Is Specializing Your Skill-Set a Mistake?

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

Should you be training generic or specialized skills when dealing with firearms? What exactly does this mean? I’m talking about determining the benefits of learning the best way to run your gun vs the best way of running any gun.

An example: there are several methods of executing a reload. You can use the overhand (aka “slingshot”) method, use your firing hand thumb on the slide release, or use your support hand thumb on the slide release. All three options have advantages and disadvantages. Do you decide which method to train based on the features of the gun you use most, or based on what is most applicable to any gun you might encounter?

The overhand method is perhaps the most generic. Not all guns have slide stops or have slides that lock back. Additionally the overhand reload skill works exactly the same as our tap-rack-bang malfunction clearance. On the other hand, this method is the slowest of the three options if you do have a slide release due to the huge amount of movement required to handle an otherwise simple task.

The firing hand thumb is the fastest method provided the slide release is positioned such that you can reach it with this thumb. You are moving your thumb less than an inch to perform what requires movement of an entire hand when using the overhand method. The downside is that the same muscle memory can theoretically cause you to inadvertently stop the slide from locking back.

The third option, using the support hand thumb, works across a variety of handguns that have a slide release, though you may have issues if you have trained specifically with guns that position the slide release in a specific spot. This is almost as fast as the firing hand thumb but is slightly more generic.

I have seen top tier trainers advocate all three methods.

Why is generic better?

If you intend to be shooting a variety of guns, generic skills are better. If you carry a pocket pistol in the summer and a duty pistol in the winter (or perhaps carry a pocket pistol when not working, etc.), you want a set of skills that translates to both weapon systems easily.

Special forces and high-speed-low-drag operators might need to work with a variety of firearms to operate with indigenous weapon systems to perform their missions. Some people just don’t get to choose their tools.

Why is specialized better?

Performance. If you know you will be operating a specific firearm all the time, adapting to that firearm means you can get the most performance out of it. Being faster and more efficient can be the difference between life and death, so maximizing performance should improve your chances greatly.

Personally I carry either a Glock 26 or 17 depending on wardrobe. Both pistols have the same control in the same place. I choose to specialize and use the firing hand thumb as it is the fastest and most reliable for me. I’m most likely to use my guns to defend myself. I don’t mind my reload performance suffering a bit when using my ‘range toys’ if it means I can have maximum performance when using the tools I carry.

Being generic without a need only hurts you

For me, generic skills would reduce my performance with the tools I am most likely to use in favor of tools I am unlikely to use. Does that make sense?

Are you really expecting a ‘battlefield pickup’ to be your tool for survival? Most of us will never live the plot of the Die Hard movies… prepare yourself to use the tools you carry every day.

Customization of your tools

Extended magazine releases, extended slide stops, and improved triggers are commonly used to improve pistols. Oddly, the people who make these customizations can often be proponents of generic skills. If you want to be able to handle any firearm, why make your pistol specialized? Logic would dictate that keeping your pistol as stock as possible makes it easier to transition to another of the same model, if not a completely different pistol.

Changes to your gun to maximize performance are very similar to changes to your skills for the same purpose. Make sure you are at your best with the tools you are going to need the most.

Counterpoint: long guns

One counterpoint I must mention: generic skills might be an advantage with a long gun. I’m far less likely to use a long gun in a violent confrontation. For most people that will use a long gun, there is a far greater chance they might be using one that isn’t theirs than with a pistol. The proliferation of AR-15 type rifles means that a ‘battlefield pickup’ is probably an AR-15.

Learn to run your AR-15 with stock controls (lose the BAD lever or ambi firecontrols). Unless your unit or department standardizes on these upgrades, you are far more likely to pick up a gun without them.

This all boils down to one simple concept: if you are training to use the tools you carry, then optimize your performance around them. If you train to be proficient with any tool you pick up, then generic skills are justifiable.

Ultimately generic skills are great, if you have a need for them. Otherwise they just hinder your performance with the tools you are likely to use. Carefully weigh specialization and see if it helps you.

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