Reality–What a Concept!

When the term "reality" is used for marketing purposes, law enforcement must prepare for what that term really implies

By Wes Doss   |   Feb 23, 2016
Photo Courtesy Wes Doss

“Reality–what a concept!” Robin Williams

Reality is a buzzword. Reality has become a catch-all term used to sell to an eager audience. Reality–now a marketing term used to sell entertainment. Reality television, celebrity gossip, professional sports, movies based on “fact”–today basement dwellers of all ages can live vicariously through the questionable ethical issues of various professional sports figures, celebrity indiscretions and the relationships of some our nations most prominent elected leaders. The concept of reality has never meant so much to the lives of so many. And it’s never been as misunderstood and misapplied. In fact, the general understanding of reality as it relates to the martial application of firearms and tactics is too often a straight shot to Fantasyland.

Reality is the sum total of an individual’s knowledge of themselves, others, the environment and their total understanding of the interaction between these elements. Individual perception of reality is acquired and developed over the course of that individual’s life. In other words, our perception of the world is learned.

In my experience it’s very common in the over-the-top, tier-one, macho-tough-guy world of self-defense and tactical training to have a charismatic trainer affect that sense of reality. The inclusion of words like “fight,” “combat” and “tactical” are often added to articles and course descriptions to provide an air of reality, but much like black nylon and Velcro, they are only loosely based on the true demands of the real world.

Training for Reality?

The developed modern world of self-defense and combative training, in its attempt to homogenize responses to situations, has tried to mimic the real world by establishing a countless number of hard and fast absolutes. However, it’s critical to understand that in the real world, in particular the real world of conflict, there are no absolutes. While there are plenty of referees and armchair quarterbacks, there are no universal rule books. The real world has no cut-and-dry, black-and-white conditions. It’s an environment of infinite shades of grey, with endless options and opportunities.

If we find ourselves in a fight, armed or otherwise, how long will it last? 10 seconds? 25 seconds? A minute? Honestly—who knows and who cares? A fight will last as long as it will last and isn’t over until submission or compliance is achieved.

Since the inception of statistics about gun fights we’ve been swamped with theories that tell us that most gun fights only last a matter of seconds, only involve the firing of X number of rounds, or generally occur at close distance. We have been convinced that these are the conditions that we should train under. Sometimes, yes. But not all the time.

If I am advocating greater reality in training, why would I want to contest these training precepts? Because in a fight you just never know! If we prepare for the worst then perhaps anything less will pale in comparison. A better question and training concern should be: Will the individual last as long as the fight? Has our training conditioned us to understand and mitigate the effects of emotional and psychological stress? Do we posses the physical and mental stamina to go the full duration of a conflict? Are we truly training to understand the realities of armed conflict?


The training world, even in light of countless lawsuits, court rulings and venomous media hype, is still heavily inundated with training concepts involving unrealistic principles like square ranges, set distances, time limits, and the obligatory “down range” area, as well as an array of artificial drills that are more aesthetically pleasing and emotionally exciting than they are practical.  The fact is the environment and the limitations of many popular training programs reflects little of what really exists in the real world, thus giving an altered impression of reality and what to expect in the event of a real fight. While these concerns may seem trivial to many, especially the more experienced or highly trained, they do represent a significant problem in training and the potential application of skills in a real world situation.

In my next column we’ll dive into what that means, and how we can overcome it and train to win. Until then, stay safe—and ready for reality, whatever that may bring.