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Low-light training: Not just a shot in the dark

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During a recent meeting of Team One Network Instructors, more than twenty of us spent time discussing Low Light Training. We agreed that Low Light Training is a critical but sometimes short-changed component of officer survival courses. What follows is a summary of what we discussed, as well as our conclusions about how to enhance Low Light Training, and include current doctrine dealing with weapons-mounted lights.

We discovered that many of us have been teaching Low Light Techniques for years. Most started with the FBI Technique, and then progressed to the Harries. These days there are more than eight different versions of flashlight techniques--with many different names. But the instructors' consensus was that no matter how many different techniques you try, you have to find the one or two that work best for you and stick with them, instead of introducing new techniques every time you do Low Light Training.

While instructors need to know all of the techniques in order to offer the various options to their trainees, those officers need to find what works best for them and then practice that technique or techniques until they are proficient at it. Just like in shooting skills, consistency and reinforcement are positive and critical factors in officer survival training. Officers who survive deadly encounters do so because they fight the way they've been trained.

We also reached agreement on another truth. As instructors, we realized that we have to do more that just teach flashlight shooting techniques. We have to teach officers how to operate in Low Light conditions, and how to use light and darkness, shadow, silhouette, and even "shock and awe" to gain the tactical advantage. While knowing how to shoot a gun with a flashlight is certainly a necessary survival tool, the officer operates in low light condition far more than he or she shoots in low light conditions.

How do you teach those survival skills? Listed below are some Low Light Training non-shooting drills that will help your officers learn how to use light as an ally. These drills are what Gary Klugiewicz, calls "guided discovery". By giving students a scenario-putting them in the middle of a situation--the officers get practical experience and also discover on their own what works best for them. The key to these drills is having the officers observe the effects of light from numerous perspectives, so they come to understand how to make effective use of light under real-world conditions.


Half the students inside the classroom looking out a window, the other half outside.

  • Lights on in classroom / no lights outside
  • Lights on in classroom/ lights on outside
  • Lights off in classroom/ lights on outside
  • Lights off in classroom/ lights off outside

Learning Objectives: It is harder to be seen if you are in a darker environment than your adversaries.


Observe what the officer looks like in the car, then:

  • Overhead light on (white)
  • Overhead light on (red)
  • Laptop Computer or MDT on
  • Cigarette lighter
  • Cell Phone
  • Headlight on and off
  • Overheads on and off
  • Vehicle approaches using different lighting techniques to distract
  • Small pen light or stylus light on

Learning Objectives: It doesn't take much to light you up, but light shining in your adversary's eyes will make a huge difference in what they can see and how they react.


Students take turns searching and observing inside a room
Note: During the search students should be able to identify guns and other items

  • Constant on Flashlight
  • Flashing and Moving
  • Painting and Moving
  • Door backlighting
  • Strobe lights
  • Offensive light use
  • Hall Drill (moving behind intense, high-powered light)

Learning Objectives: How to observe, how to use light intermittently, how to move and search for cover; learning the pros and cons of these different techniques.


Students must identify objects and colors under time and illumination pressures. They must identify objects held by the instructor from 15 to 20 yards by using a flash or paint technique from behind cover. We use the 15-20 yard range because it is the maximum effective range for most tactical flashlights. As Team One instructor John Zamrok puts it, "You can't outshoot your light." What he means is that you must always be able to identify your target. IDs should be made from the following positions:

  • Straight on (no additional light, only the flashlight)
  • Suspect backlit
  • Suspect side-lit at 90 degree angle
  • One student off center with another student opposite of center (no additional light, only the flashlights)
  • Handgun (stainless)
  • Handgun (Blue or red)
  • Screwdriver or Knife
  • Baseball Bat
  • Long gun
  • Flashlight
  • Badge
  • Rubber hose
  • Wallet
  • Spray can

The learning objectives: How difficult it is to identify objects and colors under stress without the proper light; how additional light sources and the use of angles make the situation easier.

Related Training:

Full list of John's Tactical Training Courses

Related Article:

Clarifying the Issues Surrounding Gun-Mounted Lights

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