I participated in the Force Science Institute’s Force Science Certification course, February 17-21, 2020 in Austin, Texas.
From their website:
Individuals who successfully complete this program will be certified as Force Science Analysts. This designation attests that the holder has been trained to recognize and articulate important psychological, biological, and physiological factors that can influence human behavior and memory in force encounters and pursuit situations. Like persons trained in accident reconstruction, blood-spatter analysis, and other science-based disciplines, investigators certified in Force Science Analysis will be able to apply their grasp of human dynamics to interpret how and why a force confrontation evolved as it did. Students will also know how to mine the memories of those involved for relevant recollections. This information can be vital to authorities who ultimately must judge the encounter, such as administrators, internal affairs, chiefs, review board members, prosecutors, judges, and jurors.
For years, FSI courses were only available to people directly involved in law enforcement. But about 2 years ago, they opened it up to non-LEO. I’ve been wanting to take this course for a number of years, and am happy I was finally able to.
The course was held in the Doubletree Hotel conference room on the north side of Austin (hooray! I got to commute up and down I-35 for a week!). 8:30 to 5:30 for 4 days, and 8:30 to about 1:00 on the last day. There were 112 or so people in class. Overwhelmingly most were LEO, but I know at least 4 people were not: myself, my fellow KR Training instructor Tracy Thronburg, Marty Hayes (of Firearms Academy of Seattle, and Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network), and Andrew Branca (Law of Self Defense). I had no idea Marty was going to be there (Marty’s a friend), and no idea Andrew was either (first time meeting and speaking with him). From a quick scan of the room, most LEO were from Texas agencies, but there were others – I believe 1 attendee had flown in from Australia.
We were provided a large, printed/bound book, of all the lecture slides. That was a nice touch, making it easy to take notes as well as having a solid reference on your bookshelf for later. With 40 hours of drinking from the information firehose, there’s no way you can remember everything, so the bound notes book is a welcome touch for memory retention and future reference.
Each day was divided into topics. Some topics would receive a couple hours of treatment, such as how the brain works (to help us understand how memory works, how sensory perception works), how vision works. Some topics would receive multi-day coverage, such as biomechanics, although this was broken up to cover many sub-topics.
And yes, there is a (closed-book) test. We took it just before lunch on the 4th day. It covered all topics presented to that point, and yes it was a requirement for certification (all people in our class passed, but I am to understand there have been failures in prior classes).
I appreciated the content provided. Yes, it was mostly provided from the perspective of law-enforcement, but that stands to reason. But as someone who trains private citizens, how applicable is this to me and my students?
Fairly well, actually.
What’s studied and presented is mostly about human beings. How we work, how we function, our capabilities, our limits. It doesn’t matter if you’re a police officer, a CEO, a farmer, a software developer – humans are human. Our senses, our brains, they only can do so much and work so fast.
You see how a lot of human performance research is based in sports performance. I think that also makes it great for helping people that might not understand (or want to understand) performance in a “use of force” context understand that this isn’t just “research to help cops find excuses to murder people”. No, this is just how people work, and this research is aimed to explain how people function in the context of use-of-force. Certainly this information and research could be used to keep someone out of jail, or put someone in jail; it’s information, not agenda nor bias.
Some presented material was certainly specific to law enforcement, but it was still welcome to see that information and gain knowledge and insight into those aspects. Because still for my students, if they are involved in a use-of-force incident themselves, they will interact with law enforcement so having such insight is useful.
For me, I found the information going through two filters.
First, that of an instructor. As of this writing, I have about 850 hours of formal training in this realm and have been teaching at KR Training for about 11 years. A lot of this material isn’t new to me, but that’s fine. I always appreciate hearing such things again, because there’s always some new twist, some new detail, some new angle in the material and how it is presented that provides me with greater reinforcement, clarity, depth, and understanding of the topic. But for sure, a good deal of information was new.
I found myself thinking about our curriculum, what we teach, how we teach it. I think about the questions students tend to ask and the way they are typically answered. I found myself both affirming much of what we already do as sound and good approaches, but also making adjustments to word choice or emphasis. For example, it was frequently stressed the importance of “if you expect to perform at X, you need to train at X”. Let me explain.
Let’s say I wanted to become a top-class swimmer, like Olympic gold medalist. Well, if I want to do that, I don’t think power walking on a treadmill will get me there – I have to swim. Extreme example, but I hope you’re following the reasoning. But I shouldn’t just swim, like the seniors doing “adult swim” laps at the YMCA. I need to swim hard. I need to swim in races against other people (which is implicitly a timer). I need that sort of pressure, to have my training mirror the environment, situation, context, everything of that moment of actual performance (the actual swim meet and race).
So if I expect to be able to perform in a gunfight, I need to have my training mirror the environment, situation, context, everything about that situation that one can safely mirror in training. This means pressure, this means training like scenarios/Force-on-Force. This sort of training will help me be better prepared and improve my chances of performing well.
This isn’t then so much a realization that we need to change what we do – we’re already teaching and promoting this (my boss-man Karl Rehn is one of the modern pioneers of force-on-force training). This is more to those who don’t think you need such training, that do things like poo-poo shot-timers, yet still think they are adequately training people for “that moment”. There’s science that says you’re doing it wrong.
The second filter? I won’t go into too much detail, but my personal incident of January 2015 served as another filter and perspective through the whole week. This is the sort of thing that, if you’re curious for my thoughts here, we can talk in person. It’s not bad, it’s just nuanced and I don’t think I can adequately convey in a blog post.
It’s not all rosy
Overall I was pleased with the course, but there were a few things I didn’t find optimal.
First, it’s just a LOT of information in a short period of time. There’s no way to remember it all. The book is nice, but it’s just the presentation slides and room for notes. And you will take notes, but the note-taking process divides your attention and you miss things. I wish there was a better way to manage the information density.
Second, it is death by PowerPoint. But at least the speakers were all dynamic, engaging, good story-tellers. They certainly captured and held the interest of the audience. But again, I’m not sure there’d be any other practical way to do accomplish the goal of this training.
Third, sometimes I wondered if this was about educating us on the material, or defending the validity of the work FSI does. Many times when Dr. Lewinski was speaking, he kept making a big point about who they did the research with (the researches, the Universities), what scientific journal – and the prestige of that journal – in which the research was published. That the FSI work was accepted by this court and that court and all these things. He would frequently sound like he was trying to convince us his word, his work, was all valid sound defensible science. Now I get it: there are a lot of critics of Dr. Lewinski and FSI’s work, so I’m sure his actions come from somewhere. But it just came across as too much. If you have to get this defensive, is the criticism valid? I mean, you have a room full of paying customers – I don’t expect this is an audience you need to convince. So it was curious and a little distracting. I think the point could have been made in a more subtle way, or by simply not bothering… because if in fact it is invalid, proper science will bear that out.
Should You Take This?
This information can be vital to authorities who ultimately must judge the encounter, such as administrators, internal affairs, chiefs, review board members, prosecutors, judges, and jurors.
So if you fall into that category, it’s likely useful to you.
But how about folks in my realm: private citizens?
If you’re “just a private citizen”, I don’t see much need to take this class. If you have the money, the time, the desire, there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking it and I won’t stop you. I just would consider it something like a “grad school level elective” – far from critical to take, and your finite time/money may be better spent elsewhere. More firearms training, first aid training, improving your physical fitness, and things like that may serve you better.
If you’re someone like me, a trainer/instructor, my answer is… maybe.
It depends on what sort of instructor/trainer you would be.
If you’re someone who is content to have their NRA Instructor credentials so you can help teach Boy Scout merit badges, the FSI training doesn’t make a lot of sense. (and note: there’s NOTHING wrong with being an instructor like that). If you just like teaching basic/introductory/familiarization courses to new shooters, you might find some utility here, but again it’s probably not worth your time/trouble/expense. If you’re purely interested in competition/sports, you would probably do well to learn about human performance dynamics, but the context the FSI course presents it in isn’t the correct context for you.
This material is useful for someone like me: someone deeply and earnestly interested in helping people learn how to manage themselves and perform at a high-level in situations of self-defense.
If I extend the above analogy, I’d consider this grad-school level course work. If you don’t have your “undergrad” credentials (e.g. NRA Instructor, higher-level instructor such as Rangemaster certified, MAG certified, CSAT, etc.), that should come first. If you don’t have a few years teaching at least some hundred students, that should come first. The presentation is certainly one expecting you to have some idea and experience in the topic realm. But I also don’t think it’s critical to one’s success to attend… it’s just like getting a Masters degree: not vital, but does take you further, deeper, into topics.
I’m certainly happy to have taken it, and know it will help me be a better teacher.
I want to thank Dr. Lewinski for the work he does, and his team of researchers and lecturers for all that they’re doing to help bring better understanding to the world about this topic. It’s good and important work.