It takes a while for Travis Haley to get to me. He’s on the phone with a lawyer discussing a fraud case against him, so I have an opportunity to chat with Chris Casalena and check out the amazing showroom and the newly opened headquarters of Haley Strategic Partners.
After 20 minutes, Casalena goes upstairs to check on Haley. Another 5 or 10 minutes pass and Travis Haley finally descends the stairs. But he has one final obstacle to negotiate. He is waylaid by a customer who seems more familiar with Haley than Haley is with him.
Haley makes eye contact with me to acknowledge my presence but stays engaged with his admirer, and willingly consents to have his picture taken with him and his lady friend.
When he finally breaks away, Haley apologizes for being late and shakes my hand. It is a gentlemanly shake, not a Trumpian grip and pull power move I stereotypically expect of a former Special Forces Operator. Standing next to Haley, I realize I am at least as tall as him. The physical similarities end there. As we head upstairs he apologizes again, this time for his casual attire. He is wearing a muted camouflage Under Armour shirt and black exercise shorts, black ankle socks and Solomon trail running shoes. His clothes accentuate the fitness of his biceps, quads, and stomach as much as my long pants and long sleeved, untucked shirt try to hide my skinny arms and legs and princely gut.
Haley is clean shaven, with neatly combed hair. No operator beard or military high and tight cut. For someone with years of combat experience around the world, he has a surprisingly boyish face. I feel more like I’m talking to a mid-career football player than a retired Force Recon Marine. Except that he also has a black eye and scrapes on his left hand and forearm. I don’t ask why.
I begin by thanking Haley for his time and explaining what my project on “Gun Culture 2.0” is about. He asks me where I got the idea of “Gun Culture 2.0” and I say from Michael Bane. He tells me that Bane got the idea from him. I’m not sure that is true, since the way Haley and Bane conceptualize Gun Culture 2.0 differ fairly considerably.
Where I follow Bane in tracing the rise of Gun Culture 2.0 back to the 1970s, including the rise of the civilian gun training industry with Col. Jeff Cooper and Gunsite, Haley counts all of that as part of Gun Culture 1.0. For Haley, Gun Culture 2.0 begins with what he calls the “dynamics generation,” after the division of Magpul Industries founded by Haley and made famous by the “Art of the Firearms” series.
Although his prior accomplishments as a Force Recon Marine and Blackwater contractor were considerable, Travis Haley became well-known in the gun culture more broadly because of his work for Magpul Dynamics.
As it pre-dates my involvement in gun culture, I was interested to learn that the name Magpul Dynamics was a combination of Magpul Industries and Simply Dynamic Inc., the company Haley founded in 2004 and ran until he joined Magpul in 2008.
Even back in 2004 when he was getting into the gun training industry Haley wondered, “How do I introduce myself into the industry? You had Gunsite, Frontsite, some traveling trainers on the national level. What could I offer? I wanted to introduce an experience. Not a technique that you didn’t create like many other trainers.”
Selling some 2 million discs a year at its height, Magpul Dynamics certainly found an enthusiastic market of people wanting to “experience” something about “tactical carbine,” “dynamic handgun,” and “dynamic shotgun.” Despite their popularity – or perhaps because of it – the “Art of the Firearms” DVDs are very hard to come by today, something that pleases Haley. “I’m glad the Magpul videos went away,” he tells me. “Because my training has developed and evolved since then.”
I will say more about Haley Strategic Train in a separate post, but here I want to touch on Haley’s more general approach to training. I ask him what someone from a dot-mil background can teach private citizens about firearms. Haley responds, “Shooting is shooting. Whether you’re in a cave in Afghanistan or a stay at home mom.”
Haley uses the analogy of global positioning systems (GPS) to explain his approach:
“My training is about being a GPS for people. The GPS doesn’t drive the car. It brings together lots of different people and knowledge to help a person drive a car. So every class the curriculum changes – the GPS needs updates.”
To this end Haley gathers around him a number of different experts to help him develop a curriculum that will help people be better drivers — of firearms. These include psychologists, kinesiologists, nutritionists, and ocular scientists, people who have expertise in areas such as neurofeedback, brain mapping, cognitive science, biomechanics, and visual eye tracking.
Although at first blush such experts and expertise would not seem immediately relevant to shooting, Haley believes that the typical approaches to gun training focus too much on the technical and physical aspects of firing a gun. These need to be there, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface is the bulk of what needs to be understood in order to be a better shooter: the science of human performance.
“I want to take what people do to win trophies,” Haley says, “and use it to save lives.”
Shooting is shooting, but being a gunfighter or a responsibly armed citizen requires much more than the ability to pull a trigger. This is a lesson that Travis Haley learned from his own experience at war.
When I ask Haley how he developed his thinking about training, he responds, “A lot of failures.” He goes back to a key moment in his military career; one that long preceded his involvement in firearms training. Haley recalls being deployed in West Africa and coming into a situation in which he had a hostile AK-47 pointed in his face. Because the first gun he ever bought was an AK, he knew how the safety worked. And for some reason he was able in that moment to see very clearly that the safety was up and therefore on. This told him that he would have fractionally more time to move the muzzle of the AK then draw and fire his own pistol. Which he did.
He has that AK displayed in his office today, on the wall directly across from his desk where it is always in view.
From this Haley learned the importance of understanding how vision works under different circumstances, especially stress; hence, his interest in ocular science.
But what does this have to do with failure? No doubt one of the things that made Haley who he is today is his ability to speak quickly, easily, and clearly. So his halting speech (and glassy eyes) when he tells me this story suggests the extent to which this event continues to affect him. In the end, he seems burdened by the bad decision-making that got him into a situation in the first place that he could have avoided.
Perhaps this drives his interest in decision-making to this day. In our conversation he talks a lot about “conation.” Conation is an old idea in psychology that Haley picked up from Phoenix-based author Kathy Kolbe.
The core idea is that the mind has three dimensions: cognitive, affective, and conative. The first two – thinking and feeling, respectively – are commonly discussed. But the idea of a conative dimension speaks to instinctual methods of operation (modus operandi, or M.O.) that people use in problem solving actions. When people understand their unique style of conation and act according to it, their creative energies flow freely. When teams combine the right variety of different conative styles, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
- Fact Finder – the instinctive way we gather and share information.
- Follow Thru – the instinctive way we arrange and design.
- Quick Start – the instinctive way we deal with risk and uncertainty.
- Implementor – the instinctive way we handle space and tangibles.
Haley uses this assessment both to better understand himself and to create a more productive team at Haley Strategic Partners. For example, if everyone in a group are fact finders but none are implementors, nothing is going to get done.
Haley’s conation analysis shows that he is a quick starter but has trouble with follow thru. Consequently, when my 90 minutes with him starts, we go from zero to 100 right away and he remains totally engaged with me the whole time.
Just before 3:00pm, the time at which my meeting is supposed to end and his staff meeting begin, someone steps into the doorway of his office to give him a 10 minute warning. Through the window I can see his team gathering at the conference table. He asks if I have seen the new training facility. I have not, so we head over to the room with his VirTra simulators.
At 3:00, someone else comes to tell Haley it’s time for the staff meeting to begin. He acknowledges the person, but proceeds to show me a few more things. At 3:10, Kelsey hesitantly comes in and says, “Sorry, but you know I have to do this.” Haley nods to her and proceeds to explain to me the importance of mylination in the process of developing peak performance through deliberate training and practice.
Haley eventually made it to the staff meeting, and I made my way back to the showroom to do some shopping.