Reality-Based Self Defence: Scenario Training – 4


Blitz Magazine, September 2014 Vol. 28. No.9

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a 20th-degree black belt – if I attack you just as you’re getting out of the shower; you won’t do a jump front kick. You will yell, ‘Holy shit!’ and jump back. That is the withdrawal reflex; the recoil from danger.”

Tony Blauer is one of the pioneers of RBSD scenario training and is best-known for devising the S.P.E.A.R. system. The system works by utilizing the natural response to surprise; the startle, or flinch reflex.

Blauer’s system seeks to convert this reflex into something that functions like an instinctive natural counter. Principal amongst his methods for cultivating this response is scenario training.

“[My system has] been around in law enforcement for a couple of decades,” says Blauer. “There’s a lot of studies on how to run people through scenarios; to reduce their elevated heart rate. The first time, people experience a fear spike.

“You put it into an intelligent role-play. There are factors that create an adrenalin dump, or fear spike. [Scenario training is] the only 3D approach; the last frontier of training where everything is challenged.”

“I started in 1980 [and my system] predates almost every reality-based program out there. In 1986, I produced the Panic Attack tapes; scenarios outside of a van, hotel rooms. Guys were wearing head-gear, elbow pads, knee pads, and whaling on each other. From there, it included dealing with obstacles, problems with mobility, etcetera.”

James Shang, one of the principal Australian representatives for Blauer and his S.P.E.A.R. system, explains how personal self-defence is part of a continuum that is as relevant to emergency workers, law enforcement officers and military personnel as it is to civilians.

“The benefits of scenario training are proven [beyond] a doubt. Hospital staff, Fire fighters, police, ambulance, surf life saving and others all use scenario training to achieve a level of stress inoculation to [train personnel to make] decisions quickly when under duress.

“Personal safety/self defence is no different, and role playing violent encounters via gradually escalating drills that have clearly defined goals and objectives along with safety protocols can be extremely effective.”

Blauer has mapped out the parameters of effective scenario training to ensure the safest, most effective experience for participants. James explains that scenarios are constructed with a progressively increasing level of stress in order to gradually ‘inoculate’ a student, so as not to overload them and potentially cause some kind of negative experience.

“You can’t create PTSD from good training; you can only create PTSD from shitty training. There’s your fucking quote,” says Blauer.

Good training is structured around Tony’s protocols designed to create effective drills, a process which James Shang describes in detail.

“For even a simple drill I use a process which is pretty much the same, even for our high-level, free-form drills:


1: Describe the drill. What’s the scenario? How did we end up in this situation, and how could it have been avoided through awareness and de-escalation? What is the purpose of the drill?  What’s the attacker’s goal? What’s the defender’s goal?

2: Demo the drill. Slowly walk through it. Explain points of safety; explain what signals the end of the scenario and what is the ‘safety signal’ (kind of like tapping out in grappling)

3: Dissect . Remind all participants of the purpose of the drill, stages of the drill and in particular, points of safety

4: Run the drill. Gradually increase the intensity in line with the defender’s level of experience, keeping in mind that safety is paramount

5: Debrief – recap the drill/scenario. Get feedback from the defender about how they felt, what did they experience. It’s important to ensure at this point it at least achieves the intention of the scenario/drill.”


The structure and context of drills has been exhaustively mapped over time by Tony Blauer in an effort to cover all contingencies. He has also produced training tapes on Ballistic Micro Fights and How to Be a Good Bad Guy to train instructors to effectively administer the stress-inoculation experience.

“I produced a DVD on how to role play; people are horrible at it! I don’t want to spar with you. I need you to portray the body language, tone and set up [of a ‘bad guy’].”

The trauma produced by a real encounter is the gradual goal of effective scenario training. As much as an effective conceptual framework, control and safety requires that instructors have comprehensive knowledge of participants at the outset.

“You need disclosure and transparency at the beginning,” says Blauer. “[Scenario training] could unlock old emotions. As a coach, you need to do your research [and to know] how to mentor and guide people through that. You can’t be cavalier. You remember the t-shirts that said, ‘No fear’? Our slogan is ‘Know Fear’.

“That’s part of our protocol. Know how [fear] affects performance. How it changes breathing and thinking. How your complex motor skills change when there’s a bad guy in front of you. He’s not interested in sparring with you; he’s there to hurt you.”

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