Reality Based Firearms Training for Civilians

I urge all CO’s to seek some type of realistic training like this. The Active Shooter threat that now exist out there require vastly different skill-set’s than just punching holes in paper” at a square range. Training in a 360 degree environment with real-world type scenarios using “cognitive stress” type drills will pay huge dividends later on, take my word on it. I will be doing an article on the top 3 best Reality based Training Courses Soon. -SF


By Mike Searson

Reality Based Firearms Training for Civilians
Reality Based Firearms Training for Civilians


When specifically training for personal defense or home defense, Reality Based Firearms Training is the key to success.

This type of training goes beyond shooting reactive targets or going through laser based scenarios (which both have merits in their own right).

This is similar to sparring for a boxer as opposed to shadow boxing.

Reality Based Training involves the use of real firearms that have been converted to shoot safe training marking cartridges. It is considered to be the highest level of evaluating a student’s application of skills without having to engage in a “real” fight.

In the past this training the higher end and more realistic variants have been limited to military and LEO types via MILES or Simunitions and most civilian trainers were reduced to using air soft, paintball, laser tag or other low end solutions.

Read the Remainder at Ammo Land


Running the Gauntlet

O Course

Qualities of a Realistic CO “Shooting O-Course”

The integration of a REALISTIC and PRACTICAL “Shooting O-Course” into the CO self-defense training program has been a long and arduous one. When they first appeared (in very crude form) at early IDPA matches some 30 odd years ago they were nothing more than timed Competition marksmanship drills, and to this day, because of the grossly mistaken notion that Competition shooting and Self-Defense (or Combat) shooting are one in the same, most people still regard some of these timed drills as “O-Courses”. Nothing could be further from the truth. A true SHOOTING O-Course integrates Real-World type scenarios with simulated stressors and excludes all the competition/marksman garbage. Understand, at the rate the world has been going to shit lately, simply going out to a square range and putting 50 to 100 holes in a bad guy paper target does not cut it anymore. No, for the CO to train realistically and give himself the best possible chance at going home after the fight, he has to step-up his training a few notches and integrate a full blown combat training O-Course.

Now when I say “Combat Training” some people automatically get a mental image of people swinging on ropes, and climbing over walls all the while general mayhem is happening and smoke grenades and mortar shells are dropping. And while that may be the Hollywood version of a MILITARY O-Course (ala’ the movie Stripes), the CO version is much better (and more realistic and practical!)

Here is a general outline of the things your CO O-Course should  incorporate:

  1. PHYSICALITY- All Fights, and yes, even a gunfight is physical in nature. The main issue here is MOVEMENT. We do not operate in a vacuum when fighting and we do not remain static….we move! Therefore, from the very start, the student will be running, crouching, crawling, etc.
  2. USE OF COVER Cover is LIFE in a gunfight. Cover stops bullets and keeps them from going into your body and either wounding or killing you. We will learn to fight TO and FROM cover. This must become as natural as breathing.
  3. 360 DEGREE ENVIRONMENT & TARGETS–  The biggest problem with square-range training is it mistakenly assumes the person or persons trying to kill will always remain in front of you. Wrong. As #1 has shown us, people tend to move when being shot at, and they don’t always move in the direction you want them too either.
  4. NO SET NUMBER OF ROUND’s PER TARGET- The student fires as many rounds as he thinks the target needs to go down. You should never train to ALWAYS fire a SET number of rounds; approach every situation with a fresh pair of eyes!
  5. TIME NOT A FACTOR– This is not a reality competition for a shiny $5 gold trophy. I could care less if it takes you 20 minutes or 20 hours to get through the course. This is shooting for your life, not shooting to impress for time.
  6. NOT A MARKSMANSHIP COURSE– Shooting with anatomically correct 3D targets let’s the shooter assess how “combat accurate” his rounds were and not how “tight a grouping” he got. In the real world, all that matters is that you kill the bad guy, not that your worst group was 2 inches. Gotta start thinking in terms of “that shot took out the liver” versus “I really shot the X ring out”.
  7. RELOADS AND MALFUNCTIONS HAPPEN WHEN THEY HAPPEN- With the length of the course, I guarantee you will have at least 3 to 4 reloads, maybe more. As far as malfunctions, deal with them if they come up the best way you can. Forced malfunctions with the use of squibs are an option if the students feels he needs to work on it.
  8. STRESS INDUCEMENT- To train realistically, we have to expose ourselves to the same types of stressors we will encounter on the street, while at the same time, trying to think through cognitive task. This is why I am a huge fan of Cognitive Stress Targets, as they work this area of the brain and keep it sharp. There is no substitute however for good ole’ stress replication! Things like unexpected gunfire, people yelling and screaming in panic, car horns, etc. Also working through a section of the drills with no hearing protection (using a minimum amount of live fire obviously) to show the student how disorienting live gunfire actually is and how it impedes communication and simple thought processes all the while some asshole is trying to kill you!

Stay Armed, Stay Realistic in your Training and Stay Dangerous!

Balancing Safety and Realism in Civilian Firearms Training

The following video was sent to be by a good friend who routinely trains with a former Spetsnaz member. At first glance, most people’s reactions are the same “This is CRAZY!!” but not until the end where Larry “arfcom” Vickers explains these are extremely advanced RUSSIAN FSB MILITARY Courses of Fire, meant for advanced SF MILITARY OPERATORS do things start to make some sense as to the reasoning why somebody would do a drill so risky and potentially lethal!

I had the opportunity to take a 2 day Advanced AK rifle class from a former FSB operator a few years back. I was aware of his background and “unorthodox” training methods well before I ever signed up for the class, and I was extremely excited to get to train with him. What I took away from the class was several things: (1) I need to shoot my rifle more (2) Unlike most firearms classes I had taken before, safety was not continually “harped” on; the training took priority, and because of that, I was able to assimilate much more information. This is not to say the class was unsafe in any way, quite the contrary, it was very safe, it was just that notorious “Gun-Range Safety Nazi” mentality did not exist for this guy; he was not raised around it in Russia, it was not something that was “ingrained” into him; the only thing that mattered to this guy was the training.

What I experienced at that class was what civilian firearms training should and could be. I realized in an instant that the focus and mentality of most civilian training here in the states was skewed. Safety had become the overwhelming priority to the point that a weird “sub-culture” had emerged around it, and now, instead of talking about new and better ways to train and improve our readiness as armed civilians, people were devoting entire online forums to trainers who were “unsafe”. Now let me be clear;  in no way am I trying to advocate that  the “Shoot me at close range” drill in the video above is something civilians should ever attempt or try to implement in their training regimen; NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! As stated in the video, that is a drill meant for Highly-Trained Military Operators, not civilians! What I am advocating is that we, as concerned, responsible, civilian operators, take a very hard look at how Civilian Firearms Personal Defense Training is done. Is the training really made a priority or is firearms safety too highly emphasized to the point of being “excessive/obsessive-compulsive” about every little thing, ie, “The Gun-Range Safety-Nazi-Syndrome??”

So, what happened to us? Why has this “syndrome” infected almost all gun ranges and firearms training courses in America? In a word: LIABILITY. In our overly “litigious” society, firearm trainers who operate independent facilities simply have to “CYA” in these areas; their very livelihoods and financial futures are at stake otherwise. Lawsuits, Lawyers and Umbrella Liability Insurance Policies are expensive; extended litigation in court for personal injuries or worst, a wrongful death/manslaughter suit, where a judge/jury could find the trainers actions either  “Reckless” or “Criminally Negligent” are basically a death sentence for the trainer and his company, even if he makes it out prison with his company financially soluble and intact, it is assured his reputation, in the internet age, will not be;  just check out some of those online forums I mentioned earlier.

Another reason I believe the “gun-safety nazi” craze is so prevalent is due in large part to the liberal agenda that ATTEMPTS to cast further dispersion on legal gun owners and people who train with weapons for self-defense. Oh, I can hear it now: “OMG!! Now, he is blaming the Liberals, what next, the Illuminati!?” But seriously, ask yourself, haven’t you noticed an inordinate amount of news “reports” or “special documentaries” by shows like Dateline, 20/20, Frontline, etc. on either “gun safety”, “kids and guns”, “accidents with guns by kids”, etc.? I know I am not the only one who has noticed this trend, right? The goal of course for all of this is to try to convince mainstream America that Guns are just”unsafe” and only “certain people” ie, Law Enforcement, need to have access to them. To further this point, consider President Obama’s current nominee for Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, a rabid anti-gun activist and promoter of the “Orwellian” ideal of combining “healthcare and gun control”. Consider for a moment how that dovetails in nicely with “obamacare” and you get the picture. This is the  man the government wants to put in charge of the entire nation’s “Health and Safety”. Laughable.


Former Season 3 Top-Shot Champion, Dustin Ellerman , who owns and operates Camp His Way, which offer Marksmanship Classes for both adults and youth (see the Review of the Youth Marksmanship Class HERE) had this to say about the over-emphasis on Firearms Safety:

“Sometimes we get so carried away because of liability and the anti-gun homophobic crowd we can go overboard on safety.  This of course is magnified online and self-appointed “safety-nazis” who will flame a shooter if they see them shooting without ear protection even if it’s a suppressed firearm!”


Paul Howe, former Army Delta Force Operator and owner/operator of CSAT, gave us his take from a trainers perspective:

“Many instructors end up screaming at students for safety violations that students are unaware of.  This is counter productive to training.  Remember, students are new to your system and way of doing things.  Some are new students that do not know, some are older students that learned a certain way of doing things and have “training scars” to undo.  Instructors should build a stair-stepped training sequence that builds and ingrains a safe way of doing things.  In short, you have to show the students what you want them to do and how you want them to do it and then they need to practice it to ingrain it so they create a good habit during your training program.  Good instructors take the time to ensure this training sequence is in place.
Further, a quiet voice when talking to a student will go a long way to building a positive learning experience.  Also, having patience and taking the time to show them how to do it correctly once again goes a long way in building a solid and lasting relationship”.  

So after experiencing that rifle class, I knew that in addition to doing away with the “safety nazi’s”, the civilian self-defense firearm training paradigm needed to be overhauled if the CO wanted to train realistically and have a real shot at being adequately prepared. After some reflection, I came up with this to guide me.

1. Abandon the Square-Range: Literally if possible, Mentally if NOT possible

We live in a 360 degree world, where threats can come from any direction. In drills, a Square -Range cannot address that. Of course for some, this may be impossible due to not having access to a place to drill live-fire 360 degrees. That is why I added the caveat of abandoning the square range MENTALLY and then implementing live-fire later. Since repetition creates habits (good or bad), most of these drills can be done with dry fire, your goal being to flush those bad habits that the square range has bred.  I will be doing a series of installments on how you can do that incrementally in your training.

2.  Abandon the “Competition” Mentality

This goes along with flushing all the bad habits associated with the square range. Combat Shooting and Competition Shooting are not the same animal.  IDPA and IPSC used timed drills to induce stress to simulate the stress of combat shooting. What was born out of this, was a generation of shooters who placed more emphasis on marksmanship (“tight groups” and “shooting the x ring out”) rather than Combat Accuracy, that is to say, shooting to live and going home rather than points on a scoreboard to boost our ego’s. Bottom line: any hit on the attacker’s boiler-room (chest) or Hard Drive (head) is good for you, bad for them!

Two other “ill” side-effects of the “Competition Mentality” are first, allowing the course of fire to dictate the speed in which you move, regardless of the specific tactical situation and second, always firing a specific number of rounds instead of what the bad guy (or situation) dictates you fire to neutralize them.

Here is what Paul Howe said in his article “Avoiding Fantasy Gunfight Training”:

“Who dictates the speed of a fight? The bad guy and how fast he falls does. It might be a fast or slow process (the bad guy dying), but one should get in the habit of solving one problem at a time before moving on to multiple threats. You can shoot two rounds on paper or ping a piece of steel and move on to the next target, but in reality, two rounds punching paper or the sound of steel being struck may not solve your problem.”


3.  Coordinate Timed Drills with Cognitive Stress Drills to both Induce Stress and reinforce                           Discretionary Shooting

We saw an example of this in the second drill in the FSB Vid above. When me make the shooter engage the cognitive part of his brain while addressing threats we make him reinforce Discretionary Shooting. The civilian has to remember that in our overly eager “lawsuit happy” litigious society, that for every bullet he fires in self-defense, there will be a lawyer and a lawsuit attached to each one! So, as the LE/Military Operator has to make sure he can control the trajectory of each round he fires to avoid collateral damage, so must the civilian operator be certain that every round he fires is as responsible as possible.

One of the best Cognitive Targets is the multi-colored/shaped and numbered paper targets from LE Targets. We saw something very similar in the video, where a certain number/color/shape had to be shot while at the same time  negotiating various “stressors” (people yelling/pushing him). To be realistic as possible, the CO should use both Environmental and Physiological stressors.  Environmental Stressors would include things such as random gunfire, people yelling and screaming, car horns, etc. Physiological Stressors would include your own body’s reaction to stress, such as: increased heart-rate, sweaty palms, sweat in your eyes, tunnel vision, loss of fine motor skill, slowing down of time, etc. Prior intense exercise combined with timed evolutions and a continuous flow of movement will produce some of these effects.

 4. Movement = Life

Gunfights do not happen in a vacuum; they are dynamic and fluid and a majority of the time, over in under a minute. Despite what you see from Hollywood, when bullets start flying, people start moving, very quickly and to cover if possible. If our training is to be realistic, we must place a higher priority on displacement (ie Getting off the X) and moving toward cover than being able to shoot precisely 100% of the time. I remember a certain instructor once asking me if it was more important to “shoot the enemy” or “not get shot”; being young and full of piss and vinegar, I answered it was more important to be able to kill the enemy, thinking the alternative answer would make me sound like a coward. I was wrong. “If you get shot, your combat efficiency goes to ZERO, you are of no use.” To fully understand this concept, consider the OODA loop; when we move, even if it just a simple lateral sidestep, we reset our opponents OODA loop, he now has to REACT to you versus ACT on you, which puts you seconds ahead of the eight ball in the fight, and seconds count!

5. Fitness and the “Combative Continuum”

The age-old false belief that having a gun solves all your problems needs to be dismissed. It has encouraged laziness and lethargy in the area of CO fitness for some time. Being that most civilian shootings are well under 10 feet, having a set of combative strikes in your toolbox to gain both distance and time from your attacker is mandatory. You also have to understand that not all encounters will call for lethal force. The student must have the mentality of “One Mind, Any Weapon” and believe that no matter what they have in their hand; stick, knife, gun or even bare-fisted, they can still fight and inflict damage (even lethal), if need be. By the same token, if the CO is out of breath 15 seconds into the fight, or has zero upper body strength, everything we just talked about is a moot point. Now before you get discouraged because of age or disability, I am not talking about a “Rambo” Fitness routine, just a basic set of cardio and resistance/strength training that is tailored around handling the effects of stress during a fight. Combative sparring combined with Force-on-Force drills with training weapons is a great way to begin.

6.  The “Sight Continuum” Concept

Simply put, the Sight Continuum poses the question to the student: “When do you have to use your sights?” The KISS answer: “When you need too.” Understanding that the need for accuracy varies in combat shooting, unlike Competition shooting, where a majority of people have learned basic marksmanship (ie, The Modern Technique). Understanding that in Combat Shooting, Distance and Need for Precision are going to be the two biggest factors in having to use your sights. If a bad guy is 6 feet from you and closing with quickly, the need for sighted fire is a moot point, (unless of course he has a hostage and you can only take a head shot, in which case, a fast precision shot comes into play) otherwise, a “metal-on-meat” sight picture (the frame of the gun super-imposed on the attackers center of mass) would allow a much faster response.  The bottom line is that both sighted fire and point shooting have a role in the CO’s training, it is just a matter of understanding that no two combat situations are going to be alike (ie the continuum concept) and we must have both methods in our arsenal to call on equally to be adequately prepared.

This lapel-cam video of a December 13th shooting involving the Albuquerque Police Department involving an attempted officer assault by a hammer wielding maniac shows the speed, distance and sight picture of your average handgun engagement. Note the sight picture that the officer has when he begins firing, around 1:00; although the gun sights are visible, it appears the officer is using more of a “metal-on-meat” sight picture (the super-imposed image of the handgun frame on the attackers center of mass). Could this be because of the effects of stress the officer’s focus was not on the “front sight” but the guy charging his partner with a hammer? The distance (under 6 ft) did not demand a lot of accuracy, but the speed and veracity of the bad guys attack did demand getting rounds on target ASAP; thus the merit’s of point shooting in the CO’s toolbox.

In order to stay prepared, the CO’s  training HAS to reflect STREET reality, not Hollywood Fantasy!

Stay Armed, Stay Real and Stay Dangerous!

Beating The “Knockout Game”

As society continues to crumble  and random violence begins to be the norm, the CO must up his game in being prepared to meet that threat head-on. The most recent brand of this random type of street violence is the “Knockout” Game”. A “Game” which to date has killed 7 people.

I do not intend to waste your time in useless rhetoric opining on all the socio-economic/racial theories out there of WHY these stupid kids are doing this stuff. Frankly, I could care less in a criminals reasoning for why he does what he does; All I care about is me and my family’s safety, period.

Hopefully the following review will help you bring you and your family home safely too!

1. Awareness

Just simply being aware of what is going on around you is simple, pure logic, and in most cases, helps the CO avoid any hassles. ACTION on our part will always trump us having to REACT to our attacker. When we can put a hitch in our attackers OODA loop, (making them REACT versus the CO having to REACT) we stand a better chance of coming up on top. But the Knockout Game presents somewhat of a quandary in that dept. These idiots primary MO is come up to you on your blind side and deliver a knockout sucker punch. So how do you stay aware in a situation like that? Do you grow a pair of eyes in the back of your head? Do you walk around backwards?? Do you develop your “Inner-Ninja”?? I say that not to just get a cheap laugh out of you, but to raise an important “sidebar” point ” you need to be aware of. There are those in the self-defense training community that like to take very simple subjects (like Awareness) and make them overly complicated. Their reason for doing this is very simple: Money. The more in-depth they MAKE YOU THINK a subject is, the more classes, books and DVD’s you are going to buy. The problem with this besides it being terribly unethical is that most of the time they are teaching you a LOAD OF CRAP that is not realistic, not street-proven and has no true value as far as self-defense goes.

Let me be blunt and make this easy for you: You cannot maintain 360 degree awareness 100% of the time. No matter how much you keep your “head on a swivel”, no matter what kind of “reactionary gap” you SAY you give people, no matter how well your senses have been tuned and no matter how much “martial arts” training you have. We live in a society where we are in close proximity to people, it is that simple. I have seen people who say “When in public, I don’t let anybody get within 21 feet of me”, yet let them go to the grocery store and within 45 seconds I can prove them a liar. Being in “Condition Yellow” all the time is a state of mind guys, it is not a some LAW written in stone. Letting people get close to me does not put me in danger UNLESS I am unaware of what is going on with the particular situation. For example: What is their behavior like? What is in their hands? Where are their hands? How many of them are they?All of these factors will let you know if you need to put more distance between you and them.

To answer the primary question about how to stay aware of what is behind you and to avoid getting sucker punched, the best case scenario answer is to keep your head on a 360 degree swivel , which we know we cannot do 100% of the time, and try to address the threat before it has the chance to strike (Action trumps Reaction). Of course, that is BEST CASE scenario and in all probability will not happen that way. Your most logical course of action is to train yourself to REACT in such a way to avoid getting knocked out and at the same time neutralize the threat.


2. Reaction

There are numerous “positions” or “guards” combatives trainers have out there to teach people how to avoid getting knocked-out on the street; there is an extensive illustrated list of them on Lee Morrsion’s excellent resource site Urban Combatives. In my experience and training, I have found the best “guard” in a situation where you are being attacked from the rear (6 o’ clock) by an unknown number of assailants is a variation of the “Crazy Monkey”. I call it a “variation” because I combine it with my standard “Default” Guard position (Southnarc’s version); however, in drilling with the SN Default in full-on sparring, I found that when attacked from the rear, blind, by more than 1 assailant, the default left some holes, namely blocking angular punches and flowing with the dynamic movement of a street fight. The “Crazy Monkey” addresses those issues, while the variation I use helps to get a solid presentation of a weapon (knife or gun) into the fight. Understand that your intentions must not be to just keep from getting knocked out, but also to neutralize the threat attacking you!

The decision whether or not to introduce lethal force into this type of scenario is up to you; there are those who seem to think that this kind of “prank” does not warrant that extreme kind of reaction since these are just “kids” and “pranks”. I wholeheartedly disagree with that opinion for 2 main reasons:

  1. Seven People have been killed thus-far in these so-called “Kids Game”. Read that story HERE.
  2. The attackers are typically in a group from three to ten teenage males.

Training to introduce lethal force into any situation MUST always be precipitated by the CO understanding the Law in their respective states in regards to Self-Defense. In this particular scenario, TX Penal Code Sec 9.32 applies.

(B) To prevent the other’s imminent commission of aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery or aggravated robbery.

Combine all of this with the lethal history of these types of attacks, the Disparity of Force (more than 1 attacker typically) and the CO typically feeling in “FEAR FOR THEIR LIVES” and the justification for applying LETHAL Force is very high.


3. The Fight

So getting back to the subject at hand. You have been attacked, you have covered up to the best of your ability with a default guard and are still on your feet. You are a tad dazed, confused and probably a little pissed off. What happens in the next 3-4 seconds is crucial and not something I can put in a bullet point presentation for you!!

In the time that your mind is processing all the pertinent data, such as: Where did the blow come from? How many attackers are there? Am I wounded? You will need to create distance between you and the attackers. The reason for this is simple: Firstly, it will be harder to strike you, Secondly, if you plan on introducing a weapon into this fight, you will need some distance between you to do that. The closer the attacker is to you, the more likely he can foul your draw and/or grab the weapon. If that happens then you might find yourself in the worst case scenario: Fighting with the attacker over your OWN weapon! In CQ fights, retention of your weapon takes priority, because once the attacker knows you have a weapon, now he goes into self-preservation mode too! So we need to be prepared to “Create that Distance” by however we can: punches, kicks, elbows, knees, head-butts, eye-gouges, nut kicks, etc.

To address the issue of multiple attackers, it has been my experience both from the field and multiple CCTV & Dash-Cam videos of attacks, that once the first attacker is put down, the rest will scatter like frightened deer. Of course, vigilance demands that you cannot count on that, so the CO must prepare for the worst case scenario, which would be engaging multiple targets in succession. It is also a possibility that once the “knockout” is unsuccessful, the attackers will lose heart and flee. Again, you can never count on that, so always prepare for the worst.

In conclusion, the CO needs to ensure that padded Force-on-Force scenarios are part of his routine. Make sure and cover all the possibilities:

  • Multiple Attackers
  • Going to ground
  • Fouled draws
  • Weapon grabs
  • Fighting from the “clinch”
  • Drawing weapons from various positions

Spend a lot of time working on your Default Guard..remember this is what is going to keep you on your feet so you can fight. Think of the guard as your automatic “flinch response”; whenever attacked you go to your guard. This will take alot of practice,  so drill that way as often as possible! Find what guard works best for you and then tailor and dovetail that  into your weapon presentation.

Work on various positions to draw your weapons from, and don’t just fixate on one position either, for instance;  drawing a folding knife from your pocket, drawing a small pistol from a pocket holster, drawing a fixed blade from horizontal 12 o’clock or 6 o’clock concealed, drawing a handgun from AIWB or strong-side concealed. All of these positions are going to demand you fine tune your mechanics so they flow seamlessly. Remember, “Slow is smooth and smooth is Fast” in weapon presentation, so as you drill, eliminate any Un-needed movements or “hitches”.

Lastly, Fights are never STATIC; people tend to move to avoid getting hit and/or hurt. Be prepared to have quick feet, shoot on the move and drive through your opponent like a sledgehammer!

Hope for the Best, Train for the worst and Stay Dangerous!