Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Big Scenario Training Post

This should probably be a book, honestly. Maybe an e-book. I'll keep you posted.

Scenarios are an attempt at what Tony Blauer calls the constant search for the best fake stuff out there. All training is fake. If you are learning to send people to the hospital and people don't GO to the hospital, every rep of skill is combined with a rep of a bad safety habit. That's just the way it is.

At the most primitive level, scenario training involves bad guys in armor and a cluttered/realistic environment. The armor lets the student unload. The environment either lets the student be creative or points out that they aren't creative and their brain is stuck. But that's primitive, because it still deals with the problem as if it were one of physical skills.

So here are some points:

1) Scenario training always has a purpose. This is an explicit purpose, and one chosen in advance. To face a common or deep fear. To force a student to keep fighting. To help them see a developing situation. To test their legal judgment or tactical awareness. To find the little part that still thinks this fighting like a comic book-- that little part will get them killed.

2) The best purposes are tailored to the student. If I know you can fight, I will test whether you can tell when to fight. Whether you have the capacity to run when it is prudent. Whether you realize that crashing out of a ring of threats to escape is a qualitatively different skill than defeating a threat. If you have given me a clue that you have doubts about your ability to injure, I will put you in a scenario where you have to unload...and I will describe, probably graphically, what you strikes would have done had I not been wearing armor.

3) It takes good role-players. Through a mask, the role-players must be able to show the difference between an inexperienced and hyper-adrenalized mugger and an old con who has done a hundred robberies. The students should be able to glance at you (in full armor) and get a vibe that you are young or old, male or female or whatever you need to project.

4) The role-players have to be sensitive as well. Not in the "I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings" sense. Screw that. Part of being a bad guy is taking delight in hurting people at their most emotionally vulnerable points. By sensitivity I mean something that's a little hard to explain without an example. Sunday, one of the students, Robert, just kept moving while I was trying to incite a riot. I could tell by my own feelings that there wasn't enough of a hook there for a bad guy to work himself into the right kind of frenzy. If I had been insensitive I might have escalated it where a real threat wouldn't, and inadvertently punished Robert for a good tactic. That's bad training. Good tactics should be rewarded.

5) You have to guard against 'weirdness creep'. There are a handful of things that are likely to happen. I keep a list of 25 good scenarios with me. For the students, these are cool and new. I've done each of them dozens of times. Role players get bored. So what do role players do? They have to fight the tendency to make the situations more 'interesting' read: weird. If I didn't guard against this, we'd have scenarios with trained ocelots and laser-guided sharks.

6) The debriefing after each scenario is a special skill. The student should do most of the talking, not the instructor (DO NOT use a group of students to show off your own tactical intelligence. Primarily, because it is useless for the student. Secondarily, because no matter how many times you have trained the scenario, when the shit hits the fan for real, you might do no better than anyone else. Accept it. Grow up.) Thanks to Peter Breton, who sent an awesome e-mail about his own scenario, I'll be looking at these from both a tactical (including legal) and a strategic level, something I've usually glossed over in the past.

7) Don't do too many scenarios. Like the first black belt test, only the first scenario really shows you what the adrenaline will do. If you put someone through four or five, the last few are run like a game. The novelty wears off. A peer jury helps a lot. Having friends who you have to convince that you did the right thing puts some social pressure (and the attendant neurohormone cascade) on the student. But it still turns into a game. My ideal rhythm is one scenario in the morning probing for weaknesses and a scenario targeted at those weaknesses in the afternoon.

8) Knowing it is a scenario makes people do unnatural things. Confronted by a Monkey Dancer in a bar, leaving is sensible. People leave in a scenario who don't leave in real life (and people step in who wouldn't in real life). That is stuff for the debrief.

Above all, be safe and learn stuff.


Maija said...

I never realized the complexities and subtleties involved in crafting good scenarios until experiencing and watching them first hand here at the Oakland seminar.

Scenarios done right seem like powerful training tools that shake up alot of stuff in truly 'teachable moments' - At least that was my experience.

Looking forward to seeing if the inhibitions, gaps, freezes and access to skills change next time around!
... Also intrigued by the idea of practicing being an authentic role-player ....

And yes ... it should probably be a book.

Tiff said...

I second the motion for a book.

Jonny said...

I've been reading this blog since buying 'Meditations on Violence' a few months ago and have learned so much. Yes, a book on scenario training would be great, even that short blog post helped a lot. Also, looking forward to 7!

Apologies for all the questions on my e-mail Rory!

Asaraludu said...

Whether book or blog post, I'd be interested in more information on even a few of your "25 scenarios".

Anonymous said...


I've long said, and practiced, that scenario training's biggest teaching premise is judgment. What form that judgment illicites may vary (do I fight or talk down? Lethal force or not? When can I pull the trigger on physical violence? Run away? Etc) but the overriding factor, to me, is judgment. You have to respond to what happens, not really knowing what's going to happen. This obviously brings OODA into it, but at a much deeper level that skill development training. If we spar, my only variables are the physical techniques in play. I don't wonder - CAN I attack him? If so, when? And how much? Do I have to justify myself? To I have to worry about other threats?

Judgment is the key, at least in my bullshit opinion.

And I've done the ocelot scenario. I'm only mostly joking. :D


jks9199 said...

Trained ocelots? Really... I mean, I could have bought trained otters, or trained leopards... but ocelots?

In all seriousness -- some great points. I'd add one factor, or maybe emphasize is a better word. Scenarios aren't about proving how you can create a situation that the students can't beat. That's easy to do; you're stacking the deck and setting the rules. And if you put a student in what amounts to a no-win scenario, you get no-win responses...

By the way... there is a book. Actually, a couple, for those interested. Look for Training at the Speed of Life by Ken Murray. That's not to say Rory has nothing worthwhile to add or that his ideas on the topic aren't worthy... but they're there as a reference.

Tiff said...

"By the way... there is a book. Actually, a couple, for those interested. Look for Training at the Speed of Life by Ken Murray. That's not to say Rory has nothing worthwhile to add or that his ideas on the topic aren't worthy... but they're there as a reference."

The gauntlet is thrown!

jks9199 said...

Somehow, I suspect Rory is more than passing familiar with Ken Murray's work. Like I said, I'm quite confident Rory has lots to add. But Murray is a good starting point, too.

Anonymous said...

"I've been reading this blog since buying 'Meditations on Violence' a few months ago and have learned so much. Yes, a book on scenario training would be great"

ah! likewise. i have been following Rory's blog assiduously. i was deeply impressed by his book. i have nearly finished 'The Essence of Budo' by Kenei Mabuni, son of a contemporary of Gichin Funakochi. i am struck by how much of what Rory says is echoed in the teachings of the old masters. but i am glad i read Rory's book first - to a modern mind their ideas can sound a bit new age jedi. really they talk about exactly the same thing, and its through the prism of rory's work that you can interpret and understand what these guys are trying to say.

a book on scenario training would be brilliant, but even better would be if it included a discussion along the lines anonymous posted earlier regarding judgement. i thought that was a great post. it'd be great to learn how to be smarter.