Back  in the day I read a report in a martial arts magazine about a man who was killed, stabbed to death, by a street hood. The victim was a Black Belt Karate instructor. At the time I was just a teenager with perhaps six months of martial arts training under my belt. When you are low ranking kid, white, yellow, blue belt, you look up to the black belts as invincible demigods. “How could that happen?” I wondered. “How could a Black Belt be killed by some punk”?

When you cut through all of the minute details, it comes down to one distinct and ever so important factor: will. The will to immediately do what is necessary to not only survive but destroy your attacker.

There are plenty of example of gunfights where police officers and armed citizens lost their lives because they didn’t harness their will to live. For whatever reason—fear, lack of training or both—they hesitated when they should have committed. In the YouTube police dashcam era, the evidence of fatal paralysis is unmistakable . . .

I run a three-day Small Arms and Tactics program where we teach Judgment-based Engagement Training. On Day one of JET training we show the students a dash-cam video that involved a deputy murdered during a traffic stop [above].

I cringe every time I watch. Despite numerous hostility indicators the deputy allowed the man to challenge him, retrieve a rifle from behind his truck seat, load said rifle, and kill the officer.

Wasn’t the deputy trained? Of course he was. For all we know he might have been a great shot on the range with his service pistol. Yes, the killer had some skill with a weapon, too. But skill wasn’t the deciding factor in this encounter.

By the time the officer made the decision to shoot, his attacker had a huge tactical advantage. The attacker, a Vietnam-era veteran, was committed to the assault and was operating on his own terms. The murder weapon was a Ruger Mini-14 in .223 Remington, a tremendously more powerful cartridge than the officer’s .40 S&W pistol.

The officer got caught up in the broken-record syndrome or for you younger folks, he was stuck in a verbal loop. The officer kept yelling “show me your hands” and “drop the gun” over and over again, ad nauseam.

While the cop was stuck in verbal loop mode, the killer went about deliberately retrieving, loading, and firing his rifle. The killer had made the decision to act and was totally committed to it.

From watching the tape it was obvious that the officer was not committed or committed far too late. The killer had the will to carry through with his intended plan.

How do you instill the will to do what is necessary? How do we teach armed police and citizens to apply deadly force without hesitation?

Force-on-force (FOF) training. It’s not just some cool novelty; it is an absolute must for officers and armed citizens to operate effectively in the rapidly evolving, hyper-violent encounters they will likely face in the real world.

Too often the FATS trainer is seen as a neat novelty item that officers are put through once. Force-on-force scenarios with role-players involve a lot of time and logistics and therefore are difficult to put together.

I’ve attended private training academies with veteran officers whose first real FOF was during that school. They’ve been on the road five, ten, fifteen years but never had the opportunity to get serious Shoot/Don’t Shoot training. In my mind that is not only negligent, it’s criminal.

It is during FATS or FOF training that each officer will experience their own personal epiphany. They’ve been taught the Tueller Drill or had “action vs. reaction” explained to them. However, it is not until they experience it for themselves that they realize just how fluid and dynamic violent encounters are. They realize that hesitation will indeed get them killed.

When it comes down to it, the simple fact is that the will to win, to defeat the enemy, is more important that simply having the skill. The question is a very personal one that only you can answer. You may have the skill you need, do you have the will to apply it?

Paul G. Markel became a US Marine in 1987. Mr. Markel has been a professional bodyguard, police officer and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Markel recently launched “Emergency Tactical Skills” program. For more info go to: www.EmergencyTacticalSkills.com  


  1. Bad guys always have the tactical advantage because the good guys
    have to exercise restraint. On the battlefield the solider has the
    luxury of shoot first and ask questions later while LEOs and
    civilians exercising the right to self defense will forced to
    justify their actions. Just ask George Zimmerman.

    • During war, you are probably accurate. During a counter-insurgency
      operation, you statement is very inaccurate. Probably accurate –
      remember Haditha? What we found out is that the Marines were
      following the ROE that had been established and that although some
      civilians were killed the actions of the Marines involved was
      justified. After 6 years of investigation and legal maneuvering.
      Inaccurate – in current operations our service members #1 complaint
      is the restrictions of the ROE. Just last night on the world news,
      President Karzai was complaining about an airstrike that killed
      “possible civilians”. Does anyone lend any possible credence to the
      idea that US service members deliberately bombed a community
      gathering? Hell no. Dead terrorists look just like dead civilians
      when a JDAM explodes.

      • Agree with your points. I probably should have used the adjective
        “traditional” to modify battlefield. The movie “Rules of
        Engagement” demonstrates your point quite well.

      • “Does anyone lend any possible credence to the idea that US service
        members deliberately bombed a community gathering?” Waco comes to

        • Actually that was the ATF and the FBI. My former boss LTG Jerry
          Boykin reviewed the plan when he was a one star at SOCOM and told
          the the Feds you gotta to be f-ing nuts. Your plan isn’t going to
          work and a bunch of people are going to get killed.

        • Are FBI and ATF not US service members? Okay, though. I get the
          sentiment that domestically engaged government agents are somehow
          different then foreign engaged government agents. So… “Does
          anyone lend any possible credence to the idea that US serice
          members deliberately bombed a community gathering?” Tokyo, Dresden,
          Berlin, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, etc, etc. come to mind. The targeting
          of civilian populations by the US military is not, by any means,
          without credence.

        • No they are not Service members under both domestic and international law. What you really meant to say is that they are all agents of the government. Your nonsensical statement about “community gatherings” in foreign countries shows that you are an idiot. The basic purpose of miltary forces is to kill people and break things.

        • tdiinva, are you calling me the idiot or Sid? It’s hard to tell with the new comment/reply format. Regardless, I was simply answering Sid’s question to demonstrate that the deliberate targeting of civilians by our military is not an uncommon occurrence. I agree that the purpose of the military is to kill people and break things, but usually those people and things are another country’s military personnel and equipment, not their civilian population. At least that’s what we’re told their targets are. Remember, deliberately targeting civilians in order to influence political policy or military strategy is the definition of terrorism.

        • By the way, asking who you were calling an “idiot” was a joke…
          just in case you missed it.

        • You are a bright fellow so go figure it out. Gee I wonder what the Germans and Japanese were doing at these community events? Let’s see the Germans were industrially killing Jews and the Japanese were massacring Malays, Vietnamese, Indonesians. Chinese and Filipinos. The latter were American citizens.

        • So, since our enemies committed atrocities against us it makes it okay to committ atrocities against them? If your answer is yes, then there is really no need to continue the discussion. Our fundamental moral principles would be in direct conflict.

        • Fire bombing of Japan in WWII by B-29 pilots. Read the book ” The Man Who Flew The Memphis Belle”. The pilot of Dauntless Dottie provides graphic detail.

      • Exactly. When we would train in traditional scenarios – platoons,
        companies or battalions maneuvering – it’s not tough to get troops
        to pull the trigger. Switch to a more complex scenario involving
        civilians and “civilians” and it’s way tougher. We were training
        for service in the former Yugoslavia, and would have scenarios
        involving guarding a bridge or cross roads. Troops from another
        unit (often foreign, often female) would play the role of
        cantankerous civvies / soldiers in mufti, and would stage a series
        of gradual escalations and provocations, to see if when and if we’d
        be willing to use force. Knowing that there were a complex set of
        ROEs in place, nobody wanted to be the first to pull a trigger. In
        those scenarios peppers spray, tasers and even rubber bullets would
        have been helpful, but all we had were pickaxe handles at the low
        end, and rifles and MGs at the high end. And you had to be careful
        not to let rifle-armed troops get tangled up in a pushing match
        where they could lose those rifles.

      • Henry: At the risk of getting flame deleted I will state that you are less rational then Mr. Bonomo.

  2. To quote AF MSgt J. Harr: “It’s not about what you’re ABLE do. It’s
    all about what you’re WILLING to do!”

  3. Those police officers didn’t seem to be taking the training very
    seriously. Very few used their sights and only one sought cover.
    Laughing and smiling. Treating FATS like a video game undermines
    the potential training value.

      • But if fat white men are these awful knuckle-dragging racists like you seem to insinuate, wouldn’t it be good to try and teach them when/when not to shoot?

        I won’t engage in any speculation about your body type, but I do think you need to enroll in serious intellectual obesity (i.e., useless weighty mass in the cranial region, possibly impacted within the rectal cavity) treatment.

    • The folks in the video weren’t police officers they were everyday
      citizens attending the department’s “Citizen’s Academy” (a P/R
      event many law enforcement agencies use to educated/inform the
      public about what they do). For them participants it was a video

  4. “officers and armed citizens to operate effectively in the rapidly
    evolving, hyper-violent encounters” What exactly is the difference
    between a violent encounter and a hyper-violent encounter?

  5. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the only things that
    determine the outcome of a fight are the ability to use violence,
    and the WILLINGNESS to do so.

  6. Speaking of gunfights…the latest from Detroit: A Detroit
    homeowner shot and killed an intruder and accidentally shot his
    wife this morning, according to police. The 64-year-old resident of
    the 22000 block of Barbara, near West Outer Drive and Schoolcraft,
    heard two men who broke into his home at about 5 a.m., Detroit
    Police Sgt. Eren Stephens said. He began firing shots at the
    suspects, killing one and wounding his 63-year-old wife. The second
    suspect crashed through the front picture window of the home and
    fled. But police were able to follow a trail of blood from the
    scene and arrested the second suspect in the 14400 block of
    Burgess, a street nearby. The man’s wife is in temporary-serious
    condition this morning,

  7. The problem with simulation is that the participants know it is
    simulated. It is the same as playing cops and robbers as a child.
    Or paint ball/ air soft/ video games. You know from the beginning
    everyone will live to play another day no matter how many times you
    “kill” or are “killed” and in the end everyone will have had a good
    time. Simulation may possibly help to develope the mechanics needed
    to survive a gunfight, but it does nothing to prepare one to press
    the trigger with the barrel pointed at a human target or control
    your own emotions with live fire coming your direction.

    • Ron, how many professionally conducted Force on Force and Simulation training programs have you attended? Did you share this critique with your instructors?

      • Paul, I am not ignoring you. This formatting is so bad. I would like to wait until it improves before replying to your comment. Hopefully it will be easier to read. Also I am not receiving Email updates, so I have to check for new comments as I think of it, but I will try to get back to you as soon as things improve.

    • From talking to Veterans, like my Dad, this is very true. A good book on kill or be killed is ” In Deadly Combat ” by Gottlob Bidderman.

    • Ron, have you ever been shot with a paint ball gun or with simunitions? They HURT! I don’t know if that will motivate everyone to take it seriously, but I found it SURE motivated me to better use of cover, and to shoot back in the hopes of not getting shot anymore myself.

      • Hi bontai Joe, Yes I have. My youngest nephew loves paintball. It is fun. I did say simulation may possibly help to develope mechanics. Still no matter how much they “hurt”, you know that there is little to no chance of death or serious injury to youself or others. By the way, my nephew keeps his paintballs in the freezer.

        • To a certain extent you’re right. I recently watched a video of a bunch of guys using airsoft guns “clearing” a house. I cringed at their sloppy tactics. They were “learning” all the wrong things. Their “lessons” would get them killed in a real fire-fight. On the other hand, I’ve been through exercises in live-fire houses (real guns, live ammo, dummy targets) where the instructors critiqued us afterwards. They called us on any sloppiness. They didn’t want us to learn the wrong things. Those exercises really got the adrenalin going. I’ve also been through FOF exercises wearing goggles and a raincoat, and using wax bullets. They sting, so you learn quickly when you’ve made a mistake that would have gotten you killed in a real firefight. If your training doesn’t include these things, go to a school that does include them.

  8. One huge point you did not make in the article about the Deputy was that thew week previous to him being killed he was reprimanded for escalating situations too fast. In other words, in my opinion, his boss got him killed.

  9. I had seen this video for the first time about a week ago. I hate it. I don’t mean I hate that people can see it – I think people who carry a firearm should watch this. And I think you’re exactly right that this boils down to will. What really crushes me when I watch this is that I want to attribute the officer’s negligence to do anything to mercy. He’s trying to keep both parties alive and it only does him in. That breaks my heart. I have a question about something in the video. The pattern with which the officer shoots seems to me to be erratic, popping off three shots here, two there. Brannan’s shots, however, seem rhythmic. I’ve read he’s a Vietnam vet and was an infantryman, which would explain his use of suppressive fire. Are LEOs taught to shoot with a certain pattern?

    • It is a heartbreaking video. I too noted the shooting differences. Once the murderer started loading his rifle, the officer should have been shooting, possibly using suppresive fire himself to maneuver to a better position. Instead, he surrenders the initiative to the murderer. I wonder if the officer understood how outclassed he was going to be by allowing the murderer to finish loading a RIFLE. Many officers, I suspect, don’t have a lot of range time (or interest) in rifle marksmanship and don’t realize just how much more deadly, accurate, and effective rifle fire can be over a handgun.

  10. It’s a small point but Brannan used an M1 Carbine. From Wikipedia; “After being captured, Brannan was asked why he killed Dinkheller. His response was, “Because he let me.” All of the skill and training in the world is pretty useless without the will to survive. For whatever reason that day, Officer Dinkheller lost his will. Brannan got into Dinkheller’s OODA loop and Dinkheller wasn’t able to wasn’t able to pull out of the spin. It’s no wonder that this is used as a training tool. It’s horrifying that his wife, children and family can see this.

  11. The post is pretty spot on. Having a weapon and the basic marksmanship training is only a small part of handling a violent encounter. The mechanics just aren’t that hard, the psychology is hard. Those who succeed are those who either by good fortune possess the instinct for combat (and no, that probably isn’t you), or those who have taken the time to learn, train and think through the scenarios beforehand at great effort. These are big-person decisions about life and death, and if you aren’t prepared to make
    them, that gun on your hip might as well be a cell phone.

  12. Wow well I cringed the entire time I was watching it. I think the moment he went to his truck and was fiddling around the officer said drop the gun. At that point I would have fired. There was a minute or so that I was saying shoot already shoot! then it was to late. It was almost like watching slow motion, or at least felt like it. Sad as it is you are right this is a great learning tool. You have to be very aware of your advantage or lack of and respond accordingly. As soon as he was known to have a gun, all bets should be off and he should have gone down.

  13. Very sad video to watch. I think that Josh describes it well, the officer was trying to keep both parties alive and that does him in. I don’t know what is most advantageous tactically, and what officers are allowed to do. I would tend to want to shoot the driver the first time he rushes at me. After all, he was aggressive and could have been carrying an edged weapon. After that, once he started to load the rifle, the driver got in front of the curve. At the point where the driver is loading the rifle, what should the officer have done? Rushed the vehicle? I don’t know. Does anyone here with training/LE experience have an answer to that? This was educational, but troubling and heart breaking. There is evil in the world.

  14. First of all, if he didn’t comply by refusing orders to approach and stay put, not going back in his vehicle, i would have tazed his ass and cuffed him. police have tazed for less (such as not getting out of the vehicle) than what this piece of shit got away with. this is a tragedy, a woeful product of poor training and mindset. This video actually made me angry.

  15. I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to think some US military members would deliberately kill civilians, just like the “enemy” does. No morally righteous human being would justify the deaths of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.


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