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Dynamic, realistic training for the real world

It was the great eighteenth century Russian field marshal Aleksandr Vasilevich Suvorov (1729-1800), who first said, “Train hard, fight easy.” I’m a great believer in Suvorov’s philosophy. It’s the foundation of the way I train—and the way I train others to train. After all, our number one mission as trainers is to keep the officers we train alive, and the harder you work during training, the less you’ll bleed on the streets

That’s why I believe in dynamic, realistic training. I believe that training should teach students not just how to handle weapons, but how to handle situations. That’s the bottom line: realistic, dynamic training gives students the tools they need in order to survive and prevail in the real world. Realistic, dynamic training forces students to think for themselves, and to push themselves further and harder than they have ever done before.

Let’s take shooting skills as an example. Most police officers qualify once or twice a year. They do so by shooting on a range in daylight, at a target from a fixed position—25 yards, 15 yards, 10 yards, and seven yards.

Now let’s look at the real world. In the real world, most officer-related shootings take place in low light, with both the officer and the perpetrator frantically trying to find cover and protect themselves. In most officer-related shootings, the proper use of cover and concealment is critical to officer survival. But cover, concealment, low light, and shooting on the move are rarely used as a component of the qualification process.

In my mind, that’s negligence, because firing at a piece of paper doesn’t do anything to increase an officer’s chances of survival during a lethal encounter. In my mind, qualification should always be augmented by sessions of dynamic, realistic, interactive training that requires officers to hit their targets under real-world conditions.

Of course you have to start with the basics: draw, grip, trigger control, and sight alignment are important. You can’t run before you walk, and a straightforward “building block approach” to training is important for learning the fundamentals. The four point draw, for example, is composed of… four points:

  1. Grip the weapon
  2. Draw to the belt level
  3. Add the support hand
  4. Lock out

When those four elements have been mastered correctly, you end up with a basic draw. And then, you can start the second part of the draw-and-fire process: the six fundamentals of shooting:

  1. Stance
  2. Grip
  3. Sight alignment
  4. Trigger control
  5. Follow-through
  6. Scan-and-breathe

That’s all well and good. But once a student has mastered the basics you have to, as Emeril Legasse is fond of saying, kick it up another notch.

How well does that four-point draw work when the officer is sitting in a car? What about transitioning from bright daylight to a low-light situation where the officer needs a flashlight in addition to their weapon? What about when they’re scrambling on their hands and knees in the dark and someone’s shooting at them from behind a car?

Then add a little more stress: How quickly will they be able to make that four-point draw and get a round off when a bad guy with a knife is charging them from fifteen yards away?

One way you find out is to get away from the range, get into the street, or the shoot house, and use Simunitions and professional role-players. Because if your people haven’t had the opportunity to practice the four-point draw and hone their shooting skills under real-world conditions, then they’re not going to know how to react when they’re under the mind-numbing stress of combat. They will hesitate—and they may not survive.

Want to prove my theory? Try this:

    Provide two of your officers with water guns or marking cartridge guns and proper safety equipment the next time you’re down at your range. Have them shoot at targets while moving from covered position to covered position, and video them as they do the exercise.

    Then put them face to face, and do the exercise again, but this time have them shoot at one another. The difference will be night and day. The whole dynamic will change. There’ll be a lot more scrambling Unique shooting positions, better use of cover—and a lot less hits.

Are we training figure skaters to be hockey players?

We have been training students to do many techniques by the numbers, or choreographing many of our training drills, scenarios or courses. This may be part of a building block approach but, we, as instructors, frequently do not complete the scenarios with dynamic interaction.

We conduct many drills as if we are teaching a figure skater or hockey player the foundation or basics of skating. They both need to learn and apply the basics of skating Go, Stop, turn Left and Right Jump, Spin and stay balanced. The Figure skater then works on detailed skills that are choreographed, such as multiple jumps and spins. The Hockey player works on detailed skills that are also choreographed, such as puck handling and offensive and defensive plays.

The difference is the Figure skater keeps fine tuning those skills to a minute detail. The Hockey player has to test these skills in an environment where other players are going to try and interrupt his ability to perform. This practice is called a scrimmage. This is to simulate a real game. They do this consistently to gain experience.

There is also a different mind set. If a Figure skater makes a mistake, judges take points off their score, if they fall down they still get back up and finish, but the chances of winning are slim.

A hockey player can fall down, get knocked down, actually have his teeth knocked out or get stitched up on the bench and at the end of the game be holding the Stanley Cup over his head. This is why we see Hockey players take all kinds of abuse, but get right back into the game (fight).

We, as trainers, do conduct scenarios with Simmunitions and Active Countermeasures with Redman gear, but spend most of are time choreographing drills.

That’s why I encourage another element of dynamic, realistic training: the scrimmage. All professional sports teams use the scrimmage as a training tool. Why? Because scrimmages force the players to hone their skills under real-world conditions. It’s one thing to diagram a play on the blackboard. Running that play when you’re looking into the eyes of a 285-pound third-round draft pick defensive man who doesn’t want to get cut is something else altogether.

You can scrimmage in any number of ways. To teach tactical use of cover, for example, you can use a paint-ball shoot-back system. There’s nothing like a round of paint splattered on the piece of cover to convince a student to use proper cover, or “slice the pie” before making entry to an area containing a possible threat.

The scrimmage also allows us as instructors to measure our students’ capabilities. After each training evolution, we should always ask some hard questions. When things go well, we have to ask why they went well. Was it because the team did good? Or because the team was lucky? And when things don’t go well, we have to ask the same questions. That way, we can learn from our mistakes. After-exercise debriefings often provide some of the most important lessons about what works and what doesn’t.

The final element of “Train hard fight easy” is flexibility. You can’t pre-program. The great Wayne Gretsky never pre-programmed his game plan. He seized opportunities as they occurred by assessing the situation for opportunities, and then using the skills he’s honed during basic drills and scrimmages to prevail over his opponents.

Dynamic, realistic training works because it completes the training cycle. It takes students beyond the building-blocks, beyond qualification and puts them inside scenarios where they have to apply the skills they’re been practicing under real-world conditions.

It is the element of dynamic interaction in training that ultimately will—and does--save lives on the street. Why? I said it up top, and I’ll say it again. Because dynamic, realistic training teaches officers how to handle more than their weapons. Dynamic, realistic training teaches them how to handle situations.

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