Some Thoughts on Improving the Draw-stroke

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

One of the most practiced skills for any individual who carries a firearm for self-defense is the draw-stroke. After all, if you can’t get the gun into the fight it is useless. Focusing on the draw-stroke in training also makes sense from a complexity standpoint. Drawing a firearm is one of the two most complex actions you can take with it (the other being reloading).

Drawing a handgun generally requires at least 6 distinct steps:

  1. Clear the cover garment
  2. Grip the firearm (#1)
  3. Draw from the holster (#2)
  4. Transition to a two hand firing grip (#3)
  5. Present the firearm (#4)
  6. Squeeze the trigger

All 6 actions can be easily performed when done independently. But when strung together, small errors in each action can build and become problematic.

Breaking it down

When working on the draw, keep the modular nature of the draw-stroke in mind. The first step to making your draw fast and smooth is to perfect each piece separately. This is the same concept that is commonly applied to teaching a new shooter how to draw.

When I learned, we started by working on just clearing the cover garment and getting the one handed grip on the firearm. We practiced for probably a dozen reps before moving on to drawing from the holster to the #2 position.

After another dozen or so reps of practicing the first two pieces; we started continuing on to the #3 position (both hands on the firearm). Starting to see a pattern here? If you have received any formal instruction on using your handgun, it probably followed a very similar progression.

The reason we add slowly and build on the previous steps is to ingrain muscle memory. When you draw your pistol for real, you can’t think about 6 discrete actions – it would take too long. Instead you think about one thing: drawing the handgun.

When training any complex skill, this is the best way to get started, but it is also a great place to return to any time you need to ‘tune up’ a skill.

Breaking it down some more

When you go back to the draw-stroke with the intention of improving it, there are a few more ways to dissect the problem.

If you continue the building method every time you practice, you will get a lot more practice working on the first parts compared to the last. The simplest thing you can do is to work through the entire draw-stroke from beginning to end, but much slower. Concentrate on each of the actions as you take it. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. The goal hasn’t changed here, you are still striving to make the component pieces of the draw-stroke natural enough to no longer require conscious thought.

A similar concept is to work each action independently. I can perform 10 or 20 reps clearing the cover garment and getting to the #1 position. I can then perform 10 or 20 reps moving from #1 to #2, etc. This gives me a chance to focus on perfecting the motions for each component of the draw-stroke.

Finally, keep in mind that the entire draw-stroke can be performed in reverse. If you are practicing the draw-stroke in its entirety, reset by going through the motions backwards. If you are practicing pieces, then perform each piece in reverse to reset. Take advantage of every chance to practice.

Putting it back together

Ultimately you can’t just work on perfecting each piece, at some point the pieces need to come together to form a whole. You crawl before you walk, and walk before your run. When you start lacing the pieces back together, don’t go for any records. Build gradually to a comfortable speed.

Speeding it up

When working on improving the speed of your draw-stroke, the ultimate goal is to be able to draw and make accurate shots at speed. How much speed depends on how accurately you can make your shots. Anyone can go blazingly fast and miss, but to go fast and hit is a different story.

There are two opposing yet complementary techniques to use to achieve this speed. The first is essentially what you have just read about, breaking things down, and working on perfecting each piece. Speed is the absence of extraneous movement after all.

The other is to ramp the speed up until you no longer can make 100% good hits, and then back off a little. Todd Green explains this concept in his post Permission to Miss, which is a great read.

Always remember that speed is a combination of economy of motion and effort. One without the other is incomplete. You can move slowly with flawless form, or you can drive the gun like your hair is on fire. Neither get you to the goal without balance.

What techniques do you use to practice and improve your draw-stroke?

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.

In Speed, Less is More

Speed is a desirable attribute for anyone concerned with self-defense. A faster draw stroke or block can often be the difference between life and death when it really counts. When people try to improve their speed, I often see an excess of well… everything. Despite what your ego is telling you, flailing around like a coked up monkey running through a burning building doesn’t make you fast.

You see, speed is essentially the lack of all extra movements. It has less to do with how hard you try and much more to do with how much or little you do. Most beginners find themselves working as hard as they can to be faster. This extra effort to be faster actually turns out to be detrimental to the cause. Why you ask? Because this effort tends to change the trajectory of a movement.

In theory the fastest way to get from A to B is a straight line. In practice this isn’t the case because we have to negotiate obstacles. These obstacles cause us to modify our path from A to B. We can optimize this path to minimize the time it takes by not stopping at C on the way. Our extra effort often results in us making this extra stop despite not intentionally doing so. If we truly want to maximize speed, we must train ourselves to get rid of any and all extraneous movement.

Starting slow

In training we can minimize movement by first practicing slower. This may seem counter-intuitive, but when broken down it makes a lot of sense. By practicing slow we can perfect the movements we make. Remember while practicing that the less movement you make while practicing the task, the faster it should be when going full speed. When you are confident that you have the most efficient possible movements you are ready to move on to the next step.

Accelerating your techniques

The next step is to increase speed. This should be gradual so you can continue to monitor your technique. Investing the time to practice your movements slowly and efficiently is for nothing if you toss everything out the window as soon as you go fast. Carefully speed things up, watching for extra, unneeded movement. By gradually ramping up we can consciously avoid reawakening our bad habits.

Maintaining speed

Getting there is the hard part, but like most things, speed is a perishable commodity. We need to work hard to maintain our speed. Practicing slowly as a regular part of your training can be a great way to reinforce the good habits and suppress the bad.

Just remember, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

How do you practice to improve your speed? Let us know by leaving a comment.

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