic nervous system. This system triggers something we identify as acute stress response (aka, fight, flight, freeze) even before the cerebral cortex has made sense of the information.

Once activated, it increases the heart rate, routes blood to muscles, releases stress hormones and glucose into the bloodstream, among other sets of ongoing physiological changes, all to ensure your ability to handle this edge situation. But what is more interesting for us in the tactical context is that today we know that self-preservation overrides training. It simply means that during high and mid stress situations several areas, especially the long term memory of the brain, do not get deactivated. In simple English, it means that under stress you will retract to the most experienced and rewarding skill/tool that you trained and you are familiar with. Nothing sexy or fancy, just default.

Validate your tactics

Did you know that the majority of CQB concepts that are being taught as a default were never studied or validated entirely by empirical research to actually back up what those tactics claim to achieve?

Now you know

In other words, it means those concepts were taught and developed by individual knowledge sources and not by empirical research. These sources are likely to include a combination of intuition, personal experience, tradition, and authority. So what’s the problem, you are asking?

The problem is that this knowledge could either be correct due to feedback given in real-world setting (for example, performing a raid against an armed active threat who decided to shoot). Yey, the knowledge may also be inaccurate bias feedback that the person unintentionally views as correct due to the fact that he never met actual resistance to his chosen tactics due to inappropriate training framework (lack of FOF, stimulus, etc.). Eventually, it means that the common tactics that are not validated through empirical research have a 50 percent chance of being correct or wrong; such a percent means that they’re broken. Have you seen a phone that has a screen that does not work but is still being used? Nope, because it is broken.


Below are two additional extremely important videos that we use to highlight tactics vs behavior. Note that the common principle for all those videos is that the immediate use of dynamic entries collapses with the earlier signs of resistance. Note the shift into survival-based improvisation.

Example 1

Example 2

The issue I have with the western, standard CQB tactics (dynamic immediate entries by default, for example) is that they are based on concepts technically developed and practiced against paper targets in symmetric range settings — and these settings try desperately to match up with reality.

In reality, a violent collision like a firefight (I remind you, CQB context!) is a very raw, extremely dynamic, and horrifying event that normally lasts seconds. In those seconds, the threat is moving and taking decisions on the fly. These decisions are rooted deeply in different psychological mechanisms or behavior patterns that will result in behavior that is more unexpected in comparison to the average “good guy’s” behavior. These psychological and mechanical differences will also manifest differently in different types of threats: a terrorist may react differently to a common criminal, for example.

With that being said, it is crucial — if not imperative — that every tactic should be passing through a physical, reward training validation process whether it is a student picking up a new way of doing things in a basic course or whether it is an instructor tweaking up a method. Running into a kill house with paper targets and doing all those tactically trained slick badass movements is something that is just not going to happen. There is enough evidence to attest to that.

Summary

Did you learn something new? Test it with realistic parameters. Don’t let people summarize a procedure with 10 minutes talking and one-hour shooting on the same target on the same corner on the same role. It is all about human feedback, not paper mirrors.

Thanks for reading.

This article was written by Eli Feildboy, founder and CEO of Project Gecko and former Israeli commando. It was originally published in 2019.