Why It's Okay to Lose in Training

Too often I see people—whether students in a class or those practicing solo—training for impractical situations. The Plausibility Principle states that we should always train for the widest set of plausible circumstances that could be present in a given context. Those training at the range often fail to apply the idea of personal defense training in context. It’s easy to get lackadaisical on the range, especially when no one else is around, but you’re only hurting yourself and negatively affecting your ability to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Group of people practicing in close quarter situation

The dynamics of an extreme close quarters situation are chaotic and faster than one can believe. They are also extremely plausible to occur.

It’s important to take a step back and question what you’re being taught and what will make you better prepared in the future. Those with the biggest egos are the ones who have the highest probability of being hurt when that worst-case scenario arises. Force-on-force personal defense training is one of the best opportunities you have to see where your training regimen is lacking.

    What Happens Too Often?

Seated Shooting

Time and time again, I’ve come across instructors teaching archaic and outdated training doctrines, drills that are unlikely to happen in real-life situations and have been proven to be unreliable. This can be confirmed by looking at the current empirical evidence in the form of statistical data, which takes into account modern human behavior, physiology, anatomy, and psychology. Dash-camera videos and closed-circuit security cameras also prove the unreliability of these antiquated skill sets.

A man practicing his shooting while sitting on the ground at a target

How many of us have actually shot from a grounded, seated position?

Instead of training in an inefficient manner, be proactive and take initiative for the lives of your loved ones and yourself. For example, if there have been reports of multiple muggings conducted with assault and battery in your neighborhood, it would be in your best interest to take some form of extreme close quarters course. Just because an incident hasn’t happened to you doesn’t mean it never will. Rob Pincus defines plausible as “situations and techniques that are somewhat less likely to be needed, but are still reasonably appropriate.” No matter how confident you are, you should never settle in your training. There will always be someone who is more advanced than you. Develop a proper mindset as well as methods that you may need for a multitude of situations.

Training in Context

If we look at national or even local headlines, we’ll see that defensive encounters occur at extremely close distances, distances that some ranges unfortunately do not let their patrons practice at. Tom Givens is the owner of and chief instructor at Rangemaster in Memphis, Tennessee. He has one of the largest collections of statistical data on self-defense shootings. As of 2012, 96.6% of shootings occur from three to 25 yards. Of those, 86.2% take place at three to five yards. There is also a high probability of more than one assailant, and most defensive encounters happen in public areas, parking lots and malls. Overall, the distances of the documented shootings are about the length of an average sedan.

Two people practicing how to handle a situation when attacked without a firearm

Are you prepared to defend yourself under pressure when your firearm may not be readily available? Photo courtesy Tyler Grant, Dynamic Training Strategies

This data tells us a few things. A threat may attack you at a distance so close that getting to your firearm may not be your first choice. There may be multiple assailants. The attack may occur when you’re out doing daily errands. These incidents are more likely to happen when you’re not in the comfort and security of your own home. A firearm is just one of the multiple components that you should add to your ever-expanding multi-disciplinary skill set.

If you are learning a new skill, do so in as much context as possible in order to avoid wasting precious time, unnecessary effort, and excessive energy. If you tell your colleagues you practice defensive shooting yet take your time aligning your sights, assume a non-realistic, competition-style stance and aim to get that perfect bulls-eye hit, you are in fact fooling yourself. As a human animal, we don’t want to go to the range and practice something new that we could possibly be horrible at. We want to practice something we already know and that may be easier. This is so we inadvertently receive the dose of dopamine in our brain that make us feel “good.”

Students practicing their shooting from the retention position

Shooting from a retention position is another plausible action when involved in an extreme close quarters situation.

If caught off guard, you may need to apply unarmed techniques before you can get to your firearm. Better yet, you may have enough time to get to your firearm but can’t get your arms to a fully extended position to shoot. You may have to engage from a retention-type shooting position while said threat rapidly encroaches on you.

Dos and Don’ts

Don’t shorten your skill set by not practicing non-obvious techniques. The worst thing that could happen by not practicing these skills is having to improvise and apply them when your life or your family’s lives are on the line. Do not let your ego prevent you from expanding your skills. For example, don’t tell yourself you don’t need to do an extreme close quarters course where Simunition® will be involved, because you know that it may hurt and be an extremely physical course.

Don’t let the idea of not being able to win or be the best at a certain evolution stop you from evolving as a student. You may go outside your comfort zone, but wouldn’t you rather do it in training than on the street during a potentially lethal incident?

Students practice shooting while on their stomachs at targets

Shooting while on your stomach is an extremely important skill to learn in the context of defensive shooting.

If you’ve just gotten into the realm of self-defense yet want to conceptually understand the realities of a counter-ambush scenario, get the proper training. Stop wasting your money practicing non-realistic situations on a static range and put your funds toward a quality defensive shooting class. The worst that can happen is you don’t agree with some of the concepts and move on. The best is you gain a wealth of knowledge, you understand that you may need to attain a better level of overall health, and you become better prepared for the future. From there on out, you can personally assess your management of the skill in a much more valued context, such as certain drills you performed in the class. Once you have consciously decided that you have reached a satisfactory level with the skill you’ve been working on, you can learn a new skill or even work on existing ones in new scenarios.

Reality Check

Even if you are an armed professional, law enforcement personnel or law-abiding citizen with an extensive list of course certificates, a quality extreme close quarters/force-on-force class should be on your to-do list. This type of class will show you how skilled you are when you may not see the threat coming.

An extreme close quarters class will most likely involve shooting in dynamic, cramped positions where sighted fire may not be applicable. Before getting to your firearm, you may have to implement what is called In-Fight Weapon Access (IFWA). This term was coined by Craig Douglas of Shivworks and means being able to get control over your assailant’s hands and/or weapons before deploying your own weapons. If you rush and skip over following IFWA in an extreme close quarters situation, you will most likely end up in a struggle over your weapon or even your assailant’s. Being able to apply unarmed techniques before accessing your weapons could mean the difference between going home or going to the emergency room.

demonstration on how to handle a gun disarm at extremely close quarters

Understanding how to deter gun disarms will benefit you if involved in a struggle at extreme close quarters.

If you do get to your gun in these extreme close quarter scenarios, all that may be possible is indexing the side of the handgun on your torso while fending off the assailant with your other hand. In these force-on-force evolutions, the instructor usually implements a handgun that fires Simunition® rounds. These are marking cartridges that are shaped and work like real ammunition cartridges. These training rounds definitely let you know that you have been hit and show specifically where you have been hit. Safety equipment is provided, such as FIST™ helmets so you can sustain some contact hits without superficial injuries.

True Confessions

My personal reality check came when I went through Craig Douglas’ Extreme Close Quarter Concepts (ECQC) class this past October. His class is known for being extremely physical as well as informative, and I was not disappointed. Having been in the military and taken Tom Sotis’ AMOK! Combative system course gave me a bigger ego than some other students. I carry a folding knife and Small Fixed Blades (SFBs) exclusively in the context of self-defense. I brought my training blades to this course for certain evolutions (evos).

Demonstration of two men on the ground defending themselves

Understanding the context of a grounded extreme close quarters encounter will help you in the long run.

One evo had me as the good guy with one assailant. When he brought me to the ground, it was over. All the training I thought I had went right out the window as I fought to get my breath back. I will never forget the feeling once the assailant disarmed me of my own training SFB and used it on me. The feel of the repeated thrusts from that dull metal trainer was a real eye opener for me and showed me that if your groundwork is lacking, everything else will fail. After the evo, it took me a few minutes on the side to compose myself and process what had happened.

Man practicing shooting on the ground while lying on his side

If surprised and thrown to the ground, shooting from your side is an extremely plausible situation when faced with a threat.

I understood after just this one training evolution that I needed to take up some form of grounded defense system such as Jiu Jitsu. Having a basic understanding of what it feels like to be in contact with another human being could have aided me enormously in the ECQC course. There are many more pros than cons when you leave a force-on-force course beaten and sore. You realize what needs to be changed or added to your training.

Step Up Your Training

Having a false sense of security by not enrolling in courses such as these will end up causing you to improvise in a real-life critical incident. And by improvising, you will waste valuable time using cognitive energy to process what’s going on around you. This will be less efficient than being able to recognize what’s happening and knowing that you hopefully have seen this in previous extreme close quarters scenarios. Time is something that most people take for granted, and in a situation where your life or your family’s lives are on the line, you do not have a lot of it. Just as I am constantly learning, so should you be. Your application of skill rests solely on yourself and your thirst for knowledge.

Sometimes admitting you’re not superhuman and realizing you can lose are the best things to do, especially in training. If your training never evolves, you’re only hurting your chances for survival in the real world. You should never reach the point where you say, “That’s good enough.” In my personal opinion, “good enough” doesn’t cut it, and shouldn’t for anyone taking personal defense seriously.

Man inside a vehicle

Not too many people think about shooting from inside their vehicle. But what do you do when there’s nowhere else to go?

Criminals will always have the edge over law-abiding citizens simply because they don’t care. No one can train for everything possible. But we should train new skills that can be defined as plausible in as much context as we can. Hope is not a method, so we shouldn’t hope for the worst-case scenario to never happen.

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One Response to “Why It's Okay to Lose in Training”

  1. Gary Truckey

    Spot-on article! I think about this a lot! I sure do hope every newbie does as well!