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10 Lessons Learned from the Virtual Tactical Academy (VTA)

Posted by Austin Davis on

Since the June 2013 opening of my new advanced concealed carry training facility in Houston (, I am able to spend lots of time watching people react to very realistic Use of Force Scenarios. Now, after witnessing hundreds of virtual gunfights, I have learned much about the average CHL holder’s performance under stress.

The Learning Environment:

VTA’s Virtual Reality Room provides branching video with approximately 800 shoot/no-shoot judgment training simulations. Students talk to the screen and answer the realistic actor threats on the screen. After each scenario students practice their 911 calls (a neglected practice area), recap to instructor what they think happened and discuss where they think their shots landed. The whole scene is then replayed to compare what they saw, what they thought they saw, and with how they really shot. Amazing how different the imagined event compares to the replayed reality!

The shoot house at VTA is a six room furnished environment where students learn in a realistic 3D space. Threats are taught to be defined into one of three categories: Good, Bad and Unknown and how to quickly deal with each. Once the basics of clearing around corners and doors are learned, we strap students into a Stress Vest. Stress Vest is the world’s only non-projectile pain penalty gear with adjustable pain levels. When you are really worried about incoming threats causing pain, the training gets “real” quick.

We do all the above also in low and altered light using all 5 flashlight techniques. Low Light is the most common environmental condition you will operate. But it is the least trained and understood.

The 10 Most Common Lessons Learned To Date:

1. Shooting paper is great training for shooting paper. Reality Based Training can be a wake-up call. Most shooters have never shot a target that moves like a real person.

2. You will have to talk to far more people than you will ever have to shoot, yet few if any student practices talking and tactics. Reality based training excels at teaching you to think, speak and move all at the same time. Important skill sets!

3. About 1/3 of our students can’t bring themselves to shoot a human. We spend our whole shooting life with “don't point a gun a people” instructions. It is hard for the average person to point and shoot a gun at a person. If you own and/or carry a gun for protection you might want to get use to the idea that a threat may need to be shot.

4. Auditory exclusion is real. Once a realistic threat is on screen or faced in the shoot house, one of the first effects of stress induced training for many seems to be the loss of ability to comprehend what is being said to them. After getting the student through about 10 simulated gunfights this effect passes, but it takes stress inoculation to get most students past the inability to both hear and comprehend. It is not about not hearing, but being able to process the words into comprehension.

5. You need a certain level of fitness. We’re not saying you need to be Elite Warrior Fitness level, but at least be able to get up off the floor without assistance, move in any direction and have either a light enough gun or the arm strength to be able to hold the gun for at least 60 seconds at full extension. Even reasonably functionally fit people are harder to kill.

6. Your competitive shooting hobby might cause problems. Competitive shooters often have pre-programed responses that don't always serve them well. Like double tap, shooting faster than they can process threats, and the biggest problem: coming off the threat once the initial action is over.

7. Even at close distances, self described “good shooters” miss often in realistic scenarios. It is amazing how poor even self-described “good shooters” perform under stressful operating circumstances. This is where speed and accuracy balance comes into play.

8. FISH is (Fighting Inside Structure/Home) a new 360 degree concept to most paper shooters. That is a serious training issue when 52% of all shootings will be in a home. Learning to fight inside a structure is a vital skill and without a realistic shoot house training facility, it is difficult or nearly impossible to learn.

9. Low Light is a specialized skill set that few understand, practice or have even basic competency. You cannot shoot what you cannot see. Just dealing with determining
good, bad and unknown threats in well-lit conditions is challenging. Add reduced light, difficulties with gun, and light manipulation and you have recipe for a disaster of mistake of fact shooting.

10. It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one. Training is about learning from your mistakes. We all like to look good and do what we do well. Amazing how many refuse to just check ego at the door and “fess up to a mess up”. The more we sweat in training, the less we bleed in conflict.

So there you have it. If you are ever in Houston, please stop by and try your skill sets in context that is closer to reality. Please visit our website and our articles page to study the science behind reality based training advantages.

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