For instructors and students alike, experience is the epitome of learning the methods and techniques practiced. Validation through reality-based training proves ability and reveals areas on which individuals need to improve. Preparedness and accurate execution builds confidence as well as the ability to win a confrontation should it ever raise its ugly head.

In reality-based training, the scenarios are infinite. Every situation is as different as the participants involved. Even with the same participants, the solutions to the problem can change dramatically as conditions evolve. Thought processes quickly get complicated, so previously learned marksmanship, handling and tactical exercises must be firmly ingrained. Participants must perform automatically as the complexity of the rapidly evolving scenarios unfold.

The individuals involved continuously cycle sensory input — and perhaps intuition — in search of a previous experience that addresses the issues at hand. The best solution is then set into action as a response to the information captured by the senses. In order to overcome the challenges being faced, this continuous cycle of response is measured in micro-seconds.

The ‘OODA Loop’

This stands for “Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.” Put into perspective, we all make choices in every aspect of our lives with respect to the OODA Loop. The difference between a highstress experience and everyday life lies in both real and perceived time. The faster the response when in grave danger, the higher the likelihood is for a successful outcome.

Relevant previous training shortens the duration of the OODA Loop. Therefore, it provides an advantage over an adversary with less experience and training.

Make Training Relevant

“Relevant” is defined as closely connected to or appropriate to what is being done or considered. In more specific terms, the scenarios should be similar to what the students would likely face in the environment in which they live. To assemble this information, research and study actual local events or situations students could encounter.

Be sure to design entirely separate training programs for armed professionals and average private citizens. The methods and outcomes are entirely different both legally and otherwise. It is irresponsible and unethical to train a responsible citizen to respond to a situation in the same manner as an armed professional. It’s not that the knowledge is a secret but rather that training a person to act in a manner outside of the scope of responsibility is dangerous, legally and practically. Doing so is not only irresponsible but also wastes valuable training time.


Perhaps most importantly, always remember that the scenarios created must be winnable. No-win situations degrade students’ confidence and defeat the purpose of the training.


Keep It Realistic and Winnable

“Realistic” can be defined as a representation of what is accurate and true to life; what can be expected and sensible in the way a person lives. Realistic scenarios narrow the field of relevant scenarios down to situations the students are likely to encounter in everyday environments. Creating the most effective scenarios takes some knowledge of who the students are and where they come from. Perfection is rarely achieved, but do your best to keep “relevant” and “realistic” in mind when creating reality-based scenarios.

Perhaps most importantly, always remember that the scenarios created must be winnable. No-win situations degrade students’ confidence and defeat the purpose of the training. Students may not always win and will learn from mistakes as long as the instructor can articulate how to better address the situations, but it’s always best to end the day with a win for the students.

Safety Matters

Prior to actually conducting reality-based training, give intense consideration to the safety and control of the exercise. Do not ever make exceptions or cut corners where safety is concerned.

It goes without saying that everyone involved must strictly adhere to the standard firearms safety rules. Additionally, the training venue must be kept sterile of any and all lethal weapons or other potential safety hazards. Each of the participants, instructors, students and observers must be double-checked for any items not expressly designated for use in the exercise. Safety equipment must be sanitized as well as inspected for proper wear and fit on all present in the scenarios.

Designate control of the scenarios and all weapons or tools to be used in the scenarios to specific individuals. Make this assignment known to all participants prior to the start of the training block.

Establish simple, easy-to-understand phrases to begin, end and direct the scenarios and verbally verify them prior to the start of each one. Consistency minimizes the chance of misunderstandings during a state of heightened excitement. “Begin scenario!” and “End scenario!” are good options.


In situations of significant failure, students will benefit greatly by applying the debriefing to an immediate repeat of a scenario.


Debrief and Repeat if Necessary

Immediately following the exercise, assess each participant for injury and any other area of immediate concern. Subsequently, instructors should critique and analyze positive outcomes and areas needing improvement. Time permitting, entertain a brief discussion regarding alternative actions the students could have taken to fulfill the objectives of each scenario. This adds to the learning process. In situations of significant failure, students will benefit greatly by applying the debriefing to an immediate repeat of a scenario.

Much like individuals in other professions, instructors and students alike need to participate in continuing education and exercises to maintain and enhance skills. Reality-based training is one of the best manners in which to do so, and it’s fortunately easier to find in this country than ever before.

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