Often when discussing training or equipment you hear the term “under stress” used in reference to the reality that the world works differently when faced with a threat to your life. Things that seem simple become enormously complex when your brain figures out that it’s execute or face unpleasant consequences like death. Because stress changes things and because everyone experiences it to some degree or another when confronted with a credible threat to their continued existence, how does one go about preparing to deal with the effects of it?

If you look at training programs that prepare people to do difficult and dangerous things you’ll notice that they try to replicate circumstances that produce stressors similar to what the individual may face as part of the job they are assigned. The military, for example, simulates the stress of escaping a helicopter that has crashed into a body of water by putting people in a rig that looks like the inside of a helicopter and dunking it into a body of water. Rescue divers are on hand in case someone struggles, but the goal of the exercise is to simulate the disorientation and feeling of impending doom that washes over someone who suddenly finds themselves strapped to a big heavy object plummeting into the depths. From what I understand, some skydiving certifications actually require the seeker to simulate a serious parachute malfunction and transition to a reserve chute while actually hurtling toward the earth at terminal velocity.

The term “stress inoculation” is used to describe this process of exposing someone to the stressors that an individual can expect to face in a given situation so that they learn to deal with the effects of stress before being actually placed in the dire situation being simulated. So how does one conduct stress inoculation for a gunfight? Since you can’t exactly have students shooting at one another, the next best thing is to force people to face unpleasant consequences for failing to perform on the range.

This was the organizing principle behind a unique one time class, “Control Under Simulated Stress” class, taught by Todd Green and “Failure2Stop”. Every shot would count for something. Failing to perform would carry a penalty. Some penalties would be financial, some would be physical, some would involve abject humiliation, and some would involve penalties to your teammates. Each designed to place stress on the student. Some individuals may not care about having to put money in the fail pail, but they might be extremely disturbed at the idea of serenading the next person down the jogging path with “You’ve lost that loving feeling” or with the threat of having to do X pushups for a miss.

CUSS was not your typical training class in that the focus of it was not explaining and then practicing techniques. It was organized as a series of drills in which the student had to perform to a given standard or face whatever penalty was laid out for the drill. Some of the drills were relatively easy, in my view, and some were a real pain in the neck.

Day 1 started with a walkback drill that required two headshots on a hostage taker target. Missed shots would require pushups and then another attempt. More misses would result in more pushups and your disqualification. Then we ran Todd’s standard FAST drill, for the only “clean” run of that drill during the class. Subsequent runs of the FAST drill would require shooting at a 3x5 card surrounded by four 20 dollar bills. Hit the bill, lose the 20. On one run of the FAST drill I managed to lose $40 bucks. My contention that I should get some consideration because I managed to shoot Andrew Jackson in the head was not received well. In the end the FAST drill claimed every $20 I brought with me to the class.

I won’t recount all the details, but here is a brief listing of some of the drills:
- 3 second Hackathorn head standards
- FAM TPC qualification
- Timed Dot Torture
- Triple Nickel
- 3-2-1 drill
- Numerous hostage –taker shots

Each came with it’s own penalty. Some required paying into the bucket for missed shots, paying for hits on hostages, the worst performer paying the highest performer, or anyone below a certain score having to serenade joggers with horrible renditions of Righteous Brothers songs.

During a break on day two, Failure2Stop gave a very informative lecture on what combat stress is, how to prepare for it, and the importance of training in ensuring the best possible results while experiencing the extreme stress of a life or death encounter.

It was an unusual class, but overall a beneficial experience for all involved, I believe.

Thanks to Jay Cunningham for doing the hard work of hosting the class at his home range. Special thanks to Failure2Stop who drove 11 hours non-stop after being stuck on an extended training exercise just to show up for the class.

Some pictures courtesy of ByronG:

The "Fail Pail"

Todd penalized for a miss with pushups

The Keanu Reeves approach to hostages:

Andy Jackson had a rough day:

Shooting the TPC:

The coolest cucumber in the class:

...just don't ask him to tell any stories.