Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) recommends scenario training:
So in scenario training, you start with what you want the student to learn. You wanted the student to learn how to tap into her inner beast and let go? You can set up scenarios for that. You want to get a student over some deep personal conditioning? You can inoculate for that with scenarios. You want them to take sterile skills and apply them to a dynamic, messy environment? Scenarios were made for that.
Most often I use them to help the student develop judgment in tandem with skills. They know how to take someone down… do they have any idea when it is appropriate? They know how to defend themselves, do they know what constitutes self-defense legally? Can they explain their actions to a jury of their peers?
Can they tell when a situations is developing? Do they know when to leave? Do they recognize the point of no return? Knowledge of violence dynamics (how bad guys attack) and force law are integral parts of self-defense. Every so often, these elements have to be practiced together.
The other thing about scenario training is that you find glitches. When the student doesn’t run; or uses a martial skill instead of a survival skill (fighting to win instead of fighting to escape) or plays to the scenario instead of the problem (decides not to use the mirrors or doors, ignoring truth for an image in the head) it tells you something. The same student is vulnerable to his or her own mind games and assumptions in real life. That’s a glitch, and a dangerous one. The best survivors are cheaters. If you want to encourage survival skills, you have to make it safe to cheat.
It takes good role-players and a good coach. A role-player who wants to can turn everything into a fight…and the student learns that only fighting (never leaving, never talking) is what works. A role-player who can play a convincing criminal (not an unstoppable monster or a cartoon character) is solid gold.
I find that there’s a certain paradox to “realistic” scenario training:
In my experience, roleplaying, like animation, has an awkward tendency to fall into the uncanny valley, where increased realism makes the whole thing seem less realistic.
In real life, I trust my gut, but in a scenario all the cues are off, and I have to consciously pretend to counter-intimidate the guy brought in to yell at me, or whatever.
Where it’s undeniably useful is in eliciting a huge adrenaline response or a sense of total shock and surprise, because that opens some eyes — fine-motor skills go bye-bye, tunnel vision kicks in, etc. — and teaches you both how to stay somewhat calm and what you can do when you’re not centered.