Jeff Quail about Shocknife, Stressvest , De-escalation training and ‘Gun Sparring’.

Ben je IBT docent bij de Politie, KMAR of instructeur geweldbeheersing bij defensie of andere beroepsgroepen? Wil je meer weten van de man die aan de basis stond van de Shocknife, Stressvest of de allernieuwste methode genaamd ‘Gun Sparring.’? Lees dan mijn Q en A met niemand minder dan Jeff Quail! Zijn boek, ‘A Scientific Approach to Reality Based Training’ is het standaardwerk op het gebied van realistisch trainen en stress exposure training. Jeff schreef ook een bijdrage in mijn boek ‘Frontlinie training’ en nam de tijd voor ons enkele nieuwe ontwikkelingen te delen!

Over Jeff:

Jeff Quail served as a Winnipeg police officer for 25 years (Helicopter Pilot – Tactical Team Member – Gang Unit – Vice Division – Uniform Patrol – Officer Safety Instructor) , has a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology from the University of Liverpool and is currently heavily involved in training police officers how to be more effective in stressful scenarios.  And, of course, he trains jiu-jitsu.

1. Even though you’ve written a chapter in my book: can you give an update on what you’re mostly working on at the moment when it comes to (police) reality-based training?

We are working on a completely new and radical approach to firearms training we call Gun Sparring (TM). It is a truly ecological approach to firearm engagement training. The course will guide students through an incremental process of environmental and task constraints to find solutions within their own individual constraints. We will be running a beta course shortly and have invited two of Canada’s best law enforcement instructors (Kelly Keith and Brad Gillespie) to observe and critique. After we make adjustments based on their feedback, we will open it up to law enforcement trainers. There is no range work and almost all training involves interaction with other humans. The ADaPT Model will be applied after each evolution to focus further training on each individual student’s needs. To facilitate this approach, the bulk of training will utilize the Stressvest System, Smart Firearms, UTM blank conversions for Stressvest and a couple of really cool new products. This is all human on human training, no range is involved.

2. What topic related to police training currently has your most attention and why?

Optimizing police de-escalation training under time and budget constraints. I was fortunate enough to pre-read a paper on constructing de-escalation training for police written by Tori Semple, Bryce Jenkins and Craig Bennell of the University of Carlton in Canada. In the article they identified three limiting factors to achieve effective de-escalation training:

  1. Insufficient frequency and/or duration of the training.
  2. Issues related to the development of training, and
  3. Issues related to the delivery of training.

Since the paper focused on constructing de-escalation training, it did a great job of addressing the second limiting factor (issues related to the development of training). Setcan has been focusing on a new approach to address the other two limiting factors identified. We hope to circle back to the Carlton crew and draft an additional paper.

Our approach utilizes a method we are referring to as “Embedded De-escalation Training”. It involves embedding de-escalation training into every element of use of force training including weapons, control tactics, etc.. We have been heavily influenced by Staller et al, 2021. Kelly Keith, who is the Chief Instructor at Setcan, has been instrumental in bringing this approach into the training environment during our Principle Based Subject Control Course. His input, experience, and expertise is leading the way as we get feedback from students on how the embedded approach can be improved.

This is more of a methodology to combine existing de-escalation tactics with defensive tactics/subject control. We are not teaching anything new, just providing a framework to massively optimize training time. Any agency could use our strategy to embed what they are currently teaching for de-escalation into their training. We simply provide a framework that will help identify how and when to embed the de-escalation into control tactics training.

3. Among other things, you have developed the Shocknife. What was the reason for this and what is the training philosophy of yours. In other words, as a trainer, how do you use the Shocknife in the best way?

At the time the Shocknife was developed, roughly 60% of deadly force attacks against officers in our city were with edged weapons. The rubber knives we were using in training were not being treated seriously. Students would encroach and grab the blade of the rubber knife in attempts to disarm the role player. Obviously this was not a desired tactic. The Shocknife was designed as a solution and means to create realism in training. The Shocknife accomplishes two things. First, it causes students to treat it like a real knife because the blade will deliver a pain penalty. Second, it increases the stress levels of students allowing them to operate in a similar state that they would be in during a real world encounter.

The Shocknife can be used in both skill development drills and reality based training scenarios. When using the Shocknife for skill development, the SK-2 version has an adjustable pain penalty so that you can optimize the individual student’s arousal based on their current skill level. This ensures you do not over stress the student which can interfere with skill development. When using the Shocknife in RBT scenarios, we encourage and teach the role players to only activate the Shocknife when making contact with students. This prevents sparking and ensures the student is not conditioned to the sound of the knife, only the pattern of attack.  

4. You also researched how people respond to stabbing weapon attacks: what did you do and what did you find and what does that mean for training?

We separated attacks into two broad categories: anticipated attacks (where the officer was aware that the subject was armed with an edged weapon and had time and distance) and unanticipated attacks (where the officer was suddenly and unexpectedly attacked at close proximity). We focused only on unanticipated attacks as they are by far the most dangerous to officers. To be clear, this wasn’t published research but was a simple examination of two factors:

  1. Are there identifiable patterns of edged weapon attacks?
  2. Is there a predictable reaction from officers when they are suddenly attacked at close range, without any anticipation of the attack?  

To answer these questions, we examined existing videos of real world attacks. We generally found attacks fell into three patterns. To confirm these patterns, we created an interesting scenario involving untrained volunteers. We took the volunteers one at a time into a gym with a fully padded role player and a rubber knife laying on the ground. Without allowing any time or context we demanded they immediately pick up the rubber knife and attack the role player. The attacks were similar to what we found reviewing real world videos. The results led to our identification of three primary patterns of attacks. This provided our answer to question #1. Yes, there are identifiable patterns of edged weapon attacks.

To answer question #2, we again designed a realistic testing scenario that would allow us to create a sudden, spontaneous, unanticipated attacks on officers. We had been inspired by trainer Tony Blauer who had been vocal in the training world that humans would flinch if they did not anticipate the attack. That being said, we approached our study without any preconceived notion of what we might find. The scenario started by outfitting a student with training weapons, then lowering a hood over their head that was attached to a rope and pulley system. We then silently moved a padded role player armed with a Shocknife directly facing the officer inside of their reactionary gap. To start the scenario we would quickly lift the hood and the role player would immediately attack without hesitation. The results were astounding. Officers, (even some with previous martial arts training,) all had an immediate flinch response. However, the physical flinch was not in the manner some have predicted. The responses consisted of two radically different variations based on whether the knife attack was initiated high (roughly above the navel) or low (roughly below the navel).

Our observations allowed us to see the brain’s natural operation of the low road (through the amygdala) and high road (to the cerebral cortex) as identified by Dr. Joseph Ledoux. The low road led to the autonomic flinch response occurring unconsciously. After the initial flinch and rearward movement, a trained response by the officer was observed. The latency period between the low road and the high road means that an unconscious flinch or freeze response will always proceed any trained response when the attack occurs without anticipation.

Since it’s impossible to not anticipate the attack when training with a partner, we force the students to start in the position we identified through our research. We do this because we know this is actual position their body will be in if they flinched to a real response. For example, with the lower body attack, we identified that humans shoot their hips backwards and thrust both arms downward towards the attacking hand. So this is where we start our drills from for lower body attacks.  We do the same thing with the position we identified when humans are attacked high (again, not what most would predict it to be). Once in position, we begin with the student moving backwards while under attack, then insert the desired trained response after a replicating latency period. On our course, we advocate drawing and using the firearm for armed officers (based on testing conducted by Kelly Keith when he was at the Justice Institute of British Columbia) which showed superior outcomes when compared to unarmed control attempts. However, any unarmed response could also be taught as long as it occurs under the conditions we described above.

Students are attacked dynamically in this manner, over and over with the three patterns of attacks. We provide no specific solution on creating separation and getting to their firearm, instead the solutions come from the students themselves based on their own organismic/individual constraints. We have been using this ecological approach for over a decade now with incredible success.

I don’t go many weeks without someone reaching out to ask about this study and approach to training. If your readers are interested, we could arrange a live online presentation that would show the attack scenarios we recorded and explain the training solution so they can incorporate it into their own system.

5. What is the stress vest and why is it an important training tool for police trainers? What didactic and methodical approach and structure do you recommend?

Stressvest is a force on force, firearms training system that uses lasers fired from training weapons to strike sensor systems mounted center mass on the individual. When the sensor is hit by the laser, the sensors send a remote signal to a belt worn by the individual. Depending on the predetermined setting, the belt will deliver a shock or vibration. Our goal was to develop a reality based training system that would allow for the removal of protective equipment (specifically over the face) but still create stress through the fear of a pain penalty. We also wanted a means to constrain where the training shots needed to be placed on the role player. As with the development of all our products, we started out with a patent search. This led us to find a patent filed by former LAPD officer, John Elliott. He had designed a laser engagement system that consisted of a vest that delivered an electric shock when shot with a laser converted firearm. My business partner Rory Bochinski, immediately reached out to him and within days we were down in California and I was being shot and shocked in a hotel parking lot by John. As a result, we partnered with him and added our patented Stress Inoc system to the vest. Eventually, we needed to developed a new and improved method of sensing lasers. We accomplished this with the help of Fred Swensen and Luke Draper, the creator of the Smokeless Range system. Today the Stressvest is the world’s most advanced close quarter, force on force system. This year further improvements will be launched that will substantially improve performance from previous generations.

Most customers are using the Stressvest during reality based training scenarios. There are several benefits over other approaches. First, it removes the need for obstructive safety gear. This allows for full face communication between the student and role player. With the current focus on de-escalation and mental health, the need for full face communication is essential as the face is the primary source of non-verbal communication. It is imperative that officers have the ability to read these cues as provided by the role player within the training environment. Second, the StressX belt allows the pain penalty to be adjusted to optimize student performance. The ability to vary the level of pain or to create simple feedback through vibration provides the instructor the ability to optimize the haptic feedback for the current level of stress performance displayed by the student. Finally, it facilitates a constraint led approach. The ability to only reward shot placement on the specific locations desired on the body provides a unique environmental constraint constraints. This can be made even more challenging by inserting templates in front of the sensor system allowing for further constraint. For example, during our “Gun SparringÔ” program we will narrow the sensor area of center mass hits to be only four inches in diameter. Any shot placement outside of this area will not result in successful activation. It’s very similar to scoring a smaller area on a range target, but we are doing it in a full force on force environment.

This is a very simple explanation on how the Stressvest can be used in training. The advanced training modes in the StressX belt provide so many possibilities to optimize training it would be impossible to cover here. This includes injury simulation and strategies to move students to cover or concealment.

6.  What is the Simvoice and why is this an important training tool for police trainers? What didactic and methodical approach and structure do you recommend?

The Simvoice was developed after we attended a lecture given by Dr. John Azar-Dickens at Force Science. He was speaking on dealing with individuals in mental health crisis. One element that really resonated was what he described as a “contaminated mind”. The contaminated mind could be caused by drug induced psychosis and/or disorders of the mind such as schizophrenia. The auditory hallucinations experienced by these individuals can lead to unique and challenging situations that create massive barriers to communication. We knew that there were other devices designed to give the experience of auditory hallucinations in an effort to create empathy for people suffering from auditory hallucinations. These only provided the experience of hearing auditory hallucinations. We thought we could radically enhance this method by creating software that would allow us to manipulate the simulated auditory hallucinations to interact with specific training scenarios for law enforcement. The result is an application in which the user can choose a weapon (the voice will talk about), and four levels of hallucinations varying from neutral, to non-compliant, to semi-compliant, to compliant. The instructor can move the voices through these levels based on how the student officers perform during reality based training scenarios.

As with our other products, the SimVoice supports a constraint led approach by creating barriers to communication (environmental constraints) during reality based training scenarios. It also allows the instructor to remotely manipulate these barriers based on the performance of the student officers. Finally, it allows the student role players to experience the real challenge faced by individuals dealing with auditory hallucinations. We believe this helps create empathy and compassion that will lead to awareness and patience when encountering people suffering similar mental health issues in the field. John Wilson and Nathaniel Regalado from our audio/visual department at Setcan deserve credit for creating these realistic simulations. We provided it to volunteers who have lived with schizophrenia to get their feedback to make the experience as real as possible.

We have just launched a version for paramedics that includes third party themes (for individuals who may interfere with medical treatment of another party). It should be noted, that currently all voices are in English only. We would be happy to work with anyone desiring to create a version in another language.

As a company, we made the decision to make this product free for any law enforcement agency.

7. There is currently a lot of focus on the ecological approach to motor learning (e.g. the constraint led approach). What is your view and or experience with this? 

We were first exposed to this approach by Davids, Button & Bennett’s book, Dynamics of Skill Acquisition: A constraints-led approach back in 2008. Prior to this, we had intuitively utilized ecological approaches in several of our programs. For example, our Principle Based Joint Lock program is highly ecological. Instead of teaching specific joint lock techniques we teach the principle behind how each joint (wrist, elbow, shoulder) will lock. Once the principle is demonstrated, we allow the students to work with a partner and explore opportunities to find and apply the principle to lock the joint. How they accomplish the joint lock is completely up to them and influenced by both environmental and individual constraints.

For example, to teach how to lock the wrist, we teach them the principle behind every wrist lock is “ensure index knuckle and elbow move towards each other”. Then we demonstrate several examples on how this might happen (which highlights the principle). We then allow them to explore with a partner how they can operate within their own individual and environmental constraints to apply the principle and lock the wrist. How they accomplish this we don’t care. They may use one hand to grab the elbow and the other to grasp the top of the hand then push the hands towards each other like an accordion until the wrist locks. Instead they may stabilize the elbow with their body or the ground and apply pressure to the back of the hand to shorten the distance between the elbow and index knuckle until the wrist locks. Again, we don’t care how they accomplish the task, just that they are applying the principle. For a better explanation your readers can take a look at this article

A purest of the ecological approach may argue against introducing a principle or providing a demonstration. However, we are not teaching a technique, we are demonstrating the principle at work. We can’t forget that humans are observational learners and providing a clear demonstration of the principle at work, under varied conditions assists the learner during their exploration.

As previously mentioned, our Spontaneous Edged Weapons Defense program is ecological in nature and our new Gun Sparring program is entirely based on ecological dynamics. As mentioned, several of our products help facilitate environmental constraints.

As of late, Rob Gray has published several books which are amazing and seem to have grabbed the interest of law enforcement trainers. I’m excited to see what trainers can come up with to enhance training further using this approach. Most of what we have done was either by chance, intuition or as a result of the earlier work of Davids et al. I would caution trainers on rushing into this approach as a singular solution to all skill development. The ecological approach requires exploration within the constraints of the environment and tasks. In some cases, this is impossible with the limited time allotted for the training of specific skills for officers. I also believe that there is a need to identify principles that should drive the constraints selected to illuminate the principle during explorative training.

However, I am by no means an expert in this area. Your question might be better answered (from a law enforcement perspective) by researchers such as Craig Burnell or Terry Wollert or a trainer like Chris Butler who developed and delivers the Methods of Instruction course which I have heard is absolutely outstanding!

8. There is currently a lot of focus on VR training. What is your view and or experience with this? 

Beyond experiencing numerous VR platforms at various tradeshows, I have never been directly involved in using it as a training tool. I think every approach has its place in training. VR, Screen Simulators, Non-lethal Training Ammunition, Stressvest, etc., each have pros and cons. It is important that the instructors use the right system for the desired performance outcomes.

My own personal feeling is that the future is augmented reality (AR). We are years or possibly decades away from a truly functional AR system for law enforcement. But when it is accomplished, students will be able to train and move within a real environment that can use AR to fill the environment with realistic avatars. This will allow officers to train in the actual environment they will need to perform. This allows for actual movement and engagement within a real environment while using AR googles to provide realistic avatars instead of or in conjunction with human role players. For example, imagine conducting active shooter training at an actual school after hours. The officers being trained would wear an AR system and that would allow the empty school to be filled with avatars that could replicate hundreds of students running from an active shooter. The real environment can be used without the need for safety equipment, actual role players, etc. Video capture will allow for detailed feedback on tactical performance and synced training weapons would provide history on shooting accuracy. It will also allow instructors to review performance from the first-person perspective of the student.

Unfortunately there is still a massive amount of development required before we reach AR as the optimal solution. For example, something as simple as the sights of the weapon being in front of the AR lens creates a challenge to replicating the actual sight picture of a weapon.

9. What is an instructive article, book or podcast that you have read or listened to in 2022 that all police trainers should read or listen to?

I mostly focus on peer reviewed articles. There are so many excellent papers I wouldn’t even know where to start. I would just encourage trainers to jump onto google scholar and search areas they are interested in. I’m more of a book person, than podcast, so of course I would recommend Frontlinie Training (which I am still working through with the aid of google translate).

10. What are you looking forward to in 2023 when it comes to training (developments, projects, research, etc) and why?

My interest lately has been in examining approaches to dealing with stress during combative sports training and competition, specifically BJJ and Judo. We have been using a unique approach to dealing with stress related degradation in performance by applying the Biopsychosocial model. Although the model was originally developed by Engel as a medical approach that examines the interaction between biological factors, psychological factors and sociological factors. Most approaches to stress performance in sports have a heavy emphasis on biological (physiological) and psychological aspects. Both from a causation and intervention perspective. However, specifically in these types of sports, the sociological aspects are a huge driver of stress which leads to physiological and psychological degradation in performance.

Some coaches are failing to recognize the sociological factors that are actually at the root of their athletes’ performance anxiety. Specifically, the effects of social hierarchy involving both in-group (training partners) and out-group (competitor) interactions. We have interviewed athletes and found common self-imposed social stressors within the training and competitive environment. Here are some examples:

 “If I tap to this lower belt they will no longer respect me.”

“If I get tapped by this lower belt my coach will not think I’m not worthy of my current rank or not ready for my next promotion.”

“I have always been able to tap this person, if they tap me they will no longer respect me or my abilities or may treat me differently (without respect).”

“If my peers see me submitted by this individual they will judge me as not being worthy.”

These fears often lead to escape and avoidance behavior. Escape behavior may include suddenly teaching during a roll/randori in an effort to suggest that the individual teaching was not actually submitted but either gave the submission to assist in learning or that adjustments were needed to actually reach the submission. Another prominent escape behavior is to feign injury. This behavior attempts to camouflage the fact the individual was caught in a submission or about to be submitted. Avoidance behavior includes: not training with specific individuals, training at specific times where threatening individuals are typically not present or leaving early when specific individuals show up to train. These behaviours are driven by fear of what affect losing will have on their perceived position within the social hierarchy.

These sociological fears lead to psychological stress which in turn leads to physiological activation of stress related systems. Hence why all three factors in the biopsychosocial model become applicable to the combat athlete. The perfect competitor in these environments appear to be “athletes that hate losing, but aren’t afraid to lose.” There are lots of individuals who hate losing, but only a small handful of these that aren’t afraid to lose. The fear of losing is typically related to how losing may change their position within their own social hierarchy.

We believe coaches need to understand these fears and create a culture that eliminates or minimizes the effect losing has on athletes within the social hierarchy and not just losing in competition but losing during training. There are several strategies that could be employed to accomplish this. If you have any doubt of the power that sociological factors are having on these athletes, provide a safe place where you can interview them and really mine out their fears. I think you will be surprised how many of them related back to the social hierarchy described. Remember, first and foremost, we are social animals. I am not a sports psychologist, or have any expertise in this arena, but would love to hear thoughts from those who do.

11. Did I see correctly that SETCAN has a training center and if so, what can you do and learn there?

We used to have a large training center that consisted of scenario rooms with movable walls, etc. But unfortunately we have been a victim of our own success. Our product side of the business has grown so quickly that we needed extra storage room for products. Add to this that the majority of training we conduct is done at host agencies and not our training center. As a result, we made the decision to shrink the training area down to a classroom, lunch room and mat area.

Learn more

A Scientific Approach to Reality Based Training eBook : Wollert, Terry, Quail, Jeff: Kindle Store

The Strenuous Life Podcast with Stephan Kesting: 316 – Dissecting the Fight or Flight Reaction, with Police Trainer Jeff Quail MSc (

SETCAN™ Corporation – Product Lines