Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It's all just a game...

Since some of our listeners are growing tired of hearing about my personal quest to elevate the status of Airsoft guns from toys to legitimate training tools, I'm posting this here on my blog, instead of discussing it on the show. I'm posting this for the people who are interested in the training application of Airsoft guns. And while I am an advocate of using Airsoft for a training tool, I do not take the position that Airsoft is the only valid training tool. Airsoft is the Phillips head screwdriver in the tool box, right next to the metric socket set that is IDPA and the laser level that is MILES, the torque wrench known as the Firearms Training System (FATS) and the hammer known as Simunition, all of which were created with the best of intentions. Airsoft is just one more tool in the training toolbox, albeit an often underrated one.

It's all just a game

Why do people persist in the notion that all forms of Airsoft are just "a game"? Yet people insist on the illusion that IDPA is some form of training for real combat. I've got news for you--IDPA is a game! More so than Airsoft. I'll grant you, most people "play" Airsoft, but some of us use it for actual training.

I used to do a lot of mixed martial arts training, Kung Fu, Thai Boxing, etc. that all really culminated in training for a street fight--what Bruce Lee would refer to as Jeet Kune Do. My instructor wanted us all to go to a Karate competition one time. The competition allowed other forms of martial arts, but you had to play by their rules of course (no problem, "when in Rome...") The whole process of preparation was a rather comical affair, we truly were a motley crew. First of all, most of us had never worn a uniform before in all the time we had trained (we wore the same "uniform" you'd be wearing in a street fight), so the first order of business was to find something for each of us to wear that might actually be considered a "uniform" ("Here, you can borrow this, try to find some black sweats at the Salvation Army store", you get the idea.) Of course we needed uniforms to compete, those were the rules. Some of us had a problem with sleeves, you must have sleeves, anything else is disrespectful to the whole command structure that you must bow to at all times. After all, without the structure we would have chaos (Chaos? In battle? Are you crazy!!??)

Up to that point, I'd fought against just about every kind of martial art available in the area, Golden Gloves Boxing, Tai Kwon Do, Karate, Kenpo, and some stuff I'd never even heard of. It was great training, and I knew exactly what to expect from someone who had done a lot of Karate. No problem. The rules I was a little fuzzy on, but the tactics were no problem.

When we showed up at the competition, there was some argument about who was what rank, with the instructor saying "Him? Oh, I suppose he could stand a good chance against a brown belt. That guy? You could put him up against a black belt." I'd been practicing for two years by then, and I had no idea what my rank even was. We got that all ironed out and off we went. I was supposed to fight someone, I don't even remember the rank, somewhere 3/4 of the way up the scale of a black belt I would guess (I never really bothered with learning the "rank" system, being the martial arts heathen that I was.) I stepped into the circle and the round started. My opponent threw the punch I knew would be coming, I blocked and used that lovely thick, white fabric over his arm to pull him right into a punch to the face, knocking him to the floor. Oops, you can't do that! The judges admonished me for using an "advanced technique" on a lower ranked pupil. One point for my opponent. OK, I can handle that, we'll play by little kids rules. Second round, he kicked, I blocked it high with my knee to his knee, then followed through with a decent, short side kick which immediately knocked him back to the ground. The judges claimed his kick "looked cleaner" than mine (nevermind the fact that HE was on the
ground gasping for breathe.) Two points. Now I'm getting a little irritated with the whole situation. On the third round, in came the same punch as the first round, which grazed my cheek as I blocked it, then I sank two quick "Karate" punches into his stomach (now that's GOTTA be legal!) Off he went, outside the ring to re-gain his composure. To the judges, his shot "looked" like it connected. Third point, he won, I lost 3-0.

After the fight, I spoke with my opponent. I was a bit irritated with the judges, but I didn't have anything against him. He hadn't done anything wrong. And when practicing and competing, it's just business to me, not personal. He said "Great round, hell I thought you were going to kill me!" I said "Thanks, I didn't mean to hurt you, I just wanted the judges to notice I connected the shots." He was cool with it (why not? He "won".) But in a street fight, I would have went home, he would have went to the hospital. The competition was a game, a mere simulation of combat. Sure, you can't beat the crap out of your opponent every time you practice, but are looks that much more important than results?

Live and learn. It was a tough lesson, but a lesson none-the-less.

Now I look at IDPA shooting, and I get the same feeling in my gut. There's the IDPA range bag, the IDPA gun (not the one you actually carry, oh, heaven forbid!), the IDPA ammo, the IDPA vest with weighted pockets (that you only wear at IDPA events, not to the convenience store at 2:00 AM--"What's with the weird vest on that guy?"), the IDPA-approved holster ("A shoulder holster? No way! Much too dangerous!"), and worst of all--the IDPA mindset. You go through the course ahead of time, with the safety officer pointing out each and every target, telling you exactly where the target is and what is expected of you. Two shots here, three shots there, advance to this stage, etc. Always shoot the closest target first, nevermind that the closest target has a .32 auto and the guy ten feet behind him has a twelve gauge shotgun, use the correct order or suffer the consequences. You practice walk the course two or three times. You make sure your gun is in exactly the correct position, vest ready, beautiful day, feeling great, birds chirping in the distance, all is right with the world, your friends there to watch your performance, you're having fun, the buzzer goes off, and off you go into your pre-programmed act. You run to stage one and stop, fire two shots in the proscribed manner, run to the barricade and stop immediately (don't bother looking around the corner as you approach, nobody is there and it's all about time!) then you fire your three shots. Don't fire outside the square! For goodness sake, don't fire WHILE running, we don't want anyone getting hurt! And so the game goes. We get the lowest time, the highest score, we feel good about ourselves and our ability to take on the world because we have a piece of paper with a number on it that we like (much like getting a belt in a pretty color.) And this is how we prepare for combat.

In Airsoft, my group of guys practice any time of day or night, tired or alert, hot or cold, wet, dry, freezing or snowing, indoors or outdoors. We conceal our handguns in the rigs we carry with every day, in the clothes we actually wear every day, with a gun that simulates what we really carry, and we do our best to shoot the other guy no matter what curve ball he may throw. Watch an IDPA event, and notice how they run to a station and stop abruptly (don't get disqualified!), then run to a squared off barricade and stop abruptly with their arms sticking out past the barricade and fire, with speed, speed, speed in mind the whole time. When we shoot at each other with Airsoft guns, there are times when speed is good, but it's not just speed that saves you from being shot, it's caution. We move with intent to the best position possible, and rarely "stop". We go at the appropriate speed to take in the totality of the situation, slow down briefly to take in details, then prepare to move on. Stay in one place too long and bad things are going to start happening. There is no combat without motion, and fluid motion is best. We often fire WHILE moving. During an engagement there is no reason to take the time to stop, and a moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one. We all know how to shoot while moving at the speed most people jog while hitting the target with a reasonable chance of success. If a barricade is very close by, great! If not, at least keep moving so you're a hard target to hit, and keep firing because the ultimate objective is to take down your opponent.

When we run up to a barricade it's with a great deal of care, since there can be one or multiple threats anywhere. We stay back from the barricade so we can watch both sides of it, and move to either side if we need to. Focus on a single target like you would do in an IDPA event and you die because of the guy standing just outside your peripheral vision. It's just that simple. Our "targets" shoot back, they fight hard, they "cheat" (whatever it takes to win a gun battle is fair game), and they think for themselves. There is no standardized course, no point system, no trophies. There is nothing you can count on except the predatory nature of your opponent(s), and your own combat skill. Unlike IDPA, when there are 5 targets they are all shooting at you--simultaneously, so you better know how to handle that little problem. They aren't waiting their turn for you to get to the next "stage". They may be waiting around the corner of the barricade to pull the gun out of your hand and shoot you, or just shoot your hand. You might even have to do something crazy like actually decide if someone is a threat or not. One minute he's asking what time it is, the next second you're seeing his arm forming the deadly triangle. Now you've got problems, with no pre-set answers. Just exactly how does IDPA teach you how to spot that?

In Airsoft we learn it, and learn it well, with pain [I refer you to B.F. Skinner on the effectiveness of negative reinforcement].

We can do all these things because Airsoft is non-lethal, and you simply have a lot more flexibility and training options with non-lethal tools.

Is Airsoft perfect? No. No training tool is. Each training tool has it's own set of advantages and limitations. But you get out of training what you put into it. And if you turn your training into a game, then what are you really learning? You're learning how to play a game. In some ways combat is similar to a game, but unlike most other games there are no rules.

But that's OK. I understand. I've been through it all before. I know the drill. Airsoft is just a game. Is IDPA really the best way to train for handgun combat? You decide. I'm sure there will be lots of people who disagree with me, and that's OK, we're all free to have our own opinions.

Oh, and for you history buffs, IDPA was formed when IPSC shooters had decided that IPSC had become so much of a game that it no longer had any basis in reality. How ironic.


John Eynetich said...

Hey Lance,

WOW! In my opinion you couldn't have said it any better. You are right, each training system has its place and Airsoft is a tool part of that.

4:36 AM  
John Eynetich said...

I have one comment, "Train as you fight, and you'll fight as you trained!"

7:58 AM  
Chuck said...

Hi Lance, I just got a chance to check out your blog. It does have a lot of good info and could be very useful for practical applications. I am hoping to get back to Iowa this summer again so you and I can spend some time going through some of this info. I am sure you can show me some things to improve my shooting skills. Look forward to seeing you again. Tell the family I said hello. Chuck

12:52 AM  

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