Is 2016 the year you get better?

I didn’t get enough better in 2015.

I did some good stuff.  (Among other things, Tom Givens’s Instructor Development Course was excellent.)  I shot some good things here and there (won a couple of state-level IDPA matches, placed here and there in USPSA matches).  And I got in some good practice and read and mulled over some good research regarding self-defense.

But my physical skills didn’t get enough better in 2015 because I didn’t practice the physical skills enough.  Mental work—actually, I did some really good mental work through the year.  Organized some thoughts on awareness and monitoring (those aren’t the same thing), read some research on predator behavior (both known-person and unknown-person), did some good internal work on reaction choices and consequences, came up with some good teachable moments regarding self-defense.  Oh, and got my 5th degree black belt rank in Hapkido.

But my physical skills didn’t improve as much as I wanted for the year.  Because I didn’t practice like I should have.

Did you?

You’ll never miss on the street…

(Second in the series about thoughts spawned by attending the Rangemaster Instructor Development Class with Tom Givens.  Last time, the post was about something that hadn’t occurred to me.  This time, it is about something I already knew, explained in a different fashion.)

If you are carrying a concealed firearm, and have occasion to use it in public on the street (in a Walmart parking lot, at the local gas station, in a Walgreens store) you are never going to miss.

No, seriously, you aren’t.  No round you fire will have a bullet that misses.

That’s the problem, you see.  In public, every single bullet fired from your handgun will hit something.  You will not miss.  You may not hit your assailant, but you WILL hit SOMETHING.

That something may be a pregnant woman who was shopping.  That something may be a 4-year old child skipping merrily to school one morning.  That something may be 9 other people hit either by errant shots or by fragments.  Maybe you’ll get lucky and only hit brick buildings—but since you are already having to defend your life, it already isn’t your lucky day.

You aren’t going to miss.  Every bullet is going to hit something. As such, your practice needs to reflect the importance of hitting your target every time.

Now, this concept isn’t new—but I don’t really like the common “Every bullet has a lawyer with a 5 million dollar personal injury suit attached to it!!” type of phrasing, because we do not want people too scared to defend themselves.  We don’t want people thinking “I better not do this because I might get sued” at the moment where they have to be making a decision to defend themselves.

We need people thinking in practice:  I’m going to hit my target every time, and I’m going to practice enough to consistently hit my target every time.  That way, if I need to use my gun, I’ll do what I practiced so I don’t have to think about anything but saving my life.

While yes, you need to think about your surroundings in a self-defense situation, that is different from being too terrified of possible consequences to act.  We practice to hit our target at speed under stress.  We use this thought (“You aren’t going to miss in real life–you WILL hit something.”) to drive our practice so that we have the discipline to hit our target under stress in a real-life self-defense situation.

I practice differently with my competition gun and my concealment gun.  (This shouldn’t be a surprise.)  When practicing with my competition gun from my competition rig given an audible start signal, I push myself in terms of speed and movement, to the point where I might miss the target entirely.  I then dial it back until I get hits, get better at it, then dial it up again.  I push myself to the point where I miss.  When practicing with steel targets, I miss fairly often when I push myself.

When practicing to defend myself with my carry gun from concealment, on paper targets I have a small “sufficient hit” zone.  Part of the rest of the paper target is a “insufficient hit” zone, and worse than that simply isn’t acceptable.  If my technique is bad enough that I’m putting shots into the “insufficient hit” zone, I need to fix it.  My “pushing the speed” results in occasional shots into the “insufficient hit” zone, NOT the miss zone.  I don’t allow shots into the “miss zone” when I’m practicing to defend myself.

That’s significantly different from my competition training–and that’s just fine.  I might be using the same target for both, but they mean very different things.  I have a different mindset, I have a different mode of practice, and I have a different set of “what is allowed” for accuracy.

Here’s the two versions of “acceptable hit thinking” that I use for practice (of course I don’t write the words on the targets I use, but that’s how I think about it).  Obviously competition shooting is on the left, and self-defense practice is on the right:

You aren’t going to miss on the street.  So make sure that the hits you get are the ones you want.

 

Stress Training…

I’m a big fan of stress training.  And when I say stress training, I mean a range of various training modes from light stress such as using a timer with people watching, to full-on adrenalized force-on-force with weapons, significant energetic verbal interaction, and additional special effects to simulate reality as close as possible.

Recently, there was a request from someone to actually talk more in depth on this topic, so here’s a brief discussion on the general concept:

Multiple studies over time have clearly shown that stress creates physiological changes in the human body that effect our abilities to perform physical and mental actions.  The level of stress felt by the individual (which is NOT the same thing for all people in the same situation) can occur along a huge range, and thus can create physiological reactions that range from minor to (extremely!) major.

So, the First Statement of stress reactions and training:  Nothing is an absolute.

What happens to a person physiologically depends on the perceived level of threat/stress, which is a function of immediacy, proximity, experience, and understanding of the situation.  It can also be effected by duration of stress, but that isn’t something we normally consider much in terms of citizen self-defense situations, though it IS something that needs to be considered for people whose jobs involve repeated stress events like law enforcement, military (on deployment), fire fighters, and some other first responders.  (Stress is cumulative and seems to be more geometric than additive.  In other words, stress over time ramps up quickly.)

Second Statement of stress reactions and training:  The most common physiological reactions felt by people under significant amounts of stress/adrenaline are, in no particular order:  tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, time dilation, increased speed and strength, and a decrease of physical control and precision.  (There are more, but those are the major ones.)  After the event has occurred, the “crash” that accompanies the stress response cycle (not only the adrenalized feeling that still occurs afterward, but the body’s reaction to that adrenaline going away) sometimes includes inability to speak coherently, tendency to babble, inability to remember time sequences and events in a precise and correct manner, shaking, nausea, light-headedness, and shock.

An example of these first two statements in use:  The first time a person is involved in a potential life-threatening self-defense situation (and realizes it), the stress is huge and crushing, and the person experiences significant tunnel vision, doesn’t hear anything around him, feels like he’s mired in mud and everything moves incredibly slowly, and his ability to do things seems stunted because he’s incredibly clumsy.  Afterward, he is shaking and can’t stop himself from talking, and his recollection of the details of what happened and in what order are significantly different from a video recording of the event.  He feels weak and sick to his stomach.

He then decides that this will never happen to him again.  He takes training that includes stress-training and force-on-force.

He then gets into another life-threatening situation—but this time it is a car crash.  The circumstances do not match what he has been training for.  His stress level is significantly high, but the practice he has done has made him better at dealing with the physiological effects.  He still feels them, but not quite to the same extent, and performs better (with a better ability to think and respond effectively) based on his experiences with stress.

Later in his life, he experiences another life-threatening self-defense situation.  (He’s not having a good year.)  Several things are in his favor:  He recognizes the situational type of attack, and has trained for it, therefore his stress level is significantly lower.   In addition, his training has prepared him for acting during high stress events.  As such, not only does he have less tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and self-discipline issues (the physiological reactions are significantly less serious), but his ability to handle said issues and react effectively is significantly better.

Afterward, he still feels some of the effects of the adrenal crash (though it is much less since he was less stressed than the first time this happened to him) however his ability to mitigate the affects is much better, AND his training tells him to shut up and not babble things that may not be correct.

For any person, the amount of stress that occurs is based on the perceived level of the situation—so the same situation may cause extremely different reactions in two different people with two different levels of training and experience.  Reactions to stress are NOT absolutes, so if someone says “This WILL happen to you, you WON’T be able to do this other thing” then there is a problem, because it doesn’t happen that way.

Sure, if you are untrained, have no experience with stress and violence, and are taken by surprise, the stress levels you will feel will probably be such that your ability to respond will be close to nonexistent.  But we train for a reason—and training both lowers perceived stress, and helps you handle the physiological reactions that occur.

So—sure, under stress you will want to stare at the attacker (or turn your head away completely), bring up your hands (perhaps in front of your face), and not pay attention to anything else.  If you have no training, experience, or practice in dealing with stress, that’s probably exactly what you are going to do. (If you can do that much.)  WITH practice, you CAN handle a firearm, aim using the sights, maintain situational awareness, move, and react effectively.  Among other things.

Violence, stress, and physical reactions are not absolutes—and they aren’t simple things.   The good thing is that you don’t need to be able to diagram the neural pathway and list the neurotransmitters engaged when stress stimulates the the hippocampus and amygdala…  (which again, is a simplification of what occurs in your brain and body)  …you can simply get good realistic training that increases your ability to handle stress, and then get training that realistically simulates self-defense situations to enable you to understand them—which will lower your perceived stress in self-defense situations.  The combination of those things WILL make you more capable of doing what you need to do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

More to come in a later article regarding specifics of what you can do for “stress inoculation,” which is a commonly used term describing training that 1) increases your ability to control your body and deal with the reactions caused by stress in general, and 2) reduces perceived stress during altercations by adding experience with those situations.

 

Some additional reading, if you want more.  The following is more phrased to apply to unarmed self-defense, but really is about all self-defense:

Marc MacYoung’s No Nonsense Self-Defense Page
(Warning:  Marc has a unique writing style.)

Fundamental Gun Handling Videos: Part IV, The Reload

There are a number of different ways to perform a reload, and a number of different reload “types” that people perform.  Administrative reloads, speed reloads, emergency reloads, tactical reloads, reload-with-retention, slide-closed emergency reloads…

…in the end, they are all about getting ammo back in the gun and being able to shoot it again as fast as possible.  (Well, except for the admin reload. We are going to ignore that, however.)

There are already a number of videos out there that show how to perform various types of reloads, and we don’t need another one.  Instead, as is normal in this series, this video will talk about some of the most common errors people commit in their reloads, and show you how to fix them.

Don’t forget to keep your finger pinned to the frame or slide while performing your reload, and don’t put it back into the trigger guard until you have the gun pointing on target and you plan to fire.  Even if you screw everything else up, get the safety part correct.

Oh–and don’t reload sideways.  STAHP.

DON'T DO THIS!

DON’T DO THIS!

Posts in this series:

Fundamental Gun Handling Videos: Part III, Safe Gun Handling

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day.  My friend is a USPSA Chief Range Officer, and over the course of her time as an RO and CRO, she has run literally thousands of shooters through various courses of fire.

She said something that I agree with completely:  “Within a few seconds of them drawing their gun from the holster at Make Ready [when the competitor can draw their firearm, make ready, and prepare to start the course of fire], I already know how good they are going to be–and how safe they are going to be.”

Pretty much every experienced range officer in the action shooting sports will say the same things—the minute you touch your firearm, we can see what sort of gun handling safety habits you practice.

Or don’t practice, as sometimes is the case.gun-safety-training-stupid-gun-safety-training-demotivational-poster-1266003554Hence, this video:  the third in the series of Fundamental Gun Handling Skills, this time on SAFE GUN HANDLING.

I originally made myself a couple of notes about the four main things I wanted people to work on for safe gun handling, got in front of the camera, took some video, went home and edited it–and realized the video was almost 20 minutes long.  The more I talked, the more I remembered safety issues and EXCUSES I’ve heard over time from people attempting to justify their unsafe actions.

  • “This is the way I was trained!”
  • “It isn’t loaded!”
  • “It wasn’t really pointing at you!”
  • “I haven’t had any trouble doing that before.”
  • “No one ever said it was a problem!”
  • “My finger was off the trigger!”

…and of course my all-time favorite (and yes, I’ve actually heard this one) “I know what I’m doing, this is REAL self-defense training.”

I don’t know about you, but I consider self-defense training “real” when it also teaches me to NOT SHOOT MYSELF.

So I went back to the studio and tried to just pick the main things, the most important things, the things that will hopefully make the MOST difference in terms of safety.  And I managed to get the video down to 10 minutes.  It still is pretty long for a YouTube video with some guy just standing there talking at you, so I’m pretty sure most of the people who really need to watch it (and take it to heart) probably won’t do so.

But I tried.  So here it is.  It isn’t everything you should do, there are plenty of other things I could have said, plenty of other habits of good practice I could have included—but I tried.

Make safe gun handling something you do automatically, all the time, without fail.  Make it such a habit that if you do something UNsafe, it will feel strange and wrong, and you won’t like doing it.  That way, under stress when your brain isn’t working right—you WON’T do it wrong.

 

There is so much more we could say.  But if nothing else, if people would just keep control of the gun with their strong hand, keep their finger pinned to the frame/slide when not actively shooting, and control their muzzle, that would be GREAT.

ALL THE TIME.

Posts in this series:

Fundamental Gun Handling Videos: Part II, The Grip

One of the things I tend to see quite often from people who “already know how to shoot” is a poor grip.  Whether that grip was “learned” from movies, TV, a family member, “this really good shooter I know” or whatever I have no idea, but often it is simply a bad grip.

Having a good grip is very important in terms of shooting well.  Sure, it is possible to be both accurate and fast with a poor grip.  However, it is highly UNLIKELY, and chances are you simply can’t do it.  And more importantly, you won’t be accurate when it is incredibly important such as when you are using a firearm to save your life.

The problem is, it seems so simple that many people don’t think about it–which means they simply do it wrong.  Now, there are a number of versions of a “correct grip,” and while in my video I suggest a specific one, I do talk about how there are several variations on it. As I say, the correct grip for you depends on your hand size, grip strength, firearm choice, and grip dimensions and shape.  The grip I suggest in the video can be easily modified based on those variables.  (And if you can’t make it work—probably that gun simply isn’t for you.  There are physical limits, and if the grip needed to be fast and accurate exceeds them, it simply isn’t going to work out.)

Outside of those variations, there are unfortunately a number of other grip types that are simply very WRONG–so if you are using a teacup grip, a wrist support grip, a grip (on a semi-auto) where your weak-side thumb is wrapped around the back of the gun, or a thumbs-locked-down grip, then I’m afraid that yes, you are doing it wrong.

DON'T GRIP LIKE THIS!

DON’T GRIP LIKE THIS!

The good side is that you will be able to increase your shooting ability significantly merely by fixing your grip.

 I meant to only have this video be a couple of minutes long, but the more I explained the details, I more I kept remembering all the questions, complaints, and “explanations” I’ve heard for other grips over the years, and I wanted to make sure I addressed at least some of those.

Having me just say “do this because I say so!” isn’t really convincing.  So, I wanted to talk about WHY a proper grip makes a difference, and why improper grips cause issues.  As such, the video ended up rather longer than I originally meant….hopefully it keeps your attention well enough to be useful.

(Note:  this video isn’t about your stance.  We’ll get to that one later.  This one is simply about how you are holding the gun in your hands.)

Posts in this series:

Fundamental Gun Handling Videos: Part I, The Draw

We’ve decided to start a series of short Fundamental Gun Handling videos on YouTube, with the idea of pointing out some of the most-common errors we see (and their fixes!) with respect to the fundamentals of gun-handling.

We posted the first video today, and it is about the draw–specifically, how to make sure you aren’t using a fishing draw or a bowling draw.  (Go to any range, and you’ll see numerous examples of both of these things.  Makes any competent shooter cringe.)

As is probably obvious, I shot this really quickly when I had a free 30 minutes before teaching a class, my voice isn’t working properly, and obviously I had no script and was doing it off the top of my head.  [sigh]  Hopefully, it still makes sense–and most importantly, I hope that the FIX for bowling and fishing draws is clear.

Don't go fishing!

Don’t go fishing!

No bowling!

No bowling!

It really is simple—snap your wrist up to point the gun at the target immediately after the gun leaves the holster.  That’s it.  So quit doing bowling draws or fishing draws!

Get that gun pointed at the target right out of the holster!

Get that gun pointed at the target right out of the holster!

More videos to come, with hopefully good content on fixing fundamental gun-handling skills.

Posts in this series: