Any of us who have participated in multiple tactical training scenarios, regardless of the schoolhouse, has probably received conflicted training.  One schoolhouse may advocate the “c” clamp when holding a rifle while others push using a forward grip.  Some instructors stand in front of their students and advocate a particular tactic that they believe will revolutionize the way we conduct warfare and spend every second trying to make you a believer. In contrast, others just focus on having you master the basics.



In the end, all tactical training is based on either reality-based training, theory-based, or a combination of the two. So what’s the difference between the two?

Reality-Based Training

Leading up to Iraq and Afghanistan, most of the training provided to the military was theory-based training.  This is because we hadn’t participated in a real war in quite a long time.  With the onset of the war on terrorism came the realization that most of the theory-based training we had been providing our soldiers was flawed.  This lead to more reality-based training.  Examples of this include the use of IVs on combat casualties.  The idea here was to push fluids to help replace lost blood in the event of major hemorrhaging.


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However, during Iraq and Afghanistan, medics saw that in reality, massive fluid replacement often caused blood clots to break, and they soon advocated using a MARCH (massive hemorrhage, airway, respiratory, circulation, hypothermia, head trauma) method when treating casualties.  This included the much-contested use of a tourniquet and addressing massive bleeders before airway. The use of IVs has now become more of a hospital task rather than a task of a combat medic unless it’s dealing with dehydration.  While some medics are still using IVs in the field, it doesn’t take the same precedence as it did in the past.   This initial idea to use IVs came from studies of previous conflicts combined with modern medicine breakthroughs and a good injection of theory as to what would happen.  Reality set in when medics were treating a large number of casualties and saw that the use of IVs wasn’t as beneficial as once thought.


Another example of reality-based training is close-quarters battle or CQB.  This is possibly the most contested and varied training available.  The training I received when I entered service 15 years ago is drastically different than it is today.  The training was primarily based on theory, and people made up solutions to what they thought would happen in a CQB setting.  As Iraq and Afghanistan kicked off the training drastically changed and still changes often as our enemies and we refine our TTPs. Theory is being replaced with reality.

Theory-Based Training

Theory-based training is still very prevalent in most schoolhouses.  One of the biggest users of theory-based training is civilian instructors.  The reason is that they are providing a product that they want you to buy.



Here their product is a specific tactic or warfighting technique.  Their goal is essentially to brand their tactic as something different and unique that will cause other students to come and learn their new innovative technique.  The issue is that the tactic they are putting out is often based on theory and could be flawed.  Now that’s not an absolute statement about civilian schoolhouses, it just tends to happen a lot.

Theory-based training is also found in the military quite often.  This happens when an NCO or officer has been trained on something based on theory.  They then train their troops who pass down the information to their troops and so forth.  This trend isn’t broken until reality-based training is interjected into the process.

How do we approach reality-based training vs. theory-based training?

When you go to a  schoolhouse, it’s important to enter it with an open mind and some skepticism.  If you are drinking the Kool-Aid right off the bat, you are setting yourself up for failure.  With any training, you should be there to find what works best for you.  While you might shoot best when holding a forward grip handle halfway down your rifle, someone else might do well with a “c” clamp grip.  Here neither technique is necessarily better or worse overall as it comes down to which one works best for the user.

In the same manner, we approach all training as another tool to put in the toolbox. What works in one situation may not work in the next; it’s best to have several techniques to choose from. The downside to training being varied from schoolhouse to schoolhouse or training center to the next is, everyone has something different. Someone else might not know about something that works for you. And when you’re thrown into a situation with someone you’ve never trained with, things could get a little messy. Whereas, if the training were universal, at least everyone would have the same tools and could work together.

It’s like having a foreign car. It requires specific tools. The car still runs great and shares the road like everyone else, but not every tool can work to keep in running like it should. You have to take it to a specialized mechanic, you’re required specific parts, and not everyone has the knowledge or the tools needed to work on the car.