ICSC (Land) Director's Prize

20 September 2016

Combat Brain Training


Major Dan Davies RA

At the recent closing address to the Intermediate Command and Staff Course (Land) (ICSC(L)) 12B, given by the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, I was fortunate to be awarded the Director’s Prize.  The prize, sponsored by the Sandhurst Trust, consisted of a year’s subscription to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), an author signed copy of Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen and a copy of The Ottoman Endgame by Sean McMeekin.  I was awarded the prize partly due to my general performance on the course but more specifically because I had organised two groups of students to complete a course in Combat Brain Training, which the Defence Academy is now considering for inclusion in the ICSC(L) syllabus.

So, what is Combat Brain Training (CBT)?  It was developed in 2007 in the United States by John Kennedy, a strategy consultant, in conjunction with the United States Marine Corps.  Since then John has worked with many units in the United States Armed Forces as well as athletes and business people.  The course aims to improve the brain’s ability to conduct foundational level processing (i.e. brain function) thus improving clarity, focus and speed of mental processing.  It can also aid communication, mental and physical reaction times and the ability to cope with stress.

After hearing about CBT I was keen to complete the course and thought a few of my fellow students may also be interested.  By emailing my peers I came up with a group of 15 students who would be split into two groups.  Liaison with the local Education Centre resulted in the majority of the costs being borne by Standard Learning Credits, thus reducing the impact on our wallets.  Over the course of four months the groups met every week for up to two hours.  We would connect via Skype to John Kennedy in Chicago who would take us through our training.  For copyright purposes I cannot give too much away as to the exact nature of the training but will attempt to give an overview.

We started off at a very basic level, completing a printed sheet of different coloured arrows, each associated with different actions and commands; this seemed pretty taxing at first but we soon improved.  The next step was to move on to a more complex sheet of arrows and a greater diversity in the commands and actions.  The difference between those who were taking the time to practise between the sessions and those who weren’t really began to show.  The last stage was to use a problem solving tool involving a set of plastic bricks and a pack of cards with different structures that could be built.  The aim was to mentally solve the problem before touching the bricks, thus preventing solving through trial and error and improving problem solving ability.  This was also used to improve communication by working in pairs with one student blindfolded.

The practical applications of the CBT were apparent almost immediately.  Before conducting any work in the evening I would complete a quick session of either the arrows or the bricks.  In my experience this contributed to increased word processing speed when reading, better focus and quicker writing ability.  Clearly practise is required to maintain this improvement but given the benefits, finding the motivation for this should not be too difficult.  I would wholeheartedly recommend CBT to anyone who wishes to improve in this area.  The next step for the Defence Academy will be to see where and how CBT could best be included in the syllabus.