Virtually no-one today would dispute that movement is a critical component of increasing one’s chances at success during a lethal encounter. This is true for civilians, armed-professionals in the domestic security and law enforcement fields, and for armed-professionals in military / combat environments. Combat arms disciplines in the military have a simple mantra related to mobility. It begins with the phrase, “Fire without movement is noise.” 

While the military techniques of fire and movement / fire and maneuver are not necessarily directly applicable for civilian, domestic security, and law enforcement applications, the basic tactical concept does still apply.

Regardless of the operational environment, moving targets are still harder to hit and mobility can almost always improve one’s use of the “terrain” to provide a tactical advantage, whether using cover/concealment, denying cover/concealment to the adversary, achieving a clear field of fire, dominating terrain, etc.

A recent newsletter published by the Force Science Institute, a leading firm focused on conducting scientific studies around law enforcement use-of-force, contained the following letter from a reader:

In the “News Extra” of 4/11, Force Science instructor Inspector Chris Butler points out that officers frequently are not taught the importance of moving immediately when faced with a threat, a proven means of disrupting offender hit rates. Movement to disrupt offender hits is not a new concept, as illustrated in the books Street Survival and The Tactical Edge published decades ago. The importance and effectiveness of movement cannot be overstated.

For five consecutive years as part of my instruction at ILEETA, I presented multi-media and barricade drills where officers moved to cover to address the threat, drawing their firearm during the movement without conscious thought rather than standing and drawing. In moving, the officers were seldom hit, less than 5-10% of the time, and the movement did not add time to their response. In fact, the movement drill was faster the majority of the time.

Here is the shocking training scar: After the drills, the officers returned to shooting during scenario videos on the training simulator. When the threat became apparent on screen, they did not move! It was as if their feet were in concrete as they drew and shot. The same problem surfaced on the live range. 

I’m not sure this training scar can be healed. Sometimes I wonder if we are truly stuck on stupid.  

-Sgt. Larry Hahn (ret) quoted in Force Science Newsletter #316

If we accept the assertion that, “The importance and effectiveness of movement cannot be overstated” and the author of the letter’s experience (which matches our own) that most shooters, to include most law enforcement officers, are rooted in-place during situations that involve use of their firearm, where does this leave us? What causes us to be planted where we stand during shooting situations? Is this truly a training scar that cannot be healed? If not, how do we go about addressing it?

Let’s start by looking, very broadly, at the concept of movement. There are a number of different types of movement that apply to tactical operational environments. Everyone has their own particular flavor, or spin, on them, how they are defined and how they apply in different situations. We aren’t talking about specific tactics or techniques in this discussion, so none of this is relevant here. For purposes of simplicity though, the focus of this discussion is intended to be on encounters and movement occurring at predominantly handgun ranges in response to emergent threats.

Regardless of the definitions, techniques, etc. being used, movement itself has a number of components and resulting conditions. Let’s look at a few.  

First, it combines lower body motor skills with the upper body and visuomotor skills, and decision-making and stimulus/contextual recognition functions that comprise tactical firearms use. This increases the complexity of the basic skill performance requirement, even if just from a neurological perspective.  

Second, movement decreases the stability of the “shooting platform.” Simply, it’s harder to hold the weapon steady and maintain sight alignment and sight picture (or apply any other technique for hitting the target) when the weapon is bouncing. The more movement, and the rougher the terrain, the less stable the platform will be. This decreased stability, from a practical perspective, primarily has the effect of decreasing the effective range at which an engagement can be conducted.

Third, movement (especially with a lateral relationship to the target) introduces the factor of dynamic angular and positional relationships between quite literally everything in the immediate environment. What’s in front of and beyond the intended target is no longer a constant. If the target and/or other entities in the environment are also moving (as often happens), the complexity and rate of change between these relationships increases exponentially.

So, while movement sounds simple enough in theory, in practice it reduces the chances of success for applying what are already statistically difficult skills to use and also adds additional complexity to what is already a tremendously complex, difficult environment.

Yet, there’s virtually universal agreement (as stated above) that mobility is an important and potentially life-saving component of a deadly force encounter. To this end, a number of trainers and training systems have included mobility concepts and techniques for a number of years. A few examples include stepping off-line during weapons presentation, requiring lateral movement during some components of range training, or more progressive training applications such as box drills requiring movement patterns of varying complexity.

Are these techniques and the training used to develop them effective? If our assumptions and observations as defined above are correct—apparently not, at least not at the systemic level that we would all prefer.

Why is this?

To address this question, let’s take a step back and consider how people develop operational proficiency in complex tactical skills (skills with cognitive and decision-making operational requirements).  

In Building Shooters, we lay out the scientific research behind our theory of learning applied to tactical environments and tactical skill development.

For our purposes here, we can summarize the concept by saying that if we are going to perform skills, or combinations of skills, effectively in complex operational environments, we have to put both those skills and the corresponding patterns of neural activity (such as cognition, decision-making, contextual association, and stimulus identification) into a very specific brain storage system. Specifically, it is called procedural memory—the only information storage system in the brain that can reliably be accessed during complex, stressful situations.

Putting information into this location is accomplished effectively through application of a number of specific factors, which we outline in detail, along with the supporting research, in the book. For purposes of this discussion, we’ll just use two, repetition and interleaved training methodology.

Repetition is a self-explanatory concept and well accepted throughout the industry as the process and results are self-evident. The more we do something, the better we get at it, and the more habitual it becomes.

Interleaved training is a bit more complex, but at a basic level can be thought of as chaotic learning. In other words, use of learning environments that more closely resemble the operational environment. These will contain the corresponding complexity and require not only skill performance but also the use of the operationally necessary brain functions like cognition, decision-making and stimulus recognition.

When properly designed and utilized with repetition, interleaved training can be incredibly effective at producing positive impacts on operational results.

So, let’s circle back now to our question. Why aren’t our training methods such as stepping off-line during presentation, continuous lateral movement during range training, or even the more complex box drills with complex movement patterns producing the desired results on the street?

We believe that the answer to this question, and the root cause of many of our limitations within the existing training paradigm, is our dependence as an industry upon live-fire and other traditional infrastructure such as video based simulators (FATS, PRISM etc.) to conduct training for armed professionals.

Before anybody gets the wrong impression, let’s be clear. These are all great training tools. They absolutely have their place. Live fire, in particular, is (at least in our opinion) an absolutely critical component of training. A few folks have suggested otherwise in recent years, and we strongly disagree with those opinions.

That said, dependence on these resources to conduct training locks trainers, students, and programs into the development of skillsets that are necessarily constrained by the inherent limitations of these training tools and infrastructure. This, in turn, limits our ability to develop and enhance more complex skillsets that may not be able to be adequately and effectively addressed with the complexity and repetition necessary to develop optimal operational performance within the confines of these traditional training environments and tools.

Let’s look at just a couple of examples.  

On a live fire range, movement capability is significantly limited. You can have students move laterally on the line without incurring any significant safety issues – although this too depends on the backstop and the left/right lateral limits of fire related to each firing position.

You can also have students move forward and backward, although you have to work to keep them “online” to avoid the potential for a significant safety issue. The closer together the students are, the more linearly aligned they generally have to stay in order to keep the range safe.
So, sure, you can have students move on the range. But can you have them do it with enough repetition? Can you have them actually replicate the movement that you want them to perform in the field? Is the direction of fire pre-defined by a backstop? Linear movement is fine, but is that what the tactical environment they may face during a lethal encounter will call for? Will purely linear movement (left/right or front/back) actually be what’s required to solve the problem for real? Maybe. But, also, maybe not.  

I distinctly remember taking a well-practiced side-step and putting the back of my head directly in front of a teammate’s muzzle on one occasion. Fortunately for me this occurred in force-on-force training and he was highly skilled—enough so that he didn’t press the trigger. However, I certainly placed myself at additional risk—and took a much needed gun out of the fight—based on my well-trained, rehearsed lateral movement. Surely, in that case, my movement training helped nobody, except perhaps the adversary.

Can you replicate the chaotic environment of the street while on the range? Can you force students to make complex decisions based on differing contexts and dynamic stimuli—decisions that dictate not only their use-of-force decisions but also considerations such as direction of the engagement based on dynamic environmental factors and their type, direction, and rate of movement?

If you can manage to do these things on your range, can you do it for your entire organization with enough repetition to code these skills and brain functions to procedural memory and then continue to maintain and enhance them over the operational life-cycle of your officers / operators / guards etc.?

If the answer is no (and it probably is for most of us outside of two or three specific elite units), then we submit that perhaps the range environment itself is insufficient and that dependence on this piece of infrastructure to provide armed skill training is functionally limiting the operational performance potential of your organization.

How about simulators? Most of the industry today still treats use-of-force and firearms skills training as two separate training components. One of the most common methods for addressing the former is through use of video based scenarios in simulators such as FATS or PRISM.
If you use simulators in your training, do they facilitate realistic movement? Do they facilitate movement at all? What about during the lead-up to the use-of-force decision?

I recall several years ago, during the Sealed Mindset days, taking some clients of our partner company to a local law-enforcement training facility so they could view some specific range and simulator technology that was in use there. While on site, they got the opportunity to go through several simulator scenarios. During several of them, standing as an observer in the room, as I watched the situation begin to deteriorate. I wanted to move. There was no use-of-force decision requirement yet in the scenarios, but I wanted to move. I wanted to move to cover, I wanted to gain control of key “micro-terrain” displayed in the scenario, I wanted to improve my ability to observe specific areas obscured by concealment, I wanted to move for quite a few reasons. But I couldn’t—because I was watching a film on a flat screen in a square room.

Last year I attended an event at a local facility that provides simulator services for law-enforcement and other entities. The situation was the same as I went through several dozen scenarios. I often wanted to move—in a lot of cases in the hopes that I could establish enough of a tactical advantage that deadly force application would become a lot less likely; but I couldn’t. Once the requirement for deadly force application was met, what did I do? I did what I and virtually everyone else in the world trains to do on a square range. I stood still and engaged. In my defense, there was nowhere to go—and I was staring at a flat screen on a wall while my weapon was tethered into a machine in front of me.

The point here isn’t to knock simulators. They are great tools for some specific training applications. Neither is the point to knock live-fire training. It’s an absolutely critical component of developing a functional operational skillset.

The point is to illustrate that both of these standard pieces of training infrastructure are, in reality, very limited in their organic capacity to develop and enhance a robust and effective operational skillset. Why? Because they both contain real and significant limitations that preclude the activation of a significant percentage of the neurological components of an actual lethal force encounter.

In turn, because we depend almost exclusively on this type of infrastructure to conduct training, evaluate proficiency, and qualify armed professionals, we end up imposing artificial and unnecessary limits on the ultimate performance potential of our students and organizations. And these limitations sometimes contribute to people getting killed who otherwise might not have been—on both sides of the engagement.

Deadly force situations rarely occur spontaneously. Yet, if we cannot train people with repetition to move and maneuver to gain a tactical advantage (and perhaps even avert the need for use of deadly force in the process) during the development of a potential deadly force situation, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t effectively do it for real.  

Similarly, if we spend the bulk of our time during firearms training standing still staring at a pre-defined target, we shouldn’t be surprised when we end up immobile during lethal encounters. Or, if we make our students take a step to the right when they draw, we shouldn’t be shocked if this is what they do for real – even if it’s not actually a good idea based on the actual problem set at hand.

All of this then begs the question: What do we do about it? Critique is fine, but pointed critique without accompanying solutions is of limited practical value.

Ironically, our research and training experience to date suggest that the solution to these, and other, problems may actually lie in fewer, rather than more, training resources.  

Like we point out above, the problem isn’t so much that trainers don’t recognize these operational needs at a systemic level. It’s that our training infrastructure precludes us from addressing them, especially with enough frequency, repetition and variety to make the training effective enough to impact operational performance.

In our piece published in Michael Seeklander’s excellent 2014 book, The Art of Instruction, we define the training industry as being confined in a four-sided box, each side being represented by a significant defining influence on the industry, specifically vendors (providers of infrastructure), competitors, elite units, and liability.  

We argue in that piece, and in our books, Building Shooters and Mentoring Shooters, that addressing the outstanding issues in our industry requires moving outside of this self-defining box and looking at the problem from an entirely different angle. In this case, the angle is defined by the function and capability of the human brain – and our ability to leverage newly gained understanding of this information system to positively affect operational outcomes through training-based influence.

This will involve reducing our dependence on the traditional infrastructure that defines our industry—so that we can bypass its inherent, self-defining limitations. The infrastructure itself isn’t a bad thing, not by any means. It brings a lot of capability. However, our dependence on it limits both our thinking and our ability to conduct effective training that prepares people for the operational reality, especially in organizations that have limited access to time and resources.

Instead, let’s look outside this box. If we want people to move when they handle a gun and engage, if we want them to make terrain and situation informed decisions about how, when, and where they move, if we want them to continually adjust to rapidly evolving, asymmetric tactical situations and environments – then we need to shape training environments where these factors and considerations are “in play,” not once in a blue moon, not occasionally, not once during the academy, but predominantly during their organizationally provided training time with a firearm.  

Let’s shift our focus in training from pure skill application and discreet decision-making in a vacuum—in environments constrained by infrastructural limitations—to the navigation and management of dynamic environments that require decision-making and application of the use-of-force continuum.  

And, let’s recognize that in order to do this, we first need to let go of our dependence on both traditional training methodology and the traditional components of training infrastructure.

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"Easily one of the more important books of our time when it comes to preparing police, military and armed civilians for armed lethal combat."
-Kenneth Murray
Author, Training at the Speed of Life
Co-Founder of Simunition