Article first appeared at Shooting Illustrated.
High-tech simulators like this one from MILO Range are excellent alternatives to force-on-force training. They present scenarios that challenge your judgment as well as your shooting skills.
A comment frequently offered by multiple trainers at various training institutions is that in a gunfight, you will not rise to new levels of performance, but rather revert to your level of training. Sometimes, we have a tendency to doubt the wisdom of these words, like when we see an Olympic athlete set a new world record or be awarded a perfect score for a championship performance. While it’s true that he or she did achieve a new, elevated level of performance on this particular day, keep in mind it was by doing all the things learned and practiced in years of training. The gold medal wasn’t won by trying something never before attempted.
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When you examine a typical training scenario for a citizen learning self-defense with a firearm, trigger time is spent on a square range engaging two-dimensional, paper targets mounted on a stand facing directly toward you. You learn to shoot pretty much center mass, even when going for a fight-ending head shot. Become proficient at this level and at many schools that’s when you go to the “Fun House.”
Here, attendees are enclosed in small spaces and narrow hallways where vision is restricted and paper or mannequin assailants are hidden rather than standing in the open waiting to be shot. One goes through doorways into rooms with no idea what’s waiting. Even worse, the situation must be assessed and any individuals encountered to determine if they represent a threat. Is that a gun in his hand? If it’s a cell phone or a beverage can and you press the trigger, you are now the villain, and subsequently looking at serious jail time. Worse yet, if he’s armed and holding a hostage, a miss doesn’t just generate a negative comment from the instructor, it could injure or kill an innocent person. It’s a test of judgment, as well as skill and can be nerve-racking.
As harrowing and instructive as it is, though, it doesn’t equal what may be the best-available training: force-on-force. Should you ever experience a force-on-force training, it’s likely to be a dynamic scenario where the attacker is coming at you with a weapon. If your heart rate accelerated in the fun house, prepare for it to enter warp speed when a real gun (albeit loaded with Simunitions) held by an “assailant” is pointed at you. I watched a young lady (an accomplished hunter) completely freeze in her first Simunitions encounter. Her eyes grew to the size of an owl’s and she literally stopped breathing as she stood holding her pistol, unable to move or fire the gun. In a Close Quarters Combat class I attended, one scenario had us making a purchase at a small convenience store when a robbery went down. Confronted by guns in the hands of two robbers, one student went through a different kind of meltdown. He very slowly backed away from the counter hoping not to draw fire, backed slowly out of the building to his car, entered his car and drove off the property. I guess he thought he had graduated because that was the last we ever saw of him.
In the same class we had a young mother of two who had no doubts why she enrolled in the CQB class. She was at the other end of the spectrum. In that same scenario, she barely hesitated before slapping leather and engaging the two gunmen. It was impossible to tell who “won” since all three parties were wearing paint splatters from the plastic pellets fired. Although they sting, these training pellets don’t have any real “stopping” power to end a fight, students can (and do) continue doing so even after taking multiple hits. Hmm, kind of like street shootouts we’ve seen in the news. Later in the class, the aforementioned lady encountered a scenario where a nut case was holding one of her kids in a building, and she had to work her way quickly through some dazed and confused civilians to reach the child. Again, there was no doubting her commitment, because the instructor had difficulty in keeping up with her.
In addition to Simunitions training, a new alternative is interactive, computer-based simulators that produce challenging tactical problems, often taken from real life. In both Simunitions and simulator training, one of the principles taught is that overwhelming violence is the proper response to an attack. Scenarios involving students versus active assailants begin before an actual attack has been initiated. This allows time to assess the situation and hopefully explore other possible solutions. There is rarely an obvious, best solution to a dynamic situation that is in the early stages of evolution. Instructors and students review every scenario with individual students and walk back through the experience to see if there was a better or more-effective alternative action that might have been attempted.
Most student reactions to force-on-force exercises are somewhere between the extremes discussed above. The idea is to offer some potential street encounters in a training situation where the first exposure won’t prove fatal. This kind of training provides experience without risk. Attending a class like this will, at a minimum, prevent attendees from becoming paralyzed with fear in an actual confrontation. Hopefully, they’ll be able to think rationally, review potential responses which they’ve physically and/or mentally practiced in class, and then apply a decisive solution that’s been mastered through training. Like the gold medalist, it’s experience that helps you survive, not some new idea.