How To Turn “Fragile” range training into “Resilient” self-defense training

Charles wrote in this morning after signing up for this Thursday’s gunfight training with a GREAT question:

“In sports the greatest athletes are the ones that do the basics the best. What would you say are the basics?”

It’s an excellent question because “tactical” shooting is, at it’s core, the basics applied in a tactical context. If you try and build “tactical” skills on a foundation of bad basics, it’s a recipe for serious problems.

Now sometimes, genius is simplifying things down to a bumper-sticker statement… but sometimes you actually have to go a little deeper in order to avoid glossing over important things.

It has become hip in the training world today for gun personalities to accuse instructors who use big words of showboating. It’s also become hip for instructors to needlessly use big words when simple ones will do…like saying “utilize” instead of “use” or “dialog” vs. “talk.” I sympathize with both opinions…to a point.

But a lot of what drives my definition of the basics has to do with brain science and it’s next to impossible to give you a quality answer without going deeper than the surface…but I promise not to use too many $10 words.

I don’t want to use words or concepts unnecessarily, but I don’t want to dumb things down so much that it’s just another flavor of the meaningless vanilla flavored drivel that you can easily find somewhere else.

Some of what I’m going to say may seem a little complex…but the drills to address these skills are all designed so that any shooter with a 6th grade education can do them.

Back to Charles’ question…there’s a lot of confusion about firearms basics.

There are some that say that you must have perfect stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, breathing, slow gentle trigger press, surprise break, trigger reset, and follow-through.

There’s the acronym BRASS that’s tried-and-true that lists the basics as Breathe, Relax, Aim, Slack, Squeeze.

They’re both correct, and both sets of fundamentals are great for teaching but…

The truth is that the 2 fundamental skills of shooting are muzzle alignment and pressing the trigger without disturbing muzzle alignment. Period.

Each of the other fundamentals aids with muzzle alignment and/or trigger press, but they also make technique more fragile in their own peculiar ways.

What we want for self-defense shooting is the most resilient technique possible.

We want to be able to go from making fast, accurate hits in sterile, controlled conditions to making fast, accurate hits in chaotic, unstable situations.

Here’s what I mean…

-Stance assists muzzle alignment. But only shooting when you have a perfect, stable stance limits your ability to shoot at angles, around barricades, and when you are moving. It’s important to shoot with a perfect stance initially, but then it’s important to learn to shoot from non-perfect stances so that your technique is resilient.

The purpose of stance is to help compensate for a lack of balance or a lack of coordinated stabilizer muscles in the shoulders and arms. This is true regardless of whether you’re shooting a pistol at 6 feet or a long-range precision rifle at a mile or more. If your brain doesn’t have to think about balance or steadying your firearm, it has more bandwidth to devote to muzzle alignment and trigger press. So our approach is to help shooters have a stable shooting platform, in non-stable shooting conditions…even with bad stance or awkward shooting angle. (it’s quicker and easier than it sounds)

-Grip assists getting sights on target quicker for the first shot and recoil management, but as I show with my “2 finger grip” demo and upside-down grip demo, you don’t need a good grip for one-shot accuracy. < Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here…grip is incredibly important…it just comes second to muzzle alignment and trigger press. Ideally, you’ll get a perfect grip on your pistol every time and you want to practice with an ideal grip 99% of the time. Realistically, you may want to do occasional dry fire practice with a non-ideal grip so that you can learn how to correct for it between the holster and your final shooting position. This may be a gap between the beaver tail and the webbing of your thumb, having the grip rotated slightly incorrectly, or having the tail of your shirt between the palm of your hand and the grip of the gun.

-Sight alignment goes in line with muzzle alignment, but there are different sensory systems driving the show when you’re engaging a threat at 21″ than when you’re engaging a threat at 21 feet.

-Sight picture is an incredibly important discipline to have…but sometimes the threat requires (and the situation safely allows) you to engage before you have consciously processed your sight picture. I see sighted shooting as THE primary sighting method…as well as one of the tools to use to calibrate and synchronize the visual, vestibular (balance), and proprioceptive (awareness of where your body is in space) systems so that you can engage targets with other-than-sighted shooting methods quickly and accurately until you’re able to use your sights. In practical terms, what this often means is that, if the backstop and situation warrant, you may make your first or 2nd shot without using the sights and by the 3rd shot, you’ve created the distance and time necessary for you to align your sights between your dominant eye and the target and for your visual processing to catch up so you can shoot any additional required shots using your sights.

-Breathing is important so that your eyes and brain are properly oxygenated, and it’s important for long range precision, but for self-defense shooting, you want to be able to put fast, accurate hits on target at any point in the breathing cycle. Forcing a pause until your breath is right makes a technique more fragile.

-Slow, gentle trigger press is great for long range precision or for when you’re learning and haven’t developed the ability to isolate trigger finger movement from the rest of your fingers and hand. But when you have an immediate threat, you want to have the ability to slap the snot out of the trigger as quickly as possible without disturbing the sights. Again, it’s a matter of fragile technique vs. resilient technique…a slow press is great for learning, but if you only use a slow trigger press in practice and suddenly try to shoot a charging attacker, your brain will most likely recruit muscles from your other fingers and wrist to get the job done–leaving you with a quick miss. Start slow, but work up to where you can run the trigger quickly and still maintain precision.

-Surprise break. This is good for when you’re learning…and it can help shooters who are struggling with recoil anticipation…but you want to progress to the point where you know when your trigger is going to break without that knowledge causing your muzzle to come off target while you’re pressing the trigger. In fact, in high-speed, dynamic situations with multiple targets, it’s almost a necessity. There are times…particularly when you’re transitioning between targets that are moving quickly, where your sights may not even be on the target when you start pressing the trigger, but are lined up perfectly when the shot breaks.

-Trigger reset: Your trigger should reset during recoil…ideally without you or anyone else being able to hear it. It’s OK to come off of the face of the trigger during reset…especially if you are shooting a 1911 or similar gun with a short single action trigger and also shoot pistols with longer double action triggers. In fact, there’s a point…somewhere around the .15 split range…where the combination of a short resetting trigger with no overtravel and the physical reality of the inertia of your finger almost guarantees that you will come off of the trigger. The way to assess whether you’re coming off of the trigger too much is to use a combination of video, target assessment, and look at your splits. Initially, it’s fine to pin (hold) the trigger until you’ve got your followup sight picture, but eventually, you want to move to where the trigger is resetting during recoil.

-Follow-through: Follow-through is getting a 2nd conscious sight picture after your shot before looking down range at your target or prepping the trigger for your next shot. It is a GREAT tool to help shooters keep from falling into the “lookie-loo” pattern of vertical stringing on the target. Initially, this step is a pause-point in technique, but you want to progress to the point where follow-through isn’t adding a delay to multiple shot engagements.

As to the greatest athletes…they have 4 things in common, regardless of whether it’s sport or tactical athletes, where you are in the world, or what point in history you’re looking at:

1. Superior visual acuity…not just better than 20/20, but peripheral awareness, the ability to shift focus laterally quickly, shift focal accommodation (distance) quickly, see quickly and correctly with both-eyes-open, and process visual input quickly….while stationary or moving and on targets that are both stationary and moving at odd angles with the head turned in various directions.
2. Superior static and dynamic balance while the head is pointed in any direction.
3. Superior joint stability and mobility, the ability to rotate quickly and apply force in non-linear directions in non-ideal body orientations.
4. Superior execution of basic skills under higher-than-normal cognitive loads (stress).

It stands to reason that if these 4 factors are vital for top performance in every single sport or tactical art, that they would also be vital for fighting with a gun.

But, in firearms training, what we typically see is people standing with a perfect stance, squaring up to the target, standing, and shooting in low-stress conditions.

Since each factor that is different between practice and reality adds a time lag and a drop in performance, we want to do what we can to make our training look as much like reality as possible…and that’s exactly what we’re going to cover in Thursday’s encore presentation. (Charles had already signed up and you can sign up now by clicking >HERE<

I’ll show you how to address all of these factors (and more) simultaneously with fun, easy drills that you can do in your home.

Now, the reality is that most people aren’t in the best physical condition of their life…because of age, injuries, illnesses, weight, or sitting at a desk all day. The training that I’m going to share with you is principle based and scaleable so that you can get great results with it regardless of your current physical abilities or limitations.

Let me know if you’ve got any other questions and I look forward to hearing your feedback after Thursday night.

-Ox
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So, if you haven’t watched the presentation yet or if you want to watch the encore presentation again, I encourage you to sign up to watch it by clicking >HERE< right now.

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