Bad Things Happen in the Dark - SMT Training Newsletter #23

Watching the nightly news or reading the crime section of the newspaper reminds me why training for all conditions is so critical. Crimes like robbery, assault, rape, and murder are happening in U.S. cities every night and yet the vast majority of self-defense training is happening in daylight conditions.

Last month, the Advanced Class at SMT spent 5 weeks doing nothing but studying and practicing firearm manipulation in low light conditions. So for the next couple of weeks, the SMT Training Newsletter is going to go through just a few of the aspects that you need to know to defend yourself in the dark.

Low Light Conditions

Too often people associate Low Light training as this single, monolithic skill, but in reality, there are subtle differences in light levels and light directions that change how we as Defenders should respond. We categorize these light conditions based on light level and the orientation of light on our target or threat. So far from simply one condition, "low light," there are actually five conditions: Full Light, Low Lit Ambient, Front Lit, Back Lit, and Full Black.

Full Light is what we are used to. We do the vast majority of our training in this condition. Here, our eyes have to make no adjustments to light levels, nor do we concern ourselves with the direction that light is coming from. You can clearly see and identify your target/threat.

Low Lit Ambient is the condition where light levels are low enough that you must find and use the night sights on your firearm, but an additional source of light is unnecessary to see and identify a target/threat. In Low Lit Ambient, your eyes will adjust to the light levels both chemically and physically (we'll discuss this adaptation in a future newsletter), but once that adjustment is made you can see clearly enough to function without the aid of a flashlight. The key to training this light condition is learning to find your night sights. When we normally look at the sights on the slide of the firearm, they probably look like black pieces of metal with a bit of white that holds a piece of radio active material called tritium, but in this low light condition, those sights will suddenly glow and look very different. There is usually a drop of in first shot time as well as split times in this condition until the shooter can clearly recognize their night sights without feeling "off" about how different they look in the low light condition.

Front Lit is akin to Low Lit Ambient, but now there is a definitive direction of the light source. The light is behind you, the Defender, and directly on the target/threat. In this case, what we have is a shadow, and we're in it. Since we can see the target/threat, which is in the light, we do not need to add another light source like a flashlight, and since we're in the shadows, we have a distinct tactical advantage: I can see you, but you have a hard time seeing me. What changes here in our training is that when/if we must shoot, any shot will immediately give away our position. Therefore, starting in Front Lit, we have to start applying a Low Light 360 Check and Light Pollution Procedures. The overall gist here is that, once you've emitted any light, you must move from the place that you created that light. Light on - light off - move. If we don't move after generating this light, when it goes off, another threat could still engage us because the light pollution has given away our position and removed any tactical advantage the shadow had given us.

Back Lit is the condition in which the low level light source is behind the target/threat. When this happens the shadow extends through the target/threat and to where we are standing. With the light behind the target/threat we now have a problem, I can't identify whether or not this threat is a potentially lethal one because I can't see them. Back Lit requires us to add in a light source, for Defenders, this is where our tactical flashlight comes into play. With the tactical flashlight, we can now "light up" our target and give ourselves the time and visual capability we need to identify if our target is a lethal one and engage it. With 

a Back Lit target, I still don't need my flashlight to get effective rounds downrange. This is where the rubber ring on the flashlight in last week's Newsletter comes into play. Flip the light out of the way, use two hands on the firearm. Then, just like Front Lit, we need to follow our Low Light Procedures. Light on - light off - move.

The last condition is Full Black. In this case, unless I have some form of my own light, I cannot see where I am going or who I am dealing with. There is a lot of physical and chemical changes that occur with the eye when in this low light condition and as such, the tactical flashlight can give us a significant advantage if we know how to use it properly. In this light condition, not only will you need that flashlight to identify the threat/target, but you'll need it to shoot your handgun as well AND to conduct your 360 Degree Check after the engagement. Here those Low Light Procedures become absolutely paramount as you need that flashlight for everything. Light on - light off - move.

Next week, we'll go into the physiology and structure of the eyes and how they change to light conditions. By understanding this physiology, you will not only be better at protecting your night vision, but you'll be more capable of defeating the night vision of your threat.