Making Good Mistakes

Image by LorE Denizen

Do you make mistakes? Have you ever dropped a mag, fumbled a reload, had a malfunction? Have you ever done the wrong technique in a kata or zigged when you should have zagged? If not I need to shake your hand because you are a god.

If you do make mistakes, how often do they happen in training, and how do you react?

If you just stop and restart from the beginning, you are robbing yourself of precious opportunities to train yourself to respond to these mistakes. Take advantage of your mistakes and work through them. Remember you will fight as you train, so train as you fight. If you drop a mag on the range when you are trying to reload… keep going. Grab the other mag on your belt or pick it up (but be careful of muzzle discipline!). If you normally throw your hands in the air, curse yourself and reset to the beginning of the drill, then that is exactly what you can expect when the lead is flying. Learn to recover as cleanly and quickly as you can.

We are all human, so we can expect to make mistakes. Sure we will be laser focused with the addition of adrenaline, but our fine motor skills and judgment can be negatively affected. You will screw up eventually. Hopefully you won’t screw up when you really can’t afford to, but there are no guarantees. If you compete you probably will make a mistake in a match eventually. It’s a matter of probability.

From a similar perspective, I was taught as a student of Karate to always make the best mistake I could. If I was practicing a kata and did the wrong technique, I was always supposed to make sure I made that particular instance the best instance of that technique I could. Making a mistake shouldn’t stop you in your tracks and cause you to give up or restart. Make your mistake the best possible mistake you can. Then move on.

This same principle can be applied to your defensive firearms training. If your gun runs dry, it’s a perfect chance to practice reloading. If you have a malfunction, it’s a perfect chance to practice dealing with it. The same thing should apply if you screw up a reload. Don’t give up, just get that gun reloaded.

Take this concept with you and apply it to your training. Hopefully practice will make perfect some day and you won’t ever make a mistake. Call me when that happens so I can bow down to you. Until then capitalize on every mistake you make. A mistake in training is far better than a mistake on the street. And learning to recover from your mistakes can often make the difference between life and death.

Do you work through your mistakes? What kind of mistakes do you make in training?

When To Take Risks In Your Training

Image by The U.S. Army

Training is risky business. Any physical activity comes with some amount of risk for physical injury. Sparring even more so. No matter how careful we are training with our firearms, even dry-fire comes with some inherent risk – we must always be careful. Simply setting foot on the range has its own risks that we cannot control.

Despite these risks we still continue to train. We weigh these risks against some sort of benefit and decide to train anyway. Some risks are too great and we avoid them. Where should YOU draw that line?

The amount of risk you should take in your training needs to be balanced against the risks you encounter on a day to day basis. The average person who carries a pistol for self-defense will encounter far less risk in his daily life than a switched on high-speed low drag operator who seeks out trouble.

I have heard a story or two originating in the special operations community where operators would not call a cold range while shooters went down range to change targets. You could walk down your lane to have another shooter shooting at targets to either side of you. Is this too risky? Given the environment these operators work in, probably not.

Their jobs require that they be put in situations where they may need to make a shot that close to a fellow operator. They are put in these situations to preserve our freedom when they carry out missions overseas. Operators train so that they are proficient enough to be comfortable and capable in these situations. For them, the risk of being downrange while a buddy keeps firing is nothing compared to the risk they encounter in the field.

But would the average self-defense shooter want to be down range while others are shooting? Probably not. The risks involved would far outweigh any benefit of practice you might get while trying not to splatter your friend’s brain matter all over his target. This would not be a skill you are likely to need to survive everyday life, so why take the risk?

Operators take these risks because the cost of not taking them is less confidence and poor performance in the life threatening situations they willingly enter every day. For a civilian shooter who is training to defend themselves, we are not mitigating any risk in our daily lives by taking these kinds of risks.

On the other hand, we take risks just by going to the range. Splash back from steel targets, explosive firearm malfunctions, and the riffraff on the next lane over all make going to the range risky. We still do it (and should do it) because not practicing means we will be incapable of acting when we need to.

The same goes for physical training in general. We can pull muscles, tear tendons, and break bones in hard training if we are not careful (and sometimes even if we are). Not risking those injuries puts us in a weak position when we need those skills to be there.

Ultimately the amount of risk you assume will depend on the amount of risk you encounter in real life. If your profession takes you into harms way, I fully expect you to take on more risk to reduce the impact that real life hazards might have on you. When the training has significantly higher risk of injury or death than the threats you prepare for, you might need to reconsider your training.

How much risk do you take in your training? Post a comment and share!

What’s More Important – Speed or Reliability?

Waving my arms around like wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men doesn’t tend to get the job done. (Image by elvissa)

Speed is king. No matter what defensive system you study, they all converge on several points. One of these points of convergence is speed. 

In shooting this is a matter of how quickly can I draw, reload, or get follow up shots. In other martial arts, the speed of a punch, kick, or your footwork in general is constantly improving. Speed will always be a constant goal in your training.

Reliability is often forgotten, but always there. Reliability doesn’t just refer to how reliable your pistol is, but can also refer to how reliable YOU are. When I think of reliability, two other concepts come to mind: consistency and effectiveness. Can you consistently perform the motions you want to? Can you effectively get the job done with the technique at hand? Reliability may not be in the foreground of your training, but you should strive to make it so.

 Unfortunately, it is easy for speed and reliability to be at odds with each other when training.

 Going Too Fast

The saying: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is often heard in many circles. This principle boils down to not going so fast that you make mistakes. For example if I am attempting to draw a pistol too quickly and don’t get a proper grip, I may get it out quicker, but I do so with the cost of making more than one shot difficult. An even more obvious example is in reloading. If you rush and fumble to get the magazine into your pistol, you are probably going to waste a lot more time than if you smoothly insert it the first time.

 Fast Won’t Always Work

Sometimes the fastest way of doing things won’t always work. Assumptions about the state of something can often slow you down in the long run. With my pistol, magazines don’t always drop free. I prefer to make stripping the magazine from my pistol a part of my reloading habit to mitigate this. To practice without manual stripping and always assume the magazine will drop free might be faster when this works. But for those times when it doesn’t drop free, this assumption creates more of a headache than it saves.

 Fast Is Not Always Effective

In the martial arts, speed is often what makes a technique effective. Throwing an effective punch, for example, is rooted in a quick transfer of energy (not tensing the shoulders). On the other hand, going fast isn’t always the most effective way to do something. Some strikes can be done too quickly. These strikes can look very flashy, but at the same time have no oomph behind them. Waving my arms around like wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men doesn’t tend to get the job done.

Whatever you are training or training for, you need to consider reliability. Never train something to be so fast that you cannot be effective, consistent, or reliable in your execution. Most actions will get faster through practice, but avoid going too fast too soon. Perfect practice makes perfect, and going too fast is far from perfect.

 How do you balance speed and reliability in your training? Post a comment and let us know.

Glock’s LE Only Training Options

A few days ago I was perusing Glock’s website in an attempt to see if they had posted anything new in conjunction with the shot show. Glock recently updated the look and feel of their website, including a new page with all of their pistol offerings. On this page I noticed two things that I have never noticed before from Glock.

Glock's G22P

Glock has two pistols chambered in .380 Auto, the G25 and G28, which are compact and subcompact models respectively. These two pistols are offered only to law enforcement officers. Why? I’m curious to know why these aren’t available to citizens. I personally have no desire to own one, but I’m sure there are individuals who would love to have a Glock chambered in .380 Auto.

More significantly I noticed Glock’s Training and Practice models. I’ve known about the cutaway model and I have been on both ends of the Glock 17 T FX in classes. What I didn’t know existed were the Practice and Reset models.

The Reset Model is essentially a Glock 17 with a resetting trigger. The intended application is primarily for use with shooting simulators. A laser impulse generator can be placed in the barrel. The laser impulse generator is activated by a hit from the firing pin. I can almost see a reason why these would be restricted to LEO only. The fact that it can still accept ammunition means that it is still a firearm, but the red frame makes it look more like a toy. Glock is probably just covering their ass from law suits.

The Practice model on the other hand is a non-firing model. The barrel is blocked and the firing pin appears to be deactivated. It is the ultimate dry-fire practice tool. Since it cannot fire live ammunition it makes for a much safer dry fire experience. Why would this be restricted to Law Enforcement only? To me it doesn’t make sense. I assume the price tag would be similar to if not higher than that of a standard Glock 17 or 22, but there would definitely be some interest from the training community.

I haven’t yet found a good reason not to sell the Practice model, G25, or G28 to the general public.

 Would you buy one? Have an idea why they won’t sell these to the public? Post a comment a let us know.

Classes, DVDs, or Books

 Pretty much all knowledge is transferred through one of these methods: classes, DVDs, or books. Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages. No single medium is a catch-all solution, instead they all serve a specific purpose in your training.

Classes

Attending a class is a great way to add to your combative skill set. A skilled instructor will have spent an enormous amount of time working to improve the way that they convey knowledge. A simple way to categorize instructors is into two primary groups. You have national or top tier instructors, and you have local or second tier instructors. Pretty much every firearms trainer falls into one of these two groups.

The difference isn’t huge when comparing these two groups. It primarily comes down to cost of the class and recognition. Just like a Coke costs more than a generic brand cola, taking a class from a well known instructor will usually cost more than taking a class on the same subject from a local instructor. The national instructor might or might not be better than the local guy, but he does have more recognition.

You need to decide for yourself if the extra cost is worth it for you. I personally find that the more generic the material, the less likely I need to take it from an instructor with a big name. If I want to learn how to shoot my pistol safely there are a variety of local instructors who can teach me that. If I want to learn how to fight someone in the backseat of my car I should probably seek out an expert on this subject.

There is a third category of classes: recurring classes. Martial arts classes (Karate, Jujitsu, etc) fall into this category. Regular training on the order of several times a week is the best way to learn and retain a complex skill. The advantage in taking any class is the feedback the instructor(s) can give you. A book or DVD will never tell you how you are doing, just what you need to be doing. If you are learning a new subject or have little experience training, this feedback is crucial.

 DVDs

Attending a class is often costly and time consuming. Money and time happen to be two of the most constrained resources for most people, so that is two big strikes right off the bat. While a class is probably a better way to learn for most people, DVDs can help bridge the gap.

A DVD lets you see what the instructor would have shown you at his class. Most of the top tier instructors have DVDs, so this can be a good way to bring the big name to you for a lower cost. Unfortunately you cannot ask the DVD questions (well, at least not if you expect an answer). The DVD cannot show you what you are doing wrong either.

 Where possible a DVD is best left as a supplement. If you are going to spend the time and money studying with a top tier instructor, getting his DVD before the class and getting the overview before attending is a great idea. The DVD can then serve as a reference when you return from training to help reinforce the concepts taught in the class.

 DVDs are also great for filling in the gaps on things you find less critical. If you want to fill gaps in your training inexpensively, a DVD might be the solution for you.

 Books

 Books are the third of these training media. Books have most of the advantages of a DVD with the major difference being that you do not have video. For most people the presence of video aids learning. Most good books might have picture series demonstrating the techniques, but in almost all cases I have seen this still leaves something to be desired. Especially if you have never seen the material before.

 Books, like DVDs, serve as good references with the advantage that you can more easily bring a book with you to the range or dojo. If you have a portable DVD player or laptop you might bring a DVD to where you train, but now you are searching through video when you should be shooting. A book on the other hand allows you to quickly thumb to the page where you can check whatever is in question. Books are especially great because you can keep one or two with you. I have a book that stays in my dojo bag so I can reference all of the Kata (forms) that I am studying and teaching in the event I need to clarify something. Finally, you can keep notes with a book. In fact you can highlight important points or write notes in the margins.

Again, I don’t believe any one of these methods is the ultimate solution. An instructor is probably best, but this is the hardest to keep with you when you need a reference. A book is easy to carry, but can’t quite show you the way an instructor or DVD can. Choose the right combination for yourself and tweak as needed.

 Do you prefer classes, DVDs or books? Post a comment and let us know your preferred media.

Getting Those Extra Reps

Image by DrJimiGlide

Practice makes perfect, or at least perfect practice does. With our busy lives and many responsibilities, it is often hard to find ways to get the practice we need to really improve or even maintain our skills.

If I had the time, I would invest a few hours a day doing various dry fire drills, and spend a day or two a week at the range practicing there. I would love to spend a few hours a day working on strength, flexibility, and general fitness. Finally, spending a few hours working on various combative skills in the dojo, on the mat, or both would round out my training for the week.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m currently working a full time job that has nothing to do with training. I can’t afford the 6+ hours a day of training that would be my ideal. My guess is that you don’t have that kind of time either.

One way to maximize your training time is to find ways to include the things you really want to practice in your everyday life. By finding time for a few extra reps throughout your day, you help to build your ability to recall a skill on demand. More importantly, you take advantage of those moments of downtime in your day to accomplish your goals.

In strength training this is often called greasing the groove. The idea is that if you want to get better at a specific exercise, you work on that exercise throughout the day. For example if you can only do 1 or 2 pullups and want to increase your max reps for pullups, do 1 or 2 pullups at various intervals throughout the day. This improves your capacity to do pullups, and will add up to make a big difference.

Firearms training can work the same way to an extent. I have a good friend who takes an extra draw stroke when putting his carry pistol away for the night (and he does the same with every knife he carries as well). What this does is build extra repetitions into his day at points where it is safe to do so. I would strongly caution you not to take an extra draw stroke at the office throughout the day, you might cause some… office tension.

Fighting skills can work the same way. If you are working on training your default position, you can get reps in on this just about anywhere and anytime you can avoid looking silly in public. You can also work reps of various strikes throughout your day as well. If you carry a knife, anytime you need it for an everyday task you have an opportunity to practice deploying it as you would for self-defense (just be wary of doing this in public).

You can add reps to your day for just about any skill or attribute you are trying to train. Adding reps fits just a little more practice into your busy day so you can make more significant improvements with the same amount of dedicated effort. If you are having trouble making gains in a particular area or are having a hard time fitting training time into your schedule, try adding some extra reps to your daily routine. With a little creativity, you could turn some of the monotonous moments in your life into perfect training opportunities.

Do you fit extra reps into your day? What do you work on and how? Post a comment and let us know.

Work With Your Partner, Instead of Against

Image by Totoro!

In my years of training, I have worked with a lot of different partners while practicing just about everything. While working with partners, I have observed a few things that consistently result in getting the most value out of working with a partner.

The one thing that seems to be lost on too many people is that you get more out of working with your partner than you get out of working against them. What I mean by this is that it is your responsibility as a good partner to scale the amount of resistance, speed, and contact based on who you are working with. Partner training is for mutual benefit, it is not a competition, so don’t treat it as such.

Being a Bad Partner

If you want to be the worst partner you can be, you will do everything you can to shut down your partner. You will make it difficult for them to succeed by using any superiority you can muster to prevent them from practicing the prescribed technique. If possible you will injure your partner so they can’t continue training, or make them fearful to continue practicing with you.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that by preventing your partner from practicing what they intend to practice, they aren’t going to improve. By making things difficult right from the get-go, they have no way to make gradual improvement. And by hurting them, you can frustrate their ability or desire to continue training, especially with you.

Being a Good Partner

To be a good partner it comes down to avoiding the above traits. A good partner scales the difficulty for their partner. Especially if you are technically or physically superior to your partner, it is your responsibility to gradually increase the pressure. You want to challenge your partner, but never overwhelm them. Your partner will only improve if they can overcome the resistance. Similarly, if you intend to get stronger by lifting weights, you won’t accomplish this by stacking them so heavy on your chest that you can’t move them.

A good partner tries not to hurt their partner for two reasons. Firstly, an injured partner who can’t train means that you cannot train. Bummer. Secondly, if you take advantage of your partner and constantly hurt them, they may become too timid to train with you. Especially when working with a beginner, pain can lead to fear. Fear results in poor technique or avoidance in general. Even worse, the fearful partner will avoid training with you, which is often more to your detriment than theirs.

In my youth when I was training to fight in competition, I spent roughly 30 minutes a week free sparring nonstop. I learned a lot during this training, but only because I was working with a good partner. We worked on speed, technique, and strategy, but left the majority of the contact out. This allowed me to work on incorporating new skills as I was learning them without fear of injury. Sure it would take a few tries to take a new skill and make it work against a live opponent, but I could work on it knowing that my opponent wouldn’t capitalize and try to hurt me. Working with a partner is a great way to improve your abilities, but only if you make every effort to work together.

Have you had to work with bad partners? What made them such bad partners? Post a comment and share your experiences with us!

When Is the Toolbox Too Big?

Image by booleansplit

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.

“Hold That Thought, I Need to Warm Up”

In pretty much every athletic endeavor, the participants use some sort of warmup activity prior to participating. This warmup has two primary purposes. The first is to loosen up and ready the body to maximize performance and prevent injury. Second, the warmup allows the body to start getting into the groove that is used for that activity, helping to recall the body mechanics employed.

In martial arts warmups are often employed, and for good reason. Throwing a high kick completely cold is a great way to cause some major muscle and tendon tears. Injury can slow down even the most well-coordinated training plan. Mitigating the risk of injury through warmup is a good way to keep ourselves training.

Shooters often warm up before testing themselves too. By shooting or dry-firing prior to testing yourself, you generally improve your performance.

How could warming up be bad?

On the street you don’t get a warmup.

The problem with warmups is that you don’t always get one. Real life is unpredictable, and you cannot choose when you might get attacked. Similarly, you cannot stop your attacker and ask them to hold on a second so you can warm up. This might be a good defensive strategy if you think your attacker might die from laughter.

How can we address this in our training?

Training flexibility should be high on your priority list. The better your flexibility is, the less likely you are to get a pull while you are fighting sans warmup. If you are training for the purposes of self-defense, you need to know what your limitations are likely to be when you aren’t warmed up. Some part of your training should include training within those restrictions, even while warmed up. An example of this is by removing high kicks. High kicks are impractical on the street anyway, but even more so if you won’t get a chance to stretch before you get attacked.

When you are working on your shooting, test yourself ‘cold’ by simply starting without any dry-fire or warmup. Once you measure your baseline, you can now begin your normal practice. If done properly, your “cold start” might even give you ideas as to what you need to work on during your practice session.

Ultimately, when the adrenaline starts pumping, you’ll overcome most of these issues even if you don’t train specifically to mitigate them. I would still recommend stepping back and evaluating your training within the context of fighting without a warmup. Make adjustments so you are prepared for the fight that occurs outside the ring.

How Many Classes Is Too Many?

Last week tgace posted his thoughts about a phenomenon he sees in firearms training. He believes that some civilian shooters are spending too much time getting training. Part of his argument is that the payoff for classes after the first few greatly diminishes. He also argues that individuals should invest more of their time and funds taking classes on other skills, say tactical driving or first aid for example.

I can agree with his arguments to a point. There certainly is a huge need to diversify your skill set. I would agree that before you take your third or fourth shooting class, you should probably try and invest in some training for defensive tactics, knife work, first-aid, driving, or any number of other skills that end up taking the back seat.

I would also agree that the gain from each class can be less than the one before it. If you want the most bang for your buck, you would always be investing in skills you have little or no knowledge of.

I do think he missed several points, however, when it comes to training. Most obviously, different instructors bring different things to the table. Training with different instructors gives us an opportunity to see similar material from different viewpoints, helping us choose what works best for us. I would also like to point out three important reasons why any civilian shooter (or professional for that matter) should regularly take classes on subjects already known and understood.

State of the art

When compared to traditional martial arts systems, the practice of tactical shooting is still in its infancy. New techniques are being developed and refined at a very rapid rate. Any serious shooter should probably take a shooting class every few years to keep abreast of these changes and keep on top of their game.

For the longest time, an overhand manipulation of the slide with the weak hand was the only correct way to handle an emergency reload. More recently many top tier instructors are starting to advocate the use of the slide stop instead in an effort to increase the speed at which the pistol can be reloaded. While this might not be the best change for you, being exposed to it in a class setting is a good way to evaluate these kinds of developments objectively under the watchful eye of an expert.

Testing Ourselves

Pressure testing is an important part of our training. Some classes give us a chance to test what we have been practicing and validate our training techniques. Some would say that competition would be a better way to test our skills, but that can’t always be the best way to test. Some skill sets are not easily testable in a competition setting.

The best example I can give here is Southnarc’s ECQC class, which I have taken twice now. ECQC is an extreme close quarters combat class, focusing on a variety of skills ranging from verbal skills to grappling with guns, and even grappling with guns inside a vehicle (vehicular brazilian jiu-jitsu). No competition I know of will put you inside a vehicle with a Sims gun fighting against someone else with a Sims gun. Sure you can test the components – I could compete in IDPA and MMA and test the pieces – but sometimes testing everything together in a cooperative environment is best.

Get out of the bubble

Most civilians train individually. We may have training partners or even a small group of peers that we train with, but we don’t go to a regular weekly class like we might do to train in something like karate. This means that we as individuals are cut off from regular oversight by an experienced instructor. As a result our training will eventually deviate from what we are taught. Sometimes this can be good, but other times it can cause us to get sloppy.

It is possible to mitigate this by using video or by having a good training partner, but sometimes the watchful eye of an instructor is necessary. If for no other reason, I would argue that regularly having our skills evaluated and corrected by an experienced instructor is worth the cost of attending the occasional class.

So how many is too many?

It should be pretty obvious by now that I’m a strong proponent of regular training with instructors, whoever you are. But how often is enough, and when have we crossed the line into stroking our egos and over-training one skill?

I think this will depend on your goals and resources. If you can afford it, taking a yearly course in every subject you want to be capable in is a great goal. Of course most of us cannot afford that, so we need to find a slightly more attainable goal. I would say if you’ve attended more than two classes in a subject (say combative gun handling and tactics geared toward the pistol) without having taken any training on peripheral matters (say driving, first aid, or unarmed defensive tactics) you are probably getting too deep.

A reasonable goal might be to take one shooting class and one class from these other subject areas every year. Rotate your secondary class every year, but continue to seek instruction on the one topic that really excites you year after year. This should strike a good balance in your training.

How many classes have you taken on one subject? Post a comment and let us know your opinion!

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