Some Thoughts on Improving the Draw-stroke

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

One of the most practiced skills for any individual who carries a firearm for self-defense is the draw-stroke. After all, if you can’t get the gun into the fight it is useless. Focusing on the draw-stroke in training also makes sense from a complexity standpoint. Drawing a firearm is one of the two most complex actions you can take with it (the other being reloading).

Drawing a handgun generally requires at least 6 distinct steps:

  1. Clear the cover garment
  2. Grip the firearm (#1)
  3. Draw from the holster (#2)
  4. Transition to a two hand firing grip (#3)
  5. Present the firearm (#4)
  6. Squeeze the trigger

All 6 actions can be easily performed when done independently. But when strung together, small errors in each action can build and become problematic.

Breaking it down

When working on the draw, keep the modular nature of the draw-stroke in mind. The first step to making your draw fast and smooth is to perfect each piece separately. This is the same concept that is commonly applied to teaching a new shooter how to draw.

When I learned, we started by working on just clearing the cover garment and getting the one handed grip on the firearm. We practiced for probably a dozen reps before moving on to drawing from the holster to the #2 position.

After another dozen or so reps of practicing the first two pieces; we started continuing on to the #3 position (both hands on the firearm). Starting to see a pattern here? If you have received any formal instruction on using your handgun, it probably followed a very similar progression.

The reason we add slowly and build on the previous steps is to ingrain muscle memory. When you draw your pistol for real, you can’t think about 6 discrete actions – it would take too long. Instead you think about one thing: drawing the handgun.

When training any complex skill, this is the best way to get started, but it is also a great place to return to any time you need to ‘tune up’ a skill.

Breaking it down some more

When you go back to the draw-stroke with the intention of improving it, there are a few more ways to dissect the problem.

If you continue the building method every time you practice, you will get a lot more practice working on the first parts compared to the last. The simplest thing you can do is to work through the entire draw-stroke from beginning to end, but much slower. Concentrate on each of the actions as you take it. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. The goal hasn’t changed here, you are still striving to make the component pieces of the draw-stroke natural enough to no longer require conscious thought.

A similar concept is to work each action independently. I can perform 10 or 20 reps clearing the cover garment and getting to the #1 position. I can then perform 10 or 20 reps moving from #1 to #2, etc. This gives me a chance to focus on perfecting the motions for each component of the draw-stroke.

Finally, keep in mind that the entire draw-stroke can be performed in reverse. If you are practicing the draw-stroke in its entirety, reset by going through the motions backwards. If you are practicing pieces, then perform each piece in reverse to reset. Take advantage of every chance to practice.

Putting it back together

Ultimately you can’t just work on perfecting each piece, at some point the pieces need to come together to form a whole. You crawl before you walk, and walk before your run. When you start lacing the pieces back together, don’t go for any records. Build gradually to a comfortable speed.

Speeding it up

When working on improving the speed of your draw-stroke, the ultimate goal is to be able to draw and make accurate shots at speed. How much speed depends on how accurately you can make your shots. Anyone can go blazingly fast and miss, but to go fast and hit is a different story.

There are two opposing yet complementary techniques to use to achieve this speed. The first is essentially what you have just read about, breaking things down, and working on perfecting each piece. Speed is the absence of extraneous movement after all.

The other is to ramp the speed up until you no longer can make 100% good hits, and then back off a little. Todd Green explains this concept in his post Permission to Miss, which is a great read.

Always remember that speed is a combination of economy of motion and effort. One without the other is incomplete. You can move slowly with flawless form, or you can drive the gun like your hair is on fire. Neither get you to the goal without balance.

What techniques do you use to practice and improve your draw-stroke?

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