Force-on-force courses tend to be rather hard to find and pricey, mainly because the ammunition itself is expensive and the instructors need a lot of it for each course. I took two force-on-force courses with Combative Weapons Solutions, their Active Shooter and Low Light courses. Both took place in a two-story shoot house in Williamson County. Active Shooter happened during the day; the Low Light course happened at night so that we would have the experience of navigating a near dark or completely dark environment using a hand held flashlight while armed with a Simunitions firearm.
Both courses involved staging “scenes” that you could realistically encounter: someone in a Starbucks pulling a weapon and threatening others, a home invasion at night, encountering an argument between two people that turns ugly, and so forth. The courses were intended to place you into unfamiliar scenarios that required you to quickly make decisions and plug into the OODA Loop: observe, orient, decide, and act.
As the armed person entering the scene, you weren’t informed about what you would see or hear or what would happen. You simply had to roll with it and use your best judgment based on your previous training and skills. You wouldn’t know how many assailants you were going to encounter. You wouldn’t know who was armed — or if anyone was armed — in the scenes, and they could be armed with gun, knife, or just use physical force.
Force-on-force courses are stressful. You have to be ready for the unexpected without completely freaking out because, just like in real life, your Simunitions firearm comes loaded with a limited number of rounds. Sometimes you get a backup magazine to take into the scene and sometimes you don’t. That meant that under high stress, you had to not only discern what was happening and decide whether to shoot or not, you also had to make your shots count, and make them count in a situation involving many people, or near dark or dark conditions. You would also have to reload in the dark.
One of the things I quickly learned in these courses is that there’s a strong tendency for humans under stress to dump their entire mag into a perceived bad guy before assessing the entire situation to see if there are any other assailants in the picture. It’s a panic response that’s easy to fall into.
Another thing I learned is that, as a woman, I tend to assess situations very differently than men do. I’m much more cautious. I’m less likely to rush in to “save” someone immediately and more likely to use other strategies to navigate a situation before unholstering – verbal distraction, movement, and so forth.
Men have much higher levels of vasopressin, the “white knight” hormone, along with testosterone, which makes them much more likely to go quickly into “rescue” mode and act protectively when they perceive someone being threatened. That’s both good and bad. The good is that it can potentially stop a bad situation from becoming worse. The bad is that it can easily get you killed.
There was a debriefing after every scene where we talked about our mistakes and our gains from the scene. It was really helpful to see where all of us had broken down and where, when someone succeeded, how they did it and what strategies they used in the scene.
One thing I learned is that Simunitions rounds really hurt, even when you are wearing thick clothing. They hurt even more if they hit you in the same place more than once (which tells you something about your dominant side movement inside a scene as well – most of us tend to turn the same way over and over to shield ourselves, so the outward facing side is the side you tend to get hit on).
If the rounds hit you often enough, they can also make you angry, which then becomes another factor to deal with in the scene. I almost chased the “bad guy” out of the shoot house across a public parking lot in one instance. Happily the team tackled me and brought me back to my senses.
The Simunitions themselves can actually break skin, so when that happens in a scene, that’s an element of reality as well. You wear protective masks and thick clothing during the course, but it’s amazing how a round can sometimes sneak into that one inch space you didn’t protect, especially when you’re moving fast.
What’s valuable about force-on-force training is that it shows you how you really perform under stress…or the closest approximation without bullets actually flying. You’re very likely to be shooting one-handed. You’re going to be hyper-adrenalized and maybe even shaking. You can easily make mistakes by acting too fast, even though you do need to act fast. Those mistakes can easily send a round at people in the scene who aren’t the bad guy.
These are sobering, yet essential, lessons in defensive firearms training. They make you think long and hard about the way you handle stress and how far you ever want to get into “other people’s business.” Most of all, they make you deeply reflect on the responsibility of carrying a firearm and what can potentially happen if you ever draw it.
I think you also learn a lot about yourself as a person and where you are in your development process. I learned that I need to control my temper when things get hot…that if the bad guy runs, let them go and tend to the people around you rather than trying to chase an assailant down.
Other participants learned that they needed to assess the situation more completely before unloading all of their ammo into an assailant or home invader. Still other participants discovered that they become extremely stressed when a scene involved a woman as opposed to those only involving men. It’s different for everyone, and it’s all valuable.
Force-on-force isn’t something I would want to do all the time. It is exhausting, stressful, and extremely humbling. It’s also extremely valuable and can be a useful addition to defensive training.