Neuroscientists who are speaking to people like me, who have been hit in the head…a lot, favor an explanation of the brain as a split processing system consisting of the “thinking/cognitive you,” and the “emotional/feeling you.” The “feeling you” is an implicit bias system that provides fast but not necessarily accurate hunches that guide your behavior. These hunches are more and more accurate as your experience level increases in the endeavor in question.
For example, you wake up in the middle of the night shivering, realize the blankets are off the bed, cover yourself and quickly fall back to sleep. The solution to this problem would come quickly and without a lot of mental effort. But instead, let’s say you are woken up by a smell you can’t identify, then realize your house is on fire. The simple transition of waking up, realizing you are cold and covering up, becomes a lot more complicated. Without adequate experience and under heavy emotional response, a quick but not necessarily accurate guess about what to do next, as in cases where the adults run out of the house and forget to get the children. With no training or experience relevant to the issue, they save themselves and forget the kids until they are safe, the brain calms, and they then realize, their kids are not safe.
Daily, we are driven by hunches from the emotional, unconscious system that guide our behavior and decisions. The “cognitive you” is basically lazy and unless driven through attention to perform a task, will usually go along with the hunches provided by the emotional systems. Scientists believe the most important function of the cognitive system is the ability of the “conscious you” to overrule these quick hunches provided by the emotional system. In response to incoming stimuli, each system of the brain asks a different question in order to come up with ideas for how-to guide decision making. The “cognitive/thinking you” asks, “What do I think about this issue?” This process is slower but more accurate than the quick hunches of the emotional system. The “feeling/emotional you” asks, “How do I feel about this issue?” This is a faster, easier answer to process but not necessarily an accurate response.
Recently, I have repeatedly heard people from across the political divide say that what they feel about an issue is more important than facts and the truth. These, my friends, are incredibly dangerous lines of thinking because the “feeling you” cares about yourself and people you consider to be part of your in-group to the detriment of everyone else. This is an unconscious driver of behavior and some of the same neurochemicals that enhance your connection to an in-group, can make you downright evil towards anyone in your out-group. We are all driven by these systems and a lack of understanding of these systems is currently driving the vitriol in politics, social media and in our day-to-day existence. A fundamental understanding of these brain systems gives the conscious you the ability to overrule some of the hunches of the emotional system.
Now, here is where is gets even more complicated; Without time constraints and pressure, it’s easy to spend time thinking about an issue and seeking facts to guide you to the best idea of the truth regarding the matter in question. But, under pressure and time constraints or excessive emotional stress, the emotional system (where the fight or flight responses are directed) attempts to take control and blood flow goes where the action is. Blood flow to the emotional brain diminishes blood flow to the thinking brain and vice versa. Under perceived threat by either stress or the pressure of a situation, the brain may default to the best guess of the emotional brain.
For law enforcement officers or anyone in a perceived or real-life threatening situation, these best guesses can lead to tragedy. Why? Because of the substitution of the easier question, “How do I feel about this?,” instead of the more accurate, “What do I think about this?” When you are scared, overly excited, stressed out or overly anxious, the emotional brain wants to answer the easier question. What is the answer of how you feel about something like a suspect’s hands moving to his waistband area while resisting a lawful arrest? If the answer is, threatened, what do you think the quick hunch will be?
Keep in mind that the same processing going on in the officer’s brain is also going on in the suspect’s. The suspect’s brain, under the stress and pressure of the situation, may default to the easier question, “How do I feel?” And, if the answer is, “I don’t want to go to jail.” He fights to keep his hands away from the officer by keeping them close to his body. The suspect thinks, “I can’t be handcuffed if I want to escape.” The officer’s hunch is that the suspect is hiding a gun. And here is the dirty secret; If the emotional brain is overly stimulated past a certain threshold unique to each individual, the emotional brain may tell you and show you exactly what it needs to in order to initiate a survival response. In these cases, the thinking you may be completely shut off momentarily. And there you have the anatomy of a mistake of fact shooting.
I wrote the book, Taming the Serpent: How Neuroscience Can Revolutionize Modern Law Enforcement Training, to address some of these issues as I truly believe the future of law enforcement is training geared toward how the brain interprets information and drives decision making. In the course of studying these ideas as they relate to law enforcement, I found the same ideas relevant to every one of us in our day to day experiences.
What an amazing opportunity...last year teaching in Montreal and this year teaching in Norway! What a blast..great people, great fun, and the chance to teach with Kevin and Ola and Axel...I am truly blessed my friends!
This summer Mike will be a special guest instructor at Kevin Secours' Combat Systema Summer Camp in Montreal, Quebec, Canada during the week of July 9-13, 2012. Here's what Kevin has to say about Mike.
"Mike Malpass of Combat Systema Phoenix will be providing two very special evening sessions. Mike is the owner of Combative Resolutions. He has been a police officer for 19 years, and is currently assigned to the Phoenix S.W.A.T. special assignments unit. He is a five-time national heavyweight kickboxing champion with over 24 years
of experience in the martial arts, including intensive training in catch wrestling and defensive tactics. Mike is a progressive, pragmatic, pressure-tested real-world warrior. He will be leading two special evening sessions on Solo and Team Restraint Tactics and Home Security. This is a rare, must-do opportunity to learn cutting edge, battle- proven and street-ready tactics from a man on the frontline."
See more about the Combat Systema Summer Camp 2012 here.
Posted on June 5, 2011 by Mike Malpass
Last weekend, we completed our first Combat Systema seminar in Tempe,
Arizona. The seminar went three days and covered: functionalizing the clinch,
takedowns on resisting subjects, ground survival and the Combat Systema striking
module. The group consisted of law enforcement officers, Combat Systema
affiliates and several people who wanted to compare Combat Systema with other
systems they have or are currently studying.
First off, what an amazing group of people! Everyone worked hard straight
through for seven-hour days. The participants opted for no lunch and small
breaks for maximum training time for each individual. Throughout the three day
seminar, individuals approached myself and Kevin and commented on the quality of
the people involved with the seminar. For the law enforcement officers, it was
an eye opening experience to train with Kevin Secours, to be exposed to his
extensive experience and abilities and to see an approach to training far
different from what the average cop experiences in the course of his/her
Every cop involved in the seminar made it clear that this style of training
is far more beneficial than the standard “cookie cutter” approach to law
enforcement training. The affiliates, who have trained with Kevin before said
that each time is a new experience and they learn new twists to the lessons each
time. The others who have trained in other arts, but not Combat Systema before,
were fascinated by the lesson plan objectives and amazed at the extensive
knowledge Kevin has, not only of Combat Systema, but of numerous other fighting
For me, it was a great experience to be around a wonderful group of people
and to spend three days with Kevin Secours, who is not only one of the most
skillful and talented teachers I have ever trained with, but a hell of a nice
guy to boot. If you have the chance to train with Kevin, I could not give you
enough of a recommendation to do so. I can guarantee that you will not be
disappointed and you will walk away more poised, more skilled and more amazed
each time you train with him. To contact Kevin, go to CombatSystema.com and you
can also see some of his teaching methods at Systema Canada on You Tube. I also
highly recommend Kevin’s dvd’s, which were my first chance to see the Combat
Systema application to fighting systems. Keep in mind, I studied different
fighting systems for almost thirty years before I was exposed to Combat Systema
material. Here is what I can tell you; if you have already been studying other
arts, Kevin’s material will make you better. If Combat Systema is the first art
you will study, you will be exposed to a complete fighting system that teaches
how to stay healthy and develop principles and attributes from day one that can
put you well on your way to becoming a balanced, healthy, and poised fighter.
Check on the Systema Canada and Combative Resolutions You Tube pages in the
next few weeks for video clips from the seminar and thanks again to Kevin
Secours for an awesome training experience.
Posted on March 11, 2011 by Mike Malpass
I get a lot of questions regarding why I teach an emphasis on the hammer fist
and more unconventional striking methods. Please keep in mind that we can
discuss two different methodologies when it comes to striking, which are
sportive and combative. I am a huge fan of MMA, boxing, kickboxing and
freestyle martial arts and I have competed in all of these arenas in the last
thirty years. Eighteen years ago, I became a police officer and since then have
been trying to find ways to take my sportive experience and apply it to a more
combative application. This has been fun, enlightening, frustrating, confusing
and back to exciting, enlightening, and thought provoking. The major issue with
sportive striking methods is that the human body can generate more power than
the human hand can absorb if contact is not made precisely the same way every
time. If making precise strikes was easy, then professional fighters who are
involved in street confrontations would have no trouble making the transfer from
a sportive to a combative methodology. Unfortunately, this is not the case as
numerous incidents involving broken hands with professional fighters both in and
out of the ring and cage abound. Don’t get me wrong, I still love traditional
boxing and kickboxing striking techniques in their sportive applications. I
just don’t endorse using them at full power in a combative application.
A worse case scenario could look like this: Imagine a police officer who is
involved in an altercation with a combative suspect. They are in a knock down
drag out fight and the officer now fears for his life and escalates to full
speed full power punching. He manages to knock the suspect down with a mighty
overhand right but breaks his hand in the process. The officer is right handed
and has now lost the use of his right hand. To make matters worse, three
generations of the suspect’s family are now headed his way. The officer is
right handed and cannot draw his weapon due to the damage sustained from
throwing a picture perfect overhand right that landed slightly off in the fog of
war. He cannot quickly handcuff his suspect and make a run for it because
handcuffing cannot be done quickly with one hand. Sound bad? This happened to
a friend of mine and the only thing that saved him was the emergency button on
his radio which brought the cavalry quickly to his aide.
If this had happened to an average police officer with no sportive or
combative experience it would have been easy to pass off the broken hand as “the
cost of doing business.” Fortunately for us, this officer had professional
boxing and kickboxing experience and knew the business of sportive striking very
well. This gave us a hint that the sportive applications were not transferring
to the combative and we began to search to refine our techniques.
While discussing this incident with the officer, I remember a conversation I
had with Sam Jones back in the 80’s. Sam is a boxing and kickboxing coach in
southern Ohio and a high level black belt in Bando. Sam is also a former
contender in the professional boxing ranks as well as a holder of numerous
kickboxing titles. Sam ran a bar as well as his boxing gym and one night after
boxing training we were discussing the fact that Sam had broken his hands so
many times that he no longer used traditional boxing punches when involved in
conflicts at the bar. We then discussed the Bando Boar punches which are the
same as the old school hatchet and hammer fist shots. Sam demonstrated the
technique and its many applications as well as how the shots were not as
dependant on stance as traditional striking techniques. Sam banged a few of
these off my boxing guard and it was amazing how much force was carried through
my shielding forearms and into my head. I then used these techniques to get me
through my college job of bouncing in the bars at Ohio University in Athens
Ohio. They definitely save the hands and there is nothing like a quick, short
hammer fist to the top of a free swinging drunks head to make him blink, sag,
and become very easy to restrain and escort. No residual effects, no broken
bones, just quick disorientation and quick control.
It would stand to reason that I would have remembered this valuable lesson
and carried it into my law enforcement career, but alas, maturity and common
sense came late to this ignorant soul. Roughly fourteen years ago, I brought
back the idea of boxing with the hammer fists and have been refining the idea
ever since. I have used it on the street and I have used it in the cage and
have found it to be equally effective in both realms. Now in the MMA world, I
am just a ham and egger. My dreams of sportive glory are over and now I compete
when I can because it’s a great way to test the capacity to keep your head and
solve problems. My focus now is on techniques that can save my keister when I
need them and have less risk of causing injury to myself while throwing them.
The hammer fist techniques fit these criteria because it really doesn’t
matter what area of the body you hit with them, you can still get an affect out
of your opponent. If I go to throw a hammer fist shot and the suspect shields,
I can still get an affect out of him. If a traditional punch is shielded, you
have a much greater chance of breaking your hand. The hammers can also be
easily blended with elbow techniques and tie-ups to create a continuous flow of
techniques which don’t require memorization, just familiarization. In fact,
while we do drills that have some pattern repetition, each participant is
encouraged to find their own flow and blends that work for them. After a short
period of familiarization, the hammer fist striking method is easily
incorporated into sparring and everyone involved can experience for themselves
the effectiveness of the techniques.
A good start to incorporating these ideas into your fight strategy is to
start on the heavy bag with light shots from numerous angles. Keep the fists
tight but the rest of the arm loose and see how many angles you can come up with
to hit from. The possibilities are truly endless. Then, do some drilling with
a partner back and forth against each other’s shielded arms in order to see that
you can bounce them off his shielding forearms and do no damage to yourself.
You will also notice how much power carries through your own shielding arms when
your partner is throwing. Again, take it easy, no point in giving each other
brain damage. The point is to develop a healthy amount of respect for the
technique and its numerous applications. When you are ready to introduce it
into your sparring, make sure you pad up and wear headgear and a mouthpiece.
Even at fifty percent speed and power, you will feel the impact so be careful
Posted on February 20, 2011 by Mike Malpass
If you are reading this blog, then you probably got to this page from Kevin
Secours’ blog page or from the Systema Canada YouTube page.
(www.combatsystema.com) My thanks to Kevin for showing an interest in the
program and for helping promote the idea. I developed the Team Arrest Tactics
program around six years ago, after several federal rulings came out against
officers who immediately went to strikes in order to solve the problem of a
resistant subject who refuses to comply with handcuffing and is hiding his hands
underneath his body while lying face down on the ground. The subject may be
forcefully moving his body back and forth, but is not actively trying to assault
the officers involved in the arrest. To be clear, if the subject is actively
assaulting officers, then strikes are certainly a good way to gain control by,
first, causing dysfunction, and then, using restraint tactics in order to get
the suspect into handcuffs. However, with the subjects who are resisting arrest
but not assaulting officers, resorting to strikes is not the most efficient way
of gaining control and compliance. While doing the research for the Team Arrest
Tactics program, I was speaking with officers from all around the country and
finding the average number of flashlight, knee and hand strikes to the arms,
back of shoulders and thigh area, to be 15-40 strikes in order to gain
compliance. At that time, this was an informal and unscientific study, but the
concerns of the federal judges supported these statistics.
I have several issues with strikes being the first line of defense for
dealing with a resistant but non-assaulting subject. First, while the various
strikes are being delivered, the suspect is unrestrained and is able to freely
move to defend the strikes, and if he chooses, to begin assaulting the officers.
Second, multiple strikes from multiple officers does not pass the headline
test. To the average civilian, it looks like a savage attack on one non-violent
man by several violent police officers. It does not really matter that they
wouldn’t know a good use of force from a bad one because perception does matter.
The problem at the time was that officers (including myself) were trained to go
to strikes, if, after a “reasonable” amount of time, you were not able to get
the hands out for handcuffing. Of course you were on your own to decide what
would be a “reasonable” amount of time. The officers involved in the court
cases in question acted within the boundaries of their training and within their
agencies’ guidelines, so the issue was not excessive force. The rulings usually
revolved around agencies seeking a better first procedure to gain compliance
before resorting to strikes. From this starting point, the Team Arrest Tactics
The Team Arrest Tactics program is a mixture of old school Catch-as-Catch Can
Wrestling, Naban Grappling, the Bando Python System and Russian Sambo. The idea
was to see if compliance could be gained quickly from a resistant subject by
inducing multiple points of pain compliance while inhibiting the subjects
ability to take in a full breath. Keep in mind the subject can breathe, they
just cannot take in the lungful of air necessary for strong bursts of strength
and power. It took around six months of experimentation and the generous
support of a handful of police officers who were as interested as I was to see
if we could generate some good ideas. This translated to my friends being
poked, prodded, twisted, grinded, cross faced and wrapped up like a Christmas
gift in order to find out what works. We ended up with a program that was
taught in a training module to every officer on my department. Then, it went on
to be presented to several other agencies’ specialty details (usually those
involved with fugitive apprehension). It’s a fun program that is easy to learn
and easy to use. My favorite part of the program is the pace you practice it at
is the exact pace to use on the street. The pace is slow and deliberate every
I did read one post asking if there was concern about restricting breathing.
Positional asphyxia is a concern in any arrest situation, but most documented
cases come from a prisoner who is already handcuffed and is still combative. At
that point, the subject was then “hog-tied” by placing him in leg restraints and
connecting the leg restraints to the handcuffs. That places the subject face
down on the ground with their legs pulled up behind them and attached to the
handcuffs preventing most movements. The Team Arrest Tactics program does place
the subject in a similar contortion, but once compliance is gained and the cuffs
are on, he is removed from that position. If he is still combative, then a long
line is used to connect a leg restraint to the handcuffs, but the subject is
able to sit with the line attached and is not placed on his stomach. The
subject is also continuously monitored to make sure he does not roll onto his
stomach and stay there.
The program is designed to inhibit a full breath,
but not to prevent breathing. The position is uncomfortable, but in the
majority of cases, it is the various forms of pain compliance (which are subtle
and not obvious to the average passerby, thereby, passing the headline test)
which cause the subject to give up his hands for cuffing. In only a small
number of uses have the subjects been able to resist the multiple points of pain
compliance. In these cases, they still gave up due to exhaustion within forty
five seconds. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding the program.