This came up in an e-mail exchange, and I wanted to expand here.
Most stuff in real life can be avoided or de-escalated. If you have been around 100 people today, there was at least one situation you could have escalated. Odds are you don't even remember it because we are all constantly adapting to and manipulating the people around us.
Violence isn't a normal distribution (Bell curve). It's a hockey stick distribution. There is a lot of low level stuff and a very small quantity of very high intensity stuff. That stuff is rare and high-stakes.
One of the important things in scenario training is to not make the exceptional ordinary. I don't means in terms of just quantity. There should be more high-end things than happen in real life... but you should avoid avoidable/preventable scenarios where the role players act exceptional. That creates bad training artifacts on multiple levels. In other words, if you (because of role player ego or facilitator decision to get a specific result) don't let the student disengage or de-escalate, when it would work in a real encounter, the student is conditioned not to try things that work. And pushes them towards strategies with risks.
Going hands-on is never a guaranteed approach. There is always a chance it will go bad. If the guy has weapons or friends, then bad is relative, but almost certain. It won't end well. The only scenario that has no chance of injury and death is a scenario where no one gets touched. No matter how good you are there is the chance, maybe a miniscule one, that this will go to a bad place.
In that hockey stick distribution (I'm pulling numbers out of my ass here) 90% of things in the world can be avoided or de-escalated. Another five percent can be handled with a shove and a shout. 3% you
must and can fight out of. But there will always be 2% where you HAVE NO HOPE. Wrap your brain around that, because it is a big, bitter pill for martial artists to swallow. There is stuff that can crush you like a bug on a windshield. Steve likes to talk about the Chinese army coming over the hill or the shotgun at twenty feet or the sniper. But it doesn't have to be that. Any waiter who has ever handed you a steak knife in a nice restaurant could have had you. There are a very small percentage of criminals who will kill you after you give them your wallet (and the reason the percentage is so small is social and logical. Maybe I'll write about that later.) and they will do so after putting you at your ease that you played it right. There are no win scenarios.
So, training corollary #1: If you give them hopeless scenarios, they learn to give up. It's called 'learned helplessness' and you may have seen it in bad bosses. The ones who talk about initiative all the time but punish any they actually see. The ones who must find something wrong or don't feel they are doing their job. And you will see it in a lot of sensei. If you will get punished no matter what you do, your hind brain learns that doing nothing is the safest solution. Bad. This training method conditions people to freeze.
_Talk_ about the no-win scenario, by all means. Explain it. It's a great place to talk about glitches and values and one of places where I advocate changing the definition of a win (from survive and escape to 'leave enough forensic evidence this guy will not get away with this) But don't TRAIN no win scenarios. Don't practice losing. It's not something you want to get good at.
Training corollary #2. Remember hands on is always dangerous? It can always go bad. The five-year-old with the knife can get lucky and stab you... or you could both die or...
So fighting has to happen when not fighting would be worse. This is a game of odds and reading the situation. If you skew the odds in training your students will go into the world with a warped sense of what the odds are. If you teach them that the wrong things work OR teach them that the right things fail, you are sending them into the world more confidant and less capable then when you got them.
Scenario training ingrains conditioning hard and deep. Unrealistic scenarios are unforgivable.
Go back to basics. IScenario training is not about the scenarios. It's not about style or system or even self-defense. It's about the student. Take a look at each individual. What does he/she need?
The big tough guys? Test their judgment. Do they know when it is safe to intervene as a third party or when it might make things worse? Can they choose when and how to intervene at the lowest level? Or do egos get involved and they try to win?
The little guy who is a great martial artist but has some insecurities? Put him in a fist fight. (I have a scenario I stole from LawDog that sets that up really well)
The student who is much better than she believes herself to be? Throw her into the sudden stranger attack or waking up to a knife wielding intruder. Let her see what she can do.
Scenarios are a tool and a great way to cap and integrate previous training. But don't fall in love with them and don't do scenarios just to do them. First question for almost everything in life is: "What is the goal here?"
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