Build A Training Support Structure You Can Be Proud Of

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What is a training support structure? Your training support structure is the combination of your peers and mentors that help you to progress in your training, maximizing benefits while hopefully minimizing costs. Your support structure might consist of instructors who you train with regularly or periodically, peers you discuss the ups and downs of your training with, and your training partners who help you push yourself past your limits and provide active resistance and pressure to your training.

Why You Need a Training Support Structure

Some disciplines directly require support. Jiu-jitsu or wrestling for example are very dependent on training partners. Sure you could learn something in a book or on a DVD, but without a breathing opponent to help learn and test your new skills, you are unlikely to progress very far.

Other disciplines such as shooting don’t necessarily require a training partner. You can head to the range and shoot without someone else, right? Sure you could shoot alone all the time, but friendly competition and another set of eyes can do wonders to help you get past a plateau in your training.

A further part of your support structure should be your mentors. Just about anyone can be your mentor, even your shooting buddy or peers in the dojo. That said, seeking out someone who has been or is at where you want to be can help you find your way faster than you might on your own.

What Makes A Strong Support Structure?

The best support structure is going to always consist of 3 things. One, your training partners need to be accessible. If you don’t ever train with your training partners, then they really aren’t your training partners. The same goes for your mentors.

Two, your training partners need to care at least as much as you do. Dragging a new shooter to the range with you is a great thing for the community, for you, and the new shooter;however, your new shooter probably isn’t as interested as you (yet!), and likely doesn’t have enough experience to be of much help as a mentor. You still often can learn as much teaching as you can doing, but keep in mind balance is required. You need time to work on your own skills.

A training partner who can also serve as a mentor is a great thing. Find someone who you know performs better than you in an area you want to improve. The opportunity to watch and ask questions can be invaluable, but if you are lucky they might even give you some pointers.

Finally, there needs to be trust and respect. A partner or mentor who puts you down instead of picking you up isn’t helpful. A mentor you can’t trust to give you good advice is unhelpful. And training partners who hurt you instead of help you in the dojo are a hindrance not a help. A good partner knows how to work with you, not against you.

How To Build or Find a Support Structure

If you want a support structure to help you maximize your training, you need to go look for or build one. Generally speaking they don’t come to you.

If you are learning a martial art, like BJJ for example, your school essentially provides a support structure for you, in the form of both mentoring and peer support. If you shoot on the other hand, you might have to work harder to find support. Local training groups can be a great place to start as are the competitive shooting sports.  These groups can provide you with plenty of peers and mentors.

Sometimes you don’t have access to ready-made groups. In those cases you need to make an effort and build your own. Attending classes and seminars can provide you the mentoring part of your support system. Some instructors on the traveling road show make recurring trips to an area. Being consistent with one instructor every year can help because they can see as you progress.

A great example of an instructor like this is Craig Douglas. Many people take his ECQC  every year as a way to brush up on and test their skills, and as a result Craig can provide continuing feedback year after year.

These classes can be a great starting point for finding your training partners as well. Network with your fellow participants. Often times they will be local and like minded, making them great training partners. Starting your own group can be a great way to build your own support structure and help others along the way.

Do you have a training support structure? What does it look like, and how did you find or build it?

photo credit: Craig Sunter *Click-64* via photopin cc

How To Carve Out an Ideal Dry-Fire Space In Your Home

Dry-FireI’m a strong proponent of dry-fire. Dry-fire is far cheaper and frankly more effective at developing skills related to shooting than live fire. Spending time at home dry-firing can improve your skills and requires far less time and commitment than heading to the range.

The key to being effective with dry-fire in your training is to make sure it becomes a consistent habit. Habitual training is far more valuable than sporadic and uncoordinated training sessions. Want to make dry-fire a habit? Find a space and designate it for your training to help eliminate excuses and make dry-fire easy.

What makes an ideal dry-fire space?

There is definitely an ideal setup for dry-fire. It can vary a little from person to person, but some aspects will always remain universal. You can’t always mimic this ideal dry-fire space in your own home, but the closer you can get, the more safe and effective you will be.

Remember that safety is paramount in dry-fire. Anytime you pick up a firearm and pull the trigger you need to be conscious of the potential repercussions of doing so. When mishandled, firearms can be very dangerous.

Remove all ammunition

The first rule of dry-fire is to remove all ammunition from the practice area. If you want to set up an ideal dry-fire space, you can take this a step further by banning all ammunition from your dry-fire space at all times. If you are using a gun that normally remains loaded, you want to load and unload away from the dry-fire space (and equally important you will only dry-fire in your designated space).

If no ammunition enters your dry-fire space, you can have a reasonable expectation that your gun will remain inert.

Have a good backstop

The second safety rule that often comes up in relation to dry-fire is to have a safe backstop. Some people use body armor behind their target or dry-fire at a book case (from the side to force any negligent discharge to travel through your reading material).

I find this approach a little over the top. After all if you are diligent about removing all ammunition why would you need a backstop? That said, caution should still be taken in choosing the location and direction of your dry-fire. Instead of a formal backstop, I prefer to guarantee that no person or thing will be in the path of my muzzle when I dry-fire. Dry-fire at your wife’s cat? Not a good idea. Dry-fire at a wall at the back of your home that has miles of state forest behind it? A much better idea.

Have a good floor

You wouldn’t immediately think that the floor would be important for dry-fire, but I think it is. Effective dry-fire covers more than just squeezing the trigger. You should be drawing, reloading, and even moving. A really hard floor can spell disaster if you drop your expensive mags or pistol on it.

Ideally you would have a thick and durable rug or carpet to provide cushioning. Realistically this isn’t always possible. There are alternatives such as a padded box to catch things like mags that you intentionally drop.

Work space can be key

When I dry-fire I tend to take notes about what I do and will often have a written plan beside me. I also like to have space to stow my magazines and pistol while I’m rearranging my gear. Finally, my laptop almost always gets involved, providing a cheap par timer. For me this means having a good work surface available. This could be the edge of a bed, a desk, table, or even some other improvised surface.

What to bring to your dry-fire space?

Once you have a designated dry-fire space you need to make sure you bring the right equipment to make the most of your dry-fire. The right tools make any job easier, and that applies to dry-fire as much as it does to building a shed or fixing your car.

So what do you really need for dry-fire? A few things are crucial:

  1. Your firearm – unloaded. If you have one, an inert dry-fire barrel can further improve the safety quotient, but it will hinder your ability to practice some things.

  2. Spare magazines – you will need magazines if you intend to make your dry-fire dynamic. The more magazines you have, the less often you need to bend down to pick them up. I usually use 6; your mileage may vary.

  3. Timer – shot timers are very helpful when your goal is to work on your speed. I generally use a timer in par time mode since most timers will not pick up dry-fire shots. Rather than mess with my range timer I tend to use my laptop and this great app.

  4. Notebook – Recording your progress allows you to measure yourself against past performance.

  5. Target – you definitely do not want to forget a target in dry-fire. My preferred dry-fire target gives me a variety of things to aim at and is scaled to take best advantage of the space I have.

A few other things help further improve your experience:

  1. Snap caps – these allow you to see that a reload actually worked (when a snap cap round ends up in the chamber), or they can be used for malfunction clearing drills.

  2. Weighted magazines – can allow you to practice certain manipulations more realistically. Some large capacity polymer framed guns handle significantly differently when full compared to empty.

  3. Video camera – recording yourself can be a very helpful tool for diagnosing shooting errors. Going back to the tape can help you see why your reloads fail or how to shave time off your draw-stroke.

Some example setups

Over the past year or so I have had two different dry-fire spaces. Originally I used my bedroom for convenience and comfort. This works great when you only spend time dry-firing at times when your spouse will not be in bed. If he or she is sick, good luck.

More recently I moved to the basement in anticipation of the incoming baby. Getting away from the main family spaces allows me to dry-fire in the morning before work or any time I don’t want to disturb the wife and kid.

Bedroom Setup

My bedroom setup was convenient for a variety of reasons. The carpet protected my mags, and my bed was correctly spaced from the wall to provide a good distance from my target and serve as a surface for my equipment. The nearby dresser also provided a great place to conveniently store all of my mags and my notebook between sessions.

As mentioned before, the big down side was that I was limited on when I could use the space. My wife isn’t a morning person and has been home for the past 9 months cooking up a baby, so trying to dry-fire in the bedroom before 10am noon isn’t really a great option.

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Basement Setup

The basement setup is less ideal in some respects, but it allows me to train when I want. I have an additional safe in the basement, allowing me to keep a pistol and all of my training gear stowed near my dry-fire space. In the short term I have been using a stack of styrofoam shipping containers as a temporary work surface, which will be replaced by my workbench when complete.

The floor in the basement is definitely not ideal for dry-fire. Concrete and magazines is a recipe for eventual disaster. To mitigate this I took a cardboard box (thanks Ikea) and cut the top off. I filled this box with bubble wrap to provide ample cushioning.

 MagBox

I move the box around as necessary to catch my mags. While I usually manage to miss the box a few times per session, I find that dropping a few mags a week on concrete is far better than dropping each one on concrete 30-50 times per week.

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Dry-fire is a great, inexpensive way to improve your shooting skills in the comfort of your home. Just how comfortable is largely dependent on how much thought goes into your dry-fire area. A well designed dry-fire area results in safe and efficient training.

Now it’s your turn. How is your dry-fire area setup? Please let us know in the comments below.

If you would like to share pictures and a please send them them to nick <at> indestructibletraining.com, I’d love to see how you train.

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!

Its Not Over Until The Ref Calls It

Photo Credit: Dan4th

Sometimes in training there is a tendency to get wrapped up in the training environment. Exercises begin and end on someone’s say so or some arbitrary and artificial win condition that does not reflect the real world. This is evident in the occasional tournament fighter who lands what seems like a good blow to only let their guard down and get knocked out.

On the street things are never quite so simple and clear cut. Regardless of the caliber you carry, most people don’t immediately fly backwards or crumple when hit with a pistol round. There are also numerous cases of someone being stabbed repeatedly to continue fighting, only realizing later that they were being stabbed not punched. Nothing is guaranteed to end a fight immediately.

It isn’t over… until it is over

In the real world, how do you determine that the fight is over? Pretty much the same way you might in competition. When the referee shows up and calls it. If you are assaulted and defend yourself, you can’t let your guard down just because you think you solved the problem. That problem might have friends (or you didn’t really solve the problem). In these situations you need to stay vigilant and ready until help arrives or you are far from the situation. In effect when the referee calls the fight.

Avoiding bad habits

Since the fight doesn’t end when you successfully tag your opponent or make a single hit, you need to avoid this behavior in training. Don’t get me wrong, every effort you make should be made like it could end the fight, but don’t get tricked into thinking it will.

When you train for fights in the real world, there are a number of bad habits you should avoid in your training. Here are a few tips for making sure you don’t develop some of these habits through training:

  1. Never play gun or knife tag with ‘one hit kills’.

  2. Don’t drop your guard immediately after scoring a hit (or after the match is called). Wait until you determine everything is safe.

  3. In training exercises have a third party determine when the fight ends (and avoid the forcefields phenomena).

  4. Work after-action routines into any part of your training that you can.

If you make an effort to avoid bad habits you’ll be much better off if you ever need your defensive skills. Good training is about consistency. Train with a consistent and realistic end point.

Consistently practice after-action skills like scanning and assessing your environment.

Remember, don’t get fooled into a false sense of security thinking that your knife or gun might stop the fight immediately and decisively. They theoretically can, but more likely you will be struggling for a while. Don’t let your guard down until the scene is secure. That means either putting distance between you and the scene, or relinquishing the scene to the authorities. The fight isn’t over until the refs call it.

5 Tips For Winterizing Your Training

Photo Credit: christgr

Living in New England means that when winter rolls around a lot of things change. The days get shorter and colder. Snow tires are installed and snow blowers come out of storage. Gloves and hats become a normal part of our wardrobe. Winter has a profound impact on our lives.

Winter also has a profound impact on your defensive posturing. In many cases the pocket guns that are so popular in the summer spend the winter in the safe to make room for full framed service pistols. The wardrobe changes associated with winter allow more concealment options for these larger guns.

Just like you winterize your car, wardrobe, and choice of armament, you must also winterize your training.

Why Winterize

The justifications for winterizing your training can be divided into one of two categories: objectives and methods.

Objectives

One major reason to winterize is that your objectives in training change due to the changing of the season. You might wear different clothes in the winter to deal with the changing environment, you might carry a larger gun because you can now conceal it, and the environment in which you might find yourself in a gunfight can be very different than the rest of the year.

The cold temperatures of the winter months often force you to bring out the heavy winter coat. Concealing and accessing a pistol under a winter coat is much different than under your t-shirt or in your shorts pocket.

The scenarios you face might also change as your environment will not be the same as it was in the summer.

Training

The other major justification for winterizing your training is the training itself. Training outside in the winter is not quite as simple as during the summer. You might seek out the indoor public range in the winter, but you might be far safer braving the elements. If you do train outside in the cold, that doesn’t mean that your fighting environment will change. Personally I live and work primarily indoors. Regardless of the season, I am more likely to encounter a gunfight indoors while wearing a polo shirt and jeans than an outdoor gunfight. Are you likely to be defending your home in full winter gear? Probably not. You might want to consider training for both outside and inside carry in the winter.

Some Tips For Winterizing Your Training

Wear a warm but thin base layer

If you want to continue practicing using your indoor carry methods despite the weather, you want to wear a warm base layer like Under Armour’s compression ColdGear to make sure you can keep warm at the range. Even if you do find yourself preparing for carry under your heavy jacket, I don’t think you’ll mind the extra warmth.

Bring thin gloves

If you are training outside for prolonged periods of time, your hands are bound to get cold. Cold hands don’t move quite so well, so keeping your hands warm and toasty should be a priority. I strongly recommend a pair of warm but thin gloves. If you can still shoot your gun while wearing the gloves, great. Remember though if you don’t often wear gloves like these you should still spend at least part of your time training bare handed. You don’t have the luxury of putting on gloves prior to an attack.

Practice in your winter wardrobe

You should always be training in whatever wardrobe you are currently wearing day to day. It doesn’t make sense to train in your shorts and hawaiian shirt in the middle of the winter, nor your heavy coat in the summer. Even though I personally put priority on preparing for a gunfight indoors during the winter since I spend more time there, I will still put some reps in wearing my winter garb.

Practice with your winter gear

If you change up your carry gun for the winter, then please train with it! Don’t shoot your pocket gun all winter long unless it still resides in your pocket. Train with whatever it is you are carrying.

Be ready for whatever winter might throw at you

In general the winter is not very hospitable. If you are going to shoot in the winter months, I strongly recommend coming to the range prepared. Have first aid supplies handy for cold weather mishaps, bring warm clothes, and be prepared for a snow covered range. Being uncomfortable will not help you stay focused and safe.

Winter Training Is Great…

I love training in the winter because the crowds of the spring and fall disappear. Few people want to brave the cold to train. Take advantage of this time of the year to get some training in without being crowded. Leave the fools to their public ranges and make the most of the season.

A little bit of preparation to winterize your training goes a long way to ensuring you get the most benefit of your time in the winter.

What do you do to winterize your training?

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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.

Is Specializing Your Skill-Set a Mistake?

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

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

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

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

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

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

I have seen top tier trainers advocate all three methods.

Why is generic better?

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

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

Why is specialized better?

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

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

Being generic without a need only hurts you

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

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

Customization of your tools

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

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

Counterpoint: long guns

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

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

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

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

The Secret of Training: Train to Suck Less

Photo Crddit: DrJimiGlide

I have recently come to a conclusion in my own training. Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t many ways to do something right, just many ways to do something wrong. Countless individuals strive to get it right thinking that there are many right answers. But in many cases, that simply isn’t true.

I’ve found that rather than trying to perfect a skill, we are all really just trying to suck less at whatever it is we are doing. Perfection is impossible to achieve; after all, how do we define perfection?

Most skills are subjective, and even measurable skills have no clearly defined upper bounds. The fastest shooters in the world right now might be able to draw onto a certain size target and get x number of hits in y number of seconds. Who can say whether that is “perfect”?

With a little more training they could probably beat their best.

The continuing theme in training though is the constant fight against the downward slope that inactivity causes. If you train every day you might improve, if you train a few times a week you maintain, and if you train less you get worse.

Anyone at the lower levels of a given skill set look up to the best of the best and can say that their actions look effortless. The truth is that these individuals really are expending a huge effort just like the rest of us when we try and push ourselves to the edge of our game.

Despite what you think you are training to do, you are really training to be slightly less bad at whatever you do, not to achieve perfection. Improve the consistency with which you perform, and you make your best days as well as your worst days better.

Every instructor might have their own ideas about a given skill, so of course there can be more than a single “right way” of doing something. But my point is that these “right ways” are really just less wrong than the alternatives. Don’t look at the training spectrum as a multitude of right answers and even more wrong answers. Instead we have an infinity of wrong answers in training, some are just less wrong than others.

Warning: Failure Does Happen

Photo Credit: Charles & Clint

One principle I have based my training on is that our failure is defined by our training as much as our success is. Mistakes are to be expected because no matter how much we train, perfection is unattainable. The best we can hope for is to make fewer mistakes. When these mistakes do happen, it is our training that defines how we will react to these failures. If you never practice, your default reaction will be a surprise. But when you train hard and consistently, you can expect to look no worse than your worst day in training if you need to defend yourself. The more you practice, the better your ‘worst’ becomes.

Before I went on vacation I shot my second IDPA match. I did pretty well in this match, but I made some major mistakes. While some of the mistakes themselves are pretty disheartening, I also learned something about my training. After dropping a magazine on two separate stages during a reload, I managed to recover quite well.

My favorite mistake was on a stage that involved a vehicle. You started in the car, picked up the loaded pistol on the passenger seat and engaged a target out the passenger side window until slide lock (4 rounds), debussed out the driver side and were to engage targets across the hood from next to the driver side door.

During this reload is when I dropped the mag. I didn’t just drop the mag though… I filled it with sand and stuck it into my pistol. The pistol failed to go into battery and I now had a fight on my hands. Tap rack and bang didn’t solve it, so I ended up removing the magazine and clearing the pistol out completely.

It sucked. A lot.

I’m not proud of dropping that magazine. I am proud of how I dealt with the issue. I didn’t lose my cool, and I just worked through the problem. Amazingly I didn’t come in last place on the stage and got plenty of compliments on how I dealt with it. I now have a good idea of what my ‘worst’ performance might look like, and it doesn’t bother me too much.

In training: always work through it

There are two lessons to be learned here. One is to not drop your magazine in the dirt. The other more important lesson is to always work through it. If you dry fire and manage to foul a reload or a draw, don’t stop until you are done.

Even if it’s not quick and clean, the important thing is completing the task you started.

Your natural response should be to deal with the problem, not run away from it. While we strive for perfect practice, we must also realize that in real life you don’t get do overs. If you make a mistake, make it right.

In pressure testing: don’t lose your cool and always work through it

When you get to a match or you are working on some evolution intended to pressure test your skills, work through your mistakes. This should be pretty obvious (and second nature if you practice this way) but it needs to be said.

When bad stuff happens to you or you make a mistake, stay calm and fix the problem. Redo’s don’t happen in real life so why should they happen in your training?

In real life: work through it

It should be even harder to screw this up in real life with a full adrenaline dump. Just like in training and testing: when you make a mistake work through it. Don’t stop to scold yourself or waste time swearing under your breath or hating yourself.

Fix the problem! Fix it now!

The costs of not working though a problem in practice are low at face value, but when it causes you to not react the way you want on the street, the cost is high. Again, real life has no redo’s and your attacker won’t reset if you ask him to when you make a mistake.

My point is redundant just like your training should be. Hopefully you make fewer mistakes as you train more, but when you do make them, make them good mistakes. Fix the problem and get it done. Don’t immediately stop and restart in an attempt to avoid making the mistake in the first place. That’s for after you fix it.

Unless you make the mistake more than you do it right, you need to work through it so you will have the confidence you can work through similar mistakes in a life or death situation. You need your default reaction to be a good one when it really counts.

Have you ever made a mistake in competition or training? How did you deal with it? Post a comment below and share!

Do You Spend More Time on Specialized or Generalized Skills?

Photo by DrJimiGlide

Every defensive skill can be placed into one of two categories, specialized skills and generalized skills. General skills are skills that apply in many situations or are foundational in that they are used as a basis for the specialized skills. The more situations a skill might apply to, the more general that it is.

Specialized skills on the other hand have fewer situations where they can be used. The less likely it is to be used, or more specific the skill is, the more specialized that it is.

When we train we are constantly determining what skills are worth an investment, and how to divide our time between them.

The more likely a skill is to be used, the more time you want to invest

Generally speaking, the skills you are most likely to need should be trained the most. For example a normal two-handed draw stroke or emergency reload have a higher probability of being useful than say a weak hand only emergency reload. Even more likely to be used are verbal skills for defusing situations and dealing with unknown contacts. The more constraints you put on when a skill is used, the less time you should spend on that skill.

You cannot ignore the specialized skills

Just because you are less likely to need certain specialized skills doesn’t mean you can completely ignore them. You don’t want to be figuring out how to do that one-handed reload when you can’t afford a mistake. Instead make sure these skills make it into your training regime occasionally so they get some practice time.

Find balance in your training

Adding these skills into your training routine should be done somewhat scientifically. It is up to you to find your own balance between generalized and specialized skills.

Most general skills will help you with the specialized ones. For example, if I am going to use a firearm for self-defense, one of the most general things that comes to mind is trigger control. I learn how to squeeze the trigger to have the most accurate shot I can. Good trigger control will come into play regardless of whether I shoot one handed or two, strong side or weak. Manipulating the trigger occurs regardless of target distance as well – both long shots and firing from retention requires use of the trigger.

This means that I can easily justify spending a significant amount of time working on my trigger skills, but it also means that there are many more specialized skills that will also give me time working on the trigger.

Be smart about how you train, and take advantage of those opportunities to be more efficient. Spend more time on general skills, but don’t forget the specialized ones.

How much time do you spend on general skills vs specialized skills?

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