The limitations of the equipment that we discussed in the previous installment aren’t the only things that affect the utility of force-on-force training. The way that drills and scenarios are approached is important as well.
I’ll use two terms to describe broad categories of FOF training. Drills are man-against-man tests of mechanical or physical skills: drawing the gun, moving off the vector of the attack, and so on. Scenarios, on the other hand, test decision making and information gathering skills. They may also include a physical/mechanical component, but their primary purpose is to test judgment.
At the top of the list, as it always should be, is safety. FOF training demands a sterile, segregated environment. Any course that doesn’t enforce both should be avoided at any cost. The risk of accident is too high to trust anything other than a rigorous, and rigidly enforced, exclusion zone for live weapons. That means all weapons: firearms, knives, chemical and electrical weapons. The only weapons allowed inside the FOF training area should be simulated – and that goes for the instructors, too! If you encounter a FOF course where the students are required to disarm but the instructor(s) aren’t, that’s your cue to leave. Vociferously, I would add.
As I mentioned last time, a drill (as opposed to a scenario) which continues past the first shot may not be very valuable. As I pointed out, the lack of ballistic effect on both ends of the muzzle means that multiple shots from a simulated handgun have little to no value. If the drill is set up so that the gun serves as a marker, a device to signal force has been used and how successfully placed that force might be, then there is no need for more than one shot. If, on the other hand, it is set up so that some predetermined number of shots have been fired or – worse yet – unlimited shots are allowed, then its value as a teaching tool must be questioned. Remember that any simulated munition has value only in that it provides first round accountability; after that, it’s just recreation.
It’s common to see FOF drills that attempt to teach something which is affected by a student’s foreknowledge. For instance, a student knows that he’s in a FOF class, he’s got a loaded sim gun in his holster, and he knows that the drill is testing his reaction time or ability to do a specific task. His anticipation of the need to shoot is sky high. If the technique works, all it shows is that the student could do it when he had advance warning of the event. Would it work if he wasn’t already primed for action? The trouble is that this can’t be tested in FOF, because there will always be that anticipation. FOF drills must be carefully selected so that the skill being developed or tested isn’t negatively affected by that anticipation. They also can’t be used to justify training that benefits from anticipation, a fault I see all too often.
Scenarios, on the other hand, demand more setup and are especially dependent on good role-players. I’ve seen FOF courses that employ students as both attackers/antagonists and defenders/protagonists. With the possible exception of what might be akin to a martial arts flow drill, where the same pattern is repeated multiple times to build familiarity, I don’t see the point in letting students fight things out. The antagonist in a FOF scenario is the agent by which the protagonist, the student, learns whatever lesson is being considered. I don’t see where the learning occurs if both parties are ignorant of the lesson.
Allowing two students to go at each other, no matter how well coached, seems to invariably devolve to the the equivalent of a dodge ball game. This is exacerbated by the lack of ballistic effect which we discussed last time. Students as counterparts works; students as teachers, I’m not at all sure of.
Scenarios are best used to test decision making and are a natural for FOF. Here care must be taken to ensure that there is actual instruction. One flaw I see is that scenarios are designed with arbitrary outcomes, and the student spends his or her time not evaluating the environment for what it actually is but rather for what the instructor wants it to be. In other words, the scenario becomes a puzzle where the student is figuring out the instructor, not the situation. This is very common in ‘tactical’ shooting matches and is part of the reason that even the best stage design isn’t all that realistic. The scenario has to be designed so that the situation, the interactions, and the conclusion are all plausible.
That’s easier said than done! It is very difficult for a scenario designer to avoid bringing his or her idiosyncratic biases into the design. Scenarios shouldn’t be puzzles and shouldn’t be difficult to figure out, but it seems that many people are intent on making them so. If the student is forced to examine vague and misleading clues in order to arrive at the ‘correct’ solution, how does that in any manner relate to a plausible real life interaction? It doesn’t, and that’s the point.
At the same time, the people playing the antagonists in scenarios have to be good actors. A thug on the street behaves in ways that we all recognize (or should recognize), and the person playing a thug needs to be able to replicate that behavior. If he/she can’t, then the protagonist is back to figuring out the puzzle rather than reacting to a real stimulus. The actors must be well practiced and disciplined; again, another strike against students being used in such roles. (Heck, it may even be a big strike against many instructors. I know how a crackhead acts, but I also know I’m not a good enough actor to recreate one realistically enough to teach a student what an interaction with one is like!)
(This is true even in drills. The antagonist already knows what the student is going to do, or at least has a very good idea. That foreknowledge allows him to act and react in ways that a real attacker couldn’t or wouldn’t. This skews the results of the lesson, and requires that the instructor both take the role and be able to play it as ‘straight’ as possible.)
It sounds like I’m not a fan of FOF. That might be true in some cases, because I don’t think it has the wide application that so many think it does. I think that it has great value in specific circumstances, but not as a general teaching tool for people who have yet to become competent with the operation of their firearms. Its utility is greatest in well thought out scenario training and less so — perhaps zero — in simple mechanical drills.
To be valuable it has to be carefully conceived and implemented, something that doesn’t seem to happen all that often. It’s not the ultimate test of defensive preparation, as some contend, but properly used it can be extremely valuable.
-=[ Grant ]=-
- Posted by Grant Cunningham
- On February 9, 2011