Archives for May 2013

Things I Learned At My Last IDPA Match

Shooting in cars is fun.

Shooting in cars is fun.

I have mentioned before and will likely mention again that I think competition definitely has value from a training perspective. Competition itself is not training, but competition can and often will help to pressure test your skills and point out what needs improvement.

Last week I shot my first ‘real’ IDPA match of the season (not including the classifier a few weeks ago), and I found that it helped me identify some serious weak spots in my own training. Looking back I really should have had a better idea that I needed to work on these skills, but context often helps to highlight what we don’t want to see.

The match also helped point out things that were really working for me. Hopefully I can pass on some of the lessons I learned from this match to help you with your training.

Cars Are A Special Problem

The match I shot was at Pioneer Sportsmen in Dunbarton, NH. These guys definitely know how to put on a great match. This is the second match I have shot there, and both times they have had a car as part of a stage. As you may know, I’m a proponent of training in and around vehicles. This match helped to show why training around cars is so important.

The car stage was straightforward – you started in the driver seat, hands at 10 and 2, and the pistol started loaded on the passenger seat. On the start you picked up the pistol and engaged 6 targets through the passenger side window with a round in each before making sure each target got a total of 3 rounds.

Watching the other competitors highlighted how uncomfortable many people are with shooting from a car. Some people shot one handed for lack of better positioning, and others had trouble getting the targets far to the right because of their position relative to the door column.

When you think about it, this stage was actually really simple. No seatbelts or holsters were involved, you didn’t have a passenger, and you didn’t need to debus the vehicle. All things that would make the stage even more complicated.

Lesson learned? Get some training relative to vehicles. I would recommend SouthNarc’s VCAST.

Low Light Training is a Necessity

The next lesson learned was a bit more personal. Besides having a car, the other great feature of this match was an indoor low light stage. This was actually my first time shooting in low light. While I didn’t totally bomb the stage, I did find that my low light skills were severely lacking.

I was slightly unprepared to light the targets with my pistol. I used a jaw index for my flashlight as that is how I have been practicing, and what is most natural for me. The problem with this is that holding the flashlight on my left while taking right hand corners, means that the light cast a shadow and didn’t properly illuminate my targets. Not only did the walls reflect a good amount of light back, but without good light it took me a lot longer to properly engage my targets.

To add insult to injury, my manipulations of the pistol with flashlight in hand were less than stellar. I should have turned the light off when reloading to hide my position, but I didn’t. Either way incorporating a flashlight occasionally into my dry-fire is in order, as is turning out the lights.

Using Appropriate Speed For Each Target

I did a fairly good job at not rushing the long shots, but on the other hand I probably could have engaged close targets faster than I did. Each target requires a different amount of time to engage based on its distance and position. Smoothly transitioning from close targets to far targets and vice-versa can be challenging.

I recently started spending more time shooting farther targets after my performance at my last classifier, but this match has made it clear that adding transitions between targets at a mix of ranges should also become part of my normal training routine.

Improving Confidence

The last thing I learned was that I need to work on improving my confidence at speed. I shot a relatively low number of points down, which is great, but it also means that I can probably speed up. If I can shoot a 0.3 second split on the 8” circle when shooting the F.A.S.T., then I should also be able to manage those splits on an IDPA target at a match.

This is a case of mindset and routine. I spend plenty of time drawing to low % targets like the 3×5 box on the F.A.S.T. but spend far less time drawing to and shooting 8” circles or targets at various distances (see above). The big lesson learned here is that spending time with different targets and working on pushing my limits is critical to boost my confidence so I can shoot faster.

These are the lessons I learned recently at my match. Have you competed recently? What did you learn?

3 Tips For Building Continuity Between Training Sessions

Photo Credit:  christgr

Photo Credit: christgr

When training individually we often find things we can improve on. Slight adjustments to technique or perhaps better methods altogether may occur to you as you train. One key to maximizing your success in training is to make sure that these new ideas don’t get washed out with the tide every time you end your training session.

In dry-fire I might notice that I’m not picking up the front sight fast enough… and then make an effort to improve that. But if I forget about this effort, the next time I start dry-firing, I’m right back at square one.

Fortunately there are some tricks to help you keep your current focus points front and center.

Make use of your training notebook

If you use a training notebook, then half the job is done for you. As you make new discoveries in your training you should try to note them in the entry for that session. For example, you might note things like hand position during a reload or the discovery that you need to work on picking up the front sight sooner.

When it’s time to start the next session, go right back to the notes from your previous session. If you noted areas of difficulty or things you were working on, this is the perfect chance to make them conscious before starting back into your training.

If you end the session totally confident with this new skill or area for improvement you can note your success or just leave it out of the log. If you aren’t confident, however, note that too so you remember to keep working at it. Remember that the key to making this work is checking the last session’s log before starting.

Write your plan for the next session at the end of the current one

Oftentimes I finish a dry-fire session or even a day in the dojo knowing I wasn’t happy with some aspect of my performance. These are good days to do some pre-planning for the next session.

You can do the same, and write a plan for each training session. Don’t wait until right before the session to write this plan, instead make it part of your training routine. Write down the drills and plan of attack for your next session at the end of the current one. This way you can capture what needs work and where you want to focus next time.

Note cards or sticky notes on your gear

If you have trouble using a training notebook, or continually forget to open your notebook before starting, then get some sticky notes or note cards. You can write your plan or areas for improvement on these cards or sticky notes and stick them right to your training gear, whether that be a dry-fire pistol, empty mags for training, or your gym bag.

Placing these front and center will help keep your areas for improvement from falling out of focus.

The most important thing to remember about any of these ideas is that the key is keeping some continuity between sessions. Disjointed, spastic training tends to have less of a positive impact than coordinated effort.

These are a few methods for keeping continuity between training sessions. Now it’s your turn. How do you build from session to session?

Are Classes The Best Bang For Your Buck?

Photo by DrJimiGlide

Photo by DrJimiGlide

Over the past few years as I delve deeper and deeper into the world of training, I have noticed a pretty obvious trend: attending more classes does not necessarily mean more skill.

Despite this trend I can’t help but to notice how many people seem to hope for the converse. Time and time again I see well-intentioned students of the gun who are in the constant cycle of bouncing from class to class.

On one hand I must applaud these guys for doing what most gun owners don’t have the stones or smarts to do: get training. But on the other hand, I can’t help but to scratch my head when I see these guys fail to improve despite spending thousands on training from top tier instructors.

Classes Does Not Equal Improvement

Quite frankly most trainers can’t make you improve by all that much… at least not in a single day or weekend class. Instead a good class should give you the tools and techniques you need to improve yourself on your own time. Receiving instruction is never a replacement for old fashioned hard work.

When I compare myself to some of these “class junkies,” I can’t help but realize that with only a few classes under my belt, I tend to fare better when it comes to skills. On a good day, I can shoot the F.A.S.T. in 6-7 seconds, and when I shot the IDPA classifier a few weeks ago I was less than 4 seconds outside of SSP Expert (I really bombed stage 3). While neither of those are amazing feats, I find that there are a lot more people who can’t match that performance than there are people that can beat it.

Guess how many classes I went to in order to get to that skill level?

The grand total of my pistol training comes down to several 2 hour blocks taken at a tactical conference a few years ago, several Southnarc Courses (ECQC and VCAST) which contain very little actual shooting time and next to no work on the fundamentals, and the pistol work at the Larry Vickers course I took last year. And quite frankly none of those courses immediately offered huge bumps in improvement at my next range session.

Compare my abilities and quantity of training with some of these guys who go out to Front Sight every year or do multiple shooting classes a year, and you’ll find that the thousands they spend on training doesn’t offer any significant improvement over where I am. So why spend the money?

Money Better Spent On Ammo

Rather than drop $500-1000 a year on classes, spend that money on more ammo. Or even better yet, just dry-fire! Work up a training routine for yourself that includes dry-fire and live-fire, and keep at it. You’ll notice more improvement than you ever would just taking expensive classes.

When you do consider taking a class, keep in mind that a solid class has two purposes. The first is when you have no skill set at all. Learning to safely draw from the holster and learning good technique for running your gun is critical to get your training off to a good start. The second is when you have been at things a while and hit a plateau. If you can’t improve yourself, it’s time to have someone else help you. Let someone else look at your technique and offer alternatives.

Ultimately it takes consistent, focused dedication to the task at hand to improve. There are no easy answers or shortcuts, just effort and time.

What’s the ratio of classes to individual training that you use? Please post a comment!

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