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Skill Drills vs. Scenario Training

I was inspired to write this article because of a curious phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This describes how a person’s knowledge of a subject and their self-perceived expertise are inversely proportional. So a person with very little knowledge of a subject often think that they know much more about a subject than they actually do. And a true expert often believes that what s/he knows is common knowledge. This is seen in a medical community with people who self-diagnose based off a five minute search on Web MD and then argue with actual medical professionals when care is sought. This is also seen in the firearms community all the time. Joe Anybody hears something at the gun shop, or reads something on an internet forum or FaceBook page. Joe Anybody then proclaims his new found truth for all to hear. He even corrects those who have much more experience and knowledge because Joe doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and in his mind he is an expert. On the other end I’ve had numerous Special Forces soldiers tell me “If I can do it anyone can.” I appreciate the humility, but you only have to look as far as the failure rate of both SFAS and SFQC to know that this simply isn’t true.

Dunning Kruger was in full effect this week. A top firearms and tactics expert and personal friend, Mike Pannone, posted a video of himself shooting from concealment while using a handheld flashlight. Then the “experts” chimed in. “You need a WML.” “Don’t drop the mag.” “Don’t hold the light so close to your head.” Of course Mr. Pannone had a logical counter argument to each one of these “expert” opinions. And he summed up by stating that the video wasn’t a tactics video, it was a skill drill. Hopefully this was catalyst of many an “aha!” moment. But to be on the safe side I would like to expound upon this differentiation a bit.

There are individual skills that must be mastered on the journey to becoming a master gunfighter (or just becoming proficient). These include, but are not limited to, marksmanship, malfunction clearance, reloads, etc. Each one of these skills is necessary. And I for one couldn’t rank them in order of importance. In my view they are all equally important. Each one is a load bearing wall holding up the structure that is weapons proficiency, and each one should be trained purposefully. Each should be trained to the point of unconscious competency so that you free up valuable and limited brain power to focus on other things when the bad things happen. You can come up with a myriad of drills to work component skills, either individually or in small groups of skills together like in the video in question. Each skill should be trained to the point of unconscious proficiency (i.e. being able to do it without thinking about it). And each component skill should flow seamlessly into the next. However, weapons proficiency and tactics are also different things; they work together synergistically, but they are not the same.

Shining a light at a target in the dark is a technique. It is a skill that must be practiced in order to be proficient with. Relocating after you deactivate your light is a tactic. Standing squared up to your target and putting rounds on it is weapons manipulation. Moving, using angles, using terrain, making your adversary react to you, that’s tactics. Now, both again are vital to being a successful gunfighter and both need to be trained. Sometimes they are trained individually and sometimes they are trained together – this is where the confusion lies I believe. The key to understanding is context and context comes from experience. There are a lot of Dunning Kruger’s out there without the requisite experience to understand the context (I have been guilty of this myself).

Let me use an example from work. My agency qualifies every quarter. That’s four times a year for you infantrymen. Part of the prescribed qualification calls for shooters to “do checkpoints” before reholstering after each string (e.g. draw and fire 1 round, scan and reholster). This scan is supposed “break tunnel vision,” to condition the shooter to look for other threats before putting your gun away after a lethal force encounter. And at the time that this scan was added to the qual, this post shooting scan was the new hotness. The tactical shooting community was experiencing massive growth and this was one of the “truths” that came out of that. In my early years in the agency I would diligently conduct my scan. I would hit my checkpoints. Then one day the instructor calling the line decided to have some fun. So he gave us less and less time between engagements to conduct our scans and get back to the holster. I found myself rushing through the scan. I was going through the motions, but I wasn’t actually scanning. Plus I looked really silly as I was basically just dancing before I holstered my pistol. I quit doing the post shot scan. At the time I was angry with the instructor. I thought it was unprofessional and I felt as though he got a cheap laugh at my expense. And that was true. But there was a deeper truth in it. I knew that there were no other “threats.” There was just the one paper boogie man that I would engage from prescribed distances with a prescribed number of rounds. So I was, like everyone else, just going through the motions. I was training myself to do a post shooting dance, not to be aware of possible follow on threats.

Fast forward a few years and I’m an instructor. Now I see all kinds of things. When I put my students through force on force training scenarios I see students run their guns flawlessly, while standing upright and still in the open while getting shot at instead of seeking cover. I see students panic and either freeze up, or completely overreact and act without thinking. I see students successfully engage the bad guy, then stand there staring at him wondering what to do next. I see students successfully engage the bad guy then reholster and high five their partner and talk about how great that was. Meanwhile the other bad guy is maneuvering on them. And these are all people who were taught to “scan” post shooting. I have students who learn to break contact in a linear bounding lane and don’t know what to do when the bad guy is between them and their infil route.

All this has been to say that component skills are just that. And skill drills are just that. So understand their necessity and understand where they fit into the big picture. Analyze your own training. Where are the gaps? Have you done force on force training? Figure out where your weaknesses are and fix them. Also, know that if a guy like Mike Pannone does something a certain way there is probably a reason for it. And most of us would be better served asking questions than making statements. The answer to many of my students’ questions is “It’s situationally dependent.” And sometimes that doesn’t sit well with my less experienced students. But it is none the less the right answer. There is no one true answer to a lot of questions regarding tactics. Context is necessary for understanding. And context can only be gained through experience. I hope this has been helpful. Good luck on your journey. And remember, there is no spoon.

Dan Guy

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