Problem Solving and Risk Management: Questions and Concerns

Are we teaching our students to plow through the problems head first or to apply problem solving skills to avoid, evade or at least mitigate the circumstances of an armed encounter?

I am given a lot of latitude where I teach.  I would like to think that I have earned the trust they show in me.  As such, I try very hard to avoid making stupid mistakes.  I also try very hard to teach my students to fight with their minds first.  Lately, I find myself wondering if “we” as instructors are doing justice to our students.  Are we teaching them to think and solve problems while mitigating risk or are we teaching good techniques applied without thought?

Case in point:  I recently wrote a new class for civilians that is all about protective shooting.  After all, if a person stops to think about it, carrying a concealed weapon is really about protection.  It only stands to reason that we should be teaching protective shooting techniques.  The class was your basic teach, demonstrate, do, drill style on day one.  However, on day two I took them all to a new training area and set them all up with Sims guns.  This is where some serious training scars came to the surface.

The most obvious mistake was that nearly every student looked at each scenario as a shooting scenario.  Hammers only seeing nails is the best way to describe their behavior.  The second of many problems, and the most troubling in my mind, was the fact that the students would only follow the directions they had been given without thinking through the problem.  By this I mean they received very vague instructions regarding the task they needed to complete while keeping their charge safe.  I broke away from the format of the day before and intentionally gave them very little real information. The purpose of this was to drop them into the deep end of the pool and force them to think their way through.  I wanted to force them to use their problem solving and spacial relationship skills.  What I witnessed was anything but thinking or problem solving.  Rather an attempt to fit every scenario into previous training they had completed.

In one drill we call “Biker Bar,” the students were given no choice but to enter an unknown building that contained a rowdy bunch of men.  The concept is for the student to work their way through an unknown situation while maintaining awareness, discipline and self control.    They were instructed through one doorway and to leave through a back door which I pointed out to them ahead of time.  There were no visible threats in the room other than the  noisy crowd.  What they did not get briefed on was how rowdy and noisy the inside of this room would be and that there would be two men with shotguns outside of the designated exit.  Now before you go there, it is a completely winnable scenario.  There is another door.  What was alarming was that of the 16 students in the class, 10 of them chose to fight it out with the shotgun wielding men rather than close the door and look for another exit.  One student, after a lot of thought, threw open the door, forgot all about the person he was protecting and dove out onto his shoulder, “John Woo” style while firing at the role players.  He slid to a stop on the floor in the doorway without his charge and still facing two shotgun barrels.

Was this a great learning experience?  Absolutely!  Was this good training?  I’d like to think so.  Particularly from the standpoint of what not to do.  What I know for sure is that we, as instructors, are falling short when it comes to teaching our students to survive.  Sure we teach them to shoot, but do we teach them when not to shoot?  Do we teach them when to think rather than fight?  These people stopped thinking and went on auto pilot because we all revert to our most basic levels of training.  In this case, their training was to shoot.  Just like they have learned from day one.  They practice it in competition, they drill it on the square range and they used it in these scenarios.  Unfortunately these scenarios, had they been real life, would have gotten most of them, and their charges, hurt or killed.

So the questions beg to be asked.  Are we training them properly?  Are we teaching them to think?  Are we emphasizing problem solving and critical thinking skills?  Are we teaching them to avoid rather than to engage?  Are we creating training scars that will eventually lead to wound channels?

When you drill do you ever have no shoot drills?  Not no shoot targets, but actual drills that do not require the use of deadly force.  Do you discuss avoidance and evasion on a regular basis.  Do you use reactive targets. Do you use the same command to shoot each time or do you mix up your “engage” words?  Last I knew, very few gunfights actually started with the words, “…shooter ready, stand by…Beep.”  Are we, as a whole, doing the right thing.  As a student, are you demanding more realistic scenario based training or is what you do in the match and on the square range enough?

Now I know that many of you will immediately want to write in a tell me all about what you do personally or how you teach a specific skill.  That is not what this is about.  What this is about is wether or not we, as a group, as a whole, as instructors are doing the right thing by our students.  Are we so busy teaching and shooting the latest and greatest cool guy technique that we forget to teach our students to think and solve problems?

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About Scott Ballard

Scott Ballard is an instructor at the Sig Sauer Academy with 25 years of experience working as a private security contractor and executive/dignitary protection specialist. His experience includes training and development of high-value/high-risk protective security details and corporate security teams. Scott has over 15 years experience as a security detail trainer that includes specialties such as protective tactics, firearms and less-lethal weapons, defensive driving and detail operations. Scott is a certified executive protection specialist, master firearms instructor, force-on-force instructor and range-master. He is also a member of the United States Concealed Carry Organization, the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network and is a life member of the NRA and SAF.

11 thoughts on “Problem Solving and Risk Management: Questions and Concerns

  1. Well said. It is always harder to teach a student to think for themselves than it is to allow them to just regurgitate. I think this is true regardless of subject and especially in our current societal paradigm.

  2. A very interesting and frightening article. I saw the same when teaching medical students. In a critical and fast evolving scenario they would revert to “flow chart” paradigms and react rigidly along their previous training. The element of critical thinking was missing. The millisecond analysis of the situation and to evaluate the big picture was lost. “If A happens then I do B and then C” works most of the time but not all the time.

    In the biker bar scenario any unarmed untrained wimp would figure out that avoiding confrontation and looking for an alternate exit is the only reasonable strategy and they would do so very quickly. Being armed and trained requires considering strategic withdrawal as well.

  3. Great reminder, Scott. We do so much training sometimes we forget that our best weapon is our mind, and the gun is one of our tools.

  4. Very good read, As instructors I think it is best if we are selves step outside the shooters box, to look at what, how & why we are teaching these students of ours.
    Great Article, Scott.B

  5. I am not an instructor or any kind of specialist. One instructor I had played a scene from the old Kung Fu series where one of the masters was saying “avoid rather than check, check rather than hurt, hurt rather than maim, and maim rather than kill, for all life is precious and none can be replaced. While I may not agree with ALL life is precious, especially if they are trying to take yours, the first line is one I took to heart. Avoidance, through situational awareness is the best lesson I ever received.

  6. Sheeples rarely have common sense. They are generally specialists and their focus has always been on doing one thing well. They have someone else change their oil, so they don’t know that tightening the oil plug is common sense. They hire a plumber instead of making sure the hair doesn’t go down the drain in the first place. So, teaching them critical thinking is almost impossible; most that demonstrate that skill have been born with it. Good luck on future classes. It’s still an important concept and running them through the drill at least exposes them to the concepts, even if they will not likely be able to differentiate stimuli during the real thing and then have the sense to choose wisely.

  7. This is all about context. The application of mental skills to the context of danger. I personally feel that individuals who decide to utilize a firearm in any manner have a moral and responsible duty to seek appropriate education on proper conduct in relation to context, whatever that context might be; hunting, competition, self defense. Isn’t this what tactics are all about?

  8. I was at a first class training facility years ago where one of the shoot house scenarios in halls and rooms lasted about five minutes. Only one target (of maybe a dozen) was a hostile/shoot target. The others were engaged verbally and were either non-threat or compliant. One of the best, most difficult, and memorable scenarios ever.

  9. Scott, you hit the nail on the head.
    I was searching for this type of thinking training, and just completed the Protective Agent training with Steve Tarani.
    (I tried to convince Mr Painchard to let me take the 5 day PA course, but I understand it is for LEO only)
    The new training complex was a huge help, we used it extensively.
    I would be interested in taking the new class you just developed.

    • The next class is 26-27 AUG 2013 at the SIG SAUER Academy.

      Thank you!

  10. Scott, this is a good and thoughtful post.

    I’m no gunslinger, but I do train people as a key part of my living and have spent some time teaching in classrooms. I offer two humble suggestions: First, from the brief description you provide here, it seems like you instructed your students to exit through the shotgun guarded door. It sounds like most of them followed your direction. Perhaps a more open ended set of instructions would have left more options open in their minds. Something like, “safely escort your charge out one of the other exits” would have resulted in fewer students choosing to shoot it out. Second, perhaps there is knowledge to be gained on the use of a gun in a violent encounter by being forced to NOT use a gun. For example, have the students run a scenario with a gun and then without a gun. Then compare the types of solutions they come up with a weapon or without. The weaponless round forces them to reconsider if the current circumstances have any nails that need hammering at all.

    As an armed citizen I am acutely aware of my limitations and legal liability once bullets start flying, and I have personally dwelt on issues similar to those you raise here. I believe you are right to think about this perspective, and I hope you and others are able to develop curriculum that can help us master both the use and restraint of firearms.

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