Saturday, January 09, 2010

Drills, Free Play and Scenarios

David T asked about scenario training. I want to expand on the answer here.

First a caveat- this isn't encyclopedic. There are lots of ways to train: from the kihon-kata-kumite paradigm; basics versus fundamentals; technique-based or principles-based. Levels of resistance. Different types of randori. Attributes training. What I'm writing about here are things that can be build-ups to scenario training.

For me, a scenario involves roleplaying a specific scene- actors, props- trying to make things as real as possible. Somewhere in the middle there is practice for problem solving and free play.

One way to envision the difference is to start with a problem. For an example, you are pinned up against a wall. The threat has his left forearm across your chest, gripping your left collar in his left hand. He has a knife in his right hand against your throat.

For Drill training the instructor tells you exactly what to do and you practice it. Ideally it is a short, scripted and damned efficient set of motions that solve the problem. Even here there are elements of scenario training. One of the biggest, something that is always critical but more obvious in a scenario and often lost in other levels is to fight to the goal.
What the instructor drills will be heavily influenced by his or her own trainings and beliefs. Ergo, if the goal is to escape, the response practiced may be very different than if the goal is to neutralize the threat. It will get even messier if the instructor confuses strategic goals (escape or neutralize) with tactical goals (control the weapon).
Anyway, drills are set and scripted. They can be invaluable for instilling quick responses to specific situations. Properly evaluated, they can give quick and accurate insights on efficiency at all levels (are the goals realistic? Do the body mechanics actually work? Are the motions enhancing or inhibiting each other?*) It's especially important to practice drills at variable levels of resistance or with strangers. Often students have been subtly programmed to help things along that simply don't work on other people.

Somewhere in the middle between drilling and scenario is free play- put the student in the same situation and it is the student's responsibility to figure a way out of it. This is interesting because a lot of factors come into play here. This is where the student gets the first taste, often, of applying principles instead of techniques. This is where they learn to adapt things to fit their own size, strength and temperament.
One of the big glitches comes up here as well: you see the students eyes dart as they try to remember what they are "supposed" to do. The best thing, IMO, an instructor to do is 1) to give the student permission to be sloppy and 2) put a very short time limit so that the student doesn't have time to remember. Or even think.
It's easy to train a student to do something faster than thought. It's much harder and infinitely more valuable to teach a student to improvise faster than conscious thought. And that is really what surviving in a dangerous encounter is all about.
If you ever, as an instructor, catch yourself telling a student they did something incorrectly that worked, give your ego a double-check.
Freeplay can be expanded a lot. Sometimes subtle differences in the situation require more reliance on principles and lest on rote technique. Giving permission to deal with the situation at a different point in time, early, can give the student a chance to deal with force dynamics rather than static position- another critical skill that both makes things harder (more complicated) and much, much easier (the more variables you can exploit the more you can accomplish with less effort.)

Then the scenario. Good scenario training requires props and roleplayers. Further, the roleplayers must know how people (both real threats and real bystanders) act under stress. They have to give realistic feeds and precursors to the student and respond realistically to what the student does.
  • If the roleplayers don't act like real threats, the student gains little valuable from scenario training. They don't learn how to spot a potential threat or do a threat assessment or scale force.
  • If the facilitator is constantly trying to 'trick' the student by not having the bad guys act realistically or setting up ambushes from people deliberately scripted to appear 'safe' it can create either a learned helplessness** in the student or a student who over-reacts to everything. It decreases the student's potential for survival.
  • If the roleplayers don't respond realistically, if they stay on their script despite what the student does, the student misses polishing other skills, like defusing and avoidance. It goes back quickly to learned helplessness.
Like a lot of things, bad scenario training can be more damaging than no scenario training at all. Good scenario training allows a student to develop as not just a fighter, but a tactician, a strategist, a diagnostician of violence, an observer... It also forces the student to practice in tandem with laws on force and realities of legal violence.

Scenario- You're watching a pool game in a bar. Several people including the players are walking between you and the table, so they get quite close. Some are talking among themselves. A group of three men and a woman were giving you flack about looking at the woman earlier in the evening. The bouncer quieted the situation down.
So you have obstacles (pool table, bar stools) weapons and potential weapons (cue sticks, pool balls, beer steins and potentially concealed knives and guns), distractions (extraneous people, music, lights) witnesses and legal and ethical issues. The instructor has already given one of the people involved (who has a motive, it does no good to try to get the student to expect to be blindsided, the goal is to raise student awareness so successful ambushes become less likely) a practice knife with instructions to try to get the student pinned against the wall as in the drill.

The student gets to practice seeing things coming. Winnowing important information from a mass of detail. Identifying attack pre-cursors.

The instructor will go over it later:

Instructor: Why did you stay on the wall?
Student: Because you told me... oh. That was stupid.
Instructor: When did you know it was going to go bad?
Student: When those three people were arguing earlier.
Instructor: So why did you stay?
.... On and on. Were you fighting to win or fighting to leave? Was the one who attacked working solo or with the other two? How many people in the scenario were armed? Why did you (or not)*** use an improvised weapon?

The student has an opportunity to handle it strategically e.g. by leaving; socially e.g. by talking threats down or calling on allies; tactically with or without force e.g. by accessing a superior position and weapon; fighting the initial energy; spiking the pre-assault;....
And maybe that's one of the reasons that scenario training is hard. Maybe most instructors aren't ready to coach a multi-leveled reality.

*Sometimes footwork and handwork complement each other; sometimes they detract. That's why it is hard, but not impossible, to hit hard while retreating- the feet are subtracting power from the arms. Sometimes people are trained to evade with the body while trying to shock with the hands- you have to be careful that the hands aren't slowing the evasion and the evasion isn't weakening the strike...
** You can train a student, a child or even a lab rat to be helpless. By putting them not in no-win scenarios, but in scenarios where winning and losing are arbitrary, decided by an outside factor, you create a personality type that becomes progressively fatalistic and quits trying.
***Another thing- a lot of stuff that the student will do isn't right or wrong. Bad debriefers try to tell the student what he did wrong. Good debriefers get the student to examine his own reasoning and especially his or her subconscious reactions.


jks9199 said...

Good scenario training or force-on-force training is vanishingly rare, it often seems. Too often, trainers get stuck in a win/lose mindset and use the advantage of controlling the game to make it unwinnable or to kill all the trainees... Nobody really wants to learn how to conduct this sort of training. (I only claim an inkling... I'd love to get sent to some of the train-the-trainer programs.)

In martial arts training halls, it gets even worse. They tend to start with unrealistic attacks or scenarios in the first place, and then encourage movie/fantasy responses.

Ann T. said...

Dear Rory,
Another post that applies to so much.
Sincerely yours,
Ann T.

jks9199 said...

"If you ever, as an instructor, catch yourself telling a student they did something incorrectly that worked, give your ego a double-check."

Question: Student does do something that works... but violated key safety principles or key principles and it only worked either by dumb luck or unrealistic surprise (partner expecting one sort of movement, and just dumbfounded when student did something completely off the wall... like kissed him full on the lips). How do you handle that?

I know I've often used variants of "Well... that worked, but let's figure out what else might have been done..." Any other ideas?

Kai Jones said...

jks9199: I suppose how you respond depends on the goal. If you're teaching people to survive real-world assaults, anything that works, WORKS. You might discuss the safety concerns for practice sessions but only after praising the technique that worked. If you're teaching people to play a sport that has no real-world applications, then you'd focus on the inappropriateness of the technique.

Rory said...

Jim- Check your ego just means check your ego. If a student successfully completes a scenario by going off the reservation, lots of instructor's first reaction is emotional: because they never thought of it, many instructors have an instinct to find something wrong.

So, you get a twinge, check your ego. If the solution was good but something you never thought of, the twinge is all ego and the kid should get some praise. If the twinge is because the student ignored a training rule, it might be because the rule was tactically stupid (at PLDC they discounted one of my scenarios because instead of doing a frontal assault on the MG nest, which was what they were evaluating, I circled and came through the abandoned structures behind them) and put in for the ease of the instructor. If so, ego-- and you take another look at your rules to make sure they aren't too arbitrary or subconsciously pushing the student into a mold you have chose. If, OTOH, it was a safety rule or something that could get the rookie killed or sued, then it's not ego. And sometimes the rookie does something so breath-takingly stupid that it works because everyone is shocked. Recognizing that isn't ego either.

But, if there's no time pressure, always take a second to double-check yourself when you have a "That was wrong!" reaction to something that worked.

jks9199 said...

Thanks, Rory; that's a good test: Is it wrong because I didn't think of it or it ruined my plan -- or is it wrong because it's unsafe or dangerous?

Kai, I do both. I teach a martial arts class (with an eye towards reality, but recognizing that many of my students are never going to approach the real deal) -- but I'm also a LE trainer. My approach depends on who I'm training... and why.

Kai Jones said...

jks9199: Makes perfect sense. When training LEOs you have an external rule set dictated by the law enforcement agency--it's probably mostly political and it doesn't have to make sense, you just have to follow it (and hope to train your students to survive by accident, or by secretly injecting the stuff that will help them survive). Martial artists who have as part of the goals the survival of real world violence have to balance their desire to learn that skill with any desire they have to just play, or to compete (which may have its own rules).