Virtual Tactical Academy, Part I

Posted: January 8, 2014 in Vendor Reviews
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This is the first post in a multi-part review of Virtual Tactical Academy in Houston, TX.  I visited VTA in December of last year and spent about two hours going through introductory training.  This is one of those reviews where I like to start with the conclusion and then work back through my observations.

Simply amazing!

If you ask an average person about firearm training, the most likely mental image is one of a static, paper target at an indoor range.  This is fine for mastering mechanical operation of your firearm, as well as the basics of grip, stance, and trigger control.

What about an actual self-defense scenario?  What if your target is a real, live bad guy that moves and breathes?  What if he has a knife or gun in his hand and is moving rapidly towards you?  Would you be able to draw, present, and make combat-effective hits in a fluid situation?  By the way, what’s behind the target if you happen to miss?

Of course, we all hope we are never presented with an actual SD scenario, but the very nature of these situations begs a couple important observations regarding traditional training.  Static targets don’t move and they don’t shoot at you.  In short, most people never train in an environment where the target is trying to kill you!  That sounds blunt, but the reality of self-defense, especially defense with deadly force is that you are never expected to use it unless THE TARGET IS TRYING TO KILL OR INFLICT SERIOUS BODILY INJURY UPON YOU.

When was the last time you trained in such an environment?  What are your tendencies?  Your shot patterns?  What mistakes might you make – and yes, we all make them?  Making a mistake in a training scenario is correctable.  Making a mistake in an actual self-defense scenario can have serious and possibly permanent consequences.

The first level of VTA training involves interactive, HD video using SIRT pistols.  The video actually adjusts its presentation to you based on interaction with the laser, which is immensely practical as well as incredibly cool.  The VTA training system also records your hits, which can be displayed on the big screen after a scenario is finished.

So, how does it work?  The training session begins by facing all scenarios head-on in a low-light environment.  Video is displayed against a wall and the student is required to stand on an X-mark on the floor.  The instructor gives a brief verbal introduction to the scenario such as “you just got home and opened the garage door.”

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My first impression was that in a dark room with video that nearly fills an entire wall, this looked pretty darn realistic.  The subject is talking and the student is required to talk back in an attempt to take control of the situation.  The scenario escalates and the student is required to understand when to draw/present/fire.  Afterwards, the instructor places a cell phone in the student’s hand, and they simulate a call to 911 right after the incident.

Wow!  That was an eye-opening process.  Just as it would likely take place in reality!  After a few scenarios, I had a very good understanding of what I did well and what needed improvement.  In the good column, I had 100% combat-effective hits (no misses) and I stayed in the fight throughout the scenario (not lowering my gun after the bad guy went down).  In the need-to-improve column, I was late getting my firearm into play in a couple situtaions, a case of being pretty intimidated by too many Texas Law Shield seminars (every bullet has a lawyer attached to it).  I also experienced tunnel vision, which is common.  In one scenario, I told the bad guy to drop his gun when he was holding a knife.

That’s what learning is all about!  The interactive video display is very realistic, but VTA is a sterile environment as far as weapons are concerned, so no one gets hurt.  I’d much rather discover my real tendencies in this environment than an actual self-defense situation.

Now, if you want additional training on technique, the lead instructor (Austin Davis) will be glad to assist.  He has a very pleasant and helpful training stye and will help you with important combat techniques such as bore-sighting.

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The next level of training involves clearing a house.  Again, this is something we all hope we will never have to do, but bad guys don’t give us the opportunity to pick and choose our defensive environment.  So, shoothouse training is another area in which I wanted some experience.

Moving through a house with a firearm, constantly being on the lookout for bad guys, is not an intuitive or natural process.  There is a lot of technique involved and many of our natural tendencies are simply incorrect.

Bad guys can hide in very unexpected places.

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And, they have a nasty tendency to pop up just when you least expect (almost always with weapons in their hand).

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It’s easy to get distracted by a well-decorated room, but you could get shot by someone under the bed while looking at the decor.

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I learned a lot about technique, placement, how to approach and open doors, and general strategy on how to move through an indoor environment.  I made mistakes along the way, such as getting sucked into a corner (remember the phrase ‘corners are magnetic’).  Like i said before, it’s much better to discover those tendencies in a practice environment as opposed to a live self-defense scenario.

Tow hours hardly makes me an expert, but I came away from my VTA experience with an expanded understanding of how actual self-defense situations evolve and an intense desire to go back and learn more.  Anything I can learn to become better at the job of defending myself and my family is well worth the time and expense.  VTA is probably the best actual firearms training I’ve had to date and I highly recommend that you visit the VTA web site and consider a session for yourself.

– Diligencia, Vis, Celeritas

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