Sunday, September 28, 2014

When "What If" Doesnt Belong on the Range

If it didn't happen, it didn't happen.

Some trainers love to what if their students.  My first introduction to clearing rooms outside of the military (also known as how to look for people and things quickly while looking cool) had me under the tutelage of a sardonic sadist with no tolerance for other people using air and vibrations in their throat to create words.  Speaking wasn't too much of an option with this guy and disagreement with anything was akin to a crime against humanity.  As if he couldn't be any more of a human cartoon, he drank coffee black in July and chomped on an unlit cigar.  Yeah, that dude you are picturing right now?  That's exactly what he looks like, but taller and with a Ranger rolled hat.

Basically, this but with a shirt on and more velcro.
So there I was, making my first center-fed room entrance and I nailed it, that is until I was informed by the only guy in the room who had probably kicked a baby at some point in his life that I had not cleared a corner.  See, I have eyes so visually seeing the corner was clear meant there was no reason to muzzle it, I had other areas of the room to worry about and that rifle can only be pointed at one place at a time.

He disagreed with my visual clearing.  He did so with colorful language, a hand on my shoulder and the other with a knife hand pointed into an empty 90 degree angle.

"That M$#%*^F&*K'in corner could have F&^*'in had 19  M$#%*^F&*K'in   M$#%*^F&*KERS in it and all of them would have F&^*'in killed you."

...Was his lesson.  I dont remember the words exactly but thats about it.  Maybe there were more nouns and verbs that involved uncomfortable body positions.  The lesson I was being taught was to point my weapon at any place a person could be, even if I knew them not to be there just because they could be there.  I obviously disagreed, as should everyone because pointing your weapon at every place a person could be would be a very time consuming exercise and totally discounts situational awareness, which is a much more important skill to learn.  Some instructors love to "what if" situations, and MSG (Ret.) Popeye (im going with that name) was no different.  The damn corner was empty.  It was in an empty room, there was no furniture present, just a rectangle with poor lighting and a few paper targets that were either shoot or no shoot in nature.  I shot the shoot, didn't shoot the no shoots and at no point was their anything in any category in the corner I didn't point my weapon at.  At no point during this class did I miss shooting a bad buy target, yet I could have if one had been in the corner I didn't point my weapon at because I could see it was empty?  Oh, okay because screw logic.

Well, some lessons are unintentional.  This class taught me to respect my students as an instructor and never to doubt their observation skills if it aligns with their performance.  Since I have the power of sight, I have a good idea of how it works and if I think a student is bullshitting me with "But I did check that corner" its easy for me to verify it by putting bad guys in all the damn corners to see if he/she misses one.  I can do all of this without the mystical and misunderstood power of What If?  

Imagination can be a large part of training and practice.  The what if power is also important, but it can be used in ridiculous (see above) ways.  We want to what if what our bad guy is capable of doing, not what he doesn't do.  An empty corner remains an empty corner until the bad guy is in it.  There is little point discussing the merits of the fact that he physically could have been there...but he wasnt. Situational awareness, especially under stress is hard enough to master without someone playing imagination games. We teachers can do more harm than good when it comes to SI training without even meaning to.  Its almost assuredly never done with malice but it still happens.

When I first started teaching, there was a neat little trick I picked up for re-enforcing the scanning technique we want to use when coming off the gun.  Shots fired, bad guy down, move to cover, reload if necessary and then break tunnel vision and look for other guys by getting a quick 360 view of the world around you by scanning.  I would (and still do) have everyone on the line scan and move off line during each string.  This neat little trick was to hold up X number of fingers behind the line and then at random as one of the shooters how many fingers I had up.  More often than not they wouldn't know and I would assume this was because they were looking without seeing.   Actually, as one student pointed out, he didn't see the fingers because he wasn't looking for them, he was looking for bad guys and other things of interest that made sense as part of the scenario/drill.  Once I thought about what he said, I stopped using the "how many fingers" thing and have not used it since.  It seems like a stupid trick on reflection but I was new to teaching and had not yet scratched the surface on SI education for myself.  I can (and do) use the same scanning reinforcement drill now, but I do it with more realistic methods and often in a way that allows the student to (safely, of course) engage a scanned-to threat.

Dont get me wrong, I still use what if as part of training, but its part of theory, not application.  Proving a negative can be a difficult and sometimes counterproductive task, never is this more true than when someone adds facts to prove a point that is better proved by actually producing the situation in question. There are many training artificalities in firearms because of the dangers associated with some methods, but they can still be safely performed with planning and that serves a much better purpose than what ifing things.


1 comment:

  1. To be fair, visually "clearing" a corner isn't clearing a corner. I'm not saying you're wrong and he's right. What I'm saying is that you hit the corner hard with your weapon, see nothing there, and then move on.

    As an active LEO in a large metropolitan department, I do it everytime I clear a house. Even if there is someone standing in the middle of the room, I hit my corner first (unless this asshole is shooting at me), make sure it's clear, and then move to dealing with the immediate threat. I would prefer not to get shot because I "visually" cleared a corner thinking no one was going to be there and suddenly, someone is there shooting at me.

    Could the asshole instructor have told you he didn't agree with you in a better way? Absolutely. Also, I just found this blog today. I like it. Your insights are spot on.