The map is not the terrain.

Modern CQC thought has been greatly aided by the advent of Force-on-Force training, usually referred to as “FOF” training.

FOF training is the use of Simunition FX markers, or more recently AirSoft guns, in a dynamic scenario.

In simpler, non-tactical language, you get a bunch of folks together, give everyone a non-lethal marking gun and act out combat sequences.

This has been an invaluable boost to training, but I’m starting to see a disturbing trend amongst law enforcement training officers to declare that FOF training is indistinguishable from real live combat.

Allow me to repeat that last: I have been told by trainers that a gun-fight with AirSoft guns is identical to combat with live ammunition.

I’m here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, FOF training is no more a firefight than studying a map of Cairo means that you’ve actually walked through Cairo.

Let me see if I can explain this a little more clearly:

In Force-on-Force training, you know — on a gut level — that your opponent isn’t going to kill you. You know — even if sub-consciously — that there is no real threat.

In a firefight, your gut and your reptile hind-brain know — KNOW — that the other guy wants to lay you in a dirt bed.

In Force-on-Force training, you know that a hit is going to sting. When you know that the consequence of your action is a sting and nothing more, you don’t mind pushing the envelope.

In combat, you know that a hit is liable to kill you. Pushing the envelope against Death is bloody hard to do.

In Force-on-Force training, you don’t want to kill your opponent. You want to learn from him. You want him to learn from you. Should you accidentally severely injure your opponent, you will apologize and feel bad.

In a firefight, you want that other guy dead, even if you have to beat him to death with his own spleen. You want to paint ‘Don’t **** With Me’ in ten-foot-high letters, using his blood for paint, and his scalp for the brush. If you should severely injure or kill him — GOOD.

In Force-on-Force training, after the training day is done, you won’t mind going out to a bar and swapping tall tales with your trainer and the other students.

After a gunfight, once it’s done, if you see your opponent again, one of you will probably try to kill the other one again.

In Force-on-Force training, you respect or honour your instructor and your fellow students. You probably like some — or all — of them to varying degrees. You probably think of them as comrades, fellow warriors, equals. You wish to test yourself, and test your mettle, against them, to prove to yourself that you have “what it takes”.

In combat — not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, Force-on-Force training is invaluable.

However, Force-0n-Force training is merely a map, where combat is the terrain.

I’ve never loaded my underwear at the beginning of an FOF scenario, or at any time during an FOF scenario.

I’ve never gotten auditory exclusion, time dilation, or tunnel vision during a FOF scenario.

I’ve never achieved, for lack of a better term, a ‘combat state of mind’: where the adrenaline makes your blood sing, your body feels too small, your conscious mind detaches itself to allow the body to act as it needs, and something deep in your gut — something primeval; made of fangs and talons and raw bloody berserker rage — screams defiance and fury at your opponent through a throat too constricted for speech … I’ve never achieved that during a FOF scenario.

On the other paw, I’ve never decided I was thirsty during a life-or-death situation, never been distracted by a wedgie, never wanted to get this scenario over with because I really, really needed to go to the litter-box, and I’ve never tried to impress a trainer, a fellow student, or that cute little blonde bit of crumpet in the lycra training suit while someone was trying to shoot me, stab me or strangle me.

I will say it again, because someone will get their snot-locker out of joint:

1)I approve of Force-on-Force training.

2)I think Force-on-Force training should be done more often.

What gives me a bad case of the red-arse is having some instructor tell me that, quote: “Force-on-force training is identical to combat. Every time.”

Codswallop. Bushwa. Horse. Puckey.

The way people react in FOF is the way they’re going to react in FOF. The way people react in combat is the way they’ll react in combat. FOF reactions will usually — usually, I say — influence combat reactions, but until students fear for their lives during FOF training … don’t ever get FOF and combat mixed up.


Laws! Laws! For God's sake, we need more laws!

12 thoughts on “The map is not the terrain.”

  1. Well said, like always. As a civilian, I’ve had a ton (relatively speaking) of FOF training, and like most of my equals, hope to never have to use any skill I have developed. One of the benefits I got that is not really talked about all that often is how a well crafted scenario can be invaluable as a tool to show when NOT to shoot. Too many times a sim gun in hand has a tendency to make people want to shoot when they really shouldn’t – another reason why FOF training is not combat. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


  2. I’m too old to have experienced FOF training, but I’m old enough to have experienced combat in RVN a time or two. What little I do know is that I was egregiously undertrained for the situation.

    ANY training is better than none at all, and the kind of training that is most likely to come in handy during combat is that which teaches gunhandling skills.

    I’m not saying that AirSoft will teach these skills; as nearly as I can tell, it teaches boldness and aggression (which may not necessarily be the best tools in your kit when someone is shooting at you.)

    Twenty-plus years shooting IPSC competition has taught me a lot of ‘wrong’ reactions to combat. But it has taught me to know where my gun and equipment are, where the ‘targets’ are, and where my friends are … which is a significant part of Situational Awareness. It has taught me to allow the mechanical things to just happen, which allows my conscious mind to deal with decisions best addressed by rational thought.

    I’m not saying that FOF training, real-gun competition, or any other kind of training will prepare anyone 100% for combat. I’m aware that this isn’t what you’re saying, and also that you’re not completely disregarding the value of ANY training.

    What I am saying is that any training helps.

    The important thing is exactly what you have said: if someone tells you that the training they are instructing you in is “just like combat, every time”, they’re lying.

    It’s important to understand that no training is “just like combat”. Regardless of the venue, you must always realize that the basic premise is completely dissimilar to combat because it fails to convery the mindset present when you run the very real risk of being killed.

    It fails to provide the lizard-brain realization that the ‘target’ is a man who wants to kill you, and you want to kill him with your whole heart.

    They can’t train that in you, even when they indoctrinate you in “The Spirit Of The Bayonet”.

    But it’s a start.

  3. Very much sounds like “live fire training” in the Fire Department. Not really like the real thing.

    It is good for showing the basic fundamentals, the mechanics of the thing.

    The reaction to the real thing is something you cannot learn. It must be lived.

  4. Did “crash and communications” for sports car racing back from about ’73 to ’83. (Licensed for NASCAR, F1, Indy and all, but never had the chance.) Lots of training, including basic paramed and firefighting. Then the cars start going past up into the 180 mph range; you get that focused tunnel vision, and – yes – it do pucker up your butt when someone goes over you. (Glad I’m not six inches taller, or I’d be six inches shorter.) Worst accidents I covered were on public roads, where it’s just you and no back up. Interesting how your legs go wobbly after everything’s said and done. Keep up the good work, LawDog. OldeForce

  5. By the same token, EMS training programs are kidding themselves that adequate training can be accomplished with high fidelity human patient simulators.

    It’s a different situation entirely when you KNOW, deep in your gut, that if you don’t secure that airway your patient will die. Not the same in a manikin, not matter how realistic.

  6. “…that a gun-fight with AirSoft guns is identical to combat with live ammunition.”

    The absurdity of this statement should be so obvious as to require no explanation.

  7. It’s amazing just how long it takes to hit the ground when a live round goes past.

  8. The same thing is going on in aviation with everybody that has a PC has a flight simulator setup. It is a great tool for practicing instrument procedures and such, but it has severe limits. There is no feedback in the sim as in real-life, and I see students that come to a flight school and think they can fly because they spent so many hundreds of hours playing a $30 game. It goes without saying that screwing up in the sim won’t kill you, but try to pull the same thing in a real plane, even a docile trainer, and your goose is cooked.

  9. One night some years back a bunch of us were sitting around drinking and playing cards. One man suggested that we try paintball, and there was general agreement all around. A few weeks later we were on a paintball field with 25 or so other men who had never played the game before. We rented the field for the day along with Splatmaster marker pistols and facemasks. We learned paintball safety from a very serious instructor, and then we had at it. We played all day and I nearly died from exhaustion.

    At the end of the day I started examining my various welts from the enemy, and naturally enough my thoughts turned to what would have happened to me in a real gunfight. I had a nice hit on the knee, which I guess would have taken the kneecap off along with a good portion of the supporting suspension system under it. The joint wouldn’t be much use henceforth, thus my dancing days would be done (as the song goes). Another nice hit on my back would bust up some slats, remove meat and screw up my lung real good – if I was lucky. Then there was the hand wound which would have cleanly eliminated my left thumb but nothing else. The nastiest shot was the good old belly wound, producing slow death by massive systemic infection. Most merciful was the shot to the goggles. The bullet would have entered my left eye socket and exited the back of my head, thus missing all my vital organs but making a mess all over the field. These are only the wounds I remember and could count. Doubtless there were more, but I tend to be a very conservative player. Why take the hits?

    What all this taught me about real gunfights was to avoid them like the plague, but if the fight was unavoidable then I could expect to get shot up to one degree or another. This thinking is quite sobering.

    Best wishes to you, Lawdog. Please be careful out there.

  10. Combat is like real sex, there is nothing like it…except real sex.

    Combat makes men that thought they were brave and tough, understand just how much they want to live rather than “look or act good”.

    Combat makes men that thought they were cowards and whimps, understand just how much they can do when their lives or their friends lives are at stake.

    Combat makes you understand that life and living are such fragile and temporary things.

    And can be taken with such ease as to make you wonder if you really are seeing what you are seeing with your own eyes.

    Training is the most important thing you can do before combat, but in that training, the need to do what you are told, when you are told has to be ingrained into your mind, so that it is not only second nature but first nature.

    That and having good leaders will help you fight another day, but won’t guarantee it.

    I recieved six months training before I met people that wanted to kill me. By the time I left 18 months later, I had just begun to get the hang of it.

    But, it took me over ten years to get over it.

    Papa Ray
    West Texas

  11. In a way I am glad that FOF training isn’t more like the real thing. I don’t think very many of us could stand that level of living too often.

    I say this having just been in a gunfight: one where only I had a gun, the intending burglar/intruder didn’t know I was there, and not a single shot was fired.

    Before the bad guy gave up and went away (never having entered the house), I was in such a hyper-aware (and probably hyper-tensive) state that I swear I could count the hairs in his eyebrows from 15 metres! And in the dark!

    With even this milque-toast level of “combat” bringing such an intense biological response, thank heavens IPSC is just a game, and that I didn’t find myself having to shoot the guy!

  12. Once upon a time, when I was playing in the SCA(yeah, I was one of THEM), we did a demo one night for a church group. Myself and another guy had been tapped to do a fight.

    No big deal, but I did something I’d never done before: I actually worked myself into a combat mindset. And the fight began.

    I still remember absolutely nothing of what happened around me, no details whatever, except that I won. And the guy(bigger than I, an d we were using his chosen weapons) later told me that I scared hell out of him. And that was in a match that I KNEW wasn’t ‘for real’.

    Remembering that has helped me keep some things in mind for practice. And I cannot imagine the level of this if I ever have to draw for real.

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