The Cornered Cat
Build the building

A real-life attack is not the same thing as training for such an event. Training prepares you for something and by definition cannot be the identical to the real thing. I though that was obvious, but apparently, it isn’t. Especially in the fighting arts, people seem to miss this point. Not so in other sports though.

When was the last time you heard somebody claim line drills in football are useless because nobody plays football in a line like that? – Wim Demeere 1

Whenever I hear people complain about the futility of building basic defensive skills on a “static range,” I think of Wim’s comment.



Everything starts somewhere. The foundation might not look much like the rest of the building, but it’s what holds the whole thing up. You might never even see the framework, but it’s what holds the whole thing together. Those who only look at the outer walls have missed seeing almost everything that makes the building remain solid in the midst of an earthquake.

In the same way, some folks only see the chaotic reality of violent encounters — and miss seeing the foundation that makes a meaningful defense possible, or the framework that holds the shooter together long enough to get the task done.

All practice and all training — every last bit of it — involves some level of unreality. Unless and until we’re actually shooting people who violently resist our attempts to get away and survive, we’re practicing an unreal activity on some level.

No matter what the setting, the deliberately-induced flaws that we endure for practice almost always include (but are certainly not limited to!) the following:

  • Shooting cardboard, paper, or steel instead of human bodies;
  • No social interaction with potential targets;
  • Shooting immobile targets, or targets that move only in very predictable and rhythmic ways;
  • The 180 rule, or similar constraints dictated by the surroundings;
  • No expectation of interference from bystanders;
  • Being able to check that the gun is loaded and our mag pouches positioned just so before we start the string;
  • Every drill is a shooting situation;
  • Clearly-measured results that will be known within seconds after the dust settles.

Instead of practicing pure shooting skills (which obviously involve most if not all of the above possible unrealities), we might choose to be “more realistic” by scripting slightly more interactive drills in shooting bays that allow us to move around a bit. But no matter how much physical movement we do as shooters, we’re still dealing with fake targets, meaningless shoot/no shoot signals, and no life-threatening stress.

We might choose to eliminate the fake targets entirely, and decide that we need to practice working with other humans at the other end of the gun. That means that unless we’re utter fools, we’re going to use fake guns. In force on force and scenario based training, the unrealities include — but are not limited to! — the following:

  • Actors with varying levels of skill;
  • Scripts that limit potential outcomes;
  • Scripts that may or may not be well-considered;
  • Narrow contexts;
  • Mindsets that can in no way approach the out-of-the-blue, wasn’t-expecting-this!! reactions that would be normal in everyday life;
  • Fake weapons that produce unrealistic levels of accuracy, recoil, noise, etc;
  • Most scenarios will be shooting scenarios;
  • Levels of fear that in no way approach life threatening.

The challenge for us is to be aware of each one of those potential factors. No matter which type of practice or training we’re involved with, the temptation is to gloss over and dismiss the fakeness that we’re necessarily working with.

Instead of handwaving dismissals, we should be able to clearly identify which type(s) of unrealism we’re working with in a given drill. The real trick is to never become so in love with our own preferred type of training that we stop being aware of the unrealism it always contains.


  1. Wim runs an awesome blog at The exact quote can be found here.

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