Gunslinger Research, images Courtesy of Craig E. & K. Himmelman Photography
There is a saying in combat sports: there is no substitute for mat time. The same holds true for the skills that translate to gun fighting. There is simply no substitute for trigger time and experience. Physical fitness will improve combat performance but it does not dictate combat performance, range time will hone weapon manipulation and accuracy but it does not prepare you for a target that shoots back. Survival and medical training will grant you core skills, but will not induce an adrenaline response to hone your mind and adaptability to gross motor skills. Training is important, and simulating combat and the human body’s response to combat is the ultimate goal of training.
During military training, you will crawl before you can walk. You will walk, before you run, and you will eventually add additional tasks to the mix such as coordination with your team mates, communication, cadence of fire and so on. The military will then create field exercises which test all of these skills in combination, known generally as a confirmation exercise. Unfortunately, unless you are actively serving in a combat role you will not receive as many field exercises as you would perhaps like. Special Operations, ERT and other elite units train endlessly, rehearsing communication, shooting, physical fitness and arousal control. There is much to be learned from this approach, and even if your career grants you these sort of training opportunities, training is never ending endeavour and we can all benefit from additional training outside of our careers.
For those of us who are not part of the aforementioned communities, retired, or even the responsible citizen, it is necessary to seek training which grants us opportunities to experience the stress that the chaos of combat brings. To this end, unless you have won the lottery and known several friends or co-workers who have done the same the chances of you assembling your own confirmation exercises are…pretty close to zero.
Generally speaking when out of uniform there are three common avenues to receive “two-way range” experience: virtual simulation, Simunition®, and tactical sports such as Airsoft.
You must train hard with a given weapon system. It must by necessity become an extension of your body, but that cardboard target does not shoot back. You cannot engage a cardboard target in a battle of wits, you cannot snake a corner or force a transition. A target does not respond to cadence of fire. This training reality birthed Simunition® technology. However, this type of training is extremely expensive, and is thus a rarity even for those in uniform. However, opportunities to train with Simunition® or blanks do exist within specific courses when out of uniform or for those who do not wear a uniform but are seeking experience to become a more responsible firearms owner. These courses are expensive but you get what you pay for, and the lessons learned will translate very well to the real world largely due to the fact that you are training with the actual weapon system not a poor facsimile.
Virtual Simulation technology has been getting plenty of positive press lately. Essentially the individual training stands in front of a projection screen (think the original game Duck Hunt but on steroids) and is exposed to an environment that is responsive and designed to produce distinct arousal responses. Virtual Simulation is both cost effective and diverse providing a wealth of scenarios to test your skills. While the weapons system used are not 100% accurate to their real counterparts this is a reflection of the reality that recoil and other elements are harder to simulate. Regardless of this flaw, arguments could be made that virtual simulation is a close second to Simunition®. Perhaps the most obvious benefit of Virtual Simulation is the ability to conduct training at any time, and without the necessity of additional personnel, however this benefit is overshadowed by the lack of accessibility to the required equipment at this time.
The tactical community is always looking for new and more cost-effective ways to train, which in turn leads us to the million-dollar question nobody wants to hear: what about Airsoft? With the growing popularity of the sport, we will assume that everyone is familiar with Airsoft. Replica weapons fire 6mm BB projectiles, you don eye protection (and hopefully face protection unless you don’t like your teeth) and attempt to eliminate the enemy force or complete an objective. Military Simulation Events (MilSim) are longer duration events that feature a main objective or backstory. In fact, many events such as Operation Lion Claws in the United States run with established chains of command, pyrotechnic immersion, vehicles and so on. These events have more in common with a military field exercise than many of us in the tactical community are aware.
When viewing airsoft as a training medium it is necessary to select a platform similar to what you carry at work, or for competition. While, basic gear is required, most of your duty gear can be used, as the majority of airsoft equipment is made dimensionally accurate. Consider the kit you require, and tailor it based on the type of event you decide to attend. For an 8-hour event, guns, clothing, basic LBE, radio, and a small pack for some food and water is all that is required. Obviously if you are seeking to proof test gear or a given system, you will need more or less equipment as required relative to the event.
The bottom line here is that we can all benefit from two-way range training. Which style you choose will be largely dependent on personal taste and accessibility. There are other options we did not discuss such as Paintball and competitive martial arts and other avenues that test your skills against a living, breathing opponent. We must train to cope with an opponent that responds to our actions, failure to do so will negate your training. Above all remember: your ability to respond will be cut in half during times of high stress, so train hard.
Craig E is a 6 year veteran of the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada. A firearms enthusiast, avid airsofter, weight lifter and father of two, Craig is currently transitioning from a military career to law enforcement. You can check out his fantastic Instagram at Echozerofiveseven.