Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reality Based Scenarios

The majority of Thursday’s SWAT training was reality based scenario training.  Scenario training can be a fantastic tool.  
 - "Josephus observes that the Romans 'do not wait for war to begin before handling their arms, nor do they sit idle in peacetime and take action only when the emergency comes – but as if born ready armed they never have a truce from training or wait for war to be declared. Their battle-drills are no different from the real thing; every man works as hard at his daily training as if he was on active service. That is why they stand up so easily to the strain of battle: no indiscipline dislodges them from their regular formation, no panic incapacitates them, no toil wears them out; so victory over men not so trained follows as a matter of course. It would not be far from the truth to call their drills bloodless battles, their battles bloody drills.'” Josephus, The Jewish War, 194-5 (III)
If you are going to incorporate scenario training into your repertoire (Train as Romans do) there are a couple things to consider. 
You want to make the training as real as can be safely done.  To do it right you will need to spend at least three hours of preparation  for every hour of training.  The first part of preparation is the development of the scenarios.  I like to start with a few clear training objectives and then work  from there.   What situation would illicit the response we are training for?  Situations the trainees are likely to face – train for what happens most and you can handle most of what happens.
It doesn’t make sense to have SWAT teams run women’s self defense - social violence to set up asocial violence(charm predator) drills.  Nor does it make sense to have suburban moms train high risk narcotic search warrant raids.  If the RBS training being sold to you has you doing commando raids and killing with your bare hands the instructor is playing of the fears of the insecure and offering fantasy fulfillment for profit. (See Marc’s blog the super bowl of violence) That’s not training that’s fantasy role playing.  If you are playing make believe with a scenario that will most likely never happen whether it be commando tactics or a light saber battle with an ork, they are both equally just LARP (live action role playing or dungeons and dragons)

 Develop a core of good scenarios you can adapt to specific training (change as circumstances / logistics / students dictate).  Writing scenarios can be very difficult.  If you were good at writing stories you would probably be getting paid to write stories.  I’m a pretty creative guy but like most good Operators I cheat.  I take calls I’ve been on or situations other teams have encountered that could have ended better and use those as the basis of the scenario.  I also take the “Law and Order” approach.  No I don’t make lame watered down copies if something that was good 15 years agoJ.  I steal scenarios from the headlines.  Truth is better than fiction.
LOGISTICS!  So everything so far has basically been creative writing.  Reality based scenario (RBS) training is like a play.  In order to turn your story  in to a production you will need:
Location – stage
Role Player – actors
Equipment – props
Safety Officer – Director
Trainees – Audience (well an interactive audience like video game players)

Location:  You can modify your regular training location (Dojo) for scenario training.  You can use folding chairs and card tables to create bars, restaurants, living rooms, bed rooms etc.  You can use the Dojo parking lot and the trainee’s own cars for a variety of different scenarios.  If you are just starting with scenario training this is a good a way to start.  Public parks are also excellent and free training locations and also incorporate environmental training (so try to do this once every season both day and night ).  That way your students can work fundamentals against random problems in all weather, terrain and light conditions.
 After you have done dojo scenarios, environmental training, and have gained experience in running scenarios you may want to go off site.  Contact a local business (bar, hotel, warehouse, ect…)or a realtor may have an abandoned property you can use.  This kind of training is fun and very productive but it is also the most difficult to set up.  Even SWAT teams, Police Departments, and Fire Departments have trouble setting this up and are constantly looking for new “cop friendly” locations to train.
[Side note anyone reading this in the greater Minneapolis / St. Paul metropolitan area who has a location I can use for training please contact me]
If you do find a location
Have a waiver signed by all holding you and the property owner free of liability for any injuries
Go through the property with the owner.  Detail what you would like to do and make sure that is cool with the owner.  This is also why it’s important to have your scenarios developed beforehand.  When you walk through with the owner, you can also “scout” the location for training.  What I mean by that is you can figure out how to use the location to illicit the training effects you want.  You don’t want the first time you see the location to be 1 minute before the scenarios starts (the 1st time the trainees see it).  It’s hard to scare someone with a haunted house if you don’t set it up ahead of time.  Also on your scout make sure the property is safe to train in.  Check for exposed nails, broken glass, rotten floors, mold etc.
Only do those things you agreed to do with the owner.  Example if you said you were going to use airsoft but use sims and leave paint on the walls or break stuff you look like an asshole, have to pay for damages, and will likely never be able to use that location again.  Always leaving the training site cleaner than you found it.  Also always send a thank you letter on official letter head worthy of display to the owner after training.  Develop good relationships with people who are willing to let you train on their property.
If any of your training can be seen by the public have signs up that read something like attention/ warning (name of school / organization ) training in progress please stay back.  This way you get free advertising for your school, and don’t have people calling the police on you.  Speaking of…
Notify the police.   Call your local non emergency number.  Tell them that on this day, at this time, you will be conducting self defense training.  Tell them you are posting signs to prevent 911 calls and invite your local PD to attend and watch.
Along those lines, be sure any training weapons you use are clearly and easily distinguishable from the real deal.  Law enforcement industry standard is training weapons are blue or red (neon works too).  Everything else about your training weapons should be as real as possible, as close to the weapons you actually carry as possible.  So if you don't carry weapons on a regular basis you have to solve the scenario with out them.  What good does it do to learn combat handgun tactics if you never carry a hand gun? 

Role Players:
In my opinion Role Players can really make or break RBS training.  I am very blessed that a have a crew of highly trained  (brown belt or higher in Aikido / Jujutsu and One On One Control Tactics Instructors)smart (doctors, engineers, scientists) and dedicated (they put up with me J and the high standards I keep)role players.  They have been working with me and my SWAT team for 5 years and I couldn’t do a lot of things I do without them.  They are the ideal.  I will explain why quality role players are so valued with examples of how “bad” role players can ruin all the hard work it takes to set up scenario training.
At Skills (the Minnesota version of a Police Academy) the last exercise before graduation was a big scenario.  The flaw was that the role players(bad guys) were students from the skills class in Hibbing MN.  The role players weren’t interested in training to make the Mankato class better future cops they wanted to “win the scenario”  You ever play cops and robbers or GIJoe as a kid? (If kids played those games today they would be put into therapy for being violent J )  Remember the kid that when he was shot he would never die?  He would call “force fields “ or claim you missed.  That sucked then and it still sucks if allowed to flourish in scenario training.   During that final scenario I dragged a downed Officer to safety.  Minutes later a student from Hibbing told me I was dead and the scenario was over for me.  I asked her how I was dead.  She said that she was hiding in this (impossible) place and shot me (from 30 yards).  My point being that it is very unlikely even in the ridiculous scenario we were training that one of the bank robbers would have not only to gotten through the perimeter unseen, but crept all the way over there andsneaked into her hidey hole.  Also with no sims or airsoft you are basically just pointing your fingers and yelling bang.  Ok whatever, so what did I learn from the scenario?  That if a gun is ever fired in my general direction I will automatically die?  That I should always leave wounded officers down to bleed out in the street?  You see how bad role players and bad preparation can ruin scenario training?  Role players need to know that they win not by beating the trainees per say but PLAYING THEIR ROLE.  Role players win by getting the training response the trainer is working for.  That’s not to say the role players should go easy on the trainees or not to “kill” them when they make a mistake.  However, role players who are just playing cops and robbers have a very detrimental effect on training.  So trainers have to have clear goals, objectives, specific directions, and even specific dialog for the role players.  Otherwise they will just add lib into ridiculous LARP.  Recruit and cultivate role players you can trust to do the job.
Are you starting to see how difficult running scenarios can be?  Like anything in life anything worth doing is worth doing well.  If you can’t get outside role players (people who are not training and their only job is to help train the trainees) you can rotate trainees and role players.  For example in scenario 1 students a,b, are training student c is playing the role of (insert whatever bad guy you are training against).  Take C into the location away from a and b.  Tell him what you are trying to achieve and exactly what you want him to do.  Make sure he understands, make him repeat it back to you. 
This also allows C to see the scenario through “predator eyes”.  Knowing how you would kill you in a given situation helps you learn how to prevent that from happening
When you rotate through make sure you have a different scenario for c so he doesn’t have an unfair advantage.  Also it is fun to head fake c.  His scenario can be just like the one he was the role player for.  Get him thinking it’s going to go the same way.  Then Bam!, throw something totally different at him.  Cabot is very good at that last bit.  Mike and I are the training coordinators for the team so we come up with the scenarios.  We are also team leaders who need to practice running the team and making tactical decision under pressure and adapting to the scenarios.  Cabot is very good at tweaking scenarios I developed to “mess with” me when it’s my turn in the saddle.  The industry accepted term for that is “goat fucking”.  Used in a sentence  - Wow, Cabot really goat fucked me putting that guy under the bleachers.  Goat fucking = good training, which brings me to my second point.  Goat fucking is a two way street be prepared for it and don’t punish it. 
Whether you’re training SWAT Operators or your Dojo students you want them to be creative, unconventional, and spontaneous under pressure.  Encourage these traits don’t punish them.  If you set up this intense scenario full of peril and danger and the team or your student listens to the brief and goes through a different door or somehow does something you didn’t account for and smokes all your role players because they were set up for something else you as a trainer just got goat fucked.  You can use goat roped if you find fuck offensive.  Remember goat fuck = good training.  Don’t get pissed , don’t stop them , encourage them, learn from them.  At the debrief congratulate them go through the scenario then do it again.  On the second rep you can force them to face the scenario the way you have planned.  For example if you had an ambush set up on the front door and they went through the window, on the second rep you can say that was great but the window doesn’t exists anymore.  You are like the architect in the matrix or more recently inception.  You dictate the reality in reality based scenario training.  Just be honest with the trainees (and don’t compete against them) Hey going through the window is a great idea, however I set the scenario to train a specific skill set.  In order to do that I need you to go through the front door.  So whatever you can come up with to solve this besides going through the front door Murphy came up and pooched it so now go through the front door.   At the debrief you can discuss all the not front door approaches they thought of after you discuss what happened in the front door scenario.
Real life examples of the trainer competing against the trainees, and one of the most outstanding Goat Fucks I’ve ever witnessed.  Ottertail County Minnesota summer 1999.  The training was for Police, SWAT, and EMT for a large incident.  The role players were local National Guard (much more interested in “beating the cops” then helping the cops learn anything).  Administration who set up the cross training wanted to pit the SWAT team vs. his buddies in the Guard in an open field search / gun fight.  The admin had the deck stacked way in favor of the guard.  The SWAT commander knowing that this was going to be a competition to make him look bad as opposed to training contacted a different guard unit and called in air support.  He had tape on the top of his team leader’s helmets so the helicopter could designate friendlies from unfriendlies in the thick brush.  Needless to say SWAT knowing exactly where the bad guys were mopped up very quickly.  Admin wasn’t impressed by quick tactical improvising they called it cheating and were pouty.  That was my first exposure to SWAT training and I’ve been hooked ever since .
OK I went a little off topic there with nostalgia but remember experience is the best teacher of all – back on topic.
Keep your role players involved, treat them well.  Nothing is worse than taking off of work or otherwise rearranging your schedule to help you friend, swat team, dojo, sit around for seven hours being ignored by the operators being used for 5 minutes then sent home without so much as a thank you.  Unless of course you get hurt.  If you are going hands on at speed you need to have protective equipment, and common sense on the part of the trainees.  Which leads to…

Again – Training Weapons make sure they are easily distinguishable from the real thing. 
Protective equipment, red man suit, sparring gear, mats
Safety Vests – Bright neon traffic vests to distinguish safety officers from role players and trainees
“Scripts” – lesson plans with clear objectives of what you want to accomplish and exactly what the role players are supposed to do to help accomplish that
Tupper wear / boxes – it’s nice to keep all this stuff in easy to carry / organize storage boxes.  Especially when you’re tired from 8 hours of training and you can’t go home until everything is cleaned up.

Safety Officers
Run the scenario
Safety check – check all trainees, roleplayers, everyone involved for “live” weapons.  Have many redundant searches / checks.  Repeat on everyone every time they leave the training area.
Scene security – Separate from the trainer.  Provides security for the scenario and keeps passerby’s from walking through or calling the cops
Witness  -roleplayer safety.  These safety officers are in the location to watch and offer feed back in the debrief.  They are also there to protect the role players (trainees will be revved up and may use more force that is safe) and to end the scenario if it becomes unsafe or when the training objective is achieved.    

This is where the majority of learning will occur.  After the scenario go through the entire thing in chronological order.  Then review went well.  After that address what didn’t go well.  What went wrong, what else could have been done.  If you had to do it over again what would you do.  Peer review – get feedback from all the trainees the roleplayers and the safety officers.

Eliminate the negatives from training.  You never want to leave the trainee with a fail, or death in the scenario.  You are training their mind to fail or die.  If they did something that you don’t want them to do in the field you can “Ground hog’s day”.  After the debrief have the trainees run the same scenario again and find a way to win (no Kobiashi Maru scenarios).  Debrief the pros and cons of the changes made.  Usually going home alive is a pretty big pro.
Another way to incorporate scenarios while eliminating negatives is:
Scenarios 1st as skills assessment.  If you do the scenarios first and trainees die / fail you can use the debrief to preview the skills you will be teaching to prevent that outcome.  Their performance will give you an indication of their skill level and what needs to be worked on.
After scenarios work on those specific skills
End the day with the same scenario plus the new skills you taught them.  If you are worth your snuff as an Instructor those skills you taught them better get them through the scenario.

Be prepared to put a lot of prep time in
Use situations you’ve been in or crime stories from the news to develop scenarios
Recruit and cultivate roleplayers you trust
Keep it simple and safe
Train like Romans train


  1. It is an honor to be able to role play for you and your guys. I have learned a lot in the process.

    Nice to know people who are organized and have their act together.

  2. We use to do a bit of small group role playing (should get off my fat butt and do it more)Where me and a bunch of training buddies would talk about potential problems we saw with each others everyday protocols...or lack there of. Once we got past arguing and trying to defend ourselves we would isolate it in scenario and see if we could brake them. Problems in everyday protocols and training tend to iron themselves out pretty quick when you have people questioning how you do something...and when put to the test you cant deliver. Scenario training is a such great way to put things into perspective!

  3. This is a great resource for instructors of traditional martial arts so they can begin utilising scenarios for their students. Even combat sport schools can implement these sessions during 'off season' to mix up the training for the boys and educate at the same time. I will be sharing this around. Nice one.