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Thread: Adding a decision making and skill cycling components to self-defense training

  1. #1

    Adding decision making and skill cycling components to self-defense training

    In 2019 I started using a SIRT pistol in classes as a means to project start, stop, and "this is an ambiguous situation" signals/cues onto targets in order to add an element of decision making to my course. Later I started using a combination of one red/one green laser pointer to achieve this goal. This set up was a bit easier to use than the SIRT, but still wasn't quite what I was looking to achieve. Things really came together with the current iteration, which I have dubbed "The Determinator!* This is a two red/two green combination of laser pointers, zip tied together with a slight inboard cant.** Now I can project color/number combinations which allows students to cycle through their entire self-defense skills set from "talk and walk away" to "employ lethal force" while also providing for branch and sequel events. Coupled with appropriate verbalization this is a pretty powerful and relatively inexpensive training tool. Here are two videos that I have made to hopefully propagate the technique.

    As I mention, there are others working in this space, John Hearne with his system of LED lights and Dustin Salomon's very nifty "Nuro".

    *The Determinator is actually something of a timepiece because it provides a visual cue to prompt an action, thereby telling you "what time it is."

    **The inboard cant allow you to activate one or both of the laser triggers with just one digit.
    Last edited by John Murphy; 07-09-2024 at 08:42 PM.

  2. #2
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    A while back I attended a course named "The Cognitive Conclave" (instructors Hearne, Gelhaus, Weems) in which multi-colored lights and other devices were used to add increasing cognitive load on students throughout the entirety of the class. This was done while maintaining the requirement of getting hits on target. I felt the methods used in the class were quite effective. I felt somewhat mentally drained at the end of each day due to the split-second decision making that was required. One of the best classes I've attended.

  3. #3
    I don't know.

    I don't want to rain on anybody's parade, but I don't see how these colored lights correspond to an unfolding violent encounter with a human aggressor.

    It can challenging mentally, but how does this realistically program and prepare a defender to react to human actions? How does it teach a defender to recognize threat cues?

    Force-on-force, F.A.T.S., virtual reality training, all seem superior to reacting light codes.

    These courses seem designed to provide cost effective mass training for decisionmaking under stress but they lack the critical human visual threat element.

    Color me skeptical. I was trained to watch the hands, to watch mannerisims, to be aware of threat indicators, etc.

    As a private citizen, it seems the colored lights thing unnecessarily complicates the simple.

    Tom Givens says, "It's not subtle when somebody's trying to kill you." His students have a pretty good win/loss record, in which the only ones that lost were the ones that decided they didn't need to carry a gun that day. Tom's training is pretty straightforward, and it seems to be pretty successful.

  4. #4
    Site Supporter gringop's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    Central Texas
    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn Dodson View Post
    Color me skeptical. I was trained to watch the hands, to watch mannerisims, to be aware of threat indicators, etc.

    As a private citizen, it seems the colored lights thing unnecessarily complicates the simple.
    Consider yourself colored.

    I don't think that this training is meant to replace FATS or Force on Force but to offer something beyond the normal, "Hear the beep and shoot everything in front of you" training.

    So it's training that:
    A: teaches to recognize that all street encounters don't end up needing the other person to get shot and killed.
    B: doesn't require you to train at a dedicated facility and a restricted environment like FATS.
    C: doesn't require multiple other TRAINED actors like Force on Force.
    D: allows many more reps per training session than FATS or Force on Force can.

    Also, I don't know that I would ever consider Use of Deadly Force training to be "simple"

    I don't do firearms training for others anymore but I find it an intriguing technique that combines flexibility with low cost.


    Play that song about the Irish chiropodist. Irish chiropodist? "My Fate Is In Your Hands."

  5. #5
    Member John Hearne's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    Northern Mississippi
    Posted elsewhere:
    One of the biggest problems we face is that instructors tend to offer 1) what the public demands and 2) what is cheapest to deliver to maximize profits.

    There is a huge demand for performance pistol classes with their tokens and higher round counts. I've taken these classes and will continue to do so as technical shooting skill needs continuous development. The problem with these classes is that in an effort to make the drills "fair" you have created a sterilized lab environment in which decisions important in the real world are completely removed. This ends up with the students having a false sense of their abilities as the real world won't be sterile.

    As an example, on the second day of Cognitive Pistol, we work traditional flat range shooting drills that have some task loading components. I have variations of the Casino drill that remove important information from the students until the last instance including which target you're going to shoot first. Without fail, shooters who are wicked fast on a sterile draw to first shot, struggle to get their first shot off in less than 2 seconds. This is the false sense of performance I'm talking about.

    Other decisions we strip from the students include where to place bullets so they are most effective, how to move safely with the gun, and how to avoid muzzling non-threats. Ultimately, gunfighting is high consequence problem solving with a firearm under extreme duress (paraphrasing Uncle Scotty) Very few of the classes based solely on demanding shooting metrics driven by a shot timer match the description of the event we're preparing for.

    The brain can be trained just like our muscles. There are two peer-reviewed studies in which generic but relevant brain training exercises were used to reduce shoot/no-shoot decision errors by 18%. To use a driving analogy, we aren't getting on the brakes sooner, we're putting better brakes on the car. This type of training would likely be better if we combined it with the tools, processes, and motor programs we need for gun use - hence you have classes like Holschen's, Murphy's, or mine. These programs are not substitutes for performance pistol training - everyone expects you to show up, able to run the gun. In fact, your experience will be sub-optimal and soul crushing if you can't.

    There are all kinds of ways to classify motor skills. A common one is open v closed. An open motor skill's execution is influenced by the environment in which it's performed - think passing a football against an active defense. A closed motor skill is one that the environment doesn't affect - think rolling a bowling ball. Too many of our "shooting class" end up be nothing but tests of closed motor skills when we're hoping to perform well in an evolving environment. They are in fact just shooting classes and shooting is a small but important part of the puzzle we're trying to solve.

    Edited to add - there are three important shooting metrics - speed, accuracy, and discrimination. Of the three, only one is mentioned in the classic gun safety rules. Just practicing the first two of them is a recipe for real world disaster. If all you want to do is post cool Instagram videos then ignoring discrimination is just fine.
    Last edited by John Hearne; 07-11-2024 at 02:35 PM.
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  6. #6
    If I'm drawing a correct comparison this is the way I see what you are talking about scaffolded into training shooters to engage multiple targets:

    To start explain which targets the shooter owns, for two target drills the target immediately to the front of the shooter is left, the one immediately to the right of that target is right. For three target drills you lose two shooters off the relay, unless you have a boatload of targets, I could squeeze in 12 to 15 on our target line, so four or five shooters. the target in front of the shooter is center, the one to the left is left, and, the one to the right of center is, well, right.

    First iteration: Slow and deliberate. Instructor announce target prior to fire/up command. Shooter will fire two rounds on left target, then shift focus to right target, move pistol to eyes and fire two rounds (essence of drill - teaching fundamentals of engaging multiples - shoot, look with focus, move, shoot. evaluated by center hits on target - we used metal)

    Second iteration: essentially a little additional speed and discrimination. Instructor calls first target, pause long enough for shooters to begin engaging then calls second target. We used three target on this one - center left right. This is good to test their fundamentals, for example, from the ready, if I call right, I should see the pistol or shotgun drive directly to the called target, not up and over - a lot of folks make that error with the shotgun

    Third iteration: more speed - instructor calls targets rapid fire center, left, right, etc. Check to see if technique wheels fall off on this one.

    Fourth iteration: everyone know what and where center, left and right are, so we painted targets red, green, blue, red, green, blue, red, green, blue down the line. This adds another discrimination to decision-making. The shooter has to first find the proper target, drive the muzzle directly to that target, engage, find the next target, move to next target, engage. When I was doing these drills every couple of cycles I would have the shooters move one target to the right with the end shooter being escorted to the left end of the firing line. This changed the order the red, green blues were in. The shooter owns the target they are staged on, and the one to the left and right of that target.

    That's all the further we went, except we added movement left and right on the line while engaging.

    I could see what you described as the logical next step adjuncting 'FATS' training.

    'FATS' machines are mentioned. When I retired I had five systems up. Our Academy required successful completion of 'Use-of-Force Simulation Training' before graduation. Ultimately, the C-POST made successful completion of 'Use-of-Force Simulations' a requirement across the board for all academies. In our setting the Use-of-Force Simulations were the focus of virtually every instructor for two weeks of each basic. If you weren't teaching, you were likely pulling a four hour shift in one of the simulator rooms. The last week was just as hectic, if your weren't teaching an academic subject you were doing FonF training.

    The biggest problem we had in implementing what I considered to be a model program was developing the evaluation framework AND most importantly, ensuring that every instructor was consistent in what a fail looked like. We used a five point Likert system with '3' being okay, and '1' and '2' being failures, '4' and '5' were better than 'okay.' As I said it took a lot of work for us to be sure that we all were consistent on '3' and below.

    It was amazing to me as I went to different academies in our area and in other states how little the tremendous usefulness of the Simulators were exploited.

    To me, our driving simulator program was just as important, although not as rigorously evaluated. IMO there is no other way to train and test intersection clearance and response driving without going full-on UK 'Road Craft.'

    Ramble off.
    Adding nothing to the conversation since 2015....

  7. #7
    I enjoy this type of conversation and it needs to be had. Another thing that is lost in performance shooting classes is the fact that for match style shooting your course is already laid out in front of you so you can go into it with a plan and order of engagement in your mind. A real life situation doesn't necessarily play out this way. I appreciate the comment about people freezing up on draw when they have to determine the shoot or no shots at the last minute. This is definitely an issue that stands out in the industry as something that defensive minded shooters are not being prepared for.

  8. #8
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    Feb 2013
    I would offer to read “regular guy matt’s” recent thread in course reviews AAR for a great synopsis of John Holschen’s Applied Defensive Handgun.

    I have taken all three of these offerings by the the “3 Johns” each has much wisdom to offer. There are nuggets buried in each individual curriculum. It gets you thinking in a different way. If you are smokin a static draw from concealment, throw in a stacked obscured target that may have a knife out where you “may” shoot, a certain laser represents a potential lethal threat, etc. When decisions come into play your draw times can change pretty dynamically, from your normative. It was humbling to realize as I focused in on head shot of a non responding target, I was unable to appreciate a second “ shooter” was engaging me just feet away and in debrief I swore the light or go signal wasn’t even there, and yet it was. You may say, well you would see him draw a gun…, but would you? Who knows. Operationally you have to make some decisions while tasked with operating your handgun safely, accurately, quickly AND not going too far or “overshooting,” which was also easier than it sounds.

    I applaud these guys as they are thinking outside the box, on so many different levels, that you can’t help but to benefit from their efforts.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Polecat View Post
    I would offer to read “regular guy matt’s” recent thread in course reviews AAR for a great synopsis of John Holschen’s Applied Defensive Handgun.
    Your post prompted me to find a recent, fairly comprehensive AAR...


    I wish I had known about the above class as Culpeper is a reasonably easy drive (minus traffic IVO DC/NoVA) for me.


  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by rainman View Post
    Your post prompted me to find a recent, fairly comprehensive AAR...

    Thanks for posting the link.

    Reading it allowed me to better understand this kind of training and to learn what's in it for me as a regular Joe.

    I get it now.

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