Jedi Warrior: Mind Fitness Based Resilience Training (MFBRT)
“The greatest thing in all education is to make the nervous system our ally, instead of our enemy.” – William James
“A man with outward courage dares to die. A man with inward courage dares to live.” – Lao Tzu
Our Jedi Warrior, or the Ultimate Warrior Training Program for the U.S. Army Special Forces is the most intensive leadership and mind fitness based resilience training program to be offered in the military in modern times.
The program review team at West Point Military Academy described Jedi Warrior as, “The most exquisite orchestration of human technology that we have ever seen.” Two of our advisors, George Leonard and Michael Murphy, founders of Esalen and the Human Potential Movement, described the program as “the most intensive leadership and human development program to be offered in modern times.” The vital lessons learned from this program offer profound insights regarding how to address the current mental health crisis and rising number suicides of men and women returning from combat missions. It also offers a wealth of inspiration and guidance for leaders in any organization who are seeking to develop their capacity to thrive and effectively help others in these complex and turbulent times.
The full story on this program has yet to be fully told and we are the only members of the original design team who were also involved with the program’s full delivery. The senior officer whose inspired leadership brought our program into being, has asked us to consider writing the definitive full story of this historic program. Some day we hope to fulfill his request. We are frequently invited to offer briefings on this program for leaders around the globe who are interested in the profound implications of applying lessons learned to equipping cadres of leaders in other disciplines with the wisdom, resiliency and capacity to accomplish their complex missions. This work clearly has increasing relevance in preparing leaders and communities to resiliently meet the challenges, and embrace the opportunities, of these “VUCA times” (i.e. the Army War College coined the term “VUCA” to describe the modern arena as Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous).
The Real Story Behind the U.S. Army’s Jedi Warrior Program:
Advanced Mind Fitness Training and the Special Forces of the Mind
Notes prepared by: Dr. Joel & Michelle Levey, Program Co-designers and Directors of Advanced Biocybernaut Training
In 1982 we were approached by high level officers in the US. Army to design and direct the “Ultimate Warrior Training Program”, AKA “The Jedi Warrior Program,” a then secret program for two A Teams of elite Special Force troops. This six month-long, full-time program came about through the efforts of a number of concerned and high-ranking officers who were inspired by the vision of the First Earth Battalion, compelled by the psi/ESPinage research taking place in China and behind the Iron Curtain, and by increasing interest in the advanced mental development possibilities. These leaders also lived with the grief of knowing how much unnecessary suffering took place during and following the war in South East Asia, and wanted to find ways to reduce the likelihood of that happening in the future.
These visionary and compassionate leaders understood that because their people were unprepared to stop the war inside themselves, under pressure the seeds of violence within them manifested as the outer violence that destroyed many innocent people, including their families and themselves. We were told that more than twice as many people committed suicide after returning home than died in combat, and that they lived with the grief of that knowledge on a daily basis. These courageous military leaders approached us with a hope and confidence that we would be able to help design a state of the art, advanced leadership and human development program for their elite Special Forces soldiers.
The stakes were very high. We* were asked to work with two highly strategic elite teams, whose mission had the potential to either trigger or avert World War III. Our mission was to design and deliver a full-time intensive and holistic program to equip these two A Teams of Special Forces Troops with the personal, team, and mission capabilities necessary to recognize and reduce the conflict/war within themselves so they could perform at peak levels in the midst of extreme danger and distress – such as working behind enemy lines for prolonged periods of time.
Prior to submitting our proposal, we went through considerable soul searching. We consulted many of our mentors and advisors, and contemplated the potential implications, both positive and negative of participating in designing and implementing such a program in advance human technology and mental development. During this same period, Trident submarine was coming into Puget Sound for the first time. As we pondered this RFP from the Army we realized that if we had six months to train the crew of a nuclear submarine that we would feel that the world was a safer place. It became clear that the benefits to the men and to the globe were potentially extreme. We assembled our team, created and submitted our proposal for a six-month full time training program. We received an almost immediate reply from leaders at West Point Military Academy who evaluated our proposal and stated that our proposal represented “the most exquisite orchestration of human technology we had ever seen!” Their response was heartening.
In preparation for the program we engaged dozens of our mentors to ask for their council and advice. Our primary question for them was:
“If you had the opportunity to work intensively for six months with men who were in a position to start or stop the next world war, what would you do and what would be most essential to teach them?”
Our advisors and collaborators ranged from Vietnam veterans and respected military leaders, to leading martial artists, noted researchers like Elmer Green from the Menninger Foundation, Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, and Nobel Peace Laureate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. By the time the program began, we had woven the best of our own experience with the insights of many others to deliver what Michael Murphy, founder of the Esalen Institute, and Esquire editor George Leonard, once called, “the most intensive leadership and human development program to be offered in modern times.”
For this pioneering project we designed an extensive lab of state-of-the art technology to teach the men mastery of their minds and bodies. It was vital that our soldiers learned skills for recognizing and transforming their inner demons into inner allies. Our advanced Biocybernaut training combined technologies of biofeedback, neurofeedback, cyberphysiology, and contemplative inner methods of mastery drawn from the vast array of contemplative science traditions. In our lab the soldiers developed the skill and confidence necessary to sense and control many previously unconscious physiological functions: they learned to recognize and control muscle tension, to control blood circulation in order to keep their hands warm in cold environments, manage the intensity and physiology of their responses to stress. For many visiting dignitaries to the base, our Jedi Biocybernaut Lab became a first stop on the tour of the base, where they learned that it was actually possible to recognize and control the level of their blood pressure. Our lab included the world’s first multiple-synchrony brainwave feedback system, which we helped to design, in order to teach up to sixteen people at a time to “synchronize” their brain waves in order to move toward a team resonance and flow state of deep attunement to each other’s inner state of being in order to gain access to greater collective wisdom and intelligence of the team.
Our goal with all of this modern and ancient technology was to build the soldiers’ skills and confidence that they could indeed recognize, understand, and influence/control their mental, emotional, and physiological experience, and that they could strengthen the mindful clarity they’d need to choose the wisest path of action even in the midst of the “VUCA” conditions of the modern battlefield. (Note: VUCA is a military term referring to operations in Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous conditions. Our training helped equip our men with the skills necessary to bring a deeper Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility forward to meet the challenges of their VUCA mission environments.)
For men who were outwardly fearless and willing to give their lives for their country, the most terrifying part of our training was a month-long silent mindfulness style meditation training retreat, called, “The Encampment.” This was a time of intensive mental fitness and martial arts training where they learned skills for looking deeply into their own minds and bodies in order to recognize, befriend and transform their “inner enemies”, to resolve inner conflicts, tap inner strengths, and realize potentials that could influence and improve their outer effectiveness. They deepened their insight into how these “internal enemies” could ultimately cost them their lives if they were deployed on their mission. Our teams discovered and learned how to tap reservoirs of inner strength they never dreamed existed. Following this month of intensive mindfulness and meditation training the men were parachuted at night into a four-day ordeal called “the gut check” – a field simulation in very rugged terrain with a series of tests and check-points that needed to be passed on a strict timeline or the men would not have food or water for the next leg of the test. Our two teams were the first in history to muster both the individual and team strengths necessary to successfully complete this extremely arduous mission simulation.
The “integral nature” of the Jedi Warrior training design provided an exquisite blend of methods for developing the wholeness and extra-ordinary capabilities of our soldiers. Ours was also the first program for the Special Forces to openly address issues regarding death, dying and grieving. We introduced highly sophisticated methods of physical and team training that were a step beyond the somewhat archaic practices that were the norm in their physical training. Our men learned to make wiser choices in diet to promote higher levels of performance. Jedi Warrior training enabled our soldiers to develop extraordinary skills for self-mastery, self-regulation, and resilience. They learned skills for high-performance sleep, deep relaxation, energy healing, and how to find an inner state of calm intensity in which they could focus their minds for self -healing or to maintain states of clear alertness for long periods of time. They trained intensively in the martial art of Aikido, a martial art form that emphasizes cultivating a greater sensitivity to energy flow and force while creatively transforming the energy of inner and outer conflict. We applied these learnings to enhancing the mission skills and technical capabilities essential to their success, such as working with code, emergency medical work, and other vital skills necessary for their work. We also worked closely with the soldiers’ families and significant others to help integrate these insights and learnings into their home life and relationships.
In addition to the outcomes summarized below, some of the most notable impacts of our work were evident in an enhanced quality of communication and relationship with their families. Many wives and children of the men thanked us because their spouse/father came home and talked to them and openly shared his feelings and fears. Some commented that their husband/father seemed more in control of his emotions and was able to talk through difficulties without getting physically abusive. One team was selected as the most outstanding team in the NATO Games that year. Many of these men went on to train others in these inner arts, while others were recruited by Delta Force and other special units in the Service. Others taught at the War College or were decorated for their special roles in operations in Somalia, the Gulf War, and Eastern Europe.
Over the years we have heard from many of the men that what they learned has saved their lives, their missions, their teams, and their families from many difficult situations. Reports over time indicate that the program had a profound effect on the lives of those who participated in it, opening a vast horizon of new possibilities for personal and professional development. The benefits of this investment in these people’s lives continue to this day.
Special Forces at Work: Organizational Warrior Training
The methods distilled through our work with the Jedi Warrior project have inspired and informed the design of hundreds of programs we have designed and delivered to help leaders and organizations around the globe develop greater capacity to thrive in these complex times.
Jedi Warrior provided an organizational learning laboratory that has great relevance for leaders in complex, high-stakes systems who seek wisdom, resilience, mindful presence, collective creative intelligence, fierce compassion, and courage. With practice, the Jedi Warrior core disciplines allow insight and intuition to deepen, courage and confidence to grow, health and performance to improve, and innovation to be guided by a wisdom congruent with the pressing needs of the times.
When our colleagues in other organizations hear about the work we did with the Army Special Forces, they often respond by saying, “We need a Jedi Warrior or ‘ultimate warrior’ training program for the people in our organization! We work on an organizational battlefield with every growing levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity and need to develop greater skills to increase our personal and collective resilience, wisdom, creativity, and strength.” In response to these requests we have designed and delivered a variety of programs incorporating methods from the Jedi Warrior program for over 100 corporate clients around the globe with inspiring and enduring results.
*The original design for this program was created by us (Joel & Michelle Levey) and Bud Cook. At a later stage we brought in Jack Cirie (team leader) and Richard Strozzi Heckler (aikido teacher) as members of our core delivery team. It was inspired by the vision of Lt. Col. Jim Channon’s inspired work with the First Earth Battalion. A host of remarkable advisers, researchers, and visiting trainers also participated in this program, and each brought great wisdom, expertise, and inspiration to this historic training.
Contact us to arrange a special briefing on how this advanced Mind Fitness and Resilience Training program can be customized to bring advanced human performance technologies training to the people of your organization and to expand their capacity to fulfill their missions and realize their highest aspirations.