The Training World vs. The Real World

In our post 9/11 world, it would seem that nearly everyone, of varying backgrounds, skill levels, and occupations, has climbed aboard the commercial training bandwagon, staking a claim on a scale of expertise in the combative arena. Though the halls of this industry are lined with real, honest to goodness guys with high levels of genuine knowledge, it is hard to separate the real folks from the others.

Spend time surfing the various "tactical" websites, and it’s impossible to find one that doesn’t purport to be staffed by world-class experts. Or better yet, take some time and just monitor the heated discussions and all-out character assassinations that take place on discussion forums by revered proletarians who must be “in the know” after all they command droves of online minions who submerge themselves vicariously in the alleged experience of their leader. With this disparity in knowledge and skill often comes a lack of understanding of the realities of the world and how to apply those realities in the training environment.

What I've come to realize is that there are a tremendous number of people taking part in some portion of the training world who actually believe in something quite different from reality, something more like anti-reality, maybe it’s the bizarro world of reality. These often charismatic exponents of this altered version of the world would be nothing more than amusement if it were not for the fact that some serious students of self-defense frequently gravitate to them, in search of the secret technique that will turn Walter Mitty into a tactical Tijuana luchador, dominating over any foe from behind there sequenced mask. Well as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, there is no short cut! No secret training system! No one singular death touch technique that will stop a bad guy in his tracks. Life, especially in the hectic realm of conflict, would be much simpler if the evil doers would stand directly in front of us and demanded satisfaction, instead of attacking us from our blindsides, but since most who would do us harm lack any appreciable amount of testicular fortitude, this just is not the case.

A serious fundamental ignorance of the actual mechanics, legalities, and logistics of conflict exist among the would-be experts in this distorted form of reality and often becomes the core of their mindset and their curriculum.

This ignorance often leads to the "creation" and proliferation of techniques and tactics that are founded on questionable or blatant false assumptions and theories. Fantasy techniques consist of a host of strange and often realityirrational maneuvers, psychological ploys, overly complicated procedures and often with tragic results manifesting themselves as a general attitude of false confidence leaving the student somewhat less than prepared for the combative skills they so eagerly seek. Now, don't get me wrong, a significant portion of students remain incredulous to the apparent problems with anomalous techniques, but an equally large group persists in the pursuit of the ultimate technique only fueled faster by the claims of a select few in this industry.

Those who understand the realities of conflict, by either experience or through training know that there are a lot of variables that reduce each and every situation to a full-blown back alley crap shoot. Why? You may ask because unlike the anti-reality world a real-world event provides for a vastly different perspective on reality and will vary significantly from situation to situation and will dramatically change every second that it’s allowed to evolve, as a real conflict is an ever-changing, fluid environment with no set solutions. Knowing this before getting knee deep in a contest of might is crucial.

In the training environment, you are generally the only part of the equation that has a weapon, at least a real weapon. The one-dimensional "opponent" found on most ranges won't pull a knife, won’t bum rush you and won’t pull a gun and shoot you. Additionally, you generally don’t face more than one target at a time, and your “opponent” won’t have any friends that will attack while you’re focused on the single situation. Further, most real-world situations don't start with the sound of a whistle or other start signal. A real-life encounter is likely to start with some form of physical posturing or with some sort of initial dialog, either aggressive or deceptive. This is seldom replicated in training.

The training environment represents a controlled environment, absent of loose gravel, broken glass, knee gouging concrete, and bottle throwing audience members. You seldom face slippery, wet or icy surfaces on a training range. Blizzards, rain, winds, sandstorms, and visibility are all real-world realities that are not typically part of the training world. Along with natural environmental conditions, the training world seldom places the student in the linear confines of a bus or subway car or exposes the student to the hazards of city traffic or the dangers of hot metro line tracks.

The average student arrives at the range like he walked out of the pages of some zombie apocalyptic gear catalog, dressed and equipped with all the right gear, the stuff most of us never see in the field. Wearing all the fashionably tactical clothing, thus eliminating clothing as a variable that would restrict ability. We don’t typically train in a suit or a skirt and heels. Most classes won’t require the use of winter gloves or heavy winter coats. Additionally, I have yet to see a tactical "reality-based" course where the students train like they are carrying their infant child or walking with your wife or mother. These are real-world concerns and real-world events that happen daily in the lives of all of us and will significantly alter our perception of conflict and limit the options that are available to us. Our own personal well-being is seldom a training issue. If you’re sick, hungover or desperately trying to run on limited sleep, you simply cancel the training. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to cancel the real world, once you’ve started your stuck there until the fat lady takes a bow.

The training world is always preemptive and predictable, in that I mean that no matter how realistic a training session, the student always knows it’s a training session. We are made aware when and at what time training will start and finish. Students know that targets are a lifeless one-dimensional object, they are told how many rounds to load and how many extra rounds to carry, and they know they are scheduled for training thus allowing them to prepare days, weeks or even months in advance. To top it all, in the training world, when the stress and pressure get too high, you can just tap out, stop or call for a time out with no worries of injury or death. This can foster a severe degree of complacency in the student's mindset.

 The reality, the real reality, of self-defense and martial situations is that we are not always in control. Though we should work to gain and exploit control, we may not always initially find ourselves in control. There are people in this world who will try their damnedest to hurt you, and for the most part, you won't know who they are or when they will launch their attack. It is imperative to understand all the facets of conflict and to be prepared with the most realistic practice that we can muster. In training realistically, we will develop knowledge of our own limitations and the limitations of the tools we have chosen to use or have on hand, as well as the mechanics and logistics of their use. Those who are ignorant of these things will mock and write off the value that such training and preparation provides, thus remaining much less prepared to do what needs to be done when it’s time to do it in a real conflict.

Training for conflict and practicing for fun or competition are distinctly separate issues and therefore need different training methods; this cannot be emphasized enough. The notion that all we have to do is acquire a basic set of skills is one that genuinely suits those who would do us harm. Armed with this type of overconfidence, the unprepared student of self-defense is potential silage for the perpetrators of violent aggression, being easily manipulated in an environment dominated by these individuals. How do we fix this? The answer lies in getting off the square range and taking our training to our imagination. Look at the world around us, listening to the experiences of others and embracing the concept of reality. My message to all, as always……. Train to Win! Expect to Win! ~ Dr. Wes Doss

Dr. Wes Doss PhD
Wes is an internationally recognized firearms, tactics, and use of force instructor with over 30 years of military and civilian criminal justice experience, as well as significant operational time with both military and law enforcement tactical and protective service organizations. Wes holds specialized instructor certifications from the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, Arizona POST, the Smith & Wesson Academy, the Sigarms Academy, the NRA LEAD, and FEMA.

Wes is the founder, President, and General Operating Manager of Khyber Interactive Associates, LLC and the Annual 1 Inch to 100 Yards Warrior Conference. Wes holds a Masters degree in Criminal Justice Administration and a PhD in Psychology. Wes is a member of a number of professional associations, including: The International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI), The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), The National Rifle Association (NRA), The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) The Military Police Regimental Association (MPRA), and the International Association of Counter-Terrorism and Security Professionals (IACTSP). 

Wes is also a published author, with numerous articles in various publications, such as; SWAT magazine, ASLET “The Trainer”, and The NTOA “Tactical Edge”. Wes is also the author of the bestselling books “Train to Win”, and “Condition to Win” both training psychology/philosophy books focused on law enforcement and military trainers and professionals.