It has been called several names over the years; force on force, scenario based, red handle gun…it doesn’t matter what the title is; the goal has always been the same…to prepare students of combative weapon craft for armed conflict. I believe in being verbally/visually descriptive in the hopes of when I say something a student they can get a picture in their mind as to what I am talking about. The instructor that can do this has a big advantage when trying to build skills sets, thus I prefer to call it interactive training. The reason is obvious; the instructor is having the students interact with one another at full life saving speed while shooting projectiles that offer immediate feedback for failure, i.e. they hurt! I have seen interactive programs with students so padded against injury the lesson of failure is completely lost. There is no reason to hurt people in training, you say? Sure, serious injury I agree, but the sting of an Airsoft pellet strikes does nothing more than say “you screwed up” and a sting in training is much preferred over a gunshot wound in the street.
With ammo shortages always possible, many police agencies and private training companies are relying more and more on interactive training which is fine…in the short term. Trying to totally replace live fire training with Airsoft guns is a non-starter as these guns do not replicate live fire muzzle blast and recoil. I have long believed a complete combative firearms training program must include three components:
Fundamental (foundational) skills: I prefer to call them essentials as you must have all of these skills if you want to prevail in armed conflict. You might have heard them as grip, stance, trigger control, sight alignment, etc. but in reality essentials skills are anything that keeps the gun running in a fight! Trigger control is more important than malfunction clearances, you say? Maybe, until you need to clear a malfunction while bullets are in bound, then it becomes something you MUST be skilled at!
Combative Aspects: Those skills that take the gun from a sporting or plinking instrument and turn it into a tool for combat. A few examples would be one hand shooting and manipulation, use of cover, movement, close quarter shooting, grounded shooting, etc. It is highly recommended to mix open hand skills with firearms for total combative preparation. No open hand skills? Then you have screwed up!
I Interactive Aspects: Live human beings interacting with one another, shooting a projectile that offers a “penalty” for getting hit, i.e. making a mistake. Not every level of this “program pyramid” needs to be covered in each training session, but a proper program should cover all of these at some point. Most of the private firearms training institutions, including my own, incorporate these levels as training advances, which is a solid goal…to achieve a complete combative shooter.
I can’t help but chuckle every time I ask a student what the goal of interactive training is, I will usually get something like, “It’s the closest thing to a real gunfight possible with safety” (think about this statement...gunfight and safety!?) or “It puts a student in a gunfight environment.” Well, at the risk of popping a few of your gunfight fantasies, no it’s not! Those who have been shot or shot at at can tell you definitively interactive training is nothing like someone really trying to kill you, as there is no expectation of injury or death! While training accidents have happened, every student involved in this type of training knows that when it is over they will get in their cars and go home. They might have a bruise or two, but they will be just as healthy as when they arrived. In addition, this knowledge leads students to attempt things they would not if the stakes for failure were fatal. No, its not the same, but it is still vital.
The way I see it, the true preparation advantages of well- executed interactive training are:
Interactive training is “full speed” interaction and requires the students to make fast but accurate crisis decisions one after another building confidence along the way. You quickly learn there is no observation, orientation, decision, action…it is SEE-DO! The needed skills must already be there!
- It proves to the student the skills; tactics and techniques learned at the essential and combative levels will indeed work in rapidly evolving conflict, again building confidence. Those who study armed conflict have known for centuries the single biggest factor in overcoming fear in conflict is having confidence your skills will work when needed. Consider this; a person who has confidence their skills will work and know they can make fast decisions will be a formidable opponent. Such a person will feel fear, but they will be better prepared to control it, which is what will enable them to prevail!
Note that I said well-executed interactive training as I have seen many such training sessions deteriorate into people chasing each other around shooting other students in the butt. The so-called instructors in these situations seem to be much more interested in having a good time than training their students. The difference between training and entertaining is often times a very fine line. Interactive training must be well scripted with role players who will stay disciplined so the student achieves the desired lesson plan…they must be good training partners! Part of this plan should be the decisions they face/make, tactics/techniques needed to be experienced and anchored and the ability of the student to adapt to the situation they face. While the scenario should be tightly held together the student should be permitted to create innovative outcomes that are tactically sound.
Doing it well
Safety should be the primary concern of everyone involved when undertaking interactive training. In a nutshell, the training area should be a bubble in which nothing enters or leaves without complete knowledge of the primary instructor and other safety personnel. Absolutely NO REAL WEAPONS OR AMMUNITION WILL ENTER THE TRAINING AREA! The International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) has an excellent protocol on how to safely run scenarios based training, including signs to be placed at entry points, and I would strongly suggest anyone who conducts such training be familiar with it.
Once the training area is secure, and then proper gear needs to be addressed. While Simunitions is undoubtedly the most realistic interactive tool, many students and agencies are making use of the lower cost Airsoft technology. Airsoft has come a long way in recent years, becoming a legitimate training tool and no longer toys. Most of the major firearms manufacturers now license Airsoft long guns and handguns that mimic their real weapons in both look and feel. This allows the student to use the Airsoft gun in the same holster they would use on the street, making training all the more realistic.
I have used versions of the Smith & Wesson M&P, Glock, Beretta 92F and HK USP in my classes with great reliability. Having such realistic “clones” further expands the training experience as shooters can now use these Airsoft replicas to practice skills the gun club or public range will not permit. If your range will not permit you to shoot in unconventional positions (kneeling, prone, supine) or draw from the holster these skills can easily be practiced using these realistic Airsoft replacements. While the draw can be practiced dry, Airsoft offers first and second shot hit feedback that dry fire cannot offer and since we have known for a long time the combatant who lands the first solid hit in a fight it usually the winner, this feedback is invaluable!
If you are serious about your personal security and want to truly enhance your combative pistol skills, maybe the next gun you should buy does not fire bullets…a small plastic pellet can go a long way towards saving your life! Stay safe, stay alert and heck your 360 often!