View Full Version : Tactics: Art or Science?

OPS Director
01-20-2005, 01:57 AM
In considering the topic of this thread, we must first define What is science? What is art? For those of you who would say "Who cares?" let me remind you that we are using words here, and so how we define each of those words is very important. The ground rules of the game if you will.

If science means we can provide a repeatable formula for performance, then there are basic elements of the tactical tool box that are science. Cover/concealment, movement, distance, mass, etc.

Does applying these well in a given scenario involve art? Or simply being a better "scientist?"

When I observe a competent operator or team, one thing that stands clear is a flow. There are few unnecessary pauses. The OODA cycle is humming along. Are "mistakes" made? Of course! Combat is often chaotic, and to expect everything to go right is ludicrous. One key is success not losing momentum. Is THIS art? (Sounds more like physics to me.)

Of course, one could argue that the basic principles are the pallete and that it takes an artist to use them well.

These questions have implications for training. My personal feeling that that we must first teach/learn the principles in a scientific manner. Otherwise they can be difficult to grasp in a useable manner. A student's initial capability comes as a competent technician, however the goal is to develop the mindset required to adapt and improvise in a broad range of situations.

So what do you think? Is a master tactician a martial artist or a martial scientist? Or both?

"The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental" John Steinbeck.

Charles Rives
01-20-2005, 02:32 AM
I think that tactics are an art that may be influenced by science. Just like the work of an artist who paints relies on the scientific work of people who develop and manufacture paints, the artists who perform tactics rely on a wide range of scientist to provide basis for furthering their art.

I would say that tactics (by and large) have not been able to isolate variables enough for scientific development (yet). However, I do believe that we may be near a breakthrough in this area due to the development of force-on-force testing and training methods. Safe force-on-force testing allows us to create repeatable, observable tests and conditions with quantifiable results . . . "given circumstance Y, when 100 participants apply tactic X they successfully shoot a participant/simulated attacker with a simulated firearm before receiving simulated injury z% more often than with other tactics tested."

I think we're at an exciting time. I think we'll still be artists in the end. But science is helping us to improve our art every day.


01-20-2005, 03:30 AM
I will watch this one, go along,

Is the intial study of an art, science? Don't we look for the proof of patterns that show what we do works ,when we do it.

As I understand science, for a theory to be proven out ,it has to have repeatable forumuals, that come to the same concluesion. If this is so , why is it that the style/art/science we teach, is always moving foreward, but maintains just about the same outcomes?

Im not really educated enough to have an indepth conversation on this, but I believe, that what we do,started as an art among the cavemen, taught simply from one to another,becasue it worked. Some where along the line, men with the ability to reason, began to tear apart, the art ,to prove why it works and how it works. There by advancing the art..

If art gives us the ability to flow,and except what will come no matter when or where,,then the scientific study has show, that when the ooda loop is blown,its still possiable to succed,because doing or moving from "A" to "B" is not always a thought proscess that requires straight line thinking.

I guess what I'm trying to say,OPS is I think that its art first, then when we have learned to a level, we began to question it and thats when science becomes a part of it.

Okay I'll set back now and watch and read from those who know better.

01-20-2005, 07:54 AM
I think it begins as science, i.e. learning the fundamental tactical concepts that can be applied to all situations, and then evolves (ugh---I hate that word!) into art. After the initial tactical principles are in place, tactics become a constantly evolving "art". There are certain principles that we never violate, like don't stand in the fatal funnel, don't backlight yourself, etc., which is more science than art. As we gain experience in tactics based on training and real world experience, we are more "free" to alter these principles based on the situation. We still don't violate the scientific principles per se, but we are free to use our experience to tailor each set of tactics to a given situation. I know that after many years of SWAT work, no two entries were ever the same. There are always unique situations/circumstances that determine the best response based on your experience, which is where the "art" comes in. I think it's both--mostly science in the beginning, but as we develop it becomes more art, while still relying on scientific principles.

01-20-2005, 08:10 AM
Unless it's measurable, it's not science. The general problem is that data are scarce and hard to isolate in defensive shooting scenarios. Since we have a generalized idea of what happens, we only have a generalized idea of what's best in terms of techniques.

Naturally, even art can be approached in a scientific manner (be logical, not emotional; find out all the data you can; etc).

What's measurable are the components themselves: how fast is technique X, how efficient is technique Y. But there's no final connection between the components and ultimate street success.

In the end, all martial and shooting arts are not science, since you can't get real end-to-end measurements. You can't say that the Weaver stance produces success X% of the time, etc.

Sam Spade
01-20-2005, 09:12 AM
There are technical aspects to gun handling--or the use of any weapon--that are scientific. Most efficient draw stroke, angle at which your blade point comes on line, balance, and so on.

But "tactics" is the word you didn't define. "Tactics" is not what I've described above. For that matter, square range and matches don't employ tactics--they employ techniques which are repeatable from run to run. They have to be, or the match wouldn't be fair.

In war, the enemy gets a vote. As soon as this variable human interaction comes into play, we get into art rather than science.

I see this plenty on the street, even without going to guns. Everyone's had the same exposure to things like Verbal Judo, everyone works in the same area with the same general population. Yet Cop A talks people into handcuffs over and over, while Cop B gets into fights--and they employed the same techniques. Then along comes a mope that fights with A but not B. (Sorry, convoluted, but so is life.) It's the human interaction that moves this into the realm of non- repeatable art.

01-20-2005, 09:22 AM
There are technical aspects to gun handling--or the use of any weapon--that are scientific. Most efficient draw stroke, angle at which your blade point comes on line, balance, and so on.

They themselves are scientific in that they can be measured. But the larger picture is not scientific because we can't measure how much those factors matter to the result. It is that end-to-end connection that defines science.

01-20-2005, 09:48 AM
IMHO, it's both. Tactics that can be thaught and are repeatable fall under the science category. Much like military tactics, these can be documented and passed onto new generations of warriors for their future use.

Then there are tactics that does not fit this category and can only fall under art. The ability of an individual to look at multiple attackers and identify who the most immediate threat is based purely on experience. It's the same art the most successfull criminals use to identify the easiest target. It's almost like a sixth sense that allows an individual to identify any weaknesses. This is something that have to be born with and is virtually impossible to teach. JM2CW.

01-20-2005, 10:04 AM
The teaching of tactics is an science but the application of tactics in a real world confrontation is an art.

01-20-2005, 11:11 AM
Ok, so after I posted this last night, my dad and I got into a huge discussion about this.
He thinks that it is possible (He's a satellite engineer) to measure every possible variable in a defensive situation and develop scientific principals that would allow you to choose the appropriate response. He didn't say it would be easy, just possible.

In all probability, this is what your mind is in fact doing when you are faced with a SD scenario.

However, before we even get to that:

Science: My trusty Webster's has several definitions for "science: but IMO the most relevant one is: "A department of systemized knowledge as distinguished by study." There is also mention of the scientific method.

Art: “Skill acquired by experience, study or observation” also: “An occupation requiring knowledge or skill.” There is more, but this is the basic idea.

Tactics: “A device for accomplishing an end.” Also; Tactical: Of or relating to combat tactics.”

So, my interpretation of all that is thusly: A science is something that can be proven, again and again using the same methods. If I add 2+2 and you add 2+2 on the other side of the world, we will still both get 4. Always. The key word is “systemized.” I also define this as “if…then” statements. In most science, if you do XXX, you will get YYY, always.

Art, on the other hand, being a skill, is something that you put your personal spin on. “Acquired by experience, study or observation. You can get to be a skilled painter or whatever by studying the works of masters, observing them as they work, and doing it yourself, thus gaining experience.

A tactic is pretty simple. How you do what you do. You could even say a brush stroke is a tactic for painting.

So, again, how does this apply to the discussion at hand?

A “tactic” is simply a means to an end. Whether that end be negotiating a corner, the way you move, etc, etc, etc. I believe the end attempting to be accomplished is 1) staying alive, and 2) winning, however you want to define those terms. Just as is painting, You can be shown brushstrokes, you can be shown techniques for applying the tactic, but you will place your personal interpretation on that technique, thus creating your own tactic.

For example, I am a reasonably in shape 30 year old. The tactics that work for me may not necessarily work for a 75 year old man with bad knees. The techniques we both use may be the same, but the way we apply them will be our own.

IMO, there are always going to be too many variables in a fight to be able to apply the scientific method of study to it. Mental state alone is impossible to determine precisely every time. Add in drugs, environment, levels of training and physical ability, and the list of variables soon grows so large as to be impossible to accurately predict. It almost becomes, as someone said, a “sixth sense” of knowing how to react in a given situation.

Now, having said that, I believe the basic mechanics of shooting are a science. A great illustration of this is the development of the Ransom Rest. You can bolt a gun to that rest, and, with the same kind of ammo, be virtually assured of a nearly identical result. Now, because ammo is not ever the exact same, etc, the results may vary a bit, but the idea is the same.

I defy anyone to create a computer model that can apply techniques as tactics in a gunfight. At our level of technology, is can’t be done, IMO.

So, tactics is an art. To teach that art, we show a system of techniques, then allow, even expect, the student to place their own interpretation on them, make them their own, and apply them in the best manner for that person.

Ok, I think I’m done for now. :D

01-20-2005, 11:20 AM
to measure every possible variable in a defensive situation and develop scientific principals that would allow you to choose the appropriate response.

That would indeed be the starting point of making it a hard science, and it's hardly necessary to say that no such measurement exists right now. Of all the defensive shooting situations (which are a small subset of all the general self defense situations), almost none are recorded in the necessary amount of detail.

There is some data, but that only yields limited, tentative conclusions.

OPS Director
01-20-2005, 11:34 AM
I sort of said this in my intial post, but I like Mark Swain's "taught as science; applied as art." And the way one gets to a system that can be taught as science is (ala Boyd) analysis and synthesis. Clearly, force on force training (and a handful of full surprise live fire problems of which I am aware) is the best current medium for "allowing error without consequence" in developing this into an art.

01-20-2005, 11:46 AM
...but I like Mark Swain's "taught as science; applied as art."


You are correct about the recording. Even those that are caught on cruiser cams, business cctvs, or news video are very limited in that they are 2-D and cover what? A 45 degree angle at best when fights are 3-D/360 degree affairs.

Gabriel Suarez
01-21-2005, 06:01 AM
Guys how about establishing tactical principles that would guide your actions. There could be overall principles as well as specific principles aplied to specific situations such as principles of moving through or searching a structure, principles of combatives, etc.

The overriding importance is on flexibility but beginners need to start somewhere.

Sam Spade
01-21-2005, 09:36 AM
Guys how about establishing tactical principles that would guide your actions. There could be overall principles as well as specific principles aplied to specific situations such as principles of moving through or searching a structure, principles of combatives, etc.

The overriding importance is on flexibility but beginners need to start somewhere.
Sure, the military has been doing this forever.

At the very base (where beginners need to start) are common tasks: technical problems that need to be solved with a prescribed series of actions, and aren't to be varied. The first example that comes to mind is "clear your weapon". Steps have to be done in order and we don't allow interpretation, or there's an unpleasant loud noise. The mechanics of a presentation or manipulation follow along.

The next notch up is tactical doctrine. These *guidelines* give a starting point for solving problems in the face of the enemy. An example here would be actions on a danger zone. Doctrine calls for the small unit leader to secure the near side before he secures the far side of the area. While there may be a reason to deviate, it better be a good one. (As an aside, we have the same doctrine in personal defense "don't turn your back on anything you haven't cleared".)

Other doctrinal principals most of us here practice include:
*Move off line of an attack, not directly backwards.
*H2H skills are needed at extreme close quarters.
*Don't hug cover, or repeatedly appear from the same spot.

An entire list would be a small book.

Surprisingly, a discussion of operational principals is generally shorter than the discussion of the implementing tactics. As a military example, 100-5 "Operations" is a pretty thin field manual. Many trees have died to write all the supporting doctrine. On the personal side, compare Cooper's _Principals of Personal Defense_ to the material taught in the multiple week courses. Compare also Gabe's short book on principals to his several more lengthy books on proceedures for running various guns and such.

OPS Director
01-21-2005, 10:51 AM
What I've found interesting is that one can often describe a given tactic in term of how it deals with the variables of movement, distance, and cover/concealment. Naturally there are other variables involved, but these three seem to form a particularly useful framework. (Since one goal is to maximize use of all three, as appropriate to the task at hand.)

Flexibility (the ability to adapt and improvise, keeping the OODA loop spinning) is actually the one principle that I can think of that is conspicuously missing from Cooper's Principles of Personal Defense.

01-21-2005, 05:07 PM
Consider a person learning ballroom dancing. In the begining the rythm and steps are a rigid and unalterable set of ways to get around the dance floor (an engineered method of movement). As more steps are learned the ways to get around can be varied within guidelines to accomplish the same thing in a variety of ways. As the more complicated steps and combinations of steps are learned more possibilities are available to avoid other couples on the floor, to keep from going off the dance floor and to give a pleasing and functional flow to the movement.

Where the "art" comes in is when someone has learned and practiced the steps and routines to the point that they do not think which step to use next to accomplish a given result (avoid another couple) they just execute one of any number of steps that will work. The specific step they choose, how well it works and how it flows into the next movement is the "art". Two people may have the same training and experience and one will have elevated his ability to an art form but the other will never go beyond a competent "step counter"

Tactics are similiar. In the begining the patterns are very rigid (engineered movemenbts). As one learns more techniques the possibilities of how and when to apply them expands. The more things that are learned, practiced and experienced the greater the selection of what to use, when and how to use it.

The "art" is the ability of one to use the learned and practiced techniques in varied and innovative ways to provide a functional flow to accomplish his goals without thinking which one to use next. There will always be the "artists" and the competent "step counters".

The steps, movements etc. even an order to use them can be taught, but the ability to automatically put them together in an innovative and functional flow is not something that can be taught, it is a natural ability.

Without the teaching of the basic princiapls to build on one cannot achieve the level of artist. Some will not reach it even with teaching. They may reach the level of competent "step counter" but not the level of "artist".

Just mho.

Low Drag
01-21-2005, 07:41 PM
I would have to fall on the side of art.

As others have previously posted, science is defined by repeatable results every time and is objective. Art is defined as skills gained by experience and is subjective.

When we first observe anything in nature we see its totality it is huge and imposing. However, by applying science we can break it down and apply some rules or categorize things, as we humans like to do. In middle school art class I learned about one point perspective and I could replicate another persons drawing fairly well. By that time I also knew that by mixing blue and yellow paint I got green. That’s the science within the art.

By taking discrete samples at various points in time of any art we can then apply science, or come up with some rules, much like creating digitized music. It’s sure analog when a band plays. But by taking measurements or samples at very discrete intervals we can now apply the rules of science.

Without drowning on and on… A technique is the science. When applied to solve a tactical problem that technique now becomes a tactic. Applying the right or best tactic to a situation is the art.