Sun Tzu's Series Part 6: Methods: Both Art…and Science | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

Some may see how to win. However, they cannot position their forces where they must. This demonstrates limited ability. ~Sun Tzu

Strategic analysis of Sun Tzu’s five factors in a given set of circumstances leads to developing an implicit understanding of what’s going on amidst the initial chaos and uncertainty. I use the term implicit even though, we do gather as much explicit information as we can, via methods and positioning. In conflict there is always judgment made based on an intuitive understanding through analysis and synthesis, what the intelligence is telling us. We must utilize methods to (1) help us gather more information (knowledge) so we can gain a position of advantage and (2) gain control of the situation when the adversary is at a disadvantage. The methods you utilize help in achieving this advantage and timing.

In the last post I talked about methods in general terms and gave an example and some ideas as to possible methods for utilization in an effort to get a positive outcome in the described incident that lead to the death of two officers ( . In this post and the next several, I would like to get a bit more specific as to what methods (tactics) are and the difference between the science (knowledge) and art (application) in the tactical realm of conflict as it applies to law enforcement and security.

“In tactics, the most important thing is not whether you go left or right, but why you go left or right.” ~A. M. Gray United States Marine Corps

The United States Marine Corps defines tactics as “the art and science of winning engagements and battles.” Tactics refers to the concepts and methods we use to accomplish a particular objective in either armed violent conflict or operations other than armed conflict such as natural disasters or manmade critical incidents we respond to. When we first arrive at a particular situation you do not know enough about the situation so we must be cautious and defensive. We must be able to select the appropriate methods in resolving these incidents peacefully, without further carnage, to win without escalating conflict if at all possible. We must know when to be defensive and when to attack and which methods to apply.

To meet our objective we must understand that tactics are both an art and a science. The science of tactics is the easiest part in my view to teach and learn, although through study, training and hard work. The science of tactics encompasses the formations, how to move, search, defend and take the initiative based on the battleground and climate we find ourselves in. This is task specific, a mechanistic breakdown of the critical tasks surrounding methods that are known to work. In training, the methods we teach include; one man tactical response, two man tactical response, team tactics, 4 or 8 man stack, the diamond formation, slow and deliberate entries verses dynamic entries, driver side or passenger side approach, walk backs or walk ups during an unknown risk vehicle stops as well as felony stops procedures on a known high risk stop. Also, tactics are utilizing cover and concealment, contact/cover principles, as well as tactical communications. Speed, surprise, action and deception are also methods that help gain more information and the advantage. The reactionary gap and relative positioning are also important methods to understand. Another tactical concept is situational awareness which is the key to your overall assessment of the tactical environment. This lists just a few of the tactics and methods taught and knowledge of these methods, how they are meant to be applied to the street under a variety of conditions can be considered the science of tactics.

The art of tactics is knowing conflict has three dimensions (moral, mental and physical), which methods to use, when to use them, and whether or not, you stick strictly to the way you were taught or have the tactical decision making ability, to adapt and deviate from the orthodox (traditional methods taught) or to adapt the unorthodox (non-traditional way) to fit the rapidly changing situation. The art of utilizing methods combines the knowhow and how too, the cognitive (awareness and decision making) with the physical abilities tactics require, under pressure when risk is high and time is critical.

This ability to take your knowledge of strategy and tactics, and translate them fluidly and physically in a given set of circumstances on the street, based on your orientation at the time coupled with, an understanding you are in a position to succeed, is paramount to success, winning and survival. The tactical arena is a dynamic, ever-changing environment. The complexity of this environment makes conflict chaotic and unpredictable. The art and science of tactics must be utilized in synergy, if we are to gain the advantage and bring order to disorder. Keeping in mind; losing lies within you and winning lies with the adversary.

The methods you use are also based on how you are working i.e. Are you a single officer, do you have back-up units available, or are you part of a tactical team? Teams must work in sync with one another and therefore must, in most cases (although there are exceptions) stay within the cohesive confines of how they train. Although they must still, be able to adapt as a team to changing conditions. Individuals working alone can be more flexible in their movement and the methods they use, but must also communicate the situation and their changing position.

The best methods (tactics) are based on observing history and what has worked over time and are adaptable to a variety of situations. They are to be used, based on circumstances you are in, presently. Methods you use will be paramount at helping you gather more information and knowledge to assess the climate of the situation. You must remember to be flexible and adjust to the situation using appropriate tactics to step by step seize the initiative. Adaptability is the key!

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