TYR Tactical

Malfunction Sticks Do Not Work

December 20, 2015
Aaron Barruga

The “malfunction stick” is a 1 x 2 piece of wood that instructors use to induce malfunctions in carbine courses. Skulking up and down their firing line, an instructor will place the stick against a shooter’s ejection port to induce a failure to eject.

The problem: it distracts shooters from learning the unhampered sensation of a malfunction, while simultaneously conditioning them to disregard foreign objects in close proximity to their weapon.

Altered Mental And Physical Sensations
It is normal to feel uncomfortable when a foreign object enters your workspace. Suppressing instinctive spatial awareness cues is both dangerous and encourages complacency. This creates a training environment in which a higher premium is placed on the uniqueness of a drill, rather than its intended and unintended effects.

Even if we evaluate the utility of a malfunction stick in a vacuum, in which no attention is given to peripheral behavior, it still fails. Allowing a stick to enter his workspace, a shooter is mentally primed for the following sensation, “I am about to have a failure to eject.”

Pressing the stick against a shooter’s ejection port also creates an added physical sensation. Regardless of the stick’s size, a shooter will unavoidably feel his gun pushed to the left. Under these circumstances, a shooter must suppress both mental and physical cues in his environment before he can experience the subtlety of a malfunction.

Comparative Methods
Bolt lock is another sensation shooters must learn. For novices, bolt lock may be indistinguishable from a bolt that has cycled into battery. A malfunction stick can be repurposed as a “bolt lock” stick, and instructors can press the piece of wood against a shooter’s slide lock. Does this accomplish its stated task, yes, but completely distorts the learning process.

Constructive Stimulus Or Unnecessary Distraction
In Ranger School or Special Forces small unit tactics training, instructors will use a training aid called the artillery simulator. This tool replicates the distinct whine of incoming artillery, and finishes with a non-lethal explosion. Used correctly, instructors employ artillery simulators to induce stress during a graded patrol.

For example, students learning how to doctrinally execute an ambush may spend too much time on the objective. Instructors will use artillery simulators to signal to students that they need to begin movement away from the target to avoid compromise from enemy reinforcements.

By using the simulator the instructor is interrupting the student’s mental and physical state, however, the added stimulus of the artillery simulator actually replicates real world circumstances. Adding stress under this context allows a student to build proper decision-making models because his training environment is still patterned after a real operation.

Improperly used, lazy cadre will throw artillery simulators to frustrate students, but with no specific learning objective. For example, while conducting a 10KM infiltration, an instructor may throw an artillery simulator just to make students move faster, or worse, because he feels it is his prerogative to aggravate students.

In combat, a patrol can receive enemy artillery fire during infiltration. However, the difference between the two examples is that in the former, the added stimulus provided by the artillery simulator is meant to enhance the learning experience. Using the simulator signals to the student, “We have spent too long on the objective.”

In the second example, the added stimulus does more to provoke annoyance. What are normally the qualities of purposeful interruption for the sake of learning is replaced by randomness. Although it causes students to react, it distracts from learning.

Instructor Inexperience
The varied use of artillery simulators either disrupts or contributes to training. Regardless, simulators replicate real world circumstances. Unlike the simulators, the malfunction stick is a deliberate interruption to training that is not patterned after any real world context, and is more representative of an instructor’s lack of experience.

Although it is impossible to avoid the inherent artificiality of any range exercise, it is best to err on the side of simplicity. The purpose of training is to create environments as close as possible to real world conditions. The malfunction stick fails to accomplish this because it requires a shooter to suppress both mental and physical stimuli within his workspace. Consequently, this behavior is contradictory to self-preservation, and may be disastrous for shooters that train to operate in the real world as opposed to just the flat range.


Aaron is a Special Forces veteran. His company (Guerrilla Approach) provides training for law enforcement, the military, and civilians in CA.



45 Responses to “Malfunction Sticks Do Not Work”

  1. N.D. Tyson says:

    On-point, as usual. Training “props” (pronounced “gimmicks”) are a crutch of an instructor without depth, and a boon to students looking for entertainment more tha

  2. Joe says:

    Thank God someone finally said it.
    And spot on about the lazy use of arty sims.

    • lcpl1066 says:

      not mentioned was a walker that wants to lighten his pack so he decides to initiate a mass cal by expending all remaining sims

      • Steve says:

        That guy is a dick and the “STX is almost over, react-to-indirect road march”

        I hadn’t even heard of this one yet, “tactical instructors” are getting too creative for their own good, without real experience or judgement to keep it in check. They must not be spending enough time on the fundamentals.

  3. jellydonut says:

    Why would you do this instead of loading a random dummy round into the magazine? To my mind that seems like the best solution for inducing malfunctions in training.

    I’ve never seen this used before but googling it I managed to find a couple mentions from training companies. Amazing. If this isn’t nipped in the bud I imagine it’ll become another one of those gun forum trends.


    • Bill says:

      Inerts have always worked for me, be it handgun, rifle or shotgun. I never felt the need to physically molest a student’s gun while they were firing.

  4. Jon, OPT says:

    Never even heard of this before.

    • Joe says:

      Need to spend more time looking at the tactical heroes without DD-214s on instagram

      • Jon, OPT says:

        Yeah, I really need to get out more, time to leave the tactical knowledge mansion and spend time in the gadget trailer park, might learn more of what not to do, get a laugh, maybe witness some good old fashioned unsafe acts.

        • James says:

          Yeah Jon, I saw a video of this the other day floating around. I can’t remember who it was though. It seemed pretty ridiculous to me.

          • Davan says:

            It was start by William petty, then copied by Aaron Cowen of sage dynamics and now it’s being used by Johnny Bonnet of blackcenter tactical out in California.

    • d says:

      Same here. Is it that common?

      • I originally started this piece a few months ago, but didn’t want to publish and have it unintentionally elevate the argument in favor of the sticks. These sticks are more prevalent in open enrollment courses, or in classes taught by instructors that regurgitate material in absence of credentials.

        I decided to publish when I started to see department’s using the stick.

    • Eric B says:

      Neither have I. Just sounds like a bad idea from inception.

  5. PLiner says:

    Well written and explained article. If you see an “instructor” with one of these idiot sticks in his hand you should probably think about training with someone else.

  6. Dynamic Realism says:

    Great points. For the same reasons we should never use Simunition training because they do not offer the exact same recoil impulse as real firearms and students are not learning the “feel” of the gun under stress.

  7. dudeabides says:

    Oh, y’all talking bout practice?!


  8. chaser says:

    Playing devils advocate for a second. So, what your saying is flat range work, paper/steel targets, a lack of incoming fire or threats that a student has to react to is different than introducing a tool that makes a student react to any type of malfunction they may experience. The comment about not using Sims seems ridiculous as well. Not learning the “feel” of a gun under stress??? I don’t ever remember “feeling” anything about my guns under stress other than knowing it’s going bang when it should, that includes actual engagements and training. If it doesn’t then i need to fix it or transition to something that works.
    There is nothing we do in training that simulates completely what we experience in actual real world situations. I’ve been training and working for 29 years in different environments and although the training prepared me for some of the situations I found myself in there was always Murphy on stand-by. What that training did teach me was how to react under stress, how to fix a fucked up situation, and how to make sure I had the tools necessary to make it home.

  9. PbLead says:

    To simulate malfunctions during live fire exercises I would incorporate blanks into the magazines at random intervals, sometimes they got 3-5 blanks in a row. That REALLY screwed with them. When they had a blank they had to transition to pistol, hit their target then clear the stoppage in their rifle. It worked pretty well.

    • lcpl1066 says:

      I like that. I’m going to start incorporating that to supplement snap caps.

    • SGT Rock says:

      This… My NCO’s would incorporate this into our live fire battle & squad drills as would some of the range cadre during weapon qual. It’s an invaluable tool in order to train Joe’s on how to clear misfires and stoppages with immediate action. It’s something I now do w/all my Joe’s as well, just so I can see how they react & get a misfunctioning weapon back into service.

      Now using ARTY sims, that’s a different story, but I whole heartedly agree about using them on a dragged out OBJ. I also love to toss them around when snuffles aren’t paying attention & pulling security correctly or their just being dumbasses. Good times!

  10. jbgleason says:

    I view these sticks like almost every other trend that has come and gone in our world. Someone came up with it for a specific purpose that made sense at the time. Someone else saw it and used it for something else and it caught on until it became ubiquitous and ludicrous. I can see a few very limited circumstances where this technique could be used but as a default event it is stupid. Like many other things. Keep it in the tool box but have a purpose before you pull it out to use.

  11. Jon Meyer says:

    Ohh god I do not miss arty sims. Great article.

  12. FormerSFMedic says:

    Will Petty and Steve Fisher use these things.

    • That explains a lot says:

      Both former cops or corrections turned “professional” instructors. Zero operational experience.

      • Bill says:

        Whoa, while I disagree with the “stick,” you may want to define what you mean by “operational experience.” Similarly, there are plenty of actual professional LE and corrections instructors.

        The closest that I, as a professional LE instructor, have come to this concept involved firing while close to cover, having hot brass flying around, but any malfs that were induced were just coincidental, and expected to be cleared or otherwise addressed.

        • That explains a lot says:

          Considering we’ve been at war for 14 years and neither one of them signed up, its not a stretch to say they lack operational experience. The two way range was there the whole time waiting for them and yet they became trainers.

          • Bill says:

            It’s possible to gain “operational experience” while being a cop or CO, it’s just a different kind. I don’t know of either of them, but I know plenty of cops and COs who’ve been on a “two way range.”

          • Tthrasher says:

            Basically a pretty arrogant statement from you. Shows a lack of class, logic, knowledge, and wisdom. The two way range isn’t only a military experience. Neither is special operations or counter terrorism. Way to alienate a core group of people fighting for America, many of whom would certainly hand you your ass given a chance.

  13. That explains a lot says:

    Lots of shootouts in jail for those CO’s to get all of that two way range time. Just another couple of salesmen jumping on the bandwagon who had an opportunity to serve but chose to stay home and play it safe. When there are loads of competent trainers out there who have been in actual gunfights, why waste your money on wannabes? The subject of this article is reason enough to avoid them. The author doesn’t call them out by name but does refer to inexperience.

    • JJ says:

      So just because someone has been in a gunfight makes them competent trainers?

      Why does an instructor need to be in a gunfight to teach someone how to run a gun better?

      • z0phi3l says:

        Pray tell how do you teach how to handle combat stress if you have never felt it yourself? I was in the Army, qualified a lot during my time, never went to war, would never ever dare try to come off as a “Combat Trainer”, hell I would never call myself a trainer, just someone who knows how an M16 works for the most part

        • Tthrasher says:

          You think police don’t deal with combat stress when in close range bad breath distance shootouts, hostage situations, active killers, etc? What a bunch of egotistical immature people on here. Common sense signing off.

      • SSD says:

        I wouldn’t say an instructor needs to have been in a gunfight to teach marksmanship or other fundamentals. There are always going to be great instructors with zero military or LE experience. But if he’s going to tell you about being in a gunfight, it’s probably a good idea to have actually done that.

        I think it was already pointed out. There are lots of guys with who’ve hung their shingles that have been in gunfights as either military, LE or both.

        As for the subject of this article. It’s a way; an opinion. I’d love to have someone come in and explain the virtues of use of the malfunction stick. I understand it was discussed thoroughly on Facebook.

    • SSD says:

      Relax dude, you’ve made your point.

  14. wait what? says:

    Just another example of fan boys jumping on some former SOF dudes nuts like his ball sweat can sure cancer, regardless of the point hes trying to make. The Author could have posted up that horse shit tastes like crab cakes and most of the band-wagoners in here would have a mouth full of brown right now while typing “Yeah hes right!” as fast as their little fingers could manage lol.

    It seems the tactical and training industries bring out the inner teenage girl in just about anyone, from SOF veteran to Civilian Internet Jedi. And to the “cops or LEO’s have no operational experience” moron, are you fucking serious?… hahahaha jesus titty fucking christ… being on the job as a cop is a two way range all day, every day. Some even work overseas. Before being so presumptuous, hows about climb down off your high horse and realize not everyone can enlist, there are disqualifying variables and some serve their country and community in other ways because they still feel the need to serve. Maybe hand out the same respect you feel you deserve to these individuals as well. Now while you turds are busy burning up your keyboards typing a long winded diatribe in reply to my comments, dont bother your argument is invalid because its based solely on opinion.

    In the end this article is nothing more than a means to discredit other instructors methods and plug his own company. Then the internet dipshits turn it into something else entirely with their own moronic and subjective comments.

  15. SSD says:

    As I said, I’m quite open to hearing the virtues of use of the malfunction stick. At this point, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s being used by just a few instructors and surprise, none of them are those SOF dudes with the sweaty balls.

    So let’s here the pluses.

  16. John says:

    There are a lot of people who say that just load dummy rounds or blanks to induce malfunctions. That is great for practicing those specific types of malfunctions however the malfunction stick causes a failure to feed, double feed or stovepipe which requires a full clear and reload in most cases. All of the suggested substitutes listed above will only requires the age old SPORTS type clear. Then consider that the article says that the person will focus on the person beside of them with the stick. Shouldn’t they be training their students to focus on running the gun. That sounds to me like a training objective right there. If the student is paying attention to you then he is not paying attention to his target. Multiple teachable moments right there. A good training company will never trash other companies methods. A good company will always tell their students that they only teach a certain way but there are other viable methods out there. Only insecure upstarts will bash others trying to scare potential students away from anyone else. Of course I am no one special and don’t feel the need to list out my very unimpressive resume so please do not pay attention to me.

    • SSD says:

      See? This is good interaction. However, can’t you tell a student to do a full clear and reload when they encounter a malfunction that is induced by a spent case? Doesn’t that meet the same objective?

      • Companies should not engage in ad hominem attacks, but should absolutely critique questionable methods because the tactical training industry is oversaturated with individuals that inflate or outright lack credentials.

        Firms that cannot backup their methodology (because they run out of YouTube videos to regurgitate) enforce the narrative that you shouldn’t critique other companies. Advocates of such nonsense should admit they are trafficking in entertainment courses, and stop referring to their classes as tactical training.