I often get asked, Where do I begin when starting a reality based training (RBT) program? It's a daunting task, to be sure. Of course, the best place to begin is in learning the mechanics of how to set up and conduct safe and effective RBT. As I've discussed at length in the past, this is a larger undertaking than many trainers care to embark upon, often dooming themselves to developing training exercises that can result in the injury of their participants, or perhaps even programming their students for future failure during critical encounters.
This article isn't about the complexities of RBT, but rather the types of things you should consider when initially developing an RBT program. First, let's accept the reality that when techniques fail in the street, it s not usually some catastrophic breakdown of advanced skills, but rather a failure of basic skills under stressful conditions. Example: For years, various studies showed the hit ratios in police gunfights at close ranges to be dismally low. The response of the firearms-training community? More precision marksmanship training. Well intentioned, yes. But it doesn t address the core issue of the poor hit ratios, which is not a failure in precision skills, but instead a failure in gunfighting skills. More on that later (see Next Issue: Non-Precision Shooting, below).
Back to the question at hand: How to begin an RBT program? The answer, to my mind, is to begin by teaching the basics.
Whether or not you currently use some sort of use-of-force model, the simple fact remains that there are really only four things you can do during an encounter with a bad guy: talk, fight, shoot or leave. Of course, there are various levels and tools/techniques available within those realms, but those four pretty much sum things up. Most of the problems occur when any of the techniques used within those realms is either used inappropriately or poorly implemented, so I contend a lot more needs to be done at the basic level. Advanced techniques are merely the basics done smoothly and swiftly.
Too many trainers want to jump into the flashier aspects of RBT the scenario stuff. Half-assed scenario training is actually very easy, and it can be a big ego rush for the training staff. The formula: Take some hapless officer, mix in one or two egomaniacs as role players without any substantive scripting, season with some training munitions that will welt and mark the officer, and voila, instant instructor credibility! You get to sit back and comment on all the stuff your officer did poorly. You can dissect their encounter to the degree the FBI did with the Zapruder film. The good news: A number of your students will be awed by your perceptive abilities, magnified by the lens of their own ineptitude. You ll really feel as though you re genuinely helping them by pointing out their inadequacies. The bad news: Their brain records their experience as a catastrophic failure, and during critical future similar situations, the mere knowledge of their shortcomings will not be the governing or decisive factor they might literally be condemned to repeating their past failure.
The biological and psychological aspects of recording past performance for future behavior is an age-old science. The simple question, to my mind, is why rehearse failure as a method of attempting to condition future success? After years of watching thousands upon thousands of students struggle with the most simple tactical challenges during simulations, it occurred to me that over the years, the training community (and the system through which it functions) has failed dismally at preparing officers for success during critical situations. Those students seemed to lack the situational awareness to act decisively in many simulations of critical events, mostly as a result (from what I can see) of not having their technical skills ingrained at the unconscious-competence level (the ability to perform well without paying conscious attention to an action).
You can remedy this simply by spending a lot more time on skill-building drills before going into full scenarios. If the officers aren t unconsciously competent with a skill set, they won t have access to it under stressful conditions. Further, these drills must be ingrained within the context of an experiential force model stimulus/response drills, if you will. You must teach such drills in a building-block fashion in order to teach success, then build on that success.
It s kind of like learning to dance. You can t run out into the social marketplace expecting to be a great dancer if you ve never learned the steps. Each step is often complex in and of itself. Putting those steps into combinations comes with practice in a contextual setting. With a lot of practice and repetition, you carefully venture out onto the dance floor, usually with a partner with whom you ve been practicing because dancing with a stranger in the early stages often leads to chaos. But eventually, as your skill and confidence begin to grow, you can head out onto any dance floor with any partner and do quite well. You ve learned to dance, and over time it becomes second nature unconsciously competent. So must it be with any physical skill.
Fortunately, many of the skills necessary to resolving critical incidents are much less complicated than learning to dance, but they are much more important. Make no mistake, there are a lot of well-practiced competitors out there waiting for you to show up to the dance, and it s a competition that neither you, nor the society you protect, can afford to lose.
So, forget tossing your officers into the dance for a couple of years. Take a giant step back from the competitive realm and become immersed in teaching the basics. Assess, communicate, hit, transition, draw, move, shoot so many simple yet essential skills that, under stress, fail in non-consequential environments, such as scenarios. How much worse will the failure be when it s a life or death situation?
You can t (or at least you shouldn t) test skills that haven t been conditioned to the appropriate level. High-level scenarios those with a story line, properly scripted role player(s) and some emotional content are useful for testing skills and tactics. If officers don t have the skills to solve the simulated problems they encounter, this should be a wake up call that the training they have been provided has failed. The officer isn t a failure, their training has failed them.
Change the training paradigm from What are we going to do in block training this year? to Where in our five-year training progression is this particular officer? Take a multi-year approach to skill enhancement and entrainment. Use the first couple of years to build skills teach them the dance steps. When they eventually make it to the scenarios, you will be amazed at how well they do. Take pride in your ability to develop effective officers, not in your ability to orate on their myriad unskilled failures.
Programming success or recording failure the choice is yours. Choose well.
Until next time, train hard and train safe.
NEXT ISSUE: Non-Precision Shooting
Poor hit ratios are not a failure in precision skills, but instead a failure in gunfighting skills. Easy, big fella, I hear you. How can a person expect to hit a target if they haven t perfected precision shooting skills? Some of the high-priests of shooting will consider it blasphemy for me to suggest that more needs to be done in the way of non-precision shooting in order to increase the hit ratios during gunfights. I actually have an article under development that hits this subject pretty hard. Hold onto your hats I ll be calling for the abolition of conventional qualification. I m going to argue that gunfighting has much more to do with time-on-target/ time-on-trigger than it does with most of the aspects of precision shooting, currently the Holy Grail of qualification.