Why Practice?
by John Tate

Why should we practice manual skills like defensive tactics, draw, reloading, etc? Why is it crucial that police practice DefTacs, cuffing, draw, reloading, etc?


Here’s a brief psychomotor explanation:

“One of the core laws of neuroplasticity is that neurons that fire together wire together, meaning that repeated mental experience leads to structural changes in the brain neurons that process that experience, making the synaptic connections between those neurons stronger. In practical terms, when a person learns something new, different groups of neurons get wired together. As a child learns the alphabet, the visual shape of the letter A is connected with the sound ‘ay.’ Each time the child looks at the letter and repeats the sound, the neurons involved ‘fire together’ at the same time, and then ‘wire together’; the synaptic connections between them are strengthened. Whenever any activity that links neurons is repeated, those neurons fire faster, stronger, sharper signals together, and the circuit gets more efficient and better at helping to perform the skill.

“The converse is also true. When a person stops performing an activity for an extended period, those connections are weakened, and over time many are lost. This is an example of a more general principle of plasticity: that it is a use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon. Thousands of experiments have now demonstrated this fact. Often the neurons that were involved in the skill will be taken over and used for other mental tasks that are now being performed more regularly. Sometimes one can manipulate the use-it-or-lose-it principle to undo brain connections that are not helpful, because neurons that fire apart wire apart.” [1]

It is long held and well established law that governments can be held civilly liable under tort and civil rights for the failure to train appropriately their personnel. [2] The information above by Dr. Norman Doidge [3] may reasonably be considered expert opinion and thus worthy of our attention. If weight is given to Dr. Doidge’s opinion, initial training is insufficient to maintain skills learned during initial training, and advanced and maintenance training is also required.

Lesson: If, after basic and introductory training, advanced and maintenance training is not conducted, it seems logical that such an oversight could ground liability under the same theme as an initial failure to train.

CAVEAT LECTOR: These materials have been prepared for educational, andragogic, and informational purposes only. They are not legal advice or legal opinions on any specific matters. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship between the author and you. Any views expressed in this introduction and the summaries are those of the author alone and do not express the views of the any New Mexico authority or law enforcement agency. No person should act or fail to act on any legal matter based solely on the contents of these materials. Anyone finding fault with the representations of this analysis is urged to promptly notify me for appropriate corrections.


[1] Source: The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity. Author: Norman Doidge, Viking published by the Penguin Group, 2015. Pp 7-9

[2] City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 105 S.Ct. 2427 (1985) Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986) City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 109 S. Ct. 1197 (1989)

[3] Norman Doidge obtained his medical degree at the University of Toronto. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada. He is currently on Faculty at the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry, and Research Faculty at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, Columbia University, New York.