A little over a week ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Force on Force Instructor class offered by KR Training. Why did I do that? This decision was predominantly driven by sheer curiosity fueled by knowing that force on force (which I will now abbreviate as FoF from here on out) training is as close as one can get to a real gunfight without actually setting foot on a two-way range combined with wondering what is entailed in designing effective FoF training courses and conducting them safely. The short of it is that a lot of things go into it which explains in part why FoF training for the armed citizenry is a scarce, yet valuable, commodity.
The course is broken up into two parts conducted over two days. A classroom portion and lab portion if you will. The first day, the classroom portion, is mostly academic lectures that cover the concepts behind force on force training, student psychology, equipment, safety, types of force on force training, and scenario design, in addition to preparing for the second day. During the second day, or the lab portion, the student instructors participate as assistant instructors helping to run a force on force class (these are the “interns” I mentioned in the after action report of the KR Training Advanced Training 2 class published two years ago).
Both the Force on Force Instructor and the Advanced Training 2 classes were led by Karl Rehn, owner and lead instructor of KR Training. The Force on Force class, that is the classroom portion of the training, consisted of four student instructors and Karl Rehn. Rehn was assisted by Greg Howard during The Advanced Training 2 class, or the lab portion, that followed and by the four student instructors who attended the Force on Force Instructor class. It’s worth noting that KR Training started offering scenario based FoF training regularly in 1998 and has been training FoF instructors since 2005.
Force on Force Instructor (Classroom)
I’m not going to regurgitate the classroom lecture contents in their entirety. I simply can’t do that as I’m still reviewing notes while processing and internalizing what I learned from them. However, I will provide a general overview of the topics covered along with some of the key points I walked away with.
The classroom portion of the training began with an overview of FoF Training concepts that started by defining FoF training and comparing it against traditional livefire training which are complementary to each other. Livefire uses real guns against simulated targets while FoF uses simulated weapons against real opponents. Both types of training have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, FoF is arguably the most effective way to integrate shooting skills with other self defense skills that can’t be safely practiced in a lifefire environment such as communication, movement, less than lethal options. In order for students to benefit from attending FoF training, students must have previously developed those skills and tactics to some capacity in addition to already having an understanding of use of force laws. By that same token, FoF instructors must have some knowledge of how people interact, how people react to sudden injury, elements of real self defense confrontations, and how to direct an improvisational ensemble in order to create realistic situations while maintaining control of the scenario.
The next block of instruction centered around student psychology. We looked at some of the psychological barriers that must be overcome in order for a student to attend a class in addition to the psychological impacts of training including the potential training injuries such as mental trauma. There is a lot to this particular topic which applies to firearms and self defense training in general and is arguably more critical when it comes to FoF training since we are dealing in matters of life and death. A bad decision or bad luck can result in an outcome where the student would otherwise end up dead, critically injured, or drowning in a bad terrible legal dilemma. Karl Rehn summarized the importance of understanding all of these elements succinctly, “as the trainer, we have an obligation to give the students the knowledge and skills needed to solve the problem and win.” Creating a “winning” memory is vital.
The discussion on equipment and safety was extensive and for good reason. That reason being is that students have died during FoF training and the number one cause of accidents in training is the presence of live ammunition and real guns in the training environment. The best way to prevent this is to ensure there are no real weapons or live ammunition present in the training environment with no exceptions. Aside from having written safety procedures that are strictly followed, this means that an investment in simulated weapons and the necessary safety equipment must be made to safely and effectively conduct FoF training.
Safety equipment requirements are dictated by the combination of simulated weapons, the skill development drills, the scenarios being run, and the intensity of the training. When working with simulated firearms such as blowback airsoft pistols or pistols converted to use non-lethal marking ammunition, the latter of which is no longer a viable option given a recent rule change from the ATF which limits the sale of non-lethal marking rounds from UTM and Simunitions to military and law enforcement agencies, then a closed goggle system, face, and neck protection are an absolute bare minimum. Airsoft and non-lethal marking training rounds will leave welts and break skin making ice, bandaids, and topical antibiotics a must have. Other protective equipment may include chest, hand, knee, elbow, and groin protection.
FoF training comes in two flavors. One flavor consists of specific drills intended to build skills. The second flavor are scenarios which force students to make decisions and deploy those skills in stressful dynamic situations. Both flavors allow the student to establish stimulus-response patterns to realistic go and stop signals they may encounter in the real world. Skill development drills in FoF training can be used to teach the same spectrum of skills that can be learned in a live fire training environment from gun-handling and marksmanship all the way to advanced skills such as close quarters combat with integrated unarmed skills, building and vehicle tactics. An example of a class where FoF drills were used for skill development is Greg Ellifritz’s Close Quarters Pistol course. The differentiating characteristic of skill development drills is that they are narrow in focus where more often than not the student is aware of who the threat is and the specific skill or sets of skills that are being worked on.
Scenarios, such as the ones experienced in KR Training’s Advanced Training 2 class, introduce problems with a larger set of variables that may have more than one solution none of which may be immediately identified and may include a no shoot solution. The scope is also widened to include interactions that take place prior to and after the self defense incident. Designing and running scenarios requires a fair bit of set up such as identifying (or building) a suitable location, assessing risk of damage and injury, providing realistic props (that are safe to use), and the coordination of staff to perform the jobs and associated tasks needed to run and achieve the training goals of the scenario. The jobs include a scenario director, a safety officer, and one or more role players. The roles to be played aren’t just limited to the defender and violent criminal actors, but may also include criminal assistants, innocent bystanders, unarmed dependents, or law enforcement officers. Another interesting variable, which I observed play out in the lab portion of the training, is the human element of the role players that comes from improvisation as the scenarios play out even receiving specific instructions to perform certain key behaviors and reactions.
It is probably evident that there was a lot to cover in the classroom portion of the training. Thankfully Karl Rehn provided the students with a 40-ish page student handbook containing notes of the topics covered in addition to the details of the scenarios that the student instructors would help run in the lab portion of the training. The scenario notes included everything from a description of the scenario, a list of the roles including the key behaviors and reactions necessary to create the controlled level of stress for the scenario, and training goals for the scenario. The final hours of the class involved reviewing the scenarios and “rehearsing” all of the jobs and roles the student instructors would be responsible for during the Advanced Training 2 class.
Before class was concluded for the day, we spent a bit of time looking at the locations that would be used for the scenarios to get an idea of what was needed to ensure the locations were set up and ready for the upcoming FoF scenario training class.
Advanced Training 2: Force on Force Scenarios (Lab)
Those interested in what the Advanced Training 2 class entails from a student perspective can find that in this after action report.
The day for the student instructors started about an hour and a half before the students of the Advanced Training 2 arrived. This time was used to get the props set up in each of the locations where the scenario based training would take place and do a final check of potential hazards. We also staged the safety equipment at the location. An “armory” for the simulated weapons was set up in order to ensure that no live ammunition or real firearms could be introduced. Last but not least, a couple of the student instructors began intercepting the students as they arrived advising them to remove all real weapons and leave them in their cars.
After the students received the safety briefing which included the FoF safety procedures, the pat downs began. The safety procedures were simple but strict. Everyone, that is every student and every instructor, gets patted down by two different people. If one had to leave the group for whatever reason, then they get patted down by two different people again upon rejoining the group. No exceptions.
From there the class got split into two groups and two student instructors joined each student group for the duration of the class. This allowed all instructors to assist with all four blocks of instruction. Two blocks were run concurrently in the first half of class with the student groups switching between the blocks after the first was completed. The other two blocks were run concurrently in the same manner during the second half of the class. The blocks were:
- Building tactics (skill development)
- Home scenarios
- Convenience store scenarios
- Restaurant scenarios
During the first block, the student instructors had an opportunity to work with students as they worked on using cover and concealment to navigate corners and intersections in a building. This provided an opportunity for student instructors to observe and work with students with their use of cover and concealment techniques.
The home and convenience store scenarios provided gave the student instructors a chance to work as the safety officer and armorer. This involved ensuring role players and observers were equipped with the proper and necessary safety equipment. It provided a chance to set up, prepare, inspect, issue, and collect the Simunitions weapons for each scenario. Additionally, student instructors took turns acting as the violent criminal actor and responding law enforcement officers.
The restaurant scenarios which used projectile free simulated firearms and other soft simulated weapons allowed the student instructors to spend more time acting as the scenario director which involved giving pre-scenario briefing to participants, assigning roles, observe the scenario action, intervene when appropriate, and debrief the students at the end of the scenario.
As mentioned in the previous section, the element of improvisation is an interesting variable that I saw come into play. One reason I found this variable interesting was that I observed the same scenarios that I participated in as a student previously played out differently this time around. Not so much because the outcomes or the solutions were vastly different. But rather as to how the same or similar solutions were arrived at. The intensity of the role players was different. The timing was different. The verbal exchanges were different. I noticed the differences the most when I played the role of a violent criminal actor where I expected a scenario I had previously participated in to go the same way and it didn’t. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I expected the good guy (a role played by the student) to react one way, but instead they reacted another way.
After the class wrapped up, the student instructors had the privilege of sticking around and cleaning up. That meant picking up and putting away all of the props, safety equipment, and simulated weapons. The set up and tear down are part of the job. While it may not be glamorous, it’s necessary and an important part of the student experience.
There is a lot that goes into FoF training. Safety, equipment, drill and scenario design, logistics, and skills to name a few. All of these things are important and necessary. Afterall what the students learn here are skills and tactics that they may one day rely on to defend themselves and their loved ones. Self defense instructors are dealing in matters of life and death. It’s heavy stuff and a tremendous responsibility that students are entrusting us with to teach them. While all of this applies to defensive firearms training in general, I think it’s worth mentioning again.
Setting up and running FoF scenario training requires a unique investment to acquire specialized equipment and skills. It also requires coordinating additional staff with specialized skills. Furthermore, filling scheduled FoF courses with students may call for additional expenses to overcome the reluctance potential students have to attend and participate in FoF training. The logistics and additional overhead makes achieving a return on investment a challenging business problem to solve. As the proverbial “they” say, good intentions don’t pay the bills.
Regardless of whether or not defensive firearms instructors intend to or end up offering FoF training services, I think individual instructors and the defensive firearms industry as a whole would benefit from taking a Force on Force Instructor level course. On the individual level, instructors will have a better understanding of the benefits of FoF training and the limitations of traditional live fire training. Having more instructors who are familiar with FoF concepts in the industry who can assist with FoF training may create opportunities for more FoF instructors to take their courses on the road. If nothing else, instructors who are well versed in FoF training can encourage their students to seek out FoF training courses as part of their self defense skill development while being able to educate them on what quality FoF training looks like and the benefits it offers which can help reduce existing psychological barriers and potentially increase market demand for FoF training.
I will encourage instructors who are curious about offering FoF training or want to add FoF training concepts to their toolbox to take a look at the KR Training class schedule for an upcoming Force on Force Instructor course offering.