Determining how and what we train.

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A question from a student in the class I taught last weekend brought up an interesting dichotomy in the defensive shooting world: what we prepare for often doesn’t match what we actually face. Many people prepare for social violence, but actually face asocial violence. The difference between the two affects how and what we train.

Social violence is that which occurs between people engaged in a ritualized struggle for status or prestige; it can also be applied to groups vying for territory. Social violence occurs between two people who see each other as people, as antagonists, and there is often an aspect of mutuality to the encounter. The term ‘fight’ is most appropriate when referring to social violence, and the victim usually has some forewarning of the attack in the form of the posturing which precedes it. He (or she) may not recognize those cues, but they exist. Social violence is very often illustrative of escalation.

This is in stark contrast to asocial, or criminal, violence in which the victim is seen as a resource by the perpetrator. The resource is to be exploited with as little danger to the exploiter as possible, and that usually means both surprise and overwhelming force (or threat of force.) The term ‘attack’ is more appropriate when referring to criminal violence, and it usually shocks the victim by being both surprising and rapid.

A rather large, and in my mind unwarranted, amount of time in defensive shooting classes is spent training to deal with social violence gone bad. Why unwarranted? If the defensive shooting data that Tom Givens has collected is any indication, the overwhelming majority of lethal force incidents are in response to criminal violence and not social violence. His victims were usually doing normal, everyday things when they were surprised by a violent attacker. They weren’t engaging in the one-upsmanship dances that typify social violence; they were attacked and needed to respond immediately. Their encounters lasted mere seconds.

(It could be argued that Tom’s data set, gathered from his students who were engaged in shooting incidents, is heavily biased toward those who have either learned to avoid social violence or are socioeconomically predisposed to conduct which does not place them in the kinds of situations where social violence is common. After all, people with hot tempers and/or a psychological need to dominate others are usually not the responsible types who tend to sign up for shooting classes.)

In defensive shooting training, focusing on social violence as a precursor to the use of lethal force leads to training which doesn’t reflect the reality of how attacks happen. The escalating nature of social violence lends itself to formulaic responses: verbal challenges, maneuvering for position, getting into the perfect (and preferred and usually non-intuitive) stance, getting a solid focus on the front sight, and shooting rapidly by “catching the link” to reset the trigger perfectly between shots and reduce split times.

The problem is that the techniques for the social violence scenario don’t match the circumstances under which criminal violence occurs. If you don’t know the attack is coming beforehand (because you’ve not spent the last minute or two sparring with someone who is trying to save face) you won’t get the opportunity to use your well-practiced verbal de-escalation techniques; there won’t be time to look around and get in just the right location to take advantage of cover; the sudden attack will activate your body alarm reaction and you’ll automatically square yourself to the threat, which negates any sort of special stance; the loss of accommodation in the eyes and the resulting lock of focus at infinity makes it unlikely that you’ll be able to focus on your front sight; and the reduction in blood flow to your hands, resulting in lowered tactile sensation, dexterity and strength means you’re probably not going to be able to feel the little ‘click’ which tells you the trigger has reset.

So, the known and documented physiological reactions (which can’t be trained away) to the kind of attack which most commonly results in the use of lethal force doesn’t match the stuff that’s learned in preparation for the least common kinds of incidents. In my mind, that’s not a good use of scarce training resources! It’s better to train in techniques which acknowledge the nature of the attack and our hardwired responses to them; they are more likely to result in an efficient response.

As it happens, the things that you learn to respond to criminal violence will work just as well if you need to shoot as a result of social violence, but the reverse is not true. This is because a learned response will always work when the body’s alarm reaction hasn’t been activated, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to learn it in the first place. They may not work under the body’s natural alarm reactions, however, unless they match the way in which the body responds – because those natural reactions can’t be trained away.

Does this mean that understanding social violence and how to deal with it is useless? No, not at all. In fact, Wim Demeere’s blog recently had an article on how to deal with social violence that I think is worth your time to read. (It’s aimed at men and their particular kind of interactions.) Everyone should know how to handle these kinds of incidents to prevent them from escalating to the point that lethal force is both warranted and needed.

It’s when we add in the tool (a gun) and body functions that aren’t normally encountered (because we’ve been surprised by a criminal attack) that we need to thoughtfully modify how and what we train.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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