Timers and Practice…


I’m a big fan of using a timer for shooting skills practice.  HUGE fan.  I believe strongly that if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you need to go.

And yet, I almost completely agree with John Wallace in his blog posting about Randomness in practice:  Things to Consider Before Chasing the Timer (Part V: Randomness)   In it, he suggests doing a whole LOT of things that mean you can’t actually track your progress over time, and sometimes can’t even use a timer in the first place.

So how can I agree with both of those perspectives without demonstrating some significant schizophrenia?  (And we are going to leave my mental health out of this, thank you very much.)

Simple:  one of the above methods is for practicing shooting skills.  The other is for practicing applications of shooting skills.  There is a bit of grey area in there (for example, when practicing the skill of using cover, you still don’t try to beat the timer) but for the most part, the issue of randomness should occur when attempting to prepare for real-life self-defense (or military, or LEO) applications–not when learning the skills in the first place.

When do I use a timer?

  • Practicing my draws (hands at sides, surrender, concealment 2-handed, concealment 1-handed, WHO draw, sitting, prone, supine)
  • Practicing my reloads (emergency, speed, one-handed SHO, one-handed WHO)
  • Working transitions and splits
  • Practicing explosive movement into and out of positions onto near/far targets
  • …and many other specific physical skills.

Put it this way—specific skills, practiced in isolation, make you good at those skills, such that in terms of applications of said skills, you don’t have to think through the skill itself.  In application, you can then use the majority of your brain to concentrate on the situation, instead of having to devote part of it to remembering (for example) how to get a good draw using only your strong hand.

When you first learned how to work a manual transmission, you had to think about it a lot—at the expense of paying attention to your surroundings.  Someone ever try to talk to you when you were first trying to go from a stop into first gear uphill?  How’d that go?  Did you tell them to shut up until you got the car moving?  (I’ll bet you did.)

And yet, as you got more comfortable with the transmission, the amount of brainpower you had to spend on it became less—so that you could spend more time watching the road, and paying attention to the situation around you.  And talking with friends.

In a similar fashion, If your shooting skills are good, it’ll make your ability to apply those skills far greater.  You’ll have more brain capacity available for problem-solving, as less of it (less of the conscious part, at least) will be needed for the skill itself.

Using a timer for building skills means you have a way to measure your practice–what works, what doesn’t, what helps you improve most.  It gives you a standard against which to practice, a point at which you can say “okay, this skill is pretty good, time to change training priorities.”  (We don’t want to say “good enough,” unless it is “good enough that I should be practicing something else before I try to get this one better.)  For example, if your draw from concealment on a target at 7 yards is already 1 second, you might be better served by practicing other skills as opposed to trying to drop another 0.15 seconds.

But after your skills are solid (and while you continue to practice your skills), you should be practicing applications of those skills.  Say that you can already draw, reload, and shoot on the move.  Now, (with a training partner) set up a situation in which there are three targets in front of you, with varying (and mixed) colors, numbers, and shapes on them.  Have your partner yell out a combination that you have to recognize, and only shoot those targets.  Or maybe only NOT shoot those targets.

Too easy?  Have the targets appearing, (visual start, instead of an audible start) and also require that you shoot on the move to cover.

Still too easy?  Have your training partner give you a magazine that has an unknown number of rounds it in, forcing an emergency reload at some point in time.  Or instead, include a dummy round in the magazine somewhere to force remedial action under stress.

Those applications really aren’t made for timer work.  (You could use one occasionally if you want, but it won’t really tell you anything.)  The purpose of those applications is to train your brain to make appropriate situational choices—in which you need as much free brainpower as possible.  (As opposed to training your body to perform physical skills.)

If your skills practice was solid enough, then you should HAVE free brainpower available.  If, on the other hand, you haven’t put yourself on a timer for basic shooting skills, chances are that your skills are weaker than you think, and your shooting application success level will be far lower.

We use bullseye targets to measure accuracy, don’t we?  In a similar fashion, you should use a timer to measure speed.  (Unless, in your lifestyle, shooting is all bullseye and never self-defense.  No, there isn’t a timer in a self-defense situation.  There is another guy there who really is trying to be faster than you, however.)  And you should use a timer in your practice fairly often.

But you should also NOT use the timer fairly often, because in addition to training your body to handle specific skills, you need to train your brain to handle varying situations.

You are practicing two different things.  And unsurprisingly, the best methodology to use in these two different things, with two different goals—-is different.

What a shock.

Use a timer on known drills.  Also—incorporate randomness in your training.

(I will note my biggest disagreement with John is in his title.  He calls it:  “Things to Consider Before Chasing the Timer” —I think that Randomness and situational training actually should start occurring AFTER you’ve been chasing the timer for awhile.  Get good at specific skills.  Then, start practicing occasionally with randomness.)


Before I start this, I should say:  If you are a shooter, please introduce other people to the fun of shooting.  Depending on the person, discuss self-defense, or hunting, or competition, or the crazy society of fun people who like to turn money into loud noises.  As people in the gun culture, the best way to help people understand us (and value the things that we value) is to take them to the range and make sure they have a safe and fun time.  An amazing number of people who are “against guns” really aren’t–they just don’t know anything, so their opinions are biased by what they see and read.  If you take them to the range and show them gun safety, plus they have fun—almost always, the gun culture gets a new convert.

Have you introduced someone new to shooting yet this year?  Not yet?  You might think of making that a goal—one new person every year.  If that seems too easy, try three new people per year.

It’ll make a difference, especially if we ALL do it.  That being said…

My last post (with the various range stories) also brought to mind one of my other perennial annoyances–namely, the number of people who attempt to “teach” other people how to shoot.  Badly.

“Teach” is in quotes for a reason.  I’m a teacher.  And when I say that, I don’t mean I happen to teach people (though I do), I mean that I’ve spent time learning about teaching modalities, about learning principles, about learning methods.  I’ve had education, training, and practice at effective teaching, effective communication, and encouraging learning engagement.  I’ve been getting paid for teaching SOMETHING since 1989.  I’m a science teacher, a martial arts teacher, and a firearms teacher.  I’m not just a trainer, I’m not simply an instructor, I’m a teacher.  (And whenever I’m in a class, I can’t help but critically examine the teaching ability of the instructor, separate from whether or not I’m getting anything good from his class.  I just can’t help it.)

So when I see some idiot who shoots incredibly badly themselves, who has no concept of firearms safety, and who has a completely inflated (and incorrect) view of their own skills and knowledge, “teach” someone completely new to shooting how to handle firearms, it drives me nuts–particularly when they set up the new shooter to be humiliated.

Which means I get driven nuts on a fairly continual basis.

Go to YouTube and do a search on “first time shooting a gun” and take a look at what people are being taught.  We get videos of people falling over, people screaming, people hurting themselves, pointing guns at other people—you name it, if it involves poor gun handling, you’ll see it.

Just a few examples, right off of that first page of search results:

— I love how at 0:38 he completely sweeps the camera person.  (Don’t tell me the gun was empty and locked back.  I don’t care.   And since he initially couldn’t even tell that it was locked back, it isn’t like we should trust him in the future to “only” flag people when the gun is “empty.”)  And he isn’t even the first-time shooter in the video!  (His grip is bad, too.)

Of course, then at 0:42 we find out that the first-time shooter was standing BEHIND HIM HOLDING A HANDGUN the entire time.  With a loaded magazine in it, apparently.  But I’m sure that someone will say “It was okay—there wasn’t one in the chamber!”

Hey look, she is holding a loaded gun with a teacup grip, no eye protection, and THEN he tells her how sights work.  Great idea!

After she jumps a lot, which is apparently really funny to someone, I love how “aim a little lower” means that she raises her head to look down the gun more.

None of this is her fault.  It is completely the fault of the people who are “teaching” her to shoot.  They did a great job of inflicting a completely horrendous flinch response into her shooting, that’s for certain.  “She’s flinchin’ less each shot!”  Yeah, right.  (Plus, you know, they are ignoring how her grip changes from bad to worse as time goes on.)

How about this one?

His comment in the description of the video:  “Like most she seemed pretty intimidated…”  —well then maybe you should have taught better, instead of just throwing a gun at her and saying “it’ll be all right!”

Or do people really think that starting by handing a loaded weapon to someone, and then telling about the controls, the sights, and how to pull the trigger is a good idea?

I also love how at 1:18, once he has the safety on, he puts his finger on the trigger as he is explaining the gun to her.  Even better, at 1:30 when she is getting ready to shoot, she holds it in an old-style revolver grip (thumb over strong hand) which will eventually give her serious slide-bite—and he doesn’t say a thing.

Even in the cases where the new shooter DOESN’T have a safety issue, they still aren’t being taught anything resembling decent technique.  Let’s take the first video that shows up in the search:

Starting with safety: no trigger finger discipline (it gets mentioned, but he isn’t doing it), no eye protection, no ear protection initially, guy in the background right on the 180 is oblivious to what is going on, kid given a loaded pistol before they have even been taught about sights, guy watching doesn’t seem to be wearing ear protection (and isn’t wearing eye protection)…

Technique-wise:  poor stance (looks like a combination of Weaver and rifle shooting, what with one elbow bent and the other stuck out sideways), poor grip (what is that? you can see he can’t hold onto the gun during recoil), trigger control isn’t too bad, but there is some jerking which is bad since he is shooting single-action already, so the trigger shouldn’t be that difficult–and he lowers the gun and looks at the target immediately after each shot.

None of that is the shooter’s fault.  And I’m glad that people are teaching him how to shoot, and how to handle firearms.  It would just be nice if people would teach them something RIGHT about how to handle firearms—both in terms of safety, and in terms of technique.

(That last one wasn’t nearly as bad as the others, I’ll note.  At least the kid didn’t feel like he was being made fun of, nor did he seem to feel scared of the gun.)

If you are going to introduce someone to the fun of shooting, please don’t start by making certain that they’ll be scared of guns for the rest of their lives, that they’ll feel humiliated, that they’ll feel like the whole thing was you playing a prank on them or making fun of them.  (For example, don’t do this: Woman gets hit in head with handgun. Yeah, that’s just hilarious.  Really.  That’ll teach her.)

Teach them gun safety.  Let them work with an unloaded gun, and get familiarized with the controls.  Start slowly and easily, to get them used to it.  Set up targets that are not “gimmes” that have no value, but neither should they be impossible ones—so that if they perform the fundamentals correctly, they’ll hit the target—and feel accomplished (as well they should) for doing it.

If you spend the time laughing at them, you will have made the gun culture an enemy.  Don’t do this.  If they are are laughing at how much fun they are having, and afterward they ask when they can come shoot again—you’ve done it right.

Do it right.

Because I’m curious—does ANYONE think that these sort of videos help our cause?

Collection of stupid people making girls look like idiots, and scaring them off guns forever

Yeah, that’ll convince more people to be on our side.  Well done.

If you are one of the people in the videos I referenced—I assume that you put them on the YouTube for the world to see. And the world being what it is, people are going to comment. If you feel like I’m criticizing you—well, I am. If you know guns, and you like guns, and you want other people to know and like guns, then please teach them correctly so that they don’t shoot themselves or each other, AND so that they can continue to get better and aren’t hamstrung by poor fundamentals.

I’m not saying you are a horrible person for not teaching correct gun safety.  I’m not saying you are a horrible person for teaching poor technique.  I AM saying, however, that you aren’t helping the person you are trying to “teach” if you show them poor technique and your practice lacks safety habits.  If you don’t agree—that’s up to you.  I can’t help what your opinion is, or whether it agrees with mine.

And, after all, I’m not the guy that demonstrates keeping his finger on the trigger when not shooting, nor am I the soon-to-be-deaf guy that shoots without hearing protection, nor am I the guy who swept everyone in the video.

My students don’t do those things either, by the way.  I wonder where they picked up those good habits?