Is “Missing In Practice” the key to “Hitting In Combat?”


What if missing more in practice could help you hit more in combat or self-defense?

It can…but only if you do it right.

First off, we’ve got to define what a “hit” and “miss” is…

If your standard is “hitting the paper” then all of these holes would be “hits.”

None would be misses.

And, if you’re shooting 100%, there’s not much room for improvement, is there?  Not much need to improve.

What’s this mean?

It means that if your standard is so low that you always succeed, or if you always do the same drills that you’re good at and comfortable with, you’re not going to improve and your going to have worse performance in the real world than you could.

So, what do you do?

In many cases, the old “Aim small, miss small” adage will do the trick.

In the case of this picture, it looks like there are probably some fundamental issues with both muzzle alignment and trigger press.  I would guess that they’re a lefty or that the image is reversed.  I’ve seen plenty of targets like this at 15-21 feet at ranges that only allow 1 round per second.

Raising the standard from “hitting paper” to “hitting the x” is going to mean going from zero misses to a very high percentage of misses…initially.

And it may be discouraging to the point of slowing down learning speed.

So, why don’t we take it in steps…

First, we move the target to about 10 feet and we aim at the x but change the standard for success from hitting the paper to hitting the head/torso, but not the arms.

We’d keep working on our muzzle alignment/sight alignment and trigger press until we’re putting 90% or more of our rounds on target…but we don’t want to wait until we’re hitting 100% to move on.

Then, we’d increase our standard so that we were aiming for the next smaller zone on the target.


The hit percentage would probably drop, but we’d work on that size target until we were back up into the 90% range…but not waiting until we’re perfect.

Then, we’d increase our standard to the center circle…increasing our misses initially, but gradually improving our performance until we were in the circle 90% of the time…but not waiting until we were at 100%.

Next, we’d put a 1 or 2″ circle on the “X” and that would be our new standard.  This is where we’d really dial in our muzzle alignment and trigger press–the core of ALL shooting.  If it was too difficult standing, we’d switch to sitting-supported, then sitting-unsupported, then standing-supported, and finally standing-unsupported again.

Those are big opportunities for improvement, and when they get dialed in and the shooter is stacking them all on the X, then what?

Well, hitting 100% (or getting 100% on the MantisX) is great in a testing environment, but it’s not good in a learning/skill building environment.  100% performance generally means that you’re under-challenged and not stretching, growing, or learning.

In order to optimize learning and skill building speed, you need enough challenge that you’re missing some of the time.

Why is missing SO important?

While missing A LOT is discouraging, missing a little activates the error-correction parts of our cerebellum.

Error correction, when you’re so-close-to-100% that you can taste it, increases attention levels, maximizes learning speed, and causes adaptation in the brain.  It allows you to build more skill in less time and with less effort.  And it causes skills to “stick” for a longer period of time after you’re done training.  And it makes your skill more resilient and adaptable to real-world situations.

So, the answer to the question of “what do we do next” is that we add variety and challenge to our training so that we’re building skill as quickly as possible.

In the science world, Professor Robert A. Bjork termed this “desirable difficulty” back in 1994 and it has positively impacted performance levels in every professional sport since.

Ironically, few take advantage of it
in the firearms training world. 

Instead, people generally choose to grind out reps of the exact same drill and work harder rather than taking advantage of training methods that make skill building easier.

But, if you’re like me, you don’t just want to train hard…you want to train smarter than the other guy.

So, instead of doing the same drill 20 times in a row in an attempt to do the drill better, it would be better to change up something about how you do the drill each time…foot position, body angle, 1 hand vs. 2, glasses vs. no glasses, leans, lunges, twists, turns, movement, shooting around cover, etc. so you only did the same drill the same way a couple of times in a single practice session.

By doing this, we are taking our brain from only knowing how to line up the muzzle and press the trigger in specific situations to having a brain that can line up the muzzle and press the trigger in as many situations as possible with as little drop-off in performance as possible.

And that gets us better real-world results…in less time than what’s possible with traditional training methods.

How do you put it into action?

You can put together a training plan yourself, if you’ve got a few dozen extra hours to figure it all out, but we’ve got done-for-you, step-by-step programs that have taken care of all of the hard work so all you need to do is focus on getting results.

Here are two that I’d suggest you check out…

The current best-of-the-best firearms training today is the Praxis Dynamic Gunfight Training.  Proven by more than 1,500 shooters like you who weren’t content with old, slow, ineffective training methods, it is designed specifically to address the factors common in self-defense shooting and incorporates accelerated learning techniques into the drills so you can build the most skill in the least time.  Check out our free presentation on training for real-world shooting situations using Praxis >HERE< and start training tonight.

Now, Praxis is the best of the best…but not every budget can jump on it without a little planning.  But for less than the cost of a box of practice ammo, you can get the smartest dry fire target available today and 50+ drills to add variety, fun, and real-world value to your dry fire training.  Learn more by going >HERE< now.

Do one…do both…but whatever you do, take action today!

Questions?  Comments?  Fire away by commenting below.

“Don’t just train hard…train smarter than the other guy.”  -Ox


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  • Alan Kerby

    Reply Reply November 20, 2022

    Good post, Ox. Some additional thoughts to the excellent multi-dimensional training described.

    To leverage learning (actually making neuroplastic changes in the brain) several things need to happen. First, there is no learning without mental attention and mental attention follows visual focus/attention (often a learned skill). To that end, in training, each extension and trigger press should be directed towards a humanoid type target, even for dry practice. If you are drawing and firing your weapon in defense of yourself or another, you are doing so at another human being who is attempting to cause you great bodily harm or death, not a paper target. Even in dry practice your mindset must be focused on this reality (even if you have extraordinary visualization skills). When using reduced size targets for dry practice, put faces, or at least anatomical symbols (heart) on them. I know, some ranges freak-out and won’t allow humanoid targets. In doing so, they are impeding learning (and the development of neurological circuits) that may save a life. Visual focus leads to mental focus and attention – and attention is essential to learning.

    Second, we want to enhance memory and skills that we are training. Research shows that a large spike in adrenaline immediately following a training session (within 15 minutes) enhances memory consolidation and reduces the number of repetitions needed. The researchers spiked adrenaline (and other corticosteroids) by immersing their test subject’s arm in ice water for up to 3 minutes. They found the higher the adrenaline level, the greater the memory recall effect. Here is the referenced study: “Enhanced Human Memory Consolidation With Post-Learning Stress: Interaction With the Degree of Arousal at Encoding” ( ).

    Of note, beta blockers, a class of drugs taken by millions of people for blood pressure management and other medical conditions, inhibits adrenaline, so for those taking this drug, you will not benefit by an adrenaline spike following a training session. An adrenaline spike can be achieved by non-pharmaceutical means, such as cyclic deep breathing techniques (i.e., Win Hof breathing), strenuous exercise, or cold-water immersion (cold shower, whole body or single extremity). All of this research and some protocols are covered in Dr. Andrew Huberman’s excellent podcast #72, “Improve Your Memory.”

    For at-home dry practice or single range training, cyclic breathing is a low-cost method to spike adrenaline. (There are some safety caveats to be aware of, and maybe your health care provider’s clearance before starting to use these techniques.) A brief cold shower is also a low-cost method. For a larger class or training group, especially not trained in Win Hoff breathing, immersing an arm to above the elbow in a container with ice water would also be cost effective and very practical.

    Put neuroscience to work for you in your training program.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply November 21, 2022

      I like using a slightly different version of the cold-presser…putting 1 foot in a 5 gallon bucket of ice water. It allows you to get the stress response, but you can use it WHILE shooting. I do also use cold-presser drills for the hands, but when I’m using them for the hands, it’s more to train with reduced hand performance than for the sympathetic response.

      You can also manipulate neuroplasticity quite effectively with dopamine and BDNF. You and I have talked about BDNF before and how it used to be believed that it was not a factor for adult learning, but how thoughts on that have changed considerably in the last few years.

      If you’re interested in spiking adrenaline at home and how to put neuroscience to work in your training program, I go into several methods in my book,

      • Alan Kerby

        Reply Reply November 22, 2022

        Thanks for the feedback. While you can definitely get a sympathetic stress response by putting your foot in a bucket of ice water WHILE shooting, that was not the point of the research. To enhance memory/skill learning (and decrease the number of reps needed) the adrenaline spike should take place AFTER the learning session. To be effective, the adrenaline spike level must be greater relative to the level obtained/maintained during the training session. The greater the spike level, the greater the effect on memory/skill learning.

        You can use any number of techniques to spike adrenaline for stress resilience/inoculation during training, but that was not the focus of the referenced study (or demonstrated in the extensive work of Cahill and McGaugh). To get the greatest learning effect, you ideally would want a calm, focused attentional state during the learning/training session followed by a sharp spike in adrenaline (by whatever means you choose). This does not rule out other training modalities using low-level stressors, but the research for this particular protocol is clear.

        Yes, the whole subject of dopamine for learning, motivation and goal setting is fascinating and often misused in the training industry. For the non-science geeks (like you and me) who want to learn more about the role of dopamine, I would highly recommend Dr. Andrew Huberman’s podcast #39, Dopamine, Mindset and Drive ( or via Youtube).

        If you want to increase BDNF get at least 180 minutes of Zone 2 exercise every week. Couch potatoes need not apply.

        BTY, I have read your latest book and find the neurological basis for training protocols to be sound. Many would do well to use it as a foundation for their training.

        Keep up the good work.

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