When Is the Toolbox Too Big?

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It is common in the training world to hear people refer to adding tools to their toolbox. This metaphorical toolbox contains all the techniques (and their variations) that you have acquired and carry with you in your daily life. Your toolbox may contain tools for your shooting, clinch work, knife fighting, stand up, you name it. People have bought into this toolbox metaphor so much that they brag about how big their toolbox is.

My question, however, is when is this toolbox too big? I like to have plenty of tools in my shed, garage, or workshop, but do I really need to carry around every tool I have ever owned?

Training is merely a matter of repetition. The more practice you get at a particular skill, the sharper that skill is. Continuing the toolbox metaphor, this means that whether we have one tool or two-hundred tools, we need to keep them all sharp if we intend to use them. The problem here is that in the modern age, time seems to be at a premium. Unlike your workshop tools, you can’t pay someone else to sharpen your skills for you.

The larger your toolbox, the heavier it is. It is hard work to carry around all those tools when you might only need a few. Every variation of a tool we carry adds weight to the tool box. How many different size Phillips head screwdrivers can you really use? Keeping only the tools needed to get the job done makes finding one in a hurry a lot simpler. If you need a screwdriver, how do you decide which of your Phillips head screwdrivers to use? It will almost always be the first one you get your hands on.

Violent confrontations are high pressure and high speed events. You don’t have time to select a variation of a skill – you need to know what you need and have it be instinctual. Like the screwdrivers, the more variations of a skill you have, the harder it is to recall and employ the correct one under pressure. You are more likely to simply employ the variation you are most familiar with, whether that is the variation you would consciously choose for the task or not. You will naturally default to what you have trained the most. If you train multiple ways of performing a skill, you risk either not having a clear default, or wasting your time training skills you cannot recall under pressure.

Hopefully we’re now in agreement that the size of the toolbox needs to be managed. If we are to shrink the toolbox how do we decide what to keep and what to leave at home?

Maximize coverage while minimizing overlap

We need the broadest set of skills that will cover every task we may need to perform while decreasing the overall size of the toolbox. When talking about actual tools, this can often mean finding tools that can perform multiple tasks. I don’t need to be fluent in twenty different methods of reloading a pistol. I don’t need to master every grappling system that exists, and I don’t need to be able to throw fifteen different punches.

Instead you should focus your efforts on keeping what works the best. When you find a better hammer than the one you currently own and use, replace your hammer. Save it somewhere, but only carry with you the best tools you have access to. Constantly train and refine, but rather than try to keep every tool sharp, pick the ones you really plan on using, and store the other ones. You should always be trying to find the best combination of tools for you.

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