My Interview by TACTICAL Magazine

February 22, 2011 – 2:06 pm

TACTICAL MAGAZINE: How was your interest for tactical training born?

Scott Sonnon: “My father was in the US ARMY, and served in the Korean War. When he returned, our family disintegrated. He wasn’t given the tools to transition from combative stress / chronic hypervigilance, back into normal, civilian life. I did not understand as a child why he was so angry, violent and unhappy; nor did I understand why it eventually killed him with heart-disease. This early childhood life steered me to study stress physiology, psychophysiology, endocrinology and how it impacts combat biomechanics.

Normal, “dojo” martial art didn’t impress me. I sought out the early MMA styles, and found SAMBO. Because SAMBO was born from the military and law enforcement, rather than from just sport alone, it seemed the best study for me. There were few teachers in USA, but I found the best: the US National Team Coach. After becoming international champion, US Coach and President of the US governing body for SAMBO, I petitioned to train in Russia as the first foreigner to study combat science in the x-USSR.

I became the coach of the 1st US Police Sambo Team to compete at World Police Sambo Championships held in 1999 in Kaunas, Lithuania; part of the World Police and Firefighter Olympic Games. Because our athletes were all across our big country, I had to develop standards of training that all could perform, with minimal equipment.

This data provided the discovery I had been searching. As the US Sambo Team Coach (amateur athletes) and the US Police Sambo Team Coach (tactical athletes), there was one distinct difference: tactical athletes could train with lower heart rate at higher intensity than amateur athletes, BUT… tactical athletes needed much more recovery time than amateur athletes to prevent illness and injury. This discovery formed the basis of all of my research for the next decade.

In military and law enforcement, we have effective methods for acclimating soldiers and police to stress, but it’s literally killing them. The average life expectancy of law enforcement personnel is 54, and the greatest killer is stress-related heart disease.

What we need is not merely the ability to perform under high stress, but much more importantly, the ability to recover the fastest from high intensity effort. It is this maxim that has created all of my programs: bigger, stronger, faster means nothing unless you recover faster than your opponent; and without fast-recovery, being bigger, faster, stronger, will only lead quickly to the hospital, and then to the grave.”

TACTICAL MAGAZINE: Thanks to Hollywood action movies our image about US soldier is like Rambo or G.I. Jane or Full Metal Jacket. what’s the real conditioning training and the real fitness shape of the US soldiers?

Scott Sonnon: For the general military and state and local law enforcement, the fitness level of most is unacceptable. Super-sized, over-fat, and overwhelmed. They are given no additional training support outside of bootcamp and the academy.

For special operations personnel and for federal law enforcement agencies, the standards are higher, but most perform their duties in spite of their fitness levels rather than because of them. They do well and survive because they had the right spirit, not the right training.

But again… even with effective preparation to perform at high intensity, does not give soldiers and police the ability to recover fast from high stress. Whoever recovers fastest wins. This is my motto that I give the special units and agencies that I train.”

TACTICAL MAGAZINE: What does TACFIT offer to military tactical conditioning?

Scott Sonnon: “Combative encounters are unique in that they require fine and complex motor skills performed at high intensity.

You lose untrained, fine motor skills at approximately 65% heart rate maximum. (Heart rate maximum is 220-age). You lose untrained, complex motor skills at approximately 85% heart rate maximum.

Yes, you can increase how long you keep the skills, but with each new situation, a new stressor. You can only adapt to specific threats. So, you may be able to remain calm during “simulation drills” but running up stairs, in the dark, carrying 40kgs of equipment, to an unknown threat, and you will be surprised, you will make mistakes and you will feel overwhelmed. The conclusion here is this: whoever can recover fastest from surprise, mistakes and overwhelming odds… wins.

Some professionals focus on how to minimize the reflexes to high, sudden stress. I focus on training my units how to recover from WHEN they will make mistakes, be surprised and experience overwhelming events.”

TACTICAL MAGAZINE: Do you know if it’s possible to train also the mental, the psychological resistance to stress for military, police, firefighters, martial artists?

Scott Sonnon: “Your nervous system cannot tell the difference between the physical threat and a mental or emotional threat.

Unfortunately, many professionals do not take advantage of this, and instead, they merely abuse their units. Whoever endures, stays. But that is not TRAINING. That is merely WEEDING out those who are not yet trained for combative stress.

To TRAIN someone for stress, it must be woven into the conditioning. This isn’t a “sink or swim” approach. The focus of the training must be upon how fast you can recover from a high intensity output. So, there are multiple levels of a skill challenge, which allows the recruit and the “fire-eaters” to train together and get 100% of the benefits, without illness and injury.

For instance, one fire department reported that last year they saved in only one year $110,000 in injuries and time off work, from switching exclusively to my tactical fitness approach called TACFIT. The only change they made was switching to TACFIT, and their firefighters state it wasn’t merely their fitness level, but rather that they were able to access their skills under high stress which prevented them from injury, illness and worse…”

TACTICAL MAGAZINE: Many professionals talk about functional training. Is TACFIT a functional conditioning system?

Scott Sonnon: “All tactical fitness must be functional, but not all functional fitness is tactical. The focus of functional fitness is to balance the physiological form: muscular symmetry without compensations or imbalanced musculature. Tactical fitness must be balanced, but the focus is also on preparing high stress through tactically specific movements.

For example, a strict pullup is useful for functional fitness, since the body needs and was designed for overhead pulling (without which the body becomes imbalanced.) So, this would be the basic level of TACFIT.

However, the skill must progress to more tactically-specific movements. So, the next level would be a kipping pullup, to use full bodily power output. Then, the keeping one-handed extension pullup to simulate the need for climbing (climbing is a one-armed event, not two). Then, the clapping kipping pullup to simulate the explosive power to jump to the next ledge, fence or wall.

Tactical is functional, but functional does not mean tactical; just like soccer training SHOULD be functional, but not all functional training is soccer-specific.”


TACTICAL MAGAZINE: Tell us about the TACFIT method and the difference between it and Tactical Gymnastic.

Scott Sonnon: “TACFIT is a short-duration, high-intensity, fast-recovery workout. The goal is to prepare the ability to work under high stress with fast-recovery.

Tactical Gymnastics is a low to moderate intensity exercise program to increase efficiency of movement under stress. TACGYM improves shooting platforms for firearms, as well as knife, strike, kick, takedown and groundfighting structure.

How well you can transition from one position to the next often determines who is standing, and who is dead; who is safe and who is hurt. Bigger isn’t better. Stronger isn’t better. Faster isn’t even better. Only better is better. The goal is to move better. Size, strength and speed are only valuable IF they supplement movement efficiency.”

TACTICAL MAGAZINE: What are the difficulties which you face when you for the first time a special ops team?

Scott Sonnon: “The greatest difficulty with training special operations is also their greatest virtue: they’re willing to go further, farther, first. They are willing to sacrifice their body for the innocent, for their brothers. They will do so without thought, and without hesitation.

Unfortunately, this is also how they approach their training preparation. They will push themselves beyond safety into over-training injuries and illness, and still keep going more with injury and while ill.

They have been told, and they believe, that if they don’t train beyond illness and injury, then they won’t be able to perform in combat beyond illness and injury.

However, all research and tests in the past 30 years has shown that with intelligent training progression, training beyond illness and injury DOES NOT guarantee the ability to perform beyond illness and injury in combat. And furthermore, you can train without illness and injury to insure that you can perform beyond illness and injury in combat engagements.

Why? How? Because the nervous system does not know type of resistance, it only knows intensity. It only knows how much stress. It cannot tell that the stress is from injury. It cannot say a broken shoulder is a different pain, than the pain of high intensity exercise like clapping pullups. It only knows the degree of stress.

The body cannot tell the difference between heart rate maximum from exercise, and heart rate maximum from being shot at. It only knows heart rate maximum. Therefore, whoever recovers fastest from high stress in training without injury and illness, will be more operationally prepared to perform in high stress with injury and illness.

Furthermore, training to injury and illness means less operational readiness to deploy, means less operationally effective in the field, and means greater mortality of adding TRAINING-INDUCED injury and illness plus OPERATIONAL-INDUCED injury and illness.

The first goal of training must be “do no harm.” This takes some mental paradigm shifting for many “hard-chargers.” I honor them for their willingness to sacrifice themselves, but they must not do this in training, so that they are able to be so honorable in combat.”

TACTICAL MAGAZINE: What inspirations do you receive from the special units to continue to evolve TACFIT and Tactical Gymnastics?

Scott Sonnon: “For me, I am still honoring my father’s sacrifice in the Army. He did more than sacrifice his life. He gave up his family. He did not choose to sacrifice more than his body; he didn’t choose to sacrifice his ability to be in a family.

By working with soldiers and police who are actually willing to run toward danger so that innocents can remain safe, I surround myself by the best parts of my father… and repay his sacrifice, by training to help these soldiers, cops and firefighters so that they can go home safely and live happily, easily, with their families.

Training with these warriors brings out the best in myself. Who could not become a better person when surrounded by the world’s best warriors? For me, it is a life quest, a dream, and the biggest honor to stand with them.”

Tell us about one of the most inspirational training experience you’ve had.

Scott Sonnon: “There are too many. Please let me share the most recent instead. Alberto Gallazzi of, and I were invited to teach the Israeli Defense Force at Mitkan Adam military base in Israel. This was one of the highest honors to even be invited to visit, but we were invited to teach at the secret LOTAR Counter-Terrorism School at Adam base.

After running several of their units, their training staff, and visiting trainers from other units, through TACFIT and TACGYM, we were driving off-base, and our convoy stopped at the firing ranges. Giving us a try on their new rifle, the TAVOR TAR 21 from IMI. Great weapon.

As we were leaving, I remarked to the head instructor that I’d love to get one of their shirts at their PX shop. For Americans, we have to purchase our own gear ourselves at the store on base. But for the Israelis, you cannot “buy” the unit shirt. You can only earn it. I didn’t know this, because as an American, I’m used to thinking I can just buy what I want (it seems arrogant, I know, forgive me my culture.)

The head instructor takes off his tshirt and hands it to me. Literally gave me the shirt off his own back. The honor wasn’t lost on me. On special occasions, I proudly wear the shirt to honor them for their hospitality, their sweat and their sacrifices.

Last month, I taught at the NYPD Academy with Alberto. To understand what an honor this is: the NYPD has 33,000 officers, the 1st largest police department and the 6th largest standing tactical force in the world. The day before, I was given a private tour of their secret training facility called “TAC-City” - an artificial city built specifically to train tactical units in urban warfare for police. While leaving, one of the instructors shook my hand and said thank you. Thank you? They gave me the private tour! He said, “thank you for helping our fellow officers go home at night, Coach.” To be called “Coach” by these warriors… that is the greatest honor of my life. “

  1. 4 Responses to “My Interview by TACTICAL Magazine”

  2. Great interview Scott, Please tell us your hinting at next program!
    the tacfit programmes have been amazing and i managed to get the body flow dvd before it went into the vault. A mix of these 2 would be a dream come true.

    By adam stevenson on Feb 22, 2011

  3. Good stuff, Scott. Can’t wait to help you carry your vision forward as I meld it with mine. Lots of overlap in our disparate visions.

    By Paul Perez on Feb 23, 2011

  4. Outstanding article! Thanks for it.


    By Robert W on Feb 24, 2011

  5. Awesome article!

    By Donald on Jan 9, 2012

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