The Fight Box - What the Firearms Industry Needs to Know About the Sympathetic Nervous System



This is the first edition of TriggerControl, a column by Nephi Khaliki, a Simunition expert and full-contact gunfight coach for the Las Vegas Gunfight Academy. The opinions expressed in this column are awesome, and probably reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Pro-Gun News team. 



Few of us in the firearms industry really understand how neurology applies to firearms training.  It isn’t a connection that has really been historically made. But if we’re serious about training, (especially training other people whose lives depend on what we teach) we better start learning about neurology and how the Sympathetic Nervous system works.

Most of us in the gun world have “alpha” type personalities who focus more on the sheer mechanics and physicality of what goes into operating a firearm.  We tend to approach pain and violence from a “suck it up” or “never stop fighting” mentality that speaks more to our machismo than anything. We logically view violence as a matter of physicality and therefore approach training with that objective in mind.  The people who need to understand neurology typically work in a field that requires them to know that kind of science.  Most of us don’t even hear the word “neurology” unless we find ourselves in the hospital and someone tells us we need a doctor that specializes in it. It isn’t logical for us to make the connection between firearms training and neurology.

The time has come to make that connection.  Our lives depend on it.

I recognize who I’m speaking to in this article so I’m going to break it down into concepts and language that meat-eaters will easily understand.  This will not be a discussion of a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo that makes the subject matter even harder to understand, let alone apply to what firearms trainers are doing with their training methods.

Neurology is a branch of medical science that deals with the nervous system and specifically with the brain and spinal cord.  That includes how we receive information through our senses and how our brain processes that information.  Our neurological system handles how we process everything from eye-hand coordination and reflexes to adrenaline and pain.  Once we define what the neurological system handles, we immediately start to see how relevant this discussion is to firearms training (and especially gunfight training).

There are two basic neurological systems we need to understand:

  1. Parasympathetic Nervous System
  2. Sympathetic Nervous System

The “Chill Box" 

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (or what I like to call the “Chill Box”) is basically our “resting mode” and is how we receive and process ordinary information in a normal, non-stressed way.  When we are in school learning how to read or paint, it is our Parasympathetic Nervous System we are using to process all the new or known information.  Most of us will spend 99% of our lives in the “Chill Box” and never know anything else.  That is until something violent happens.

The “Fight Box”

The Sympathetic Nervous System (or what I like to call the “Fight Box”) is what is commonly known as our “fight or flight” reflex.  But it is a lot more than just a reflex.  It is actually the neurological system that stores information, muscle memory, and trained reflexes we actually use to fight with. 

Why is this important for firearms training?  Because the way these two systems actually function provides us with some pretty irrefutable science that flat out debunks much of the way we approach firearms training today.  The good news is, once we gain a simple understanding of how these two neurological systems work, the flood gates will open for the entire training industry.  Training will advance more in the years following our understanding of this science more than any other period in history.

The best way to explain this science is to go back to the “Chill Box” and the “Fight Box” analogy.  People tend to think of a person as one “box” where everything they know and think is contained.  One brain.  One body.  But we are much more complicated than that.  While the human body acts in one synergistic consciousness, there is actually a great deal of compartmentalization that exists in our physical and neurological makeup.  These subsystems behave synergistically for the greater good of the entire system, but all functions within that system are not interchangeable or accessible from one to another.  A good example of this is how we have voluntary and involuntary movements.  You cannot, not matter how hard you try, voluntarily control the beating of your own heart.  You cannot tell your digestive system to work or not to work.  You cannot control by cognitive thought any of your organs.  The systems that control each of these functions remain entirely inaccessible to what controls each one respectively.

The same is true for the separation that exists between the Fight Box and the Chill Box.  Once information goes into one system, it is inaccessible to the other.  When you are in the Chill Zone, you can only access what is in the Chill Box.  When you are in the Fight Zone, you can only access what is in the Fight Box.  The single most significant factor affecting the efficacy of firearms training doctrine in the entire world is the fact that we train most people under the parasympathetic nervous system.  When we have an adrenal response, we are involuntarily shifted into 4 wheel drive, where our access to the features of 2 wheel drive are no longer accessible.  We fill our Chill Boxes with massive amounts of training and information, but when we are forced into a Fight Zone, we are looking for those tools in the Fight Box.  But alas... It is empty.  Those tools are locked away in our Chill Box and will remain inaccessible until our body processes the adrenaline and gives the “all clear” signal to the brain.

What has lead us to this point is quite simply to be blamed on safety.  Safety is the Number One inhibitor of effective firearms training.  Our necessary reliance on safety (because we train with lethal rounds) has forced all of our training into our Chill Box—where it will then be inaccessible once we are shoved into the Fight Box.

I have heard more trainers repeat the idea that, “If you’re a good shooter on the range, you’ll be an okay shooter in a gunfight” so many times that I cannot count them all.  This mantra contradicts the very nature of adrenaline, which is designed as a performance enhancing drug by all scientific definitions.  If the occurrence of an adrenal response diminishes our ability to fight, our training must necessarily avoid such a response knowing that it will put us at a disadvantage.  But few people would survive a violent encounter without the presence of adrenaline—so this cannot possibly be true.  If adrenaline is designed to enhance the performance of an individual in a violent or life-threatening event, and our training is inhibiting that effect in some way, the only logical conclusion to be had is that there is something wrong with our training.

What is fundamentally wrong with our training is that it is being conducted while the student is operating under the Parasympathetic Nervous system and the training value is effectively locked inside that system.  When that training is needed, it is inaccessible under a Sympathetic response.  

It would be entirely pointless to write this article and question our very way of life without putting forward any real solutions to the problems presented here.  Lucky for us, the solutions are pretty straightforward.  The best way to induct a person into the Sympathetic Nervous System is simply train them with another human being on the other end of their gun.  Firearms training needs to start adopting more of a martial arts approach than this one sided, static target, “the good guy always wins against a target” format.  The greatest tool at triggering the body’s natural adrenaline is to have the student go face-to-face with a human opponent.  That means training needs to adopt more of a buddy system like Jujitsu.
 

“Until you’re standing in front of another person, the training isn’t relatable to the fight.”

-- Pete Pinto
Former UFC Trainer

 

Obviously, we aren’t talking about lethal rounds.  In fact, an argument could be made that lethal rounds are largely unnecessary when it comes to training.  Simunition is quite adequate for the purpose of inducting someone into Parasympathetic training—if used for full-contact sparring like we did at the Las Vegas Gunfights for 6-years.

From 2014-2020, I ran the Las Vegas Gunfights—the only full-contact tactical training sport in the world.  After over 5,000 full-contact gunfights ranging from the average gun owner to SWAT team members and Special Forces, we learned a tremendous amount of information regarding how gunfighters are more effectively developed.  I believe that (once this model is turned over to the experienced trainers and brilliant tactical minds in our industry), it will usher in a generation of training efficacy that will far exceed any other period in our history.

The point is, we need to remove the barriers that safety has created for effective training and add the “versus” element to our training.  As long as we continue to train under the Parasympathetic Nervous System, we will continue to have massive “leakage” in our training values. 

In a nutshell, firearms training needs to follow a model that more closely resembles a martial arts model than what we have now.  Take the lethality out of training, add a human opponent, and practice every skill set with aggressive opposition.  Do that, and the industry will start to see massive improvements in training retention, which, at the end of the day, will do nothing more than save lives.

 

Nephi Khaliki is a Simunition expert and full-contact gunfight coach for the Las Vegas Gunfight Academy. He can be reached by email at nephi@lvgunfights.com



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