174 – Force on Force Training

In this week’s podcast, the discussion is about Force on Force training. Our co-host, Varg Freeborn, just got back from teaching this course at the Alliance Police Training Facility in Alliance, Ohio. The class had an emphasis on the dynamics of teamwork in realistic scenarios, teaching students the rules, principles, and limitations in close quarters situations.

Listen in and learn about the special considerations that need to be taken into account when you get into a gunfight as part of a team. Beyond that, though, you’ll also learn about how to conduct yourself after the fight is over and the benefits that a Force on force class offers.

Force on Force Training Class - Varg Freeborn



Host: Daniel Shaw

Co-Host: Varg Freeborn

Introduction/Timeline: Stephanie Kimmell


0:26  Varg’s recent class was a team-based Close-Quarter’s Battle (CQB) concealed carry force on force class. The students were given scenarios and situations that are likely to be encountered by concealed carry citizens and law enforcement officials.

Since the class was focused on CQB, the students learned about fighting in closed spaces and around obstacles. They had to understand the rules, principles, and limitations of fighting in those types of encounters. The class emphasized teamwork, so there were some husbands and wives in the group as well as some friend groups, and patrol cops.

1:55 Are there extra considerations to think about when there are two people carrying guns, as opposed to a single armed citizen?

Yes.  It can complicate matters and exponentially increase the potential for tragedy. Or, it can make things easier. If you haven’t trained for it; if you haven’t worked on the procedures and teamwork dynamics and you think you’re going to do the right thing and that your partner’s going to know what to do — you’re very mistaken. In class, this comes out when you run through scenarios and experience realistic situations that could happen in a public place.

2:43 What kinds of problems can happen if people don’t train to work as a team?

In a Force on Force class designed to teach teamwork, you find out that things can break down really quickly. It could be that your partner doesn’t move as fast as you expected or decisions aren’t made as soon as you thought they would.

That’s the point of the class.

A team-based emphasis is really about learning procedures and communication skills that you combine with gunhandling skills so that things don’t go tragic. Instead, they go easy.

3:20 What are the misconceptions about what goes on in a Force on Force class? Also, is there some expectation about who’s ready or not ready to take this kind of class?

Shaw finds himself telling students in his classes that the next step in their training should be Shoot House classes. He says his handgun and carbine classes are great classes that are good preparation for a Shoot House class — but they’re not a prerequisite for a shoothouse class. 

Still, those basic classes are good to have under your belt because if you go into a force on force class, you might have very few gun handling skills and very little understanding of safety. Your knowledge of things like foregrounds and backgrounds, angles, ready positions, and various carries may be limited. So if you go to a Shoot House class without that background, those things will soak up a lot of your mental bandwidth in a Force on Force class.

Even so, if you haven’t been to foundational classes, you’re still going to get a ton out of the class. In the Shoot House class, you’ll learn about the decisions you have to make – with the skills you already have.  But now you’re applying them in a totally different way. You’ll face a situation in one moment in one way but in the next room, you’ll apply your skills in a totally different way.

5:52 Is there a difference between a Shoot House class and a Force on Force class?

Yes. To clarify, a traditional Shoot House class is not the same as a Force on Force class. Even if it happens in a Shoot House, it’s not the same. Though the average person should take a Shoot House course, Force on Force training should come even sooner than a traditional CQB class.

Most Shoot House CQB classes are taught in a military, law-enforcement style. It’s a systematic clearing of rooms and spaces. The purpose is to clear the house or obtain something or someone that’s in the house. That may be part of a Force on Force class, but it’s not the entire focus.

In Freeborn’s class, he teaches a home-defense session at night in low-light. It’s done with all the lights off and the students use flashlights and handguns. This part of the class gives people a chance to set up in a mock bedroom and deal with a hallway that leads into another room. It helps them begin to understand how to set up an area of denial and how to fight from the high-ground. They learn how to choose how the fight’s going to happen rather than getting sucked into an unknown fight.

Force on Force training - fight from the high ground

With this, the class starts to see the success rates improve and those are the principles of CQB traditional Shoot House classes. Issues like angles of fire, angles of exposure, and procedures for a hallway or a room — those skills transpose to a home-defense situation. It’s the same in an office building when something goes wrong. 

7:44 How early should students attend a Force on Force class?

Freeborn says he would like to see people attend Force on Force training as soon as they can in their training career. There’s a general feeling in the industry that Force on Force training is something to get after students get their skills together. People tend to think of it as a test, as in “Now I’m ready to be tested in force-on-force!” But Freeborn says that’s not the way to look at it.

Force on Force can be a test, but it’s not just a test. It’s an extreme, extreme learning situation.

In that class, students learn what’s important and what’s not important. They find out what gear really works in the situation and what doesn’t. People often switch the way they carry their gun or borrow a holster because a holster that they’ve used for years doesn’t work at all after it’s been tested in class! Stress happens and it changes everything.

Sometimes students find that a favorite piece of gear is now useless. Freeborn says, “It was useless to you the whole time, you just didn’t know it.” So now, the students got lucky and you found it out in a mock situation instead of a real situation.

So, it does test you. It tests your gear, tests your skills.

•Did you hit the target at all when you were under stress?

• Who did you shoot?

• Were you able to ID properly?

All of those things come to play in a testing context. However, the learning part in force-on-force is the most important. Freeborn encourages new shooters to come to his Force on Force class. 

Inside the class, a context happens that mirrors the outside world. It gives the student a perspective of what is important. It’s not just about what gear to use, how to carry, or what kind of gun to use. It’s also about how you use your sights under stress and how you manage your ammo.


Force on Force training course


You get an understanding of how important ammo is in a fight. As it runs out — that’s all you have. If you think you’re going to reload, well sometimes that not possible!

You’re in the middle of the mix and there’s stress. You dump your mag and the threat is still standing in front of you. He still has ammo in his gun. It doesn’t matter how fast your reload is — that’s not a good situation to be reloading your gun in.

So the class teaches ammo management, sight usage, movement, teamwork, and dealing with shapes and obstacles. It gives students an understanding of where to put their body to be in the best position possible. Those are the things that become really important in a fight situation, and they’re the things that most people have no idea how to do.

Force on Force students get into those situations and start learning all of these things. From there, they can go forward and make more informed choices in picking future classes. They’ll choose companies and instructors that emphasize the things that they’ve found are really important in gunfights and high-stress situations. They’ll be able to avoid all the flashy, nonsense stuff that’s fun to do but only comprises  5-10% of the fight when they could probably spend that money on stuff that’s in the 80 percentile of importance in the fight.

11:48 How do priorities change after experiencing a Force on Force class?

The Fast Draw. A lot of people think having a fast draw is one of the top priorities in their skill set. There’s nothing wrong with a fast draw. In the gun training world, the guys who run their mouth a lot and shoot the fastest tend to be well paid and popular.

But when you get into a situation, especially when the gun or knife is already out, or your partner is held at gunpoint, (these are real scenarios in the class, plucked out of the world of surveillance footage and put into a training context) in those situations, that fast draw is just not an option.

The situations in class weed out the fast draw response and force people to emphasize the other skills and decision-making processes that they need in a fight situation. People find out that it doesn’t matter how fast their draw is, it won’t be fast enough.

There’s no draw fast enough to deal with a gun that’s pointed at you.

Force on Force students have to learn other skills like negotiation, de-escalation, deception, and concealment of intentions. All of these skills become important. They learn to understand how important those are because the fast draw didn’t save the day like they always thought it would.

You know, you go to the range and you train for fast shooting, but then you get into a situation and, “Ah. I can’t get my gun out. What do I do?”

Aftermath. The next thing that’s a very high priority is knowing what to do after a shooting.

Freeborn pushes students to do follow-through, which is, play the scenario out. Students have to get all the way to making the 911 call and getting out of there safely if that’s appropriate.

A lot of students, even in a class setting just lock up. They don’t know what to say and there are bystanders that may be screaming. People are hurt. People are scared. People are scared of you! 

In most rooms in public, people are oblivious. They don’t see the situation unfold so if someone gets shot, people don’t recognize which was the bad person and who was the good person. 

force on force training - after the shooting

15:16 Freeborn shares a story about a vagrant in Salt Lake City who followed him into a restaurant. The guy was extremely erratic in his behavior and pursuing him inside the restaurant. Varg looked around the restaurant and not one staff member or patron realized what was about to happen or what was going on. So if that guy would have suddenly gotten shot, all that the people would know was that they turned around and there’s a guy standing there with a gun and a guy on the ground.

This story is an example of how people are oblivious. If they don’t know what led up to the situation, even if they’re in the same room as you, they can’t identify you as the good guy or bad guy.

So the aftermath of a gunfight is important. Force on Force students learn to identify themselves to the other people who are present in the situation. They learn that it’s important to take control of the room, help people, and reintegrate themselves back into the tribe. 

This is hard to do when you haven’t thought about it and you don’t know what to say. It’s really hard if you don’t know how to deal with panicky people or people who think you’re the bad guy.

Complicating the situation further, other concealed carriers can get injected into the situation. And off-duty cops. you have to work through these complications.

When Force on Force students realize what goes into the aftermath of a shooting they realize that the shooting was the easy part. They learn that they need to think about how to get themselves out of the situation, making sure they don’t get shot by another concealed carrier or a cop. And of course, they also have to figure out how not to scare the people who think they are the bad guy.

What if they start tackling me or they’re all running, screaming, “the guy with the gun!”

There are a lot of variables that need to be managed very quickly and decisively in that aftermath period. People have zero understanding of it because the square range does not prepare you for that. But a Force on Force class does!

training scenario

17:08  Immediate Post Engagement Actions and Mindset

Shaw stresses the importance of understanding the threats that occur right after a gunfight. That could be the off-duty law enforcement officer or the armed citizen who can’t wait to kill an active shooter and be a hero that night. There are dangerous people carrying guns that don’t have the training. They will take a shot and potentially hurt you (if they think you’re the bad guy) when they don’t have enough information to act on it at that point. It’s up to you to give them that correct information so they make the right decisions.

Even though these things are covered in foundational firearm classes, students don’t truly get it until they’re dealing with these issues in a Force on Force class. There are usually a few law enforcement officers in those classes. With the officers in the class, real-life situations can be broken down. It’s an opportunity that just isn’t there on a square range — what better value can you get out of a class?

In Freeborn’s force-on-force class, both assistant instructors are police and usually, at least two other officers show up to take the class. Varg says he always opens the floor to these guys during debrief and asks, “What do you think? What would you do? What would you have done?”

He injects them into the scenarios so when he sends an off-duty cop into the situation, who is a student, he tells them, “You’re out with your wife, you’re plain clothes, you’re off duty, you don’t have your badge on you. How would you deal with this situation? Be realistic in how you would deal with it.”

He says that with the cops, he sees more command, more taking control. Usually, the cops are much more in control after the situation and their words are a lot more put together afterward. They’ve practiced it. They’ve done it. They’ve been giving people commands for several years now, some under stressful situations so they know what to say and how to say it.

Sometimes he has to back cops off because he’s noticed that cops will get too aggressive with bystanders and that’s a problem. He’s had to work with cops repeatedly over the years reminding them that the bystanders are they’re scared and don’t need to be screamed and cussed at. So, the police get to work on handling issues in the classes too.

24:00 How does a Force on Force class benefit the students?

In the class over the weekend, two concealed carriers got into a fight because they didn’t understand who they were in the situation. They immediately thought that each other was the bad guy. There was a shooting and they both saw each other with guns out. Consequently, they had a gunfight of about 24 rounds. One guy got hit in the pinky finger so the class got a talk about the use of sights and marksmanship under stress.

That’s what force on force does. It gives students the opportunity to learn from experience. They don’t have to be super tuned up. Students need basic gun skills, knowledge of safety measures, and an understanding of how to not put the muzzle on people. Students come into force on force classes and learn principles like:

• Support your partner.

• Always provide security.

• Stay on line or stay on lateral distance to prevent an issue with crossfire.

• Understand and support your partner’s position.

These are principles you’ll learn in a team-based Force on Force class. It’s not door-kicking room-clearing stuff. Those classes are out there, but Freeborn’s classes are about situations in which two people are out, both carry guns. Something goes bad and they have to work together and get out of the situation without getting into more trouble. 

I invite new people, and new shooters to come to my classes. We use UTM rounds, which is simulated ammunition. It’s not supposed to penetrate you so long as your soft tissues are properly protected, primarily from the neck up.

Freeborn did get hit in this last class with a UTM round from an AR-15. Although it was painful, he lived through it. There is something to be learned by pain consequence. You catch a couple of rounds in the right place and you’re going to have a realistic fear of that weapon going in to the next scenario. You’re going to try real hard not to get shot, which is what we want.

26:22 Are you convinced you need to go to a Force On Force class but scared because the UTM rounds hurt?

If that scares you out of taking a class, maybe you should stop carrying a gun because that hurts a lot worse than a UTM round.

26:40 Is there any advantage of using a UTM Round over air soft?

UTM and SIM rounds are actual ammunition that cycles through the weapon. They fire and cause the round to eject and a new round to load like how semi-automatic functions normally. It doesn’t have quite the same recoil, but it does have a recoil impulse which is important. A gas blowback airsoft gun does has a recoil impulse and also cycles, but it’s very very different in that the airsoft is not hitting you at 450-ish feet per second.

With the UTM, you have a sizeable little round hitting you at 450 feet per second. It stings a little bit but it’s not terrible like with the pistol rounds. You can just tell that you got hit. 

29:54 What if airsoft is your only option?

Freeborn says he started out with airsoft years ago. His first force on force classes were done in a field with gas blowback airsoft guns. People who went to those classes learned a ton. But those same people who then went to classes using UTM got a little more realism and pain consequence.

31:48 Should you sign up for a Force on Force class?

If you are at the level in your training that you care about self-defense and carrying a gun, and you’re learning to the point that you’re downloading and listening to this podcast, it’s time for you to take a force on force class. It should be one of your goals for 2021. Get into one of Freeborn’s classes or take one with some other reputable trainer.

32:27 How to balance everything?

It’s still a tense time in the country, people are uncertain about society. Try to stay focused on positive things. Do a fair amount of training and thinking about what you need to be doing, but also do a fair amount of living and enjoying your family and people you care about. They may not be around next week. That’s going to be more important than which foot you should put forward undercover and during the firing drills.

Get into a Force on Force class because you’re going to learn what you need to know going forward.

Gunmag Training's Chief Instructor Daniel Shaw is a retired US Marine Infantry Unit Leader with multiple combat tours and instructor titles.  Since retirement from the Marine Corps, Daniel teaches Armed Citizens and Law Enforcement Officers weapons, tactics and use of force. Daniel takes his life of training and combat experience and develops as well as presents curriculum to help Law Enforcement, US Military and Responsible Armed Citizens prepare for a deadly force encounter.  When he isn't directing marketing for Gunmag Warehouse, Daniel travels the US teaching and training under Gunmag Training, and discusses all things hoplological and self-defense related on The MagLife Podcast.

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