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.)

Basic Range Equipment…

Recently I was asked for some suggestions regarding solid range-practice-level holsters and mag pouches, and it occurred to me that given the HUGE range of possibilities now available via the internet, it might be a good idea to actually quickly discuss “suggested” basic starter equipment for handgun technique practice.

Couple of comments, first:

  • The ones I’m about to suggest are not the only possibilities out there–there are PLENTY of other perfectly reasonable holsters and mag pouches by many perfectly decent manufacturers that would work fine.  These are simply ones I’ve found to be durable, reliable, and economical for basic solid range practice.  That doesn’t mean that others wouldn’t be good also.
  • The equipment listed here is meant for basic range practice–meaning that they aren’t optimized for carry, competition, military training, LEO duty carry, or anything like that.  The point is to get a solid reliable holster and mag pouch setup so that shooters can go to the range and work on their technique without either paying a ton of money, or having to deal with poor quality and unsafe equipment.
  • At some point in time, if you plan on getting good at competition shooting or plan on concealing well for carry, you are going to have to buy other equipment, and practice with it.  However, starting with basic range gear to get yourself competent FIRST is a good idea, hence this list of suggestions.

So, equipment needed for good technique practice:

  • Gun
  • Magazines
  • Eye/Ear Protection
  • Holster
  • Magazine pouch

Gun: up to you, though you might take a look at one of my prior posts about How Do You Learn to Shoot and my thoughts on appropriate firearm choice when you are trying to learn good technique.

Magazines:  Most guns come with 2 (though sometimes small guns only come with one).  Truthfully, you probably want to get yourself 5 or 6 magazines for any gun that you plan on shooting very much.  Because A) shooting one mag at a time gets very old, B) you should practice reloading and that is easier with more than two mags, and C) like any other physical object with moving parts, mags are subject to wear and tear and they give out.  (And if you have a revolver, get yourself 3 or so speedloaders.)

Eye/Ear Pro:  I assume you don’t like the idea of being blind or deaf.  ALWAYS wear eye/ear pro while shooting.  For ear pro, good electronic ear pro is now available for reasonable prices and it is REALLY handy to have on the range.  Dampens out loud noises but amplifies quiet stuff so you can shoot without damage and talk without yelling.  Regular glasses are not good eye protection (they don’t wrap around enough, nor do they normally cover high and low enough), and sunglasses normally aren’t much better–and certainly aren’t rated for impact.  Buy (and wear) actual shooting eye protection that has at least an ANZI Z87.1 rating.

Now to the parts that most people really care about:  Holsters, and magazine pouches.

With respect to basic range practice (actually everything, but especially basic range practice) I’m a BIG fan of kydex.  Thin, lightweight, durable, easily molded to specific firearms, if it gets dirty you throw it in the dishwasher—kydex holsters are simply the easiest way to get a solid economical holster for practice.  My top two suggestions for your first basic range practice holster:

CQC1) Blackhawk Standard CQC (Sportster) Holster:

This is NOT a SERPA holster.  Retention is passive only.  Normally comes with both paddle and belt attachments, left or right hand, large range of gun possibilities, covers the trigger guard, passive retention is adjustable—just a great range holster.  (And when I started competition shooting, I used one of these for several years.)

Note:  Link given is just so you can look at them.  Once you know if you want it, check around for the best prices.  However, $22.45 is hard to beat…

KydexPaddle2) Uncle Mike’s Kydex holsters:

Similar to the CQC above, comes with paddle and belt attachments, large range of guns available, etc.  In my opinion, not quite the quality of the CQC, but still a perfectly decent holster, and under $30 is a good deal.

Edited later to add:

3) Blade-Tech Revolution Holster:

Someone just pointed out to me that the Revolution holsters are good choices too, and I had missed that—I have a number of Blade-Tech holsters, but none from the Revolution series (and the other series cost more, so it hadn’t occurred to me). The Revolution ones, however, are excellent holsters and only a couple of bucks more than the two above. (Look on Amazon for better prices, oddly enough.) Comes with both a paddle and a belt loop attachment, like the two holsters above.

That’s it, really.  Sure, there are plenty of others out there—but most cost more money, and either don’t give you anything more than the above two, OR are for more specialized circumstances.    If you know what you want, that’s one thing, but if you are just looking for a holster to use for technique practice at the range, or are just starting to learn in the first place, the above two holsters will do everything you need in a reliable fashion without costing much.

One negative mention:  Don’t buy a Fobus holster. No matter how good of a deal it seems to be.  In my opinion, they are just about the worst holsters out there.  Material is substandard, connection from pouch to hanger (belt or paddle) is weak and breaks easily, retention is normally something that requires a winch to get the gun out of the holster, and I’ve never seen one that actually covered the entire trigger guard like it is supposed to do.  Truthfully, any time I see someone with a Fobus holster I assume they really don’t know what they are doing and have a weak grasp of firearms safety.  That may be unkind of me, but….it’s been pretty true so far.  (If your response was “Well, maybe they didn’t know any better!” I will agree, but if they have to full-arm-yank the gun to get it out of the holster and it doesn’t cover the trigger guard BUT THEY DON’T MIND, then their grasp of firearms safety needs work.)

Sorry if that hurt anyone’s feelings, but if you use a Fobus holster you should REALLY think about whether or not it is a good idea.

Now, that being said, let’s talk about magazine pouches:

351493For starter pouches, I think the Fobus mag pouches are some of the best deals out there.  Specifically, the belt (not paddle) basic double-mag pouches.

Generally, for under $30 you can get a double-mag pouch that will fit your magazine type, and it’ll work (and wear) perfectly well for standard range practice.  If you want single-mag pouches, or don’t mind spending a little more, Blackhawk makes decent double-mag pouches also.

For a bit more than that, you can get Blade-Tech mag pouches (double or single) with Tek-Lok belt attachments, which are nice.  However, those cost a little more.  (Similarly, Blade-Tech makes GREAT range/carry/competition holsters, but again, they cost more.)

For most folks just starting on draws/reloads/transitions–solid handgun technique practice on the range, I just normally say get a Blackhawk CQC Standard holster, a Fobus double-mag pouch, buy a good thick leather belt from Walmart or Target (don’t need to spend the money on a real gunbelt yet) and about 5 extra mags.  Plus a lot of ammo.

That’ll get you what you need to get better.  Later, when you ARE better and have a more precise idea of what you want/need for what you plan on DOING with your firearm (carry/competition/duty) then you can spend more money on something quality in that area.

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:

“Instructor Bob teaches a great class!”

Periodically on the web (whether on Facebook groups or internet forums) someone asks the dreaded question:  “Anyone know a good [various-firearm-topic] instructor around here?”  (It is just as much fun as when someone on a gun forum/facebook group asks “What gun should I buy?“)

…after which tons of people chime in with their favorite local guy.  Often, said chiming includes comments like “class was fantastic,” “learned so much,” “best instructor around,” “an awesome instructor who cares about his students needs,” and “they’re good people and know their stuff.

The question is, why are you trusting these people’s opinions?  Do you know them?  Are they knowledgeable about the topic, enough to be able to tell the difference between a good instructor and a bad one?  Have they had previous classes to compare to this new one?

Or is their opinion based merely on the fact that they enjoyed the class, or that it seemed really high-speed/low-drag, and it was cool?  Or that the instructor was really nice and personable?  He/she was convincing?  They had a really good line of talk?

How do you know that what you learned in the class was decent?  Was correct?  Was relevant?

Lately I’ve seen several unrelated people (I assume unrelated?) tout firearms training classes for a local group that is known to be unsafe.  Not merely slightly unsafe, but “not wearing shooting glasses while standing in front of the line as people are shooting” unsafe.

Actual “people pointing guns at each other’s heads in the classroom during dryfire practice” unsafe.

People are saying “These were great classes, the instructors are really knowledgeable, great material, learned a ton!” about these classes–and I think that from a safety perspective it is the worst class I’ve ever seen.  I have no idea what was taught in terms of technique (though from some of the shooting stances shown in their website’s photo gallery, I’m thinking they don’t teach anything well) but if it was on par with their safety training, I expect that their students will be missing the target by miles and shooting each other every time they are at the range.

If a person has nothing to compare it to, if they have no prior experience or information basis–then their opinion really doesn’t tell you anything other than whether or not the class was fun and they liked the instructor.

While those things are important, what is MORE important is whether or not the class curriculum, and the ability for the students to learn the curriculum, was any good.  Was it realistic?  Correct?  Based on facts, not opinion?  Taught in such a way that the student could internalize the knowledge and retain (and perform) the techniques?

“He teaches a great CCW class—I learned so much about shooting!”

…really?  In Nebraska, at least, what you should learn MOST in the state-required CCW class is about the LAW, specifically regarding use of force.  The class itself only covers the most basic elements of actual shooting technique–and if you only spend 6 hours on the whole class, you don’t have time to teach much more shooting technique than the basics if you want to do a good job covering the curriculum you are required to teach.

So the person may have enjoyed the class, and learned a ton of stuff–but was it the material they were supposed to learn?  Was it the material they actually paid to learn?

When asking other people for opinions regarding instructors, take pretty much everything with a SERIOUS grain of salt.  (Or more.  Like “the Dead Sea” more.)  You should pay most attention to people who have experience in classes of this type, with experience and information about the topic being taught.

The following picture was used as part of a slideshow on the CNN website about teachers who were taking CCW classes to potentially be armed in the classroom.

Poor Teaching Happened Here!

Poor Teaching Happened Here!

Considering the grip she is using, would any knowledgeable shooter think that the class she just took was any good?  Obviously not.  But I’d bet (considering this was her idea of a good pose for a picture after the class) that she’d say it was a great class.

You shouldn’t pay attention to people who gush “It was great!  I loved it!” because WHO KNOWS what that opinion is based upon.

And, of course, my personal favorite:  “This class was taught by the best instructor in the area!”  Really?  You’ve taken classes with every instructor in the area?  You actually have the basis for that comparison?  Have you even taken more than one class?

People who say stuff like that?  Please stop, at least until you have enough knowledge to make a comparison to a class that had a good curriculum and was competently taught.

People who are reading stuff like that?  You are going to want to disregard those, and look for after-action reports or class evaluations from people who actually know what they are talking about.

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: