Understanding the Combat Mindset and Mental Conditioning

Author: Ole Boe

You probably think you have a good combat mindset, and you may be correct. But what if I ask you these questions: What are the best exercises in order to develop a good combat mindset? What happens under stress? How should you train in order to maintain focus on a specific task? What are the best techniques for relaxation? How do you become better at turning on and of your aggression? Do you feel that you have any good answers? This blog post will hopefully give you some answers to these questions.

As Tommy Blom has previously put in his blog post, KMG one talks about four “legs” that we need to improve all the time, Technical, Tactical, Mental and Physical. If one of them is not sufficiently developed, the whole platform on top will fall to one side. This is where training your combat mindset comes into play.

To be honest, this is the trickiest part to describe. Why simply because within KM we have always been working on improving the mindset. When we talk about developing mental skills, we usually think of five mental training strategies. These are visualization, goal setting, positive self-talk, combat mindset (courage, determination, aggression), and relaxation. Utilizing these five main strategies we aim to develop confidence; control of physical arousal; attention control (focusing and spreading attention); arousal control; imagery use or visualization; commitment; self-talk use and the commitment to stay in good physical condition.

Working on determination, decision-making skills, or doing regular Krav Maga helps to develop your combat mindset. Although this has been very clear to Eyal, it is only during the last few years that things have become more organized when it comes to combat mindset and mental conditioning. In other words, his vast knowledge and my knowledge have been put into text and is thus accessible for others.

You know, we have even developed an instructor course for this, referred to as the Combat Mindset and Mental Conditioning Instructor Course (since we love abbreviations, the CMIC for short). Some of my fellow KMG instructors refer to the CMIC as the “staring into the wall” course, like in the movie: Men who stare at goats!

Eeehhh, the CMIC is not really about staring into a wall, but we do that do, at least for a short period of time. You should know that staring at a point at the wall for some minutes is a G5 technique, and it is a technique we use in the CMIC also. The purpose of this technique is to quiet the internal dialogue going on inside your head and to make you take control of yourself with a better ability to focus.

The CMIC is a result of decades of development, testing, and conducting research into different areas of combat mindset and conditioning training. During these years, we have looked into different areas of this training which were mental toughness; mental preparation; D-MUS – decision making under stress, mindset – fighter, warrior, combat, Instructor – Warrior Mindset; Fighter Mindset; Fighting Mindset; Focusing, Mental Preparation, and Enhancement; Mental Skills; Mental Training.

Eventually, we landed upon the name Combat Mindset and Mental Conditioning since this was the most accurate way to describe what we want to achieve for our participants in the instructor course. During the CMIC we focus on developing the mental, tactical, physical, and technical aspects of Krav Maga and instilling a proper combat mindset through correct conditioning. By now we have conducted three CMIC, and we made some small changes after the first course based upon feedback from the participants. The next course in Belgium in April 2014 was run with the small new changes. And the third course in Israel was run like the second one. Basically, the changes we made were removing some of the exercises and putting in some new ones. By now we have a very good format for the CMIC and we are working on a second course with more focus upon focusing (did you get that one?) and relaxation and self-control. But how did all this start once upon a time? 

Eyal has always been searching for the best mental tools for preparing the mind. I remember an incident around 1999 during an instructor update. Eyal gave us an exercise in which we were to imagine a specific opponent and to change his or her image to something that was better for our minds. I remember at that time the director of Krav Maga in Sweden was a really big guy, and you knew that if it came to sparring you would really get punished. So, I decided to try to change this. The exercise was quite simple. We were told to close our eyes and to visualize our opponent, and I chose to visualize the director. Then we were told to change the image of the opponent to black-and-white. You simply took away the colors of your image of your opponent. Then we were told to start moving him around in the room we were training in and to put him in a corner, in black-and-white, and to make him smaller. I managed to do this and to my surprise, I started laughing. Instead of seeing this huge, quite scary person, I was now seeing a black- and white kind of dwarf sitting in a corner. Not so scary anymore.

I continued during the next two weeks to work on this scenario. Then it became time to do another sparring session with the director. Right now, you are probably thinking, did I win? No, I did not, but my mindset was very different. Suddenly it was not scary anymore to spar with him. This was probably the first time in my life I really understood the power of mental training. Later I learned from Eyal that the technique was a Neuro-linguistic-programming technique (NLP). I had been exposed to a lot of mental training before during selection to the military, different exercises in the military, martial arts, and other athletic competitions, and so on, but nobody had told me how to control my mind. You just did things, and either you succeeded or you did not. So, I figured that Eyal had a point when he was teaching us this and other techniques. Since then I have been interested in mental training as a complement to the regular Krav Maga training.

I cannot really tell you exactly when Eyal and I started discussing the combat mindset part of KMG. The sports world has been using mental training for many years, and mental training has been attracting more and more attention within other different professional sectors during the last decades. In the 1980s the US Army Green Berets started a program focusing on mental training. The name of the program was “The Jedi project” (Don`t you just think the name is cool? Wonder where they got the idea from?), and the aim was to enhance the operator’s mental capacities and make them become better warriors.


The program included the use of NLP and it was very successful. Eyal was an early pioneer in involving NLP and other forms of mental training into the Krav Maga system already in the 1980s. NLP has also been used in the Norwegian military for many years in different special units and at the military academies. NLP and other forms of mental training have been used in for instance the Norwegian military in everything from parachute jumping to shooting and close combat with very good results, that is, people just function much better.

The CMIC is a result of many discussions, meetings, Skype conversations, and planning over the last, let us say 5 years. During these years we collected, and put into text different drills for enhancing the combat mindset, we put in some stress-related theory and looked into who in the rest of the world were using different mental techniques. We ended up with the CMIC which is unique and suited towards the KMG instructor who wants to expand his or her knowledge on this subject.

It is definitely clear that all the “regular” practices, physical self-defense, fighting, and protection of others contribute significantly and improve your abilities to mentally handle a confrontation. This mental preparation is mainly due to the fact that while we are training physically, our mind is being exercised too. However, in addition to this “regular” training and in order to further improve ourselves, there is a need for special mental preparation that will expand even more your mental capabilities and enhance your mental resources.

This is the reason why the CMIC was created. The CMIC is a three-day instructor course with the aim to instill knowledge and experience and to teach instructors how to instruct Krav Maga students how to improve decision making under stressful conditions and how to recruit all resources to deal with violent and non-violent confrontations. In order to do this the CMIC focus on three areas of mental and physical training: courage, mental toughness and aggression, relaxation, and focusing & self-control. 

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to train some of Norway’s most experienced police officers. None of them had less than 15 years of hard-earned experience, ranging from handling demonstrations to handling lethal encounters. During the training I used the techniques I have learnt from Eyal and spiced things up with some lectures on stress and how to cope with difficult and dangerous situations. We covered many of the same techniques we used in the CMIC. The feedback from the experienced police officers was; what they got from me, and to be honest from KMG, was extremely useful. They definitely want more and the National Policy Academy is interested in looking into this sort of training. The techniques, the drills, and the combat mindset training worked perfectly for these experienced officers. Things like this are always good to hear.

I know that what we do within KMG is exceptionally good, but receiving positive feedback is also good. I have had the same experiences from training cadets at the Norwegian Military Academy. Even very experienced combat veterans say that they benefit a lot from this type of training. Working in the Norwegian Army I have heard several times from our officers that the combat mindset training they receive (which is the same as KM instructors get from the CMIC) has helped save their and fellow officers’ life in places such as Afghanistan.

Working on your concentration skills is extremely valuable. You will understand what stress is and get an overview of different stress reactions. It is very useful to get to know how you react to different problems. Having a clear overview of common mental and physical reactions when one experience a self-defense/fighting situation and the normal sequence people go through as a response to a threatening situation will help you a lot.

Things you need to get some knowledge about include the OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) loop, mental stalls, and cognitive rubbernecking (that your attention is drawn to stimuli that have a strong emotional aspect). Then of course you will get a lot of practical methods/drills for training on concentration, focusing, neutralization of the destructive emotions, minimizing the stress and self-talk, and channeling attention.

It basically boils down to this: If you are not able to be here and now, and keep focusing on current events, you will probably experience some problems in your later mental training and naturally on your decisions and performances. There are several breathing exercises or relaxation techniques that will help you to maintain focus even in stressful situations. Once you master being here and now, you can continue with other types of mental training.

So you see, the CMIC is a lot more than just staring at the wall……..

Ole Boe

Ole became a Krav Maga instructor under Eyal Yanilov in 1998. He is currently an Expert 3 in KMG and a member of KMG´s Global and International Team (GIT). Ole has served as an operational officer for many years in a Norwegian military special unit conducting VIP protection, hostage rescue, and close combat. He has also served as an instructor in close combat for different police and military special units in several countries. He has served on several international operations all over the world ranging from Congo to Cambodia. Since 2003 he has been working at the Norwegian Military Academy where he teaches leadership and leadership development to army officers. Ole is an associate professor of leadership and has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. He is responsible for the Norwegian Military Academy concept of stress management and for preparing officers both physically and mentally for combat. Military rank is major or captain dependent upon which unit he serves in.