One of the best, most honest looks at the reaction to uncertainty in stressful situations I’ve ever come across is this:

Thank you to Andrew Tuohy of for that video.

My own experiences mirrors his quite a bit. When a bad thing happens but you know what to do to fix it, you go immediately into action to fix it. We call them “battle drills” or “muscle memory.” The problem comes when a situation is an ambiguous problem, and we encounter hesitation in training all the time. Does the squad leader call for a “react to contact” or a “break contact” drill? Do you react to a sniper attack with a counter attack? What if it’s a baited ambush?

The unknowns will eat you alive, which is why the Army encourages leaders to MAKE A DECISION, as any decision has a very high likelihood of being better than hesitation in a combat scenario. In the video Andrew talks about having his hand on the door, but not opening the door. That is exactly what a corpsman or medic should do. The corpsman or medic could make a bad situation worse if the IED attack was the beginning of a complex ambush by getting out of the vehicle and going into the kill zone without the coordinated covering fire of the Marines he was serving with. Being brave is good, but being part of a disciplined team is better, much better, for the long term survival of your unit. But it is also my personal experience that personal hesitation will make you feel guilty for years after, even if it was the right thing to do at the time.

So I don’t want to talk training, I want to talk about training. I want to talk about how training becomes action in real life.

So training to perform an action is important, but so is training to make a decision in ambiguity. One of the most dangerous things being commonly taught today is to draw and shoot at a threat. The firearms trainers like to scare students, and judges and juries, with horror stories about how a knife attack inside of 21 feet is so incredibly lethal that you need to carry your pistol with a round in the chamber and the safety off. There are plenty of people who will ridicule you if you carry a pistol with an empty chamber and tell you that “you are doing it wrong.”

If you have never trained at drawing your pistol and shooting a charging person with a knife and you advocate carrying a in condition one just because of that scenario, you should really get an airsoft replica of your carry piece and TRY IT. Get a buddy to stab you with a rubber knife from various angles, try to catch you unawares. Yes it is a bit “Inspector Clouseau and Cato” but until you have actually shown that you CAN do it when someone is trying to overwhelm your OODA loop with a “prison yard rush” you don’t have any business justifying your position because you don’t even have experience in training with that scenario. If you want to get good at shooting attacking knife wielders, practice it with a buddy.

The stress of an attack is so very hard to convey that the “Fight, flight, freeze, submit” decisions you have to make in a very short period of time can give you “paralysis by analysis.” It isn’t that you aren’t brave, it is that until you DECIDE to do something else, you have effectively chosen to “freeze” by default.

Training doesn’t reduce the uncertainty of an event, what training does is give you something to do while things are still uncertain. And you can do the wrong thing in the heat of the moment, but you can also do a number of right things. Draw your firearm, seek cover, look for targets are all generally good things to do when bad things happen. If you train to make a decision quickly, it is better than training to perform an action on command. You are the leader in your personal safety, and so you can’t rely on that Platoon Leader to tell you to render aid or return fire. The faster you can make a decision, the more likely you are to have a successful outcome.

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