The Counting Game


One of the buzz terms in the self-defense/tactical communities is “situational awareness”. Everyone, from instructors on down to the newest students talk about it and emphasize that it is one of the most important things we can have going for us to keep us safe. No one in their right mind will argue this. The problem is how we put it into practice?


Seriously, this is one of the biggest issues we face. Awareness is not a verb, yet we treat it like it is. How do we ensure that we are aware when we need to be? It is all well and good to tell someone to be aware and switched on, but that is like saying “be a good shooter”. How do we accomplish that task?


A number of top instructors spend time on this and there are different takes, most of which are valid and functional. I would like to present one that has proven to be really useful for me, as well as a number of people who I have taught it to, including members of my immediate family. It is an easy way to build the habit of situational awareness, and it does so by keeping us alert in the most vulnerable times in our life.


I call it the Counting Game. The way it works is this: every time you leave a building – any kind of building, from your place of work, to a grocery store, bank, restaurant, etc. – you need to count how many people you see. That’s it. Just count them up. It takes only a few seconds, at most, and even then that would only be on occasion, such as leaving the shopping mall during the Christmas season. Most of the time it is the work of one to two seconds at best. Easy to do, and easy to remember, and it does not take any special training. We are not asking you to see the potential bad guys, or judge actions. Just count.


So what does that give us? Multiple things. For one, we immediately know who is around us, fulfilling part of Givens’ Law (who is around us and what are they doing?). Second, by making sure we actually count, we have to pay attention to what is beyond our head and keeps us from burying our nose in a Smartphone or something similar that puts blinders on us. Third, it tells potential bad guys who are doing their own scan that we are paying attention and have seen them, even momentarily. That is one of the biggest ways to get yourself deselected as a victim. Bad guys prefer if they can get close without notice first. Being seen by the victim from across the parking lot is not good for business, especially when there are plenty of people behind you who will not be paying attention. And fourth, it starts to let our subconscious start to make thin-slicing judgments of what we have seen – i.e. “That guy was standing back by that wall in partial darkness. Why?” (Allowing that instinctive part of our brains to continue to listen to Givens’ Law). Which further helps being aware of the situation and the general environment. And all done with a simple mental exercise that only costs a couple of seconds of focus. Not a bad return on the investment.


Give it a shot. I think you will be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to add to your daily routine

Training Planner Trick

Once again, we turn to the problem of how we fit in all the training we need to do as an integrated, multi-disciplinary thinking tactician (using Craig Douglas’ excellent description). How do we fit it all in, and make sure we are actually training?

One quick and easy method that has helped me immeasurably over the years is the use of a desk calendar. I am talking about the big type that you can get from any of the big office supply stores. Here is a sample of one of mine from a few months ago.



This is how I use it. I look ahead at the next two weeks. I know what my current general needs in training are and I jot down what I want/need to do over that time. I know what kind of time crunch my life and schedule puts on me, so I try to be as realistic as possible and I never write down some idealized plan. It is always what I can actually do with a little focus and effort.

If you look at the picture above, you can see my focus was on BJJ, boxing (including standing clinch and weapons work), dryfire, and my LSD (long, steady distance) cardio block. The weather was awesome so it was great to run at night when the temperature was about 75 degrees, so I went heavy on that and put my strength or metabolic work programs on hold. I also tried to get some live fire time in. I try to do either one competition (the local USPSA club runs a terrific Thursday night fun shoot – semi-outlaw and geared to welcoming new shooters. It is perfect to get some solid work in), a shooting course, or just a trip to the range to get some rounds downrange. I co-hosted Craig Douglas for his fantastic Vehicle Combatives and Shooting Tactics course, so I was guaranteed some live fire there. Anything else in the month was going to be a bonus.

I scribble down at the beginning of the week what I want to do for the next two. Then I can use that to guide me and keep it fresh in my head what is coming up. What I found to be too typical if I did not do this would be that during the day something would come up – tough or long day at the office, poor sleep the night before, something up family wise – and I would forget the plan for the day. When you realize that you forgot only when you are getting into bed at 11:30 at night, it is generally too late. With this method, I could keep an idea every morning what I needed to do and that gave me time to try to implement it, regardless of what popped up.

Take a look at the February 17 as a perfect example. I was flying out that day to teach in central Texas. I would be at work for a couple of hours, then leave for the airport, fly there, then rent a car and drive another hour and a half to my destination. I was not going to get to the hotel before 10PM. And then I would have to prep for teaching the next day. So if I just stumbled my way through, there was a fairly decent chance I would forget about getting any training in until too late. Using the calendar reminded me to not let that happen. So when I got to work in the morning, I saw that and I grabbed my SIRT pistol (which I use in my seminars) and got in a couple of minutes of presentation and trigger press. Was it a lot? Not at all, but it was a lot more than I would have most likely gotten in if I had not already made the reminder.

Hopefully this gives you one more tool to help get in as much training as you want.

Finding A Good BJJ School

I get the question a lot on how to find a good school to train at. I have addressed it a number of times here and variopus places online, but it is a continuing issue for new people just getting into the art. Stephen Kesting of Grapplearts  ( )just posted up a good video that I agree heavily with. Check it out:


Be Gray


There is a common saying in the tactical training and self-defense communites: Don’t be prey; be a predator.

At first glance, that is a really cool thought. Don’t we all want to have a mental self-construct of being capable and powerful (especially if it is so obvious to outside observers that we can frighten off potential attackers)? Of course!

There is an underlying problem there though that all too often gets short shrift in the community. Without a doubt, none of us want to look like prey. That is all too readily apparent. But do we truly want to look like a predator?

Before you answer yes, think about this. In the wild, if you are a predator, are you immune to attack? Obviously not. So who is attacking? Other predators! And sometimes, that other predator may be the apex predator of the area. For example, when a young lion wanders into new territory already occupied by another lion, the resident lion is not going to let that pass. He will want to keep his food supplies to himself, as well as his access to his sexual partners. The same holds true in the world of Violent Criminal Actors (VCA). They too want to maintain their control; of the resources and sexual partners, as well as having the added need to maintain “respect”. And the VCA will not act as the animal in the wild does. He will not obviously challenge his new rival. Far from it. The VCA will do whatever it takes to maintain his dominance. If that means sucker punching, or hitting from behind, or bringing a gun to a fist fight, or even bringing friends, he will do so. He will do whatever he can do to keep his apex predator spot.

And to make this situation worse, we may not even know that we are challenging some thug. We may have our situational awareness switched on, but this type of thing may not help us if the other guy sets up an ambush dedicated to taking us out.

So if we don’t want to be prey, and being a predator may put us directly in the line of fire, what do we do? The third path. Being the Gray Man (or woman).

Anyone who has been smart enough to take any of William April’s coursework will understand that criminals have a very simple binary decision tree to do their violence. It is go or no-go. There is no “maybe” in the process. If you look like someone they can rob or assault, they do it. If you look like anything but an easy day, they won’t. It sounds simple, but it is true. They want to do what they need to do to get paid, and they are not interested in a fight. If they look at you and go “I don’t know”, their instantaneous decision to a definite no. That is what the real world research tells us, over and over. So we can use that knowledge and understanding.

If we don’t conduct ourselves like a victim, we won’t be victimized. Walk like you know what you are doing and where you going, pay attention to those around you (Given’s Law – Who is around me, and what are they doing?), don’t be ostentatious in dress or in things you have displayed on you, and you will negate almost all threat from the opportunistic criminal. On the flip side, do not walk around acting like you think you are the hardest hardcase on the planet, don’t mean mug every person you meet, and don’t wear sleeveless t-shirts that are three sizes too small, and you now remove yourself as looking like a predator on the prowl and other predators ignore you.

With simple, easy to implement steps, we make our lives massively safer and more peaceful. Win!

As much as I love the training I have done over the past 38 years of learning to fight, shoot, and be fit, I much prefer to not have to exercise those skills unless they are in a training environment. Life is too short to be occupied with violence.

Be the Gray Man, and have a fun life.

Building Shark Habits




We have discussed previously on many occasions the difficulties in training for the Multidisciplinary practitioner paradigm. We have so many components and (most of us) have so little free time that it often becomes a herculean effort to make sure we are doing the things we need to do. We have to figure out how each of us can best go about building good functional performance across the areas that we know are important. I have written previously about some ideas on how to do so:

Here is a series of YouTube videos where I discuss other methods and tricks :


So as you can see, I talk about this subject a  lot, because I know from firsthand experience how much effort it takes to accomplish our goal. I would like to add another way to get a step further along the pathway. Be a Shark.

What do I mean by this? It is something I read in an article by S&C coach extraordinaire Dan John. He talked about having a shark habit of taking a bite out of something that makes an impact. In other words, when a shark takes a bite out of a meal, it is not a small nibble; He commits to something big and immediately is on his way to having a good dinner. Dan John writes about the same approach to training (in his case, strength, conditioning, and diet). Rather than trying to do a bunch of little things, focus on something that can be done in a smaller package. For example, with the multi-disciplinary approach, maybe we make an effort to get good medical training to handle the emergencies that can come up in life. About 98% of the things we will ever be able to handle without hospital support can be learned in the basic one day Red Cross First Aid/CPR class, and a single one or two day “tac med” course. Then a bit of practice, and maybe take a refresher course every other year, and you will have that box easily checked off.

Or another, get a good introductory defensive pistol class (not a typical CCW class, but  a  full one day in depth class) and then take a weekend class with an experienced instructor who has taught a lot of folks like a Tom Givens. Those, along with some dry fire, some range work every now and then, as well as maybe a few competitions a year will cover almost every conceivable need with a pistol for self-defense.

In other words, we take a committed shark bite out of something specific and hyper-focused that will get us a good return.

We can also take Mr. John’s analogy a bit further. What other aspect of a shark is so obvious? How about the fact he is particularly single minded. He does not dither and lollygag. He wakes up and decides the most important thing to do is eat. He will then go after food until done. Nothing else gets in the way. We can use that idea as well.

Here is how we can implement that. Let’s say you are starting grappling, or wish to, and want to get in whatever work outside of class you are able to do. Rather than jump in and try to think you are going to practice 2 hours a night, and within two days you have already failed, let’s do it in smaller chunks. Here is my assignment for you: For one minute every day, you will do hip lifts and hip escapes solo (for tips, I have some videos on how to perform those movements on my YouTube channel). You will do that EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH. Don’t worry about any other training activity. If you have time to do other stuff, or just more of the solo grappling work, than fine. But don’t focus or even plan on it. All I want you to do is one single minute of non-stop work for one month.  If for some reason you miss a day, don’t worry about it. Just start the countdown all over. No big deal. We all have those moments. Once you have gone an entire month doing this without missing a day, THEN AND ONLY THEN will we add to the program.

When you have knocked the first month out, we can add more time, or a different piece of the puzzle. Say, pistol dry fire. But again, we are going for the bite size chunk, not trying to down the entire sea lion with one gulp. Whatever you add, make it realistic and doable.

We will continue this for a total of three months, adding one piece each month. At the end of three months of daily work, you need to stop, take a breath, and pat yourself on the back, because you have done a damn fine job of building new habits that you can continue for the rest of your life. Be proud, but don’t get lazy! Get back on the job, and keep building. The beautiful thing is that after three months, you will start to see some results, and you will also start to see how you can integrate more and more parts of the paradigm that you can add without any prompting from me. Which is what a good coach should do – give you the ability to think for yourself.

Now I know some people reading this will react with “but three months? I want to be a bad ass now!”. My question is, what are you doing to do it? If you have not done it already, what does it matter that it is not an immediate solution? At the very least, you are on the path, and taking solid steps. That is what is important. Not how fast you get it done. Start building shark habits and do work!