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Im the founder of Defense Conditioning, a gunfight survivor, a former fugitive recovery agent and bodyguard, and a former Blackwater trainer. My site is and I am currently licensing with Pulse O2DA to expand their training in Florida. The problem with the training you complained about is that it does what most “operators” were trained to do, which is very impractical for the everyday person needing to defend themselves. The issue is that it doesn’t dig into the neurological, psychological and physiological aspects of the fear response and how you will or will not perform under these mental extremes . . .

Most of the trainers on the scene today received their training through military/law enforcement certification and then went on to work for groups such as S.O.S. Temps, Blackwater USA, Triple Canopy, etc.  They got the downstream training result of what was determined to be mission relevant, based on a thorough understanding of the “brain game” I mentioned above, and was limited in scope.

Many of them have done a great job of tweaking this training for more civilian applications. However, without understanding the neuro/psych/physio basis of the training they received, they are unable to break away from the “operator” presentation and scope of training.

Gunfight training, truly relevant and effective gunfight training, doesn’t even introduce the physical manipulation of a gun until the latter phase of training.

Boyd’s OODA is right on the money, but understanding why is the answer to relevant training. The OODA loop is not set in stone.  The observe phase of the cycle is ongoing even when there is no threat and understanding that every, I repeat, EVERY perception goes through a portion of the brain called the Amygdala is paramount when using OODA to tailor a training regimen.

Depending on the signal the Amygdala receives, the Orient phase of OODA is not enacted until there is a perceived threat. For military and law enforcement this happens much quicker because they are primed, especially when on duty or deployed, to react much quicker. They’re expecting an engagement. Civilians are not, most of the time, and so the training is much different.

There first has to be an initial evaluation of each person’s OODA threshold. There are no cookie-cutter training experiences that will be effective for a group like your everyday class put together from a good ad campaign or PR video.

People can do these classes, and Pulse offers them, and get some great so-called “muscle memory” tactics. (Instead of muscle memory, it should be referred to as Hebbian plasticity, because muscles have no memory, they do what the brain signals them to do)

But what is important is that people understand what their current OODA threshold status is, why it is where it is (in a neural understanding), where it needs to be to be effective for armed defensive responses, how it can be conditioned, and what training doctrine they need to use when developing their own program based on understanding the previous items.

The reality is, high speed low drag or walrus mustache, there is no such thing as gun training after basic gun safety and marksmanship has been covered. Guns cannot be trained. There is only brain training and that takes time and money that most are unwilling to commit to.

The irony is that if they would invest in solid brain training once in their life, coupled with a live-fire session that’s based on this neuro/physio/ psycho foundation; they would never need to attend another “tactical” training class again. They would understand what needs to be incorporated in their personal training sessions, why it must be this way and then let there imagination think up scenarios to train for and store in their OODA repertoire.

A gunfight can happen anywhere and in any fashion imaginable. The only constant is your brain function and resultant reaction to whatever is happening. you made need cover, you may not. You may not even know there is cover available. For civilians, it happens much too quickly to contemplate options and you will most likely NOT have any kind of a “team” response that much of the available training is derived from.

My civilian gunfight was over in 15 seconds. I was caught by surprise from a distance of 21 feet. 15 seconds later I was fortunate enough to still be standing and looking at two bleeding perps laying in the dirt.

My website is and I’m not asking for a plug. I’m not currently offering training to the public. I’ve written some articles and have a couple radio interviews posted about training and brain function. If they are something you are interested in sharing on your site, feel free as long as you credit me as the source.

James Barnhart
Defense Conditioning
Pulse O2DA Firearms Training

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  1. “I’m not currently offering training to the public.”

    That’s a shame, because this was a great read!

    • Could be because “the public” isn’t interested in his training. Around here, there are no shortage of people offering this “training” but there is a shortage of students.

  2. Given that victims are usually chosen because they’re high-drag and low speed, quality training would be most beneficial to them IF they would take it. Consequently, I’m sure there’s far more money to be made from wannabe mercenaries.

  3. Nice to see some neuroscience taken into account in DGUs. I would be interested in hearing more form Mr. Barnhart.

  4. This post won’t win me any friends in the training community ,so i’ll get that out of the way upfront.

    All this OODA stuff is all well and good, but ultimately firearm safety has to take priority. The only way to do that is to START with handling the gun , not ending with it. The ability to mentally manage a threat cant save you from dying by a self-inflicted gunshot via ND.

    Point #2: The odds of us ordinary Joes actually shooting is minimal. Untrained folks regularly get the best of armed bad guys. We also need to remember that the civil right is separate from defensive training; the 2nd Amendment does not mandate tactical awareness before one can bear arms! As such, if someone buys a gun and all they do is hang it on a wall we should strive to appreciate and respect their decision, instead of calling a lynch mob because they refused to take a 10 day course with a former Black Ops operator.

    • I’ll be your friend. You are correct.

      And I will not participate in a lynch mob because someone purchased a weapon but refuses to train with a Black Ops operator. I don’t like lynching armed people.

  5. I don’t own weapons for self-defence. I don’t own them for hunting. I own them for military purposes primarily and that means I need military training. I get that in the Marine Corps, but there’s no reason to not get it on the side too.

    Military training of weapons is not limited to the military. By design of the second amendment, military training is implied as a purpose of the second amendment. It’s pretty snobbish or elitist to say that general members of the public should not seek or receive such training. If this gentleman doesn’t want that money, that’s his business, but I hope those seeking it find professionals that can provide as good a service as he claims to offer. Our republic deserves nothing less.

    • I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t receive any training. The fact that well more than 1/3 (according to Grossman) of all police killed in the line of duty showed no sign of self defense, in spite of their training, is at the core of neuroscience tailoring the new era of training. The tactics are well defined, getting to use those tactics and high speed holsters and techno gizmos is another matter altogether. Gun safety is paramount. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have competent gun training. Gun fighting, or surviving an attempt on your life using a firearm under extreme mental duress, is another matter altogether. Frontsite, squeeze, followthrough is the tail end of the gunfight equation. Many never get to show their tactical prowess. It’s gunfighting…..not gun training/safety/manipulation.

  6. In a self defense situation a civilian needs to be competent in safe gun handling and marksmanship. Beyond that it appears that mind set is the most important asset.

    So I guess I’ll cancel that class where I was going to learn to back flip over burning tires and hit the target with a sharpened shovel.

    Barnhart sounds like a man that knows his business. A breath of fresh air around here.

  7. Good read, some very good points and observations too! Would really like to take a course from him just to see what he has in his mind compared to other trainers/courses!!
    Too bad it’s not available to the public.

  8. I’ve recieved some great training (and commanded a battalion that gave some great training) on gunfighting (though we prefer to call it Close Quarters Marksmanship/Close Quarters Combat (CQM/CQC)). There are some lessons that carry over into civilian self defense. Reflexive fire, clearing a room (good old Battle Drill 6), immediate action drills, lateral movement without tripping over my own feet are good examples.

    What doesn’t carry over is the agressive mindset of CQM/CQC. In the military we’re free to yell at someone to show their hands, get on the ground, and engage based on what we percieve as a hostile intent. In some cases that can be something as simple as starting to dial a cell phone while I’m trying to clear and IED or not stopping when I tell you to approaching my vehicle. You can’t do that in civilian life. Even here in Texas (where I’m pretty sure “He just needed killin'” is an acceptable affirmative defense in a court of law) you can’t shoot some dude in at the CEFCO because you don’t like the way he’s casing the joint and you can’t draw your own weapon until he makes a clear threat. Of course if you enter my home while my family is present uninvited and you are dead where you stand. (Quick OODA cycle on that one.)

    That’s the difference between civilian life and “high speed low drag operators”. (Though to be honest I almost quit reading when I saw “Blackwater” and “Triple Canopy”, as they tend to have many more wannabees than “operators.)

    I agree that there is much to be gained by the civilian shooter in learning the muscle memory (yeah, I know, there’s no such thing) to draw (or shoulder), aim and fire his weapon smoothly and accurately. There is much to learn about knowing your surroundings. I also believe it starts with the basics, good old marksmanship, and until you’ve mastered that spend the money you would have spent on operator fantasy camp on practice ammo and range time.

    • I have to agree with LTC on this one.
      I don’t have any issue if someone doesn’t want to train. I am not going to have a fit. I for one believe you can never have to much practice or training. Preferably both. If you want to play weekend warrior great, go take military style training. It won’t hurt.. much…
      I think practical shooting like that of the uspsa is great. Anything that is beyond static paper targets, and getting you to the range is a win in my book.
      My own personal opinion is that like LTC there are certain things that in a civilian situation make a lot of sense.
      1. Safety…
      Yeah this goes beyond the four rules. It means learning to draw, use, and handle your weapon in a safe manner. Safe except for the BG that is.
      2. Marksmanship..
      Here too it isn’t about making that 1000 yard shot, or learning Mozambique style drills, but that doesn’t hurt. You need to be able to draw, site, and hit what you intend too, otherwise a gun does you no good at all.
      3. Tactical…
      Ok what I mean by this is moving to cover, while drawing or shooting. Learning to think strategically about where you and your family is and dealing with it. Thinking from a tactical nature, in regard to protecting yourself and your family, regardless of where you are. Any training that is beyond the realm of static targets, and slow fire is good here.
      4. Obi Wan Zen
      Last but many times overlooked, it one’s mind set. This encompasses two particulars. First is situational awareness “OODA”, what ever you want to use to understand and identify potential threats. We can’t be on a high level of situational awareness 24 x7. But being able to notice little things, and react accordingly to your environment can put you ahead of the game. Second is are you ready to kill someone! Yeah ok that sounds like a leap, but it is a serious question. In a defensive situation which escalates to you pulling a firearm usually means someone is not going home. Are you ready to make that call. Have you made peace with that decision?

      • Be to nice to people. Give and receive respect from those in your daily travels. Have a plan to kill every one you meet.

        Skills will only get you so far. Beyond that, mindset, but more importantly, the will to win is what gets you home at the end of the day.

  9. Back in the Pre-Cambrian days I was into martial arts. As they existed at the time it was Chinese, Korean, Okinawan and Japanese styles. Taught right or wrong for hundreds and some for a thousand years in the same way. THEN CAME ADVERTISING ! Boy did the martial arts change. Every ahole who did a tour in Okinawa or Korea came back an expert. Deep, serious, study had revealed to them the “mistakes” of the past. Pay me money and you’ll get a certificate and a new color belt. Pay me more and I’ll make you an expert TOO ! Hell you can set up your own Dojo and make a living off of training the fat kids in school who are afraid of the football team.


    Like branches on a tree each guy sets off in his own direction. Inventing his own theories. His own rationale. His own terminology. His own training regimes. Forget that cops around the world where in gun fights a century ago. Forget that military guys were clearing buildings in Italy, Germany, France, Manila, Seoul and on and on. None of that happened. The world only started in 1992.

    I’ve said it before. Just keep repeating to yourself … 314,882,931 (according to the US Census Bureau today) is our population. The 2A and the right to self defense applies to ALL OF THEM. Trained or untrained. Revealed knowledge or not. I could give a crap less what all the HSLD trainers say about what folks SHOULD OR MUST do. What I’m assured of is that the anti’s hear them. They play right into the “reasonable restrictions” argument the Heller decision laid out thanks to Justice Scalia. We (meaning those in favor of a right to self defense EVERYWHERE) are going to pay dearly for what these folks are allowed to pitch without rebuttal. We WILL have mandatory training by the GOVT at some time folks. And these guys will be the ones scrambling for the contracts. For an example just look at what they did and are doing with the FFDO program !

    • This ENTIRE thread and its predecessor are written by people who feel less competent than the Travis Haleys of the world.

      Those HSLD “operators” or “instructors” aren’t telling OFWGs what they can and can’t do. Nope. These threads are full of OFWGs saying “HSLD operators can’t tell ME what to do” and other “I’m ok, you’re ok” BS.

      Think you’re already ready for a “DGU” and don’t need to improve yourself any further? Fine. You have to live with that, not the HSLD instructors.

      • Exactly,it’s our decision to make. After spending a lifetime of watching fad boys chasing the next great “pet rock” and throwing money at it I’ve decided that I’m the best judge of what’s best for me and my bank account.

        after watching the old lady in the jewelry store chase an entire armed crew out the door with her revolver I’m going to sign up for whatever classes she gives.

  10. OODA smoooda …who gives a rat’s behind what you call muscle memory…everyone knows what you mean when you say it. Surviving a gunfight does not make a person an expert on gunfighting or anything else. I’ve survived six (6)…that would be the number right after 5 and right before 7 armed encounters…..and I’m not an expert on gunfighting. What I DO know is that once a person has learned the basics of firearms handling and markmanship…it all comes down to Mind Set. IF you ain’t ready for it mentally…you’re in deep shit.

  11. Guys, this isn’t about OODA.

    And it’s not about money by claiming I have some unobtainable knowledge that you can only get from me. As far as anyone else or “no shortage” of those offering this type of training as was mentioned above, I’d like to see a listing. And if they cannot explain the link between the Amygdala and training/PTSD/threat mitigation/profiling/parasympathetic backlash/etc. then they are not offering “this” training, but repeating training from someone else that may have created a really good curriculum based on the neuroscience. You should be careful…training scars kill often.

    If you have been in several armed encounters as an everyday citizen you may be a great candidate for understanding this because you probably have missed several pre- incident indicators (PIN’s) that should have prevented you from getting that far into it and having to pull your gun. I got serious about improving my prevention skills and brain function after gunfight number one. Also, is an encounter an incident where deadly force was used or simply threatened? Big difference! I been in more than a dozen armed encounters, but only three active shooter situations and only one of those was as a civilian. I learned quickly after that one that I had to be better.

    The science is solid and has been quietly used to tailor the most effective training programs to date. The numbers prove it for those who were exposed to the process and then went on to use the training in real life situations. They have a marked increase in survival rate. And here’s the great part of it! You don’t need to see me or anyone else who has been through the process of creating training based on this. You probably have already read of the summary of this if you have read “On Killing” and “On Combat”. That’s just a description of the result.

    You can do this yourself, IF you’re willing to be open minded and HONEST about your current status AND be faithful to the science when setting up your personal program. Chances are if it’s fun, you’re not doing it right. It should humiliate you in the beginning to see where you really are. It was for me and many who watch themselves on video as they don’t even get to use all that high speed (reactionary) weapons skill because they were caught up in the vacuum of cognition.

    Here’s how you do it. Start off in the order listed below. Read these books. Really read them. Don’t look at them looking to pick them apart based on your preconceived notions of what effective training should be or what you think you are currently capable of. pay particular attention to the literature from Dr. Joseph Ledoux of NYU. He pioneered the neuroscience of what enable all of this to come to fruition. Particularly book number 5 on the list. It’s heavy reading and took a laymen like myself several repeats of much of it with jaunts on google to understand specifics in it. Synaptic self is the most important book you can read when it comes to understanding how the brain learns and reacts. As far as the specifics of how you set up training to actually make the brain go into Amygdalaic response, you’re on your own. I’ve spent years figuring out how to do it, safely, but effectively. And, I’m not going to give that aspect away and expose myself to liability when someone decides to cowboy it up and hurts or kills someone. It is correct to say the public is not interested in this type of training. Money and time is always a factor, but the biggest factor is that most “gun” guys cannot come to terms with what the initial evaluation phase of this type of program exposes about themselves. So they shoot it down and scoff at the science. More’s the Pity…..when the conventional methods are getting people killed in front of you on a weekly basis and not just in some theoretical scenario you are having fun training for, minds start to open and crave improvement.

    After you set up your training, you’ll have to go back and evaluate your results based on the info from these books as well as other literature from the shrinks/scientists to tweak your training. It doesn’t stop as there is always room for improvement and learning. Video everything for critique. I always do and always learn new things about the effectiveness of the program and make adjustments. you shouldn’t rely on someone else’s critique, they may just be trying to get you to spend more money with them. See it for yourself.

    Yes you can get these on my website. I have an Amazon link to them. But you can do it for free by ordering them through your local library. I didn’t write them, give someone else the money.

    1. The Gift of Fear – Gavin DeBecker
    2. Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman, PhD
    3. On Combat and On Killing – LtCol. Dave Grossman
    4. The Emotional Brain – Dr. Joseph Ledoux
    5. Synaptic Self – Dr. Joseph Ledoux
    6. Demonic Males – Dale Peterson/Richard Wrangham
    7. A Natural History of the Senses – Diane Ackerman

    Good Luck and be Blessed!

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