in: Character, Military, Podcast

• Last updated: September 27, 2021

Art of Manliness Podcast #79: On Killing and On Combat With Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

Last year we did a series of posts about an analogy that breaks the world into three kinds of people: sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. That insight came from retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a man who has spent his career researching, writing, and speaking about an unpleasant topic: killing. Specifically, what happens to a person physically and psychologically whenever they have to take the life of another human to protect himself or someone else. Grossman’s work has provided invaluable insights on how to better train and prepare our warriors for the stress that comes with life and death situations. I talk to Lt. Col. Grossman about the often unspoken act of killing, the mind and body in combat, and what people can do to prepare themselves mentally and physically for violent situations.

Show Highlights:

  • How killing and sex are similar
  • What happens to the body and mind when somebody takes the life of another
  • What warriors can do to head off PTSD after a traumatic event
  • How offering someone a drink of water is an easy way to calm them down
  • How to prepare yourself mentally and physically for a life or death situation
  • And much more!

Book cover, on killing by Dave Grossman.

I definitely recommend picking up a copy of On Killing and On CombatEven if you’re not in law enforcement or the military, you’re bound to extract some useful insights from these books. The field-tested tactics to overcome the stress response on the battlefield can also be used in everyday life. Also, make sure to check out Grossman Academy where you can take an online class taught by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman himself using On Combat as the textbook.

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. So last year I wrote a series of posts about becoming a sheepdog. So there is this analogy out there that there are three types of people in the world. There are sheep which is most of the population which are just nice, innocent people. There are wolves, which is a very small portion of the population and they are the bad guys, the criminals and they prey on the sheep. And then there are sheepdogs and these are the individuals who protect the sheep, protect the herd and they are a very small portion. Anyways, I got this analogy from a book that our guest wrote. His name is Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman and if you are in law enforcement or in the military or are interested in self-defense you will probably be familiar with Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman’s work.

He has written two very influential books. The first one is On Killing which is about just that. It’s about killing, not murder, we are talking about killing. Individuals who are in the line of duty or in an effort of self-defense have to take the life of another human being. And it’s all about the physiological and psychological response that happens before, during and after the act of killing. And it’s something that a lot of you won’t talk about and we are going to talk about in our podcast today why that is.

And the second book he wrote is On Combat which is about preparing your mind and your body for life or death situations for combat. Dave Grossman’s work, his research has had a profound impact and influence in the military on what soldiers are doing now to prepare for combat. And we are going to talk about some of that stuff that he has done. And even if you are not in the military or in, interested in tactical stuff, I still think you will get something out of this podcast because it’s all about, at its core, what Dave Grossman talks about as managing stress and the tactics, the mindsets that he teaches his students are just as applicable to corporate warriors as they are to actual warriors.

So, anyways so, yes, this is interesting and it’s a very fascinating topic, the subject of killing because it doesn’t really get talked about all that much. So with that said, let’s get started On Killing, On Combat, here we go.

All right Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, welcome to the show.

Dave Grossman: Thank you, Brett.

Brett McKay: All right. So you have had, I mean just to, you spent your entire career studying, you know, some very unpleasant things, killing and what happens to human being in combat, as well as being an advocate for trying to, I guess, diminish violence in America and as well as prepare individuals, both in law enforcement and in military and also citizens, on how they can be ready for those violent confrontations if they were to happen. So I would like to, if at all possible try to cover your huge breadth of work with a few questions to get people who are, who aren’t familiar with your work a little bit more familiar and then people who are familiar because I know we have lots of listeners who are big fans of your books, a little bit more insight.

So your first book that really caused a lot of waves and got a lot of attention was a book called On Killing. How long ago was that published?

Dave Grossman: It came out in ’95.

Brett McKay: ’95, okay.

Dave Grossman: It was about three years before I retired from the army. I was on active duty. I had been a West Point psych professor. And the book now has got about half a million copies sold. It’s translated into eight languages. Marine Corps Commandant’s required reading. Recommended reading this for the Army and the Air Force.

Brett McKay: And what inspired you to, I mean it’s such an unpleasant idea, right, killing?

Dave Grossman: No. I enlisted in the army in 1974. The Vietnam War had ended pretty much in 1972. I was a young paratrooper. We had combat veterans all around us. The young troops wanted to work on that what’s it going to be like and nobody would say, you know, it’s just kind of a taboo topic. And I remember at the time being fascinated by, you know, what’s going to happen in combat? What’s going to be like in combat? Trying to get combat veterans to talk and tell us. And then fast forward, 15 years and I am en-route to teach at West Point as a psychology professor. My undergraduate training is a military historian… psychology. I don’t want to speak in psychology, I am a, I’m not a beady eyed killer, I am an army ranger, I am a historian, but that I would have taken a graduate degree in underwater basket weaving that’s such a, that’s the program that the army let me take. So I said I will study the psychology of killing.

And the army pounded up a square peg into a round hole. My particular personality background would almost never become a psychologist. And somebody with the personality background who’s studying psychology will almost never looked at this topic. So my graduate work was all on this topic. I published the book afterwards as a West Point psych professor, as an army ranger, infantry captain. All of a sudden people would talk to me and they would tell me and they would give me depth of information that most people will never get. And it was really an honor and an obligation to get this body of information and that pretty well become my book On Killing.

Brett McKay: On Killing. It’s interesting that you noted or you talked about how the veterans wouldn’t want to talk really about what happened in combat. It’s like a very private thing, and in On Killing you actually compare the act of killing very similar to the act of sex. It’s a private act that most people don’t talk about. I mean how is sex and killing similar?

Dave Grossman: I retired with the army 17 years ago now, in 1998. I have been on the road almost 300 days a year going 17 years. So I train, I am the only law enforcement trainer qualified to train in all 50 states. I train every federal agency. I trained all of our Tier 1 spec ops in all branches of service. I also do a lot of work in school safety and, as you said, civilian sheepdogs, mental preparation for the battle.

And as I talked with my sheepdogs I get a depth of information the average person won’t get. And I asked questions on this these won’t ask. I found out with my firefighters, after a brutal life and death for alarm fire, fighting to get the fire out, fighting to get home at the end of the shift, and cops said, yeah, knock down, drag out, fight, cuff him and stopped him, fighting to get home at the end of the shift and cops say gun fight. Bad guys said I am live. Finally, get home when it’s all over and they all say the best sex I have had in months.

Both partners are very invested in some very intense sex. I tell my cops, I will say there is nothing wrong if it doesn’t happen. There’s nothing wrong if it does happen. Is it the affirmation of life in the face of death? Is it a hormonal search? We don’t know. But it’s not a whole lot of perks that come with this job. You find one, relax and enjoy it.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Dave Grossman: So I was at off duty wait, wait, wait until you are off duty. So the reproductive drive in the face of death is very powerful. And the two, both are kind of mixed together in a taboo realm and our depth of beginners and our lack of knowledge in those field. So I will give just one example, Brett.

This is an anatomy, for better or worse, this is my concept but you know the necktie. A necktie it starts down at the crotch it comes up to your neck it’s got a big knob in the top. It’s been in style for over 100 years. Fashions come and go, come and go and the necktie has been there for over 100 years. It is a dick. It’s not just phallus symbol. It’s a dick. A 100 years from now they will look at photographs of us with our neckties and they will all laugh and titter and say couldn’t they see it, couldn’t they see it, they are all wear a big dick, they wear a dick… all the time everywhere they wear the dick. And I tell my cops, you know, you knock in the front door and you’re both in your suits, you got your dick on, the guy that answered the door doesn’t, it’s the little monkey brain jerks woo, woo, woo and it works. It works, it’s intimidating. And everybody has theirs on and you don’t have yours on, it doesn’t work. Of course a bowtie is a guy that should not play in the game. He has opted out. And more or less, of course, a feminine type.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Dave Grossman: I always wear bolo tie now. You know the cowboy bolo tie. The cowboy is just not playing the game. Here’s my dick. He pulls out his gun and waves his gun and said, there’s my dick. You don’t have to worry about you know about this phallus symbol, this phallus that you are carrying. But I am telling you once you look at it you know and women almost never wear it. Women wore, it, any fashion a man has a woman will have. With very rare exceptions women won’t wear a tie because the monkey brain is confused. The monkey brain sees a woman with a tie and says, oh, oh, it doesn’t work. It’s there, it’s powerful, it permeates every aspect of our society and we are completely blind to it.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Dave Grossman: When we talk about things like killings and sex we used the topics where our social taboos and social blind spots are just everywhere. And our inability to pierce those is pretty powerful and the destructive act and procreative act are pretty involving. I pretty much dedicate my life to studying that.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and you talk about in the book how because of taboos we have in our culture things like sex and things like killing, it’s more of an abstraction for people now. They don’t – they are not really close to anymore, you know. 150 years ago most people lived on farms where they saw the slaughtering of animals, right?

Dave Grossman: Right. Saw animals reproduce all around.

Brett McKay: And they saw animals reproduce but you know most people are just so distanced from that.

Dave Grossman: Yeah, yeah.

Brett McKay: I mean what effect does that distance from killing and from sex, I mean what does that have on – what kind of effect does that have on a person when they actually engage in like having to protect themselves and kill another person?

Dave Grossman: Yeah, they are far less prepared psychologically. And it’s not a big deal. And we don’t want to call it a pity party but I am convinced from a lifetime of study, the single best way to prepare combat is hunting.

I have three boys and I never was able to take them hunting. I was in the army. I was just going 100 miles an hour day after day after day. But I have got grandchildren now and I consider it my responsibility to take my grandchildren hunting. I am blocked out a week or two every year for deer camp, one in Alabama with relatives, one at Minnesota with relatives so. And I took my little grandson, my oldest grandchild is 12 now. When he was seven we went to deer camp the first time and he came back a week later. He had got out of school for a week. He’s grubby and dirty, hadn’t taken a shower or a bath in a week and just absolutely on top of the world. And his mom said, “What did you like the best?” and he said, “Cutting the deer”. For a 7-year-old boy to see all that crap and stuff inside of living creature is fascinating. And that’s a healthy response, I swear it ought to be. In those early inquisitive stages we should be confronted with their stuff, we should be familiar with that stuff and then in later ages a mark of manhood would be to kill your own food and to bring it home, to be intimately familiar with the smell of blood and crap inside living creatures. That means it’s food on the table.

From your youngest age you would wring the neck of a chicken and you gut it. The youngest child who is physically able to do it would wring the chicken’s neck and gut it and plug it and that’s now, I mean, food on the table. And it was an integral part of who we were as a species from a young stage. And we’ve really grown separate from that. Meanwhile, sex is either pornography with a twisted, distorted, really misrepresentation of the intimacy of sex or it’s something in private. But throughout history sex was something noisy that happened in the night. Everybody slept in a calm room and animals, of course, were reproducing all around, as we were in tune with this cycle of life. So we’ve kind of opted out of those aspects of life. We made sex something rather taboo and we either study it in a pornographic realm or we repress it. And the same thing with killing. We had to study it in a pornographic realm with the violent movies which don’t give in remotely the proper understanding of what happens or we repress it and refuse to even participate or discuss it any other way.

So these two represents really the great taboos of our era. And it’s all around us. Violent symbology and sexual symbology, like I said the necktie. Future generations, of course, our whole problem with media violence environment, video games inflicted upon children threatens the very fabric of our civilization. Mexico is our future.

Mexico has had more loss of life than Iraq and Afghanistan put together. Mexico has been at war with the cartels. Generation of kids trained on video games and trained on violent movies or rip in Mexico are part of the scenes and they are coming at us like a freight train.

Brett McKay: So you make the argument in your book that naturally as human beings we have a resistance to kill other humans, but you make the case that things like video games and violent movies has actually reduces that resistance?

Dave Grossman: Yeah. And we, you know, the aftereffect of it, post traumatic stress disorder I cover in my book on Calm Down. After 10 years on the road training cops and military daily, my repertoire had evolved until it was a totally different topic than On Killing. I call it The Bulletproof Mind. The Bulletproof Mind was turned into book On Combat. We did a two-hour, two-day presentation of The Bulletproof Mind that we audiotaped it and we transcribed it and that become the foundation for On Combat which is really the next step in this evolution of understanding PTSD and the aftermath and the physiology and how that, what happens in the heat of battle. How in the hell could we have had 500 years of gunpowder combat and not knowing that people don’t hear their shots. Again an audience of 500 people, it’s how many hundreds we got up here, half of ‘em will raise your hand. I said you ever noticed them, you take your rifle to the range, you fire one shot from your hunting rifle in the range, without ear protection, your ears are going to ring. You go shop, you go to drop a deer. Boom! The shot echoes across the valley. People I ask, did you hear the shot. Hunter, what do you hear? They all say nothing. I said, how many of you experienced that what we are talking about, come on raise your hand. Boom, they all raise their hands. They didn’t hear a sound, but their auditory exclusion that shot has acquired when you are killing. And it’s not about an arousal level. It’s not about physiological arousal. It’s about the act of killing when the predator shuts down it’s roar. But I got case after case of police officers who in the heat of a gun fight stopped firing because they couldn’t hear their gun and they thought something was wrong. Think about 500 years, five centuries of gunpowder combat, and we never bothered to let people know ahead of time. By the way you probably won’t hear the shots at the moment of truth. The magnitude of our ignorance, the depth of understanding, the failure to analyze and assess and examine this topic is just stunning.

Brett McKay: So, let’s talk about that the whole Bulletproof Mind and On Combat because that’s something we have written about on the site like you know the idea of you know being a sheepdog, right?

Dave Grossman: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about some of that research. What happens, you mentioned auditory exclusion is one thing that happens, not just in high stress situations but just in the act of killing. But let’s say you are in an act of shooter situation or a home invasion, what happens to the body physiologically and to the mind psychologically when that sort of thing happens?

Dave Grossman: Well, forgive for a minute I will make a little discussion.

Brett McKay: Sure.

Dave Grossman: The term you just used active shooter.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Dave Grossman: It’s act of mass murder. A shooter is, an active shooters what happens in the range, an active shooter is a guy that looked in deer season. We are in such denial that we cannot use a proper term for what’s happening. These are act of mass murders, these are massacres. So the Boston Massacre, five dead in the Boston Massacre. One of the thing that set-off the American Revolution. St. Valentine Day Massacre, seven dead, murdered in the St. Valentine Day Massacre and it was world famous. Add them up, add up the Boston Massacre, the St. Valentine Massacre, you still got more than in Columbine. Double that number, you still got more dead at Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Dave Grossman: These are massacres and they are mass murders, multiple homicides and we kind of don’t call them what they are.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s true.

Dave Grossman: And you know what do we call the most horrible criminals in history? They call them by shooter, the Virginia Tech shooter, the Sandy Hook shooter. These are not shooters. The shooters are guys at the range. The shooter is a guy you know that got lucky during their season. The Sandy Hook mass murderer, killer, these are slaughterers. And it is very fabric of our societies such intense denial that we call them shooters. And I asked my cops, is the word shooter a synonym for horrible mass murder? When you open a dictionary, look at the word shooter, does it say #1 horrible mass murder, the most horrible criminals in human history? No. That I tell my cops if you use the word shooter to refer to these horrible criminals in time you are shooter you are condemned by your own words. We refer to these horrible criminals as shooters. We refer to these horrible acts of shootings and then when the cops a shooter, the media condemns you because you are the shooter. And you told them the shooter is a horrible mass murderer. As cops you will always be condemned. The media will eat you alive. If you take what you are a shooter, what you do shooting and make it a horrible massacre… Please, please help us stop using that word shooter or act of shooter situation. It is an act of mass murder and it could thrown by the top cartels you know he’s throwing bombs, I am sorry, I only turn for act of shooter, I can’t deal with this one. He has got knives that kid in Pennsylvania in his high school just a couple of months ago slashed 19 people with knives. It’s an act of slasher, I won’t say an act of shooter, I am sorry I can’t deal with this one. Our very language has tied up a notch trying to not talk about the reality what’s happening… life and death event.

Brett McKay: That’s a good point. I think it’s a symptom of not wanting to view morality into the discussion. We wanted to keep it very distanced, right?

Dave Grossman: Well, it’s more than that. It is a moral statement. If we say cops are shooters and shooter is an ugly word they will immediately condemn the cops. It’s not just an attempt to distance ourselves. It’s an attempt to not even talk about it, an attempt to instead of saying mass murderer or even active killer, we talked about most innocuous aspects of what happens, shooter.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Dave Grossman: And so, it’s a little bit different than that. But in the moment of truth, when a human being is trying to steal your life away and you have to steal their life, you have to take their life in defense of your own life, a variety of things is going to happen. First and foremost, with the vast majority, the greatest proportion, they don’t hear the shots.

Now if you are hunkered down and hide the shots can be boom, boom, boom, overwhelming, but as soon as you turn your predator neurons on, as soon as you start shooting, the shots get quiet, almost without fail. Then we have tunnel invasion, the next most common thing. Around 80% of the tunnel vision, some people talk about tunnel vision like looking through a toilet paper too. Other people call it a soda straw, very, very intense. And you will get a slow motion time and the slow motion time runs on or may be 6 out of 10 or so which you experienced at and it’s very powerful and I am convinced that it’s real. I have had thousands, no exaggeration.

I am on the road 300 days a year for 17 years plus all the research before I retired. Every day I talked to people I have been killing situations and life and death situations. Every day I get to interview people who come up and talk with me and exchange of information. And I bet thousands would tell me they can track the bullets in combat, not like the Matrix where the bullet crawls past, it’s kind of like paintball where the bullet is slow enough you can track them with your eyes.And at two different cases people tell me they tracked the bullet where it hit, in one case a wooden fence, in one case a brick wall and afterwards they were able to walk up through that spot and point where the bullet hit, just a tiny hole in a wooden fence or a little smear in a brick wall.And there’s no way that they could have done that if they weren’t tracking them with their eyes like they said they were.So with this, this business of the slow motion time is, wow, and that can mess people up.

And then about half of all trained seasoned cops have memory gaps, blackouts. That data is just coming in so fast and so furious that all kinds of things seemed to get stacked up and they aren’t processed and after a couple of nights sleeps some of the stuff comes back.

A guy named Bill Lewinski, Dr. Bill Lewinski has started something called the Force Science Institute about just around the great geniuses of our time, one of the great initiatives of our time. And they have got scientific research to establish a foundation for police policy. And what they say and this has become national best practices after a deadly forced incident you do not get a statement from the police officer. Immediately after the gun fight you are going get garbage. In military we have always known the first report of combat is always wrong and if you talked to somebody right after the shooting your auditory exclusions, slow motion time and you have memory gaps and memory distortions. Upwards of one in five will just flat remember things that didn’t happen, sometimes tiny things, sometimes big things.

So the best practices, national standards is you wait for 48 hours before you get a full statement. Otherwise you get garbage and you have to live with that garbage in court. And you take this officer to the scene and you have them walk through the scene and tell everything that happens with the memory cues and the actual scene that they are at and then you will get a far more detail of things. You have this memory gap. And then like I said you got the memory distortion.

So it was one of our Tier 1 spec ops medics who said why did the wounded hallucinate so much. And that’s a good word for it, you know, remembering things that didn’t happen. So hallucinations. And he said why did they always hallucinate bad things. You know, I am paralyzed, I am blind, I let everybody down, I am going to die, I will never have babies. You know, just once, he said, in a heat of battle, I don’t like to see some wounded guy hallucinates something good.

Well under stress we envision possibilities. Under extreme stress where we envision possibility in our mind could become reality. And where we have been wounded we very seldom envision goods things and we are not even wounded yet. And so these hallucinations and these auditory exclusions and this slow motion time, set aside the fact that somebody is trying to kill you, set aside the fact somebody is trying to kill you. If you said that right now boom, auditory exclusions, slow motion time, tunnel vision, that autopilot your body is doing things out of conscious thought, blackouts, gaps in your memory, hallucinations, just little things by themselves will scares the daylights out of you. The fact that somebody is trying to kill you is bad enough without being forewarned and forearmed about the things that happened in combat.

So we warned people about what happens in combat and then we warned them about what’s going to happen after combat. And that’s a critical, critical piece to equation. You kind of expect crazy things in combat, but when you heard one of things happen after the event they can really mess you up unless you have been warned.

Brett McKay: What are some of those things that can happen after the combat, is it the memory blackouts or…?

Dave Grossman: Don’t know. What happens is you re-experience the event. Now, you know, if you are a kid you touch a hot stove, uhhh… you will never touch a stove again. A powerful network of neurons, a neural pathway has been established. Whenever there is fear and pain associated with learning instantly a powerful strong pathway of neurons is established.

I got a German Shepherd. When the dog was a puppy she walked across the threshold and caught her, just caught a claw on the threshold and yelped in and something bit her when she crossed that threshold. And I am telling you for the next six months I couldn’t get that puppy to cross that threshold without dragging her. A powerful neural membrane, there’s something there that will bite me. I can’t go there. I got to avoid that.

Well under the stress of a combat situation, the neural pathways are vastly greater than touching a hot stove or having your claw caught on the threshold. Deep and powerful neural pathways are established like you don’t even know than they are there. A week later a random gunshot goes up when you don’t expect, it like a cop, you told me you said a week after my gun fight I am sitting up in the beach with my wife watching my daughter at the Swim Meet. A starter’s gun goes off and I didn’t expect it. Boom. It is as though the event was happening again. Your heart is pounding, you re-experienced the event and this active re-experience of the event is normal. By itself it is not PTSD.

PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder happens when you try to not think about it. You will literally drive yourself crazy. You cannot not think about something. You will drive yourself crazy trying to not think about it. You got to make peace with the memory. You get to de-link the memory from the emotions. Now, the easiest and most effective way to do that is to talk about the event without the emotions coming along for the ride. And the breathing exercise is one of the tools for years and the shortcut to get people read and here’s just a little nugget. You know what I tell my cops, you are going to take one little nugget of the manly art and put it at the top of your list of, on your little toolbox, your little toolbox of response tools. Whenever you are dealing with somebody who’s angry, upset, anxious, frightened, including yourself, make them stop and take a drink of water. I don’t do counseling. I don’t do therapy, not qualified. But I have had the honor to deep breathe an awful lot of people about their traumatic events. And the one tool I used, I set a bottle of water in front of them and every time they become emotional, stop, take a drink, regain control. If you talk about the event and become emotional then you are reinforcing the length between the memory and the emotions. If you talk about the event and remain calm then you are separating that link between the memory and emotions and that’s the path that you need.

And one of the tools we have is every time you become emotional and I tell my cops you got a citizen who is a victim of a crime, a very traumatic event has happened to them. You get a witness statement from them that they become emotional, hey, you are not getting the quality calm information you need it to be. You spin that person down the path of mental illness but if they talk about the event and every time they become emotional you make them take a drink and regain control, you will be amazed at how well it worked. This fundamental tool is taken off across the therapeutic world like a grass fire. We used to do the breathing and now we realized that it’s a shortcut to get people read. It works for two reasons. This principle of taking a drink water works for two reasons.

A deer has been chased by a wolf. A deer has been chased by a wolf, does he stop and get drink? No. I can’t get a drink, I am being chased by a wolf. He is really thirsty but he ain’t going to get a drink. The very fact that you stopped and took a drink sends a message to the midbrain, Hey we’re safe, we got time for a drink. It literally puts in the clutch and puts that midbrain in a different gear. But it is also a natural way to get people to breathe. Study what you are going to do and you take a drink, you breathe in and you hold your breath, you let it out. You cannot take a drink without taking a breath.

So the path to healing is to de-link the memory from the emotions. The way to do that is to talk about it. And every time you talk about it if you become emotional, stop and take a drink. That’s why talking over a beer you know cops called it Choir Practice. You know they get together after their shift and they talk over a beer. And they start, they become emotional, they stop, they take a drink, they regain control and they keep going. It’s the act of talking over beer. It’s the act of taking a drink that allows you to remain calm and de-link the memory from the emotions. And you have taken the critical necessary first step on the path to healing when you can talk about the event. Hey what happened at that gun fight with you guys? Tell us about it, what happened? Well here is what happened. Take a drink, take a breath, talk about it and if you again lose control, stop, take a drink, regain control, talk your way through it.

Pilots you know did a deep breathing on a beer in the mess after every mission and we always talked around the campfire. But then starting World War I we no longer had the luxury to take the nights off and talk around the campfire. We had day and night combat for months on end and we’ve lost something we have always had which is the ability to deep breathe around the campfire every night about the battle.

And so understanding what will happen after combat, understanding how to leash that in, and the age old process of talking around the campfire or the pilots in the mess, you know, with a beer in hand and his hands weaving around and showing what was happening and then every time he begins to lose control, take a drink, regain control. It’s his old days’ alcohol in the campfire, it’s just all these warfare. To talk over the event, to de-link the memory from the emotions, regain control. And we have lost it. And what we have done now is recreated it and it is powerful.

Now with the depth of understanding and it’s been my life’s work to communicate these things, to let people know what’s going to happen to them before the life and death event. Stress diarrhea, very common. LAPD SWAT, they are in combat every day. They told me, you know, it was over 17 years that I first start working. They said, you know what? We are LAPD SWAT, we are in life and death events every day. We try to have people give us a 20-minute warning. We are standing by, alright negotiation has broken-down you are going in here’s your 20 minutes warning. Go in. What does LAPD SWAT do with that 20 minute warning? They call it the battle crap. It’s a battle crap, your body will help. It’s called stress diarrhea. Do it now. Later one it may be what’s called explosive stress diarrhea. Your body wants to dump the toxic waste. Inside every human body there is a toxic waste site in the lower abdomen. Some of the most toxic stuff on the planet. If the wound happens and that stuff leaks out it will infect the wound and prior penicillin, it’s a guaranteed death sentence. So be warned about what happens before the event. Your body might want to dump that toxic waste. Be warned about what happens during the event and be warned about what happens after the event and at every stage before, during and after. The tool that we are using, the lesion is the breathing exercise and, of course, the shortcut to get people to breathe is to take a drink.

Brett McKay: Take the drink.

Dave Grossman: So that’s kind of the whole dynamic in a nutshell of the ride and where we have been and what we have done and how we recreated it across time and laid the foundation for our warriors to be far more capable of performing in the heat of battle and then in life and death events whatever that may be.

Brett McKay: That’s really, really fascinating. I thought it was interesting, in you book you kind of mentioned there a little bit about possibly you kind of make the argument that the possibly, one of the reasons why there has been an increase in PTSD is that for most of modern warfare we didn’t have that debriefing period, right after the battle. That you went to battle and then you are back in your bunk and then the next day you are in battle and then when the war was over you know anciently you had to like march home and it took maybe a month to get home so you had that time to talk with your comrades about what happened. And you would go, take parts in like ritualistic activities to kind of cleanse yourself of war. Then you can integrate back into normal society in a healthy manner. But you make the argument that because of the rise of rapid transport like you could be in Fallujah one day and the next day you will be back in Baltimore and you don’t have that time to cool off.

Dave Grossman: Yes. You know the Canadian army has kind of set standards for this, Brett. When the war first began, it was Canada’s first shooting war in 50 years. Korea was the last and Canada was in a shooting war. And they wanted to try to do it right. When they sent the first regiment off to Afghanistan they did everything they could think of including having me come and present to the troops. When that first regiment came home they said okay what worked. They said Grossman. Grossman told us what it was going to be like, he told us what to expect, he told us how to deal with it. Head and shoulders far and away the most valuable thing we had was to have Grossman to warn us.

And one of the things it did with all of this was all the Canadian units coming back from Afghanistan now stop for a week in Cyprus. Cyprus. Like this is one of the most beautiful places on the planet filled with beautiful women and booze and beaches and the Mediterranean. Cyprus, I mean this is so cool. And they stopped, they are headed home but they don’t want to, and they do their processing and they do the debriefing and they’ve lost steam and they get an opportunity to go out and partake of alcohol and talk and women and all the things that you couldn’t have in a war zone and then they bring them home. It is so brilliant. It is something that we could learn from. That we have lost a lot of that dynamic of marching home together and talking at night over the campfire. So, well, we are learning and the Canadians had done a great example of how to get it right. Borrowing the pack that is not done with our military we should try to do it ourselves with the returning warriors. Take off a week, take a gun warrior at some place cool and fun and spend a little time depressurizing and part again and talking and help them be there at that moment, give them that depressurization time if we can.

Brett McKay: Okay, so let’s talk a bit about your new project, it’s Grossman Academy.

Dave Grossman: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Who is it for and…?

Dave Grossman: Commandant’s Required Reading. We take the book on combat and it is a textbook and I teach the class and there’s tests. There is no paper required but there’s tests and you get a three-semester credit hour class. You know lot of states has served as in-service training for health providers, for law enforcement, for fire fighters. So in a lot of states you can get – required of in-service training credit point. And in most college programs you can get three-semester credit hours that I would like to credit for the class. We got On Combat out, it’s taken off, it’s enormously – the On Combat class in the Grossman Academy,, just go to and there’s the On Combat class and within six months we hope to have the On Killing class out. And these are the two books, On Combat and On Killing.

And then there are other astounding leaders in the community who I want to have do their own semester credit in our class using their books as textbooks. I will introduce them and I will explain why their books are so important and then have them teach their class. And the students, in this case the student gets an electronic copy of On Combat as part of the class. Very, very, many of our people have already read the book and are able to blow right through the class. And that you deserve it. You deserve three semester credit hours for having read this book and having this depth of understanding in this field. So we are both in psych electives and criminal justice electives and military history electives and just any general ed where you’ve got a general elective you can tag. These courses fit in and the following courses are going to be a big deal. It’s kind of funny to think about you know I may be dead and gone. I will be 58 tomorrow, oh well, my dad only lived until he was about 60. I hope, I am in real good health and I plan to fight the good fight for another 20 years. But if I cash in my chips and went home tomorrow, this would be a legacy where people could attend my class and learn straight from my mind, straight from my mind, not just reading the book but actually taking that class. And there’s something interesting in here, Brett, you might get a kick out of.

Brett McKay: Sure.

Dave Grossman: In the year 2000 they did a study of all of the institutions in Europe. They were there on the year 1000 and the year 2000 and that’s interesting. No nation was city, set aside cities now. Cities set that aside. But no nation existed with the same name and the same structure in the year 1000 as the year 2000. No corporation, no entity. The only thing was the Catholic Church and several 100 universities. That’s all.

The universities, the institutes of higher learning, the classes that we can record on modern material and we teach in the class potentially hundreds of years from now, it’s fun to have a book published and to think that a hundred years from now somebody might still be reading that, a legacy, a kind of immortality. But it’s even more so kind of look at this class and think that it might be available to people down the road. It’s kind of exciting stuff. And I think I will be able to find some of the great leaders in various fields to be able to do courses and to be part of the Grossman Academy and get to, you know, Shaolin Temple, a focal point of what I call warriors, so this warrior branches off, we are in a renaissance, we have learned more about the reality of combat in the last 50 years than the previous 5000 years put together and this warrior renaissance this explosion of knowledge that we can capture and certainly we done the first portion. I encourage interview readers to go to and take a look at that first course just for the joy of learning or to pick up three semesters credit hours and or in-service credit training in your profession.

Brett McKay: So, it is open to civilians as well, not just law enforcement?

Dave Grossman: Absolutely, open to all.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Lieutenant Dave Grossman, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Dave Grossman: Brett, I am a big fan of what you are doing. You’re part of the warrior renaissance, you’re part of that explosion of knowledge and depth of understanding, what it means to be human, what it means to be a male you know species in our times and it is an honor to work with you.

Brett McKay: Well, thank you that I am honored and humbled by your words.

Our guest today was Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. He is the author or On Killing and On Combat. You could find both his books on, really two very interesting reads. And you also check-out his websites for more information about his work and then also check-out where you can sign up for his class On Combat which is about getting ready for those combat life-or-death situations and preparing yourself physically and mentally for it.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at and if you enjoy our podcast and you get something out of it I would really appreciate it if you go to iTunes or Stitcher or whatever it is you use to listen to the podcast and give us a rating or review, that will help us a lot. And until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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