foce on force training simunitions
courtesy John Boch
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As part of my self-defense firearms training, I’ve taken two force-on-force training courses. I didn’t really understand what I was getting into beforehand, so I thought I’d share my experience with others who are thinking of taking such courses.

FoF 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/training facility in Williamson County. Active Shooter happened during the day; the Low Light course happened at night so that we would have the realistic training for the experience of navigating a near-dark or completely dark environment using a handheld flashlight while armed with a Simunitions firearm.



Both courses involved staging force-on-force scenarios that you could realistically encounter in the real world: 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 tactical training is 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 role players (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 pull your gun from your holster 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 (or even law enforcement) 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 training scenario 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 decision-making strategies they used in the scene.


Simunitions force on force training rounds non-lethal welt skin hurt


One thing I learned is that Simunitions rounds are not Airsoft or paintballs and they 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 training ammunition can actually break skin, so when that happens in a scene, that’s an element of reality as well. You wear protective gear such as 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 with real guns 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 with a rocketing heart rate 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 you have when you concealed carry 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 starting a gunfight by unloading all of his or her 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.

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  1. Great wake up call for this type of training.

    Pretty groups at the range mean very little.

    I took it once with airsoft and one takeaway is you MUST practice one-handed shooting.

    One, right or wrong, it’s the more likely, natural reaction under stress, and two, the number of welts on my hand made it self evident … you tend to focus on the gun pointed at you and a lot of hits land on the shooting hand. Make sure you can shoot decently with your non dominant hand!

  2. When I was a kid we shot each other with water pistols in the 1970s. Later it was paint ball. And for those who don’t know its stings like hell when you get hit. We (in the army at least) have been using paint ball in squad level training since the late 1990s. Many squad leaders and platoon sergeants just did this on their own. Going to the army (government) for help is just a pain in the a**.

    If you can afford $$$ this level of training I say go for it. Because you are using real guns you’ll get training manipulating your weapons thru the course. But if you use just paint ball, You will get training in using tactics. It costs less money. But you do need a real trainer to conduct this class.

    • @Christ T

      Yep. I learned after writing this article that I actually know someone who is a SIMS instructor. Turns out that it’s really expensive to become qualified as a instructor as well and requires a lot of training in order to understand all the procedures and legal things and making sure you get and use the proper equipment. That’s another reason there aren’t many courses like this out there, and why instructors usually require at least a small gauntlet of prerequisites for taking the class.

      I’ve also done a force on force that used Airsoft, which I’ll write about separately because I do think the sim rounds make a difference in how things play out. The knowledge that something can actually hurt you does play into how you assess and act in scenes, at least for me it sure does.

      • Including “Battlefield medicine” during this training would make it even more realistic. It’s something the civilian side doesn’t know anything about yet. Although I see classes are popping up across United States which is a good thing.

        Medical class can be given separately and costs less. This training you will use more often than your gun, hopefully. (Smile)

        • @Chris

          Yep. A trauma medicine class has been on my list for the last year. I’ve actually signed up for several, but they always end up getting canceled due to lack of enrollment. Apparently for some reason there just isn’t much interest in these courses among gun owners who aren’t first responders for work. Going to try again this coming year to get into a Dark Angel class when they come to my area.

          • “Apparently for some reason there just isn’t much interest in these courses among gun owners who aren’t first responders for work. ”

            Let me provide this reasoning – – –

            If I shoot a perp, and the perp is bleeding, that is the perp’s problem. No need of combat medicine training to assist someone who just tried to kill me. In a gunfight, because I am a good guy with a gun, I am not going to be shot. Again, no need for gunshot trauma training. If, as a good guy with a gun, I risk being shot, then I don’t need to be where a gun would be required for self-defense; no need to gunshot wound training (which is why not being in a gunfight in the first place is rule one of gunfighting).

        • I was giving the same course I charge LE for to civilians for free. I stopped because, although I was getting really great reviews, people just didnt attend. I can charge $400 for a basic rifle course and I fill every class. But a TCCC course, I can’t give them away.

        • I took a battlefield trauma first aid class and carry an IFAK with additional supplies (CAT-T, Israeli bandage, quick clot) in my car and have them stationed around my place of employment (which is a gun free zone).

          If you get shot (on purpose or by accident at the range) in the leg and the round hits an artery, you’re really going to be glad you have that CAT-T with you and know how to use it.

          Most places that are gun free zones don’t have a problem with an IFAK (and there isn’t any laws against it that I know of).

        • @Mad Max

          Yea, I have a Dark Angel kit. Got the kit, just not the course because it canceled. I had a friend show me how to use some of the things, tourniquet and so forth, but I still want to take the full day course. I take it with me anytime I travel and also to the range, even though they have ‘em there. Just seems like you cannot go wrong knowing how to do this stuff, so many applications in so many situations.

        • To everyone
          I take medical training because I want to be able to treat my wife or myself if we are shot. My training is not for the person who shot me after I put three or four bullets in his chest.

  3. I participated in airsoft engagements many years ago. We had flags to capture and were on an island for the day. No way off until dark. And we were a mixed group in that I knew 2 other people but most I didn’t

    We had two scrimmages that day and a break for lunch. It came away a draw as my team won the morning and was wiped out in the afternoon. It proves to you that you have to really think about what’s going on and what happens next, a big chess match.

    We showed mercy and captured the other team for a win. They did not and exterminated us for their win.

    In real life the latter is more common.

  4. I’ve done this a few times. Really just reinforces the truth that it’s best to avoid getting into any of these situations in the first place like backed into an ATM, walking solo and unaware to your car in the dark, letting people anywhere near your personal space when out and about, crowds of any size, etc…. Of course this is easier for some than others. Thankfully it is very easy for me to avoid these situations. A perk of being cheap, antisocial and outdoorsy.

    • It’s harder for me. I am a real party animal, when I don’t have my head in a puss* I am drinking or sleeping. I don’t fight destiny you know, if it happens, it happens. We all die one day anyway so I’d rather be partying hard.

  5. “One thing I learned is that Simunitions rounds really hurt, even when you are wearing thick clothing.”

    Try being the designated ‘bad guy’ on a training day.

    • @Hannibal

      No kidding. Talk about “taking one for the team.” More like taking 100 for the team.

    • Hahahahaha right? I once had a roomate who was real big into various types of acting and productions. Well, apparently his cousins company was contracted to provide the personnel for an active shooter training seminar, and wouldn’t you know it, my roomate was the designated shooter. The medium for all this was airsoft and he said there were representatives from dozens of law enforcement agencies. It was set in a hostpital and he had basically carte blanche to set up however/wherever he wanted for each run. Sometimes he eas holed up in a room with hostages, sometimes he was simply walking around, other times he was fortified, etc.

      Oh, and this was set up for maximum realism, with plenty of blank fire, fake blood, and any number of extras acting as dead or dying people. The roomate said he had an absolute BLAST over the course of the weekend, but that afterward his body was one big bruise. After all the times he was tackled, shot, punched, etc (this was all set up to maximize realism, remember, and he knew exactly what he was getting into when he said yes), I’m sure he felt it

  6. The basis of tacticool training is to prepare for the statistically least likely event. The overwhelming majority of DGUs are near the home, involving a limited number of people, with the attackers easily identified. Very few armed attacks take place in crowded locales, where sorting out who to shoot can be very difficult (crowds just complicate things.

    While many may think being highly trained means they will not “freeze” the moment their first gunfight breaks out, we have no data to support that (even “highly trained” soldiers sometimes hesitate in their baptism). However, the reports we receive via news outlets don’t tell us that untrained people do not freeze. In short, training is a good thing for those who wish to engage; training is not a necessary element to a successful DGU.

    • This I will agree with. On one hand facing an opponent armed with a functioning firearm is rare, it is also of higher consequence. But the rarity matters.

      the average person actually handles a firearm well enough to be the factor in millions of defensive gun uses with minimal training.

      And if one is going to train, simple steps like getting to a farm so you can fire from various positions, such as kneeling, laying down, including drawing laying down; and including fire from direct contract by firing point blank at waist level (probably a much more likely event than exchanging fire with someone 10 meters away) are more relevant than tactical handgun fighting training.

      Lastly I would say the most important training after something of the level of basic handgun or NRA PPOtH, would be a good study of state and local law including a) local firearms regulations and b) lethal force self defense law, including code, court precedents and jury instructions.

    • I touched upon this concept in a comment a few days ago and agree with Sam I Am.

      I suggest two lessons here:
      (1) Training is NEVER bad and always good.
      (2) Never let perfect be the enemy of good.

      That last point is in line with my previous comment and Sam I Am’s comment. You don’t have to be an extremely accomplished gunfighter (with several hours/sessions of force-on-force training under your belt) to be a huge asset when a violent criminal lashes out.

      And the training that Elaine D. described should remind us of another key point: never, ever intervene in someone else’s fight unless you saw and heard everything unfold — including events well before the attack started — and you are 10,000% confident that you KNOW which person/people is/are the attacker/s.

      • @uncommon

        Yep. One of my most vivid memories is of a scene where a woman and a man are having an argument that escalates into the guy pulling a knife at some point. I remember thinking to myself before the knife came out, “How do I know they aren’t having an argument because he just found out she was cheating on him with his best friend?” I also didn’t assume that the guy in the scene would automatically be the one with the weapon, if there was a weapon. I lived through that scene, other folks who rushed in got stabbed.

        • @WhiteDevil

          What I did in the scene: hang back physically and use loud verbal distraction – “Hey! What’s going on here? Somebody need help?” But I kept my distance physically. What I was trying to do was break the tense dynamic between the two of them so that whoever was the target could create more physical space or even get away. I also figured one of them might be armed, but it could just as easily have been the woman – I’ve worked with enough big guys who have been cut, hit and clawed by women half their size to not make assumptions about what an aggressor can look like.

          So, what happened was that the guy in the scene turned his attention to me and started coming toward me, at which point I knew he was probably armed. Sure enough he pulled a knife and started a rush, but since I had stayed so far back physically, I had enough time to draw and shoot.

          Other people who went through that one rushed into the argument to intervene, got too close, and since they didn’t know who had the knife, they got stabbed.

          As I recall I might have been the only one who made the choice I did, and during the debrief when they asked me about it, I’m pretty sure I said, “I ain’t getting into no circus til I’m sure that’s MY monkey, I’m a woman.”

    • Great points.

      When you consider that in something like 70% of all DGUs, the victim never actually has to fire a shot, it makes a lot of sense.

      Often, merely presenting a firearm causes the aggressor to reassess his life decisions.

      And for the times when merely presenting the firearm doesn’t do it. Even more aggressors turn and run once the victim starts shooting. Even if the victim never hits the bad guy.

      I’m not saying that preparedness is unimportant, just that a gun can be a big help even to the poorly trained.

    • You make a great point. That is something that I am currently working on. Down 20 pounds since my heaviest, but it is the conditioning that is the hardest, especially when you are well past the half century mark.

    • This.

      Bigger people (the muscle kind) are harder to kill. More mass to absorb energy if hit, less stress on the C/R systems, odds of survival are increased.

      • but if you just lift weights, you will be easy to hit. Because you will be moving too slow.

        • Old irrelevant stereotype–lifting (heavy) weights doesn’t turn you into a potbellied waddling powerlifter. All CrossFit games competitors lift heavy weights to get strong, for example–do they look slow?

          Strength training makes you strong. Strong can make you fast, if you do it right. Just ask NFL players.

    • Yup. I did a paintball match about 10 years ago at around the age of 40. I was not fat, but definitely out of shape. After a few minutes of sprinting around I felt like I was going to die.

      3 years ago I got fit with a combination of running, swimming, lifting weights and rock climbing. Last year I was invited to a paintball match. The difference in my performance was HUUGGEE. I’m a better defensive shot than I was. But the biggest deal was the fact that I could out maneuver the younger guys and was stronger than a lot of them. 15 minutes into it, my heart rate was about where it is in the last mile of a 5k at a 7:45 mile pace. It sucked. But it wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to.

      • @ Don

        Yep. One of the first things Jeff Gonzales always presents is: fitness is an essential part of being tactical. It’s not accessible for everyone but his point is that if you CAN become more fit, do it.

    • @Rusty

      If you can’t find courses with actual Simunitions in your area, there are people who do them running Airsoft guns. The advantage of Airsoft is that it can be taught in all kinds of environments that don’t have to be ranges or shoot houses. Tends to be a lot more affordable too because the Simunitions ammo alone is something like $900 a case for the instructors to buy, so the course price reflects that.

  7. Children’s play with toy guns, dart guns and now nerfguns and paintball, all teach us to intuit considerations of concealment, cover, enfilade, defilade, and speed in initiative of violence.

  8. I do this sort of training professionally. You eventually get used to the simunition pain and just compare wounds at the end. I think the worst place I’ve ever been hit is the ear when I had a mask slip. I also took one to the throat once do to an unlucky angle. Didn’t hurt as much as the ear but it took way longer to heal. Looked like I’d had a traecheotomy for a week and a half.

    • @Chris

      Yep, a guy got hit in the throat during one of the courses. He wasn’t badly hurt, but I think the blood was a shock and a bit of a wake up call to all of us too.

  9. “…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 if it was a young child in danger? Would being a woman in that instance be a detriment? Biological ‘programming’ throwing a wrench in the works?


    “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.”

    I was in a relationship with a Han Chinese woman once, and I can personally attest to the “Angry Asian Woman” stereotype… (ouch!)

    • @Geoff

      We did actually have scenes where there would be a baby (obviously not a real baby) in the scene. If anything I found myself being even MORE careful in those situations because a baby or young child meant there was likely a caretaker close by who wasn’t armed and WOULD be acting from an instinctive, protective place. I considered it my job to protect both of those people, not just the child, and to try to get them into a safe place, even if it was just behind me, or out of the shoot house, as a strategy when possible.

  10. Went paintballing once, walked into the field ready to have some fun. Plainclothes, only protection was a facemask. The moment the first paintball hit me my attitude changed REAL QUICK. Blind shooting over barriers without poking my head out, leaning only just barely enough around a corner to shoot, sprinting the fastest I ever have in my life between cover. Anything to hit the other guy and not get hit yourself. And those plastic bullets look like they hurt even more than paintballs, I can only imagine. Shoot, I can only imagine a scenario with actual bullets flying past me. Hope that never happens. Great article Elaine.

    • @L

      Thanks. They actually function a lot like real bullets in that there’s a pellet that comes out of a casing that hits you. It can punch through a leather jacket that’s not thick enough, I had that happen in one of the trainings.

      I truly didn’t know what I was getting into; I was about a year into firearms training at that point. I live in a city environment, meaning it’s easy to be in a “crowd” just doing life, and most of my encounters with threatening people, both on motorcycle and in everyday life, have involved more than one person vs. me. Many of my female clients reported the same thing, especially when it came to home invasion scenarios they had dealt with.

      So when I saw the courses I thought it would be a good idea to sign up to learn how to deal with a situation that involved more than a one on one situation. Boy was that a serious eye opener. It was what led to me working a lot harder on my pistol skills which I’m still doing.

  11. I would add another point about force on force training, one that’s rarely discussed in self defense circles: psychological conditioning to kill. It’s unpleasant (and the realities of prosecution have ensured this is not talked about) but ultimately anyone who carries a gun for any reason needs to be ready to kill, and all that entails, force on force training can be a great way to condition oneself to put another human in your sights and pull the trigger. Despite the violence of our species (as evidenced by history), most individuals have some degree of reluctance to kill. Typically it takes some kind of external factor (such as military training or growing up in a culture that romanticizes it, such as any gang culture) or internally imposed psychological conditioning to overcome that. Tying in with the frequent mantra of “speed, surprise, and violence of action”, I’ve found myself more and more thinking of “will to violence” as being a critical component of such encounters.

    If you end up going head to head with a violent criminal, you probably have more training, better gear, and a higher end weapon than he does. But that means nothing if he has a greater willingness to use violence than you do

    • “I would add another point about force on force training, one that’s rarely discussed in self defense circles: psychological conditioning to kill.”

      This is the first thing I present to people who ask me about having a gun for defense. Because of what is learned on this blog, and because of prior military “training”, people will sometimes see me as having an important insight into “guns”. Each time someone asks, I point out that the attacker has already decided to kill their potential victim. That the reason an attacker holds a deadly weapon is because if intimidation doesn’t work, they are already committed (mentally) to using death to separate the victim from whatever treasure the attacker seeks. Thus, the potential victim cannot have any doubt whatsoever, that when the gun comes out, a death is at hand. There is no room for evaluation, no room for hesitation, no room for feelings.

      As the inquirer mulls those thoughts, I point out that they need to understand an armed attacker likely has more experience in combat (shooting, knifing, bludgeoning) than the potential victim. Thus, one should not have even the thinnest thought that brandishing a gun will intimidate the attacker into disengagint. The attacker has probably lived a life of extremes, and believes a regular person (soft target) doesn’t have what it takes to use deadly force.

      Just before the inquirer walks away to think over the discussion, I tell them I have one more question, “What if the attacker is your son or daughter? What then?” The answer to that question will tell the questioner whether they have the mindset to use a gun in self-defense. (The double-minded person is unstable in all their ways)

    • @Red

      Yep. Really well said. Steve Miles, who I took a different force on force from and will write about in a different article, has posted several times videos of people caught on camera in crime scenes, citizen carriers, who unholstered, pointed the gun….and then froze, valuable seconds going by, while the criminal or criminals continued doing their thing. They just couldn’t pull the trigger at the moment it mattered.

  12. This appears as a very good training instrument. Although the stress factor would probably be more then what I could physically or mentally bare. In high stress situations I tend to void my bowels and play dead.

  13. FOF is so ludicrously expensive and frequently firewalled behind LEO/MIL-only requirements that you’re probably better off finding a paintball or airsoft match. It’s a nice luxury to have but FOF simply isn’t on the table for the vast majority of gun owners. Buy some GBB airsoft guns and stage scenarios in your basement or garage or whatever. You’re 90% of the way to sims, only you don’t have to spend a thousand dollars and drive to one of the, what, four shoothouse locations in the US that even allow sims?

    • Maybe a full sim setup is expensive, but FOF doesn’t have to be. You can accomplish A LOT with cheap airsoft gear, especially with novices (e.g. 99.9% of the CCW community). You can do a lot with just you and your friends. Add a good trainer who knows how to set it up right and you can go a long way before you need to spend more money. It’s all in the planning and design of the scenarios.

  14. jwt,

    “But a TCCC course, I can’t give them away.”

    Bummin’, dude. I’m sorry that I wasn’t in your area.

    • Ive taken CLS on two occasions and some stuff through the PD, and performed real life applications of the material, but I still would have gone to your course

  15. A couple of observations from teaching force-on-force:

    In our classes, we ran scenarios like a golf course where participants – in groups of two or three – navigated through six to nine scenarios, with each person taking their turn as first to go and then watching as a neutral observer how their fellow students handled the scenarios.

    The learning curve on FoF is almost vertical. Few people make the same mistakes twice or three times. On a square range, you have to practice, practice and practice some more to get it right. You screw up and get that pain penalty, you don’t forget.

    At the end of six to nine scenarios, most of the students are emotionally drained. Some of the ladies – particularly those who have been victims of domestic violence or criminal attack in their past – will break down crying, sobbing when well-done scenarios bring back ugly memories long repressed.

    Kids, especially teen and pre-teen girls doing a good job playing the “victim” in scenarios will make the hairs stand up on your neck even when you hear their screams from 100 yards away even when you cannot see them. The men *really* go into the white knight role. And even some of the women who are mothers.

    One scenario we had featured a raving lunatic pouring gasoline (water) on a pre-teen girl and looking for his lighter to set her ablaze to rid her of the demons inside. OMG. That was one of several scenarios that really shook a lot of people up. And others were so rattled by it that they went quite fumble-fingers on their gun. One student dropped her gun trying to draw. Another put his hand behind the slide for some unknown reason.

    Another thing: People in these classes are often afraid to help their fellow man. We always did a “Silence of the Lambs” scenario where someone with their arm in the sling will need help carrying or lifting something in a believable context. They will show zero pre-attack and pre-violence indicators, yet most students won’t help them.

    The best FoF classes will have a good mix of scenarios where the best thing to do is nothing or to leave. Or to use anything and everything but deadly force to resolve the situation.

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