The 42 Most Important Ideas in Defensive Shooting: Part III

This installment of The 42 Most Important Ideas In Defensive Tactical Shooting deals with those things that describe or develop your ability to perceive the presence of a threat—one that may require the use of lethal force to resolve. Unfortunately, this is an area that seems to be woefully unexplored in the defensive shooting world and therefore contains a great deal of confusion and misinformation. What are some of the terms that are commonly used, and what do they really mean?

You are reading the second installment of a series of blog posts! Read part 1 and part 2 here!

Defensive Tactical Shooting—Part 3

Situational Awareness: one of the most misunderstood and applied terms in the lexicon of self defense, situational awareness is simply the sum total of what you know, consciously or unconsciously, about your immediate environment at any given point in time. Contrary to popular belief, your actual mental awareness cannot be increased at will; what your senses take in is hardwired. You can, however, change your behavior to better apply the awareness you do have. For instance, controlling distractions (those things that by their nature demand more of your conscious attention) frees a larger portion of your senses to focus on other—perhaps more important—things in your environment, increasing your situational awareness. Controlling distractions and allocating your available attention to important things in your environment is key to building a high level of situational awareness. The most important things to keep in mind about situational awareness are that it isn’t magic, and it doesn’t give you an impenetrable shield of invincibility—and in fact makes training in dealing with surprise attacks even more important. (For a more thorough discussion, please see my article The Myth Of Situational Awareness.)

OODA Loop: the name given to Colonel John Boyd’s (USAF) decision-making process presented in his 1959 Aerial Attack Study for the Air Force. Often cited in the defensive tactical shooting world as a “technique” to help you “think faster” than your opponent in a fight, it is instead a system for pre-planning possible attack/response sequences that can be utilized during an incident. The problem with most presentations of the OODA process as a defensive tool is that they both oversimplify the sequence (it’s not a “loop”) and imply that it’s something you do consciously during a fight. In reality, the OODA process is a tool to be used to anticipate the kinds of attacks you might face; what the characteristics of those attacks are; what your ideal response might be; and then train in those situations so that your responses to a given stimulus can be automated. OODA describes not how you should respond to an attack, but instead how your training and practice should be structured to allow you to respond efficiently. An important part of the OODA process is frequent practice in conditions that are as close to reality as you can make them, while still allowing you sufficient repetitions to ingrain the stimulus/response patterns. If you hear phrases such as “getting inside your opponent’s OODA loop” or “forcing him to reset his OODA,” you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t understand both the power and limitations of Boyd’s work!


Color Codes of Awareness: often attributed to Jeff Cooper, the legendary founder of the Gunsite training center, this idea is said to have its origins in military doctrine. The concept seems simple enough: there are four (some argue five) levels of awareness in which people can find themselves, ranging from white (unaware) to red (ready to fight or engaged in a fight, depending on whose definition you trust). They’re variously touted as helpful to managing your situational awareness (see above) and guiding your reactions to an emerging threat. The problem is that they describe finite states of existence that really don’t mean anything in daily life. In addition, they prescribe readiness postures or response functions that may not be appropriate for the situation at hand. Human beings, in responding to anything (including a threat), don’t proceed smoothly through such states; we respond to stimuli that our senses pick up and filter what we see/hear through our experience and training. As with situational awareness, you can’t be aware Coljeffcooperof everything all the time (“Condition Yellow”); you allocate your attention or awareness based on your perception of the importance of what you’re seeing. There is no special state in which you can live that will magically keep you safe by anticipating all possible threats, and rather than “living in Condition Yellow” it’s better to understand how to manage distractions, what distractions are acceptable in what environments, and how to recognize and respond in an intuitive way to threats that present themselves.

Simulation: an approximation of a real scene or incident in a controlled environment. Simulation is an extremely valuable learning and training tool, and one that isn’t used often enough in the defensive shooting world. Simulation can be physical (a “shoot house” or room setup on a range) or mental (visualization, whether on the range or with your eyes closed while lounging on your couch). Simulations allow you to pre-plan your possible responses in specific situations (see “OODA Loop” above) and/or test those responses under conditions that approximate those of an actual incident. Physical simulations can involve props, such as the room setup, or role players who portray attackers or even innocents. Simulations should strive to be as real as possible, not just authentic; a room setup with real doors, furniture, carpets, pictures on the walls and a martini on the coffee table may be very authentic, in the sense that it’s just like someone’s living room. It may not be very real for you if that living room doesn’t look or isn’t arranged anything like the one in your house! The best value in simulation comes from making it both specific and real from the participant’s standpoint.

Reality-Based Training: often abbreviated “RBT,” reality-based training is a term that very few people in the defensive shooting world seem to agree on! Kenneth Murray, often referred to as “the father of reality-based training,” says that RBT is “realistic simulation training.” RBT is generally held to be scenario-based, in that it is scripted to resemble an actual situation (as opposed to a specific location) and generally includes role players as part of the scenario. When role players are involved, specialized training ammunition (known generically as “Simunitions,” though that term is a trademark for a specific brand of ammo) in modified firearms is used to reduce the risk of injury to participants. Airsoft guns have also been used for this purpose. While most people consider reality-based training to refer specifically to sessions involving role players using any less-than-lethal firearms, an emerging school of thought holds that the term reality-based training is also applicable to visualized scenarios not involving role players or dedicated training weapons. Proper RBT sessions must be closely scripted, use trained role players, and finish with a thorough debrief about lessons learned. They tend to be time-consuming and expensive to put on.

Force on Force: while often used interchangeably with the term reality-based training, force on force (“FOF”) refers specifically to scenarios using role players as aggressors. The term comes from the use of force (be it weapons or martial arts) by both antagonist and protagonist—in other words, both attacker and defender are allowed to use controlled force against each other. FOF, properly done, is a form of RBT. When FOF scenarios are run using firearms, less-than-lethal ammo (such as Simunitions) or Airsoft are used to reduce the risk to all participants.

Other installments of this series:
42 Most Important Ideas in Defensive Shooting
42 Most Important Ideas in Defensive Shooting: Part II

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3 Responses to “The 42 Most Important Ideas in Defensive Shooting: Part III”

  1. Nelson

    I Will apareciste if it is posible to obtain part 1 and 2 of the 42 Most important ideas in táctical defensive shooting

  2. Steve

    A very well thought out article that cuts through the mystical marketing BS and resonates as true. Thank you for bringing it down to a real level. I especially liked your comments on trigger control, mindset and ability to always be 100% situationally aware.

  3. graystone

    Great info - breakdown - of commonly used terms. Good to see them in print and a good way - no matter the experience level - to refresh or revisit what a shooter means or does - or doesn't (shouldn't) do. Well thought out and written/defined. Thank You!