Archives for October 2012

Driving Your Training With Skills Assessments

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

What is the biggest challenge in training? Some might argue that it is determining exactly what to spend your time on. It can be very easy to practice mindlessly, but to get the best results for your time you need to know exactly how to stage your training.

When you undertake your training you are trying to reach some sort of goal. Achieving a singular, simple goal can be easy, just practice until you succeed. Balancing your training to reach a complex set of goals on the other hand is where things get difficult. How do you manage these kinds of goals to achieve them all in a finite set of time?

Drive your training with assessments

One method for balancing your training and determining exactly what you will work on is a progress assessment. The concept is simple: measure your progress against your goals, and re-balance your training plan accordingly.

Sometimes dividing all of your time equally among many activities has the downside of diluting your efforts to the point of ineffectiveness. Redirecting your training based on a set of assessments has the benefit of allowing you to determine exactly what needs the most work so you can direct the most effort to that area.

How do you assess?

The biggest hurdle in driving your training with these assessments is determining exactly what and how to assess.

Some things are easily assessed. Weight lifting provides a simple example. You know exactly how many reps you did, and how much weight you are lifting.

Other areas are not quite so easy.

Shooting is a great example of this. Unlike weight lifting, every training session doesn’t measure progress in itself (unless you have a lot of money and a range in your backyard). Dry-fire is much harder to measure than live fire. You can improvise in dry-fire, but you need expensive equipment to avoid sacrificing the accuracy of your measurement.

Make the most out of each range session and devote at least some of it to measuring your progress by recording hits and times on a consistent course of fire. Personally I use the F.A.S.T. and Dot Torture to measure my own progress.

Some things can be even harder to measure than your ability to hit a target or the amount of weight you can lift. Take for example some fairly subjective things like your fighting techniques. What are you struggling with the most? Kicking, punching, or maybe footwork? There is no completely objective way to measure these skills. If you can’t be objective (or even if you can) you might want to ask a training partner or an instructor on a recurring basis to determine exactly what you need the most work on. If neither is available, consider video recording yourself, it might make self-assessment easier.

Taking your scores home

Once you have a good idea of exactly how you are performing, you need to take those numbers and turn them into an adjustment to your training plan.

Weight lifting naturally lends itself to self-adjustment. If you are working to improve your bench press, you might choose some weight and attempt to perform a number of repetitions. When you can successfully complete that number you increase the weight.

Shooting on the other hand might not be as obvious to adjust. One method to use here is to take your scores from your shooting assessment and compare them against your goal.

Personally I’m trying to improve my F.A.S.T. When I look at my resulting time breakdown, I can see exactly how I performed. Since my goal is for an overall time I compare my component times to what I know are good times. How does my draw, reload, and follow up shots stack up against David Sevigny’s (or some other master class shooter)? I know my reload time is the component furthest from my goal, so I emphasize my training towards correcting that weak spot. When my assessment indicates that my reloads have improved, I will refocus onto my next weakest area.

Why base your training off of assessments?

When you train without a defined purpose, or without clearly measurable goals, you are destined to not hold yourself to a real standard. Measuring your progress allows you to confirm that what you are doing is really working. If you find yourself expending lots of effort for little gain, it might be time to try something different.

Your goal in training should be to improve your ability as a whole, but also to round yourself out. The shooter with the best draw in the world but the worst reloads isn’t the best shooter in the world; instead, the shooter with the best balance of skills will always be better. The same goes for just about anything. If you only train what you want to train, or what you are good at, you won’t really be improving yourself because these big gaps in your overall abilities will remain. Using methods to assess your progress and logically determine what to work on takes your ego out of the loop and allows you to work on what you really need to work on.

How do you assess your skills and determine what to train?

Do You Spend Too Much Time Reading About Training?

Photo Credit: ugaldew

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that there are a lot of people who spend time reading about and researching training. They might spend a lot of time figuring out what to train, or how to train it, but spend very little time actually training. Reading about training and training are two different things… and more of your time should be spent actually training.

Reading about training has its benefits

Reading about training has quite a few benefits. You can spend a lot of time hitting the books and scouring the internet for ideas on training. For example there are a ton of sites targeting MMA fighters and weight lifters talking about topics such as periodization, program building, and various exercises or drills you might want to add to your own training regimen.

When you hit up forums, you can find like-minded individuals and share ideas or compare notes on training programs, ultimately giving you a way to validate your ideas, theories, and training plans.

What’s the problem?

The problem here isn’t that you shouldn’t read about or discuss training regularly, it’s that spending more time talking about training isn’t going to make you stronger, faster, or a better shot. There are plenty of armchair generals (and fighters for that matter) that would rather talk about it than do it. Do you really want to be in that crowd?

Spending too much time reading about training can lead to over-analyzing the problem… analysis paralysis as some people say. Rather than spend all your time planning out how you are going to train, I am going to recommend you follow the advice of General George S. Patton:

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.

Stop over-analyzing and spend some time actually training!

Finding the golden ratio

Since there is benefit to reading and discussion, you don’t want to toss it completely. Instead you are really looking for that perfect ratio of training to study and planning. How exactly do we find that perfect ratio?

I really don’t know. All I can do is provide you with some concepts to help you narrow in on the perfect ratio for you. Firstly, if you add up all the time you spend reading about your training, you will find that amount of time is probably more than you thought. Ask yourself if you could use a little of that time for additional training. If you dedicate time to reading about training, you should probably not be spending more than 10 – 20% of the time you spend actually training.

If you happen to be fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your perspective), you might have downtime throughout the day when it may be inconvenient to train, but you can easily read and discuss online. Those of you with a long train commute can’t exactly use that time to dry-fire, but pulling up a reader program or a good book is a great way to make use of your time.

If you are recovering from injuries, read away while you are healing. Keeping your mind focused on training despite your body’s pleas to stay off the mats is a great way to minimize the time it takes for you to get back up to speed when you recover.

There is a ton of information out there on training. It would be a travesty not to tap into that knowledge to make your own training more efficient and effective. It would also be a travesty to ignore your training altogether just to think about what you want to do next. Sometimes it’s better to get off your chair and away from the screen and just train.

Do you spend too much time reading instead of training? What ratio of reading to training do you use?

You Don’t Have to Be an IDPA Champion to Benefit from Incremental Improvement

Photo Credit: mai05

Occasionally you might compare yourself with the top competitors and experts within the field in which you train. This can be daunting as their abilities seem far beyond what you have achieved, and getting there seems impossible.

What separates them from you? Incremental improvement.

What can be hard to realize is that the best way to get better at something is simply making the effort. Sometimes the gains measured from a single training session are miniscule. Add a week’s worth of training sessions and you might have something really measurable.

The problem is that every day you go without training your skills fade just a little bit. If you go a whole week without training, you have lost quite a lot, and a whole month? Even more. The longer you go between training sessions, the more rapidly you lose the gains you have made. In order to minimize this degradation of your skills, you must train consistently and often.

Showing up really is half the battle.

Incremental improvement in every session is good; it means you aren’t getting worse.

One common problem I have seen is the desire to train in fewer but longer sessions. If you measure your training sessions in arbitrary chunks of time, each chunk of time you spend training after the first garners less improvement than the one before it. Instead of spending all of your time training on one day, spread it out over the whole week and you increase your capacity to improve.

Since the length of time since your last training session seems to directly correlate with the amount of skill lost, it just makes sense to train more often for shorter amounts of time. Don’t assume that long training sessions will compensate for a sparse schedule. The epitome of this is the weekend warrior who takes several high priced classes in a year. Is he better than the guys who don’t take many classes but train regularly? Absolutely not. He isn’t benefiting from incremental improvement.

Long story short: keep your sessions shorter and more frequent and you should improve faster by avoiding deterioration of your skill set.

Reader Survey

Photo credit: yarranz

Readers of Indestructible Training: I need your help!  In training we use feedback to help determine the effectiveness of our efforts.  Similarly I’m looking for some feedback for my efforts here on the blog.   I’ve put together a little survey to help me get a better idea exactly who you are so I can serve you better.  All I need you to do is head over to the survey and answer my questions to the best of your ability.

 Take the survey here.

Thank you in advance!


Reader Question: How Proficient Can I Become With Dry Fire?

Robert Vogel won the SSP Division of the IDPA Nationals: dry-fire makes up the bulk of his training.

A couple of weeks ago I received an excellent question from a reader. This post is essentially a response to that question. If you have a question you would like to see answered here on Indestructible Training, please head over to the contact page and drop me a line.

Jack writes:

I am trying to train myself to be proficient with multiple types of firearms, but I just don’t have the money for the level of shooting I am aiming for. Can I get to this level with dry fire?

Jack, great question! In order to answer the question accurately, we need to determine what your definition of “proficient” is. If you are looking to achieve levels of skill comparable with the top national shooting champions, you are looking for something more than being able to hit your targets on demand.

No matter what you are trying to achieve with firearms, some live-fire will always be necessary. Do you need to shoot every day? No, but you will need to shoot enough to verify your skills and acclimate to recoil. If you are looking for an extraordinary level of expert proficiency, you will likely need to spend more time live firing than you might need to spend in order to achieve a base level of proficiency.

When you think about it, dry-fire is really better than live-fire for practice anyway. You take away the variables that tend to build bad habits, allowing you to focus on building good ones, all from the comfort of your home.

A great example of the effectiveness of dry-fire is Bob Vogel, the recent SSP champion at the IDPA Nationals. Bob has been shooting at a high level competitively for a while, but I know I had heard somewhere that he didn’t do much live-fire (relatively speaking) to get and maintain his skills.

I found a great interview from a few years ago that demonstrates that point:

Between being married and having a full-time job, finding time to practice is as hard for him as anybody. “I very rarely live-fire more than once a week, and I dry-fire about four times a week. If you’re serious about getting better at shooting, dry-firing is the way to go. A lot of people don’t want to do it because they’re all about having fun and going blasting, which is fine, but you’re not going to get better if that’s all you do.”

So if you want to get proficient and don’t want to expend thousands of rounds a week, dry-fire is the perfect solution. Some live fire is always going to be necessary, but you can stretch that training budget a lot.

Personally I have stepped up my own dry-fire significantly over the past year and have seen significant gains in my own abilities. For me getting to the range even once a week is difficult with my busy schedule, but dry-fire practice 3 to 5 times a week is definitely possible.

For me heading to the range for some live-fire is more a validation of skills than for skills development. I use live fire to make sure I’m on the right track with my dry-fire training and I’m keeping potential bad habits in check. It is very easy to compromise technique for blind speed in dry-fire. Live-fire forces you to demonstrate the skill with a measurable outcome. It works or it doesn’t.

Find some good resources on the subject of dry-fire, come up with a training plan, and log your progress. I think you’ll likely see significant improvement, with much less of the cost.

If you have a question you would like answered on Indestructible Training head over to the contact page and send me a message.

Course Review: Extreme Close Quarters Concepts

The ability to shoot in confined spaces is critical to self-defense with a handgun.

One of my first forays into firearms training was a few years ago. I attended a summit here in New Hampshire put on by a group called NEShooters. This summit brought together a handful of instructors across a wide variety of disciplines. The benefits of a training opportunity like this are obvious: train with a variety of trainers in multiple skills and identify who and what to seek out to train on your own. Of these instructors one in particular impressed me head and shoulders above the rest.

This one instructor, Craig Douglas (Southnarc as he goes on the internet), taught a module called MUC or Managing Unknown Contacts. Not only was the material well thought out and expertly taught, but it was more contextually relevant than most material I have experienced. Four years later, I’m now on my fourth class taught by Craig. Clearly his material speaks to me.

This past weekend I attended ECQC: Extreme Close Quarters Concepts. ECQC is Craig’s flagship course, and the foundation for everything else. Theoretically this weekend was my third time taking this course, but more accurately it is my first. The same NEShooters group that invited him to instruct at the summit has brought him up regularly for years. The two other times I took an ECQC-like course it was actually a combination of modules covering slightly more material.

Day 1:

The first day was a short one, lasting only four hours. The course started very simply by characterizing criminal assault. As always Craig brings his diverse experience to the table. Once the weekend was framed, we started with the same material that drew me to Craig’s instruction in the first place: MUC.

MUC consists primarily of dealing with an encroachment problem. An unknown person approaches and you need to deal with that through verbal skills, identifying pre-fight queues, and regaining initiative if the unknown doesn’t stop encroaching. If initiative can’t be regained, you have a big problem.

Craig focuses on non-diagnostic responses. Unlike traditional martial arts that have a decision tree a mile long to come to the ideal solution to a given problem, Craig prefers the simple solution: a single default position to handle an incoming blow. The goal: stay conscious and stay mobile. If there is any one piece of material everyone should study and be exposed to, it is MUC.

After MUC we started working on grappling skills, starting with Craig’s famous “mountain goat” drill and a few other center of gravity and body posturing drills. Everything Craig does follows a gradual building approach: crawl, walk, then run. This was no different. Craig’s lineup of drills and exercises all work toward one unified goal.

Day 2:

Day two began on the range. Craig started with what always impresses me as one of the most thought out safety briefings I have ever heard. He really makes those safety rules his own. What stands out the most is his interpretation of the trigger finger rule. Rather than the negative of keep the finger off the trigger, he uses the positive: keep the finger on a hard register. It’s a subtle difference, but it makes a huge difference in the mindset around the rule.

Once we got shooting, we started with a diagnostic drill so Craig could gauge where the class stood, followed by work on the draw-stroke. Craig is a strong proponent of a linear four count draw-stroke. It is linear because instead of coming straight out of the holster and driving the gun forward, the gun comes up high before driving forward. This is important because it supports shooting in a confined space.

We also worked on ‘shooting from the 2’ or shooting from the second position in the draw-stroke (indexed at the pectoral) with your head on the cardboard backing of your target. This isn’t the first time I have shot this way, but getting more reps in is great for correcting deviations that have occurred since the last time. We also shot at various positions between the third and fourth counts of the draw-stroke (three is prior to extending and four is at full extension). We practiced this by moving backwards one step/shot at a time and shooting from appropriate extension for that distance.

Shooting in a compressed position like this is vital for close quarters gun fights. Fully extending the gun towards the target is great when the target is far away, but up close you are basically giving the gun to the bad guy. Appropriate extension isn’t always full extension.

Overall the work on the draw-stroke was great for me. The past few months I have been playing with my draw-stroke a lot after going through various iterations of changes trying to find the optimal solution. The height of count 3 in Southnarc’s approach corrects some of the challenges I have been facing, so it will be great to take this new insight home with me and start working on it with a timer.

After shooting we broke for lunch. After lunch we got right back to working on various grappling skills starting from where we left off Friday. Craig added some more tools for gaining and maintaining a dominant position in the standing clinch. To help reinforce these skills, we used FIST helmets and sims guns to help add pressure to the problem.

Next we went to the ground. On the ground your goal is the same as when you are standing: stay conscious and stay mobile. Craig taught techniques to make encroachment by a standing adversary more difficult and some methods for dealing with someone who does get within arm’s reach. Just like with the standing clinch work, skills were covered for controlling our opponent’s hands to help prevent them from accessing and employing weapons, while we practiced accessing our own.

Craig likes to use ‘evolutions’ as a method of pressure testing the skills he teaches. Just because something works with a consenting partner doesn’t mean it will work on the street when things aren’t quite so cooperative.

Saturday’s evolution? Basically what we were just doing with one guy on the ground and the other trying to engage him – but both of us had FIST helmets and the defender got a sims gun. In my evolution I managed to mostly prevent my opponent from limiting my mobility but couldn’t get the dominant position I really wanted. Despite this setback, I was able to secure him with my legs, allowing for a fancy behind the back draw and a left-handed 2 position mag dump into my opponent.

Then we swapped roles. During his turn things didn’t go as well for me. One moment I seemed to know what was where, the next he was shooting me and we were wrestling for the gun.

Day 3:

Day three started back on the range. We worked on some more shooting from appropriate levels of extension as well as shooting from two fending positions: a vertical elbow shield and a horizontal elbow shield. We put these new fending positions into use while getting additional practice at shooting from appropriate extension.

After the shooting we took a break and went to lunch. When we came back, Craig had us jump right into a 2 on 1 evolution. In this evolution the participant was armed with a sims gun, and one other guy would advance while role-playing some sort of scenario. A third guy was held back by Craig and inserted later. He could have been a concerned citizen, the potential bad guy’s friend, or just about anything else.

These evolutions really drive home two things for me. Firstly, how important MUC skills are. It really sucks to have two other guys trying to take your gun from you and whacking you over the head. If you can avoid a violent encounter like this, then do it!

The second is the discovery of how ambiguous real life can be. It can be pretty hard to piece together what is happening during one of these scenarios as it unfolds, and even harder to really take charge and escape. Thankfully training should be harder than real life in a lot of cases, but I really don’t want to end up in these kinds of fights.

After the evolution we worked on firearm retention, both in and out of the holster, as well as techniques to disarm. We practiced these skills with partners before a final evolution.

The final evolution was the infamous car evolution. In this evolution two people start in a vehicle with the FIST helmets and sims guns. The driver has his in the holster while the passenger usually keeps his under his leg. The passenger at some point pulls his gun and holds the driver at gunpoint. Then it’s on.

This is a great evolution because it really emphasizes how everything turns sideways quickly in a car. After doing this in the past, I have become a lot more conscious of not wanting to drive places with people I don’t know. Wrestling in a vehicle is totally different than wrestling on the ground, while at the same time being exactly the same.


This was my third time taking this type of class from Craig, but even so I learned a lot from it. Craig says the class is in many ways an audit of your skills, telling you what you need to work on – and he is definitely right.

One thing I do notice is that, for the most part, veterans of the class do better, but no one dominates someone just for being an ECQC vet. I’ve done this three times and I still got tossed around by first timers. At the same time, it was obvious that repeated exposure to this material greatly increases your comfort level in dealing with these situations. If you can attend this class more than once (perhaps annually), then go for it. If not then one exposure to the material will definitely have a profound impact on your ability to defend yourself if that day ever comes.

Ultimately this was a great class, and I would recommend it without reservation for anyone who has the opportunity to take it. Craig knows his material, and he knows how to teach it. He is a warrior scholar in the truest sense.

Have you experienced ECQC? Post a comment below!

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