Decision-making training, or more competition scars

My post just below on the necessity of knowing the law generated a thoughtful comment and question, the relevant excerpt here:

A few weeks ago one of us brought a scenario taken from a video of a convenience store robbery. In the video 3 men with guns entered the store. The clerk drew a handgun and fired at one of them. When he did so the other 2 turned and ran. In our scenario, the shooter was a customer standing in front of the register when 3 armed men came in, one of whom pointed his gun at the clerk. When the shooter engaged the other 2 dropped their weapons, turned and fled. Of the 7 of us who were subjected to this scenario 3 shot 1 of the fleeing subjects and 1 shot them both. All of us are aware of the legalities (3 of us are or will soon be lawyers). Reviewing the video of our runs we all recognized the problem, but had this been a real encounter 4 of us would likely face prosecution for homicide.
You often write about the importance of legal education. You also often write about the positives and negatives of competition and competition based training. I think these subjects are related. The guy that shot both unarmed fleeing gunmen is also the fastest of us and regularly wins IDPA and IPSC tournaments. I have spent a lot of time researching the law of self-defense in our state and I am currently a third year law student so I understand what I am researching, but I still shot one of them.

It seems clear to me that the shooters in this scenario inappropriately shot the fleeing BGs for one of two reasons:

  1. The BGs turned and started to flee after the shooter had made the decision to fire and before the shooter’s mental processing could register the change and stop themselves from shooting.  This happens frequently to cops – it’s why BGs are sometimes “shot in the back” (in reality, any shot entering behind the seam of a shirt is “in the back” as far as the activists and press go).  Not a lot you can do about this – if you appropriately decide to shoot because of imminent deadly danger, then whatever the BG does inside your reaction time is pretty much not under your control.
  2. The shooters were so hard-wired to “shoot” at the sign of danger that they shot every target in sight.  This is a potential competition scar, and a non-trivial one at that!

Brief aside:

If you’ve never trained on a Rogers Machine, you should at least once.  These machines present computer-programmed reactive steel targets from behind cover for only a brief (operator programmed) amount of time.  The shooter might have anywhere from several seconds to hit a small plate that appears to less than 1/4-second (1/4-second is most young healthy people’s reaction time).  There are numerous plates that appear from even more numerous parts of the machine.  These machines build reactive, fast, accurate shooting like nothing else.  No matter how good you think you are, you will be severely humbled by shooting against one of them.  They are expensive, so you’ll have to go to a school that has one.

Now the obvious problem, from a street perspective, is while these machines (and ones like them) build incredible shooting skill, they also program you to shoot as fast as you can when a “target” presents.  An LE trainer I know once debriefed a cop who had been involved in a questionable shooting.  At the time of the shooting the cop had just returned from a school where he spent considerable time on one of these “twitch shooting” machines (my term).

Lesson re: point 2: what makers us “better” shooters, particularly better competition shooters, can sometimes work against us.  Like real bad.

So, how do we train to not shoot at everything that moves or pops into our field of vision?  I have an idea (below) but I’ll defer to Marcus Wynne if he chooses to pull himself away from his diet of espresso and bevy of wholesome Midwestern ladies to respond, since this is pretty much his wheelhouse.

Before I give you my idea, some background.  Back when I wrote for Combat Handguns‘ enigmatic editor Harry Kane, he, well aware that awareness was the most fundamental skill, used to ask every one of his authors, “How do we train awareness?”  Frankly, it stumped us all…until one day I think I solved it.  I believe that Harry was asking the wrong question; we don’t train awareness, we make it a habit.  You develop habits (usually based on the positive way they make you feel), you don’t consciously train them.  The article I wrote for Harry on that subject is no longer available on the CH website nor on the website where it was republished.  But it was reproduced in its entirety on two forums that I found here and here.

So my idea: I think we need to make seeing what’s going on and making a conscious decision habitual in our scenario training.  We start by deliberately moving and shooting slower than we can, slow enough so that we always make good decisions (even if we make them too slowly by real-world standards).  We let our brains form the habit of looking/evaluating/decision-making based on the pleasure of the results we get from making good decisions, and by the looking/evaluating/decision-making triggers that sensing danger initiates.  (This approach is based somewhat on the chemistry of addictive substances that I just finished watching a 5-hour series on, only here we’re trying to make a habit, not break one.)  Then we move through the scenarios faster and faster, letting the habit develop as we move towards real-time speed.

This is much like developing a shooting technique that we currently can’t perform: slow down, do it perfectly, and gradually  ramp up the speed.



5 thoughts on “Decision-making training, or more competition scars

  1. This might be a bit of a tangent, just an average Joe here, none of the extensive experience or training of most of the people who would read this. I am very interested in your comment on habituating awareness. Awareness buys time. The greater distance one can become aware of a threat, the more time one has to modify their reaction to it, be it running away, hiding, drawing a weapon,finding cover, etc. Sometimes just presenting awareness can deter an attack.

    What does awareness actually mean? What do we DO to increase awareness? I ask this because I don’t know, what I don’t know. Do you folks have special techniques or certain danger zones, etc?

    So here is what I try to do at the 101 level- when entering a new area, store , parking lot, etc, look around past the immediate area and lightly scan for people who seem to be acting without purpose- ie, just hanging around in a place there is no reason to be. Somebody hanging around the parked cars, Any disturbance’s, arguing, etc. A bottle breaking, or a door slammed hard. Let the eyes go past the person one is with, past the first 25 feet, open up the distance to the senses.
    I look for cross – current human flow- ie, everyone in the parking lot is walking to their car, to the entrance, or to the cart corral- why is that person walking toward ME?

    When entering or exiting a vehicle or home, pay special attention to oddities -tire tracks on the lawn, a broken window, a door left ajar, a light left on. Try to keep the head up and not have tunnel vision on the keys or lock or groceries. scan around the area that will be walked through, and upon opening a door, scan the house interior quickly. Is the bedroom door still bolted shut? Nothing scattered on the floor?

    I read an article on self defense awareness , in which “transition zones”, the places people walk though en-route to a destination, were noted as potential attack places, as the focus of the victims was either where they were going, ie, the great movies they were going to see, or where they came from, ie, the super deal they got on shoes. Nobody with anything to do is just hanging around in one of these zones. Unless YOU are their “thing to do”.

    In the most general terms possible, look and listen for anything out of place. And smell, too, probably- certain smells will connect long before sight or hearing. What would be a warning smell? Blood, shit, diesel fuel, propane, gasoline, smoke? Decay comes to mind, but the danger is probably long passed at that point.

    Now weirdly, in spite of all the above, I can look around the house for half an hour and fail to find my hat , which is sitting right in front of me. Go figure.


  2. Wow! If you are doing all that, then you’re doing everything I can think of.

    What works for me is to center myself. Just shut off the friggin’ chatter in the mind and just BE. Let the world pour into you through your senses. The only effort I make is to actively scan, in/out, in/out, as I slowly rotate my head, which is, I think – not sure, what some military units teach; works better than scanning side to side in concentric circles. Try both ways when you can’t see your dog in a field.

    That and I don’t let myself be distracted when walking – no ear buds, no mind chatter. I try and appreciate the environment around me, which makes me notice things.

    OTOH, I know I’m not very good at awareness compared to some cops I’ve worked with, so do what works for you.


  3. It seems that one important aspect of this problem has to do with the decision to fire. In broad terms, without getting into the intricacies of cognitive processing, our group made this decision 3 different ways. One of us made the decision to draw only followed by evaluation and then the decision to fire. He said he did this because 2 of the earlier scenarios didn’t require shooting. He was the only one of us to get shot more than once during this scenario. 2 participants are currently evaluating a shooting system that teaches lowering the firearm below direct line of sight while traversing between targets. Both of them made the decision to fire at the first target commiserate with the decision to draw. They performed best at this scenario. The rest of us made the decision to draw and engage all three targets at the same time much like we would when shooting the El Prezadente. Those of us who only shot 1 of the fleeing gunmen did so because by the time we traversed to where he had been, he was no longer there.
    I don’t think that the decision making process during multiple target scenarios has been addressed during any of the training I have received. Most didn’t address the decision making process at all, and those that did only did so in terms of the decision to engage the first target.


  4. The best way to drill decision making is scenario-based training. Can do it with blue guns (finger guns won’t work because you can’t realistically draw them). Zero cost, can be done anywhere. No excuses.

    You do point out the weak point of my argument, though. Taking the time to assess and decide gives the BG time to shoot you. No way around that unless you get inside the BG’s OODA loop. SWAT and mil do that by surprise and violent dynamic entries (mil also often has looser ROE). Surprisingly, the average good shooting here in the US has the good guy also getting inside the OODA loop of the BG — who often has a drawn gun to begin with! (I’m referring here to Tom Givens’ data.)

    But yeah, that’s the tradeoff, and it sucks that we have to make it.


  5. I just finished another set of FoF scenarios. Most of us train to give a verbal command concurrent with the draw; 2 of the 6 scenarios this week highlighted the fact that most of us do not train for what to do if the bad guy follows the command. I read this series of articles last week, and had given it some thought, but overall we were unprepared for this contingency.

    Interesting to report, With only 3 weeks of focusing on decision making, my improvement was significant. # trips to the range and 5 or 6 short airsoft sessions devoted to assessing the threat before each shot doesn’t sound like a lot but but it was enough to make a huge difference in performance for the 3 of us who participated. I’m kind of proud of the drill we’ve been using so I will share it.

    All 3 of us have portable projectors for power point presentations, so we created a 3 slide power point with one slide showing a 2 second video of me in a ski mask raising my empty hands, one showing a picture of me standing with my hands at my sides, and the other showing a 3 second video of me drawing and pointing a handgun. we set up each projector to project its image on a different target (white corrugated plastic board from the dollar tree) and the 2 who weren’t shooting controlled the projectors. The projectors were downrange, but they were on the ground 8 feet in front of the targets. This wouldn’t work outdoors at noon on a clear day, but worked well in the evening and in my basement for airsoft.


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