Best of The Web 4/27/12

This week provided some excellent posts on training. Below I have rounded up some of my favorite blog posts from across the web over the past 7 days. Please feel free to email me if you have come across a great post that you would like to share.

Permission to Miss (pistol-training.com) – Todd at pistol-training.com makes some excellent points about working on improving speed. Sometimes when pushing your boundries you need to expect to miss now and again.

The scars of others should teach us caution (When The Balloon Goes Up) – WTBGU touches on a subject I feel very strongly about. Training scars – in other words bad habits that are created by the ways we train – have plenty of opportunities to form. Good training will mitigate the formation of these training scars.

Sandbags: Unconventional Tools for Functional Strength (ITS Tactical) – Jake Saenz wrote an excellent primer to training with sandbags. Functional strength is crucial to preparing for self-defense encounters (if you want to be well prepared that is). Sandbags provide dynamic resistance and get us out of the mechanical form of conventional exercises.

5 Benefits of Competition

Photo by dagnyg

In most areas of self-defense you can usually find some sort of competition. If you study BJJ or Karate there are tournaments for both. If you are a shooter, you can find everything from long distance rifle matches to games like IDPA and USPSA that test your ability to draw, move, and shoot under pressure.

Some people will say that games like IDPA are good training for defensive shooting. I disagree. IDPA or any of these other competitions are games that are bound by a set of rules. These rules either confine how you act and give you bad habits for the street, or they are just plain unrealistic due to the unpredictable nature of real-life.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to engage in competition.

Pressure

Competition is best for the pressure it puts on us. Competition is ultimately a test of skill, whether by ranking the competitors by their skills or by placing you head to head against another competitor. Pressure is key to making sure your training doesn’t fall apart in real life when the pressure means life or death.

Competitions add pressure in a number of ways. Some activities like IDPA put you against situations you cannot fully prepare for in advance. Being thrown into an unknown situation mimics real life and is a great way to test how you might react. Most competitions add some sort of audience. Whether it is the rest of the group you are squadded with for an IDPA stage or it is the crowd at a tournament, performing while people are watching and critiquing you can certainly add pressure. These situations are perfect for testing your ability to focus on the task at hand and ignore irrelevant distractions.

Most of these competitions also add some sort of time pressure. In the shooting sports you usually have a limited amount of time to complete a stage, or you are attempting to secure the lowest possible time. You can surely add time pressure yourself at home with a stop watch or a shot timer, but in competition you get all of these things at once.

Finding your weaknesses

Competition can be great for finding your shortcomings. IDPA for example has different stages. On one stage you might have to shoot entirely with your weak hand only. This might demonstrate your ability, or lack thereof, in that department. In a fighting competition, you might find that you lose a fight due to some area in which you were under-prepared. If your partner at the dojo favors certain tactics, you might not realize you are completely unprepared to handle a different set of tactics when confronted with them in competition. The competition helps you find these weaknesses so you can fix them.

Measuring Stick

Simply going against competitors is also a huge benefit. You may not see it this way, but competing with someone who is honestly trying to beat you can be great for your training. First and foremost this is your measuring stick. If I fight in a tournament, I generally get an idea for how well I stack up against my opponents. The same goes for shooting competition. I can compare myself to those who performed better and worse and determine how I am improving.

Watch what they do

You should see other competitors as an asset. You can always find a way to learn from someone else, whether they are at the top of their game or the bottom. Watch what the other competitors do, and you might notice things that help you improve your abilities, or things to watch out for (like bad habits). In my rifle marksmanship instruction I always learn more from watching my students shoot than I do when I myself am behind the sights. The same applies in competition.

Getting advice

Some competitions are friendly enough that you can expect to get good advice from those competitors that are better than you. Ask a Master Class shooter to critique your shooting, and you’ll be surprised that many will take you up on the offer. Take in all the advice you can, and treat these competitors as a resource.

Whatever the competition, there are benefits you can take away. Competition does not replace the need for dedicated application-specific training, nor does it perfectly test the skills and tactics you need on the street. Competition does give you many benefits and when used properly can help you develop and test your fighting skill set.

Did I miss any benefits? Do you compete? How do you benefit from competition? Post a comment below!

Every Range Trip Is A Training Session

Photo by AMagill

The usual course of fire I follow tends to consist of some sort of drill to assess my ability, most often the FAST, followed by a series of drills to work on my biggest deficiencies and the things I can’t work on in dry fire.

I get the most enjoyment at the range from trying to improve my skills instead of just transporting high quantities of lead as fast as I can. Many people take a different view.

The other day I was at the range going through my normal range routine. In the next bay over, there were some members of my club shooting a variety of firearms at a rate that leads me to believe they were there just to have fun.

I’m not against going to the range to have fun. I will on occasion head to the range and bring guns that are really not in any way, shape, or form practical for any defensive purpose. After all, the right to bear arms is not limited to hunting or even self-defense. But I like to spend my time at the range wisely.

Make every shot count

Now just because I might be shooting something for fun, it doesn’t mean I’m not training. Even if you aren’t shooting your designated defense pistol, you should make an effort to have every shot give you the maximal training value. Don’t squander opportunities to improve.

Trigger Squeeze

Every time you squeeze a trigger, it should be just that – a squeeze. Don’t slap or jerk a trigger just because this isn’t your usual gun. An unusual gun is a perfect chance to practice being surprised by the trigger breaking. A trigger really isn’t all that different between a 1911, a 12 gauge, or a Mosin-Nagant. They may have different pull-weights, and have a different ‘break’, but a trigger is a trigger.

Sight Picture

Looking down the sights, even if they aren’t your carry piece’s sights, gives you another repetition of getting a good sight picture and maintaining it through the trigger pull.

Manipulations

Every opportunity to manipulate a firearm gives you a chance to work on those manipulation skills. If you are shooting something of the same action type as your normal defensive firearm, then this is a no-brainer. A 1911 and a Glock really operate quite similarly once you look past the the safeties.

Some things in shooting are universal. Proper grip, sight picture, breathing, and trigger squeeze are required in just about every shooting discipline. Every time you go to the range, whether it’s a well-planned training session, or if it’s just an afternoon of fun at the range with some friends, you should always try to maximize the training benefit you get from it. Use every opportunity to work on the fundamentals. If you work the fundamentals, you avoid building bad habits, and you will be improving your training skills.

Best of The Web 4/20/12

Last week’s Best of the Web was well received, so I’m giving it another go. Below I have rounded up some of my favorite blog posts from across the web over the past 7 days. Not too many training related posts jumped out at me this week – in the future please feel free to email me if you have come across a great post that you would like to share.

Using competition to learn to develop a game plan (When The Balloon Goes Up) – WTBGU discusses using competition to develop problem solving skills. All self-defense scenarios ultimately are high-stakes puzzles. The ability to solve these puzzles under pressure is key to survival.

5 Important Skills for Protecting Yourself (Stuff From Hsoi) – Hsoi provides some great tips for preparing to keep yourself alive on the street. He points out how mindset trumps equipment when it comes to self-defense.

 

Training Like it’s 1775

Photo by Muffet.

One of the most important days in American history (if not THE most important day) was April 19th 1775. Tomorrow is the 237th anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord.

Why is this date so important? To me it’s important because it was the turning point, the spark that set things in motion to give us the nation we have today. A bunch of farmers and shop keepers faced the impossible and succeeded in defeating a professional army that came to take their arms. These dedicated individuals risked it all and made many sacrifices so that today we have our rights (relatively) unmolested.

There is no other country in the world where civilians can own firearms and use them the way they can here. Where else in the world can you find civilians learning to shoot on military bases from other civilians, or training with the tactical gear that is so ubiquitous today? Can you name another country where that happens? If you can, I’m sure you can count all of them on one hand.

I would like to point out that those farmers from 1775 secured their rights using skills that they trained diligently. Sure the state of the art was definitely much different. You wouldn’t see anyone in those days practicing transitions to sidearms, but they trained hard and often. One of my favorite heroes of the day, Isaac Davis, led his men in training twice weekly on a range he built behind his blacksmith shop.

The odds were against them, but what gave them the slightest chance was their focus on marksmanship and practice. They didn’t just hope their muskets would work the way they wanted. They didn’t assume that cocking a hammer or just the mere presence of their weapon would scare their enemy. They prepared for the worst.

Their preparation helped them win the day.

Remember as you go about your day tomorrow:

If you enjoy your right to bear arms, and for that matter to train with them, keep in mind the reasons why you have these rights. These men felt it was worth fighting and dying to protect these rights. If you give them up freely, then all that bloodshed was for nothing.

And remember that in 1775, training is what carried the day. Training has won many wars throughout history, because superior equipment can only get you so far. It is the individual who pulls the trigger, wields the sword, or throws the punch and the time they spend training that matters.

What Is Your Most Indispensable Piece of Training Gear?

When we train, we often use gear. Some gear is the actual gear that we are training to use – for example our carry pistol and the holster we carry it in. But there are many other pieces of gear we use because they allow us to more readily train realistically in a safe way.

Some pieces of training gear are certainly much more valuable than others. Some pieces of gear I can live without, others I cannot. Here are some examples of gear I have used:

Snap Caps / Dummy Rounds

Snap Caps and Dummy Rounds are invaluable for a number of training situations. They are great for Ball and Dummy simulating malfunctions, and they are crucial for practicing realistic reloads in dry-fire.

Blue Guns

Inert pistol trainers like blue guns are great for working on close quarters techniques and tactics. Being inert there is no projectile to worry about, and they are tough enough to stand up to hard use and abuse.

Targets

Targets aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you talk about training gear, but whether you are at the range or practicing dry fire at home, having a target is key. Good targets add a lot to your training.

Trainer Knives

Training knives come in two varieties: non sharp replicas of real knives, and obviously fake stand-ins for real knives. The first group is great for working on knife access, especially in close quarters. The second type works well for practicing knife fighting skills. Both decrease the risk of a serious injury in training, as there is no good way to work on knife skills with live blades.

Focus Mitts and Shields

Focus mitts are excellent for working on striking accuracy and power. They can easily be moved to present different targets to your partner, and at the same time they allow you to work at full power without risking injury to your partner.

FIST Helmets

Protective gear like FIST Helmets allow for an improved level of realism in training. These protective helmets reduce the risk of serious injury when getting aggressive in a close quarters environment.

Mats

If you train any grappling art (like BJJ), you spend a lot of time on the mats. Systems that emphasize throwing (like Judo) are also very dependent on mats. Sure, you can train the same skills without them, but much more control is required and greater risk is involved.

Simunitions and Airsoft

Training firearms skills on live people with live guns is generally frowned upon. When a blue gun won’t do, an Airsoft or Sims gun can fill in the gap. They aren’t ideal for practicing multiple consecutive shots due to the reduced recoil, but they are great for scenario training.

These are a few training aids that I find valuable. If there is one I couldn’t do without it would probably be the snap caps, believe it or not. This is the one item I use almost every day, and it provides a multitude of options for training.

What training tools do you find invaluable? Is it one of these, or did I miss an important one? Please post a comment and let us know.

Best of The Web 4/13/12

I’m going to try something different this week. Below I have rounded up some of my favorite blog posts from across the web over the past 7 days. I’m considering making this a regular part of the blog, so let me know if you like the idea.

Speed vs. Accuracy (Gun Nuts Media) – Caleb discusses the balance of speed vs accuracy for competitive shooting. The same debate applies to defensive shooting, though the parameters do change slightly.

Learning vs Skill Building vs Maintenance (pistol-training.com) – Todd over at pistol-training.com wrote a great writeup comparing what I would call phases of training. He discusses the difference between learning new skills, working on improving and refining those skills, and working to maintain a current skill set.

Get her a revolver, it’s simple! (When The Balloon Goes Up) – You all know my own feelings on revolvers so it’s no surprise that I agree whole heartedly with this post. WTBGU dissects the revolver and shows not only why it isn’t a superior platform, but why the myth that a revolver makes a great gun for a woman is bunch of garbage.

 

I’m Not Here To Tell You What You Want To Hear

Photo by Lisa Padilla

I’m starting to realize something that scares me. Of all the millions of gun owners, and millions of martial artists, how many of us really train with the right mindset? Think about the instructors out there, whether the high-speed low drag types or the 27th degree grand master of whatever. Many of these instructors are out there teaching what people want to hear instead of what they need to hear. After all, giving people what they want is what pays, and money talks.

Most of the world seems fixated on the idea that everything will turn out alright if you do a certain dance or have some special tool. Take a bad-ass self-defense course and you’ll become so awesome that bad guys are going to start falling out of windows just because you looked at them. You too can dodge bullets if you take the right class and get the right ‘training’.

Martial artists are the same way. If someone grabs your wrist (clearly not punching you in the face with the other) all you need to do is turn this way slightly… look how easy that is. Not only does your attacker stop what he is doing, but he pulls out a cell phone to call the police and confess.

All of this stuff is bullshit. And I have a feeling most of you reading this agree if you take your training seriously.  The real world isn’t all candy canes and gum drops.

Yet people eat this stuff up. Shooters are constantly looking for the perfect piece of equipment for an across the board solution. They seek classes taught by “experts” that will give them the entire set of skills needed to survive in any situation. No other training required – who has the time?

The only reason I can think of as to why people fall for the “too good to be true” is that this is what they want to hear. People don’t want to know that the world is a scary place. They don’t want to hear that they are not prepared, or their skills are insufficient. They don’t want to know that thousands of hours of training could still result in some crack-head putting a round in you, not because he’s a bad ass, but because you are that unlucky. Even high-speed low drag operators can get shot.

When you look at the ‘training’ world this way, it’s frightening. Why would you want to think about the fact that you are vulnerable? Human life is relatively fragile, but we all want to be indestructible. With the right tools and training, no one can hurt us right?

This mindset may help people if life is good and we don’t end up in a life-threatening situation. But this same mindset will get you killed if you do end up there. Sure there are plenty of cases where some lucky guy with a dusty shotgun he has yet to fire wins the day and becomes a hero, but do you really want to rely on luck?

I would rather train hard every day. Blood, sweat, and tears won’t make you indestructible. But if you train hard, and focus on making your training as bullet proof as you can, you MIGHT have a chance. I’d rather take the realistic chance than the unrealistic guarantee any day.

I hope you would too.

Course Review: Bill Lewitt’s Basic Trauma Management for Shooters

A couple of weeks ago I discussed reasons why you should get medical training. What it basically comes down to is being prepared for the situations you hope never to be in. I carry a gun hoping I never need to use it. Knowing how to deal with trauma, especially the trauma that results from violence, is a good skill set to have even though hopefully you will never need to use it.

Following my own advice, I thought it was time to upgrade my own medical training beyond the CPR/AED training I have. I headed down to Woburn, MA to Down Range Firearms Training which hosted Bill Lewitt and his Basic Trauma Management for Shooters (BTMS) class.

Bill Lewitt is a Paramedic and RN with over 15 years of EMS experience. He taught Tactical First Aid at Sigarms Academy for four years starting in 2001. Bill has also trained many Special Operations units and law enforcement groups. You can find out more about his background on his website here.

Class Overview

Bill started the class with the history of trauma management starting all the way back at the battle of Thermopylae and advancing to the modern day. Like everything through the class, this had a purpose, and provided some great learning moments.

Bill also had slides for many of the modern major bombings and shootings. He demonstrated how catastrophic one of these events can be, and how overloaded EMS could be as a result. Another great reason to be prepared if you ask me.

After this we moved on to the medicine. The class was geared toward trauma management, more specifically the simplest things we can do with the highest likelihood of successfully preventing death after a traumatic incident, whether that be a gunshot wound, a stab wound, or even just a car accident. The three big causes of preventable death on the battlefield after a traumatic incident are blood loss, tension pneumothorax, and loss of airway. Bill spent the rest of the class discussing these three problems, recognizing them, and more importantly techniques and algorithms to follow to handle them.

Blood Loss

We covered three methods of controlling bloodloss or hemorrhage: pressure dressings, tourniquets, and hemostatic agents. Depending on the situation, pressure dressings are generally applied first. If they don’t work, go to a tourniquet, and finally if the blood wont stop coming hemostatic agents like Quick Clot or Celox should be used.

Bill discussed his personal preferences for various equipment. He recommended the CAT-T and SOFFT tourniquets, but the SWAT-T tourniquet is a cheap and space efficient spare to keep in an aid kit. Bill also prefers Celox over quick clot. His reasons were pretty simple: Celox is all natural, and doesn’t have a history of heating up (and causing burns) when applied like Quick Clot does. Bill also recommended the Celox gauze which is a made of Celox and can be used in the same situations more precisely than the powder.

Tension Pneumothorax

Tension Pneumothorax is the second most common cause of death that is preventable. Essentially any penetrating chest wound has the potential to allow air to be sucked in and trapped with each breath. This air pushes the lungs and heart to the other side of the body cavity and makes further breathing and circulation more difficult. Basically any penetrating wound from belly button to the neck needs to be covered. The best tool for this: a chest seal. A good chest seal will allow air out but not in. Care must be taken to make sure both the entry wound and the exit wound are covered.

Obstructed Airway

Obstructed airways are the last of the three preventable killers. Essentially when someone is unconscious, he/she is unable to protect their own airway and may need assistance. This can be as simple as moving the person into the recovery position. Bill taught us how to use a nasal airway which is inserted through the nose and helps preserve a clear airway.

The last part of the class was an exercise in learning to apply tourniquets to ourselves. Bill cited research that found that tourniquets can be safely applied for up to 6 or 8 hours with no ill effects. We were able to try both the CAT-T and SWAT-T tourniquets using both one handed and two handed methods. Bill also brought out what looked like a Halloween prop to demonstrate how to tend to a traumatic leg amputation. After the demonstration students in the class were allowed to try it as well.

My thoughts on the class

Bill does a great job of taking material that is potentially very technical and making it accessible to those of us who have no background in it. Prior to this class the sum total of my medical and first aid training consisted of a CPR / AED class I took a few weeks ago. Bill broke things down and presented material with a great sense of humor that made it nearly impossible to fall asleep in the class. Quite frankly I’m amazed that after an 8 hour class, I really feel like I am armed with the skills I would need to deal with a traumatic injury if I had to.

I hope never to need these skills, but now I can feel confident that I’m prepared to use them. If you ever have the opportunity to take Bill’s class, don’t hesitate. You’ll be entertained and informed at the same time, and you will learn skills that really could be the difference between life and death for you or someone you love.

How to Deal With Training Injuries

Photo by jynmeyer

Injuries are a fact of life, especially if you train. These injuries can range from the dings and dents you get practicing partner drills in a contact martial art, or they can be everything else from pulls and strains to broken bones. If you are training in a serious way, it is only a matter of time before you pick up some sort of injury.

These injuries can be debilitating. Most small cuts and scrapes won’t prohibit you from training, but a broken bone or major muscle pull can easily put a damper on your training activities. One of your goals in training should be to limit these injuries as much as possible. Nothing will slow your progress like needing to stop training all together.

Dealing with injuries once you have them

Since it is inevitable that you will receive some sort of injury at some point, you need to know how to deal with them. If I stopped training every time I had a minor injury, I probably would have spent more time not training than training.

The key is knowing which injuries you can train with, and knowing how to train with those injuries.

If I hurt my x, can I still train?

You can usually continue training with most injuries, so long as you modify what you do. A few years ago I broke my wrist in a fall while training. It took a few weeks to realize that was what happened, but even once I determined it was injured I still found ways to train.

If you can train without re-injuring or exacerbating the situation, then you should probably keep training. On the other hand, if there is no way to train without the risk of causing more harm, you might just need to take a break. I have found that most injuries just require avoiding the injured area.

How to train with an injury

When I broke my wrist they put on a nice cast for me. It was a forearm length cast, and it was very itchy. It made showering difficult, and it wasn’t all that fun to wear. I kept training, but a few things had to be modified. Obviously with a broken wrist doing pushups is a bad idea. I also avoided any sort of serious contact due to risk of re-injuring myself as well as injuring others. Casts are hard, and I’m sure my training partners wouldn’t appreciate getting bonked on the head with a cast.

These modifications allowed me to maintain most of my fitness and skills but forced me to focus on things that did not involve the injured area. This would have been a perfect time to work on one-handed drawstrokes and shooting skills as well.

I’ve trained with many other injuries. Dings and dents are common and only really impact your training when working with a partner. The thing to be careful about with these kinds of injuries is that you will often naturally modify your technique to avoid more impacts where you have been hurt. Learn a “correct” alternative or risk creating bad habits this way.

Similarly, training with muscle pulls is still possible. A few times a year I usually manage to pull a hamstring or groin muscle. When this happens I usually modify any kicks I might throw on that side of my body to limit the potential for re-injuring. Unless you are fighting for your life or are in competition it usually is not worth the risk of full speed and power.

Injuries suck. Minimize their impact by finding ways to keep training, but don’t take unnecessary risks when you don’t have to. Making an injury worse can make the downtime worse. Take advantage of time while you are injured to work on other areas you generally don’t focus on, or catch up on your reading. But remember that the best way to deal with an injury is to not get one in the first place, so train safe and train smart.

How do you deal with your training injuries?

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